The station wagon pulled in the lane when we were in various stages of putting on our coats, scarves, bonnets, gloves, and boots. We grabbed our lunchboxes and hurried out. We piled into the car and our elderly driver “Yoxall” headed to the Gingeriches. There Owen, Sarah, Elizabeth, Jacob, Mary, Joey, and Johnny got in the station wagon. We had only two miles to go in the crowded station wagon. We got to school and headed into the basement to take off our “wraps.”
The bell rang and all 63 children sat in their desks, in rows by grades. In the morning the “curtain” was always open and we could see the “lower grades.” Barbara Yoder taught the first, second, third, and fourth graders. Enos, the “head teacher” taught fifth through eighth grades.
I was in seventh grade. I sat behind Ruth, my best friend, and in front of Eugene. There were eight students in my grade. Ruth, Eugene, and I would compete for the best grades. Ruth and I were equals, however, we got very proud of ourselves if we got even one point higher grade than Eugene, who was the shyest and the smartest in the school.
We sat there, facing Enos. He sat in his chair, his desk in front of the class. His long flowing beard went past his waist and would have rested on the desk, but he would tuck it under. I wondered whether it touched his knees.
Enos cleared his throat and put his hands together in front of his face. I remembered the first time I had seen his hands. I had been so amazed that his fingers could bend backwards at the joint. When I told Mom about it she told me in hushed tones that he had “crippling arthritis.” Since then I had learned to know when he was in pain by the expression on his face. I could tell this was not one of his better days.
All of us bowed our heads for morning prayers. All together we said, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come….” Usually the Amish said this prayer in German, but at school we spoke English. Only a chapter was read from the testament in German each morning.
After the morning prayer everyone got out their songbooks. I was Clara Yoder and Paul Gingerich’s turn to chose a hymn and lead it at the beginning of each verse. They chose “There’s a Mansion in the Sky” and “Where the Soul of Man Never Dies.” Then one of the eighth graders had to chose a German song from our little black books. We sang, “Es sind zwein Weg in dieser Zeit.” The German songs were a drag because I never understood the words.
When the last song was sung, everyone opened their desks to put away their song books. Inside my desk were my arithmetic, spelling, English, geography, and history books, a clipboard with paper, and in front was a pencil tray with one pen and three pencils. I kept my books on three neat piles, the largest books on the bottom. Most of the boys’ desks were always a mess. I had only contempt for anyone who’s desk looked like a rat’s nest and I took pride in keeping mine neat. I got out my testament for the morning reading.
To be continued…