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In the Woods... The McMinn Chapel School House

August 11, 2010

At the bottom of a very special creation of mine is written my signature and date October 26, 1995, with these words: “McMinn Chapel One Room School House where my beloved Grandfather, John Andrew McReynolds, I, rode his horse from Sturgis, to teach school in this one room school house in Oktibbeha County on the Sturgis-Maben Road.” (There are now five John Andrew McReynolds’)
I am so very proud of my own grandfather who was born in the 1800’s and was a graduate of Roanoke College in Virginia.
He, too, was born in Oktibbeha County in Sturgis.
He spoke seven languages, and spent his entire life teaching all over Oktibbeha, Choctaw, and Winston Counties, going from one room school houses to the others sharing his love of teaching.
He married my grandmother, Mary Edwards McReynolds, who also was his student at one time and sat on his knee to learn to read. She was 20 years younger.
Before they married, he traveled by a ship named, The Thomas Ship to the Philippine Islands as a teacher from the USA Government to teach English to the Filipino people.
America gave the Philippine Islands their English language. Spain gave them their religion, the Catholic faith.
When he returned after four long years across the sea, he married my grandmother. They were the proud parents of eight children.
My own daddy, John Andrew McReynolds, II, was the oldest of five sons and three daughters.
In 1980-1981, I, along with my own family, Frank, Sr., Frank, Jr., McReynolds, and Elizabeth went “on loan” from our USA Government to the Philippine Islands for six months to allow Frank, Sr. to build a Rearing Laboratory for the Ford and Rockefeller Foundation there.
I had the opportunity to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” that my very own grandfather did 100 years earlier. He was called a “Thomasite,” named after the ship.
While I was there, I visited the USA Embassy in the largest city, Manila, the Philippines, and found my grandfather’s name in their history books.
Not only was his name there, but he was joined by another, Mississippian, Christopher Longest. When we returned in 1981, I phoned Christopher Longest, MD., our then, Mississippi State University long time physician at the Longest Center.
Dr. Longest was named for his uncle who went with my own grandfather so many years earlier.
When I went out to paint in the Philippine Islands, way down in the jungles, I would often mention that I was the granddaughter of a Thomasite, and the natives of the island seemed to suddenly “lay the red carpet out for me,” and treated me with great love and appreciation for those earlier brave Americans who traveled so far to provide them with their educations and especially their English language.
I wondered, however, when I heard over 37 different dialects being spoken as I painted their faces, places, and everything else there their beautiful country, “had my grandfather really made a difference?” I know he did!
It was almost at the end of October on the 26th day in the year of 1995, that I left our home early with my car packed to the top of its roof with art supplies as I made my way down to Sturgis, turning on the Sturgis-Maben Road headed to Oswalt Road where I would then make a turn onto a gravel road into the woods where I would spend the rest of this day painting all alone in an isolated spot, a beautiful (everything else) a place, a landscape, of a vanishing one room school house that my own grandfather had spent his life in this very spot sharing and giving to the children of our county... an education... and one of the greatest gifts he could give, reading!
Speaking and reading seven languages, he must have loved words!
My little car, all my art supplies, and myself would then spend the rest of this gorgeous autumn day deep inside the woods as I sketched and then painted the McMinn Chapel School House, all alone... in my own “bubble world” of what I adore and love best, the creation of a painting!
I well remember what a peaceful and very quiet day I spent in those woods, and I remember reflecting on my own life and life of my Grandfather McReynolds who I never got to know and love personally because he died before I was born, but I knew, adored, admired and loved with my whole heart and soul his oldest son, John Andrew McReynolds II, my Daddy!
The expression, “Like Father Like Son” had to be true because daddy loved to read and he too, loved words.
I can honestly say during all my growing up years, “I never heard in our home not one incorrect grammar word used, because my only sibling and brother, Johnny and I heard only “Perfect English” used and spoken growing up. Using correct grammar was very important in our home!
As I popped up my umbrella to offer me some shade, the light would filter through those tall Virgin Pine Trees , and I had found my perfect spot to settle in and paint that early morning. I wondered what my day would really be like all alone in the woods re-tracing my grandfather’s “walk and talk” that he made so many years earlier.
I felt as if I too were in a sacred spot for this late October 26, 1995, and what a memorable day I spent!
Before I wrote this column for The Starkville Daily News to share with you, “my viewers,” I decided to phone a dear long time friend, Olene Skelton Dallas, of 1555 Sturgis-Maben Road, who was born in 1920.
Olene was born right there and lives just as she said, “a secret pathway through the woods...” “to my old church, McMinn Chapel/One Room School House!”
