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Christmas @ The Folk School

Memories Of A Country School Christmas

Today's guest post was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.

Memories of a Country School Christmas written by Ethelene Dyer Jones

Memories of a Country School Christmas written by Ethelene Dyer Jones 

I started school in first grade (we didn’t have kindergarten then) in 1936 in a brand new school building that replaced an old gray two-story structure. The new building with its two rooms was cozy and inviting. I remember the “new wood” smell of my first days there. Winter days the rooms were warmed by wood-burning heaters. We students carried in the wood from the woodpile fed by wagonloads of wood brought by fathers of students. Teachers made the fires early those winter mornings and kept them stoked and fed during the school day. I had seven years of happy instruction in that two-teacher country school, from 1936-1943. I had an additional year there in 1949-1950 in my very first year as a teacher. Then I was the only teacher, since student population had dwindled to 25 students in all seven grades. Christmas memories of my seven years as a student and one year as a teacher there bring happy memories of a country school Christmas.

“Drawing names” was done early in December so we could have enough time to get the present for the person whose name we had drawn. I remember the teacher wanting to see the name we had drawn, writing down who got whose name, and urging us not to tell anyone whose name we had drawn. (How hard that secret was to keep!) Of course I didn’t know as a young student why the teacher wanted to know the names each had drawn. But I found out later that was so the teacher herself could get gifts and have them labeled “from” the students to the student whose name had been drawn, as she knew which families couldn’t afford to buy gifts. The teachers did not want anyone to be left out. And the teacher assured the parents of these students that “someone” was furnishing gifts for their students to give. In this way, everyone got a gift when gifts were distributed by Santa Claus at the end of our Christmas program.

Our “art” work for Christmas (and other special days) was displayed above our blackboard and on the windows. Decorations were made for our Christmas tree which was provided by one of the fathers. We strung colored paper into chains and also laced popcorn into chains with needle and thread handled very carefully. Some years, we might have had some glitter and glue to add sparkle to our hand-made star at the top of our tree. We didn’t have electricity in the building in those years before World War II, so we had no strings of lights. But to the children who beheld it, and worked to make it so, our school Christmas was beautiful.

Preparations for “the Christmas Play,” recitations, singing and other aspects of the program were begun early in December. Every student had a part.  For the younger children, an acrostic such as C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S  J-O-Y or M-E-R-R-Y  C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S ~ H-A-P-P-Y  N-E-W  Y-E-A-R would be filled in with a two- or four-line poem, memorized and practiced in order to get the recitation perfect for when our family and friends gathered for our big Christmas production. I remember how my knees trembled and how I feared I might forget my lines. But it all seemed to work well, and even if anyone made a slight mistake, our audiences liked and appreciated our attempts at public performance. In that little country school I learned to be bold in speaking and unafraid to participate in group performances. Other memories of these programs over seven years were acting in simple dramas that told the story of Christmas, and singing songs, some new, some the traditional old carols. And at the end our guests joined in to sing with us.

How our teachers there on their meager salaries managed to get all their students gifts, I will never quite know. But I can remember pencil boxes, goody bags, books and simple educational toys, all bearing names of my beloved teachers at each Christmas gathering. In addition, we got bags of candy, an orange or apple, and some nuts, given by our faithful Santa Claus, whom we learned was Mr. Joe Hunter, husband of our upper-grades teacher, Mrs. Florence Hunter.

We had a moveable partition that divided the two rooms of our two-room school. This was taken down for all our programs, like Christmas and the end of school graduations. A portable stage was set up and we were all ready for our production, the “Choestoe School Christmas Program.” We sent out invitations to parents and others, and had a great day and a crowd to watch us. We were happy and proud to have an audience. Our school was beautiful, and so were the children and teachers who were ready for “Christmas company,” with plenty of Christmas spirit and a lot of love and happiness spreading around. What a privilege it was to celebrate Christmas at Choestoe School. When I taught my first year there, the only teacher, I followed much the same patterns as I had experienced when I was a student there. The school was consolidated with Union County Elementary School in the fall of 1954.

