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YES MA'AM, NO MA'AM

Story ID:801
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Loma Mt. USA
Year:1920
Person:Miss Blogg
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YES MA'AM, NO MA'AM

"YES MA'AM, NO MA'AM"
An essay
by Kathe Campbell
I imagined I could hear the school bell ringing, reciting in unison, and the laughter of children at recess while photographing there last summer. The weathered and ramshackle Loma School has withstood all the extremes that Montana's weather can dish out for some 93 years. Red Rover - Red Rover.

I used to dream of pioneering, homesteading and ranching, fighting gunslingers and making friends with Indians. Oh to send the kids to a one-room schoolhouse, drive a buckboard to town for supplies and a one-horse surrey to church on Sunday. I entered the world a few years too late for such dreams, but haven't done too bad at that. We've pioneered, are ranching and have Indian friends. We missed the gunslingers and one-room school. Shucks!

At the sound of the school bell and wherever the setting for September's students, very few will return to the one-room country schoolhouse. Some still exist in rural Montana, but they are a vanishing breed. I love these dilapidated old buildings, especially where the bell tower is still in-tact. So, I made it my business to conger up some timeworn memories from the locals at the only saloon in town.

The Loma school sits off a two-lane road between Fort Benton and Loma. A pretty valley is tucked between the great Missouri and Marias Rivers where the ranches are spread far and wide. There used to be a lone privy out back which eventually succumbed to too many Halloweens. A hasp and stick on a string locked the tiny structure from the inside at recess. Occasionally students were given permission to visit the one-holer by raising their hands. If clever, some kept right on walking until time to show up at home without care or regard for the teacher's wrath.

Indeed, the area was worth exploring beyond the great Missouri, for this farthermost outreach left random mementoes by a few men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The unlikely treasures showed up in class to enhance the historic studies of the famous pair on their trek across our state.

The more privileged children rode to school bareback on horse or mule while others truly did walk miles and miles every day. The animals were generally turned loose to graze the school yard in good weather and took winter refuge awaiting day's end in the wood room out back.

Students were deposited weekdays at 8:00 A.M. into the loving arms and good care of Miss Daisy Blogg, a plump, good natured older woman with a goiter and sweet smile. She skewered extra pencils in her grayish bun and knew her students well enough to change seating charts every month.
She read aloud often, including a bible passage every morning after all saluted the flag and sang a patriotic song. Some folks today would probably shudder at the thought, but I doubt any of the students grew up the worse for wear by overt signs of faith and patriotism.

There were often only three to five students in each grade. Whether taught at school or at home, all questions were politely answered, "Yes Ma'am" and "No Ma'am," unless addressing the teacher directly. Miss Blogg was never known to raise a ruler or her voice in anger. Anguishing alone next to the cloakroom was punishment enough. A semi-circle of chairs were placed neatly at the front of the room before Miss Blogg's desk for her individual class lessons. Then the children were excused to return to their desks to complete assignments, or perhaps a bit of daydreaming.

There were usually two cloakrooms, but the Loma School had but one and the teacher used special cubbyholes for her coat and umbrella, galoshes and student lunches. At the back of the room stood a barrel stove on a large piece of tin nailed to the wooden floor. Several times a year the children's fathers stocked the wood shed and the older boys served as stokers during brutal winters. Miss Blogg's old smoky kettle graced the wood stove for the purpose of melting snow or to make an occasional hot chocolate treat. Everyone carefully laid wet mittens and caps at a safe distance to dry first thing in the morning and after each recess.

The three R's were standard fare in the one-room school, and occasionally a bit of poetry and history. Some of the older boys missed late spring and early fall lessons, for they were needed on the farm. Nonetheless, they ciphered numbers and letters well enough to manage some reading skills. This was often considered a good solid education by parents who had experienced little or none.

Once each week one of the mothers came after school to teach the rudiments of arts and crafts and sewing attended mostly by the girls and younger classmates. Today I suppose this would be called 4-H. They turned cigar boxes into sewing kits and painted colorful stones for doorstops, usually seascapes and exciting designs from magazines and calendars so foreign to prairie life.

At Christmas the entire class entertained parents and neighbors with carols and the nativity play. And of course the walls were decorated with colorful paper chains and everyone's best papers and artwork.

Memorial Day welcomed spring. Each child brought flowers and kicked dust down the dirt road to an ancient cemetery to place bouquets on the graves. Returning, they stopped at the Marias River to toss flowers into her spring runoff in memory of all men in uniform lost in battle.

How lovely it would be if all children could experience the joy of country learning and discovery. It serves as a lasting legacy for those who dipped pigtails in inkwells, erased blackboards and proudly left initials carved into the battered old desks of a one-room schoolhouse. What a pity our burgeoning population has rendered them impractical and obsolete. I would have loved it.

Copyright 2004
Kathe Campbell