Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Field Trip—1953

Fifty-five years ago, on a cloudy November day like today, my third grade class went on a field trip to a nearby dairy farm. I can remember wearing my gray winter coat with a fur collar—a coat I'd inherited from my older cousin Marty and would soon pass on to my younger cousin Judy.

I wrote about this experience several years ago. One version appeared as a commentary in The Roanoke Times several years ago. I used the version below for a presentation at a Lake Writers' memoir workshop.

View from the Schoolhouse Window
© 2002 by Becky Mushko

In 1951, when I started first grade, Huff Lane Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia, was still new. It had been built the previous year to accommodate all the kids whose families lived in the post-Korean War housing development across the road from the schoolyard.

On the other side of the schoolyard, right where the asphalt playground ended, was the edge of the civilized world: a huge field was where Pete Huff's farm began. Sometimes wheat grew in the field, sometimes corn, and sometimes alfalfa, but the field was always forbidden territory to us as we played on the playground. When we climbed to the top of the jungle gym or the hot metal sliding board, we could catch a glimpse of the dairy barn and the cows in the distance.

In 1953, when I was in the third grade, we stepped off the edge of the world—into the field—and took a field trip to that dairy barn. That late fall afternoon, we tromped across the cut-over cornfield to the barn for a close-up view of the Holsteins munching hay while milking machines made strange noises.

For years afterward, I believed that a field trip always involved walking through a field. Consequently, all the other field trips I went on—which involved climbing onto a bus and eventually going into a building—were disappointments.

In the 1950s, each school day started with morning devotions. We stood up, faced the flag, and pledged. The phrase "under God" hadn't been added then, but we didn't need it because we also said the Lord's Prayer. That's how we knew God's name—it was Hallow Ed, as in "Hallow Ed be thy name." And we always sang. Sometimes we sang "America," and sometimes we sang my favorite, "America the Beautiful."

One morning in the mid-50s, while we sang "America the Beautiful," I looked out the window and actually saw the "spacious skies." They were bright blue. I looked at Pete Huff's field—now planted in wheat—and saw the "amber waves of grain." Beyond the field, I saw the "purple mountains' majesty" of Fort Lewis Mountain and Brushy Mountain in the distance. In front of the mountains, the breeze rippled through the field, which might indeed have been a "fruited plain." That day, God indeed "shed His grace" on me and gave me a glimpse of the America we sang about.

Things have changed since I attended Huff Lane School. Now it's called "Huff Lane Microvillage," whatever that is.

I doubt the students ever sing "America the Beautiful." After all, it contains a reference to God, so the song is no longer politically correct. I know kids haven't said the Lord's Prayer at school for years, so they probably don't know Him as Hallow Ed.

The asphalt playground has been replaced by grass. The jungle gym and sliding board are gone. A high gray wall with mountains painted on it separates what's left of the playground from what is no longer farm.

Whenever I drive past Valley View Mall, where Pete Huff's farm used to be, I pass close to my former school, and I feel a little sorry for the students behind the wall who'll never see the world the way I once did and who can never step off the edge of the playground and take a real field trip.

This is a picture of my fourth grade class at Huff Lane School in Roanoke, VA, taken a year or so after the field trip but around the time I saw what I sang. The teacher was Mrs. Ellen Clark. I'm in the striped dress in the center of the picture. Beside me is Dorothy Boyd, who was a wonderful artist. I've forgotten a lot of classmate's names, but I think Mary Elizabeth Van Liere is to my right and beside her is Diane Gross. Linda Wills is in front of Mrs. Clark, and Patricia Taylor is beside her. H.W. Scott is at the opposite end off the row from me. Behind him is Sue Jennings. I think Mary Huddleston is beside Sue. In the front row on the left side are Peggy Carroll, Neil Robertson, Brenda Keaton, a girl whose name I can't recall, and Donna Lovell (in the Brownie Scout uniform). The picture was taken in the library.

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Blogger The Blue Ridge Gal said...

Great photo!

8:26 AM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

What a lovely story Becky! And funny. Hallow Ed! Reminds me of how I thought it was "Ga-bleshya," when someone sneezed. I thought that for years. And then I found out it was really God bless you.

Wow, I didn't know that "under God" was not originally in the Pledge of Allegiance.

9:00 PM  

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