It’s seems a little funny to me that the only photograph I have of my favorite teacher of all time is of her as a student standing in front of the one room schoolhouse she attended in Rowe. She’s second from the right in the back row. Her best friend, standing next to her with the blonde hair, is Olive Wright, the last Wright to live at Fort Pelham Farm. This is all coincidental because we didn’t move into the house until 1967 which was the last of the four years I had Fannie von Reuss Chenburg for a teacher.
Rowe is a very small town. When I started school there were 6 of us in my kindergarten class. The next year it dropped to 4 and that’s the way it stayed until I entered a nine town regional in Buckland. Mrs. von was my teacher from the third through the sixth grades. Until the last year she taught it all to all 4 grades at the same time. I’m sure that it took a little different skill set to do this but this is how she was taught so it didn’t really seem that different.
My memories of her are so mixed but I have to say that I loved her. She was well-traveled in exotic places and would tell us stories of her time in the Middle East and Europe. She also told us about her escapades with Olive. I remember how wonderfully she would tell these stories so your imagination would take you to a different time and place. Those stories stick with me still. We did flag drills in Phys. Ed. We drew glorious maps in geography, learned our math diligently and reading was always a top priority. I was writing critical thinking papers in the fourth grade. My most memorable topic being “What would happen if there were too many people?”. She was an outdoors woman walking to school many days and telling us about the otters in Pelham Lake that she would watch on the way in or what birds were at her feeders. I remember her having and teaching an enormous respect for life.
There was the dark side that any of us that had her for a teacher would tell you. I honestly can’t remember what precipitated some of these incidents but I do remember chalk being thrown and yard sticks being slapped on your desk. The sound of the chalk clinking on her wedding ring as she rolled it back and forth in her hands. We always knew she was in a good mood when she wore earrings to school.
We made kites. We would play outdoors for extended recess on those first true spring days when the only place to play was the pavement because the snowbanks were too high. We jumped rope and played rolly at the bat. We played a game, school wide called “Run Sheep Run” which I think was a take on Capture the Flag. She would have us come to her house where her flower gardens were a sight to behold. They must have been pretty wonderful, I still think about them today. We have a peony in our garden that comes from hers. These were all magical moments.
Fannie von Reuss Chenburg helped mold some wonderful people. We all took away a little bit of her. You can see it still in all of us as adults – that love of nature and quiet, that sense of adventure, the caring about each individual. When I get together with the kids in my class, now long into adulthood there is something that we all have in common and I think it’s her.