Recollections From My Early School Years

Estaline Tew

My mama, Estaline Tew Bass was born on January 31, 1921. She was the oldest child of Owen Dallas Tew and Bettie Jane Wrench. Like most babies of this era, she was born at home with a rural doctor coming to deliver her. As a young girl, Estaline lived within walking distance to her Wrench relatives in the Williams Lake area of Clement. Her Granddaddy Rufe (Rufus Wrench) and her Grandma Eller (Ella Ann Hawley) lived next door and her great-granddaddy Egbert (Grandpa Egbert) lived across the field. In her infancy, she lived with her Grandma Pennie Tew who lived more in the Mingo area of Sampson County. Grandma Pennie Tew was the grandparent of this side with many aunts and uncles and cousins to visit. Her Grandfather Elijah Tew died before she was born.

The stories that Mama could tell about growing up were magical. She had the privilege of having grandparents until she was in her late teens and twenties. She also was the first child in her family and the first grandchild on the Wrench side. She was loved and being a first child, much was expected of her and she also had high expectations of herself as well. She loved learning and when she started school at Clement actually skipped a grade early in her school career. She decided she wanted to be a teacher as a child. Her mother, Bettie Jane had been a teacher for a short period of time when teachers did not have to have college credentials but that was not what mama wanted to do Mama passed away in 2013 at the age of 92. Before her health declined, she wrote some accounts of life growing up in the 1920-1930’s. The following are some of those accounts of her first memories and going to Clement School. School, as we all know, has changed over the years. Requirements for graduation, curriculum and grading have changed tremendously over the years. The following account gives us a look at a school of this time period. I hope you enjoy them!

“January 31, 1921, a baby girl weighing in at 6 pounds, 12 ounces was born to Owen Dallas and Bettie Jane Wrench Tew at the home of Penny Ann Sinclair Tew, my grandmother. Her home was located in Mingo township in Sampson County. I guess I was a normal baby at least, I never heard anything to the contrary. When I began to walk and talk I did everything I was told to do. My aunts, Daddy’s sisters said I always like to make faces and squeal. Daddy and Mama moved to Grandaddy Rufus Wrench’s in the Dismal township when I was around three. When they would take me to Grandma Penny’s, Mama said I would start squealing as soon as I could see the house.

In the fall of 1927, I started first grade at Clement High School. I rode a Model T Ford school bus. My first-grade teacher was Miss Marie Cashwell from Ingold, NC. I liked school very much. I carried a small light blue tin lunch box and I think Mama made ma a bag to keep my pencil, tablet, crayons, and scissors in. I enjoyed reading and at mid-term during my first year I was moved to the second grade. I suppose I had read all the first-grade books, I read just about all the time. I even carried my book to the table and would read between bites. My second-grade teacher was Miss Iula Williams from Wade, NC. At the end of my first school year, I was promoted to the third grade.

I enjoyed school more and more each year. My third-grade teacher was Miss Hesha Hobbs, Autryville, NC. She went to my church, Baptist Chapel and she would tell my parents if I talked too much. I did like to talk and she gave me a “C” on conduct. Daddy didn’t whip me, but he told me I’d better never brought home another “C” on conduct and I didn’t. We had a lot of fun. I memorized the Ten Commandments from the Bible. We would memorize one each week until we knew them all. I would have to say the multiplications tables from memory. We’d stay in front of the room and say them. We studied the importance of eating vegetables for good health. So we built a house using vegetables to show how they build the body. We covered a cardboard house with cabbage, collards, carrots, potatoes, and others. We were so proud we put the house in the hall so that others could see it. Third grade was so much fun that I decided to become a teacher. Mama and I were picking butterbeans late one evening when I told her I wanted to teach school. I was just eight years old but I never changed my mind and I am so glad I didn’t.

Miss Bessie Williams from Autryville was my fourth-grade teacher. I remember we had math just before recess and you always had to go the board to work a problem. I knew my math facts, but I just couldn’t work as fast as most of my class. She wouldn’t let you go for recess until you finished the board work and sometimes I missed some of my recess. I like other subjects and did as well or better in other things. That’s strange—I haven’t said an exciting thing about grade 4, yet when I began teaching I taught 4th grade for twelve years and enjoyed it.

In Grade 5 Miss Ethel Hall was my teacher. She was a big lady and wore big shoes. Down the aisle, she would walk and if your feet were not under your desk, they were stepped upon. Everyone soon learned where feet belong. We gave a play and every character was black. We had a good time while we practiced our parts. We had to blacken our hands and faces with soot from the chimney mixed with cold cream. It was fun but what a shame to try to imitate the negro race.

Mrs. Lona Matthews (aren’t you surprised that I have a married lady as a teacher, but there was a time when you couldn’t teach if you were married!) was my sixth-grade teacher. I enjoyed social studies more because she let us do projects. One that I remember was making a map of the United States and putting in the capitals and chief products of each state. That meant looking for pictures and materials everywhere. Most of the work had to be done outside of class. I put my map on a piece of cardboard because the products made it heavy. When we were finished she put them up in the room and I thought mine was so good because it had so many products on it. Mama helped me a whole lot. It was in the sixth grade that my left foot began to swell. This was one of my favorite grades.

Seventh grade was hard. The written problems in math were so very hard. Our teacher, Miss Clara Jewel Spell from Roseboro put some of them on the board and let us copy them. Other subjects were interesting and I enjoyed this grade as well.”
This is where Mama stopped her accounts of public school life in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Mama graduated from Clement School as the valedictorian of her class. She wanted to go to college and her daddy, Dallas was supportive of her decision. She went to Pineland College for two years, living with her Aunt Mary Tew McLamb in Salemburg. After those years she went to East Carolina Teachers College and graduated from there in 1942. Mama fulfilled her dreams. Her career of 37 years was at Sampson County Schools—Westbrook, Clement, Newton Grove-Westbrook, and Hobbton Elementary Schools.

Clement School