IN SCHOOL DAYS
By John Greenleaf Whittier
Still sits the school house by the road,
A ragged beggar sleeping;
Around it still the sumachs grow,
And blackberry vines are creeping.
Within the master’s desk is seen,
Deep scarred by raps official,
The warping floor, the battered seats,
And jack-knives carved initial.
The charcoal frescoes on its wall;
Its door’s worn sill betraying
The feet, that creeping slow to school
Went storming out to playing.
Long years ago a winter sun
Shone over it at setting;
Lit up its western window panes,
And low eaves, icy fretting.
It touched the tangled golden curls,
And brown eyes full of grieving,
Of one who still her steps delay
When all the school were leaving.
For near her stood the little boy
Her childish favor singled;
His cap pulled low upon his face
Where pride and shame were mingled.
Pushing with restless feet, the snow
To right and left, he lingered—
As restlessly the tiny hands
The blue checked apron fingered.
He saw her lift her eyes, he felt
The soft hands light caressing.
And heard the tremble of her voice,
As if a fault confessing.
“I’m sorry that I spelt the word;
“I hate to go above you.
“Because, the brown eyes lower fell—
“Because you see, I love you!”
Still memory to a gray haired man
That sweet child face is showing.
Dear girl! The grasses on her grave
Have forty years been growing!
He lives to learn, in life’s hard school,
How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss,
Like her—because they love him.
It seems that grade school memories linger in the mind more vividly than the later years of education. Perhaps it is because most of my age group spent eight years in a two-room school house, with the same students. Some of us went on to high school with the same group of students, and that was twelve years of daily contact with each other.
No wonder we forged ties that remain today. Who could forget the smell of the newly-oiled floors, slick with crude oil? Or lined up in double lines, one line for the little room, and the other for the big room, saying the Pledge of Allegiance with our hands over our hearts. And the outdoor toilets on each side of the school, where we gained permission to go by holding up one or two fingers. (To this day I can’t understand what difference it made!)
The last day of school would finally come, and the doors would be locked until the fall term. There was nothing like that heady sense of freedom that came with the last day, and the summer stretching out before us. “No more lessons, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks!” We would look forward to long days of playing in the woods, the barn and the creek. It did seem that summer vacation lasted so long, and now it is only a breath between the closing day of spring, and the beginning of the fall term.
Then came the four years of high school, and graduation and honeysuckle time. The two is so intertwined in my memory that the sweet scent of honeysuckle always brings memories of graduation. It is such a milestone in one’s life, and probably the most abrupt thrust into adulthood we will ever experience. Whether you go on to college, into the armed forces, or into marriage or the work force, things are never the same.
No matter how many promises we make to keep up the old friendships, it just doesn’t work that way. We move into a new era of our lives, and many times our paths never cross again. Graduation time is a time of tears and laughter; mingled relief and regret. It is a heart-wrenching time for parents also. It seems only yesterday we enrolled them in kindergarten, and now they are leaving their childhood status forever.
We feel like crying out, “They are not ready to be adults; let me hold them a little longer!” Instead, we smile through our tears and loosen the cord a little more. It does bring a pang to the heart to see them walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. Michael was our first to graduate, and then in quick succession there was Patty, Kevin, Andy and Matthew, six years later. It was hard to see our baby, Crystal, leave the nest. Crystal completed one year at Glenville State College.
Before we took a long breath, the grandchildren began their march across the stage-Michael’s three, Jeremy, David and Christina. Then Patty’s boys, Aaron, Adam, Luke and Adrian received their diplomas. Kevin’s three marched along-Joshua, Miriam Abigail and Reuben, and then Andy’s Benjamin, Jessica and Joseph made their graduation march. Nicholas graduates this year, and Taylor is in line. Matthew’s Rachel and Alexandria-called-Judy received their diplomas and Megan will graduate this year. He still has Belinda and Jacob coming along.
Crystal home-schooled her girls quite successfully, and Alyssa graduated last year and finished her first year at Wingate University in NC with top grades. Brionna and Mylie are next in line, still being taught by their mother. I know it is just a heartbeat until the great-grandchildren take their places on stage and the circle keeps turning.
As I see their young, eager faces, I always think, “Have we taught them the best we can?” Criss often comments, “We just have one chance raising our children—you can’t do it over again.” Training them right must start at the very beginning. You can’t wait until they are teenagers and then attempt to teach them godly morals and principles. I have read that the first seven years are the most critical in forming character and lifelong traits.
Oh, yes, they will make mistakes and bad decisions, just as we did. If they have a solid foundation, they will mature and hold on to the real values in life. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he grows older, he will not depart from it” does not mean that they will automatically go the right way. It means that the training they receive they will never forget, and it is something that will draw them back.
Our world is in such a sad shape now that the only Bible training that our children will receive is mainly from their parents. I know that I am not “politically correct,” but I choose to go by the Bible. Isaiah 5-20 says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” I know what is good, and what is evil, and what is an abomination. I choose to teach my children and grandchildren the truth.
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