A Teacher's Memories
Edith Bradbury Emerson

Edith Ross Bradbury Emerson was born and raised in Newburyport, Ma. She had never been away from home when she took the teaching position in Lunenburg, Ma. In this narrative a student remarks that his teacher "did not know a silo", this is because Newburyport was not a farming community and she had never seen one before. The historic suburb of Boston, that she refers to is Lexington, Ma. Edith married Alfred Emerson who was born and raised at Elm Dale Farm in Lunenburg, Ma. She probably wrote this early in 1964.

My first year of training was as a teacher shortly after the Spanish War when the Phillipines, Seattle and Oregon were sending east for teachers. Those far away places appealed to me, especially Oregon as my great, great grandfather was a supercargo on the Columbia and was with Capt. Gray at the discovery of the river. A few years ago I donated his log book to their historical society and it is now one of their most treasured posessions. I knew my parents would always oppose my going such a distance.

In March of 1902, during my senior year, a Superintendent wrote he would like to interview a teacher for a central Massachusetts town for the coming year, and I was chosen.

At that time a Superintendent would go to Hammet's Store in Boston, purchase his supplies and gain a teacher at the same time.

Later I received word that there were two boarding places available, one with a newly married couple who already had a young teacher boarder or with an elderly lady who wanted a companion. Needless to say I chose the former.

I was to have the first three primary grades in the new Center School, my salary to be $11.00 per week, board $2.50 which included laundry. I read later in an ancient committee book of teachers paid $2.50 per week and board 75 cents.

The Saturday before Labor Day I made my departure carrying my suitcase with the proverbial umbrella attached. I was to have the company of a friend who was to teach farther on. I started in gay spirits but they vanished when I neared my destination. As we came to the city from which I was to take the electric to my town, she said, "cheer up! See the welcome you are receiving". Flags were flying and a streamer at the depot "Welcome to our City" for President Theodore Roosevelt was to visit there on Labor Day.

At the end of the car line I continued on the route directed me and only a few cows ambled to a stone wall and gave me a moo-ing welcome.

At my boarding place I was shown to my room and I knew them to be kindly people for the room had been newly chinzed and flowers on my bureau.

At that supper table of strangers a terrible homesickness came over me and the tears plopped down on my plate which I excused as a bad cold.

That night I sat at the window and if I had known the road leading home I would have started walking.

As the sun rose that beautiful Sunday morning, I tried to compose myself. I thought of my grandmother, who with her baby sailed on a clipper ship for California to join her husband in the gold rush days and of her having two more babies in a mountain cabin with only an old Indian woman who sat and said, "Ugh! Ugh!".

I was only a hundred miles from home and my mileage book could take me there any weekend.

I went to breakfast making myself most agreeable to atone for the previous night. I was asked to help pick flowers for the funeral of a young girl. Later her brother would become my husband.

It was a dairy farming town of less than a thousand population. The center had the country store which also held the post office, the white spired church and the Town Hall, where the Grange held weekly meetings. Also, some beautiful homes with white pillared fronts whose owners bore the names of old Boston merchants whose ships had sailed the seven seas.

The Center school was a new modern building, the grammar room next to mine, and the High School on the second floor. There were toilets in the basement and a pump in the yard. Also janitor service which I didn't appreciate until I heard from the teachers in the district schools of coming to a cold room, either the boy who tended the stove was late, or failed to appear.

On opening day the children came with shining, smiling faces, swinging their tin lunch pails and walking so proudly in their new school clothes.

I wanted my school to be a pleasant place where they would enjoy learning and I could give them love and understanding. In primary grades are taught the basic elements for future studies and the essentials used all their lives.

I was obliged to work hard to keep them up to grades for school closed the month of March when the roads were heavily mired and closed after the first week in June that the boys could help on the farms.

Although they would work hard too, they had relaxation between classes when they went around the room to a Sousa March played on a little organ, or sing or recite a poem which I would often ask a child to repeat for I might receive a surprise line such as "The blacksmith's brow was wet with all his sweat". I also made a faux pas when returning from school I saw a large bird on the table and exclaimed, "I see you have shot a peasant"!

I had no trouble with discipline, except with beginners. I told them to attend to their needs in the basement at recess. Later when the Superintendent visited us I had printed the word play on the blackboard and a little boy hesitated, I said "What do you do at recess?" He told me in no uncertain terms and the superintendent only added to my embarrassment by saying,"that boy has a good head".
Another day I saw a first grader back of the school and I rushed out just in time. He said "Don't spank! I am drowning a worm". One little girl clung to her old New England accent and for weeks cow was caow.

I was determined to have good writers. People who never see us at least see our signatures. I gave them fine lined paper resembling a music staff and each letter was to come to the proper line. I was at my desk only to take the roll which was always forty or more, but would walk in the aisles, prodding some and helping others.

One beautiful fall day we went for a nature walk. I had studied the wild flowers but the children were proud to teach me that day. They even showed me where a horse had a Christian burial for turning the press that printed bibles which were carted to Boston and sold.

When we returned I asked them to write what they had found on their walk and a boy wrote, "I like my teacher but I found she did not know much, not even a silo". I had the horse story verified while at supper at a pupil's home and Grandpa piped up "I also heard there was rum under them Bibles." I had many such suppers, those mothers were wonderful cooks and I marvel at all they accomplished without conveniences.

