“… a heap of news…”

Aug 31, 2020 | 0 comments

Sydney with Second Grade Student, Southgate School 1962

As the start of school gets closer, my thoughts turn increasingly to my own school days, to the years I taught, and to the school experiences of my own children.  This morning I took a few minutes to look back even further — to 1908 and an exchange of letters between my mother’s oldest sibling and my grandmother.

Medora was eight and was at home in Oysterville with Papa and with her two younger sisters while Mama was in Portland waiting for the birth of their next child (who would turn out to be Edwin.)  Although Mrs. Matthews of Ocean Park was staying at the house to oversee things, it was Medora who get Mama informed of the day-to-day doings in the Espy family.  Often, her closing remark was: That’s a heap of news, isn’t it?

Medora, c. 1906

Thursday, Nov 12th 1908
My dear Mama:
          The teacher has made it a rule that if two children are out of their seats at once, there name will go on the board and we will have to stay in.  It doesn’t matter if we go to our class, then she doesn’t put our name on the board then, but if we go up and ask her something when she is busy with a class, then our name is put on the board.  I was trying not to have my name on the board but sure as I live it was there.          I’m going to send a little poem that I have to learn, don’t you think its pretty.

Harvest Song
Summer is gone, autumn is here
This is the harvest for all the year.
Corn in the crib, oats in the bin,
Wheat is all threshed, barley drawn in.
Carrots in cellars, beets by there side.
Full is the hayloft, what fun to hide!
Apples are barreled, nuts laid to dry,
Frost on the garden, winter is nigh.

Father in Heaven, thank Thee for all,
Winter and springtime, summer and fall.
All Thine own gifts to Thee we bring
Help us to praise Thee, our Heavenly King.

With love from all,
Medora Espy

A few days later Medora wrote that her name had not been on the board “since Tuesday” and sent a copy of her grades:

Compare both months’ work.  You saw last months but I ask you to compare them for me please
                                                   Last Month      This Month
Deportment                                           80                 80
Arithmetic                                             82                 80
Reading                                                 92                 92
Geography                                            88                90
Spelling                                                  94                 95
Writing                                                  92                 94
Lang                                                        92                94
Scholarship                                           89+               90
Days Attendance                                  20                 14
Days Absent                                          0                  0
Times Tardy                                         0                  1

Mama soon wrote back:

Helen Richardson Espy, c. 1908

Dear Medora:
          I was glad to get the standing of your report card the other day, and hope you will continue to raise in scholarship each month.  Then too I was happy to know your name is staying off the board.  We can not always understand our lessons, and it takes hard work to get them perfectly, but there is one thing every little girl can do and that is behave like a lady and not add to the trials of her teacher.  Mama wants her little daughter to lead as the best example in behaviour like she stands for the highest in her lessons.

I can’t help but wonder if the students, parents, and teachers of today, in our strange and constrained circumstances, will have anything close to the relationships disclosed in these precisous old letters.  I fervently hope so.

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