Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Mallow Schoolhouse

When she was a little girl, my Grandmaw Virginia (whom we called Grandmaw Henry) attended school at the one-room Mallow Schoolhouse.

The old Mallow Schoolhouse, Pendleton County, WV.

The Mallow Schoolhouse sits at the top of Bennett Gap near Riverton, and had all grades in the one room with one teacher to teach all the students.

Grandmaw Henry told a story that when she was little, she and her siblings walked to school every day, up the steep road to the top of Bennett Gap. It was nearly two miles from where her family lived near the mouth of the gap. Grandmaw told of how wintertime was the worst for her, she was always a sickly child and no matter how well she bundled up, she was always very cold by the time she got to school. She told of how one time, during a particularly cold spell, she would trudge up the ridge to the school through the deep snow and by the time she got there, her feet would be frozen. Grandmaw told of how the teacher, a kindly old woman, would fear for her safety since she had to walk further than most of the other students, and because she was so sickly. Grandmaw told of how when she'd get to the schoolhouse, the teacher would stand her near the old potbelly woodstove by the door and help her take off the layers of coats and blankets. The teacher would then take off Grandmaw's shoe's and would rub Grandmaw's feet with cool water, and would eventually work her way up to warm water until the color would return to Grandmaw's feet. The teacher was sure that if this was not done, that Grandmaw would lose some toe's to frostbite. This very well may have been true because Grandmaw always said that she'd lose the feeling in her feet by the time she got halfway up the steep ridge that led to the top of the gap.

My Dad & my brother, Jason.

My Dad also has memories of the old Mallow Schoolhouse. He grew up in the same place that Grandmaw Henry did but by this time the Mallow School had been closed and all the children were bussed into Riverton and attended the old Dixie Schoolhouse. The Dixie School was built before the War Between The States, and was used as such until the early 1960's, when it was consolidated with Circleville School. Dad's memories of the Mallow School are of the summertime Bible School that was held there. Dad said that there'd be hundreds of kids all around the school and they'd run and play in the farmlands that surrounded it. Dad said they'd also have bible lessons in the morning and about noon they'd eat big, hearty meals that were prepared by the local farm women. Dad tells that after lunch, most of the kids would walk down Bennett Gap to the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River and go swimming. Dad was usually a ringleader of kids his age but not when it came to swimming, because Dad was then, and still is, afraid of water. One time during bible school, when the kids decided to go swimming, Dad's Uncle Buffy, who was but a few years older than Dad was, decided it was time that my Dad learned to swim. So when they all got to the river, my Uncle Buffy grabbed ahold of Dad and threw him into the deepest swimming hole in the river, and said, "Swim or Drown." Typically, this cruel method of teaching someone to swim will work with kids because natural instincts will take over and the kid will swim to safety, but this didn't work in Dad's case. Dad just kept going under and he kept fighting the water, and eventually Dad went under and didn't come back up. Some of the older kids recognized that Dad wasn't going to swim and they rescued him from the swimming hole and carried him to safety. Dad tells that he was sure he was drowning because he was losing conciousness and everything had already went black when the older kids rescued him. When they got home that day, Dad told Grandmaw about what Uncle Buffy had done, and ol' Buff got a good whippin' and a talkin' to from Granddaddy Thompson.

The meadow in front of the old school.

Nowadays, the old Mallow School sits vacant between two old cemeteries, where it remains a symbol of bygone days when each little community had a school of its own. While I visited there, I wondered to myself just how many of the folks who are buried near the old schoolhouse were once pupils there? I wondered what memories they held of the lone, white building in the grassy meadow? I'd like to think that if one listened closely to the breezes blowing through the grasses, they could still hear the laughter of playing children on the grounds and the various sounds of a vibrant community whose time has long since passed.

The grassy meadow that used to be the schoolyard.


Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

Lord, but you can sure weave a story. I love this one. I believe many of us can relate to the one room schoolhouses, or the times since past. Great post! Love it!

Janet, said...

Liked your story, Matthew. Hope they don't ever tear it down.

Granny Sue said...

It looks like someone is maintaining the building. I hope so--many of the one-room schoolhouses are slowly rotting away, and it's a shame.

I liked the ending to your post--well said.

Kim said...

Great reading as always Matthew. You have such a gift -- and I reckon you should be putting these memories into a book. I'd buy it!
Cheers mate!

Tipper said...

Matthew-loved the pictures-the stories of the schools too. I'm like you-I often think if we'd just listen hard enough we could hear the voices of those long gone on.