The first three and a half years of my schooling were spent at an Amish school. Both of the schools I attended were more than three miles from where I lived. I walked, and, no, it wasn’t “uphill both ways,” but it might just as well have been. The reluctance in my spirit collaborated with the red Missouri clay that stuck to my boots and made going to school the absolutely worst experience of my young childhood. I flunked first grade and was most of the way through my second year of school before Dad caught on that up till then, I had probably not learned one single thing for whatever effort I had put out. Dad began drilling me; he made flashcards and showed me the significant differences between words such as “like” and “look” and taught me how to “See Spot run.”


Things turned around for my third year of school. I don’t know if it was most significant that the road to my new school was now graveled or that I liked reading.


By the end of the year, I was reading in both German and English, had completed both second and third grades, and was winning German spelling bees. In retrospect, I consider the time Dad and I spent with those flashcards the single most life-changing part of my early childhood. As for Dad, after teaching me to read, he spent the next 15 years complaining that I didn’t want to do much else. My school day troubles were however far from over. Our severance from the church turned out to be approximately, somewhere near the start of my fourth year of schooling. Not knowing what else to do, our parents kept us in the Amish school. We were, after all, more Amish than anything else and we had little idea of how to switch to a public school. Staying there however had serious repercussions for me.


When youth are inclined to yield to their more mischievous or violent natures, many things can provide an excuse to follow through with it. In my case, the resentment against my parents by some members of the church translated into physical abuse for me from their children. Walking to and from school and the simple act of going to the outside bathroom was fraught with danger and trepidation. The “barely out of her teens” school mom was either unable or unwilling to maintain order against a group of boys, mostly bigger than herself. I often stayed in at recess and plotted my exit from the building at the end of the school day in a way to avoid confrontations on the long walk home. When my parents kept finding ugly welts on my back, they pulled my oldest sister and me out of school and kept us at home for the rest of the school year.


The next year we did go to public school. Vannoy was a one-room schoolhouse in the Pike County school system. When we started in Sept. of 1952 the Borntregers made up 3 of the 13 students. Because of the small size of the classes the top four classes were combined into two. In this way, there were only six classes in the school. One year we would have classes Five and Seven; the next year Six and Eight. Expecting to enter Fifth grade, I showed up in one of the “even” years, and, although I had only half a year of Fourth, found myself assigned to sixth grade. Not bad for someone who had, not that long ago, flunked First Grade.


The next year, being an “odd” year, the two of us who had skipped fifth had to go back and take it then. Once done with fifth grade, what is the next “even” class for us? Well I guess it would be eighth, wouldn’t it? From Fifth to Eighth, an even bigger jump!


So! Now that I have finished eighth grade; does that mean I’m done with grade school? “Well that all depends!” The other student on this ‘grade yo-yo’ with me was Charlotte Hanson “If you agree to go on to high school, like Charlotte is,” they tell me, “you will be allowed to graduate with your class; but if not, then you have to go back and take Seventh grade now.” At this point, Dad, thoroughly exasperated, said, “enough is enough;” no graduation, no high school, no diploma, nothing. Just like that, my school days were over.