Memories of Summerville Elementary, 1918-1926

By Guest Contributor June 15, 2009 12:48

By Tom Dahl

We moved to Tuolumne in 1917, and I started school here the next year. Mrs. Hill was my first-grade teacher. She was a pretty elderly woman, a good teacher but strict. A couple of boys would get out of hand and man, they got a licking. We got warned: If you got a licking at school, you got another one at home. Every family in town told their kids that.

This was 1918, at the end of the First World War. The soldiers came back, and I remember the whole school marched behind the soldiers toward the cemetery to observe Armistice Day. In the winter the flu swept through. I think almost every family in town had it to some extent. As a home remedy we used mustard plasters, a salve they rubbed on our chest and throat. I missed some school that year; every kid in town did.

My second-grade teacher was Miss Kaler. She was a real quiet, gentle lady and a good teacher. I think my favorite, though, was my third-grade teacher, Dora Wigley. She lost her husband in the sawmill, and was raising three girls by herself. One of them, Dorothy, and I went all through school together. We both graduated from Summerville High in 1930.

Her mother was a good teacher, concerned about her students. We ran barefooted all the time and she’d look at our feet to make sure we were ok. All the boys went barefoot to school most of the time. We played baseball in the evenings and on weekends, and I don’t think we ever played a baseball game with our shoes on.

The school had grades 1-8, and all the teachers were women. Mrs. Sadie Long, who was the eighth-grade teacher, was also the principal. Her sister, Anna Graham, was the seventh-grade teacher. She was a good teacher, but she sure was a disciplinarian – she had the longest hickory stick you ever saw, and it wouldn’t take much for her to use it. There was a lot of older fellows in the seventh grade when I was there, acting up and carrying on – the only way she kept control, or tried to keep it, anyway, was to single somebody out who was acting up, put them in front of everybody, and smack their hands with the stick. Some of the guys were so big, she’d get her hand in the way sometimes and hit her own fingers.

I got in trouble once in the sixth grade. I was going to throw an orange peel out the window and didn’t realize the teacher was right there, and hit her behind the ear. I’ve lost her name … used to know it. I got a few smacks on the hand.

Miss Frances McNaughton was the fourth-grade teacher, a very pretty lady. Fifth grade was taught by Madeline Rozier, who was Marie Rozier’s sister – their father was the postmaster in town, then he passed away, and Mrs. Rozier became the postmaster.

Many people in town had large families. The average class size was up in the twenties. We started school at 9 in the morning, and got out about 3 in the afternoon. We had writing lessons, spelling contests, reading. We’d have recess, and in warm weather we’d all go out and play baseball.

At recess, sometimes half the class would stand on one side, and half on the other, outside the fourth-grade classroom and throw a ball over the top of the roof – you’d never know where it was going to come down. We called it alley-oop. Sometimes we’d get a can and a bunch of sticks and call it hockey. We had a basketball court at school, and a basketball that someone brought. The school didn’t have any equipment of its own.

Some kids brought their lunches from home but I lived close enough that I could go home. We lived just four or five blocks away, on Laurel Street, so my brother Art and I would run home together.

We had a music teacher, Ralph Ensign. We didn’t practice every day, but periodically we gathered together and sang.

I liked to read and was a good speller. When we had spelling bees, it always came down to me and Treny Thompson. Treny was an Indian girl. She had the most beautiful handwriting (while you had to decipher mine). In the spelling bees, I didn’t miss and she didn’t miss, and when it was just the two of us left, the teacher would finally say, “You might as well sit down.”

As far as homework was concerned, we took a few books home but we could carry them in one hand – not like today, where kids carry these huge backpacks.

Seems like people got along well. Once in a while there’d be a squabble, but most of the time they were a pretty congenial bunch.

About five miles from school off Buchanan Road there was a giant oak tree, declared to be one of the largest in the nation at the time. One time we raised money at school to try to save the oak, which had some decay. The kids each put in a penny or a nickel, whatever we could locate, to buy concrete to patch the decay site and keep the air out. It lasted for many years after that.

Another thing I remember well: When I was in seventh or eighth grade, there was a contest among schools in the county, for a reward that would help the school. The goal was to get all the wildflowers we could find – the names, and one flower as a sample. We found Johnny jumpers, buttercups, stuff like that. We went all over the hills looking for wildflowers. Some of us boys knew a spot about three miles away where some fawn lilies were, up by Mustang Gulch, and our school was the only one that had them. We won the contest.

This was a good place to go to school. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it really was.

Tom Dahl has been a Tuolumne resident for 92 of his 97 years. His father, Al, was a Norwegian immigrant who met and married Swedish-born Anna Gulbransen in Washington State. The family moved to Tuolumne, where Al worked for West Side Lumber Company. Tom, who had four brothers and two sisters, worked in the logging camps, served in the Army during World War II, then worked as dam tender for the City of San Francisco water system until retiring. He and his wife, Fran, who attended Twain Harte Grammar School as a child, were married in 1944. They still live in the turn-of-the-century house they bought for $900 in 1948. The Dahls will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary on Dec. 29, 2009.

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Guest Contributor June 15, 2009 12:48
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