A Schoolhouse Rock: Part I

The rock that now sits where a schoolhouse once did

Where once there was a school, forever there is the memory

Of the various reasons for my absence of blog posts, the most prevalent is the persistent precipitation so euphemistically referred to as snow.  What spring promises for other states, Vermont does not see until Mid-May at best. January is when the real winter begins: the snow falling fast, thick, and heavy, blanketing the earth; the cold a deep, pressing chill that eats you to the bone, brought about by driving winds of frigid air.  February is the freeze that follows. The slightly warmer days try their hardest to heat up the earth and melt away the snow, but frozen nights prevail leaving behind sheets of ice like fields of glass. Then comes March, a month of promise, of change. The air begins to lose its chill, the snow begins to fade, filling rivers and streams with its watery remains.  Grass begins to poke free, tasting light once again, and the trees shed their icy sleeves for limbs of rigid buds. But then winter comes again, and with it comes the snow, and once again the world is hidden away.

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Snow, along with its other limiting-abilities, is a fantastic obscurer.  The world, cloaked in white, easily hides innumerable unknowns. Many mysteries dwell beneath that frosted blanket for months, waiting for the sun to finally set them free.  And so for the many weeks of my absence, the snow had blinded me to the one thing I needed in order to write this blog post. But even winter, and its snow too, must fade, and finally what I needed was freed.  Perhaps it is only fitting that I am writing this now at the very moment when the snow returns yet again (even April is not enough to stave off Mother Nature’s chilly grasp). Nevertheless, this is a post I’ve wanted to share for some time, in fact, it was the first post idea I had when I began this project, and not even the snow can stop me now.  

At the corner of Grout and Clay Hill, two dirt roads that wind their ways along the eastern edges of Hartland, there is a little plot of grass unadorned with bushes or trees, bare to the beating wind, pouring rain, and falling snow.  At the center of this sodded swatch there sits a small stone, laid into the earth like a pig on its side, baking in the sun. Moss and lichen cling to its rough, grey surface like patches in a handmade quilt. And at the center of this stone there is set a square plaque embossed in faded metal, the letters worn but not yet illegible.  

The Grout School Memorial Plaque

                                              The plaque reads:

                                               GROUT SCHOOL

                                              Hartland, Vermont

                                             18471-Room    1972

                                        Historical site and memorial

                                       to the early days of education

                                      and the educators of that time.

This past winter I graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in English and a degree in secondary education.  I never would have guessed, as a cramugeney teen, that it would one day be the career I ended up with, but nevertheless, a teacher is what I have become.  However, had I been more observant of my influences, more aware of my genes and the pre-dispositions that lay within me, tugging at my heartstrings with subconscious fingers, then perhaps I would have known all along what I would become.

A one room schoolhouse, no larger than the average classroom today, once stood on the very spot where this lone rock sits now, and it was there that my Great-Grandmother used to teach. For four years, beginning in September of 1934 and ending in June of 1938, Rachel Eleanor Royce taught all subjects to a class of roughly twelve boys and girls in that room.  In her first year she brought home seventeen dollars a week as pay. In her last year, it was nineteen. Now all the remains is the rock and the words upon the plaque -- a memento to her life, and her school, and the world of education as it was so many years ago.

But I can almost picture how it would have looked all those years ago.  Its wooden walls would have been flush, its roof adorned with small black shingles, a chimney poking out near the peak.  Inside, there would have been only what was required. Neat lidded desk, uniform in their design, and all faced toward the front of the room where a large blackboard would have filled the wall.  Gentle swoops of cursive chalk would have swam across the board like lingering clouds thinned by a warm wind, and swooping tracks of chalkdust would have marked an eraser’s previous path. In front of the board there would have been positioned a small desk, a few books, a cup of spare pencils, and perhaps a ruler or two on its smooth wooden surface.  The walls would have been left mostly bare, save for a poster perhaps or a calendar marking the day, month, and year, and two windows would be cut into each wall except for the one at the front. It the back, between low shelves filled with schoolbooks and extra supplies, there would have been a small stove and, in the winter, a stack of wood. All of this would have been home to my Great-Grandmother and handful of children, their ages ranging from first to eighth grade, from morning into the early afternoon.

It would have been a quiet place, surrounded as it still is by towering trees, kept safe and comfortable in their leafy shadows.  It would have been peaceful: students smiling, laughing, learning. Their young voices would have carried out into the warming winds of spring through the open windows and echoed playfully down the sunny dirt roads.  And even in the winter, bundled close, the flames in the stove flickering silently, there would have been happiness there, even as their voices now spread like wispy clouds into the chilly air. They would have learned to read, and to write, and to multiply.  They would have come to understand that the world is round, that Vermont is only a small part of it, and Hartland even smaller. And they would have learned, just as my Great-Grandmother had always understood, just as I understand now, that hope, change, and the promise of a better future all begin in the hearts of children given the chance to learn.

My Great-Grandmother's (Rachel Eleanor Royce) last teacher contract for the Grout School


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