Kittie Howard

Monday, November 7, 2011

Remy Broussard's Classroom

My Christmas story, "Remy Broussard's Christmas," now available on Kindle, evolved from my formative years on my grandparents' farm in South Louisiana in the 1950s.  Last year, I blogged about how my grandfather left to work on the Panama Canal the day after his marriage to my grandmother.  For a year, he lived in a primitive barrack, somehow avoided malaria, ate the slop the company served for food, saved every penny earned, and returned to Louisiana to pay cash for a farm that prospered.

My younger sister and I lived with our parents for awhile, in campus housing (Quonset huts) for married students (demolished years ago) while my father attended Louisiana State University's School of Law in Baton Rouge.  About a year prior to graduation, my mother, sister, and I moved to my grandparents' farm, into a lovely new house across the pasture from my grandparents' Big House.  (In the South, the owners of the land, with family for neighbors, lived in the Big House, so-called, regardless of how big or small.)

The Louisiana stories I've blogged are from this period, when I ran barefoot, as free as the wind that tousled my hair and as happy as the sun that tickled my freckles.  "Remy Broussard's Christmas" fast-forwards, to a three-room schoolhouse, with two elementary grades in each room.  I attended this schoolhouse.  Each year, when schools re-open though out the country, my eyes tear up.  I can see myself standing in the first-grade line.  What makes the tears fall is that I see Daddy, when I take a last look backwards, as the line begins to move inside, and he's waving a little wave.  Tears are streaming down his face.  (I'm tearing up now, writing the memory.  Will take a little break.)

After a friend read a draft of "Remy Broussard's Christmas," he said he loved the story but suggested I exaggerated the Spartan classroom.  He paled when I said I sat in Remy's chair in that classroom.

The positioning of blackboards, doors, windows, and workstations are accurate, as are George Washington's portrait-like image and clock above the blackboard at the front of the room.  There is no positioning of maps or educational toys because they weren't there to position.  However, in order to move my fictitious characters, I did shorten class rows, removing two students from each row.

In my story, the classroom is a combined third- and fourth-grade classroom.  Remy is in the third-grade and sits next to the row that begins the fourth-grade.

Because my parents and grandparents had spent time with me, when I entered first-grade, I could read, knew my numbers, and then, as now, possessed an inquisitive mind.  When I completed first-grade assignments, I'd listen to what the teacher taught the second-grade.  I knew not to raise my hand during second-grade lessons (as that was forbidden in the combined classrooms), but the teacher began putting their worksheets on my desk.

At the end of the school year, I passed a special test with flying colors and skipped the second year of formal education.  This enabled me to enter university at the age of 16.

But, whoa!  I had family who spent time with me.  I had food.  I lived in a lovely home.  This home had electricity, running water, and in-door plumbing.  This home had heat in winter and fans in summer.  I didn't pick cotton or milk cows or help bale hay or chop wood for a wood-burning stove.  I had chores, of course, but a kid's chores.  I had to keep my room neat (and keep a neat house to this day), help set the dinner table, and contribute what a kid could to the family unit. I had a doll (Betsy) I loved, the extent of my toys.  I didn't think to ask for toys, didn't dream about toys, didn't know a toy shop existed in Baton Rouge.  

Many of my classmates, however, didn't live a kid's life.  It wasn't unusual for a third-grade boy to drive a tractor or handle a mule-pulled wagon.  Many of my classmates wore their parents' clothes to school.  When the school day ended, they stopped being kids and entered an adult's world.  Their parents were sharecroppers.

In my next post, I'll write about the sharecropper system, the world that imprisoned Remy.

Since my grandparents and parents didn't approve of the sharecropper system, sharecroppers didn't live on the farm.  When my grandfather needed help, he paid a fair wage for honest work.  Unlike many other landowners, my grandparents and parents allowed me to visit sharecropper kids who were friends from school (and vice versa) when time opened up.  Decent, hard-working people shouldn't live like what I saw.  And therein lies my passion:  Their lives can't be forgotten.

Nor can the lives of decent, hard-working African-American sharecroppers be forgotten.  In the segregated Old South, they lived apart from white sharecroppers.  The KKK (Ku Klux Klan) knew where they lived.

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