September 8, 2014
Back to school in the “olden days”

By Julie Carter, Cowgirl Sass & Savvy
The yellow busses are rolling again and school yards are alive with color, movement and sounds of laughing children.

It is a decades old routine that brings with it a wave of nostalgia for many, me included. There are generations of America’s students that can recall how much different things were “back then.”

I started school in a one-room country school house along with less than a dozen others in grades one through eight. I began in the first grade with three other children because they either hadn’t invented kindergarten yet or it at least it hadn’t reached the rural mountain regions of Southern Colorado.

All the grades shared one teacher, a huge wood stove in the middle of the room and a chalk board that was filled with everything from primer words to eighth grade math problems. And yes, Dick, Jane, Spot and Puff were part of my formative years.

We all brought sack lunches as there was no lunch program—free or otherwise. We had a “Boys” and a “Girls” bathroom option in the form of wood outhouses at the back of the school yard. I don’t recall if they were one- or two-holers.

Recess offered baseball, a set of swings with board seats complete with splinters and the usual playground games that required no equipment, only imagination. The apple tree at the back of the school yard carried the legend that it had begun when students from earlier years had thrown their lunch apple cores in a pile in that spot. I thought that was a magical story.

We had a Christmas play on a small stage that became available by removing part of a wall between the classroom and the backroom of the school house. I can remember being terrified to stand alone and sing my part of Jolly Old St. Nicholas. Now that I am aware of my lack of musical ability, I know there were many reasons to be afraid.

Gasoline was right at 25-cents a gallon and the drive to ferry me from the ranch to the school was country dirt road difficult and included three creek crossings each way. I spent many weeks in the winter bunking with my teacher and her family on a ranch closer to the school.

While that saved on long walks if we were stuck in the snow, fuel costs and wear and tear on vehicles, it often made a little girl very homesick. But I loved my teacher dearly and she found a place in my heart like I suppose many first grade teachers do.

She did what teachers are supposed to do. She sparked in me a desire to learn and the belief I could do anything I set my mind to do. Even if she did put my hair in rag curls to spiff me up for school photos.

The rural education system was in transition. That unique one-room school experience lasted only a year for me when it was “consolidated” and the students bussed to a more central school location.

I thought I’d hit the big time. There were at least eight kids in my class. Better yet, there was a filling station across the road that sold penny candy at lunch time. Things were looking up.

The first school building was built of rock—a foundation that formed walls up to large windows and a peaked roof that held a bell tower pointing to the blue Colorado sky above.

I’d like to believe that one important year there began to form my life in the same way --rock solid underneath and always reaching to the sky.
Julie can be reached for comment at