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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bona School part three: classroom distractions

Bona School 1928
When I get to thinking about Bona School (the old building has long since gone and present-day Bona kids go to the consolidated school in Dadeville) fifty-year-old memories come flooding back.  I will try not to bore you with miscellaneous details but will endeavor to stick to some interesting things.

Bona School had no big school bell on it.  The only bell was a small, hand-held brass bell.  One of the teachers would step out onto the front stoop and ring it five minutes before class time and you had better be in your seat right quick or you would have to stay an extra half hour after school—which meant having to think up an excuse for being late getting home for the evening chores without telling your parents that you had been kept after school.  When that happened to Richard, he would blandly announce at home that he had stayed after school to wash blackboards and dust chalk erasers—which could well be true because something like that was usually what the teachers would make the miscreant do.  (No, we never tattled on each other—that would not have been fair.)

Each room at the school had its own “library” which consisted simply of a bank of shelves along one wall.  There was an American flag in the corner and each morning we would stand and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.  I recall that in the Big Room at the front over Mr. Mitchell’s desk there was a large picture of Sir Launcelot and his horse.  The only other decoration was a portrait of George Washington.

The older boys had a nasty trick they would occasionally play in the wintertime when those old coal stoves were going.  Some of the boys carried their rifles while walking to school in case they saw a rabbit or a squirrel on the way home.  They usually had a few twenty-two shells in a pocket.  Every once in a while when one of them was sent out to fill the coal scuttle, a twenty-two shell would find its way into the coal.  It would sound like a firecracker going off when it got hot in the stove which, of course, was a bit of a distraction from lessons.

The twenty-two shells were not very dangerous because, when they went off, the lead bullet did not go anywhere and the little brass casings would simply ricochet around inside the cast iron stove.  The principal had to try to figure out who was responsible because it was not necessarily the one who went to get the coal—someone could have put them into the coal bin in advance.  Mr. Mitchell was pretty good at spotting the sly look that could give the perpetrator away.

The worst episode of that nature was one time when someone sneaked a four-ten gauge shotgun shell into the coal.  Boy, when that thing went off it was more like a hand grenade than a firecracker!  It did not break the stove itself but it blew the door open and the stove pipe came crashing down.  Of course it scattered black coal soot all over the room and everyone.  School had to be called off for the whole day while the mess was cleaned up.

I did not get very dirty in that one because my desk was right by one of the north windows.  When the stove blew I simply flipped up the window and bailed out closely followed by Rountree Lindley who was my seatmate.  Of course we were closely questioned by Mr. Mitchell because it made it appear that we were ready for it.  I convinced him, however, that the window was the way I always went out when we had a fire drill.  The culprit was not found because no one had carried a four-ten shotgun to school that day so Mitchell sent the girls home and made all the boys stay and help with the cleanup.  That ended the episodes of ammunition in the stove as, from then on, Mr. Mitchell would check all the pockets of all the boys who left guns in the cloakroom an confiscate all the ammunition until school let out in the afternoon. 

Another check the teachers had to make every morning in the wintertime was for skunk odor.  Several of the older boys had steel trap lines and might have skinned a skunk then not cleaned up too well.  Even when it was hard to smell when he came in from the cold, a boy smelling of skunk would really stink in there by that hot coal stove.  The result would be that he got sent home to have a bath and get clean clothes.

I recall one time that Mr. Mitchell tagged a distant cousin, Gene Asbell, for having skunk on him and sent him home.  Henry and Maude Asbell (they were the Asbells involved in the feud with the Tygarts) lived about three-quarters of a mile east of the school.  A few minutes after Gene was sent home, Maude came stalking up the road madder than an old wet hen.  She called Mr. Mitchell out into the cloak room in the hall and really laid into him, insisting that her boy did not smell like skunk.  (We all smelled it and he really did stink.)

Well, Mr. Mitchell patiently heard her out but finally had enough of her tirade.  He calmly said, “Missus Asbell, maybe you don’t smell the skunk on him because I do believe that you smell like skunk yourself!"

Of course that made Maude madder than ever.  She got so mad that she was red in the face and could not even speak.  She finally went off toward home sputtering and fuming to herself.  I do not recall how long it was before she was on speaking terms with Mitchell, but was quite a while.
I met Maud Asbell in 1970.  I do not disbelieve my father.

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