The Ethelene Dyer Jones Choestoe School and Community Center

On October 31, 2013, that same schoolhouse, dating from 1936, stood stately and beautiful on a plot of ground that had once been a portion of my father’s farm. Moved and restored, it was dedicated on that day and named The Ethelene Dyer Jones Choestoe School and Community Center. I was surprised, awed and grateful that it was named in my honor. Now the schoolhouse where I began my educational and teaching career is ready for another useful purpose, a gathering place for a community and a voting precinct to help preserve our American way of life. I hope many more memories will be made at Choestoe Schoolhouse in its new role as Community Center. 

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I hope you enjoyed Ethelene's guest post as much as I did! I could just see the children gathered around the wood stove getting reading to start school. I can also see clearly the seed of education that started in that small Choestoe School House.

The growth of it begin as a small sapling with Ethelene as a young student, then as a steadily growing tree as Ethelene was a young teacher, and finally as a full grown tree with roots branching out in all directions as Ethelene spent her career educating students in Appalachia-sending each one out with increased knowledge and hope for a brighter future. 

Tipper

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I wrote this in 2013, four years ago; and Tipper posted it before Christmas on December 19, 2017. I've been back to the Ethelene Dyer Jones Schoolhouse and Community several, several times for special occasions, and each time has been a virtual joy. At one of the meetings I attended, and spoke to the crowd gathered, it was an anniversary of the Union County Friends of the Library. That important meeting helped me appreciate the county's public library (and other counties/areas in Georgia that have valuable public libraries). Twenty-three of my 31 years of public school teaching I was librarian/media specialist at West Fannin High School and then from 1976-1990 at Fannin County Comprehensive High School in Blue Ridge, Fannin County, GA. Someone said to me soon after I was "enlisted" for the job of high school librarian: "Oh, you've quit teaching and become a librarian! How could you, a "born teacher" do that?" Little did that person making that rather un-complimentary comment have know how very much a librarina/media specialist teaches! Every day; every period a day. Teachers had one period "off" per day for "planning." But in my library from before school and 'way after school, and all periods and even lunchtime during the day, the library was a "hive" of learning activities! I did "quit" teaching classes of high school English on a regular basis, and began to help students in research and learning of all the subjects in our comprehensive high school curriculum! if they need help on a mathematics theorum, I had to know how to help them with that--research-wise. I didn't mind at all saying, "I don't know the answer, but we can find it together here!" And away we'd go to the card catalog and to a section of the library where the student could find the answer sought. Or did a person need help with the causes of Worl War I for history? No problem! We could easily find that answer. Or maybe a person taking agriculture had been assigned the mountain way of "planting seeds for gardens and crops" by "the signs" like our ancestors in the mountains did! And was this an authentic way to follow in planting in this modern age?? The interesting answers were readily available! Senior English students always had term papers assigned that carried a major grade for their senior English course in the last semester before graduation. Not only did I teach them research methods and the "Turabian Form" for research paper documentation, but we had weeks of pursuing their topic, even with a term paper writing course that occupied at least three periods before they began their research. And guess who taught that procedure? The senior English teacher gave this librarian that happy privilege! Ours became a "model" school for how a library should be organized and run. I had visitors--usually announced in advance of their visit, thankfully! These came from may high schools from Atlanta northward to lowly Fannin County Comprehensive High School where I worked with such joy. From the little "library cabinet" in the corner of my primer-third grade classroom when I began as an eager first grader at Choestoe School in 1936 (I "skipped" primer as I knew my letters, numbers, and already knew how to read at age 6 when I entered that brand new school building!), I "graduated" to being in charge of a really vital, well-used, functional and busy library at Fannin County Comprehensive High School! I loved classroom teaching! I loved teaching within and through the rich resources of a really good high school library! And I've written far too much to tell you about my college experiences at these colleges, with degrees as noted: Truett McConnell Junior College, Cleveland, GA (I was a charter student; valedictorian of the first graduating class in 1949; AA degree); Mercer University, Macon, GA (BA in English and Education); North Georgia College, Dahlonega (summer courses to add to Georgia Techer Certification); Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC (Master of Arts in English); University of Georgia, Athens, GA (SEd--Specialist in Education degree, {6th year} with concentration in library/media education. These are my formal college degrees. But since first grade at Choestoe School, 1936, I have been on the road of "lifetime learner." Every day, even as I am almost to my 87th birthday (May 13, 2017 is my 87th birthday), I have sought to learn something new every day. I "Google" online for the answers to many probing questions; I read a book a week; I study the Bible and for the 7th year in a row I write and post a daily devotional (well, some days, if I'm away from wireless or my computer's on-the-blink, I may not post the devotional daily). These are on Facebook and sent to almost 100 daily by e-mail At one time since my retirement, I was writing a different column a week for 4 newspapers in the mountains; I have been writing for 27 years for The News Observer, Blue Ridge, GA. I've edited newsletters for The Georgia Poetry Society, The Georgia Library-Media Department (professional librarians' state organization) and for more than 20 years I've been historian for the Dyer-Souther Heritage Association, and written and sent out "The Chronicle," the Dyer-Souther newsletter. I've headed up the writing/editing/publishing of 5 books of area/local history: Facets of Fannin: A History of Fannin County, GA (1989), now in its 7th printing; Cemeteries of Fannin County, GA (2003); 100 Years of Heritage and Hope: A History of Morganton Baptist Association (1993); helped with Facing Forward: A History of Schools in Fannin County, GA (1913); and Faith through Flood and Fire: A History of McCaysville First Baptist Church (1983). In addition, I have had two books of poetry published: The Singing in the Wood (1984) and with my son Keith as joint writer, Mother and Child Reunion: A Book of Poems (1995). I have no less than 6 other poetry chapbooks needing publication (time to do this before I fade on out from this world!); and 7 years of devotional writing: not to mention a compendium of my historical newspaper articles which "fans" beg me to publish! "There never was time," wrote Union County poet and my mentor, Byron Herbert Reece.

