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My grandfather was born and raised on a big island off the coast. He said he didn't spend a night on the mainland until he was 14 and started high school, and that he never got bored on the island because there was always one chore or another that had to be done and he was often the one assigned to do it.
One of the many chores for many years was building a fire in the wood furnace of the one-room schoolhouse he attended Monday through Friday, September through June. The weather didn't start getting cold until late October, but by January it started getting real cold and the colder it got, the longer it took to warm the schoolhouse.
That meant that on bitter cold winter mornings when the wind came howling off the Gulf of Maine Grandpa would always make sure that he was up an hour early so he could do all his family chores and then get down to the school in time to fire up the wood furnace. Everyone – the teacher and all the students – just assumed that when it was time for classes to begin the schoolroom would be nice and toasty, and it always was.
As the weather got warmer Grandpa didn't have to get up so early. On some mornings in late spring he didn't have to light a fire at all. The decision was his, and he took it seriously. He never got any text messages, e-mails or memos from a central office, and no assistant-to-an-assistant ever had to remind him or conduct a surprise pop-in inspection. Grandpa just did it.
Grandpa talked often of that small school on the island and of the many important things he learned there, both in and out of the classroom. Years later when Maine organized into School Administrative Districts and started building large regional high schools and busing students from great distances, Grandpa was concerned. He said the sprawling new schools would probably have all kinds of fancy gizmos like electric furnaces and thermostats, and the students would miss out on those important experiences he had as a student. I never said anything at the time because as a kid I didn't necessarily agree with Grandpa.
According to Grandpa, the SADs took several towns that had never gotten along too well and bound them together so they could collectively raise enough money to build a big school and do away with their small local schools. Grandpa said no matter what the SADs did to improve education in the area it sure gave townspeople plenty of new things to argue about.
I thought about my grandfather the other day when I read an article in the paper that said many school heating systems needed replacing because they were inefficient and unreliable.
Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I don't think you'd ever read a story like that back when my efficient and reliable grandfather was handling the heating at his island school. If asked to comment on the newspaper article I read Grandpa’d probably say: "It's just SAD."
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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