Memories of "Aggie School"by Barbara (Bobbi) Burnham, Class of 1946
When I attended what we called "Aggie School," we were housed in private residences. My first home there was near the St. Lawrence University, it was owned by a university professor. Another student and I each had a private room on the second floor. The two of us shared a bathroom. Unfortunately, the other student was what I considered overly studious and spent most of her time inside her closed-door room studying. After a couple of months, I moved to a house where two of my new friends lived. Both Nancy Holmes and Erma Porteous, now Carkner, were from the Madrid area and had been chums in high school. They shared a room while I occupied a single room. We were allowed limited kitchen privileges. At first, we made coffee each morning, putting sugar and cream in each cup. It didn't take long for us to decide to forgo the sugar in the coffee and save our precious sugar, that required food stamps, in order to make that wonderful item called FUDGE!
|As far as I recall no one had a car. Regardless of the weather, we walked everyplace and in doing so obtained some good exercise. No matter how rainy or snowy, we had to walk wherever we went. It never occurred to us to feel sorry for ourselves.|
Likewise, we didn't object to the school ruling that we had to be in our residence by 10 on a school night and 11 on the weekends. Special events might alter this ruling. Most homes had a sign-out and sign-in sheet posted near the front door.
Miss Mitchell was the dean of women and apparently had the responsibility to guide our conduct. I had two run-ins with her. One was when she discovered me sitting in the study hall with my feet on the table. She glared at me and said, "Barbara, position in life is everything." Then she marched out the door without another glance at me.
Another time, I was called into her office because someone had reported me for smoking on the street. According to her, it was bad enough to smoke, but to do it on the street in public was even worse. No wonder shortly before graduation I was again called into her presence and told that there were so many girls who passed through the school, that she couldn't remember all of them but that she would certainly remember me! I don't think it was a compliment.
We usually obtained our noonday meals at the school cafeteria, where the cooks were home economics students, operating under the supervision of a teacher. This was an attempt to put our classroom knowledge to practical use.
The school also operated The CoffeeHouse, which was open at lunchtime. The customers were mainly local residents who enjoyed the tearoom atmosphere. During our first year, all home economics students served a six-week period as waitresses. If I'm remembering correctly, this was in addition to attending regular classes. During our second year, we became the cooks. We even provided special meals for people with dietary restrictions. I recall having to make scrambled eggs in a double boiler, because the customer could have no fat. It seemed to take forever for the eggs to coagulate that way. Most of us were tempted to throw a pat of butter in the pan and dump the eggs in. Only the presence of the teacher-supervisor prevented that action.
As an adult, I can look back on those teacher-supervisors with sympathy. We probably were difficult at times.
There was yet another teacher-supervisor. She oversaw the Home Management House. This was a large, very attractive residence where perhaps ten home economics students would live for six weeks. We were required to plan the menus, make grocery lists, prepare all meals, wash the dishes, and keep the kitchen and entire house clean and tidy. This was while still attending classes. As I recall, it was one of the most joyful experiences of my two years in Canton. The teacher-supervisor, Miss Marks, was a youngish, very attractive woman.
One morning she warned us that she was going to be in Ogdensburg on business for part of the day, and that if she hadn't returned by dinnertime that we were to eat without her. We set her place as usual at the table and even waited a bit past the accustomed dinner hour. We ate our meal, which we always served family-style, in big bowls. After we had eaten our normal portions and she still hadn't returned, we did what most teenagers with normal appetites would do; we divided the remaining food onto our plates and started eating it. Then we heard the front door open. She was back! Instantly we scrapped the food off our plates back into the serving bowls. When Miss Marks came to the table she served herself our leftover food while thanking us for saving her dinner. We never told her about our most unsanitary actions.
Once, in an effort to teach the niceties of entertaining, we were allowed to invite dates to the house for a dinner. As I remember, we fixed a most delightful dinner but the guys hardly ate anything. They had gotten together, gone to a restaurant, and eaten a gigantic meal before coming to our house. They were certain that none of us would know anything about cooking.
It was while I was at Home Management House that I received my bid to join a sorority. Weeks earlier, we had each filled out a form indicating our first and second choice of a sorority. I was the first to receive that magical phone call inviting me to join my first choice, Pi Nu Epsilon. I was so excited and happy. Everyone was hugging me and sharing in my joy. Then the phone rang. Another girl received her bid. This continued for an hour or more until we had each gotten an invitation, at least we thought everyone there had received a phone call. Slowly it dawned on us that one girl had not gotten a bid. We each tried in our own clumsy way to explain to her that sororities were really not that important and that we didn't truly care if we got a bid or not. I fear that after all our shouts of joy and excitement these statements were not readily believed.
