Friday, June 1, 2012
In elementary school, I learned my first dirty jokes and songs. And the multiplication tables and some other junk. I can remember some of those jokes and songs better that most of the other things my teachers so earnestly tried to impart.
Example: A chanty sort of song--
School's out, school's out!
The teacher let the mules out.
One ran east; one ran west.
One ran up the teacher's dress!
We preferred that one to the more sedate No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks.
We thought that song was fall-down hilarious--a mule running up a teacher's dress. The physics of a mule's running up a woman's dress did not concern us, nor did the question about why no mules elected to run north or south. (Nor NNE.) Just stubbornness, I guess.
But "getting out of school" was a pleasure unsurpassed by any other in my boyhood. Even being sick with chickenpox was preferable to doing worksheets on commas at a hard desk bolted to the floor. Because even with the pox, you see, I was at home--not in school!
In my elementary years, field trips were rare. Field trips by bus occurred, roughly, never. We walked to the Post Office to buy our Liberty Stamps. And, once, we walked over to the nearby Phillips University (defunct) campus, the school where my grandfather and father taught, the school where my parents met, to see the caged rattlesnakes collected during one of the annual "round-ups" in the Sooner State.
I was in third or fourth grade, and we marched over to the campus, in the words of our teacher, "single file, Indian style." At the campus, some Old Gray Guy in a white shirt and stained tie talked about snakes a little bit, then ushered us into a little room where wire cages were stacked floor to ceiling. Inside each cage was an unhappy rattler. The Old Gray Guy in the white shirt's warning about keeping our hands at our sides did not affect a few rebels among us, several of whom scraped the backs of their fingers across the wire as they passed by, inviting the snakes to rattle even more loudly. Some were coiled; some struck at the cages, diamond heads banging against wire; all were rattling as if they'd heard Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour was holding auditions for the loudest rattle. (Ted Mack's, for those of you who are youthfully challenged, was, oh, a primitive version of American Idol--see link: Ted Mack.)
May I say I was scared? (Did I wet my pants? I don't think so. Of course not. Impossible.) But I had a thought I'd never in my academic life entertained before: I want to be back in school!
In Enid, Oklahoma, we never got a Snow Day, never once, never close. But we did sometimes get sent home early when the western sky boiled red with an approaching dust storm. Home I went, Cub Scout scarf tied bandit-style across my face, braving the prairie winds ... We were tough in them days.
My first year in Hiram, Ohio, by contrast, we once got four consecutive Snow Days (I'm capitalizing because of the Importance of those words)--Monday through Thursday. And I first had the thought that it was no coincidence that Hiram and Heaven shared some of the alphabet. We took very few field trips, though. I do remember one to the Metropolitan Opera (touring) in Cleveland, but that may have occurred on a weekend. Which doesn't count. We also had very few assemblies, save the Friday afternoon pep rallies for our pathetic basketball team (on which I "played") and for some awards now and then. But at least we were not in class. Oh, and each grade (7th grade, 8th grade, etc.) got excused in the afternoon, once a year, to decorate the gym for it class-sponsored dance. Ribbons of crêpe paper festooned wherever. Folding card tables. Wooden folding chairs. Many in the class just slumped in the bleachers--free! Just waiting for the final bell.
When I arrived in Hiram in 1956, the Executive Head of the schools was Mr. Harrison, who was about as laid back a school administrator as the Hen of Education ever laid. Witness: When we had a study hall (and we all had study halls--one year I had four in a row, every day!), we could leave the room merely by putting our initials on the study hall blackboard. We could be gone all period. We could leave the building and go downtown. "Downtown," I hasten to add, comprised one building holding several enterprises. No one seemed to care, least of all Mr. Harrison, whom I once, accidentally, hit with a snowball when he turned the corner of the building at an unfortunate moment. He did not know who did it because all he saw was the white whirlwind trailing behind my Speedy-Gonzalez exit.
Holidays? We had a few days at Thanksgiving, a week or ten days at Christmas, Good Friday. Spring Break was a rumor, a delicious but impossible rumor.
Tomorrow--And how did I feel about days off as a teacher?