Memories of Columbia School, 1930s

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2008 19:14

By Olivia Quierolo Muse

For first through fourth grades, the teachers were Miss Itey and several others whose names I don’t remember. The principal and teacher for the older children was Elna Peterson. She wasn’t patient with children, had her “pets,” and wasn’t very personable.

The lower story was for the lower grades, and the older children attended upstairs. In the morning, Mrs. Peterson always played the phonograph, and then we said the Pledge of Allegiance and got down to school business.

The eighth-graders had to recite something daily. I still remember one of the sayings: “If a task is once begun, be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.” And then we’d get down to the business of school.

We attended class from 9 am to 3 pm, lunch was brought from home. At recess we played ball, tag and hid from the boys, mostly. I walked to school every day from our ranch, which was about 4 ½ miles away up Big Hill Road.

My parents were Italian immigrants who arrived in California in 1906, and were on a train near San Francisco when the big earthquake hit – they had to stay on that train for three days until the tracks were repaired.

My father died when I was 10. He had diabetes, and used to get insulin shipped in boxes from Michigan, packed in excelsior. He was working in the apple orchard one cold day and got pneumonia; he died five days later. There was no penicillin in those days, and a doctor came up from Stockton a couple times a month, Dr. Olivieri, to see patients.

My mother sold chestnuts from trees my father had planted, and that was our income. We shipped them to different places around the state.

I walked to school alone every day and never felt scared. Just before I entered eighth grade, a couple of people decided the school was not safe anymore, so it was condemned, so we all had to go to school in big tents set up on the Hartman property, which was even further from my house.

The tents had wood floors, but were very cold and uncomfortable. They put stoves in, and the teacher sat next to it so she was warm, at least. Because my last name started with “Q” I was pretty far away from the stove. There was a lot of snow in those years, and at night I’d listen to the wind howling and know that I had to walk to school the next morning. But it was a way of life.

One day my sister baked a cake, and I brought it to class and reached in to have a bite. The teacher saw all the crumbs and asked what I was doing. “I’m tasting this cake,” I said. She made me go the blackboard and write, “I will not eat cake in the classroom” 50 times. I got home so late that my mother was worried sick.

Another time I hit a ball in the schoolyard and it went right through the downstairs window.  I told the other teacher, and she said, “Go tell Mrs. Peterson.”

To my surprise Mrs. Peterson just said, “I’m glad you owned up to it.” That made an impression on me that stayed with me all my life, and I taught my boys the same thing – take responsibility for your actions.

There were nine of us in my eighth-grade graduating class of 1935. Mary Ghiorso Raney and I are the only ones left living. The others were Florence Peters, Marilyn Smith, Lewis Segale, George Njirich, Mary Emma Fabin, Marjorie Brady and Irma Hartman.

Columbia native Olivia Muse, 88, attended the historic red-brick schoolhouse from first through eighth grades. She raised two sons, worked in the Richmond shipyards as a welder from 1942-1945, and was married for 60 years to William “Jack” Muse, who died last year at age 95.

© 2008, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2008 19:14
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