Frank Lee Rogers and Willie Boone Medford Rogers, my father and mother, moved to the Tom Crawford house in the Aaron McDuff Community about 1935. Houses in the country had names in those times, not just sterile street numbers. Most houses were named for the first family to occupy the house, or for the individual who lived there for a long period of time.
My dad moved to this community to teach and be the principal of the little two room school perched on a little knoll across from the Davis Chapel Methodist Church. (More trivia: my great, great grandfather, Frank Davis, and his sons built this church.)
Actually, the legal name of the Community is Iron Duff, not Aaron Duff. A Scotsman named Aaron McDuff once lived in this area. He was a good hunter and story teller, and he became a popular man in the community. Apparently when the area acquired a US post office, a name for the post office was required. It was decided to name the post office after Aaron McDuff. It appears that when some mountain man communicated with a flat lander, who probably lived in Raleigh, NC, the state Capitol, there was some misunderstanding. Aaron’s last name had been shortened to Duff, and his first name was probably pronounced something like “earn” by the mountain man and was understood to be Iron. The amazing thing is that the name, Iron Duff, stuck and nobody bothered to correct it. So, at this time, Aaron McDuff is belatedly recognized.
Iron Duff Elementary school had two rooms with a pot belly wood stove to heat each room. In the fall, the men in the community cut and split firewood for the stoves which was stacked beside the school. But it was part of my dad’s job to come in early each morning and get fire going in the wood stoves. A dash of kerosene oil was sometimes used to start the fires along with some pine knots or kindling wood. An iron pot of water was kept on each stove to replace the lost humidity.
There was a huge, record-breaking snow in January, 1935. The drifts were too much for this first grader, so my Dad carried me to school on his shoulders. No snow days then! Would you believe that Dad was barefooted? Didn’t think you would.
There was a well pump in the front yard. When the children were thirsty, someone had to pump water through a metal pipe. In cold weather, one had to use caution that the lips did not touch the metal pipe because the lips would freeze to the pipe. Losing the skin off your lips is not a good thing, even for us tough mountain kids.
Everyone brought their own lunch, since there was no lunch room. Some kids had metal lunch boxes, but others used paper bags, which were taken home to be used again the next day. Boiled eggs were a favorite food and a little game was played with the eggs. You took your egg and pecked the small end against your classmate’s egg to see which egg cracked first.
One family in the community had White Leghorn Chickens, which laid white eggs. All of the other families had Rhode Island Reds, Domineckeres (black and white speckled chickens), New Hampshires, and even some Bantoms and Gamecocks. These chickens laid brown eggs, whose shells were not as hard as the white shelled eggs. Consequently, the kids from the Davis family who owned the White Leghorns always won the egg fights. We learned early that life is not always fair.
Dad taught the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades in one room of the school and the 1st , 2nd, and 3rd grades were taught by Miss Christine Hogan. Miss Hogan had just graduated from high school and this was her first job. At this time, elementary school teachers in North Carolina were not required to have college degrees. She still lived in the community with her parents.
The desks would seat three small students or two large ones. There was a hole in the upper right corner for an ink bottle called the ink well. These were generally not used after lead pencils were invented.
But one could be taught to write beautifully with a quill (feather) pen and ink. There is no doubt that the quality of the handwriting today is vastly inferior to the handwriting then.
Since Miss Hogan had to juggle the curriculum of the three grades, she needed help. Help came, not from paid teacher’s assistants, but from the older students. Maybe that is why they had the large desks, a third grader could sit at one desk and personally tutor two first graders. Today, research has indicated that young students learn better from slightly older students than they do from teachers, even if the teachers may be highly educated. So maybe we were fortunate to have attended these little two room schools.
I am not sure that Miss Hogan was my first love, but I do know that I liked her a lot. Mother told me that I carried the books of a little girl in my class as far as our house. I then gave her the books to carry on to her house further up the road. I must have been a teacher’s pet, since Miss Hogan invited me and my buddy to spend the night at her parent’s house. I supposed that today she might be fired, or worse. But in those innocent days, this was deemed quite proper.
There is a song that includes the phrase, “readin’, ritin’, and rithmetic, taught by the rule of the hickory stick.” Every teacher had a wooden ruler (plastic rulers had not been invented) that might be used to spank the hand of an unruly student. The principal at every school had a wooden paddle, some with holes bored in the working end. These paddles and rulers were indeed used. It was quite often the case that if you received this discipline at school, you would receive the same when you reached home. The effectiveness of the “hickory stick” along with the support of the parents is still a subject of debate.
The little school house needed painting, but this in the middle of the Great Depression and money to buy paint was short. It may seem to some people today that we were deprived, but those of us who lived the experience of attending one of these little schools know what we were indeed blessed. We are thankful for the knowledge we received from these dedicated and underpaid teachers. We now know that the size and appearance of the school does not matter, but the quality of the educational experience is what really matters.
Click HERE to order Ray’s book Depression Baby: True Stories from Growing Up During the Great Depression in Appalachia — and Other Things…
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