Ethelene story brings back memories my grandmother used to tell about my mom & 2 uncle's. It also brings memories from great grandfather about his school a log cabin that father's had donated a few trees off there land to build it..He walked 2 miles to school 2 miles back home after school. He said they were the good old days. Community all pitched to help.

She writes a very inspiring story of early American education. My first school was in a one room school with first through eighth grades in Mena, Arkansas. What wonderful memories!

Ethelene, I enjoyed reading this so much! Every detail made your memories come to life, and I could just see those children and their excitement at making decorations for their own beautiful tree and holiday classroom.
Teachers are such an important influence on their students, and by extension, the world. Thank you for being such a wonderful, caring teacher, and thank you for sharing your memories here!

To all who visited today, thank you! And especially for the kind, insightful comments from those who posted, my heart overflows with gratitude. You have seen the poster: "If you can read this, thank a teacher!" I thank my teachers who were role models for my own teaching. I am grateful that I wanted to be a teacher and pursued that career. And to my students, a special remembrance for making my years in instruction memorable and uplifting. Thank you, Tipper for Blind Pig, and those who make this site an uplifting place to visit every day! Joyous Christmas!

Miss Jones, this makes me remember my teachers in the 2 room 6 grade school I went to in Southern Indiana in the 1960's. The teachers really cared and made us learn what they taught. Thanks for the memories of ladies that helped me be what I am today.

A beautiful memory for sure! Teaching has come a long way from that time. Education during those years was so appreciated as well as respected. Although more sophistication and requirements are true for today's students, I'm not so sure that it is as valued and taken more for granted. I really loved reading this story.

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. My dad told a story such as this when he was a boy. I bet she was a wonderful teacher and had such a big impact on those children's lives.

