For My Children: Chapter 6 – School
September finally came, after I thought that it never would, and I went to school. When I walked into the room, I first of all looked for the pictures on the wall, for if I could explain the pictures to my friends, I certainly would be most important. The floor had been oiled during the summer and smelled so nice and fresh.
As we stood and stared at the pictures, we heard a sound, which became very familiar to us during the next four years. The teacher would rap her desk a few times with a stick, which meant “Attention!” She was a new teacher in our town. As she stood there in front of us, she wasn’t more than four feet ten inches tall, but looked as menacing as if she were six feet tall. She asked us to be seated, introduced herself, and proceeded to give us a quick lecture, which I will never forget. These were her words: “I am Miss Medunovic. I will be addressed as Miss Medunovic and will be greeted with Ljubim ruke – Kiss your hands – and not with that old fashioned stuff ‘Praised be Jesus and Mary.’”
When in surprise our little heads started to turn, there was more hitting of the desk with her stick and she went on. “There will be an inspection twice a week of your ears, hands and feet.” Little did she know that we only wore shoes or moccasins because it was the first day of school.
Then she said, “You can come to school with patched clothing but never with torn clothing. If I find anyone with holes in his clothes, the punishment will be a beating with the stick.” Finally she said, “Remember that cleanliness is half your health.”
She then asked the third and fourth graders to distribute our school material. We each received a reading book, an arithmetic book, a slate, a notebook, crayons, a pencil, a pen and a wooden pencil case. Everything was provided by the state. After this, the class was dismissed.
The teacher stood in the hallway and told us how we were to walk home. We were to walk home according to grade levels with the first graders at the front followed by the second graders, then the third graders and finally the fourth graders. We had to walk two abreast all the way home. Every grownup had to be greeted with the usual “Praised be Jesus and Mary” to which they then answered “Forever Amen.” I think every grownup in Palesnik stood at his fence to watch the school children on their first day of school. It sounded like a litany all the way home, “Praised be Jesus and Mary – Forever Amen.” As the children reached their respective homes and dropped out of the column, the noise became less and less.
The topic of discussion at the dinner table that day was about school and nothing else. Josef, who was in the third grade, bragged about how he had handed out the school material. I had so much to tell that I could barely contain myself. The usual discussion, as to what would be done in the fields, had to wait for the evening.
Josef and I went back to school that afternoon and the picnic was over. We were assigned work right away. The second, third and fourth graders were given their assignments and we first graders were put to work. We started out with the letter “i.” Apparently this was the easiest letter to write in long hand.
After an hour and a half, we were let out for recess. This is where it all started. All the German girls and boys played in one corner of the play area and all the Croats in another. We children were happy and nobody realized that there was anything wrong. We spoke German and the other Croatian. When the teacher came out to see how we were doing, she called the recess off immediately. When we were all seated, she realized that even in the classroom there was segregation and she proceeded to rearrange the whole seating arrangement and seated Germans and Croatians all mixed together. From then on we had to play together and were never allowed to speak German outside on the school ground.
We were pushed very hard in school as we had only four years of formal schooling. That was all that was offered in the Public School. I liked school from the first day on. I never had any problems with my studying, only with the punishments for being too lively and getting into mischief.