Olene became another “treasure” to me a few days ago when I talked with her about her life, my own grandfather, and what it was like to have had received her very first education and learning to read and write in the woods!
Olene is now 90 years old, and her mind is “clear as a bell!” She is a precious and beautiful human being! She began to tell me all about her earliest memories of going to, not only church in the woods on Sunday’s, but to school in the same spot during the week days.
“When Sunday’s came around each week, the place became sacred, cause it was our church. During the weekdays it was became a place called school, and it felt just like school till Sunday came. Inside the school house, it was sorta of crude and school like! I remember a platform was built up and there was sand in it, where there was a heater or maybe a pot belly stove there to keep us warm and cozy during the winter months which could be brutal here way out in Oktibbeha County as the wind blew through these tall Virgin Pine trees. We could hear the wind and rain blowing as it hit the side of the old structure. To be honest, Carole, this is only a small portion of the original building which is still left standing today. You, know, Carole, your grandfather taught me, and he was so beloved and so respected. He was highly educated...the most “learned gentleman” any one of us ever knew and loved, and he taught me the love of reading! We called him ‘Mr. Johnny!’ He was a bachelor at the time before he married your grandmother, ‘Miss Mary!’”
I ask her, “how did you get to school everyday?”
Olene said, “Oh, Carole, I took an airplane!...You know I used my two feet and walked through the woods on the same side where I live today because I knew a secret little pathway that took me right to the front door or my church and my school.”
“What did you wear, Olene?”
“I wore little dresses, we did not know about pant’s suits back then, only dresses. I wore bows in my hair and little black patent shiny shoes which were more like ‘pump shoes’ known as simply ‘pumps!’ We wore little socks and warmer ones in the winter time, and cooler socks in the autumn and spring time. I went to this McMinn Chapel School House until I was in the 5th or 6th grade, and then I went into the Sturgis Schools System down at Sturgis a few miles away to finish my education, and I missed my tiny little one room school house so much. I longed to be back in the woods with ‘Mr. Johnny’ as my teacher!”
Let’s together, you, being, “my viewer,” and, I, as the artist and creator of this painting... “walk this walk” and “talk this talk” now, in 2010! We’ll start at the bottom and go to the top from left to right as we, too are “learning to read” right here in a one room school house in way out in the boon docks of Oktibbeha County, so many years ago!
It was the peak of October as far as the bright and beautiful tree leaves and foliage surrounded the little wooden building as if it were nestled quietly in a nest of peaceful and quiet beauty that early morning.
The only sounds I could hear from a distance was a pick up truck or two passing way down on the Sturgis-Maben Road, and it was merely a faint sound of the car or truck passing on towards Maben or back towards Sturgis.
Look at the ground floor, as I call it, of the autumn colors of the fallen leaves as if it were a colorful carpet for the setting of the building above it.
The three old trees and the one large pine tree right almost in front of the front door way, stands tall and firm.
See the one old wooden plank leaning against the side of the building propping it up, maybe? Look at the little steps to the left side and the old wood has aged and mellowed. The window or parts of the glass still remain with some being broken and missing.
Go to the door itself. Is it not wonderful?!? See the rusted hinges still “holding on and in place” and the one latch part of the opening doorway. The very character of the wood is “priceless” to an artist. The colors of browns and greys mixed in with pinks, browns, and blues.
Let your eyes travel to the tin roof top. Piece by piece I sketched and then painted one by one each piece of aged and weathered tin roof. I loved the roof and the eaves underneath it.
The almost turquoise/blue sky above and the three golden trees in the far background compliment the entire painting. Notice I am finding, sketching, and painting that odd number of trees which the odd number, “three” is so eye appealing to us both, you, “my viewer” and I, the artist!
Can you not hear the children, and can you see the children outside playing right now? I can!
I thought back how times have changed here since the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
I enjoy swinging in my white wooden swing on my front porch of my own family home here at 501 Louisville Street, the very swing that my maternal great-grandfather, Wiley Bartley Pearson, built with his two hands... watching each early morning around 7-7:30 a.m. and again each afternoon around 3:30-4 p.m., our big yellow school buses passing by on a very busy street.
I noticed recently some brand new yellow buses have been added to the group of buses this year.
I wave to the Starkville School children all dressed up in their sharp new uniforms for this year.
They don’t walk with their two feet down a hidden secret pathway to a one room school house Monday through Friday during the week that also “doubles” for a chapel on Sunday.
We, together, shared a memory of long ago today, as we truly did “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” back down on the Sturgis-Maben Road, turning off on the Oswalt Road going down a gravel road way inside the woods to go to the...MCMINN CHAPEL SCHOOL HOUSE...IN THE WOODS!

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