She couldn’t speak English at start of school

From our April 2012 issue

By Gertrude Hiebert – Winnipeg, Man.

When I started school at age seven in 1942 at Shoenthal, near Altona, Man., I couldn’t speak English, since my mom and dad didn’t know English.

About the first days of school, I had a library book and the label on the front page was loose, so I licked it and put it down. The boy across from my seat raised his hand and told the teacher I was pulling up this label. However, I was fixing it. The teacher came to my desk and took the ruler and slapped my hand. Injustice done.

Every spring we had to write down the date we saw the first crow, first dandelion, first meadowlark or different birds, or rain. It helped us look for different signs of spring.

Also, we learned a lot of different songs. I had three scribblers stapled together. I wish I still had them.

Our teacher taught us good penmanship. He had us write out, every day, usually 11:45 to noon, a half page starting Aa, next day Bb, and he would start marking at 50%. Each day, if we improved, he’d give us 51 and up to 100 and start over again. Good penmanship was very important in those days.

The teacherage was built into the school with a hall in between to put up our boots and jackets. The teacher’s wife had a garden and liked the garter snakes in it. They kept the insects from ruining her vegetables. Some of the boys tried to kill them, but she told the boys in no uncertain voice: “Don’t do that!”

We also had spelling bees with two rows of students. If one row didn’t spell a word right, someone from the other row held up their hand until only two were left. That was a lot of fun.

We also had to memorize poems and write them on the blackboard, so we had better memorization.

Some days we had a movie afternoon. We had to bring dark blankets to put on the windows to darken the room. I always enjoyed them. We lived close to school and always walked and went home for lunch.

At Christmastime we all had to learn new songs and plays and poems about a month before Christmas. When the day came we were all excited.

My mother always made sure we had a new dress for the occasion. She sewed everything. In the 1940s Eaton’s catalogue, there were pages of teenage dresses.

She’d ask me what dress I’d like and she knew how to make the style of a dress. I still have an Eaton’s catalogue that has these dresses in it.

I have good memories of my school years.