(Penny) Ostrander Miecznikowski
When Sandy decided to do a class newsletter, he asked me to write
something for the first issue; about 500 words. I decided to try to sum up the
last 33 years of my life. After my third rewrite, I found that it was
impossible to write such a barebones account. I hope you'll forgive the length
and decide in future issues to share your lives with the rest of us. I for one
have been curious for years about what happened to everyone.
I received my BS from Indiana University of PA, near Pittsburgh
and feel lucky I unknowingly chose a great school for teachers. Unlike today,
my future husband, Richard (Duke), and I were offered jobs a month before
graduation. We worked in that suburban district for three years and then moved
to Alfred, N.Y. where I taught fifth grade and Duke pursued his MFA in
Art/Pottery. From there we ended up in Fairmont, WV. Duke taught at a small
college and I taught in a new open concept school (no walls, four teachers and
100+ fifth graders).
We both longed to live in the country on a farm and spent
weekends driving around looking. We finally found a wonderful old Victorian
house on 260 acres that needed "work." So two city slickers who knew nothing
about country life started their big adventure. We would spend the next 15
years remodeling and learning to do things we couldn't have even imagined. It
was our own personal "money pit." My husband and I can now laugh over that
first week when we discovered just how many things needed immediate attention.
The hand-dug well in the front yard proved to be contaminated by
a dead rabbit who had somehow gotten in. Our first call was to a local well
driller. We knew a new roof was in our future, but after the first rain, it was
moved to the top of the list. We had leaks everywhere. Before turning on the
gas we had the line inspected--of course, it had deteriorated over the years
and was full of holes. Luckily, that was one of the easier problems to solve.
The man we bought the farm from worked for the gas company. Each room had a
coal fireplace, so before cold weather, we were determined to have a modern gas
furnace. There was no electricity on the 2nd floor; which for a while we found
romantic, taking a candle up to bed. But after all, it was 1974 and as soon as
my parents visited, my Dad worked on the wiring. I know my parents were shocked
when they finally reached the house, one half mile up a dirt road. We were 25
minutes from the nearest small town and out in so much "space" and absolute
quiet. A friend once remarked that you could hear a butterfly flap its wings.
But we were filled with energy, ambition and excitement and ready to tackle
this home and wilderness.
Duke started a pottery business in the old Civil War/ era house
across from the main house and drove 25 minutes to teach. I transferred to a 2
room country school five miles away where I taught fourth, fifth and sixth
grades. I was principal and in charge of the hot lunch program. I had nothing
in my background to prepare me for this. Luckily I had a wonderful local cook,
Mamie Kendall, who had cooked there for years and helped me learn the ropes.
The other teacher, Phillis Moore, taught first, second and third
grades and was born six miles from the school. She had taught most of the
students' parents and had an endless supply of gossip and stories. We were wary
of each other at first and worlds apart in backgrounds, experiences and
attitudes. She had a wry sense of humor, a no- nonsense demeanor, and could
stop a student dead with a look. But we became best friends accepting those
differences between us and actually learning from them. We remain close to this
My years at this little country school were challenging to say
the least and extremely rewarding. After my fishbowl years at the open school,
it was wonderful to be out of the mainstream and left alone to do things my own
way. We had no bells to divide up our day. I could take an extra 15 minutes for
math or take off on a science hike in a neighbor's woods without permission
slips. I was introduced to country socials, covered dish suppers and major
Christmas productions with plays and recitations with by every student. The
crowd was standing room only at these events. I know our little school could
not compete with the schools of today but our students were respectful and
interested in learning which made for a great experience for all of us. We had
everything we needed, overhead projectors, filmstrip and movie projectors, a
few microscopes and a wall of library books in each room. The PTA was active
and supportive and bought us new encyclopedias and dictionaries. Our county had
a great selection of AV materials which a van brought out once a week. When the
school closed after seven years, it was a sad time for the whole community. We
were moved to the large town school with 4 rooms for every grade.
Meanwhile, back on the farm our lives continually got busier. We
decided with all that land we needed some cattle to keep the fields neat. That,
of course, lead to repairing the barn, fixing the fences, learning to put up
hay, giving shots and delivering calves. Spring took on new meaning with our
own calves to watch in the meadows. I never knew how sweet smelling their
mothers kept them, or was it the wild flowers they slept in.
We had a large vegetable garden and I learned to can and pickle
and make jellies. Having so many elderberries and blackberries, I even
attempted wine-making with a friend's help and a recipe book, with pretty good
results. Beginning to sound like Little House on the Prairie yet? I do often
wonder where our interest in such a simple, self- sustaining, almost reclusive
life came from.
I'd better sum up the last few years quickly. I'm way over my
word limit. Duke was hired at California University of PA and we moved to
Monessen, PA- 25 miles from Pittsburgh. After 23 years of teaching in WV, I
found teaching jobs in PA were impossible to get without friends in high
places. I continue to sub and enjoy the variety this involves. But, as much as
I loved those years of full-time teaching, I don't miss it and have filled my
time with new interests that, unfortunately, aren't money makers yet. My wines
are made now with California grapes shipped to Pittsburgh. I walk my dogs in
the park instead of on our own road. My love for gardening, initiated with
vegetables, is now focused on flowers, with smaller crops to preserve. But old
habits die hard and I still like to make everything from scratch.
There's one other bonus in being semi-retired; we get to travel
more. My husband's art background has led to trips to Europe the last three
summers with groups he organizes from the University, and we escape to a
variety of beaches a couple times a year. Turning 50 last year was tough, maybe
because my life has no set schedules or boundaries now. But perhaps that's for
the best. Anything can happen and I've always loved a challenge.