Transcribed by Rae Wayne
August 19, 1954
* CAL’S COLUMN *
Forty-four years ago today, August 8, 1910, the writer of this “Colyum” began his school at Dean Hill, which was located on the extreme headwaters of Salt Lick Creek of Cumberland River. This was his first school and did he have a feeling of doing something great! We had taken our first teachers’ examination in June before and made the highest grade in our class of would-be teachers. This was quite an honor, we thought, for a 19 year old hillbilly, to make a higher grade than any of the older teachers who had taught for years and the writer was very proud of his record. None of these things is said with a view to boasting, but are the feelings of our own heart in the matter. We had helped our father on our little farm in getting a crop going and had helped to cut the wheat threshed it and laid by the corn. We had helped to get the dark tobacco crop as far along as was possible for the season.
We left home on Thursday, August 4th, driving our old family mare to a buggy, with our aunt, Mrs. Martha Wright, who knew quite a number of the people of that section, and who went along with the young teacher that he might get acquainted with his pupils of the coming school year term. We recall that as we gazed down from the high hill above the schoolhouse, it was not one bit like we had the place pictured in our mind as we had thought of it hundreds of times from landing our first teachers’ contract, at $40.00 per month to teach the little school. We recall looking down the valley toward the southeast from the high hill on which the road between the creeks ran. We still see in our mind’s eye, the little white school located just above a large thicket of cedars, with a rolling, grassy pasture located to the south and west of the school building which was of frame construction with one door and four windows, two on each side and none in the rear. That valley is still before us in vivid memory, as we gazed over its cornfields its pastures, its houses, tobacco patches, and the many forests that then covered nearly every hill in that section.
We drove northward on the high ridge from the point where we had looked upon Dean Hill school house for the first time. We did not then know that Cumberland Mountains were to be seen from a point only 100 yards from where we first saw the little house of learning. Since that time, we have often gazed far to the eastward at the distant mountains, which can be seen any clear day.
We continued our way to the home of Uncle Tom Donoho, which was our destination, as aunt Martha knew this family quite intimately. We arrived there at about 11 o’clock in the day and found a hearty welcome. From that day to the day of their deaths, Uncle Tom and his good wife, Aunt Polly Ann were among the best friends we ever had. Uncle Tom did not live long after this, dying in September 1913. Aunt Polly Ann lived until a few years ago, dying at a ripe old age. In this home was also Aunt Bide Russell, the old blind saint who was the most active Christian woman we have known in our more than 50 years of life. She was then totally blind, except for a slight knowledge of daylight from darkness.
We found Uncle Tom’s house to be of logs in front and a frame L running far back to the west. It was nearly dinner time and we had then a very keen appetite. This house was located on the “Ridge” as we called the Highland Rim then. We had never before eaten a meal in a country home on the “Ridge.” We had been told by our parents that the “folks on the Ridge never have enough to eat.” Imagine our surprise on finding the table loaded down with good food, consisting of beans, fried corn, tomatoes, fried chicken, ham, pies, cakes, and other kinds of “honey-ca-doodles.” We ate till we deemed it unsafe to eat anymore. When we returned home, we informed our “pappie” and “mammy” that they were badly mistaken as to the “folks on the Ridge” not having enough to eat.
After eating “our fill we sauntered forth to get acquainted with the boys and girls who on the next Monday, August 8th, exactly 44 years ago, were expected to be “sitting at our feet,” so to speak. We visited every family where there were children of school age with possibly one exception. We soon had the children enumerated in our little mind. We visited the following families: Donoho, Canter, Williams, Clark, Richardson, Flatt, and Shoulders, and this group embraced nearly all of the people in the community. We also made arrangements to board with Alvis Donoho and his good wife, Jennie Grandstaff Donoho, who lived at the foot of the hill which gave the school its name. The family then consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Donoho and their sons, Carl, Odell and the baby, H. T. Donoho; and a daughter, Grace Donoho, who had married Will Law and had, at the time, one child, Gordon Law, then only a month old. We were to have board and washing for the sum of $8.00 per month.
If our memory serves us right, we took our trunk with us, tying it on the back part of a buggy, and our brother going with us to bring old Nelle, the family mare, and the buggy.
