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Jim's story - Page 8

Written by James Needham Groom (b.1911-)

Life was very basic then in this prairie backwood. Church was the chief social function with the preacher being not only the expert on tenets of faith, but on all matters of conduct, moral and ethical. My father being the preacher, we never missed a service or function at the church - Sunday school, church services, B.Y.P.U, evening services, Wednesday night prayer meeting. We had a one horse topless buggy with a horse named Dixie which conveyed the three sisters, with me riding Goldie and Dad on Flossy with Flossy’s reins in one hand and a Bible in the other, heading to church. My youngest sister, who was two years older than I had to be overpowered before she would submit to the grooming that my older sister deemed necessary. They braided her hair into two pigtails, pulling her hair so tight that her eyes were pulled slanted like an Oriental. To this day, I think I can see signs of it. Preaching was carried on without mercy. Their sermons were out of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and they called down hell fire and damnation on sinners and it took from one to two hours to do it. If the preacher got started at 11:00 AM and it was one of the 1-1/2 hour variety, by the time singing and the closing prayer were over, it was 1:00 PM. By hurrying to hitch up the team and drive home it was 2:00 PM. Chicken was the traditional noon meal on Sunday. There being no refrigeration, the chickens had to be killed, the fire built and all perishable food cooked. The adults sat down maybe by 3:00. Children peeked thru the doors and windows while the adults ate all the breast, thighs, legs and pully bones, leaving wings, back, neck and feet for the kids. After I grew up, this procedure switched. Then the kids ate first and I still haven’t had a meaty piece.

School was very practical. Its function was to teach the kids to read, spell, write and add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers. The school I went to had seven grades all in the same room and one teacher. He was a small man in his forties and he would brook no misbehaving, whether it was a six year old first grader or a six foot 180 pound seventh grader. The punishment was the same for all. You were called to the front of the room, made to bend over, and he applied the switch to the back side of your lap. He cut his switches in the summer, choosing a straight limb a little smaller than his little finger and about three feet long. He cut a year’s supply and let them cure. As he walked around the room, he carried his switch in his right hand with his hand behind his back, the switch pointing up between his shoulder blades and the back of his head. He would spot a big boy in an act of rascality, walk past him as though he never saw it, then whirl and knock the culprit out of his seat by throwing his switch, sometimes all the way across the room. Children weren’t spoiled by sparing the rod in his school.

Kids who lived within a mile or two walked to school, but the ones who lived too far away rode horseback. A family who had three kids in school usually put them up on one horse, the older in front with the reins, the youngest in the rear, middle in the middle. Most of the kids rode bare back, and as they rode, the horse worked up a sweat, which was absorbed by the long black stockings and trousers of the boys. With a coal fired stove in a closed room, it wasn’t too hard to tell that someone in the room had been in contact with a sweating horse. Graduating from the seventh grade wasn’t considered very important. When a child was deemed by his parents to be suitably educated and could read, write, do numbers and spell, he quit and worked full time on the farm. The system worked pretty well because one of my relatives quit before finishing the 7th grade and is the most successful of any of us financially.

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