It’s been many years since Carolyn Espel attended the Bryant School in Princeton Township, but her memories are so vivid, it could have been yesterday.
Espel went to the school for almost six years, attending with older sisters, Nilah and Betty, and older brother, Bob.
Espel said every morning began with the Pledge of Allegiance, and then the students went to their desks, coming to the front of the room as the teacher taught a class to one or more grades. The Bryant School was a little bigger than some of the one-room schools in the county, and Espel said there were usually three or four students in each grade.
Teachers moved in and out fairly regularly during the years Espel attended, but one teacher especially “registered” with her.
One day Eula Clark was standing on the heating register when something gave way.
“The register evidently had gotten off the square that it was on and it was a fairly large register,” Espel said. “It moved, and she fell through, and we laughed at first. And then we realized she was hanging on for dear life, or she was going to end up in the basement.”
Two of the eighth-graders pulled Clark to safety, but a broken leg resulted in her retiring from teaching.
Clark said they regularly had art classes, and in the wintertime, they would go outside and make something out of snow.
“Marlene Vickery, Margaret Bird and I worked on one thing, and we ended up making Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” she said. “The reason we chose him was I had some gloves that were rubberized and they would make the nose red, so we ended up with a red nose for him.”
One student who loved attention remains vivid in Espel’s memory.
“One day he was blowing huge bubbles with his Bazooka bubble gum, large bubbles that covered his whole face,” Espel said. “The teacher caught him, brought him to the front of the room, made him spit out his huge wad of bubble gum, and then stuck that huge wad of gum on the end of his nose.”
It was perhaps not the best punishment for a child who loved to be in the spotlight.
“He loved making people laugh so he started crossing his eyes, looking at that gum,” she said. “Everyone started laughing, including him. Everyone that is, but the teacher.”
Espel said the fun came to an end when the teacher made the boy stand in the corner instead.
The holidays were also a source of many memories. Espel said every Halloween, the students would create all kinds of homemade costumes that they could wear to school. They would bob for apples and have a party.
One year they tried something different. They turned the garage by the school into a spook house and invited students from several nearby schools to attend.
“We would blindfold people and take them through,” Espel said with a laugh. “We had spaghetti for worms that we’d make them stick their hands in, and peeled grapes for eyeballs.”
Another big holiday was Valentine’s Day.
“Everybody in the school would make a Valentine for everybody else in the school; you could not leave anybody out,” she said. “We would make a box out of a shoe box and decorate it with construction paper and paints and things like that.”
Her favorite holiday was Christmas. Fathers would put up a heavy wire so curtains could be hung to create a stage.
One of the highlights was the Christmas play. Espel said the teacher would order a book with a play, and one year the play didn’t have enough characters so she had to order another book with more characters.
One play Espel remembers was about Santa and his elves and making toys for Christmas.
“I can remember we had to memorize our lines, and we had several rehearsals before we presented the play for our parents,” she said. “There was always great excitement during that week!”
After all the students came out on stage to sing carols, Santa Claus would appear.
“We’d all line up and he had a big bag, and he had candy in there, which was a real treat for us because we didn’t get it all that often, and maybe an orange or an apple,” she said.
Santa would stop and ask each child if they had been good. Espel said he got an answer he didn’t expect when she was about 6 or 7.
“I was a little smart aleck, and I said, ‘No,’” she said with a laugh.
Santa passed her by, not giving her a treat, which made her feel bad. Then Santa came back.
“He said, ‘Well, I’m sorry to hear you weren’t good,’ and I said, ‘Well, at least I’m honest,’” she said. “He said, ‘Yes, you were,’ so he gave me my candy.”
Espel said she was very well prepared for Logan Junior High School, which she began in seventh grade.
“We had really good teachers and you learned so much,” she said. “I think we were actually ahead of the town kids because we learned from all the grades and you would remember.”
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