Monday, January 28, 2013

Telephone Times

Telephone times have changed since Pilot Mountain School first opened. That's an understatement if I've ever written one. Just look at how the telephone has changed in the last few years, months even.

For me, surviving without a cell phone is an impossible task, now that I know what I would be missing. The mischief makers of the past at least got a few hours before the wrath hit. Teachers today call and text parents (and the front office) from the classroom, immediate action and reaction.

The teachers at Pilot Mountain School weren't that fortunate. The one telephone was in the office. For the first few years, calling was an operator assisted activity. I found these old telephones for sale on ebay, in case you are in the market for outdate technology. Me, I've got several newer, old fashioned telephones in boxes and drawers. I don't need more.
Notice, no dial, which means no dial tone. Just an operator that says, "Number please." A parent could reach the office by saying, "1071-w-1." The "w-1" indicated party line w, house one.

In the fifties, technology in the South Mountain Valley upped a notch to the dial system. Each area was assigned an exchange name, Hemlock, for south of town. HEmlock-7, again a party line, a party of twelve: The school, the principal's house, and ten others. "They weren't being nosy," the principal told me when I asked about privacy. "They were being friendly, asked how I was doing. But they always hung up when they knew the call was about school business."

Since there was no principal in the principal's office while he was in the classroom teaching, the phone went unanswered except by an eight grade student who sat near the door of the classroom and listened for the ring. Twelve on a party line, twelve distinct rings? No one I've asked remembers, but I'd bet the farm that none of those twelve rings involved the variety of ringtones available today.

Every so often, I hear someone's ringtone that reminds me of the phone in the second picture.

Hooray for those few! They bring a memory to my mind and a smile to my face.

Catch of the day,


Monday, January 21, 2013

A Sputnik Moment

Inauguration Day!

The day of American pomp has arrived, and even though the true constitutional  inauguration was yesterday, we Americans still know how to make the most of an excuse to celebrate. We'll double celebrate this year as it's Martin Luther King Day as well.

Wonder what President Obama will say to the people who stand before him and to those who are watching on global networks. He's said something before that I think he could work from, if I could be brazen enough to suggest. In his 2011 State of the Union address he said, in reference to the task ahead, "This is our generation's sputnik moment."

Sputnik I. Click image to expand.
Sputnik I

Perhaps there are some in this generation who have no point of reference to what a Sputnik Moment could be, and I'm not sure the connotation that the president means is what I've interpreted or even want to interpret. But the children of the fifties at Pilot Mountain School knew exactly what a sputnik moment was. They lived it. If they didn't walk outside in the evening and spot this satellite moving across the sky, they at least read about it in their Weekly Readers.

It was the rocket that went into space on October 4, 1957, the first in the space race, and Russian, not American. Best explained by Fred Kaplan in the online Slateit is "the single word that has symbolized ever since the fear of slipping behind in a dangerous world."

It didn't appear all that dangerous to those children who traced its path across the sky. To them it was a fascination, a marvel. That speck in the sky reflecting the sunlight represented a new reality that the wildest of dreams could come true. The sky was no longer the limit.

That generation of children went out into the world with that mindset. They could overcome. They would conquer space. Oh, there is much more yet to be done, both here on earth and in the wide blue yonder as well, much they didn't accomplish. But there is the future for that. 


Yes, Mr. President, we need another Sputnik moment. We need to go out and gaze at the possibilities and, rather than fretting that we are slipping behind, we need to inspire the children of this new generation as they stand looking up tonight. 

Catch of the Day, Inauguration Day, Martin Luther King Day


Monday, January 14, 2013

Marbles, Marbles and More Marbles

Somewhere along the line marbles have faded from the American childhood scene. At least I thought so, until I read an article in our local newspaper's, American Profile supplement. I was so wrong.

Just look at the samples from the company featured in that article, the Moon Marble Company in Kansas. Beauties, aren't they!

During the Pilot Mountain School interview process, I caught story after story about playing marbles from the men I interviewed and from quite a few women as well. They played before school, during school recess, after school while waiting for the bus. A few even dared to invent pocket guessing games during class, but the eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head teachers from that generation soon put an end to that. They also put a stop to what they considered gambling, playing for keeps.

