Once upon a time
a five-year-old girl
went to Cherryl Hill, a one-room school
with a big bell on the rooftop . . .
Early in the morning
she rode over hill and dale
In the back seat of the brown Terraplane Hudson
with her teacher-aunt at the wheel . . .
She wasn’t old enough for first grade
but she learned her phonics lessons
sitting in a little wooden chair
alongside pupils at desks in the class . . .
Bl-, Br-, they pronounced. Then Ch-, Cl, they chanted
from flash cards with broomsticks and chickens.
They sang “The Farmer in the Dell” on Monday
and “Merrily We Roll Along” on Friday.
* * *
Cherry Hill School, near Milton Grove, PA
When the school year ended
the whole class celebrated
with homemade ice cream
from a wooden churn
I was the little girl taken to school, the only version of kindergarten available to a 5-year-old girl in rural Pennsylvania during that era. My mother must have been happy to send me off: she had her hands full with me and my sisters, one an infant and the other, a toddler.
Excerpts from Miss Ruth Longenecker’s diary in 1940, several years before I accompanied my aunt to Cherry Hill School
May 15 Last day of lessons. Brought home most of the flowers, etc. I’m really ready for the end.
May 16 Tests all day, and am I nearly funny [“nuts”]! But I was determined so I lay me down in peace for everything is done, excepting parts of my total report.
May 17 Today was vacation after a fashion. No school, only took boys in for H. S. exam. Clayton & Kenneth – they passed. We had to help correct the tests after dinner.
Up & finished total reports this A. M. so every detail is done.
May 18 Praise the fishes! No. 180 done. And no strings. Had Marian along. We sang, reviewed & put books away. Then ate Joe G’s graciously contributed 8 gal of Ice Cream and our 4 gave plenty. We also had chips, pretzel sticks cookies & drinks. Mummas [neighbors] have the measles.
Did you begin with kindergarten or enter school in first grade?
In the May 18 entry, Aunt Ruthie writers, “Praise the fishes!” What do you think she means by that?
Do you have school-day memories? Or an excerpt from a diary to share?
I noticed “Praise the fishes!” and loved that. I’ve never heard it before and I don’t know what it means, but I love it. Maybe a reference to the old Christian community that used fish as a symbol?
Thank you for being commenter “numero uno” today, Arlene. Your guess is as good as mine on the “Praise the fishes” meaning. One thing for sure, though, she was happy to finish the 180 days of the school year.
Good morning, Marian! You have such a treasure trove of photos–and that diary!
My mom sent my sister and me to a private school for nursery, kindergarten, and first grade. We would have had to wait another year with our birthdates to go to first grade in public school. My husband didn’t go to kindergarten.
Obviously your family put education as a high priority. I’m guessing your birthdate comes late in the year, after the cut-off for entering school.
Yes, that diary! I’m thankful that Cliff can boost her script electronically. Otherwise, her writing would be indecipherable. Thanks, Merril.
Yes, our birthdays were late in the year past the cut-off. 🙂
I loved the sneak peek into Aunt Ruthie’s diary, Marian. I have vivid memories from elementary school of Friday morning exercises. Music was played over the loud speaker and we’d all march outside to the flag pole and say the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s sad that’s no longer allowed in schools. I hope you and your family are doing well. xo
You must have looked forward to Friday for more reasons than one, Jill. We had singing, Bible reading, and prayer with the Pledge of Allegiance somewhere in that morning ritual every day. I realize now what a privilege we had. Obviously, you do too!
My family is doing okay. Today was a struggle, but I had lunch with one of my sisters and other friends. Thanks for asking!
How delightful! Your post stirred memories of kindergarten, first grade and beyond. I began school in kindergarten in 1957, long before public schools required kindergarten or pre-K. I attended a private school; my parents couldn’t just afford to pay the tuition, so my mother worked as a part-time teacher and aid in the adjoining classroom.
What a loving gesture: your mom working at school to enable your own education. Thank you for sharing this, Sara! We are both so fortunate.
