Rural Living

Traveling Memory Lane Back to School


by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Writer

Margo Oxendine

It’s only August, yet it’s “back to school” for many students this month. Here in rural Virginia, our students go back to school quite early. It is, I think, because of the large number of snow days that keep kids home and school buses in the garage during much of the winter.

When I think about teachers, I think about Miss Landes. Zona Landes was absolutely my favorite teacher. She taught English. It was she who first urged me to become a writer— “because of your imagination”—she would say, with a wry smile.

I’d be remiss if I did not mention Mrs. Ruth Dalton, too. She, also, taught English, and also urged me to become a writer. Thank you, ladies, for putting ideas into my head!

I truly loved both of these women, and although Mrs. Dalton is gone to her heavenly reward now, I spot Miss Landes from time to time. This always causes me to break into a big smile and rush the poor dear. One great thing about getting older is, I can call her “Zona” without feeling guilty or disrespectful. She still employs that wry smile.

There was one teacher in elementary school with whom I most assuredly did not get along; the dislike was mutual between me and Miss Lucille Bonner. Miss Bonner taught school and then was an elementary principal in Bath County for 50 years. She was a formidable woman to contend with, if you failed to measure up to her high standards in some way. Miss Bonner detested that “imagination” of mine that Miss Landes later found remarkable.

One day, Miss Bonner and I got into a terrible row when she decided that, as a “recess activity,” we could all go outside and pick up trash. “I don’t like getting dirty,” I whined. “And besides, my father doesn’t want me doing that.” “Well, I DO want you to do it.” This elicited a confrontation between Daddy, in his State Police uniform, and Miss Bonner, in her Shelton Stroller shirtwaist, shouting at each other behind closed doors. In the end, I was “punished” by being made to sit in Miss Bonner’s office and read during recess. Ah, little did she know!

I never thought much about Miss Bonner until I began poking through files and boxes at the historical society. There on a shelf I found a treasure trove labeled “Lucille Bonner’s scrapbooks.” I began poking through them, and suddenly found myself thrust down Memory Lane. Regardless of how I once felt, I now regret that I did not know her better. After poking through her keepsakes, I now understand how loveable Miss Bonner really was.

The photographs Miss Bonner pasted in her books are priceless in and of themselves. “Warm Springs School, 1923”—one of her earliest years of teaching—shows Lucille and a host of other young lovelies, teachers all, draped across a brand new Ford. Other photos are priceless for their glimpse into history: Picnic at Muddy Run, 1927; May Day at Millboro, 1926; Field Day at Valley High, 1928. What’s more, Miss Bonner identified almost every person in every photo. I know that some of you reading this recall Miss Bonner. Every person who went through the Bath school system for 50 years does. Did you know that Miss Bonner saved every card signed by her students through the years? Did you know that, if you gave Miss Bonner a Christmas gift, your little tag with the childish printing is still in her scrapbook, with her notation of the gift written beside it? Perfume. Hankies. Stockings. It’s all there, preserved for posterity.

If you got married between 1963 and 1978, your wedding announcement is probably pasted into Miss Bonner’s book. It is not surprising she had a special affinity for wedding photos of her former students. She was a member of the Spinster’s Club for more than 70 years; surely, she thought she’d die without ever becoming a bride herself.

But fate had a delightful surprise in store for Lucille Bonner. Along about 1985, an old sweetheart returned to sweep her off her feet. Fred Gleim was the only man Lucille Bonner ever loved. But he had headed north, while Lucille stayed in Warm Springs. Fred Gleim married, almost half a century passed, and then his wife died. He hied back to Warm Springs, scooped up Lucille and, at age 87, made her a blushing bride.

Ain’t love grand?  


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