|Pittsfield Township Historical Society|
|Memories of Town Hall School|
By Ruth (Burgar) MacFarlane
We Burgars lived on the Thomas place, one-half mile south of the school on what is now Thomas Road but was then unnamed. In order of age we were Dora, John, Gordon, Ruth (me), Janet, and Catherine.
I attended the Town Hall School from the spring of 1925, when I was admitted at the age of four as a "Beginner," until eighth grade graduation in 1932 when I was twelve. I believe I took first and second grades together. I was not able to go on to high school until two years later, because we did not have the money for tuition which had to be paid in those days. I attended Ypsilanti High School, graduating in 1938.
Here I shall try to remember as much as possible about the Town Hall School and the classes.
You entered the school through a square concrete porch on the north side, a porch where we often played "Kitty wants a corner." Children stood in the four corners. The beseeching kitty would apply to each person in turn with whines and funny faces, "Kitty wants a corner." If the person in possession could keep a straight face, kitty had to go onto the next. Usually we dissolved into giggles and kitty took over the corner, while the other child became kitty.
Inside the entrance was a dark unheated vestibule where we hung our coats and stored rubbers and galoshes. On each end of the vestibule a door led into an alcove. The one on the right, going in, held the pump organ. The one on the left, during my time there, was converted to a reading room. Sometimes Marian Wallo and I would be allowed to read in there together. I remember giggling sessions. Everything in the Child Life magazine was funny to us.
We went into the schoolroom. proper through the right alcove, finding our seats, turning to face the teacher's desk which sat on a raised p1atform at the front of the room. Behind her, in front of the slate blackboard, a bell rope hung down, which she pulled to announce the end of recess or noon hour.
We sat at wooden desks, fastened together in rows, the seat of one attached to the desk of the one behind. The desks had inkwells in the upper right comer. Often the wood was carved with the initials of those who had gone before. Smaller desks for the younger children were on the left side of the room, larger ones on the right. I think there was a blackboard on the right wall as well as the one behind the teacher. Light came in through tall windows to left and right. In the back left comer was a big stove encircled by a protective jacket. It burned wood and may have burned coal too.
At one time our teacher had us bring carrots and potatoes and onions from home which she cooked probably on top of that stove, to make us a hot lunch. The smell was wonderful.
In front of the first row of desks stretched two long seats. Smaller children sat there for the little people's reading class, every day after lunch. Our teacher read aloud such stories as "Epaminondas," "The Princess on the Glass Hill," and "The Wind in the Willows."
Of course the older ones listened too. One advantage of a one- room. school is that you get a foretaste of work to come, when it comes your turn you do it, then in later years you review it just by listening passively.
One year we made a movie of "The Wind in the Willows," drawing and coloring scenes on a long roll of paper which was rolled onto a piece of broomstick then unrolled onto a second stick to show the scenes in sequence.
For art, we cut and colored bluebirds or robins, tulips, daffodils, autumn leaves, pumpkins, snowflakes, Christmas wreaths, or Valentine hearts in season, which were fastened to the windows. I remember the tactual joy of animal stencils of stiff colored paper -- pink, green, blue, yellow, brown -- with which we traced camels, elephants, horses and pigs. I take issue with those who say that stencils stifle creativity. Instead they impart a feeling of confidence, an urge to draw more.
Our teacher for four years was the one I remember best, Mrs. MacRae. She cast a benign light over my grade school years, with her kindness and imagination. She kept the walls decorated with cut -out pictures, some of them Maud Towsey Fangle's babies from the covers of "Good Housekeeping" magazine.
Once we had a sand table on which we constructed a scene with tiny trees, a looking glass lake, and tiny houses. At another time, someone made a large doll house for us. Mrs. MacRae brought real tarpaper shingle samples to be nailed on its roof. I remember stitching tatting onto a doll sheet, rejecting advice against puckering--and ending with a puckered hem! That doll house was a delight. When we had our work done we could play with it or help make more furnishings.
