Dear Old Golden Rule Days
by Janet Farquhar
Chapter 4 - Creative Writing
Pigtail Peggy, with her cotton print dress, white socks and brown shoes, reminded me of a miniature rural housewife. She came inside one morning recess with Ellen and pointed to the pine covered hill outside the window, a dark green plum pudding with a garnish of light green aspen at its base. The girls were giggling and asking if I knew where the hill came from. I couldn't guess, so Peggy told me that it was an old campfire of Paul Bunyon's. He had covered it with dirt to keep it from starting a forest fire. Trees began to grow and there it was, Campfire Mountain.
Ellen went back outside, but Peggy stayed, leaning on the edge of my desk and fiddling with a pencil. She wondered why I didn't give out gold stars like Mrs. Day. I told her because I taught differently from Mrs. Day. "That's okay," she said. "My mom says you're new-fangled." I chuckled a bit. "I guess I am, Peggy." She asked if I liked Ellen.
"Of course," I said.
"That's good," she replied, "that means you'll treat her right." She went on to describe how scared Ellen had been of Mrs. Day. "She don't scare me none."
"I see," I said.
Still fiddling with the pencil, Peggy asked, "Are you ascared of being a teacher?"
I was amazed at her grasp of the situation, both of my own fears in relation to teaching this school, and her friend's fear. "You're interested in people, aren't you, Peggy?" She hurriedly dropped the pencil. "I guess so." She went back outside. I recalled how in the first days, her friend Ellen arrived at school with her brother and sister on their plodding white horse, appropriately named Whitey. She could not look me in the eye, but stared at the ground, the top of her desk or the floor. She seemed to want to like me, but was afraid I might turn into the wicked witch of the west at any moment.
Reading instructions in the 5th grade English book on how to write a story, I wondered if writing might help her express some of the fear I had seen in her the first few days of school. There was still wariness there.
Deciding to have a writing lesson for all of the children, I set the older ones to work at their desks. Ellen was at first scared to put pencil to paper, so I told her, "Relax, just be Ellen, she's a great girl." She grinned and started writing.
I took the primaries onto the steps of the stage and had them dictate theirs. Patty's was about a little girl who liked beans so much she ate them and ate them, and got fatter and fatter. "She got so fat, she blew up like a balloon and exploded!" With that she burst into laughter, everyone along with her.
Eric told about his pet crow that flew away. When the primaries were finished with their stories, I set them to work copying them at their desks. Then the older children read theirs. Ellen read her story about a runaway beaver that everyone liked.
Some weeks later, grading in my cabin, I picked up a story of Ellen's about a little old schoolteacher who lived in a little old cabin. The next day I read about this schoolteacher to the children. "She had two old ducks that made more noise than the kids in school made when she got mad at them. She also had an old cow she milked every night and morning before she went to school. Every night the cow would bawl and paw the ground. On Saturday you would see her out making a fence for the pigs, but it wouldn't do any good because the pigs would tear it down again." At this, Patty erupted into giggles, and others joined her, but as I read the last few sentences, they all quieted. "When she would go to school she would come in and sit down. At nine o'clock she would ring the big bell. If anyone was late she would take him on the stage and make him say, ‘I will not be late again' one hundred times. And he was never late again mind to tell you. When she would tell them to do something and they would not do it, she would make them stay two hours after school.
"When you would see her on the street, she was real nice. But when she was in school, she was real bad to be around. She was really bad." The children were all silent and solemn.
Peggy turned to her. "I told you she'd like it, dummy." Ellen grinned.
After this, she was completely relaxed with me. She invited me to dinner and came to pick me up on Whitey. The two of us rode to her home bareback.
Chapter 1 - First Test
Chapter 2 - Creative Activities
Chapter 3 - Music
To learn more about Janet's book, Taught to the Tune, click on: http://home.earthlink.net/~zenfive.