TAMPA - In 1927, I was 6 years old and started first grade at Keysville School in east Hillsborough County. Keysville was one of the county's "strawberry schools." The strawberry schools were part of the public school system in the areas near Plant City, where strawberries were grown.
These schools had what would seem like an unusual calendar year today. We started in April and ended in December. The three-month break from January to March was timed for when the strawberries ripened. Children were needed to help pick the crops. On small family farms, everybody had to work to make a living.
This was a time when every boy carried a good, sharp pocketknife everywhere. He knew how to handle a shotgun. One of his jobs would be to go into the fields and shoot the robins to keep them from eating the strawberries.
It was when most boys wore overalls and denim shirts. The girls wore dresses they or their mothers had made. Some of the dresses were made from feed sacks.
Keysville School consisted of three rooms and a porch. Three teachers taught eight grades. We got water from a pitcher pump in the schoolyard. On the schoolyard's back corner was a large outhouse, with one side for girls and the other for boys.
Behind the school was a navel orange grove with some of the best fruit I ever ate. The grove owner didn't seem to mind that we picked some of his oranges, but it was hard to wait for the fruit to ripen.
We didn't complain about going to school during the hottest months of the year. In the days before air conditioning, the heat didn't matter. Summer heat was just normal. There were no fans at Keysville - the school didn't have electricity - but the windows were always open.
My family lived about a mile from the school. My mother usually took me to school in the morning, and I walked home, but I remember the school buses. The first county school buses were built by the bus drivers. The bus that went to Keysville had to have the heaviest students sit near the front. If they sat in the back, the front wheels came off the ground.
I graduated from Keysville School in 1935, about the time I started picking strawberries for 3 cents a quart. It was a good way for a 14-year-old to make extra money. I hadn't picked strawberries when I was younger because my father made a living as a telegraph operator for the railroads at the Edison Junction depot near Plant City.
I finished my education at Turkey Creek High School, where I graduated in 1938. The next year, my sister Mary was in the first graduating class at east Hillsborough's prized new high school, Pinecrest. Mary also was queen of her class. My father, Robert L. Cribb, was one of Pinecrest's three trustees. The trustees were elected officials who oversaw the school and hired its teachers.
It wasn't until 1956 that the strawberry school schedule was no more. The schools were put on the same schedule as the other county schools - opening in the fall and closing in late spring.
A reminder of our heritage was kept. For years, students in east Hillsborough have been granted an official day off for the annual strawberry festival in Plant City.
My memories of the strawberry schools also have stayed with me. I still have the blue ribbon for being the best in math in a school district contest held every year by the assistant superintendent, Walter G. Yates.
What is left of our Turkey Creek High Class of 1938 still gets together twice a year in Plant City. In May, we go to breakfast at Denny's. In November, it's lunch at BuddyFreddys.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert R. Cribb, 86, retired from CSX Railroad as an assistant chief dispatcher in Tampa in 1986. He and his wife, Jo, live in Tampa. They have two children and four grandchildren.
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