Gruenthal School

Gruenthal School

My parents were now well established at their new location, having lived here since 1923. My brother Martin was the only one born at this place–and that at home in the “house end” of a large barn. The new house was located on Buffalo Creek with the east-west road running past our yard on the   south side. We lived only a quarter mile west of the new Public School which had been erected by the government in 1911. Instructions were to be in English now. German was taught a half hour each day from 8:30 – 9:00 a.m.and Religion a half hour 3:30 – 4:00 p.m.

The teacherage was built just south of the school but on the same yard.With the creek and the wide open meadows near by, it was a wonderful situation for someone like myself to be outdoors, play, catch gophers or just roam around to my heart’s content.

As indicated earlier, the school register shows small classes at the beginning. I only had two teachers for the eight grades which I did in seven years. My teacher for the first seven grades was an excellent, vibrant, thorough and dedicated one, Miss Kate Klassen.

The discipline she exercised then would not be permissible today. If a children found it difficult to sit still, she tried to teach them by tying them to their desks. Often a little one would wet her or his pants under these circumstances. Mouths were taped shut with adhesive in order to teach them not to talk. A lot of work was done at the blackboard – heads were often pushed forcibly against the board couldn’t perform or remember. Yet an average youngster could cover both first and second Grade in one year. This included writing legibly — not just printing. Beginners started school after Easter. This was all the Kindergarten they needed. They had a good head-start on Grade I when they returned to school in September. — Even today I feel that this would be plenty of time to prepare a youngster to start Grade I in September.

My negative memory of Grade I was the punishment I received when I accidentally broke a transom window with a snowball. I loved to play outdoors. As the snowdrift around the school was high, the Grade 7’s and 8’s were throwing snowballs over the school. As youngsters love to imitate, I thought I could do it, too. But no such luck. My snowball shattered the small window. The teacher, of course, had to punish me with the strap. My little wrist and arm swelled up blue to my very elbow. In those days the rule in Mennonite families was: “If you get spanked in school, you’ll get a double dose when you get home!” Scared of repercussions at home, I tried to hide my arm but Mother soon realized that there was something wrong and asked to see.She sent me to Father. Father was the “Official Trustee” since our district did not have a School Board. When he saw my arm, I did not get another spanking. I just overheard him saying to Mother: “Can’t she ever do anything in moderation?”

Catechism memorization started in Grade 3. I recall the contest that, whoever knew the 200 answers so well that the teacher could not get him or her stuck, he or she would be given a party at the teacherage. How she tried to get me stuck by asking back and forth through the Catechism! I made it to the party, too. And there I had my first taste of Jello!JelloSusann

In the winter the roads were closed to cars so the teacher’s car was put in our garage for several months; on blocks, to save the tires. She would either walk back to town for the week-end or stay over in the teacherage. Often my older brother would get her on the “caboose” at 20 – 30 below. She would still sit on the front seat with her legs dangling out of the front opening of the caboose. The teacherage would be cold and I recall going out to her residence to help her with getting in wood, lighting a fire. One time she opened the wood stove lid, put in paper and kindling wood and then pour kerosene over it. When she lit it, the fire burst up high and she’d keep on warning me: “Don’t you ever try doing this!”

The school itself had to be heated with wood and coal. We had a big stove in one corner at the back of the room. It had a sort of “jacket” around it. Students sitting near the stove would be roasting and those in the far corner were freezing. In the morning we had to take our ink wells to unthaw them on the stove’s ledge. During the first recess we often placed potatoes on the stove ledge — by noon the atmosphere of the room had the pleasant aroma of the potatoes we would have for lunch.

During the dry years of the 30’s this was indeed a luxury enjoyed only be some kids. Most often a honey-pail with maybe a “jelly-bread” sandwich in it was all that kids had. I recall one especially poor family who usually came to school bare footed when the spring snows had not all melted yet. Later in spring the children of this family keenly anticipated catching grasshoppers after four so they could fry their legs for supper.

Christmas Concerts were always the “high point” of the school year.Practices began early in December. What singing! Our teacher would borrow the gramophone from the Gretna Public School and use it to teach us the Christmas carols in two-part harmony, — no piano, no instruments, etc. The dialogues and monologues were fascinating! Of course all this in the German language.– The real magnificent tree with real wax candles. A father usually was in charge of lighting the candles and watching the tree for the rest of the program. A song was sung during the lighting of the candles, usually “O Tannenbaum” i.e. “O Christmas Tree”. The school was packed and in order not to have crying babies disturb the program, the teacher bribed the mothers with a yard of flannel to leave them at home.

The big boys would hang over the partition [low wall] at the back of the room to get the best view. Parents would of course discuss which child performed the best or wore the nicest dress. The opening congregational song “Dies ist die Nacht da mir erschienen–” still echoes in my mind. Of course, a good Christmas Concert meant a good teacher!

Winter blizzards were fierce and treacherous. Walking a quarter mile to and from school on the open prairie often meant: Look out! Under very adverse weather conditions, our older brother would sometimes come with the horse and “stone-boat” to pick us up at school. I remember peeking out from beneath the fur robe [cow hide] to see him walking beside the horse making sure that he would not miss the trail home. Mother would have the oil lamp lit and placed in the window. Everything seemed to be whirling and twirling in never-ending circles about you – pitch dark. There were no hydro or telephone lines to guide you. Oh what a joy to see a glimpse of the light in the window!

There were no T.V.’s, radios or oodles of games to while away a long winter evening. We had the Free Press Weekly and was it ever read! We had first introduction to “Little Orphan Annie,” “Moon Mullins,” “Home Loving Hearts” etc. Books available were only the ones in the school library and there were not many of them. I’m sure I’ve read the “Anne of Green Gables” series at least once every year. Therefore our texts were a joy to those who wanted to learn.

How exciting were those Geography maps of distant places! We had to know the capitals of all the countries of the world and had to be able to locate them on the large wall map. With pointer in hand I’ve had imaginary trips to far away places. Our teacher traveled a lot during the summer and enhanced her geography lessons with the cards she sent to her pupils from various places.

Outdoor play in winter meant tobogganing, sliding on the ice-bound creek and roaming through the bushes was in my life’s blood. There were so many rosehips to pick and chew along the creek. There were rabbits, muskrats, beaver and deer to look for. Many a nice slide was made down the straw

stack which had been kept for winter cattle feed and was covered with frozen snow. There was no nice toboggan. All I used was the top lid of a can or a shovel on which I would sit and hang on to the handle between my legs as I slithered down the slope.

Since oil lamps and lanterns had to be used, going to bed early was not a problem. Homework had to be done by lamplight, too. Mother would knit and sew. We had a checker board and my Dad liked to play the game with me. I re-call teaching him to read English from my books. He was born in 1879 and had only a Private School [German] education. But I still considered my Father to have a good education. Considering he was orphaned and abused since the age of seven, I still marvel as I recall his wisdom and intelligence. People living about us considered him quiet, well-groomed, trustworthy gentleman.


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