Everyone’s Elementary School days were plagued by at least one mean old witch. The Good Provider, however, usually ensured that in between those years when you were sentenced to jail or forced into a coven, you might have an angel of a teacher. That was the kind of teacher my dad used to call a “peach”. There was never a greater peach than Mrs. Ballentine, my second grade teacher.
Our second grade was held, along with a third grade class, in a two-room schoolhouse called Stewart Hall. Located next to the Penn Township Fire Hall and a small store, this old wooden building had rather primitive facilities but with Mrs. Ballantine in charge it was a warm nest for us as little learners. We would have done anything Mrs. Ballantine asked of us. We loved the work because learning was fun! She once had us make life-sized two-dimensional models of ourselves and place them in our chairs for the parent’s PTA meeting Open House. She asked Mrs. Thompson to bring in her blind daughter Becky to demonstrate that “handicapped” people – even kids -were in fact very capable of doing a lot. We were allowed to sing every day and we were allowed to select our favorites to sing. I remember Brownies often asked to sing “I Have Something in My Pocket”.
Even when asked to do even a dirty task, such as when Tommy Griffin had to clean out his desk so the mouse that lived there would not eat his spelling book, he did so cheerfully. Given the large class size of nearly 40 students, she often let us helps each other. For example, it was my friend Barbara who coached me how to spell “pleasant”. Mrs. Ballentine’s methods of discipline were refined. Once when she had laryngitis and was only able to whisper, she was able to teach by whispering as we all attentively strained to hear and follow every word.
At Halloween, she allowed us to have a costume party. The boys and girls went off to their rest room facilities and donned their costumes imagining being Zorro, Snow White or even Paladin. We then assembled in the classroom and a guessing game began. The girls would guess who was behind the Joey mask pretending to be the proud owner of Fury the black stallion. The boys took their turn trying to ascertain from the form behind the mask which girl dressed as Penny from Sky King. Eventually everybody would take their turn trying to fool the opposite sex, but all the guys were stumped when blond wigged lass took her turn at the front. We could not see anything familiar. Marlene? Nope. Betty Lou? No. Jeanette? No again. We must have tried all of the names of every female classmate. Arlene? No again. When we exhausted all possibilities short of Rumpelstiltskin, the mask was removed. There was Ritchie Orlando, smiling victoriously, dressed cleverly as a cutie pie. We were all fooled and wiser for the lesson.
One summer vacation when we were about twelve, my friend Phillip and I rode our bikes over to Mrs. Ballantine’s home. She lived with her mother in what had at one time been a one-room schoolhouse by the Old Plank Road. We knocked on her door. Her mother greeted us warmly and asked us in for lemonade. Our dear teacher came and joined us on the sun porch. She remembered our names and asked us how we were doing and we made small talk – but the kind that was warm and comfortable – nothing awkward. We prepared to leave and on the way out the door I looked over and saw the answer to a question that many of us had never pursued. There was a photograph of a younger Mrs. Ballantine standing with a young man in soldier’s uniform. I could fill in the blanks. I imagined that she had a life long ago that had met with tragedy. Now her life was about us. And what a blessing she was to us all!