At A School Like This You Don’t Have To Be The Class Clown
A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster
This year is the 100th Anniversary of the opening of R.H. McGregor, my old public school in East York. I might drop down to the celebrations and talk to my old teachers. Teaching was not a well-paying career back then and most will still be working. I am looking forward to chatting with my Grade 5 teacher, Beulah Holtzman; I must ask her if she remembers my dad; she taught him in 1927 or 28, somewhere around there anyway. She will be getting on in years by now I imagine since she was white-haired even then.
When I was in Grade 7, we had a wonderful teacher, Laurie Chessum. Laurie entered our class in the Kiwanis Music Festival choir competitions in the old Eaton Auditorium. The man must have had a thing for public humiliation.
We sang Pie-hipp-peeing Ti-um of Galway. That’s important! I want you to remember that. It was ‘Pie-hipp-peeing Ti-um’, not ‘Piping Tim’ who was probably a Tim from Galway, but nowhere near as important as ‘Pie-hipp-peeing Ti-um’. Regardless which Tim it was, our choir came last. We finished before the piano.
Now I want you to think about this for a moment.
As we finished Pie-hipp-peeing Ti-um of Galway’, there was a dead silence, then a ‘plink’. I realize now, after 68 years of running the song over and over in my mind, our class may well have been bang on. I think the piano player screwed up. If it hadn’t been for the shoddy work of some horse’s ass of a piano player, our class could be making a good living now as the back-up chorus for the Irish Tenors.
However it wasn’t for music I remember Laurie Chessum. Laurie taught us boys all we would ever know about women (Not much apparently). One morning Laurie dropped the bomb during recess that girls were quite a bit more than poorly co-ordinated boys.
I don’t know why he chose that particular day, some girl must have had an accident in class or as Janet Jackson would say, a ‘wardrobe malfunction’, but a roomful of snickering and smirking Neanderthals got a 15-minute lesson on the female menstrual cycle.
In retrospect, Laurie didn’t do that great a job. Most of the boys in the class started to save for one. I wanted a Raleigh Racing Bike in the worst way, but I figured if all the other guys were going to be riding menstrual cycles, I might as well save a few more dollars and get one too.
Do you ever think about kids you knew from public school and wonder what happened to them? Isn’t it odd we remember some of the kids we played with as kids but not all? I can still picture a boy in Grade 5 named Harold. I’m not going to tell you Harold’s last name in case he grew up to become a Director of the TD Bank and seizes my account.
Harold was, I have to put this delicately since he may still be alive. Let’s just say that Harold was different. Harold shaved his eyebrows off. I have no idea why he did this, a forerunner of the skinheads of the 80s and 90s I suppose, but I was certainly impressed with his sense of adventure.
Harold was one of the boys from school your mother didn’t want you to invite home for dinner. His missing eyebrows made his eyes pop out like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein. He always looked surprised. It was hard to concentrate on macaroni and cheese when Harold was sitting across the table staring at you.
Harold’s greatest claim to fame however, wasn’t his missing eyebrows, nor his goofy glasses (coke bottle bottoms with wire frames). Harold liked to pick up fresh horse buns and chase the girls down the street. Horse buns were part of your life in the ’40s. They were everywhere, on the road, on your garden, in your shoe, and after Harold left, in your hair. To this day, my definition of a Renaissance man is a gentleman who will pick up a newly minted horse steamer in his bare hands.
I lost track of Harold a long time ago (I think the authorities must have put him away or had him put down at the behest of his neighbours.) but I often think of him. In your travels, if you ever come across a director of the TD Bank with no eyebrows and fingers so long they drag on the ground; ask him to give me a call. Just a call; I don’t want him dropping by the house. I still have my hair. I don’t need my scalp fertilized yet.
Somewhere around Grade 3 a little girl sat in the seat beside me. One morning for reasons known only to God and maybe her psychiatrist, the teacher wouldn’t let her leave the room to go to the washroom. A few teachers were mean like that. Some little squirt would be squirming, legs crossed, trying to stop the Don River from running down his or her leg and there was Miss Prim looking over her pince-nez glasses saying, “You can hold it until recess.”
I remember a kid named Cyril who did just that. Cyril held it — but he held it ‘out’. As I recall, he gathered quite a crowd. I don’t think Harold ever met him, but if he had he would have liked him. I often wonder what happened to Cyril too. He’s probably one of those strange gentlemen who stand outside a public school wearing a raincoat and rubber boots whether it’s raining or not. Now that I think about it, with a name like Cyril a kid wouldn’t stand a chance of leading a normal life.
As I started to tell you before I started rambling, the little girl couldn’t wait any longer and wet her pants. The teacher, bless her black heart, shook the living daylights out of the poor little kid. Then the old witch handed her some newsprint to soak up the mess. I can still see her down on the floor crying and wiping. It’s amazing how far that stuff will run – about four seats if it’s early September and the floor has been freshly varnished.
I’m sure the little girl got over it eventually – after years of therapy and several failed marriages. If there is any justice in this world, that teacher is sitting in the hallway of some nursing home in wet Depends. Now that I am older and not so judgmental I’ve re-thought the incident and I’ve become much more considerate of the teacher. I have no idea why she went berserk. Maybe her boyfriend dumped her, or her ‘friend’ was late. I take back the Depends business.
I think I will leave R.H McGregor for a week and get back to you next Sunday.
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