One of my favorite teachers was Miss Lottie Southworth. She taught an English course involving mostly writing and speaking. I don't recall any reading assignments. She was very much the lady and commanded and received respect from everyone. Each spring, she gave a tea for the entire school enrollment. We each received a written invitation that indicated the hours we were to come and to leave. She scattered the hours so only ten or twelve girls would be there at the same time. It was the only way she could entertain that number of girls in her small Park Street home. It was a formal event and we wore our Sunday best, which I'm sure included hats and little white gloves.
One of our courses was bacteriology. Most of us had only a very limited science education background. The school felt it was necessary that we understand various illnesses since most of us would be going into hospitals as dieticians. I had hopes of working in the school cafeteria, but I was obliged to take this course anyway. I don't remember the instructor, but whoever it was must have given us poor instructions on how to use a microscope, because no matter what illness the slide was trying to show, many of us somehow managed to draw what resembled syphilis germs. We weren't trying to play a joke or create a problem; we just drew what we thought we saw. It wasn't until we overheard some teacher talking that we knew what we had done. It created quite a stir among the staff. It also shortened our periods with the microscopes.
Much of our entertainment was self-directed. The school provided very little along those lines. At the end of the last class each day, the school buildings were closed and we were on our own. I was fortunate in somehow meeting a local high school boy who invited me to several of his own school functions.
Most of us at Aggie School frequented the Tick Tock (tavern), owned at that time by the Seager family. One of my housemates Nancy Holmes dated Sammy Seager. He was a little older than us and owned a liquor store in Gouverneur. Another classmate later married one of the Seager boys who became the owner of an insurance company in Gouverneur.
One of our favorite places was the Crumps, a bar with a dance floor and on certain nights, a band. Our favorite waiter there was a very friendly and nice man named Neighbor. He was later killed in an accident while trying to be a Good Samaritan and help someone with a stalled car on the highway.
Another place we frequented was Evergreens, a restaurant and bar on the far end of town, on the road to Potsdam. We delighted in removing labels from beer bottles and tossing them up to the ceiling where they would cling indefinitely. Apparently, the owners never objected to this action.
The second year I lived at the sorority house. It was a good-looking private home, perhaps on Pine Street. It was a three-story house with a delightful tower-like section on the front. The telephone for our use was placed next to a couch on the second floor of this tower-like section. It was also the floor where our so-called study rooms were. Two or three girls shared each study room, which contained a desk and a dresser for each occupant. We kept our clothes in these rooms and used them for dressing as well as studying. That floor also was the location of the one and only bathroom for the use of twelve girls. Although it contained only one sink, one tub, and one toilet, somehow we managed without any arguments at all. At bedtime, we climbed the stairs to the third floor or attic where we each were assigned a cot-like bed as well as several blankets. The attic was unheated, but by bedtime we were so sleepy, we just crawled under the covers and slept until morning.
The owner was widow. I recall that her son returned badly wounded after serving in World War II. Occasionally we would see him sitting in a rocker on the front porch, but we saw very little of her. She mainly stayed in rooms she reserved for herself in the back of the house. She was a very pleasant woman, who allowed us to use her front parlor for our meetings and for entertaining guests. On weekends and evenings, one of us was assigned to answer the door. One evening it was my duty to respond to the ringing of the bell. It was a local Canton boy, Bob Burnham. I say boy but he was 7 years older than I. he had only recently returned from the South Pacific where he was a member of the U.S. Army. He'd been fighting the Japanese fro almost 5 years. I had met him once before when his younger brother who was a decorated Marine hero, spoke to our group at a school assembly.
Bob had come to pick up Katie Sarah. I invited him into the living room and went upstairs to let Katie know her date was here. While Bob and I waited for her to appear, I asked him if he knew how to fix a cigarette lighter, mine had quit working. He claimed to be an expert in the matter and calmly took apart my entire lighter. By then Katie appeared on the scene. With nonchalance, Bob put each piece in his handkerchief, put it in his pocket and responded to repair it for me.
It was a week later that he phoned me and said the lighter was all fixed. We talked a bit and then he asked me out. I accepted immediately. After I hung up it dawned on me what I had done; I'd made a date with Katie's boyfriend. I felt ashamed. She was a good friend and a sorority sister as well. I rushed to her room and told her of my misdeed. I apologized and told her that I would cancel the date. She smiled and told me not to do that. According to her, she and Bob were only friends and not romantically inclined. Besides, she reminded me that she was engaged to a boy back in her hometown. I was very relieved and kept my date with the man who later became my husband. An interesting side note is that Katie married not the boy back home, but a fellow she met from Ogdensburg.
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