I knew of a mother who when the men were extra busy would take a young child and deliver milk in the city.

I was always asked to bring my music and at one house there were rows of chairs, for the nearest neighbors had been invited. I must have given my first and only musical that night. In later years I realized how music soothes after a hard days work.

The parsonage had a visitor, Miss Fannie Crosby, who had written many noted hymns. She was old and blind and asked me to bring the children over the lawn that she might talk to them. I knew they had never seen a blind person before by their serious faces and that they were testing it when I herded them back for a child fell and received a cut. I had a desk drawer with bandages and aids for minor bruises, also sewing kit to tend tears and replace buttons. No wonder they sometimes unconsciously called me mother. I never received a better compliment. Country teachers taught singing, drawing and were nurses and all for the price of one.

On rainy days I was driven to school in an open wagon which resulted in a case of rheumatism and I was obliged to return home. I never had another attack until I became old and it was called arthritis.

I knew when I returned I must live near the school so I boarded with the elderly lady who was a former New York City teacher. She had a beautiful home with furnace heat and the only bathroom in town. She coddled me with a hot water bag at night, a warm soapstone at my feet at breakfast and often a flower at my plate from her little conservatory. We used the library, but a New York parlor in all its splendor was opened for callers.

I always visited my children when ill and she would make some little delicacy for them. She often asked me to invite a friend for the weekend, and my cousin came from Boston.

In going to church I carried a lantern and she said, "How do you stand it here without electric lights?"
She did not prolong her visit to enjoy church suppers, the Grange plays, the corn roasts and sleigh ride parties to a neighboring town where hot oyster stew would await us at the Inn.

Dancing and cards were frowned upon, but when a school committee member invited me for whist, I saw no reason to refuse. When he not only lowered the shades, but added newspapers over them, I had the feeling I was committing a crime.

The oldsters were against new inventions. I was waiting for a car when an old gentleman noticing my Chatelaine watch said, " I wouldn't wear that on the cars for the electricity will stop it". Soon the first automobile went through town which caused a panic especially with the horses.

The winters were cold, sometimes thirty degrees below zero, and as there was no siren there was always school and children came with frozen ears. Two High School boys were sent to take me to school after a bad snow storm. The drifts were so high the sleigh tipped over, but we made it.

I had a boy who had outgrown his grandmother's ablutions so I bought the necessary articles and gave his face a good scrubbing and under those layers of dirt was the most beautiful skin. When clay packs were the vogue, I thoroughly believed in them.

We had our first robbery, two cents from a girl's purse. I kept the class after school until it was found. Soon some of the girls were crying which melted little Rosie's heart and she said, "I think I can find it." On returning, said "I just dug a hole and there it was." I dismissed the class and Rosie and I had a talk.

Although black was the morbid color at that time, I always wore colored waists in the schoolroom and the girls would often ask me to wear the yellow one that at recess they could tell their fortunes by "Rich man-Poor man" with the many little buttons down the back.

We celebrated the holidays with a tree and carols at Christmas, made valentines and May baskets and rain and shine teachers and pupils rode decorated carts in the Memorial Day parade.

I always remained after school to correct papers, write work on the black board and make plans for the following day. A teacher's social life was a whirl of activities for she was asked to help in many ways. I remember I was to give an article on Abraham Lincoln at a Grange Meeting, the Civil War became involved and two G.A.R. men fought Gettysburg all over again.

The church gave a play in the hall that was an extravaganza for that small town. I had the part of Queen Elizabeth in a gorgeous gown, ruff and crown. When I saw my children in the front rows I knew I had to be good.

The Grange gave the children a May party and a May pole had been erected with colored streamers which took some practice before they could skip around it without a mistake. Ice cream was served and a promenade started and no debutante had more strings to her bow than I had with my little boys that night.

After three years of teaching I was married and lived in a historic Boston suburb but not before I had given the children a party in the schoolroom. A boy brought his magic lantern that made quite a hit and the children gave me sterling spoons, the schools initials on back.

We returned one old home day when the boys were welcomed from the First World War. There was dancing that night and one of my boys in Navy uniform asked me to dance and my young son couldn't understand how I could refuse to dance with a sailor but my dancing days were over.

About two years ago we decided it would be easier for us to rent a small apartment. We were fortunate to find one back in that town with a former pupil. She and her sister gave us love and kindness and no daughters could have been more solicitous for our comfort.

Some of my pupils came to see me, some from other towns. When I saw them last they were tow headed youngsters and now some were gray haired grandparents and brought their grandchildren. It was heartwarming and rewarding to learn my love had been returned and the good start had helped them in later years. It pleased me most that they remembered the little things I had done for them and I had forgotten. Our pastor in 1902 had returned and although ninety four years old, walked a mile each way to visit us.

"A year runs full swiftly and the beginning rarely matches the end." Two days before the year closed my husband had a stroke and is now in a nursing home near Boston and I am living with a daughter that I may visit him often. "Still sits the schoolhouse by the road" and the town can't decide its future. It has given me many happy memories that I relive now I am old.

Story and Pictures submitted by her Great Granddaughter Katherine Ballou (kestra64@yahoo.com)