This is such a delightful glimpse into how teaching used to be. I adore “Praise the fishes!” line which may become my next newest conversational exclamation. Can you imagine the looks I’ll get when I say that?
I hope you’ll report back – or mention the reaction to that crazy phrase somewhere else on social media. 🙂
Aunt Ruthie had 27 fishes in her “pool” of students, quite a handful, and with a huge span of ages and grade levels.
I wouldn’t turn 6 (the age for 1st Grade) in Georgia until October, so my parents enrolled me in private school at age 5. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Morton; she was a friend of my mother’s. I don’t remember much about that first grade year except for a little boy who knocked me off the teeter-totter at recess; I still have a small scar on my forehead! And at morning snack break we sipped chocolate milk through straws from little glass bottles.
Thanks for sharing this vivid memory at age five, Lynn. Mrs. Morton must have had her first aid kid handy, unless you had a school nurse.
Your comment brought to mind the tiny glass bottles that are such a treasure. Nowadays kids sip from plastic pouches or cardboard boxes.
Always a pleasure to follow your posts as they are uplifting and a joy to read.
Thank you, Irwin! I do enjoy spreading joy and “uplift” in a world filled with tons of bad news. You do the same thing with your blog too. I left a comment this week.
Public kindergarten for me. Mrs Kushner, I believe. Columbia Elementary School in East Orange, NJ. A city of about 60,000 and I walked the 10-12 blocks by myself. Aged 5! Good days.
It was safe for you to walk to school as a 5-year-old in those days, but not anymore. Yes, good days! Thanks, Janet.
Wow, Marian, no wonder you became a star student and a teacher/professor. What a head start you had. I did not go to kindergarten. That was for the town kids where I lived. The country kids stayed home until time for first grade.
Praise the fishes is a new phrase for me. Does it come from the story of the miracle of the “feeding of the 5,000” in the gospels?
Head start was not a national organization back then, but I realize over the years what a boost my teacher/aunt provided in her own version of the program.
Arlene, the first commenter, also attached a religious meaning to the phrase “Praise the fishes.” Looking just at the context, I gather she was overjoyed to have made it through the 180-day-school year with 27 students. Thanks for noticing all of this, Shirley.
Marian, what a delight this post is. So many great things. I started school in kindergarten in Chicago. My kindergarten teacher was Miss Grandpre.
I think “Praise the fishes” means “Praise for the loaves and fishes” or “Praise for God for helping me with an enormous task.”
Your interpretation of the phrase resonates with other comments, Marie. And your kindergarten teacher must have been memorable: you remembered her name. Thanks for sharing some of your history here!
I didn’t go to kindergarten either, although I wanted to. Our city cousins (Goshen) did though, and I got to go visit with my 2nd cousin one day. I felt so big! My cousin’s family smoked and I also felt worldly even at that young age staying with them.
I think Praise the fishes was another way of saying Praise the Lord but we are all enchanted by your passing it on for another handy line when we are overjoyed! Love imagining you riding in that great car!
You point out the big distinction between country and city people back then, the town people having an edge. Your comment about your cousin’s family smoking gives new meanig to “secondhand smoke.” Such a great memory – thank you for sharing, Melodie!
Yes, I do remember riding in the back seat on my knees facing the rearview window. And no seatbelts.
Oh, Marian, I love this story and can just see the little Marian soaking up all that good learning which has been put to great use! I remember two things about Kindergarten: lining up in separate boys and girls lines for the restroom and nap time! I’d like to think I learned a few more things. As far as “praise the fishes”, I can’t even venture a guess but it must have had a specific meaning to Aunt Ruthie. Love hearing more about her. Thanks,Marian for taking us back in time.
Thank you, Kathy! I imagine you in a kindergarten, perhaps with nuns, lining up. Maybe you noticed the “lining up” specifically because you are so good with organization. Just a thought!
