Frost bordered the bottom of our front picture window this January morning.
Memories surfaced of finger-numbing days of childhood and my early experiences of remote learning.
For the first five of my school years, I attended a one-room school remote from home. One of the luckier ones, I only walked one mile. My cousins walked two and several others in the school traveled three. The first weeks of school, the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot and the sight and aroma of ripe fruit – rosebuds, chokecherries hanging black in bunches, and the red hawthorn berries shriveled and sweetened by frost, so delicious to pick, made remote learning a sheer delight.
But then came hard frost, deep snow, and wind (we didn’t know windchill in those days) making the trek a challenge.
Snow days, like Dick Tracy’s telephone watch, were for the imagination.
My parents keeping us home from school because of the cold, not considered. We bundled up, faces covered except for the eyes, and off we went. At times to arrive with frozen fingers, frost-bitten cheeks, and ice cube feet.
The one-room school had central heating, one big barrel-like stove – devouring cordwood – located at the back of the central classroom. Teacher and students would gather around this stove on the coldest of days or perhaps Monday when the schoolroom had not been heated for the duration of the weekend.
Gradually we migrated to our desks. The ink in our ink bottles remained frozen until noon.
Nonetheless, we learned to read, (Dick and Jane, Run Spot run.) write script, do arithmetic and perhaps one of the great benefits of this remote learning, we learned to work independently. With eight grades to manage, each class frequently worked on their own while the teacher helped others.
I remember one morning all classes being ushered outside to watch a cloud phenomenon—heavy dark clouds slowly drifting west to east while thin white clouds below, scuttled westward. We were witnessing two different wind directions in the atmosphere. On another outdoor education occasion, we were called outside to observe faint images of buildings as in a city, projected on the clouds. I have never witnessed such a cloud mirage since.
Physical education included our walks to and from school, combined with softball play at recess and noon or soccer in the winter. To change it up a bit, after fresh snow, a huge circle in the snow would be tramped out with spokes leading into a central haven for some good games of Fox and Goose.
Remote learning in my day brought challenges. Given the scarcity of supplies, remote from libraries, and other resources, many students still went on to manage growing farm acreages while others continued their education to earn graduate and post-graduate university degrees.
This should not be construed as just nostalgic memories of the silent generation.
We cannot trivialize the current remote learning situation for parents or students. Every generation experiences many challenges.
But will some future writers, describing their days of virtual learning during a pandemic, outline the challenges and advantages of those days at home? It has been said, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”
Enjoy reading this blog? Read Contrary Winds, a short story about Wally Johnson and his experience at school one wintry day. You’ll find this in my recent publication of short stories Fire and Iron; Stories of Fidelity, Infidelity and Daring Commitment.