Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, February 5, 2016

Schoolhouse Rock

my alma mater, S.S.#3, built 1875
Regular visitors to this blog may know that I volunteer in a variety of capacities at Glanmore National Historic Site. It's enormously rewarding and fun, for many reasons which I won't go into just now. I laugh at my trepidation when I first signed on; thought I was entering the domain of sniffy society matrons who would dust-test my furniture with their white gloves. Couldn't be further from the truth.

One of the best things about volunteering at Glanmore for this curious cat is learning. Annual volunteer development days, an impressive resource library, coaching by professional staff to take on new roles. A delightful part of being a Friend of Glanmore is the monthly meeting: business (short,) coffee break (great fellowship,) and guest speaker (fascinating.)

This week our guest was sociologist and writer Millie Morton, who has written a tribute to her mother: a country kid, farm-wife and one-room school teacher story. Lovely. The book is called Grace. The subtitle, A teacher's life, one-room schools, and a century of change in Ontario, promises (and delivers) a thoughtful nostalgic and philosophical journey through the very territory I travelled as a child, albeit a couple of decades later. I am wandering through it, and memory. I attended a one-room school from 1952 to 1960. Same one room, same teacher, pretty much the same kids but for the occasional addition of "the beginners" in September.

Millie's talk - and her book - started a reminiscence about moments in that school-house (as they used to be called, likely for their domestic scale) and the formidable teacher who superintended my education
She deserves a book,  I would suggest. Not a perfect teacher for kids who struggled. A chooser of favourites. Shy, obedient and diligent little me was her favourite kind of 'pupil.'

A timid little soul, I needed reassurance from Miss Eaton when faced with the ordeal of the Grade 1 "school picture." I find this photo moving; despite her flaws, she was a dedicated teacher. Miss Eaton lived alone in a massive Italianate brick farmhouse with a series of overfed dogs. Her farm dining room and parlour were cluttered with piles of books. My brother Eric discovered her Master's thesis at the library - a complete surprise to us both. Queen's University, 1934. I still I have a little book, a gift from my teacher. She wrote: "To [me] on her tenth birthday from Rosa Eaton. This is a little gift to show that I appreciate the Excellent work you do in school for me."

All those memories pouring back. What strikes me about the hard life of Millie's mother Grace, and of Miss Eaton at S.S.#3 North Marysburgh was that they were rocks. Expected to be community models, judged  by how well they produced a Christmas concert or gave the strap or by the memory-work their pupils could produce, hired and fired by uneducated school board members. They often married local farmers - and in the day, that ended their careers - and continued to be cornerstones in rural society.

But I do go on. Read Grace. It's an astounding book. And like me, you may have one-room school experience, as pupil or teacher, and the book will touch your heart.

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