My husband says all he remembers about kindergarten is snacks, naptime, and play. Like you, he must have learned a few other things. 🙂
Love the visuals 🙂
Thank you, Ann. It’s nice to see you here again! 🙂
Marian — I love the sneak peak you gave us into Aunt Ruthie’s diary. I, too, noticed the interesting turn of phrase, “Praise the fishes,” and like Shirley, wonder if it might reference the New Testament story of feeding the multitude. I started school in kindergarten. I got to carry a Benie and Cecil (cartoon) lunch box!
How interesting that you remember your cartoon lunch box. I have not heard of Beanie and Cecil. Curious, I looked it up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMdReHP9cb0
I think my lunchbox was plaid.
I’m glad you enjoyed the peak into Aunt Ruthie’s diary. We found 5-6 diaries in her painted chest, so you can expect more tidbits.
I started kindergarten in 1958. My twin brother and I were in the same class. I failed to get my little seed to sprout in a paperclip, a “black thumb” trait that continues! Hated nap time; I wanted to write (my older sister had taught me cursive at age 4).
Even if you didn’t get your little seed to sprout, you were obviously precocious in other ways, Ginger. Learning cursive at age 4 is phenomenal – wow!
I just love this. How wonderful you still have her diary. My mom went to school with her aunt who was the teacher at the local one room school. Great Aunt Beth was somewhat like your Aunt Ruthie. I must write about her one day. As for me, since I was raised on the farm, there was no kindergarten so I had to wait until I was 6 to go to school. I was so miffed as I really wanted to go to school much sooner that that! Praise the fishes is a cute exclamation and I assume it has to do with the loaves and fishes miracle.
Your Aunt Beth sounds like a role model. And yes, she would make a good blog topic – or a character in another book.
As to the phrase, Ruthie probably thought getting through the school year was a miracle with a huge span of grade levels to teach all in one room.
What a wealth of family information you have at your fingertips. You use it so beautifully.
I did not go to Kindergarten as I was in Germany when I was 4 and 5 years old after the war. But it was a great learning experience. My first contact with a culture different from my own and recovering from a horrendous war. I learned to speak fluent German within the first few months I was there and was a translator for my mother.
You may have referenced your early years in Germany, but what I remember most about your memoir was the PTSD that your parents suffered which of course impacted you, big time! Language is easily learned in the early years. I wonder if you can still speak (or comprehend) German. Thanks for all of this, Joan.
PRAISE THE FISHES! I never heard the expression, and I hope you tell us all where it comes from. What wonderful sweet memories you have. I think it’s important to share them – so people can remember ‘how it used to be,’ in a time so much simpler in many ways. And nicer.
I DO remember Kindergarten because the really really nice teacher had a corner-full of costumes that we students could wear.
I was superwoman! 🙂
Ah, Pam, you have given us some insight into what may have ignited your penchant for the imaginative: a teacher with a corner-full of costumes. Love, love this.
You’re still superwoman!
Haha. You may be right, I’d never thought of that! To the superwoman (and super imaginations) inside all of us!! <3
I started Kindergarten at 4, however my twin sister did not start until she was 5. My parents, both teachers, said I was ready and there was no reason to wait another year, she was not. Even though we are twins and best friends we are not identical and we have polar personalities. We also had very different goals in life from an early age…I was going to be a librarian like my favorite aunt. She was going to marry a farmer after high school. We both did as we planned and life is good. I was 16 when I graduated, 17 when I started college. Did that in 3 years, then graduate school. My father and all his 7 brothers were teachers; one of my mother’s sisters was a teacher.
I did not know you are a twin, Athanasia. And fraternal, not identical. I wonder if your starting school early bothered your twin sister. Apparently, you both are happy with your life choices and life is good. Reading between the lines, I gather you were a star student.
Thanks for chiming in today!
No kindergarten in our rural school in 1956. But we were allowed to visit the first grade room for a day or two in the spring.
I guess visiting the first grade room was designed to whet your appetite for beginning grade school. Thanks for pointing out the difference between town and country education in the 1950s. Nowadays all kids have the same access, or so I think.
