Deep in my memories is the love for our little school in the country which at the time of me attending only had four pupils. My sister Margaret and I, Colin MacDonald and Angus Cameron. It was an old building with just one classroom and I can still feel the warmth as we walked in every morning after walking the mile or so up the road our faces were fresh and bright red from the wind, our hair tousled even although our mother had swept it back into tight pigtails. In the winter, there was always a roaring fire and I could smell the burning peat. Peeling off our coats and wellies in the porch we would run into the classroom, full of anticipation and excitement.
We were always warmly welcomed by our teacher, Mrs Beaton who came from the town every day by car. She was a really pretty lady who you could describe nowadays as perhaps a cross between Ma Broon and Miss Jean Brodie. She wore her hair in a tight bun at the back of her head and everyone described it as ginger but I thought it was golden, a beautiful flaxen colour which reminded me of the corn stacked up in our fields. She wore pastel coloured wool jumpers and a long tweed skirt with lace up brogue shoes that made a clicking noise on the wooden floor. Her skirt was always the same and I often wondered if she just had the one or if that was her ‘school ‘skirt. She had a gentle voice and a warm friendly smile and I would eagerly get seated at my desk ready to begin lessons. I hung on to every word she said, my eyes rarely leaving her face and when I was asked a question I felt like the most important person in the world. She loved listening to our stories and always said although she was providing us with education, we were educating her about life in the country.
The classroom had a high roof and a steep wooden stair leading up to where the teacher would stay if there was heavy snow and our road was closed. If I was asked to go upstairs to get something, I would look around with wide open eyes staring at the pretty rosebud sheets on the bed and the large comfy easy chairs. I would always be tempted to sneak in and pull the long chain on the toilet and watch the water swirling down the bowl, I was too scared though in case it made a loud noise and everyone would hear it. Our school toilets were in a corrugated iron building outside so just imagine an inside toilet that flushed. At break time, we would have milk and jam sandwiches or pieces as we called them, at our desks and Mrs Beaton would make fresh coffee for herself. It had the most amazing smell that wafted round the room and stayed there the whole day. She would have cream crackers and thick cheese and sometimes I must admit they looked much more appetising than my jam piece. To this day every time I smell coffee it reminds me of my school days
Every day I skipped up that road with my sister and I was almost disappointed on a Friday as there would be no school for two days. I was just so happy, we played together, we laughed, we learnt to skip using a huge long rope which we also made a good tree swing. We sang and listened to the radio on wet days, we held hands on nature walks stopping to admire the beauty, finding wild flowers for a scrapbook and taking a genuine interest in what each other had found even if it was just a funny shaped stone.
Then my world was to be turned upside down. We began having visitors to our little school, two very stern-faced men in suits and crisp white shirts and ties came to see the teacher and our parents at least once a week. The older pupils who claimed to know everything said they were inspectors and I frowned every time I saw them as I hated their intrusion.
A few months later, Mrs Beaton, with tears in her eyes gathered all four of us around her and explained they were closing the school, we would be picked up in a car and taken to town. I couldn’t believe it, travelling every day in a smelly vehicle instead of feeling the wind and sun on our faces when we walked. We would be going to a big school with lots of people we didn’t know and being a shy child, this was my idea of torture. I cried myself to sleep and sulked for weeks but like it or not it was happening.
A ceilidh was arranged to say goodbye to our teacher and all the families in the township gathered in the school laden with baskets full of mouth-watering homemade goodies. There were lots of speeches, singing and music which I barely heard as my mind was doing somersaults imaging what school would be like from now on. We were called one by one for the presentation. She was given a wooden clock with the date inscribed on it, a sparkling necklace which I thought looked like real diamonds, a book filled with good luck messages and photos from everyone in our community. Then it was my turn, I almost fell as I stumbled forward my heart bursting with pride but breaking with pain at the same time. My hands were shaking and I had tears streaming down my face as I handed over the huge bouquet of flowers. Mrs Beaton reached out and put her arms around me and I could hear her voice shaking as she said ‘ I am going to miss you all so much’. ‘Me too’ I whispered and amid all the hand clapping and cheering I knew from that moment life at school would never, ever be the same again.
Dorothy Fraser (née Kennedy)
The school closed in the early 1960s.
Pictured: Dorothy Kennedy & Angus Cameron (front row) Dorothy’s sister Margaret & Colin MacDonald (back row)