Sunday, September 7, 2008

Salem Kids say goodbye

Telegram Staff Writer

It's not just another reunion.
It's the last one for the Salem Kids - the folks who learned their letters and numbers at the old two-room Salem School.
Having dwindled from a group of 300, they have become a rare breed.
'At last count, there were about 55 of us still living,' said Victor Mueck of Waco, reunion coordinator. 'We had 12 to attend the reunion last year. Age, illness and travel distance haven taken their toll.'
For those able to attend this year, the Sept. 20 reunion is sure to be a fine party.
'They'll be some good barbecue and good visiting,' Mueck says in the invitation. 'Even if it's just for a while, the trip out will be worth it. It's likely the last chance the most of us will have to see each other.'

The school
The Salem School was in the shape of an “L,” remembers Jake Elliott of Cameron.
“Two rectangular rooms joined at the corner. There was a wood stove in the middle,” Elliott said. “I was there in 1929, and Miss Willie Modesette was my teacher.”
The school taught grades 1-8, but instead of a classroom, each grade had a row. Able to house up to 40 students, the school had two teachers, one for grades 1-4 and another for 5-8.
“The teacher would have a lesson for each class,” said Tillie Warren of Temple, a Salem student of 1931. “While she was talking to one row, the rest of us were supposed to be reading or studying.”
Discipline was not a problem. The Salem students knew not to misbehave.
“You could hear a pin drop. People were in line,” Elliott said. “Once in a while, a person might get outspoken, and when that happened, the parents got sent a note. If I got a paddling at school, then I’d certainly get
one at home. Yes sir, that Salem School was a place of learning.”

But it was also a place of fun. There was recess twice a day.
“One day while we were playing baseball, some horses got turned loose on the grounds,” Elliott said. “One of them came to the backstop and knocked me over his foot. The next thing I knew, there was a teacher on each side of me carrying me into the schoolhouse. That’s the first and only time I’ve been knocked out.”
Ms. Warren remembers playing Wolf Come Over at recess.
“The kids would stand in two lines and then take turns seeing who could break come over the fastest and break the line,” Ms. Warren said, describing a game similar to Red Rover Come Over.
Maurine Elliott of Temple recalls playing Pop the Whip and Drop the Handkerchief.
“Popping the whip was dangerous, but we did it,” Ms. Elliott said. “The kids stood in a long line holding hands and then you’d move around like a snake until you swung the kid at the end off. I don’t know why we did it, but it sure was fun.”
Drop the Handkerchief works just like Duck Duck Goose, only instead of saying “Goose,” the person who is “it” drops a handkerchief on someone’s head.

Getting there
There were no school busses. If you wanted to get to school, you walked.
“Sometimes, if it was bad weather, Daddy would take us to school,” Ms. Elliott said. “Daddy would put me and my brother (J.W. Fipps of Temple) up on the horse and walk alongside us until we got there. Then he’d turn around and go home.”
Mueck had a similar bad-weather routine.
“It was a horse or mule you relied on,” Mueck said. “There were no cars in the area until the late 30s.”

The Salem Kids didn’t know what a cafeteria was. They brought lunches from home.
“I took my lunch to school in a syrup bucket, one that had a handle on it,” Ms. Elliott said. “It was usually biscuits and sausage and maybe a piece of cake that mother had made.”
Ms. Warren had peanut butter sandwiches.
“I carried it in an old peanut butter bucket,” she said.

Not a single luxury
The Salem Kids’ clothing was not about fashion.
“You wore what you had,” Ms. Warren said. “Girls had to wear dresses and bloomers.”
The dresses were made of cotton and old feed sacks.
“Some of my clothes were homemade, some were store bought,” she said. “But most I just inherited.”
Ms. Elliott remembers the days of “no britches” and is glad they’re gone.
“It had to be a dress,” Ms. Elliott said. “If it was cold, you had a coat. And you generally wore boots since you had to walk to school.”
As for electricity and running water, the Salem School did without. For light, they used sunshine coming through the windows, and if they needed water, then they had to go to the well and pump it.
“The pump was across the road on land owned by Mr. and Mrs. Cole Ross,” Elliott said.
Mueck said the big kids made the little kids fetch the water.
“It took two of us to carry that water,” Mueck said. “It was a big bucket full.”
Ms. Warren didn’t mind working the water pump.
“I thought it was fun,” she said.
As for restrooms — well, they weren’t even in the picture.
“It had two outhouses,” Elliott said. “Girls on the north end, and boys on the south.”

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