Thanks for commenting here, Elaine.
This was like going into a time machine with those amazing photos of the times. Isn’t funny how everyone looked so much older than their years back in the day? I remember laughing with my siblings about how our grandmother always looked old even when she wasn’t. 🙂
Interesting point, Debby, that no one else picked up on. Severe dress, even after the Victorian era, did make everyone look older. Plastered down hair and up-to-the-neck styles are usually not flattering in any age. Still, there is a certain charm … innocence perhaps.
Thanks for chiming in here.
Always a pleasure to chime in Marian. And yes, I think a lot of the look was those hairdos or maybe hair don’ts lol. 🙂
To have a loving aunt also as a teacher sounds like a win/win situation to me! In our Mennonite village in Paraguay we started school at age 7, and we used a slate and a stylus. We learned the old Gothic script which came in very handy during my research in grad school many years later, as the old German manuscripts were written in that script.
I can definitely see God’s hand in preparing you for grad school and later life as you learned Gothic script as a child. One large, Longenecker family Bible contained Gothic script, so artistically intricate: We donated it to the Young Center for Anabaptist Pietist Center in Elizabethtown, PA.
Thank you for your comment. I always learn something new when you reply here. 🙂
Lovely snapshot of your childhood and in the life of your aunt.. really enjoyed.. thank you.. Sally
Sally, I really like that the Spice of Life enjoys my “Slice of Life” about bygone days. Thanks for stopping by with a comment.
Lovely post Marian.. thank you. x
I love to read about schools in the past. You might like to read my memories of teaching in an English village school in the 1970s http://somerville66.blogspot.com/2016/10/my-classroom-in-1970s-nostalgia.html
Welcome, Liza. And thank you for visiting my blog. I will probably publish more posts about teaching-in-days-of-yore. I visited your blog about school and left a comment. I was amazed at the number of students you had: 41 seven-year-olds, but also the freedom to teach a varied curriculum.
Again, thank you and welcome!
I thought “Praise the fishes” was a biblical reference to the loaves and the fishes–a symbol of the plenty available at the gathering for heart and body. My grandma had an ice-cream maker like that–milk from the cow, peaches from the orchard, sugar from town, and grandpa turned the handle and got the ice out of the ice house.
I went to kindergarten for half a year, but then my family went to AZ hoping to keep my dad alive in a virus-free climate. It worked (for a while) and I didn’t mind missing school. Instead I heard Spanish and got a puppy named Amigo.
With your vote, I think the consensus is that “Praise the fishes” is a biblical reference. Thank you for giving us a thumbnail sketches of ice-cream making in your family. Our family usually made vanilla and then added Hershey syrup. I have a faint memory of peach ice cream too. Yum!
I also enjoyed hearing about your famiy’s foray into Arizona, where I think you have visited recently. A puppy names Amigo and an introduction to the Sanish language, huge gifts for a little girl. 🙂
There is nothing quite like real homemade ice cream! A rarity these days.
Thank you for commenting about the homemade ice cream. We had an ice cream churn in our “wash-house” too. I remember turning the handle to get the mixture inside the can to congeal. Happy days!
I love reading others’ comments Marian but this time I’m out of time. Praise the Fishes? Something to do with the symbol of Jesus? Like the dove also is …, well, of peace. I so enjoyed this slice of life thank you!
In my day, we went to school I THINK at age 4, probably kindergarten. I’ll have to stretch my memories to recall but it was so ling ago. All I recall is being the ugly frog at the edge of the pond up on stage with the curtains opening and the beautiful princess about to kiss me so’s I turned to a handsome prince. I remember starting to giggle (nerves) and then I couldn’t stop to the horror of stage mistress .. On a lighter note I remember the tinkle of the ice cream van in the street which was always cause for great excitement! Have a lovely weekend 🙂
I am honored that you took the time to comment here and read other comments too as I know you and your husband are prepping for travel.
