Tennessee Mountain Stories

Clyde’s School Days


[There is just a little overlap from last week’s article here, but I wanted to include all of Clyde’s school memories together.]

Clyde Whittaker attended Monterey School from 1930 - 1943.

He writes:

We moved into town near Grandma Whittaker when I was five.  I started school at six.  All twelve grades were in one building.  No running water the first year.  We had a girl and boys outdoor toilets.  There was a well with a hand pump near the back entrance.  Each class had a water bucket.  In lower grades the teacher would send two boys to fill the bucket and carry it back to the room.  Each kid had a telescoping cup that collapsed until you could put it in your pocket.  Each room had a large pot-bellied stove for heat.  The teacher would send two boys to the basement to get a scuttle of coal.  The teacher had to keep the fire going. 

In second grade the teacher got us samples to pass to the kids.  She got a small tube of Vaseline for each student.  I put a small dab of Vaseline on my hair.  I punched the cute girl in front of me to look at my hair.  She said it looked good.  So I put the rest of the tube in my hair to make it look even better.

Each class had a picnic near the end of the school term.  The usual place was the woods near where I lived.  When we finished eating I told Mary Frances I knew where there was lots of wild flowers.  When we got back to the picnic area no one was there.  When we got back to the hill and could see the school the last of our class was going in.  One of the girls yelled that Mary Frances was in the woods with Clyde.  Mary Frances yelled back, “You just wish it was you.”

In the fourth grade the teacher wanted a demonstration of a debate.  Mary Francis and I were selected.   We sat together in a corner and worked up the debate.  We enjoyed the task.  Shortly after that her father, a Methodist pastor was moved to another church.  I thought that was a terrible thing for the church to do.

In the fourth grade I sat near the front of the room.  The teacher called a boy to the front.  He had been making trouble and she was going to paddle him.  In those days a teacher was judged partially on her willingness to use the paddle when necessary.  As she paddled him I looked up and saw tears running down her face.  She was doing what was expected of her but it was hurting her more than the boy.

In the fifth grade we had an old maid, Flossie, a wonderful teacher.  When she needed to leave the room for a short time she would say, “Clyde tell the class a story.”  I would stand and tell something I had read.  One time I made up a story to tell.  She called on me maybe five times during the year.  She never called on anyone else.  [That year] I entered a speech contest which was part of a regional school competition including athletic events.  I was on the stage well into my speech when three high school boys in the back of the auditorium started laughing loudly.  I thought I did something and started thinking what it was and mixed up my speech terribly.  I didn’t realize until much later, they didn’t’ even know I was making a speech, they were joking among themselves.

I was either in fourth or fifth grade when our neighbors the Way family was going to kill and butcher a hog.  I had never watched the butchering of a hog so I decided to play hooky from school and watch it.  I thought no one would notice but my Mom saw me playing around the neighbor’s house about a hundred yards away.  When my Dad got home he cut a limb off a peach tree near the back steps and used it to give me a good whipping.  I had other whippings but I remember that one best.  I deserved the whipping and it hurt.  To my parents, school was serious business.  In those days parents who didn’t give their children proper guidance were considered neglectful.  I know now that whipping me caused my Dad more pain than it did to me.  [Someone asked me], “Didn’t you hate your Dad for that?”  I said no that I deserved everyone I got and deserved some I didn’t get.  We didn’t have much in those days, but I knew my parents always did the best they could under the circumstances that existed at the time.  I never had any doubt that my parents loved me and I loved them.

In most ways sixth grade was an uneventful period.  I have told people that from the age of twelve I bought most of my clothes – not all but most.  Mom made my shirts until I joined the Navy.  I was given a shirt, store bought, at least once maybe twice.

In the sixth grade I didn’t own a book.  In those days our students had to buy their own books.  I had a little money but I used it to buy overalls and shoes.  I would go in thirty minutes or more before class started and study using my friend’s book, which was left in their desks overnight.  At lunch I would rush two blocks home and eat a little lunch and rush back to school to study another thirty minutes before class started.  One day we had a test I don’t remember the subject.  The teacher was chewing out the class.  Everyone had done very poorly on the test except Clyde.  He went on to say Clyde don’t own a single book.  I was so embarrassed that I never told anyone until about three years ago I told [my sister] June.  I had come to realize that he didn’t mean to insult me but was complimenting me for doing well on a test under difficult circumstances.