Lesson Learned (November 5)

One room schools and family life legacy: An oral 1950’s history

A true saying heard up and down our West Virginia hills when an elder dies is, “When an old person dies, a library burns!” In order to keep an oral history alive, from the time of now-closed rural country schools, we are collecting tales that take us back. Lou Wentz Hansford tells stories that cause many other mountaineers to just nod their heads in agreement. This week, I continue the recent interview she graciously gave Allia Shaver, journalism student, and me. Here is a glimpse of home life from the Mount Nebo community in the 1950s:

Lou: My school homework was done around the kitchen table. We pretty much lived in our kitchen. My mother, like many other women, was a “homemaker.” As a reward for working hard at school, whenever I came home from school, I was allowed to play, which included watching television. We were one of the few in the community who had a TV earlier than maybe some of the others. We had a black and white TV at the time, and I remember having this plastic shield that you could put on to the TV that the top part of the shield was blue like the sky and green at the bottom for the grass. It had like a magnetic shield to the TV.

Doc: We did not have TV, but we stopped at the bottom of Victoria Hill, where Grandfather Paul and Grandmother Mary Barnes Flanagan lived. The Mickey Mouse Club attracted us, as well as grandmother’s molasses cookies and milk.

Lou: I could watch TV until dinner was ready. The TV must be off whenever we had our dinner. Dad, mom and I ate around the dining table together. We always prayed grace first. We held hands around the table during grace. We shared news from our day, so I had a golden opportunity to learn lessons about life from our communal meal. Following our supper, I helped mom clean up the dishes. We named our meals breakfast, dinner or lunch and supper. Then my parents saw to me getting my homework done.

Allia: I’m one of those procrastinators who waits until the last minute to do their work.

Doc: We didn’t have TV in our home, but the neighbors did, so I remember Wednesday night that all of the neighborhood would gather at the Daniel family home living room and watch Wagon Train. On Thursday night, we again came together for Dragnet. That was pretty much our TV watching for the week.

Another important school issue is how the teacher disciplines misbehaving students?

Lou: Oh yes, kids will be kids. There were misbehaving students. Discipline by degrees included spending time out in the cloakroom for punishment. Perhaps there was a circle the naughty student had to put their nose in. I didn’t have to go, thank goodness.

Doc: Or I recall the teacher sending a student to the hallway, but generally the cloakroom. Another level of discipline included spanking. The paddle stayed in the principal’s office, but if the school did not have a principal, then the teacher probably had a paddle in her/his desk someplace.

Allia: Doc, I am so glad that we don’t have that today!

Lou: I did not misbehave, but just the thought of the paddle proved to be a deterrent. And didn’t the paddle have a hole it?

Doc: Yes, the paddle was alleged to have a hole in it. That was supposed to make it more painful. Oh how rumors of paddles spread throughout the student! We frightened ourselves into good behavior.

Our Lessons Learned column continues week after week as more of the Upshur County Schools students, who attended our rural schools now closed come to us to share. There are at least 25 schools that closed during the 25-year tenure of Board of Education member Dr. Robert L. Chamberlain. We intend to gather an oral history from each school.


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