Monday, March 14, 2011

W. J. Absher. Chapter 3: Working for an education.

W. J. took on the responsibility of providing for his mother and the siblings that were still at home after his father was killed. He struggled to get the farm chores done and attend school, but the double burden finally took it's toll as he gradually dropped out of school so that more time could be devoted to the farm. So many school drop-outs get tired of school and their disinterest makes them count the days to when they will be old enough to drop out. Dad dropped out, not out of disinterest but out of necessity. According to Grandmother Dickerson (his mother-in-law)Dad was a good student when he could attend. It is evident, in retrospect, that he learned easily and had a healthy respect for education. This chapter is to document his not-so-formal early education which was the basis of his life-long learning.

The building still stands (2011) where Bill started school. No one would guess that the building had experience other than being a barn. The building was built as a church in the late 1800s and became an Odd Fellows Lodge Hall.  The Lodge allowed the Montgomery County Board of Education to use the upstairs room to hold classes. The teacher (Reynolds) was also a Vo Ag teacher and was somewhat of a circuit rider.  He taught at McDonalds Mill and over on the Back Road. Dad attended the first two grades within site of his home place. The meeting hall was across and down the road from the home place and it was later referred to as Stanley Wright's barn.
The second school W. J. attended was the North Fork School,  about three miles from the Absher home toward Luster's Gate on a property adjacent to Dry Run.  Dry Run is, as the name implies, a stream that runs only in wet weather.  The mostly dry stream bed also served part-time as a road bed in places.  That school building was torn down and Bill Grubb built a house near the site.  He attended this school for three or four grades.  Clarence McPherson.. often drove him to school which started his friendship with Clarence's son, Lloyd, who became his best friend and eventually a brother-in-law.
Luster's Gate was the last school he attended in the valley.  Luster's Gate was a two room school that included grades up to 7th grade.  Graduates of Luster's gate went to the consolidated high school in Blacksburg. This community school was closed in about 1962 and still stands( 2011) but has been remodeled as a house.

Dad carried a vivid memory of his early teachers for most of his long life. Heather Robinson was a teacher that lived with the Absher family for a period while teaching at a valley school.   She was the daughter of Jake Robinson who was a descendent of surveyor Robinson who was commissioned by England to survey the western lands of the Virginia Colony.  Other teachers were Virginia Kambridge,  Dorthy Keister,  Ray Albert, and Bessie Nutter. Bessie Nutter had a reputation of being very strict.

One school story Dad told a lot had to do with his resistance to poison ivy.  Punishment of unruly students was considered the responsibility of the teacher.  It was an unspoken, unwritten authorization from parents.   During one mid winter school day, the teacher deemed a student needed a spanking and sent Bill to get a switch. Dad selected a stem growing next to a fence, one that the cold weather had left naked.  The teacher used the switch for its intended purpose and then discarded it in the pot belly stove that heated the classroom.  The burning poison ivy produced far more pain as smoke than it did as a brittle switch to both teacher and students (except to the resistant William).
Another story Dad told illustrated the friendship between he and Lloyd McPherson. The two pre-teen boys got in a fight on the play ground. Teacher Ray Albert broke them up and sent them in to clean up themselves. After a while the teacher came to check on them and found the boys joking and laughing. They walked home that day as if nothing had happened.

Lloyd McPherson drove the school bus that hauled students from the valley to Blacksburg High School.
Lloyd met Evelyn Dickerson and took his friend, Bill, with him as he called on the Dickerson home.  Evelyn had an older sister, Jean, who soon became Bill's life long love!

Bill had another education outside the classroom doing 4-H club work. He and his friend Lloyd fed steers to be exhibited I'm market beef shows under the supervision of County Extension A gent T. M. Helper. Dad told of the show circuit that took the boys and their animals to shows in Christiansburg, Baltimore, and Chicago. That experience helped give Dad a good respect for education and said if he had been able to have gone on in school, he would have liked to have been a County Agent.