By Donald Ketzler
My school in East Eliot was only about 300 yards up the road. It was a one- room, one- teacher for all subjects school for grades one through six. There were about 12 students, mostly boys. The school had a wood stove for heat and kerosene lamps for light on dark winter days. The out house (one section for boys and one for girls) was attached to the back of the building. I guess this made it an inside out house!
During one of my first days at the school we had a slight clash in cultures. One of the kids said to me, “You talk funny!”, referring to my New York accent. My initial reaction was, “You think I talk funny! How do you think you sound when you say things like ‘Ayeh, I’m goin down the rud a piece” Well, we soon got over our small differences and we were like one big family.
Considering today’s educational systems you would probably think that this one teacher, one room school system was primitive and deprived children the means for a good education. This was not the case if you had a good teacher (and we did).
The teacher seated the children according to their grade level. Each day she started with the kids in the lowest grade, spending about an hour with them. Then she moved to the next level and continued this way to the end of the school day. The benefit of this system was that you got plenty of individual attention and when the time for you class was up you couldn’t help but hear what she was teaching the next level. So, unless you made a concentrated effort to tune out these upper level classes you would be learning things that were considerably ahead of your assigned level. I loved it. And, as young boys are apt to do, I loved my teacher, Miss Libby. She was my light in this dark, new place.
Miss Libby lived in Portsmouth and knew a talented musician that lived there. His name was Donald Vaughn (His sister, Dorothy, was the head librarian at the Portsmouth library for many years) Miss Libby arranged for Donald to visit our school once a week for music time. This was the highlight of my week. As an aside, I loved music as far back as I can remember. When we were still in New York I can remember going to Roxy’s Theater where they had a huge theater organ, like Radio City Music Hall, and was awed, overwhelmed by the sound of the music. My mother claimed that I said that I wanted to be an organist when I grew up. I don’t remember that part but I’ll take her word for it if only for the good story it makes. I do remember the same feeling of awe when I listened to my dad’s opera records on his wind up Victrola.
Back to Don Vaughn’s music time visits. In our one-room school house we had no piano or any other musical instruments so we sang. We sang and we sang; folk songs, patriotic songs, rounds, hymns – everything. We got to be pretty good at it. Most of the students participated with joy but some of the older boy’s thought it was kind of a sissy thing.
Don, among other things, was the organist and choir director of the Community church in Durham, NH. One day he told us he’d like us to sing one of our songs during a church service. We thought this would be fun. The time came. We all piled into his car and off we went to church.
The service started, hymns were sung, scripture read, sermon given and before we knew it church was over. When we piled back into the car the first thing Don said was, “Why didn’t you sing?” We answered, “We wanted to, but you never told us when to sing!” He thought that we knew where in the service we were to sing. So ended our debut.