Each of those attempts didn't last long and the boys were soon out in the schoolyard on their knees winning and keeping what they won. One man who admitted to being terrible at the sport would supply the best player in his class with marbles and they would split the winnings. Many children carried their "ill gotten gains" in drawstring bags fastened to their belt loops.

A former teacher told me she felt a certain comfort walking onto the school campus and seeing circles etched in the sand all across the back lot.

On the other hand, the mothers found little comfort in constantly patching the knees of their sons' bib overalls while the girls found little comfort in the grit that embedded into their bare knees. But play they did. They all did.

Marbles didn't fade away, not at all. Instead they came to a screeching halt, disappearing almost overnight. I noticed this because as I would ask the marble questions to children of the forties and fifties, they were full of answers, yet when I asked the same questions to children of the late sixties and early seventies, no answers, no marbles.

The difference was progress.

Okay, so progress is good, but it comes with a price, and in this case the price was the game of marbles. The sandlot was no more. Simply put, the playground was grassed over and the parking lot was paved over and every little boy in the history of marbles knows that location is everything, that marbles don't roll on grass and they roll too much on pavement. Sad.

But wait.

This same Kansas company has pictures on their site of children playing indoors! Check it here at the Moon Marble Company.

Here's hoping the game of marbles will make a comeback. It's so much fun.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, January 8, 2013 1973

A friend of mine caught up with me this past Sunday at church and said she was so very sad. I asked her why, of course.

"The school is closing," she answered. "Pilot Mountain School," she continued when she saw the question in my face.

"What?" I had not heard this news. Surely after all this hard work and loving devotion to the building, Tom Brittain was not closing the school.

Then she smiled. "In the book. That's where I am in reading your book. Pilot Mountain is closing and I'm so sad and I didn't even go to school there."

Oh the power of the pen, to make a person feel, to create sympathy in others, empathy for people in situations beyond their own sphere of reality. I can see why she had a hard time reading it without an element of sadness creeping in. I had a hard time writing it. My feelings were conflicted about its closing, and I too, didn't even go there. Thing of it is, the community wasn't sad at the time. This school had served them well, but its time was over and in 1973 these parents were looking forward to the opportunities school consolidation offered their children. Closing was necessary. The sadness came years later, with the reality of what they had lost.

I know exactly where she was in the book. Chapter 11 - The Junior High Years, The School Closes, the chapter that ends with a quote by Freddie Setzer:

We just walked out the door, kind of like a Mary Tyler Moore experience. Turned out the lights and left.


Click on this to check out the final scene of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, their sad farewell, their group hug, and at the very, very end, Mary turning out the lights. Watch it, absorb it, then think Pilot Mountain School. 1973. Closing.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year

This new year is upon us at last, despite dire predictions of end of times and fiscal cliff horrors. Reflections on 2012 - yesterday's news. Ready or not, 2013 has arrived with all its steam and left over baggage...and promises.

That's the way the school years started at Pilot Mountain School those many years ago. The teachers and their students came to class the first day of a new year, full steam ahead, rested from the summer break, and eager to open the books to the newness of lessons to learn.

Baggage? Oh, yes. We should appreciate our 2013 baggage.

Children brought baggage sometimes so heavy they couldn't function. The school years of wartime 1940's saw children with fathers at war, brothers killed or missing, families doing without for the war effort.

In the late forties and early fifties, a new school year meant the summer polio quarantines were lifted and those children who were still alive could safely return to the classrooms.

In the fifties and sixties, children came to the new school year under the shadow first of the cold war and bomb shelters, then Viet Nam and the evening news.

During the turbulent sixties, the new school years brought changes. One year the children returned, but the Bible did not.

Arising above that baggage, every new school year brought promise. Hope for the future, for a new beginning, for lessons learned.

My New Year's wish to all, just like a new school year, hope for your future, promises of a new beginning, and by December 31, 2013, many valuable lessons learned.

Catch of the day,