Recollections of My Life and Reflections on Times and Events During It: A Memoir by Father W. J. Howlett

Page 25

          But of course there were more things than work and sacrifice in the lives of the growing country generation. We had cut streams and lakes for fishing, and we used them and our dogs and guns for hunting, and as for swimming holes, every creek furnished them and every boy knew all about them long before J. Whitcomb Riley revealed them to the world at large. In winter skating, coasting, sleigh riding were real enjoyments that never failed to interest the young, while the older ones had dances and parties to suit themselves. A day in town once in a while, a visit to the country fair, and above all the Circus Day when the caravan drove across the country from town to town to set up its big tent and amuse everybody with its wonderful performance.

          My first circus ticket was earned by carrying water to the men putting up the big tent, or was it for the elephant? That was before the Civil War and it was Dan Rice’s Circus. Niles was the place.

          Sometimes also we had school picnics but not often. I don’t know who promoted them - perhaps the teacher, for our parents paid little attention to the school except on the closing day when they came to hear us speak our little pieces, make our best bows and get our premiums for good work and good conduct in the form of a little card reading: “Reward of Merit,” presented to Johnnie Smith by his Teacher, Eliza Jones, etc. These may seem little things, but they were appreciated and many a tear was shed by the child who did not get one.

          Some time ago I read of an incident in the life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, the author of “The Autocrat at The Breakfast Table.” When he was a boy at school, the teacher punished him severely for some supposed fault. Forty years afterwards an old man came to his office and introduced himself as that teacher. He came to recall to the now great man the incident of the punishment which he said had been the source of many painful memories ever since. He had found out that the punishment was unmerited and administered in anger. He wished to make acknowledgment of his fault and ask forgiveness. Of course Holmes forgave him as that had long been forgotten, but the pleasure of the meeting was heightened by the spirit that prompted it. Now I am not comparing myself with Oliver Wendell Holmes, but his experience brings to my mind an incident of my school days. One of my teachers, a Mr. Norris, called me from my seat to the platform one day and gave me a severe switching. What it was all about I did not know then and have never found out since. I remember that my partner in the seat was drawing pictures on his slate, and I may have smiled at them, when the teacher came down hurriedly and said, “Come out of there!” I thought, and my partner thought also, that he was the one wanted. His name was John McNichols and he was older than I was and stronger, and I saw him set his teetch [teeth] and grasp the desk with both hands as if to resist, when the teacher turned towards me and said; “I mean you!”

          I made no resistance but took what he gave me. I hold no hard feelings against him but my memory has never taken kindly to him and I have always had a vague desire to meet him and ask him why he punished me. Just a little curiosity and nothing more. No doubt we often deserved punishment and got it, and that was the end of it. We never carried our complaints to our parents, for we knew that would do us

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