Tipper,
I'm touched by Mrs. Jones story and
Grateful that we had Teachers that
cared for the young students as she
did growing up.
Every day when I read the Blind Pig,
I especially look for her comments
of wisdom. Thank you Ethelene and
Congradulations...Ken


Tipper,
and Ethelene,
Thank you for posting your memories of your school days...Our parallel of the comments about your school, reminded me of my school days in the early forties and fifties!
I was a "citified" student in a fairly new school, thrown up, in haste, by the government!...Was it a blessing? I am not sure about that! Sure, we didn't have to carry in wood for a heater..but the white "asbestos" covered pipes that ran from room to room, and occasionally down the wall in the corner of the room..would sometimes get bumped and peel??
I remember the little Cedar in a large bean can, procured from the cafeteria..glued paper ring chains, popcorn and cranberries, not many too expensive, and "mercy" those old "LEAD" icicles!
I remember a teacher also writing down and matching all the names and drawn names of students before the Christmas party, too!..Later on I remember, students just brought a girl, a girl gift and a boy, a boy gift...During break the teacher would count the gifts to make sure there were enough. I think this worked for those large classrooms..I know the teacher kept extra boy/girl gifts in a box by the desk!..later I knew why! We also got a small teacher gift from our teacher. The best teachers made a "big to do" over the least little present, we gave her, sometimes made in a recess art class before the party day! Knowing that some would not be able to get a teacher gift, she always stated, that she didn't need a gift from us that we were "her gift" and not to worry about bringing her a gift! That statement helped the ones that couldn't or parents that wouldn't send a small gift!
Of course I could go on and on! The parallel we share is in itself a blessing. I think you are still teaching today...I read your comments with joy everyday.
I can see why your community chose to name the restored schoolhouse for you!
It would have been a pleasure to have been a student in one of your clasees or to have gone to school with your presence...
Tipper, thanks for sharing Ethelene's stories...and thank you Ethelene!

Lovely memories. When children learn and play together with multiple ages, I think they become more attentive and considerate of others. - more of a family setting - I wish more children could experience that.

Thank you for sharing the beautiful memories. I attended a school similar to your, except we had a few more students and teachers. The Christmas play, where we became stars for a few moments, was the highlight of the year. With only a few parents and teachers in attendance, I felt like I was facing a crowd at Freedom Hall as I acted my small part. I thought my teachers were rich. Many years later, I realized how they struggled to give every student a small present at Christmas.
Having the center named in your honor speaks a million words!

Ethelene and Tiper:

THANK YOU VERY MUCH! We need reminders of such beautiful setting to educate our children. Then they would have no trouble realizing just how fortunate they are today - being in 'heated' classrooms that can be 'cooled' if they so desire. My schooling was just a wee bit more broad in scope - and like Ethelene I MADE IT!

Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
Matheson Cove, over in North Carolina

What wonderful Christmas memories! I'm grateful for Ethelene, and rare kindred souls who have such wealthy treasures to share. Also, for a very happy result in saving a fine historic building for future use.

A very nice story. The school looks wonderful! I went to an elementary school (grades 1 to 8) that was larger and had a separate classroom and teacher for each grade except grades 7 and 8 were combined and taught by the principal when I was in 7th grade.

Thank you Ethelene, those are beautiful stories drawn from years gone by, and congratulations on having the school/community named for you.

Tipper and Readers, As I read what I wrote, tears filled my eyes in remembrance and gratitude! I had such wonderful beginnings in that country school, being taught much more than the traditional "Three R's" I hope this post will help you remember influences that molded you and gave you an appreciation of learning, of others, even of life itself! A joyous Christmas to all! Thank, you, Tipper, for allowing me to share my memories!

Thank you Mrs. Jones for those wonderful memories. I enjoyed a similar school from 1949-1954. To us at that time and age, our world was perfect. We did not realize that we were poor as far as money or worldly things went because most of us were in the same boat so to speak.It truly was the happiest time of my entire schooling.Wonderful teachers and school friends! Thank you again, Mrs. Jones!

This is a wonderful post! Thank you.

Such a shame that children today to not get a chance to make these memories. I remember gifts from my teacher too, with a daughter and daughter in law who are teachers now I know how hard it is for them just to keep basic supplies for all their kids. So a gift was a real hardship.

Ethelene,

Now that I am more awake, I would like to tell you that I would have loved being in your class. I promise I would have been one of your best students. No...I wouldn't have been one of your brightest but, I would have been one of the most attentive and most reverent in your class. Wish I could have been there.

What a wonderful story! Can you imagine all the past students now that are proud to tell everyone that Mrs Ethelene Dyer Jones was once their teacher!!!!!

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