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SCHOOL DAY MEMORIES – Janice Annette Ozment Harris

Janice Annette Ozment Harris

GHS Class of 1956

By Nancy Hicks Williams

Special to The Enterprise

Janice Ozment was born to Thomas and Gracie Hoggard Ozment on a snowy, December day, 1938, at their Tumbling Creek homeplace. The Ozments were descendants of fiddle playing, North Carolina logging families. After moving to Tennessee, these families first settled and logged in the Big Sandy area, then Sharon, and, lastly, moved to Gleason and continued logging, using oxen.

Janice sweetly reminisces about her homelife: “We were poor, but never hungry. We had good gardens, a huge orchard with every kind of fruit tree, and a long row of grapevines down the entire side of the garden. Daddy and the neighbors had hog killings. We had a sorghum mill and made molasses from the sugar cane grown around here in the early 40s.”

Neighbors in the closely-knit Tumbling community included the Hanleys, Pages, and Wrays to the left of their farm; Buford Dinning and the Wainscotts to the right. As the middle child of six, Janice was never lonely and fit nicely in either grouping. “Neighborhood kids would always come to play with us. We had no toys, but we would play ‘kick the can,’ ‘hide and seek,’ and hopscotch. Climbing those fruit trees and eating green apples was fun until it made us sick.”

Chores were a given for a large family. Janice had her first cotton sack, (made from a flour sack) at five years old. “I am not too sure I was picking anything, but I was there where Mother could watch me. Mama always worked.” Janice brought in the firewood for the kitchen cookstove. As she got older, she had to bring in those big, sawed-up log chunks for the fireplace. Additional responsibilities included drawing the well water and bringing it inside for drinking and cooking. Her hardest work was in her father’s big cotton patches (hoed and picked twice), in the corn patches, and in the hay fields. Late afternoon chores were picking the garden, gathering eggs in the henhouse, and feeding the chickens.

Making poultices for treating infections was a family tradition handed down from Gracie Ozment’s grandmother who was one-half Native American. She shaved slivers of a potato, onion, and other vegetables and herbs as needed and placed them into cheesecloth, tying it with twine: “Mama would secure these poultices on our aches and wounds for a day or two. We would be healed. What that didn’t cure, Vicks Salve on a warm flannel cloth would.”

Tumbling Creek Church was within walking distance. “If the doors were open, I was there. I always went,” Janice remarked. “Mother’s Day was like a big homecoming. All the kids would memorize a little poem and then have to stand in front of all those people and quote it. I was so shy and always scared.”

Janice’s great-grandfather, Thomas Wilkerson Felts, donated land for the church cemetery and for the original 1800s schoolhouse down behind the church on the creek bank. In 1913, a new, two-room Tumbling Creek School was built about one-half mile further, across the creek, on land donated by his descendants.

Janice attended this Tumbling Creek School from 1944 to 1952. “Mama made my book satchel out of blue and white striped pillow ticking and covered my books with brown paper made from bags. I was only five. When we walked to school, I dreaded passing Arthur Heathcoat’s place. His big bad dog would chase us. We never knew if or when he was going to stop. Same thing, every day.”

As the teacher built the early morning fire in the big pot-bellied stove of that cold left room, Janice and her best friend, Robbie Scott (King), would stay next door at Annie Hall’s (Robbie’s grandmother) house until the school warmed. The second room was used only for recess in inclement weather.

The school day began with the Pledge of Allegiance, a Bible verse and/or short devotional, followed by prayer. Eight rows were aligned horizontally, from left to right, facing the center dividing wall. The 8th grade row was closest to the door; the 1st grade was on the opposite end. The teacher taught standing in front of each row, beginning with the lower grades.

A morning break allowed trips to the water pump near the left front of the building, then onward to the girls’ and boys’ outhouses at the right and left far corners, respectively, of the big, back yard. Others rested on the front porch.

Tumbling Creek School had its own homemade lunch program. Louise Hanley cooked the food in an attached back room supplied with two long tables. She charged twenty cents a day per child. Janice states, “She used commodities, like cheese, every day, and green beans every other day. I hated cheese, but most of the meals were good — hot and convenient.”

“When our work was finished, the older grades helped the younger grades. I loved helping the younger kids read, those who were struggling, checking spelling words and giving immediate feedback.” Regularly assigned homework involved memorization and report writing.

Occasionally, someone would have to write off “I will not talk” 500 times. This would also be posted on one’s report card, which was not good on the home front. Spankings were minimal. Janice indicated she was never any good at playground sports and was always “the last one picked,” but she was a good sport about it. Tumbling Creek School was the community gathering spot for cake walks, boxed suppers, fundraisers, and other small gatherings, performances, and productions. “By the way, I couldn’t sing either,” Janice quips.

Sometimes Tumbling Creek would rise out of its banks, completely overflooding the bridge, leaving kids on one side, homes on the other. Not knowing if the bridge had washed away or not, Harold Todd, a family member, showed up at the school clad in his hip boots, picked her up high, forded the flood waters, and carried her safely across — a traumatizing childhood memory.

Janice quickly recalled her teachers for each grade, in order: Mrs. Mattie Laster (1st), Mr. Worth McCain (2nd and 3rd), Miss Lucille Dunn (Lomax) (4th), Mr. Vernon Dunn (5th), Ms. Reba Brooks (6th), and Miss Marjorie Lemonds (Soper) (7th and 8th). Janice sweetly continues, “I am proud of the opportunity I had to go to a country school. I received a good education. I want to thank and honor all those teachers. Mr. Worth taught me how to read well, spell, do arithmetic, and master pretty, cursive handwriting. I always made good grades. I loved school.”

Janice Ozment attended Gleason High School, 1952-1956. ”Mama decided she wanted me to be in the beauty review. She saved her money and bought me a beautiful, blue formal. I didn’t place, but Mama thought I should have.”

Mrs. Estelle Bobbitt’s English class was her favorite: “Mrs. Bobbitt was a wonderful, classy lady, witty, and impressive. When she spoke, she rolled her ‘r’s.” (An early-century training in elocution). Janice proudly served on the Annual Staff her senior year and ranked 3rd in her graduating class. She was the first of her siblings to graduate. Her entire family attended her commencement ceremony.

Janice remembers receiving a high school graduation card with a little handwritten note from her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Mattie Laster: “She had kept up with me all those years and told me how proud she was of me. That touched me.” The love of a teacher for a child, the love of a child for a teacher, is lasting, even after 80 years.

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