Thus 44 years ago yesterday, we left our father’s little home to go out into the world as a teacher. We had finished the 8th grade, had gone to business college in Bowling Green for about 8 months, had taken the teachers’ examination, as above related. But we had no college training, or any training for that matter, except in the “school of hard knocks.” We had taught for a few days for other teachers as a sort of poor substitute. But we had to know our studies to pass the 8th grade test and eight grades, well studies and thoroughly digested, mean in a large measure the foundation of one’s schooling. The remainder of our learning, even though it be limited, was attained nearly altogether at home. We loved books then and still do. Even back there, we were trying to gather the foundation of a little private library which we have finally done, having at this time about 2,000 books. We do not mean to boast for we do not know nearly all there is to be known even from a few books. So we were about to enter upon our teaching without benefit of experience or any training for one of the most important callings in the world.
We admit we felt a pang of homesickness as our brother and the old mare climbed the big hill and went out of sight to the westward toward our home at the foot of Mace’s Hill some ten or twelve miles away.
That night at the supper table, Alvis Donoho, as we called him, asked us to return “Thanks.” We finally stuttered and “spluttered” through some sort of a grace, but he evidently did not think we were in the habit of saying “Grace” and we certainly were not. He let us get by the next morning without offering thanks, but he learned that at school, we had opened the session with prayer, and we admit it was a short petition, but the great God of the universe knew our needs and we were as sincere in our petitions as we had been in almost any part of our Christian life. Afterward, he called on his boarder regularly to “offer thanks.” It was for our good, as we gradually got so we did not have the dread of the first few times we were thus called on.
That first morning in the school, August 8, 1910, we had 35 boys and girls in attendance. Some of them were nearly grown or thought they were. Others were starting to school for the first time. We have always loved children and we still think of those little ones who learned their A B C’s in our first school. We were very bashful then, a think that few can really believe now. But ask any of those who knew the writer 40 to 50 years ago and they will tell you that he was one of the most bashful and timid of young men, that he would blush almost without provocation, that he would sometimes act in a very silly manner because of the extreme bashfulness which he had such a hard time overcoming. Of course all the silly things that the writer ever did in his life cannot be charged to bashfulness, but at least part of them can.
The 35 boys and girls were in grades ranging from the first through the eigth. Some of them were good students and really made a good effort to prepare their lessons. Others, of course, did not try. We had studied hard and we knew what was in the books that then made up the course of study for eight grades. We did not allow any student to bring us an arithmetic problem we could not solve. We had been a sort of “spelling champion” in our school days and tried to teach spelling to the boys and girls in our care. We also tried to teach arithmetic, history, geography, health, and English. We built our own fires when the weather became cool enough that a fire was needed. We played with the boys in their games and in a measure, tried “to be a boy with them.” We recall that we did much of our teaching sitting down in a chair which leaned against the east wall of that school house. We were young then and active in body. We recall that our hair, even though hair oil was unknown 44 years ago, left a “greasy spot” on the wall against which we had leaned our chair. The “greasy spot” remained there for years until somebody who wanted to get rid of a sort of eyesore, painted it out. We examined that wall some time ago to see if we could find any trace of the “grease” of 44 years ago and could not.
The old house stands today just as it did 44 years ago, except for the ravages of the time on the building. The old cedar thicket is still there. But the merry laughter of children, the shouting and whooping and calls of the country school are not heard there any more. For the school ceased to be a few years when the attendance declined below that required by the state. A thousand memories clustered about that place and the adjacent grounds, including the home place of Alvis Donoho, which has within recent years burned to the ground. We recall watching the rising of the sun from the back porch of the Donoho home nearly every morning during our four months of boarding there. We watched the sun retreat slowly but surely toward the south as it rose each day a tiny bit further southward from where it had previously come over the big hill to the east toward what is still called “Bee Branch.”
In our little school, we soon learned that some children would leave their seats and come up to ask the teacher to pronounce a word for no reason in the world except to get to leave a seat. There in that little school, we recall some children would come to the teacher with four fingers of one hand all pointed to difference words. We recall that we had a difficulty in matters of discipline before we had been there a month. We had to whip one or two boys. One of them went home and informed his mother what the teacher had done. The next morning, she and the son arrived on horseback, the boy behind his mother, who proceeded to give “Cal;” a regular “bawling out.” He was badly “hacked,” and the thing that made it much worse was the fact that three of the men in the community were in hearing distance and heard the lady “tell Gregory off.” We stood our ground and informed the good woman that her son would have to be obedient to our values or be punished. We stood with our hat, one of the flat variety of straw, we believe, called a sailor then, on our troubled head; but we peeped out from under the hat brim now and then and saw the amused smiles on the faces of the three men. But that was no fun to the teacher.
