Sunday, February 16, 2014



On this Sunday morning, and on many Sunday mornings to come, we will have a guest writer. This writer will pass along stories of what it was like growing up on a farm in the mountains of Randolph County, miles from any town. In the small towns scattered up and down the valley, along the Tygart River, is where most of us grew up. For others of us, like our writer, home was off the beaten path, not as reachable, especially in winter after a major snowstorm. Read the story, and see if you recognize our guest writer. You can place your guess in the comment section, below, or send an email using the box you’ll find in the sidebar to the right. The guest writer has a gift for any correct guesses.

Songs of America - School Days [with lyrics] 

 School Days

I didn’t start formal schooling until I was almost 8 years old. My parents believed that I was too weak, too skinny, or too susceptible to illness to begin when I became eligible. I cannot remember any specific illness from that time.
Mom home-schooled me. She taught me to read and to love to read. She taught me basic math. She did a far better job than the public school system would have. Any success I have had in school, and in life, I owe to her teaching me at home. 


4I started first grade at a one room school about a ¼ mile up a dirt road the month before my eighth birthday. It was a typical one-room school with a small square foyer on the front. It had a large blackboard down one of the long walls with windows on the opposite side. It had a cloak room on the entrance end. There were hooks to hang coats and shelves for caps, gloves, and books. It had a stone jar with a spigot and one cup that everyone used for drinking water. It was heated by a pot-bellied coal burning stove. And, of course, the two outhouses.

I remember almost nothing from my year there. I was promoted to the second grade. Years later, the building was sold. The new owner hired Dad and (my brother) to tear it down for him to save the lumber. A part of their pay was the nails they pulled from the lumber, three 2-gallon buckets full. I spent many hours straightening those nails. We didn’t have to buy nails for years. I learned to appreciate new nails from that; rusty nails are hard to drive.
Next I went to the brand new three-room school. I was tested there and bumped to third grade thanks to Mom’s teaching. The teachers there were good. I especially remember a Mrs. Perrine, a Mr. Snyder, and a Mrs. Hofer. I never liked school, but they helped me to endure the six years I spent there.
Then came Tygarts Valley High School. It was a twenty-mile ride on two buses for me – very long days. I was not well-prepared for high school, and I disliked it.
In my freshmen year, I took a standardized test, probably an I.Q. test, and scored very high. My teachers’ expectations for me were far greater than mine. That led to frustration for us all. My two best friends from grade school dropped out; it is a miracle that I did not do the same. I had a very shaky start but did improve the last year or so.
My problems were not the fault of the school or teachers; they were terrific. R.W. Schoonover was the principal. He ran the school with an iron hand. He was short and wiry, but we sure looked up to him! Most of the teachers were very adequate; several were exceptional. Mrs. Macel Mann taught me grammar not as a set of silly disconnected rules but as a single entity that makes communication easier and more precise. She taught me grammar well enough to get through college and later to teach writing skills for the GED test. She also opened my eyes to great literature. I owe her a debt that I can never repay.

Edward Swecker, my Vocational Agriculture teacher, went the extra mile with me, several times. He got me enrolled and started in college, another debit I cannot repay. Hans Siertl and Goff Cox were tough disciplined teachers – really wonderful science and math teachers. We all laughed at Chuck Tenny because it was so easy to get over on him. We got him off-topic at least 2 or 3 times a week. What we didn't realize was that his best teaching was done when we got him off on a tangent. He used that method very effectively. I later did the same thing teaching in a prison. My inmates delighted in getting me off topic. In fact, they did it every time I planned it that way, just like Mr. Tenny.
There was one teacher though. Every school has one. She was the classic example of a teacher teaching because she hates kids. The best thing she said to or about me in an entire year was to call me a bump on a log. I later discovered that she hated the area and believed that we were all country bumpkins. She told at least two students that they were wasting their time and her time. She advised them to quit school and get on with their life’s work. One did, he retired as a coal mine foreman. I have no doubt that he could have graduated from high school. She should not have been in the same zip code with students; we’ll never know how many people’s lives she screwed up.
I graduated near the middle of my class. But the education I took with me was far greater than my effort, achievement, or academic standing. It was an excellent school; it changed my life. I made many friends there who have remained life-long friends. Our class has periodic reunions. I look forward to them very much. I’ve made some friends at those reunions that I cherish greatly.
We graduated seven years after the Statler Brothers’ song “Class of Fifty-Seven”, but we have discovered its wisdom. We discovered that the world did not “change to meet our needs.” And “life gets complicated when you get past eighteen.” Boy, did we discover that! We found the same jobs as they did in the song – teacher, grocery store manager, church piano player, sales, etc. We too had one who “took his life.”
No one from our class will ever have a prominent place in the history books. But most have had good, productive lives. We lost one in Vietnam – a close friend, Randall Arbogast. The best and the brightest was Polly Williams Channel – the brightest because she was class valedictorian and the best by consensus. We lost her to cancer, much too young. I miss them both and think of them almost every day.
I probably should have called this chapter “School Daze” because that was my mental state while I was in school.


School Days - Chuck Berry


The Class of '57 The Statler Brothers (lyrics) 

Class Of '57 Lyrics - The Statler Brothers 

Tommy's selling used cars, Nancy's fixing hair,
Harvey runs a grocery store and Margaret doesn't care.
Jerry drives a truck for Sears and Charlotte's on the make,
And Paul sells life insurance and part time real estate.

Helen is a hostess, Frank works at the mill,
Janet teaches grade school and prob'ly always will.
Bob works for the city and Jack's in lab research,
And Peggy plays the organ at the Presbyterian Church.

And the class of '57 had its dreams,
Oh, we all thought we'd change the world with our great words and deeds.
Or maybe we just thought the world would change to fit our needs,
The class of '57 had its dreams.

Betty runs a trailer park, Jan sells Tupperware,
Randy's on an insane ward, Mary's on welfare.
Charlie took a job with Ford, Joe took Freddie's wife,
Charlotte took a millionaire, and Freddie took his life.

John is big in cattle, Ray is deep in debt,
Where Mavis finally wound up is anybody's bet.
Linda married Sonny, Brenda married me,
And the class of all of us is just a part of history.

And the class of '57 had its dreams,
But living life from day to day is never like it seems.
Things get complicated when you get past eighteen,
But the class of '57 had its dreams.
Oh, the class of '57 had its dreams.
Thank you for joining us today, Guest Writer!


  1. Wonderful !!! I really enjoyed that writer and although I know exactly who it is( because of my connection with gpat) I will leave the guessing to the rest of you ....Janet

  2. A great essay! It captures a lot of what I remember about TVHS. I've sent an email as to the writer's identity! -- MEG

    1. Thanks, ME, I'll pass that along...looking for that email, maybe it will show up by tomorrow...not sure how Blogger passes them sure you have it right, though...
      Hey, would you like to write something, too?...

  3. Same time, next