Plainview School, Winner South Dakota. Photo courtesy of Kendra Perry Koski
England School has been gone for decades, but this is how I remember the elementary school where my grandmother taught my father and where my siblings and I ate cold lunches while seated at tiny wooden desks.
Two rooms, two teachers, eight grades. At the most, there were maybe twenty students. Sometimes a grade lay vacant waiting for the next year. Not many folks moved to a part of South Dakota homesteaded in the early 1900s, so the faces were always the same, just a little older. We were kids with chickens to feed and hay to haul before we did our homework.
Our teachers, Mrs. Clausen and Mrs. Ogden, could have been twins with their flowered dresses, rolled up nylons, and hair bundled on top of their head. Unmarried, they fit the schoolmarm stereotype. They appeared ancient to me. Maybe they were.
We raised the flag every morning and stood for the pledge of allegiance because that’s just what happened before the morning spelling test. We clapped erasers, swept the floors, and cleaned our desks. I let my cousin cheat from my homework. I wrote ‘My name is…’ a hundred times on the blackboard. We had costume contests for Halloween, performed skits at Christmas, and made Valentine boxes for exchanging cards and candy.
In 1971, the indoor plumbing was installed, and the little wooden outhouse was torn down. No more pumping water. No more washing before lunch in frigid water. No more putting on a coat when the urge struck you.
The wind never seemed to stop with nothing standing in its way except barbwire fences and prairie grass. At recess, it blasted our faces and sand filled our ears as we held up our coats in makeshift sails to blast across the field that served as a playground, football field, and fox-and-goose maze.
We had two swings, bats, and balls, but mostly we had our imagination. Even though Wounded Knee and Pine Ridge were just down the road, we were unaware of the racist connotations of playing cowboys and Indians. Sometimes it was cops and robbers. Mostly it was the sport of the season. With only a dozen players, everyone held a position even if it was only outfield.
I wish England School was still there. I imagine how tiny it would seem, how low the ceiling, how small the windows. Maybe the bulletin board would hold some forgotten secret of my time there. I feel fortunate to be part of history long gone that stood on the cusp of the information age. I am part of the last generation to witness the simplicity of an era.