There were no school buses where I grew up in Tennessee. We walked to and from school every day. Three miles each way. We were young , my younger brother was eight and I was eleven, and we were full of spunk and energy. I always had bro carry my books for me so I could save my energy in the event he ever broke his leg and I would have to carry him home. It was always easy to influence bro, because once he fell down a dried up well and was stuck there for hours before a bean farmer come walking by and heard him. The old farmer thought it was a rabid possum wailing at the bottom of the old well and he was just about to chunk a big rock down the hole to end the possums pain, when bro started singing “Jesus loves me, yep I know,” which made the old farmer think he was having a spiritual event. So bro was rescued, but, for years after that, he tended to be a little on the simple side.
Spring and early Autumn were nice for walking to school barefoot, in that we only owned one pair of good shoes each, and had to save them for when we got to school and then put them on there. Fact was, Dad figured foot leather was cheaper than shoe leather any day. Wintertime was different. As my family was somewhat on the downside of wealth, we boys only had one warm coat to share, and it smelled a little like fish bait. It was hand me down from our fat cousin Nedder, who had a bad habit of putting minnows and worms in his coat pockets when he went fishing during the fall and then forgetting about them. Still, it was a big warm coat and during the winter I would wear it on the walk to school and lil bro wore it on our trip home that afternoon. If it snowed before we got out of school, then he wore it and I carried him piggy back with the coat wrapped around him and me. The only problem was he had to direct me where to walk and he had problems with his rights and lefts....refer to the well incident.
One winter, old Lady Smelt gave mom a pair of her late husband’s old boots. They were five sizes too big, but mom just stuffed the toes with newspaper and then gave them to me for getting to school. Then, through the snow I would trudge, carrying bro on my back with the over sized coat around us wearing a pair of old boots 5 sizes to big. God I looked like ‘Big Foot’ in a blizzard! Just before we got to school we had to pass by ‘Pine Box’ cemetery. During the winter it was always a fright cause of the howling wind and the snow laden tree limbs cracking. Old man Smelt had been dead and covered up for most of five years following a sawmill accident where he got both feet cut off, and bled dry. They forgot about his feet and they stayed in his boots for most of two weeks before widow Smelt took notice of the smell coming from the closet. I was wearing those boots now and whether it was the wind or old man Smelt howling cause his feet were cold, I don’t know. We just ran as fast as we could pass the graveyard each day keeping an eye on the graves and an eye out for wolves. Another problem during those winter treks were the wolves. Big grey ones with blood stained eyes and ragged ears. Many a time I had to run for my life and when the danger had passed, I’d go back to the place I dumped bro and pick him up and head on again. During the Spring the wolves were not really a problem cause it was breeding season and they were often to tired to chase us. The bears were another issue.
Our school had only two rooms. One room was where us older and smarter kids were taught. The other room was for ignorant kids where they learned to read and write. Sadly, half the first grade were grown ups. I think some, at one time or another, must have had a farming accident resulting in a brain thumper, or, they had a weakness for the local moonshine and over the years had pickled their brains like a crock pot of summer turnips. Anyhow, Teacher’s husband kept a lot of wood chopped and our school was kept really warm during the winter and except for recess and outhouse time, we were comfortable. Sometimes Teacher would make a big pot of soup for all of us during the worst of winter, but otherwise, me and bro always brought a couple of fresh biscuits with a chunk of fried fatback for lunch.
The last day of school was around the first week of June each year, and we always had a party. Teacher would bake a pile of molasses cookies and make sarsaparilla sweet tea. Her husband would churn up some home made ice cream and we would enjoy ourselves beyond measure. She was a really nice teacher and I loved her greatly. Most kids brought her an apple or a reed basket of picked vegetables each day. Not having the resources, I had to be content in picking her some blackberries on my way to school each day, but, most times they looked like jam by the time I gave them to her. She would smile and wink and I’m sure she loved me for it. Well....after all us kids had eaten our fill, she hugged us all and wished us a good summer. Me and bro then headed home stopping only long enough to steal a watermelon from Mr. Baileys patch, that shouldn’t have been so close to the road anyway. Then later, we would run pass the graveyard, with bro carrying the big green bouncing watermelon and me looking out for wolves. The bears were another issue.