I don’t remember exactly when it was. It was probably in the late 1980’s or the early 1990’s when I took Marilyn on a tour of the places that I grew up in West Virginia. It was the last time that I was ever in any of these places. We only drove past most of the places, but I am sure it was a meaningful experience for her, and it was a nostalgic trip for me. We saw the house in which I grew up and my elementary school, junior high school, and Methodist Church in Vienna, and the hospital in which I was born and the high school that I attended for one year in Parkersburg.
We then traveled into the interior of West Virginia to Gilmer County where both set of my grandparents lived. We did not get to drive into the deep hollow where my paternal grandparents lived in a place called Shock, but we did drive by the high school that my dad attended and my maternal grandparents’ house in Glenville, right across the street from Glenville State College where both of my parents graduated with degrees in education. We also visited the cemetery where my maternal grandparents and my great aunt Maude are buried along with an assortment of other Raders. My mother was named after both my grandmother and my great aunt. My paternal grandparents and assorted members of the Minney family are buried in a private cemetery on the very top of a hill of the remote family farm that is now the home of my cousin.
All these places were important and interesting to see for probably what will be the last time in my life, but the primary reason for the trip was to visit the restored one room schoolhouse and teacher memorial at Cedar Creek State Park. The one room schoolhouse was built in 1910 and was moved to the Park from Lewis County in 1989. The school has a tin roof and is furnished with a pot-bellied stove, student desks, filled bookcases, blackboard, and teacher’s desk.
The teacher memorial contains the name of my father, “Ronzel D. Minney Ph.D,” and my uncle, “Rodney Curtis Minney,” as well as “Fern Minney,” who I am sure was some kind of relative. Marilyn and I took pictures of the memorial and the restored one room schoolhouse, had them framed, and presented them to my father as a Christmas present that year.
The framed pictures hung in my parents’ home for the rest of their lives, and currently reside in our basement. It took me quite a while to find it this afternoon. Actually, as is the case with most things in our almost forty years of marriage, Marilyn found it in about two minutes after I had conducted an exhaustive search (but obviously not exhaustive enough).
Anyway, just like his experiences in World War II and the Korean War, my father never told us much about his experiences as a teacher in a one room schoolhouse. I always got the sense that my father was ashamed of, or at the very least always trying to escape from, his early life. One thing that he taught me quite well was how to burn the bridges behind you. Sometimes, I regret learning that skill.
As a result, my knowledge of what it must have been like for my father and uncle to be schoolteachers in a one room schoolhouse is based on research and my imagination. I imagine that, as teachers, they probably were not much older than the students that they were teaching and were probably graduates of one room schoolhouses themselves. I also imagine that, because it was a very tough job, teachers in one room schoolhouses had to be very committed to what they were doing, which makes them incredibly special people.
I had my differences with my father, and he never met or knew Barbara, but in many ways, I respected what he had accomplished in life, and always relied upon him for his wise counsel and advice. I was always striving for his approval. I wanted him to be proud of me, and I am sure that he was, even though it was difficult for him to express it in so many words.
I also imagine that the quality of the one room schoolhouses themselves probably varied depending upon the economic conditions of the locality in which they were situated. The schoolhouse and most, if not all its furnishings, were hand made from whatever raw materials happened to be available with no plumbing or sanitation. The school often had a bell. One such bell was placed on an old student desk on top of Dick and Jane Readers that stood in the corner of my parents’ family room.
I also imagine that the number of students also varied based upon the local populations and whether the children were needed to work on the farm. Based upon my research and my visits to other restored one room schoolhouses, such as the one that is located at Roscoe Village in Coshocton, Ohio, which we actually visited with my parents, as well as the schools still used by the Amish that we frequently see in Ohio’s Amish Country, it appears that a single teacher would teach students in the first through eighth grade. The teacher's desk was often on a raised platform at the front of the room. The teacher usually taught reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography regardless of his or her area of expertise.
A typical school day was 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with morning and afternoon recesses of fifteen minutes each and an hour period for lunch. I imagine that the teacher was responsible for all aspects of the schoolhouse and also served as the principal, custodian, nurse, counselor, and sometimes the cook. The teacher would probably rely on the students to help with some of the chores depending upon their age and gender, such as carrying wood or coal for the stove, cleaning the blackboard, and dusting erasers. During the winter months, the teacher would probably be expected to arrive in the morning in time to get a fire started in the potbelly stove that was usually located in the center of the schoolhouse.
The schoolhouse was often the beating heart of the rural community and was used for other purposes such as town meetings, picnics, and church services. The names on the one room schoolhouse memorial at Cedar Creek State Park, including my father and uncle, exemplify the pioneer spirit and a strong and unyielding commitment to the education of the youth of their time.
Barbara Marie Minney is a transgender woman, poet, writer, speaker, and quiet activist. She is a retired attorney and originally from West Virginia. Now based in Tallmadge, Ohio, her first collection of poetry entitled “If There’s No Heaven” was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is Life Book Award and the Akron Beacon Journal Best Northeast Ohio Books 2020. It is available at www.poetryislifepublishig.com. Follow her at www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com.