One Room School Days by Mike Madigan

July 11, 2009

Ah the one room schools of Newfoundland!
Where are they now, I wonder?
I’m no expert on the subject. But because of my involvement with Sharecropper ad that used my home telephone number and a one room school vignette that appeared on NTV television, I ended up hearing from hundreds of people who gave me their five to ten minute’s worth of stories, anecdotes and humour about the days when they, their parents or their grandparents went to a one room school. Humorous as it may seem, many always seemed to have as many thoughts about the ole’ “outhouse” out behind the school as the school itself! I guess they spent plenty of time in both!
And by the way, can somebody finally answer me just “why” some outhouses behind the house had two holes in them…and I mean…side by side? I must have been asked that two dozen times! Many outhouses, so I’m told, had holes right next to each other in the same cubicle! Can you imagine that? Some of the speculations given to me were summed up as follows: Why two holes side by side? Well, for husband and wife, of course; mother and child; early morning rush!; better warmth in the winter. How about newly weds, a chance for a private talk! Have YOU any suggestions or reasons of your own?
But I started off this column by saying: “Where are they now?” No, NOT THE OUTHOUSES! The one room schools! Where are those wonderful little pot-belly institutions of learning now, I wonder? How many have been torn down or accidentally burned? How many have been made into little libraries, churches and museums? How many might be still standing even today?
A while back Elizabeth Gorrigan, now living in Hanover, Mass., wrote a letter to The Downhomer Magazine asking if anyone had a picture of the Catholic one-room school house in Brigus Junction where her mother taught in 1922. Nothing remains of that school except the foundation and the steps. Elizabeth goes on to say that each summer when she visits Newfoundland, she spends the whole day picnicking at the sight enjoying the beautiful views of the Woodland and pond that her mother must have enjoyed too. Elizabeth’s mom taught 12 grades in that one room school and everyday wrote and separated the lessons for the different grades on the blackboard.
I received a call from Elizabeth and although most of the stories she related were humorous, she told me of one incident her mother told her that revealed the harshness of the times. It involved the need and responsibility of each child to one another other for bringing the day’s kindling for the old pot-belly stove.
One day one of her mother’s students, a young girl, forgot to bring the starter wood, leaving them all chilled that day.
“So my mother gave her a ‘punishment task’,” said Elizabeth to me. ” Later in the evening upon returning to the boarding house where my mom resided, she found she had NO PLACE TO STAY as it was the little girl’s house where she boarded!”
“My mother tried to assure the girl’s mother that it was nothing personal but that she had to make an example of the seriousness of that responsibility of bringing the kindling wood. But no way! It made no difference to this girl’s mother, and my mother had to find another place to stay that very evening!” lamented Elizabeth.
No doubt some of these schools may be gone now, but I assure you the memories live on!
On a more humorous note, Newman Romaine from Newman’s Cove, Bonavista Bay, can relate one humorous story after the other about his one room school days. In fact his one room school still stands in this beautiful cove not far from Bonavista and is now one of the most beautiful little churches in
Newfoundland.
Mr. Romaine tells of the time it was so cold that the teacher implemented the “rotation” method. A potbelly stove could give off wonderful heat but if it was cold enough outside, the further you were from the stove the colder it was for you. So throughout the morning the teacher would rotate the students from the windows to the stove and back, and as Mr. Romaine says it well, “you either froze or roasted, me son!!”
And what happens when you put a snowball on top of a potbelly stove – you know – just for devilment? Well for starters, “You got a good trimmin!” says Mr. Romaine. But how about a snowball and “two handfuls” of snow?!
Now that’s another thing! Newman Romaine tells it best.
“That day the stove was really hot,” says Mr. Romaine,” and although it was a cast iron stove, I guess its time had come. Suddenly there was a loud
“CRRAAACCK” and “HISSSSS”
when the snowball and handfuls of snow hit the stove top, and b’y that stove split right across the top to the back of her!”
And the story gets better.
“Me and me buddy were blamed for it but we never even did it! Honest!!”
Sound like a modern day excuse? Over fifty years later Mr. Romaine laughs about it “but the truth of the matter is that ‘two girls’ did the dirty deed! However, one of them was the daughter of the Head of the local school district and being the loyal and honorable lads that we were, we took the blame.”
Was it all worth it?
“Not really, “says Mr. Romaine, “for I ended up marrying a much nicer and sweeter girl anyways!”
Ah yes, the one room school days! They might be over but the memories certainly live on.

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