Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Home Grown Food in the Lunchroom

Back before there was such a thing as free lunch, there was such a thing as barter. Children from families who could not afford to pay for a school meal could bring food from the garden as payment. They could take a bushel of turnip greens to the cafeteria and get a food exchange note. One bushel would equal maybe five meals.

They would bring home-canned vegetables in glass containers. They would bring gallons of blackberries in pokes, paper bags. They would bring apples, pears, tomatoes and potatoes. Eggs, too.

Never meat, though. The cafeteria ladies could not accept meat and any milk that was brought was used in cooking. The milkman brought the drinking milk.

By the mid 1950’s this practice dwindled thanks to government surplus commodities and a centralized food service system in the county. The abundance from the farm community no longer counted. Fresh from the field no longer happened. The day of processed food had arrived.

Catch of the day,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Pie, again

Chicken pie was the all time favorite entree in the cafeteria at Pilot Mountain School no matter who the cook, no matter what the decade. But one year the school received government surplus turkeys, an entire truckload of them. Piles and piles of frozen turkeys. So the ever so resourceful lunchroom ladies made turkey pie. And turkey salad. And vegetable soup with turkey. Not to mention plain turkey.

After weeks and weeks of turkey for lunch, the children were a little tired of it. Enough of this good cooking, they said. But still every other day, turkey for lunch. During one of my interviews with former students I laughed as this present day grown-up described the day she was to perform in the Recitation and Declamation competition. She was  a little nervous, true, but not all that bad. Lunchtime came. Turkey pie, again. She couldn't stomach it and left every bit on her tray. As she scraped it all into the trash can, the ever present lunchroom lady smiled. "You're worried about the competition, aren't you?" she asked.

Not at all. This girl just couldn't eat one more bite of left over turkey. But, true to Pilot Mountain graces, she couldn't tell her that. She wouldn't hurt her feelings. So she nodded her head, went to the competition, and said her speech. She didn't win. But at least she didn't get sick.

Catch of the day,


Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22, 1963 at Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse

They might have been isolated from world events in their own little school universe, but the children at Pilot Mountain did hear about the assassination of President John F Kennedy before they got on the bus to go home that afternoon. Their teachers told them. There was no public address announcement to the entire school. The teachers spoke personally to their students.

The principal's wife was in the hospital with a new baby watching the news unfold on the tv. She called the school, but the principal wasn't in the office. He was busy teaching his seventh/eighth grade combination class. There was no full time principal in this school, never in all its thirty years of existence. The principal's classroom was across the hall from the office and a dependable eighth grade student would hurry over whenever the phone rang and take a message. On this day, though, I wonder if the wife gave a message to the student. Or did she demand to speak to her husband? I'll need to ask.

I do know that each person has his own very private memories of that moment in history. They remember disbelief. Shock. Blame, mostly blame. Who would do such a horrible deed? What if it were...unspeakable thoughts ran through their minds that day and that memory haunts them as much as the death of the president. What if it were a person from the south, angry about the direction this president was taking the nation in regards to civil rights? There, they said it aloud to me in several interviews. There, forty some years later, spoken fears of the first few hours after the tragedy.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Windows, part II

Windows in the 1940's were for more than just looking through to see outside (and daydream about being out there). They were tools. For example, this school had no cafeteria. Often children went home for lunch if they lived close enough to hurry home, eat and hurry back. But the majority brought lunch with them, including a pint jar of milk. No refrigerator, no problem. Open the window, stick the jar on the outside ledge. By lunchtime in the coldest of winter, the milk had ice crystals for a special treat. By lunchtime on the warm days, the milk was a tad bit on the warm side, as if fresh from the cow.

Because there were five or six of those giant windows in each classroom, there was plenty of light and the two electric light bulbs dangling from the ceilings were rarely turned on. This presented a problem on bright sunny days since there were no shades. To solve this the teachers covered the inside of the windows with newspapers. Not the whole thing, because that would defeat the purpose of the windows. They would patchwork quit it. A pane here, a pane there.

I can imagine driving past the front of the school and taking a quick glance and then a second glance. Milk jars lined up all in a row. Blotches on the window panes. What a sight.

Catch of the day,


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Full length windows

Those windows you see in the photograph of Pilot Mountain School have been modernized. Look closer and you can see the outline of the original windows that went from about knee high to a teacher all the way to mere inches from the ceiling.

Wonderful tools, those old windows. They allowed cool breezes when air conditioning was an unheard of pleasure. They allowed light on even the cloudiest days. They also offered temptations to the stuck-in-class dreamers and a few escape routes for the rowdies. This photograph shows the front of the school with its not so safe drop, should someone attempt the unthinkable. In the back of the school, however, the windows are much closer to the ground and the drop not as perilous. Perfect for the ones who dared. 

One boy, a second grader, a little imp according to his teacher, routinely made a dash to the woods to relieve himself. Heaven help the teacher who had her back turned when the urge struck him. Off he went through the window.

