Little of all we
Wakes on the mourn of
its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, theres nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral
that runs at large;
Take it your welcome
no extra charge)
I sit on the concrete
sill facing the boys schoolground, trying
to memorize Oliver Wendell Holmes delightful poem "The
Deacons Masterpiece" for the test after recess.
Beside me a group of
boys squat, holding a cord which leads to a stick propping up an
iron-ringed net with corn scattered beneath it on the gravel schoolyard.
A nervous pigeon is
sidling his way toward the corn. Soon the net will fall and another
ingredient for a pigeon pie will be delivered to the janitor, Mr.
Suddenly there is
an eruption at the foot of the schoolground and shouts of "Fight!
Fight!" are heard. I drop my book and join the congregating
mob, stumbling and shoving around the two shaggy-haired combatants,
flailing away in the middle of the circle.
Moments later, Mr.
Vincent is hurling boys to the right and left as he charges through
the dusty assemblage, pulling the terrifying strap from the hip
pocket of his blue serge suit as he advances.
It is a typical early
1930s day on the elm-lined grounds of one of the many two-storey
red brick elementary schools, which dot the northern part of
these Border Cities.
King Edward, King George,
Assumption Street (soon to be Begley), Dougall Avenue, Gordon McGregor,
Wyandotte Street (later Benson), Brock, Cameron Avenue, Ontario
Street (Ada C. Richards of the future), Mercer Street, et al.
Stern, impressive structures
(built in the 1890 to World War 1 era) spawning stern, impressive
pedagogues who brook no nonsense.
Swift justice having
been administered to the two perpetrators of the fisticuffs, we
seek other means of entertainment.
Only to have Mr. Stonehouse
(grey tweed suit, gold watch chain through the third buttonhole
of the vest) signal the return to classes with the clanging of his
As the double lines
of suddenly deflated pupils tramp up the wooden stairs inside
the double doors, the travelling school nurse, Miss Lowndes glides
silently to the curb in her tall black Detroit Electric: "Dont
use that nasty Americanism; spell it kerb, children."
In her free time she
lectures the younger pupils on the evils of chewing gum: "Its
made from horses hooves, you know."
And she relates Aesops
Fables and other moral tales. Such as the one about the man who
kept a pet tigress. She affectionately licked his hand one night,
as he slept, and her rough tongue accidentally drew blood. Her
wild instincts returned and she sprang on her master and ate
keep wild animals for pets.
naïve, incredible days.
It is Tuesday today.
And those of us who have any, carry two or three sweaty pennies
up to the teachers desk to deposit them in the Penny Bank.
Thus we acquire a quaint old-fashioned notion of thrift: "A
penny saved is a penny earned, children."
Who should arrive
now but walrus-moustached H. Whorlow Bull, travelling music teacher
(the appellative "co-ordinator" has not become part of
education jargon yet). Singing the note in his rich bass voice,
he admonishes us to "sound your doh." Most of us cannot
get our squeaky voices below High C.
But we try. By God,
we try; the strap lingers nearby!
These are the days
of infantile paralysis. And I think of the freckle-faced kid who
left school one September day, never to return. We took up a ten-cent
collection to send him flowers near the end.
These are the days,
too, of "Barnacle Bill the Sailor," Kate Smith singing
"When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain," Amos n
Andy shenanigans at 10 p.m. daily on WJR. And Jackie Cooper in "Skippy"
at the local movie house. Days that are destined to disappear.
The test is near at
hand and I return to my memory work: End of the wonderful one-hoss
Logic is logic. Thats
all I say.