In this brief story, Esther covers only the grade school days. When Esther told us stories about the pictures in Grace’s picture album, this picture triggered a lengthy discussion about life in Steele, where the kids went to high school. Not many parents today would do what Fanny and Ted did for their kids.
The township grade school near the farm only went through grade eight. If you wanted more school, it was off to Steele for high school. Though only thirty or forty miles from the farm, that was far enough that the kids had to rent a room in town, staying there during the week, coming home only for the weekends. In the winter, travel would be with horse and sleigh, and sometimes road closures meant weeks would go by without a trip home. Henry went to high school only one year. He didn’t like it; didn’t fit in well. Esther thrived.
The first year Esther was away at school the onset of winter was brutal, which meant she didn’t get home for six weeks. Surviving that extreme case of homesickness hardened her to never be bothered being away from home again.
Melvin joined her the next year and they rented a light housekeeping room from the Goettertz (pronounced Gott-hard) family in town. Henry built a little table for them, they had orange crates for cupboards and a single burner hot plate to cook on. There was no running water, they carried everything to the room in a bucket; out in a slop pail. Rent was ten dollars a month.
After that Bruce Bowerman joined Esther and Melvin, the boys were fourteen and Esther was only 16, but she did all the cooking and cleaning. Fried eggs with bread and butter every morning for breakfast. All without running water, on a hot plate.
By the time Esther was a senior, the boys had left town, and she had to grow up really fast, managing the money and time alone. Somehow she knew enough to get up (alarm clock) and go to school.
My days in high school were pretty mild compared to that. Our kids lived a pretty cushy life, too.
Getting to school at the two-room country school for the first eight grades was always a high priority. We went to school by whatever means of transport used at the time—car when the weather permitted, or horse and sled in the winter when the roads were not plowed. When we were a little older we drove horses with buggy or sled much of the time. The neighbor boys, Charles and Galen Bowerman, were learning auto mechanics at an early age, and their family had one or more Model T Fords which the boys kept running and gave us many rides to school.
The schoolhouse was not only for school, but served as the only center of activity for the township. Neighbors had many fall and winter parties where everyone played cards, usually whist, until eleven or so. Then the women would break out a big lunch of sandwiches and cakes. Finally the fiddle and piano played for dancing until three or four.
Whole families came, and kids slept on coats and blankets when they could no longer stay awake.