Harkers Island , NC Schools

“My School Days on Harkers Island”

By Allen Davis

I remember my first day in school. All my playmates were telling me that school was to open “next week.” I had to be prepared, as the teachers liked to spank the little boys and it would be a good idea to have a small pillow in the seat of my pants, they said.

I believed this, and couldn’t sleep at night, thinking of the punishment the teachers might give me. It was only a few days until Monday, so what could I do? Where could I hide?

I asked my parents but they said not to believe it. I would have a good time. As last, Monday morning came, I hadn’t slept well. I dreamed someone was chasing me with a ship or switch as we called. I could hear mother and father talking about what I should have for lunch. Then one of my aunts came in and took me in her arms and told me how much fun I would have.

Of course I didn’t believe her. She dressed me and combed my hair. Didn’t I look sharp! I started down the path with my parents and aunt following me. I had my little bright bucket, which contained my lunch. They said good-bye at the gate and I was on my way. I called next door, about ¼ mile away, for two of my friends. We walked to school along the shore line. It was not bad walking when the tide was low, but the tide was rising and we had about two miles to go. We called at the homes of others as we passed until we had a good sized crowd.

The tide was up by now, so we had to walk up near the woods and at times we came to small ditches where the tide had flowed up in the woods. Then we had to jump across or walk up around the head. There was a log to walk on. Many times someone would slip and get their feet wet.

Well, we arrived at the school building and we met other children coming in from the west end of the island. The building is near the center of the island, and is about 20 feet wide and 50 feet long.

As you entered on the right, there was a table where there was a bucket of water and tin dipper for drinking. I don’t know where the water came from. Around both sides of the building was a sloping board fastened to the wall, it was about 12 inches wide. This was to hold our books as we studied. It also served as a desk. We sat with our faces to the wall.

The teacher was a man, his desk was in the far end of the building. I was careful to watch for a switch. It was kept on the teacher’s desk as a visible warning. We lined up and gave our name and ages to the teacher. He told us the kind of books we would use. Some had their books left form last year.

It wasn’t long before it was time for 10 o’clock recess. That was 10 minutes long. It was the shortest 10 minutes I have ever known. We just had time to run around a little when the bell rang. It was just a very small bell and one of the teacher’s pets always was given the job of ringing it. At 3 o’clock we had another 10 minute recess . About 4 or 4:30 the school let out. We all were anxious to get out. There was lots of arguing and some fighting which had to be reported the next day.

When I arrived home my mother met me at the gate and asked me how I liked school. I said not so good. But as time passed I liked it better. This school term was in the summer starting about May and up until September. This was the last term in this building as it was too small.

Every Friday we had what was called a “spelling bell.” Most of the pupils would line up from end to end of the building ages 8 to 10. Words were taken from what we called a “Blue Black Speller.” There was a head and foot of the class. The one at the head was given a word. If he missed, it was given to the next one and so one down the line. If he spelled it correctly, he took his pace at the head. He held his place until Monday morning. If he misspelled a word, then he was placed at the foot and the one next to the head took his place. A word was given to the head of the class and would go all the way down until it was spelled correctly. There were times when a word would go all the way to the foot. There, some little fellow would spell it correctly and go to the head of the class and take the place of a big boy (this was called cutting ‘em down). That was lots of fun.

I remember one long summer day a recess that was one hour long. Several girls stole away and went wading along the water’s edge, leaving their shoes and stockings on the shore. We found them and were going to hide them when we saw the teacher come out with the bell. We threw the shoes and stockings in a tall oak tree. We had to face the charges and climb the tree and get the shoes down and then face the teacher and the other school children.

There were only about 16 families on the island at the time, two stores and one church. Now it is quite different. There are three or four church and there are many activities in the summer, sightseeing, sportfishing, swimming and boating.

Reprinted from the Carteret County News-Times, Feb. 19, 1960 in “The Mailboat,” Summer 1991 Vol. 2, No. 2

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