Quest in Roots:
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MEMORIES by Mrs. Agnes Strang
When both Jean McDonald and Rose North wrote asking me if I would write an article for their intended book on Brookdale and district, it opened a Pandora-like avalanche of memories covering 12 years of teaching the "little people" of the district.
But where to begin? Actually it began prior to my coming to the district to teach grades one and two with making the acquaintance of the Evans and George MacDonald families through our neighbours, Bert and Myrtle Witherspoon and family.
My story began in January, 1957 with a phone call from Bill Dickson, chairman of the Brookdale School District No. 1299 offering me a choice of grades, one and two or three and four. I asked for a month to consider it. It was a hard decision to make. It meant giving up my home, lifestyle and friends to strike out into the work-a-day world to earn my living and help my youngest son through university. Once having made up my mind to accept the position at Brookdale, I then started shaping my theories as to how "beginners" should be taught. I was reminded of my own children''s wails of "not being taught to read" the first week - "not being allowed to count as far as they could count" (what teacher had time to listen to even one child drone on up through the hundreds and then when stopped admitting they could count thousands as long as they didn''t pass a "cemetery" or a "white horse", - a method I adopted to stop the "endless counting" on motor trips. So I started by getting all my friends to save match boxes for me, the long wooden kind, while I searched diligently for pictures to mount on cardboard to depict the power words like "walk", "run", "jump up", and so on. By August 27, 1957 I was ready. I landed on Mrs. Evans'' doorstep with all my worldly goods in a trunk, a couple of suitcases, and a couple of boxes full of books, match boxes, and pictures to start my campaign of teaching with the innocent little beginners.
I shall never forget that first glimpse I had of "my school room". It faced west, with tall high windows and rather tattered green blinds. A tabletype thing at the rear of the room intrigued me. It was recessed about three inches, lined with galvanized tin and filled with black looking earth.
Later, I learned it was alleged to be sand. There was a rather small desk at the front of the room, and a shabby looking bookcase in a corner filled with a motley assortment of books. There were lots of blackboards but no shelves except a few in the cloak room for lunch buckets to accompany the double row of hooks for coats, etc. There were also window sills on which resided several boxes of old dog-eared alphabets and three boxes of wooden pegs to teach colours. These I promptly threw into the oil barrel incinerator, much to the horror of Mr.
Ames, the custodian. A lone kindergarten table and several small kindergarten chairs lined the back of the room.
At the school board meeting when asked if there was anything I needed, I really shook them all by first requesting heavy duty blinds fitted with a sturdy bottom board and ring (so I could raise and lower them using the long pole fitted with a hook to open and shut the transoms at the top of each window). I also wanted a map of the world in colour (put out by Neilson''s Chocolate Company), a large globe, preferably lighted, paper and paper cutter, scissors, assorted coloured craft paper, tag board and powdered paints. I''m sure they thought I was a commissioned sales person for Christies School Supplies! I also wanted an easel - a double one to save space, and more kindergarten tables. When I suggested that I could supply quite a bit of plywood, Mr. Wallace Moffatt said he would make anything that I could draw. Poor man, little did he know what he was letting himself in for. As the years went flying by, I drew many things for him to build.
I investigated things like a children''s playground slide that was left derelict when a small school on the outskirts of Brandon burned down and the children of the district were absorbed into the city schools. The defunct school board "allowed" they would sell it for $75 but washed their hands of having it moved. What a furor the moving caused.
But it got moved! It needed some over hauling to repair the metal lining, and a sand pit at the base for a soft landing (and that was how I got fresh sand for the "sand table" in the school room as well). And what good is a slide without a jungle gym made of three branchy trees set teepee fashion! One trustee backed me up. The chairman said it would be cheaper to buy sleeping pills for me instead of my lying awake dreaming up expensive projects for the board.
You asked for anecdotes. Well- my favourite of all was the one when a small beginner arrived at school and with great glee announced, "Boy my dad sure got out of bed in a hurry this morning." Me - "Why was that?" He replied, "Well, the neighbour''s bull jumped the fence into our pasture among our heifers and my dad had to chase it out." Time passed and the same small boy arrived at school with a long face. I asked, "What''s the matter?" He blurted out, "We had four calves last night." Me - "Well what''s so bad about that?" to which he replied, "Two of them have white heads!" Or the small girl, who after listening to the tale of "The Pirate Don Dirk of Dowd Dee" said, "I don''t care if (naming a blonde boy) doesn''t grow up to be tall, dark and handsome, I''m going to marry him anyway"! I wonder if she did? Or another small girl who adeptly put a small boy in his place during a "games" period with the Cuisinnare rods by telling him "If you''d learn your colours it would help." Or another pert little miss who, as the smart little pig in our Christmas operetta, developed a rash, and while I was winging my way high above the clouds on my way to visit a new grandson in Ottawa, all the children of the community had to be given shots for scarlet fever. The big bad wolf in the same play was taught by Bob Burns (bless his memory) to howl like a wolf, which the boy did very realistically after being chased off the stage by the "little pigs".
Two hundred teaching days a year times 12 years - an anecdote a day - like Tennyson''s book, I could go on forever but I''m sure many of "my little people" will have their memories too, so like Tiny Tim said, Mrs. Strang says, "God Bless You All."
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