Have you ever had a teacher whose positive impact on your life is still felt by you many, many years later?
Mrs. Arntz was just that teacher for me. She was my teacher for my first 4 years of public schooling which began in the 4-room school on the north side of the little village of Menoken, ND. Most country school houses on the prairies of ND were built with only 1 room in which the one and only teacher taught grades 1-8. While advancing through those first 8 years of schooling, I often thought of us Menoken Grade School students as privileged because not only did we have 2 classrooms for 2 teachers–one who taught grades 1-4 and one who taught grades 5-8, but we also had running water and indoor plumbing. Our square, white stucco, 2-story school building also had a lunch room where hot meals were prepared by our gifted cook, Mrs. L., and an apartment for the principal/teacher and her husband that served as their home.
I could tell you many stories of wonderful times of learning about all the required subjects, but it was through the teaching of the Fine Arts by Mrs. Arntz that the students of Menoken became the recipients of such a valued education. Mrs. Arntz, with beautifully coiffed silver-grey hair, immaculately painted finger nails, and fashionable dresses, jewelry, and high heels, sought to have the students of our entire country school become exposed to singing, folk dancing, art history, painting, and playing musical instruments. The 40-50 farm youth ages 6-13 who were the stars for the evening in our little country school would present annual Christmas operettas complete with appropriate costumes, a makeshift wooden stage painted grey that reposed on sturdy wooden sawhorses, and what-seemed-to-be 6-feet-tall cotton floral curtains that were manually pulled open and closed by 2 students. These operettas would rival the Christmas programs of any big city school.
Now, for this author, my look back to yesteryear gets even more precious to me! Although the domestic sciences were not taught to us in this rural setting, I do fondly recall one sunny day in May as a 2nd or 3rd grader when Mrs. Arntz announced to us that we were going to make cookies for a Mother’s Day gift. This was really going to be fun!! So, Mrs. Arntz instructed the boys and girls in grades 1-4 to proceed to the lunch room with these directions: “Turn” (in our seats so that we could follow through with the next direction). “Stand” (beside our desks). “Pass” (walk in an orderly manner out of the classroom). The black cast iron skillets were removed from the cupboards and preheated on the shiny white electric stoves. Ingredients were measured for the recipe of neighbor Gladys’ Old Fashioned Date Balls, and, under careful adult supervision, the mixture was warmed in the skillets to the point where all the ingredients were combined and ready to be formed into balls by our little hands and then rolled in coconut. Oh, how I remember how HOT that mixture was to my small hands! But the discomfort was worth it because my hand-made gift and homemade card touched my mom’s heart and warmed mine at the same time when she gently hugged and kissed me in thanks.
So, thank you, Mrs. Arntz., for my first public school home economics lesson. I wish I could express my thanks to you in person, but time marches on, and so does life. Interestingly, I still have that recipe and, along with this story, I am sharing it with you today. It has been stored in my book of life for decades!
FYI: Years after my grade school experience, I made and entered this cookie recipe into competition at the IA State Fair where it received a 2nd place ribbon in class. (Way to go Mrs. Arntz! Way to go neighbor Gladys!)
OLD FASHIONED DATE BALLS
1-1/2 cups dates, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
5 Tbsp. butter
2-1/2 cups crispy rice cereal
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup chopped English walnuts
½ cup coconut
Additional 1-2 cups coconut
In a bowl, beat eggs. Stir in dates and sugar. Melt butter in skillet. Add eggs, dates, and sugar. Cook until thick. Add crispy rice cereal, vanilla, English walnuts, and ½ cup coconut. Mix and cool. Form into teaspoon-size balls and roll in remaining coconut. Keep refrigerated due to cooked egg mixture. Makes about 5 dz. cookies.