If you have ever taken an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) off road, where there is little to no markings, you may already know; it can be more than just a bumpy ride. You can discover a lot of interesting artifacts. Thanks to a friend of mine and neighboring landowners, I experienced quite a journey.
Yesterday, I was invited to join a small group on an adventure. When the ATVs turned off the well-traveled road onto a worn-out path, I stepped into the past, to a time when horse and buggies ruled this land. The tracks were once a country road in Iowa. In some places, erosion cut deep into the path.
Each of the vehicles rolled slowly over the boulders and small ravines. As we meandered through the woods, I was tossed about, and my seatbelt pulled at my waist. Looking at the scenery, it became obvious why this road had been abandoned. On one side lay a steep hill and on the other a babbling trout stream.
A few miles into the woods, we stopped to take a closer look. At my right, stood a cement stair leading nowhere. But in my mind’s eye, it led into a tall rectangular room with a potbelly stove on the far end. This schoolhouse had been built in 1910. Listening carefully, I could almost hear these cement steps telling me their story:
I watched as a young girl grabbed the shovel leaning against the stoop. She began pushing the snow that had drifted and blocked the door to the schoolhouse. Mary was a young girl, not much older than the oldest students that attended this school.
Arriving an hour earlier than her students was part of Mary’s job as teacher. It took quite a few trips out to the wood pile, to fetch enough firewood to keep the children warm throughout the school day. Under her breath, she thanked the old farmer that lived down the road. He had stacked a pile of firewood for the school just up the hill. Entering the school carrying a heavy load of wood, her breath became more noticeable in the stillness of the room.
Mary tried to blow lightly and evenly on the tiny flame that licked at the twigs in the potbelly stove. As a first-year teacher, patience with building a fire, was something she had not yet learned. She began stacking the firebox until it was nearly full. Shutting the door, she peeked through its isinglass window at the flame. Noticing its glow was dying out, she quickly opened the door to the potbelly stove and smoke billowed into the schoolhouse. It took perseverance, but she finally got the fire roaring. After the better part of an hour she removed her hat, mittens, and coat.
When her students arrived, the little dusting of snow that had blown in through the cracks in the walls had begun to melt. Mary led all eighteen of her students in saying “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”. Reading was the first subject of the day. Divided into eight small groups, one child for each, began to read aloud. Soon the room was filled with voices.
The thick, rough dimensional timbers that spanned overhead, creaked from the warmth. A tiny red area began to grow on the glossy black stovepipe flue at the joint that turned to exit the schoolhouse. A loud rumbling sound like that of a freight train came barreling down the pipe. But no one hears it coming. Within seconds, the wall around the flue caught fire.
As smoke began filling the room, Mary yelled for the children to get out. Stooping to take a breath of fresh air, she began crawling across the floor. But her long dress kept getting in the way. Gathering the material around her waist, she managed to scoot over to the door. Reaching up, she unlatched the door and ushered her students outside.
After making sure no one was left inside; she ran to join the other children on the hill. Standing in the snow, they looked back to see the old schoolhouse burn to the ground.
Staring at the old, blackened cement stairs, I murmured to myself, “Could that be what happened to the old schoolhouse?”. Just then, one of the ATVs started up. As we rolled out of the woods and onto a farm field the sun glistened its last rays on the treetops.
The trinket I found in this experience that may help in my creative writing was knowing that it’s important to stay on well-marked roads and byways when I want to get to where I am going, but when offered an opportunity to get off the beaten path, take it! For that’s where life becomes interesting.
Please feel free to share this blog. Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. If you send me your thoughts, I will post the appropriate, non-spam remarks.