Prairie Memories By Gary Heintz: School Days, 1930s
Dad didn’t walk uphill to school both ways when he was a kid, but many times getting to school was an adventure just the same.
The Heintz family lived at many different locations when the kids were growing up, including one just a half mile northwest of town. The rule was that unless you lived at least a mile from the city limits, you didn’t ride the school bus, so Dad and his siblings would cut across the pasture to the edge of town, then walk the half mile through town to the new school, built just a few years before they moved to Harrold. Normally that wasn’t a bad trek, and riding the bus wasn’t a luxury anyway in the early 30’s. Two benches facing each other with the door in the rear was the extent of it. The only warmth in the winter came from engine heat being channeled under the floor board. Walking to school in the winter across the open prairie was a different deal, and though the bus would drive right by the Heintz house, it seldom picked them up even on cold wintry days.
The Depression forced Dad’s family to move often, one move taking them to a farm five miles northwest of Canning, if you followed the road. The kids would walk a straight line across fields and pastures to get to school in Canning, cutting that distance in half. Once in a while someone would pick them up, letting them ride on the running board or on the flatbed of a truck, but they usually walked, rain or shine.
When Dad was in high school he worked at Dave Willer’s drugstore in Harrold after school and on weekends. The Heintz family was living on a small farm about a half mile southeast of town at the time. Late in the day of Dad’s high school graduation it hailed hard for about a half hour, breaking all the windows on the west side of the school building. Dad left the drugstore, hurrying home to get ready for graduation night, trudging across a field covered with hail still four or five inches deep. He was anxious to get home and put on his brand new suit bought for the occasion, and looked forward to showing it off to his friends and classmates. He was vain about his looks and his clothes all his life, and a new suit was a real big deal to him. The family piled into the car when it was time to go, and they slowly started up the hill on the dirt road leading to town. The rain and hail had turned the road into mud and when the car dropped into a rut filled with water, the tires lost traction. Dad and Uncle Kenneth got out and rocked and pushed the car, trying to gain some leverage in the slick mud. As they gave one big push, their dad gunned the motor and the spinning tires slid sideways spraying mud all over Dad’s new suit. He started walking home angry and disgusted with everybody and everything, vowing to not go to his own graduation. After much persuasion by his mom and sisters, he agreed to go, the problem now being what could he wear? A phone call to his best friend Dale Haas solved the problem. Dad could borrow his suit pants. Of course Dad being 6’1” and Dale being barely 5’10” and 20 pounds lighter made the fit a bit tight and Dad’s skinny ankles stuck out of the bottom of the pants when he stood up, but since he was in the back row, nobody seemed to notice.
The closest I came to having a walking uphill both ways to school story was my sophomore year of college when Dennis Marso, Norman Galinat, Wes Bjerke and I lived in an apartment twelve blocks from campus. Wes usually drove to school, but the rest of us walked, saving gas for the drives home to Harrold. It sometimes seemed like a long walk down the flat, tree-lined streets of Aberdeen to the college, but I sure wasn’t in grade school walking across the wind swept South Dakota prairie. Our parents’ stories of trekking miles to school may have been stretched by a mile or two over the years, but that walk would be one part of the good old days I would not want to experience.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News