We still recall the small bickerings, the crying of the “babies” in the school, the ones who came to the teacher and said: “Make Johnnie quit pestering me,” and scores of other frivolous things that are to be expected from 35 boys and girls.
We recall the arrival of County Supt., Joe C. Nichols, who is still living in Sumner County. When we saw him drive up and get out of his buggy and begin to hitch his horse, we had a very strong inclination to leap out one of those high windows on the east side, next to the cedar thicket and hide there until he had left. By dint of resolution, we managed to hold our ground. We had never before had a visit from the Superintendent of Schools and we felt that he was a “terror and dread.” However, his visit proved very “entertaining and helpful and he left one of his teachers, then just 19, feeling entirely different from what he had felt only an hour earlier. That was just another hill that we climbed before we got to it, another bridge we crossed when no bridge was there.
We recall the day when we were eating our mid-day meal at the place where we boarded, about 75 to 100 yards from the schoolhouse. While we were in the midst of the meal, one of the boys came rushing in, to inform the teacher that the schoolhouse was on fire. We hurried back to the building and found a blaze near where the stovepipe entered the flue. It was soon put out and we returned and finished our meal.
The changes there have been many. Alvis Donoho and his wife, Jennie, have been gone for years. In the year, 1911, while the writer was visiting the home of Mr. and Mrs. Tom Donoho, Mrs. Tom Donoho, Aunt Polly Ann, to most of those who knew her, said in a wistful voice, “Brother Calvin, Tommie and I are going to Texas.” “Why?” we asked in astonishment. She replied that Alvis had wanted to go for years and years and his father did not relish the idea. He had finally come to the conclusion that he would go and was even making plans for the move to Texas. We will never forget the sadness of that hour when we were told these things by the poor, old wife and mother. There was a light summer thunder cloud that lay to the east over the hills of Jackson County. Some young squirrels in a dead topped chestnut tree were playing in sight of the porch of Uncle Tom’s home. This had been Aunt Polly Ann’s home for many years and she loved it dearly. Here were her flowers over which she had spent hours of loving care and labor. Just in front of the old house was the long wire that reached to a cool, flowing stream across the deep valley. Here were shrubbery and shad trees, part of which she had planted with her own hands. Nearby were the fields from which she and her husband had derived a comfortable living for many years. Near the old house were numerous chestnut trees and they were then full of burs that betokened a crop in the fall. Here were the neighbors of a lifetime. Here was her blind sister, Aunt Bide, who would not, for a moment, consider going to Texas. No wonder the prospect for the aged lady was appalling. Little did she know of the things that lay ahead, although she must have contemplated them in thought. The sale of the personal property, the leaving of the old home, the parting with her blind sister were yet to come. Then, she hardly realized the hardships of the trip to Texas, the dissatisfaction of most of the group, the poor drinking water that they were to find in the West. They left in August and stayed only two months. Uncle Tom was never the same after he got home. His stomach had gone back on him, and he could not eat with any satisfaction. He died less then two years after returning from Texas.
This was one of the tragedies of that community, of which the writer had knowledge. We turn to some other happenings of a lighter vein. We had long been told of a lot of unusual things happening in that land of high hills, many of which were then covered with dense forests. We soon heard the tale about a black beast being seen now and then in that section. One night when we had been down to Defeated Creek to the fall revival, we were coming to Dean Hill horseback and alone. We were then just 19 and we were never very brave. This night, as we rode along the Defeated Creek and Salt Lick, our little mind continually considered the “black beast,” as this was said to be his “stamping ground.” We rode under a poplar limb which knocked our hat off our head. We were on the point of riding on and leaving the hat. But we happened to look back behind us and saw, to our great joy, that the hat had landed on our horse’s back. We grabbed that hat and clamped it down on our head as far as we could, to our great satisfaction. If some wildcat had started screaming about this time, we would have no doubt lost our hat completely. We may add, for the benefit of the boys and girls who may read this, that black beast that so many have declared they had seen. Brother Bernice Sircy reported to the writer not very long ago that he saw this strange animal years ago and that he was sure the animal was real and not imaginary. He supposed that it was a black wolf. So we passed successfully along that road to our boarding place that night nearly 44 years ago.
(To be continued)