Why did I choose the Anne of Green Gables series as part of my #20BooksofSummer challenge? It was to satisfy a guilt I’ve felt since the mid-90s. My great-grandma Mabel bought me the entire Anne set when I was a girl, but I truly struggled to read the books. Honestly, the vocabulary and grammar can be difficult, but I’d always felt awful, as if I’d let Grandma down. Thus, after starting Anne of Green Gables about a dozen times, I gave up and stuck the box set away. In college, I sold those books for $40 because I was broke. But this past winter, I brought up Anne many times for some reason. It was as if she, and great-grandma Mabel, had resurfaced for some reason. My husband got online and bought the box set (though not the same one).
I am now on Book #6 of the Anne of Green Gables series; however, my mind had been going crazy with curiosity long before I got here. Miss Stacy in Book #1 has stuck with me. You see, my great-grandma Mabel was a teacher, too, and loved to write. She taught in one-room school houses in small farming communities around central Michigan. Though she passed away when I was 13, I still remember her. I recently asked her daughter (my grandma) more about great-grandma’s experiences in the one-room school houses, but she wasn’t sure there were any diaries from that time period.
This past weekend my husband and I traveled to central Michigan for a family reunion. We stayed at my parents. Just as I was about to get in bed in my old room, I saw a binder on the bookshelf that looked odd. You see, inside was a diary my great-grandma had written, and I am surprised at how Anne-like it sounds! I wanted to share a bit with you.
Firstly, my great-grandma was born in 1910 in Ohio. She was Mabel Winters. However, her father suddenly passed away, and her mother could not care for 5 children. Mabel was a new baby, so she was given up for adoption (babies are always more desired than older children, as we learn with how little folks trust Anne Shirley). She became Mabel Dlamater (a misspelling of De’Lamater; her new father had a 2nd grade education and wouldn’t admit he’d spelled his own name wrong). They moved to Michigan.
When she was a girl, she would recite poems publicly (like Anne Shirley), calling herself an “egoist” because she loved the attention. Mabel got engaged as a junior in high school, but unlike Anne, she didn’t stay home to have babies. She wanted to teach. First, she spent $300 to go to school for one year and a summer, which earned her a State Certificate to teach for three years. Here’s the part I wanted to share; it’s about the first few years of my great-grandma teaching in a one-room school house in 1938:
I proceeded to involve the parents in everything. I gave afternoon tea to the mothers. We put on a play with the parents as actors and actresses, and established a hot lunch program with parents taking turns acting as cooks.
Some children had never been out of the community, so we went on field trips. We rode a train and went up and down an elevator; plus, we roamed the countryside on nature walks, collected weeds for winter bouquets, and learned firsthand about our surroundings. As a special treat one winter, we had an afternoon sledding party, complete with wieners and buns, and were accompanied by several parents. . . . [I cut out a long passage about Mabel writing to welfare offices to get her students and their families food and winter clothes. It is The Depression at this time].
I was invited to dinner at children’s homes, and I always accepted. I had never seen or imagined such poverty, but I also felt like a queen. At one home I was given the only solid chair; the rest of the family stood or sat on blocks of wood. I was fed chicken, fried to perfection, and served a beautiful cake that so impressed the children they could hardly wait for me to taste it. It was delicious. There was a hole in the floor, and I remember the mother laughing and saying her children learned to walk late because she was afraid to put the babies on the floor, because they might fall through. . . .[I cut out a long passage in which Mabel describes things people did to survive during The Depression. Also, the welfare office is giving her a hard time when she tries to help her students’ families, as they believe those families are just “lazy” …during The Depression].
The wind of change came into my teaching. Gone was the rigid program. I grouped and combined classes. Gone was dead silence; a busy, happy hum was heard most of the time as the children worked and helped one another. We painted fairy tale characters on the walls, and the children created wonderful stories and poems of their own. We still said “the Lord’s Prayer” every morning, saluted the Flag, and sang “America.” Then, I usually read aloud for 15 minutes. Always there was a poem or story written on the board to copy and memorize if it appealed to them. I remember I read aloud Laddie by Jean Stratton Porter and Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, along with several others that I have long forgotten.
Great-grandma Mabel is so involved in the children’s lives. She teaches them about nature by being outside, fosters creativity, and still has a sense of adventure when she conducts field trips. People thought she was memorable but strange, then, just as parents felt Miss Stacy, who also visited students homes where children wanted to impress her with their desserts, was something unusual. Anne Shirley learned her love learning and teaching from Miss Stacy, on whom she modeled her own teaching career.