You are such a beautiful woman, I have a hard time wrapping my head around your playing the role of ugly frog. It makes for a funny story though. 🙂
Thank you for all of this and for reminding me of the tinkle of bells on the ice cream van on the street – pleasant memories for my children too. Safe travels – enjoy all of it!
Hi Marian, I was one of the honored ones in that I had Miss Longenecker as a first grader and also a sixth grader. After recess at noon, I remember we came in and put our heads down on our desks and rested while she played the piano. And in sixth grade she read to us after lunch. Fond memories for sure!
Audrey, hello and welcome! I’m thrilled to see your name in this space. Although Aunt Ruthie had a long teaching career, I didn’t know you had her for a teacher – twice! I remember something special after lunch too: reading from chapter books. I guess she knew we had to digest our food before we began our studies again.
Thanks for visiting here! I hope you’ll stop by soon again!
Marian, I didn’t go to kindergarten either. I was five when I started first grade.
The phrase “praise the fishes” is new to me. I like the thought that it comes from the feeding of the 5000.
Such precious memories!
Thank you for popping in here again, Bonnie. You must have been a smart one to begin grade school at 5 1/2 . (Yes, I know your birthday is in December – ha!) I wonder if you ever had your mother as a teacher.
About “praise the fishes” ~ I think the consensus is that it refers to the feeding of the 5000.
Yes. My mother was my 3rd grade teacher. She didn’t want to teach me, but we moved into the school district after school had started. The other 3rd grade was full, so I went into her class. She gave me my first B and my first paddling.😄 In one of my grades the teacher wanted to “double promote” me. Mom wouldn’t let them. She wanted me to progress with my age group.
My Mom was a wonderful teacher. All of her students said she was their favorite teacher. She taught 5th grade for many years. I had many of her students as patients, and they all loved her. I got many wonderful condolences from them.
Your mother and my aunt, peas from the same pod. How wonderful that her memory lives on in her students . . . and your patients too – wow!
Mama Ima was a wise woman and didn’t let your close relationship interfere with guiding you in the right direction. In other words, she didn’t play favorites either. Thanks for answering my question, Bonnie!
Wow, Marian… the diary and the memories… It is all so very special and precious. As a teacher myself, I can relate to Aunt Ruthie’s notes. I assume “Praise the fishes!” is a version of “Praise the Lord” or “Thank God” (school is over soon).
In Belgium, children go to kinder garden at the age of 2.5 (not mandatory), for three or four years, before 1st grade (mandatory). So, once you are potty trained, you basically go to school, which is what I did. Easy for the parents, and this might explain why every parent I ever knew worked and works full-time. The school year runs from September 1st to June 30th, every year.
In 4th grade, one of the assignments was to keep a diary, so that’s when all my “reporting” began. Until this day. 🙂
Potty-training and then kindergarten. Wow, that seems early! Actually, in the States early training is referred to as nursery school.
I guess you have your 4th grade teacher to thank for starting you on the writing trail. What a fabulous assignment, keeping a diary. It just takes time to get into the habit and you don’t need to be particularly creative with a diary, but what a wealth of info you’d otherwise forget. Thanks for adding your angle on the topic, Liesbet!
I have fond memories of “Miss Longenecker”! She was my first grade teacher at Rheems Elementary. By the time I got to 6th grade she was 6th grade teacher and principal of the school. Because enrollment had increased though there were 2 6th grade teachers and I was assigned to Mr Williams class. Miss Longenecker was my Bible School teacher one summer and there was some vandalism at the school during Bible School week so we helped to clean up the mess instead of having class. We likely learned just as much by helping to clean up
Your school history with my aunt sort of matches your sister Audrey’s. I did not know about the vandalism during Bible school. (I wonder if either of my sisters knew about this.) Yes, I’m sure you learned about cooperating with others in the clean-up and the trouble of dealing with the consequences of others’ wrongdoing.
It’s so nice to see you in this column. As you know, there is a lot of nostalgia here. Next week I’ll write more memories of my brother Mark. Again, welcome, Ferne!