A few days into my arrival, I speculated that I had lost my mind. What was I thinking, to have turned my back on my parents’ lavish lifestyle and my carefree days of parties and revelry. I went from a mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, to a room in a clapboard house smack in the middle of the prairie.
Ever since I earned my art history degree at Macalester College in St. Paul, followed by a grand tour of Europe, I have been at loose ends. After much serious thinking, I decided to earn my teaching certificate and do something worthwhile with my life.
When I left home last fall, I took the train. I fore swore my allowance and my slavish dependence on the latest fads and fashions. I told myself I didn’t need my parents’ money. I managed, somehow, to survive on my meager teacher’s salary.
Now that I have proved myself, I have relented somewhat. I have reluctantly given in to one big concession. When I returend to North Dakota a few weeks ago after a visit home, Mother and Father accompanied me, Father driving us out in the automobile he finally persuaded me to accept. (He grumbled all the way about the 20 cents a gallon gas prices.)
Yes, I admit to caving in a bit. But having an auto is so much nicer. I don’t have to depend on the Swensons to bring me to school or in to town. I will also be able to take my students on field trips, with the help of a volunteer driver or two.
As the magazine ad illustrates, there is freedom in owning a Ford. I believe, as does Father, that it will be safe, dependable transportation for me.
I wore my jodhpurs on the trip out. It has been a long time since I put on a pair. They were my frequent costume in the past, whether for motoring or horseback riding. Since moving to the wilds of North Dakota, I have never seen a woman wearing a pair.
My parents were astounded at how small the school house is. I know they secretly think it is shabby, though they would never say that. If only they could have seen it last year, with bats, mice, cobwebs and dirt everywhere. I swept and dusted and scrubbed like I never had at home. Back then, I relied on maids to do that sort of thing.
I think of the days when I and Charlie Swenson, the son of the family I boarded with, arrived early to a freezing cold school. Fortunately, he was not afraid of shoveling snow while I got the stove lit and the school warmed up.
I truly have grown up over the past year. I have faced loneliness, culture clashes with the Norwegians and Germans who farm this area, the overwhelming solitude of the prairie, backbreaking work and unruly students and difficult parents.
Now, I love my students and can’t imagine teaching anywhere else.
The little girls idolize me and I think some of the little boys have crushes on me. Even the older boys have at last accepted me – thank goodness, as some are bigger than I am – and help with chopping wood and the heavier chores.
The younger students are eager and willing to dust the erasers, wash the chalkboards and pass the wastebasket at the end of the day.
I have some really promising students here, and I will do my best to help them continue their education after they leave my school.
ONE ROOM SCHOOL IN AUTUMN