Another now grown, fully mature adult giggled into the recorder when she told about how she and her best friend hurried to eat lunch and then ran to the one and only unbroken swing to play. First come, first served. She jumped out the window while her friend went through the door, the hall, the outside entrance and around to the playground. More than once, she added.

And then there were the older boys, the ones who took great joy in the new baseball field with its homeplate stuck back in yon corner. The dare this time wasn't in the jumping out, it was in the breaking in. Breaking actually. Who would be the first to break a window pane? I know the answer. His cousin still takes joy in telling about his punishment.

There's more to windows than meets the eyes.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

Today I'm honoring a soldier who did not have the privilege to celebrate Veteran's Day as he should have. I never met him, but I've heard his name through several interviews at Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse, Ralph Smith. I was anticipating reading about him as I scrolled through the microfiche newspapers of the sixties, but when his face came on the screen alongside the article, I wasn't anticipating my sadness. Ralph Smith, the first soldier in Burke County killed in Viet Nam. Ralph Smith, on a search and destroy patrol. Ralph Smith survived by his parents, a wife and two daughters. Ralph Smith, killed on November 6, 1965, five days from Veteran's Day. Ralph Smith, educated at Pilot Mountain School. Ralph Smith, doing his part for his country.

Thank you, Ralph Smith.

Catch of the day,


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Daylight Savings in WWII

Daylight savings ended early this morning and I earned back the hour I lost last spring. It’s almost like I banked that hour to revel in today. I’m going to spend it well. Reading.

I’m on Eastern Standard Time, not Eastern Daylight Time anymore. But if I had been around on that September day in 1942 on the very first first day of school at Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse, my clock would have been on something entirely different. EWT. Eastern War Time. From February 9, 1942 to September 30, 1945 the entire continental US was on daylight savings year round to conserve energy for the war effort. One person I interviewed said they were on a two hour difference, double daylight savings, but I’ve not seen proof of that. Even one hour made a difference in this rural, milk-the-cow-before-school society. It worked fine in spring, summer, and fall. Come winter, though, with the long dark nights, it was a different story.

To remedy this, school days started at ten in the morning and released after four in the evenings, safer for children catching the bus or walking on the side of the road in the mornings. After school, they hurried off the bus to get their chores finished before dark, so they weren’t playing around at the bus stop.

They worked it out for the good of the country. No questions, no rebellion. They just did it.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Womanless weddings of the 1950's at Pilot Mountain School were not designed toward a particular agenda. They were productions, elaborate affairs complete with "bridesmaids." All men. The "bride" (usually the biggest man in the community) wore a white dress and full veil. The "groom" (usually the smallest man in the community) wore his Sunday best.

It cost a quarter to watch. Yes. This was a school fund raiser. Better than selling candy or wrapping paper.

I mention it because this week my critique group went over my chapter seven with me. All was well (yeehaw!) except one thing. "What in the world," my raised-in-Southern-California critiquer asked, "is a womanless wedding?"

Funny how a few words in a paragraph bring out so much emotion and misunderstanding. She figured out the procedure. She figured out the participants. She couldn't figure out the culture behind it.

I don't know if I can explain it other than it was just a part of the innocence of the fifties. When we superimpose our current value system on a past system, things might not make sense. That's the beauty of this project. I don't have to explain or justify or defend. I just have to show a culture with all its fragments.

And then there were the Tom Thumb weddings. Surely you've heard of those.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Birthdays and a hectograph

Taking off my catcher’s hat for a moment and putting on the mom hat. Yesterday was my birthday and my daughter flew in from New Mexico to surprise me. Shock me, actually. What a fun day and it’s still going, until her return flight Thursday.

Birthday celebrations were much calmer in the Pilot Mountain School days. Only one person out of the hundred or so I’ve interviewed has even mentioned birthdays. On her eighth birthday, her third grade teacher gave every other student in the room a paper with an outline of a cake. Each child colored and decorated the cake and wrote birthday wishes. At the end of the day the teacher stapled the birthday cakes together in a booklet and gave her to keep. Keep, as in over sixty years keep.

Thirty children in the class. Thirty birthdays. Do the math. That’s a lot of birthday cake pictures and papers. But wait, there’s more to this story.

Producing a picture of a birthday cake wasn’t as easy as today with laser printers at the touch of a finger. The teachers didn’t have a mimeograph machine either, the old put it on a barrel and roll it around over the paper. Think further back.

Think hectograph, gelatin duplicator. Think shallow pan of goo. So the teacher draws the birthday cake onto the master copy with a pen of a special ink with aniline dyes. (Thank you wikipedia for the details and the picture.) She places it over the goo pan, presses it down until the ink soaks into the goo in the pattern she has drawn. She removes the master and places a sheet of paper on the goo, presses it, removes it and starts over on the next sheet. Thirty times. Math test? Same process. Social studies work sheets? Same process.

Precious time taken up to make copies of birthday cakes for each child. What a gift.

Catch of the day,