Sunday, October 30, 2011

Napa native recalls era of one-room schoolhouses

Napa native Peggy Meister recalls her school days at the one-room Soda Canyon schoolhouse, an era of pigtails and inkwells. Soda Canyon was one of more than 50 one-room schools that once dotted Napa County. They would soon begin to disappear, replaced by the city-based unified school districts that exist today. Born to Ernest and Grace Bentley at their Silverado Trail ranch, Meister was the youngest of seven children, all of whom attended the nearby Soda Canyon School from grades one through eight in the 1920s and ’30s. Enrollment ranged from nine to 14 students, the offspring of a half-dozen farm families. Meister, the baby of the family, began first grade in September 1931. The daily routine began with lunchpails in hands and a 1-mile walk to school with siblings and friends. They filed into the school as Miss Jordan, their teacher, rang the handbell at 8 a.m. After saluting the flag, Meister and her schoolmates held out their hands for a hygiene inspection. “You never knew, a student’s hands could have been dirty from milking a cow,” Meister said. Meister described the beginning of a typical school day. “While the teacher worked first with the younger students, grades one and two, the older students started their assignments, which were always written on the chalkboard,” she said. “Following the morning recess, the older students gave their recitations.” Classroom instruction and coursework continued until 2:30 p.m. for the younger students. Since they were not permitted to walk home alone, they took naps on cots set up in the gender-segregated anterooms until the older students finished at 3:30 p.m., Meister said. Meister and her schoolmates enjoyed their annual baseball game with the nearby Soda Springs School located on the Hogan cattle ranch. “We always had fun,” she said. “But you had to be careful that you were sliding into a base and not something else.” There were always chores to be done on the 100-acre Bentley ranch. They had field and orchard crops, milk cows and chickens. “We had 3,000 laying hens,” she said. “I never crave eggs or chicken.” Years later, while attending Napa High School, her rural lifestyle provided Meister with both inconveniences and pride. For example, she and her sister Bea were allowed to drive the family truck to school, but the truck was loaded with eggs they had to deliver to the Jackson Street poultry association before school. They also had to park the truck in a Brown Street garage rented by their father so no one would know they had a vehicle. This was during World War II, when gasoline was rationed...more

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