Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bootsy Goes to School

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
Original Teacherage
Something Bristled the Cat
Memories Linger Next Door
It's attractive.

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.


  1. What a wonderful story of the old school house and Bootsy!

    1. I love writing about this place and the cat's interest was a bonus!

  2. You would think you've lost your marbles if you opened your eyes and saw the teacher scratching the cat's ears!

    1. Ha, ha! Yes, my imagination might take me to lost marbledon one day! I'd love for you to visit this place!

  3. Such a beautiful tale of the school and how you went about it. I liked how you ended it with marbles and memories...warm and toasty :)

    Wonderful clicks too, Charli.
    Always a pleasure to have you on board.

    1. Thanks, Ruchira! When I find a marble, I feel like it's a real connection to the past. It's a warm and toasty kind of feeling. :-)

  4. Of course, this is especially interesting for me, being about an old schoolhouse. The people who stopped to look are: they potential buyers? Will someone live in it? It has so much potential for story. It looks so beautiful and conjures up so easily the essence of yesteryear. I wonder what spooked Bootsy. You have mentioned other "spooky" things your way - noises in the barn . . . Please don't write a scary story. I may not like to read it! But I do like to read these tales of where you live, and see your beautiful pics.

    1. I don't write scary stories! But I do spook easily and my imagination makes me wonder what's there when usually it's a simple explanation. Often my fear leads me to explore. I'm not sure what spooked her but she puffed up, tucked and ran. Then stopped. Maybe a noise in the trees -- a pine cone dropping? I'm so happy to share this old schoolhouse with you and hopefully the visitor will buy it.

  5. Oh poor Bootsy, look at her bristly tail!! What an absolutely delightful story, I felt as if I was with you and Bootsy as you walked along the path. What rich stories you tell about this marvellous old schoolhouse. Love how you wound it up with the marbles and the ghosts...I could almost hear the whispes and giggles of the school children lifting on the wind, putting the wind up sweet Bootsy, bless! Your visitors turning up to look at the schoolhouse reminds me of the the house I grew up in in Suffolk. It was a centuries old oak-beamed farmhouse and every now and then and elderly person would show up in a car with their relatives asking to take a photo of their old childhood home, of their birthplace. I do hope that your new neighbour buys the schoolhouse!

    1. What a fun experience to meet people who grew up in your centuries old farmhouse. Wow! I can so easily imagine a place and see others there. This schoolhouse has a good feeling.. Except whatever spooked the cat! Probably just a pine cone! But I'm sticking to the ghostly marble...:-)

  6. What a wonderful tale! I am so fascinated by history, and this looks like such an interesting place to visit. Bootsy is adorable, too! :)

    1. I find so much to connect to in history. Thanks for reading!

  7. Yep, love the history that seeps out of this place. Interesting how places grow and shrink, leaving a mark of optimism on the landscape, only to be proved misplaced. There's this part of the Yorkshire Dales, not far from Anne, where the ruins of old lead works still hang on, while nature does he best to reclaim the topography as her own. You can feel the ghostly footfalls and hammer blows in the winds a you wander the roofless walls and tipped lintels. Very easy for a cloud across the sun to become a man's shadow, carrying a sack. And like your marbles, what lies just a grit layer beneath the surface?

    1. Thank you for leaving me with shared shadow across the Atlantic. I can almost hear the hammer blows! We do leave many marks upon place and like our senses, we have more perception than what our eyes can see. I have yet another place to add to my list of haunts to visit in the Uk.

  8. I would totally be one of those annoying people who stop and gawk and take photos. I love the history and stories about this place. I also love imagining what might have been... Also, love the visual of you walking along singing "Charli had a little cat, little cat, little cat." :-D Oh! The marbles. I would have a glass jar full of memory marbles displayed in my house. That is so cool.

    1. It would make such an incredible community center and I'd put in a little schoolhouse coffee & book shack. Ah, but for now I collect marbles, memories and dreams.

  9. Great to see the school house that you often talk about. I love the history and the ghosts of those that used those toilets. Long may you find marbles there.

    1. Next, I'd like to find out about the teachers and her gaggle of ghosts! :-)

  10. Great to see the school house that you often talk about. I love the history and the ghosts of those that used those toilets. Long may you find marbles there.

  11. Hello, Charli
    It's bitter-sweet reading your delightful musings on living in Northern Idaho.
    We bought acreage on the Pack River long years ago, thinking to retire and enjoy both country-life AND Sandpoint. We'd hoped to put a cedar home on our land and be retired there. REAL retirement shows that we want to live near The Kids.
    And we want to be closer than ten country miles from medical help.
    The amenities we prefer change with age.
    SO! We hope to reference your lyrical experiences to prospective buyers.
    Maybe THEY will build and enjoy the Country Living Dream. Hope so.
    Wishing you All Happiness in your own Garden of Eden.
    Carole McKinnis
    (a Very Collateral Relative of Todd's Very Extended Family.)

  12. Hi Carole! We are loving the beauty of this place and it attracts the kids to visit at this time in our lives. :-) What a small world that we have collateral family who knows this special area. Please do share this blog with prospective buyers. I wouldn't think you'd have any problem selling a piece of paradise! Enjoy your retirement!

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