Keene writes of old time school experiences

The following was originally written by F.W. Keene, a journalist that once called Red Beach home and who wrote for The Calais Advertiser and other local publications. It is among the articles collected in Keene on Red Beachavailable now from Amazon. 

Editor Advertiser:

Somebody has said that it is better late than never, so I want to write of the pleasure it has given me to get hold of an old souvenir of my school days at Red Beach in, the form of a copy of the “Umpire”, out of which we sang. This was sent me by Mrs. Fred G. Lane and if I have not already done so, I wish to thank her for the same.

Most of the songs are familiar. A song is something we seldom forget and so when I run over “Merry Mountaineers,” “The Whippoorwill,” “Silver Bells of Memory” and “Elsie May,” a whole flock of memories troop along behind them. We sang these songs when the snow lay deep on the roads, unmarked except by the soft, round, straight path of a fox making its way home in the early morning, while the rising sun turned the whole landscape into a display of diamonds, with ice pen­nants hanging from the trees and windows covered with tracery be­yond the power of a human artist to duplicate.

We sang them when spring was bursting the buds on the willows and we fidgeted in our seats, cran­ing our necks to get a peep at the “Rose Standish” as she came down through the anchor ice on her first trip. We hurried through them when the dandelions had bloomed and we were therefore entitled to run away from school and go swim­ming in the Granite Pond, running and shedding what few clothes we had, as we approached the pond and were somewhat daunted as blue­-lipped and shivering companions crawled out and sat trying to untie the knots in their shirts and socks.

We sang them when the sun had mounted to the zenith, and we were nearly frantic with anxiety to get out for the summer vacation. Perhaps we had company coming to spend the summer, or had planned to go camping or fishing. The last few days of school were more or less vague and hazy. My remem­brance of the last day of school downstairs is that two boys came all dressed up, with bright neckties and smooth hair and that before school went in they had been in a rough and tumble fight over a girl who had recently arrived and their condition was distinctly not compli­mentary to the occasion.

We sang them when we all met again for the opening day of the fall term, when the big boys had dumped us, neck, heels and all, out of the back seats which we, in our ignorance of our own weakness had fondly hoped to possess. I remember how quick Fred Lane and Seth Martin cleaned out my desk, the back one in the row next to the river. I wanted that seat badly but I drew one in the center, next to the front, with no advantages at all, except that it was nearer the stove. To offset this advantage it had the drawback of being directly in line with the eye of the teacher and of the superintendent.

We sang them when the last baseball game had been played and the first inkbottle that froze up was placed on the stove, with the cork driven in tightly, so that when the steam had reached the proper point, there would be an explosion and a shower of ink, traces of which could be plainly seen the last time I was in the building, which is some time ago.

I wish it were possible to gather again the same pupils and to hold a reunion in the school room, sing­ing the old songs from the “Umpire’, and swapping experiences. But alas, those things cannot be. Not a few of the boys and girls who could sing the songs are beyond this earth. Others are in far places. The only way in which we can unite is by the power of thought and of memory, and this is a great blessing to humanity.

I see occasionally the name of H. F. Kalloch in the Aroostook papers and I wonder if he is the teacher who came upstairs the first day of school while the boys were kick­ing the broom in the ante room, and springing off one foot, drove the wire around the handle clear through the plastering of an eight foot ceiling. I would like to see Mr. Kalloch– he was an able teacher and had good discipline.

I think my greatest frights were thrown into me when it was noised around that the superintendent, “the school committee” we called him, was coming to visit the school. It was generally too late to go home and fix up, comb hair, shine shoes, (if any) and wash off the outer layer of soil, so we sat dumb and dis­tressed, quaking as the door slowly opened and the teacher with a smile of welcome, ushered in the tall and awful form of the “commit­tee.” Two of them were preachers, I think or at least one. I seem to remember the Rev. C. G. McCully as calling on us in the lower grade, and I am sure about, Rev. A. J. Padelford.  Both were fine, and probably kind hearted men, but they seemed to us like avenging demons, particularly as some of us had cut our names deeply into the tops of the new desks, and were even now trying to prevent the new gashes from being too obtrusive by putting ink into them, which made a bad matter worse. The only thing left to do was to put a book over them. Sometimes this did not work or the teacher would direct us to put the books away and fold our arms while the viewing committeeman gave us a talk. So we sat, sweated, and prayed that he might have on spect­acles, which did not have too long a range. On one occasion he an­nounced that he would select one pupil from each class and give them a little examination. When I was picked from the “B” class, the schoolroom turned over twice. Probably it would be arithmetic, in which I had been flunking consist­ently for two years or more. This would mean disgrace, shame, and torture from the whole school at recess. Maybe it would mean get­ting expelled. The others went out and I followed. Acting on a tip, for which I hold her memory in reverence, Miss Brown suggested that Mr. Padelford try Cy Lane on arithmetic, in which he was a wiz­ard, and got by finely.

I think it was my turn next and Mr. Padel­ford, after a minute’s whispered con­flab, began to give me words to spell– which was duck soup for me, in fact the only thing I could do well except make excuses for not doing anything else. I slid through it without a break, and walked to my seat on air, almost ready to tackle a sum in addition. The others got by too, and Mr. Padelford made a neat speech, congratulating us on our scholarship. No soldier being kissed on both cheeks by the commanding officer and having a “Croix de Guerre” pinned on him, ever felt half as well as we did over that ex­perience.

It was about this time that there occurred an event which caused a great deal of curiosity and specula­tion on the part of everybody and which was finally traced to a prank on the part of a couple of the older boys. This was the coming of the “Meteor,” about which I will write as soon as I get the story together.

Will you thank the old friends who have written me letters about these old recollections and which I should like to answer personally, and probably will.

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