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OUT OF MY ELEMENT
by Mary A. Scobey



If there was one thing I vowed I would never do as I grew up, it was teaching school. My dad was principal of various north Mississippi small town schools and usually taught as well, and I knew that life wasn't for me. So how was it that I found myself facing a room of twenty-six curious little faces in a one-room schoolhouse on, of all places, the Kansas prairie?

Well, when Dad sold the old home place out from Oxford, Mississippi, he decided he would like to move to Kansas to be near his brother and try his hand at wheat farming. Being totally innocent of the harsh climate, I thought the move sounded intriguing. I had just finished college and decided to move up there with my parents. The year was 1951.

After settling in on the farm, it was not for lack of trying that I didn't find more exciting work in the closest city, but no one seemed too impressed by my fashion designing skills nor my interest in media. When the trustees of the local school in the little village nearby approached me about accepting a teaching position, it was that or nothing. They didn’t seem concerned that I knew nothing about elementary education. The fact that I had a Master's Degree in French and English was good enough for them.

I had always been taunted by my Yankee cousins, telling me I lived in the most backward state in the union, but there were no one-room schools in Mississippi to my knowledge at that time. Nevertheless, here I was facing a year of teaching not one but four grades - first through fourth - in a one room schoolhouse. The building did boast a basement with a big furnace and a closet-size library, but indoor toilets...forget it! The boys' privy was out back on one side of the grounds and the girls' similar accommodations were on the opposite side. And therein lay my first challenge. When a child raised his or her hand and asked to be excused, who was I to refuse? It was not until the principal came calling and asked if I knew a party was being held out back in the boys' toilet did I realize I was being "taken." After that, the rule was enforced: one and only one student to the toilet at a time.

At first, there was pandemonium. The students, sensing my lack of know-how, were ingenious at taking advantage of me. I seemed to go home with a headache every day. Discipline was certainly not one of my strong points. But one very mature nine-year old girl came to my rescue. When a situation arose that I obviously did not know how to handle, Jane would come to my desk and whisper in my ear, "Last year the teacher did...(so and so)."

For example, the teacher the previous year had let fourth graders help first and second graders with their assignments while she taught the third graders...and so on. Brilliant idea! After that, I got books on elementary education; I learned how to teach each subject and I disciplined. In just a few months, instead of facing a roomful of little monsters, each student began to be special to me. Sweet little notes and hand-made gifts began to appear on my desk...not that they let me forget I was from the South and I talked "different."

At a parent-teacher meeting, I remember being humorously chided by one mother. Her child had gone home saying, "Miss Ashmore says 'quawter' for 'quarter'." And I'm sure I did. But I learned mid-western speech as well. A creek was a "crick," a cold drink was a "soda," etc.

Did I mention that the climate on the Kansas prairie was harsh? Well, that was putting it mildly. The wind swept across the plains and constantly howled a plaintive whistle under our front door. As the weather turned cold, a neighbor remarked that she had seen the valley between her house and ours, a half mile or so, level out with snow. That seemed hard to believe; however, it wasn't but a few weeks later that it happened. The snow began to fall that morning and, by the middle of the day, parents collected their children and the classroom was empty.

I dallied around grading papers and realized the mistake I had made when I got in my car. In fact, a full-fledged blizzard was underway, and already the snow was getting deep. When I turned off the state highway onto the local road to our farm, the car plowed into a drift and could go no farther. I got out and began to walk on the country road.

There were several feet of snow and, with the wind and snow stinging my eyes, I could hardly see – a complete white-out. I couldn't tell if I was on the road or out in the field. Our house was almost a mile away, and I had to stop every few minutes to empty my boots and catch my breath. Never before had I faced the possibility of death, but I knew if I didn't keep moving I would die. Eventually, I stumbled, half frozen, in the front door of our home, but I decided then and there that this Southern girl would not be caught in Kansas another winter. In the spring there was a flood and a tornado all too close. At that point my mother joined me in persuading Dad to sell the wheat farm and move back to our beloved South.

With my inauspicious beginning, perhaps one of my greatest accomplishments was being re-elected to my teaching position in that one-room school house in Kansas, but it wasn't the job that defeated me. It was hard saying good-bye to my little students, all of whom I had come to love. The weather did it – I was out of my element.

_____________________________________


      Mary Ashmore Scobey was born in Lafayette County and proudly admits to having just reached the stage of octogenarian. She graduated from Booneville (Mississippi) High School and, after moving to College Hill with her parents, she attended "Ole Miss," receiving her B.A. degree in 1948 and her Master's (in French and English) in 1950. She then began a career in teaching and has been employed in recent years as counselor for the American Intercultural Student Exchange. She is married to Eugene Scobey of Coffeeville and they have two children: Dr. Eugene Scobey who serves as Hospitalist at Baptist-East and Julianne Scobey, who is Director of Programming at WMC-TV in Memphis.

Writing short stories and poems has always been a favorite pastime of Mary's. She wrote her first poem at the age of eleven, got it published and has been "hooked" ever since. She currently has a book of her father's World War I memoirs titled French Memoirs - World War I for sale on the shelves of Square Books in Oxford and Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis.


Here are more fascinating memoirs by Mary Scobey:
I Remember Guy Bush
Faulkner and Yaknapatawpha Country
Paul Rainey ~ A Legendary Figure
Apple Head Dolls
Old? Who, me?
Love At Last

Want to leave a comment on Mary’s story?
Please write Ye Editor at bethjacks@hotmail.com.




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