Occasionally we put .on a play. I remember one, a health play to which our parents were invited in the afternoon. I remember a song, "Oh, we are the green vegetables, we wel-el-come you." I think I was dressed as an onion. Someone was dressed as an onion.
Then at Christmas time there was the Christmas program, with carefully rehearsed poems, songs, and a play, followed by Santa Claus and presents.
We sang in the mornings, too: "America," "Battle Hymn of the Republic." and one that stays entire in my head (with fair accu- racy):
Oh, it's great to see the Old World
So it's home again and home again America for me
(Well? that's the way I remembered it. To get it right, look up Henry Van Dyke's "America for Me. ")
If mornings were chilly, we might do some exercises or march in place, or even march around the room until the stove warmed up sufficiently.
I remember a love of school■numbers in neat rows, sentences to write laboriously, and the stories and poems in our readers: Black Beauty galloping through the night; the village smith whose brawny arms were strong as iron bands; Barbara Fritchie, "Up from the South at break of day..."; and the monster Grendel swimming up out of the sea to be defeated by Beowulf.
We had spelldowns, with the suspense of who would remain standing the longest.
Portraits of Washington and Lincoln looked down from the walls. It bothers me now that the birthday of George Washington, that patron saint of truth has been if not actually moved, at least changed to be celebrated at convenience not actuality.
Out the east window we could glimpse the roof of the wood shed. During recess we might play "Anti-I-over, throwing a ball up over the woodshed roof to the team waiting on the other side.
If someone caught the ball, that team was entitled to run around the end of the shed, trying to tag and capture some of our team, who then joined them. If the opposite team failed to catch the ball, they were supposed to call out ■Anti-I-over" and throw it back over to us. The game called for a certain amount of deception. We might call out the warning, when we had caught the ball, then try to sneak around the end and catch the others unaware.
Another game was "Prisoner'-s Base" that involved two bases, worn spots in the ground, inhabited by two teams. There were forays, tauntings and raids, attempting to capture one another's players, dangerously away from their own base, and take them back prisoner to join our side.
We played "Mother May I?" with its precise permissions:
"You may take two giant steps" or baby steps, but if you failed to ask, "Mother, may I?" you could not advance at all. Again, two teams lined up against opposite walls.
In fall, when golden leaves showered down from the row of sugar maples in the yard, we raked the leaves into windrows that marked the walls of the rooms of our houses laid out like giant floor plans on the ground.
Sometimes we played baseball. I was never good at that being either nearsighted or afraid of the ball or both.
An ash heap in one comer of the yard made a base for "King of the Mountain," especially popular in winter when the ashes were frozen and snow-covered.
Winter brought snowmen, snow-forts, and snowballs. I was a great coward about snowball fights.
In spring there were mumblety-peg and jacks and marbles.
Across the road to the west was a little marsh, Webb's Marsh, I think. In open places where clean ice could found, we skated in winter, or tracked one another through the cattails and red osier bushes. Once we tried to construct a little house, weaving small branches and cattails in and out among poplar saplings. If you drive by that marsh today you will find the saplings all grown up to tall trees.
Across the road to the north stood the town hall, for which the school was named. On voting days we were taken across to view the process, solemnly accepting pink sample ballots. The town- hall yard was ringed by a fence made of posts with iron pipes threaded through their tops-hitching posts, I suppose. Those pipes were fine for doing skin-the-cat and even, for the daring, for walking along.
For most of those years the school was sm.a11, sometimes not even all the grades represented, and the youngsters of those years were gentler. Later some larger, rowdier youngsters moved in and there was more teasing, more roughness, and more scurvy jokes about the two outhouses that stood out along the back fence of the schoolyard. (Not to be too smug, though. I remember taking part in snickering sessions when I was in about the eighth grade, as we looked up forbidden or mysterious words in the dictionary.) I think that after I left the school, some of the bigger boys smashed and burned the doll house.
In spite of those few untoward incidents, I treasure those years in country school.
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