It was cold in the winters where I grew up, in upstate New York. Cold and snowy. There was a one room schoolhouse on the corner near my Uncle Glenn’s farm. That’s where my older sister and brother walked to school. I came later. I had an expanded two room school house. When I went to school, you knew what grade you were in by what row you sat in. There were three rows in the ‘little’ room, housing grades 1, 2 and 3. There were three more rows in the ‘big’ room; 4, 5, and 6. After you made it past the 6th row, you were shipped by bus to the village, which was not something to look forward to, because your dog could no longer go to school with you.
Every Friday the Bible lady came and told stories on a felt board. On Wednesdays we sat on top of our desks, rocked them back and forth like wooden horses, and sang songs. The rest of the time was reading, writing and arithmetic.
I was hopeless with numbers, so I’d line my body up perfectly behind Johnny Horton, hoping to become invisible. Other times, I’d stare out the long length of windows that covered the east wall looking at broad leafed maples, studying the heavy length of chains that held our wooden swings, and waiting for recess. It was difficult to sit in school with a vision of my aunt pulling a fresh lemon cake from the oven, and cats pawing warm milk into their mouths at milking time. There were trees to climb, tractors to steer, ponds to skate and horses to ride. What the heck did I want to be in school for?
My Uncle Glenn and my father, Doug, started the Elmira airport. Glenn managed it, while my dad offered bi-plane instruction. They began with a quonset hut, an open field and a pioneers love of flying. My dad dressed in leathers, loved dipping down into tree tops and doing daredevil rolls in the sky. Glenn did the business part. He wore tweed suits, fine leather shoes and a broad brimmed hat. I can still smell the oils he used on his shoes and see them lined up in his closet like beautiful little soldiers waiting their turn. Cherry-bowled pipe smoke lingered in the air when he passed.
I’d wait by an old apple tree near the school house for Glenn to come home. I wanted to ride the last mile on his car. As he turned the corner, I’d make a run for it, leaping and landing on the running board. He’d slow enough to reach out and grab me. We’d ride home that way, smiling, laughing and visiting through the window. Me, with rolled up jeans, bare feet and dirty face in the summer: fur lined boots, winter coat and same dirty face in the winter. Blonde braids trailing the wind.