|Bootsy Followed Me to School One Day|
|The Dirt Road to the Schoolhouse|
|Chimmney & Bell Steeple|
|Backdoor Where Teacher Would Have Stood|
|Remains of Gold & Red Paint|
|Crack From Train Vibrations|
|Bootsy on Teacher's Back Steps|
|Girls & Boys Outhouses|
|Old Mossy Four Square Pad|
|Scratching Claws n the Boys Outhouse|
|View Across Train Tracks of Older School|
|Something Bristled the Cat|
|Memories Linger Next Door|
Even in the rain, two young women from Seattle pull their car down the dirt road that separates my property from the old Elmira Schoolhouse. I'm piddling the dogs in a broad brimmed hat, rain-slicker and Todd's boots.
"Is that yours?" One girl leans out the passenger window in the rain, shouts her question and points back to the school.
"No," I shout back. I walk over to the fence where they have stopped their car. "But I can tell you about it."
"Can we look?"
"Sure. You can look."
Elmira Schoolhouse, built for the children of immigrant Italians working on the railroad and the children of loggers and ranchers, stands in the rain 105 years old.
How many rainy, snowy or sunny days greeted the teacher and students?
It closed down after 45 years of service, following a population decline. Kids in the area were bused to Colburn, a beautiful two-story brick schoolhouse now someone's house.
Today, children are bused all the way to Sandpoint, almost 40 miles round-trip, not to mention the miles of winding through the hills and forests of this area to pick up the scattering of students.
Yet the school continues to attract attention. People stop, take photos, look at the outhouses and some eat their lunch on the front porch. The owners live north 15 miles in Bonners Ferry. They keep the place mowed and accept the attraction of their unusual place.
Today is my turn to gawk and poke around the school grounds.
It's sunny, following a week of cloud cover and rain. Bootsy, the resident barn cat, escorts me to the double gates which I unchain and let them swing open. I step out onto the hard-packed clay of the dirt road that goes to three neighbors behind my property and the school's. Gray puddles pool.
And Bootsy follows.
I start to hum, "Mary had a little cat, little cat, little cat. Mary had a little cat whose coat was black as coal. It followed her to school one day, school one day..."
Bootsy pads behind me, meowing so I know she is there. When I first arrived to Elmira, I'd often see Bootsy slinking in the tall grass between our house and the school. I think it is part of her kitty territory. She seems at home while I look at the concrete blocks, the buttresses, the roof that is half metal and half original cedar shakes now grown over with moss.
There's a vertical crack caused by train vibrations, or so I've heard. At some point after the building was erected, buttresses were added to protect against the vibrations that rock me at my desk in my own home next door.
Bootsy sits on the back steps and I look closely at what remains of faded paint. At one time the wood was was painted the gold color of school buses and trimmed in barn-red. I try to imagine it in fresh colors.
I close my eyes and can hear children racing down the backsteps. Some run for the two double-seater outhouses and others head to the cement pad to play foursquare. The top step creaks as Teacher stands and watches over her charges.
I imagine Bootsy going to her. "Hello, Cat." Teacher in her dress carefully squats down to scratch the ears of a now purring cat. I open my eyes and it is silent.
The peat has been growing here for so long it feels like I'm walking on sponges. From behind the school I can see Elmira Pond, glistening dark blue.
Did Teacher watch the pond like I do now? Did she point out different ducks to the children? I can imagine an exuberant Pollinick boy saying, "That's where I live!" Were Italian accents still heard? Did any of the Kootenai tribe sit in desks here?
According to an historical report made by J. W. Ramsey, Bonner County Superintendent, "The population of Bonner County has increased very rapidly, as two years ago we had a school population of 2,781 and in 1910, 3,625." That was the year that this Elmira Schoolhouse was built.
Across the road and BNSF train tracks I can clearly see the old log cabin that was the original Elmira Schoolhouse.
Ramsey reported that the county was able to pay teachers a "very good salary" of $74.50. They could offer "long terms of school (8 months)." That would come to $596 for a school term. Ramsey claims this attracted qualified teachers from the eastern and central states.
It's not clear if the teacherage was included with the wage or not. The house provided for Teacher was next door and has its own private outhouse. I chuckle at the lock on the outside of the door.
Was that ever a temptation to lock Teacher in the privy? Or was the lock a later addition to prevent use? Most likely the latter although I hear children giggling in my imagination at the thought of the first.
Bootsy and start back toward home, and as we reach the road something unseen spooks the cat. She tucks and runs with a bristled tail as if one of our imagined school boys shot a marble her way.
I turn back to the school and waggle my finger at the ghosts of the past. I can almost hear Teacher chide, "Master Pollinick that was unkind. Hand me your marbles."
Every year that I have lived here, I have found an old marble. Beneath that peat, sod and pine needles there must be many, many lost marbles. But I agree with Teacher, no tossing them at the cat.
Bootsy and I continue, leaving marbles and memories next door.
Linking up with Abracabadra for Wordless Wednesday. Photos by Charli Mills.