I went to a one room school for my first 4 grades, but it was a large room divided by folding doors, so in truth it had the Little Room and the Big Room. Four grades were in one, and four grades were in the other. My mother happened to be the principal of the school, and she taught in the Big Room. I was in the Little Room.
Being the principal's daughter did not have its privileges. I was to follow all rules, I was to stay clean, and I had to act like a lady at all times. Well. In the first place, I rambled around the mountains with Aunt Bett from early spring till late fall, and I was not known to come home with clothes, hair and body intact. I had walnut stains on my hands, orange dye in my hair and pokeberry tattoos around my belly button. And I drank chicory with Uncle Dock. But in school I had to be a little lady.
It was my mother's fault. She made my dresses out of flowered fabric, lace on the collar, ruffles around the bottom, bows in my hair, and white socks. Always white socks.
The school building was perpendicular to the creek which ran beside the road, so there was a walk bridge that we crossed to get from the road to the schoolground. We played hop scotch, jump rope and marbles in the front yard of the school, so there was no grass. In the back yard the boys had a basketball hoop, and there was no grass there either. Sometimes when we had secret things to tell our friends it was not unusual to sneak down the bank and hide under the walk bridge to have some privacy. Or to make mud pies. Or to float leaf boats. I considered that quite creative. It was even more creative to sit down on our bottoms and slide down the bank; a lot more fun, too.
We played troll under the bridge, and hid from the boys. Growing there along the bank was a wonderful crop of lamb's ears with its soft furry leaves that I loved to touch. Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) grew all over the mountains, they had big fuzzy leaves at the base and as it grew upward, each plant formed a spike that bloomed thickly in pink or purple flowers. I didn't care about the flowers but I did love those fuzzy leaves.
There were always lamb's ears growing in Aunt Betts garden, and many times when I had lost a battle with a bee Aunt Bett would grab a handful of dirt and slop a little water into it, mix it in her hands and slap it on my bee sting. That kept me quiet long enough for her to run to the bunch of lamb's ears and tear off one of its soft fuzzy leaves and wrap it around the bee sting. The leaf was held in place with a string or whatever she had handy. It took the sting right away, and by the time we finished the garden chores and got back to her house, it was as if the bee never stung at all. So I knew all about lamb's ears. By the time I was almost 8, I knew a lot about many things, and I considered myself the Assistant Mountain Medicine Woman.
Back to school, now, and it was the beginning of a new year. Again my mother tried really hard to make a lady of me. I wore my white homemade dress that had tiny blue flowers on it. White lace trimmed socks, blue ribbons in my hair, and probably white Mary Janes. My mother should have known better. I got to school intact. I even made it through spelling and arithmetic, then a bee buzzed in through one of the open windows, and landed right smack on the back of Joe Devlin's dirty neck. Joe Devlin sat in front of me because if he had sat behind me he would have put chewing gum in my hair, as he had done on more than one occasion.
I calmly watched the bee sting happen. He yelled and slapped his neck, just making the bee a whole lot madder. It stung again, and he yelled again. "I can save him," I yelled, and ran out of the classroom, down the steps, and slid on my bottom straight down to the creek. I grabbed a handful of mud in one hand, and a big leaf from the lamb's ears in the other. I scampered back up the bank and ran lickety split back to the classroom. Joe Devlin was still yelling, my teacher's mouth was still hanging open and everybody else was wide eyed watching Joe Devlin jumping up and down in the aisle. I slapped the mud on Joe Devlin's neck and while he stood in shock (from the slap, I guess) I grabbed one of my hair ribbons with my muddy hand, slammed the lamb's ear leaf on the back of his neck and tied it in place with the blue hair ribbon. It looked a little like a leash, so I tied it in a bow on the front of his neck. I hope you get the picture, Joe Devlin, a lamb's ear leaf across the back of his neck, a blue ribbon complete with bow tied around his neck, mud dripping down his shirt collar. And then there was my mother, who somehow entered the scene while I was saving Joe Devlin's life.
She took my arm and walked me up to the desk where my teacher was still sitting, mouth still open. Then without a word my mother turned me around to face my classmates. Then she turned me back around to face my teacher. The kids giggled, my teacher covered her open mouth with her hand, and Joe Devlin quit yelling. The back of my legs including my underwear and the skirt of my dress was covered in dirt and grass stains. Somewhere I had lost one of my Mary Janes, and I had a muddy sock. I had one loose ribbonless braid. The front of my dress where I carried the mud....well, I think you can imagine.
Then Joe Devlin started yelling again, "You ain't no medicine woman, I'm tellin', I'm tellin' and my Ma she's gonna come git ya for hurtin' my beesting." I simply refuse to remember the rest of it. Bits and pieces of a willow switch come to mind, along with a lecture to Aunt Bett later that evening, with me in attendance. I do remember sitting outside on the little porch in my muddy clothes for the rest of the school day and well into the evening waiting for my mother to finish her chores, and to send a letter home with Joe Devlin explaining what had happened and apologizing for the misbehavior of her daughter.
Joe Devlin's mother never showed up at school, and there was no sign of the beesting on the back of his neck the next day when he sat in front of me after my apology to him in front of the entire classroom. I missed several recesses the rest of that week, and was never allowed anywhere near that creek again. I did save Joe Devlin's life, even if I was only an assistant mini mountain medicine woman. Aunt Bett told me so.
And lamb's ears still grow in my garden.
Photos are from Plant Files. Thanks to Calif_Sue, Gabrielle, Kroko, and Wandasflowers.