Agriculture & Livestock: Remembering the country school

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Diane Prather

All it takes is the sound of crickets in the evening to trigger memories of the fall.

And then, the scents of rabbit brush, sagebrush, and “sunflower” — a composite plant that has a blossom resembling a sunflower but isn’t really a sunflower at all — cause memories of our country school to come flooding back to me.

The memories come from my years growing up on our Morapos Creek ranch with my sisters and brother.

We kids were fortunate enough to attend a country school that was perhaps a quarter of a mile from the ranch. In fact, the school is still located on ranch property.

In those days, each ranch community had its own school and school board, which hired its own teacher. A superintendent of schools had his/her office at the courthouse in Craig and was in charge of all the teachers.

So, in the fall, around Labor Day, the parents gathered at the country schools to get everything ready for the start of school.

That’s where my connection to the plant scents came to be associated with the start of school.

Over the summer, the vegetation had grown up around the buildings and had to be cut away. The buildings had to be swept out, windows washed and walls scrubbed down.

My first years at the Morapos School were spent in the old log school. That’s where our mom taught, too, when she first moved to the Morapos community, before she married our dad.

The school had been standing a long time. It was replaced by a new school with a stucco finish, and the new Morapos School is what I remember most.

The school is surrounded by pasture land, marked with thickets of chokecherry, serviceberry and oak bushes.

We kids played on playground equipment that included swings and a slide, but mostly we played imaginary games, such as cowboys and Indians, and baseball.

Besides the school, there is a teacherage where the teacher lived. In those days, there were also two outhouses — one for the boys and one for the girls.

We entered the school through the back door. It led into a small room where we hung our coats and put down our lunch boxes.

Drinking water was hauled in by parents. At first we filled cups with a dipper, but later we got water from a “fancy” container that had a button to push for the water.

I think we may have used tin drinking cups in the earlier years, but they were replaced by Dixie cups.

This smaller room led to the larger classroom. A row of windows was along one side of the room. A stove and bookcase were along another. I think the books may have come from the superintendent’s office. They included an encyclopedia set and other intriguing books.

The blackboard was in front of the room with a set of maps that pulled down in front of it. There was a teacher’s desk, too. And, a recitation bench where kids took turns reading to the teacher and perhaps going over their assignments.

I believe our desks had tops that opened up and a hole on top for an inkbottle. I remember using pens with removable tips to practice penmanship on lined paper. The pens were dipped in the ink.

We worked on assignments at our desk as the teacher worked individually with kids in each grade. Some years, there was more than one child per grade.

After all of the cleaning, the school was ready for that first day.

As I recall, we arrived at school with our mothers that first morning. Fresh water was brought in. Mothers visited with the teacher. We kids had new pencils, crayons, tablets and lunch boxes.

We eyed the teacher nervously, especially if she was new. It was a scene very much like the first day of school today.

And that’s where my story will begin next week.

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