We now find our hero returning to class minus one pet and...don't tell anyone...grimly fighting back tears. To add to his woes, his comely classmate has implied sotto voce he was an unfeeling creep which didn't augur well for anticipated introduction to the female mystique. But let's set the context.
Born in November 1933, I couldn't begin school until September 1940 two months short of my seventh birthday. So it follows I'd be in the older demographic. But not for long. Over
the years, my occasional anecdote for guests described my first week at school as first day first grade, second day second grade, and by end of the week third grade.
Our one-room school could accommodate up to twenty pupils, grades one through nine, but I don't recall a year with more than fifteen. Of the thirteen shown here, four succumbed to personal tragedy...suicide or mishap...before age thirty. A particularly tragic occurrence involved a gal who I'd dated a few times during high school who eventually married a local farmer. A few few short years later she and her two young children were killed instantly by a truck at a rural crossroads.
Our schoolhouse is best described as Ontario humdrum. Frame construction, faded-red metal siding, cedar shingled roof. Nubbin on the peak for the bell and a small adjunct to the entranceway for a lavatory, a wooden two-hole seat with breath-defying pit beneath. There was a lean-to woodshed on the rear. Electric lighting was from pendulum fixtures and in the center was a wood burning stove.
Running water consisted of running students who lugged drinking water from the hand-dug well on the hill of the one acre schoolyard, mostly grass. It did contain the hint of a rarely used baseball diamond...students ranging in age from six to fifteen challenged the gaming ingenuity of even the most ardent teacher. And ardency could be in short supply after a grueling winter of shepherding this age assortment of aptitudes and interests, often with a resentful teen or two who itched to graduate to the fields.
My first teacher was male but by 1941 young men were scarce on the home front. So he was followed by four young women over the next five years. Two of them did reap one bonus of teaching in this humbler environment—incoming single women sometimes wed local stalwart but older farmers who'd struck out with the local belles.
So you can imagine the challenge facing a young teacher fresh out of college who had probably been denied more gainful possibilities—with so few students and within a modest income community, our salaries were meagre. Accommodation was with a local family who provided room and meals for a fee reimbursed by the school board.
For one young woman during my tenure, her timidity was far too evident. A year of chaos ensued ...one or two older pupils probably initiated the insolence and there are always sycophants. Did her star pupil try to alleviate it? Discomfort in my recall suggests otherwise, probably taking refuge in the thought there's enough on my plate without the blemish of being labelled a teacher's pet.
My favorite grade school teacher was hired as I began grade eight. The following summer she wed our bachelor neighbour directly opposite our farm so the following year we often walked home together. I admired and appreciated her...but unfortunately then as now, school boards could reflect community prejudice.
Towards the end of her second year, she and her husband were seen with beer in their home.
The scandal! Sale of liquor was a local voter option and was banned in our community, so such rampant disregard for convention was deemed inappropriate in a classroom with innocent children. She was summarily fired.
On our way home that day, I was shocked to silence by her adult tears and close to tears myself. She was a very neat lady.
* * *
All students lived no more than a forty minute walk from class. Parents were of similar means and ethnicity with only one significant differentiation....religion. But whether Catholic or Protestant, the rule of behavior irrespective of individual antipathy was cordiality. Some neighbours might not be friends but all neighbours were kin when in need.
Need was seasonal...threshing grain in the fall months required at least twelve workers over two days or so, depending on the acreage or yield. As did other activities such as harvesting potatoes or slaughtering poultry. Ten acres of potatoes might yield one thousand seventy-five pound bags that I recall sold for a buck a bag in 1953. And with poultry, there could be two hundred hens or turkeys that had to be slaughtered and shipped quickly because without refrigeration there's a very brief storage window.
Sticking poultry was one of Dad's specialties...his pay was probably a few birds for a day's work. In the barn, hens or turkeys would be hung head down on a wire and slid along to my father. He'd pinch their beaks open, slit the back of their throats with a sharp blade, and pass them on to bleed out.
They were then dunked in hot water for plucking and taken to housewives for final cleanup which included removing pin feathers. And by age ten or so, it was my chore to haul them to the house in a wheelbarrow. So, how many each load? Too many and capsize the barrow— God forbid I deliver dirty birds...or even worse suffer guffaws from the men in the barn. Too few means more trips and less rest. Child labor, right?
Absolutely. The commitment of labor to family and to community was just one of the values instilled in my youth. And in this communal environment, complaints to parents would get very short thrift...schoolyard disagreements inevitably ended in the schoolyard.
* * *
Now possibly you've waded through this minutiae in hope of a saucy tidbit implied by the title? Larceny in the woodshed? Maybe a bootlegger's still? But surely no one in our circumspect community would suspect exploratory fondlings...
Mother could. She'd probably observed in our outhouse that the women's undergarment pages of outdated Eaton's catalogues (used for toilet paper) were especially rumpled. She also knew of my freckled classmate, three years older and with a warm disposition. And no doubt my verbal school day reports were becoming increasingly guarded. So as my tardiness grew, so did her disapproval, and Mom doubled down on her insistence for after-school punctuality.
But before we explore Sex 101 country style, I want to preface it with a collateral rite of passage because it impacted me to an extent that may sound irrational today, inundated as we are with stimuli from so many sources. But consider again my life to that date.
I had no age-relevant siblings and until six absolutely no interaction with other children. At
school, classmates were often three years older. Without radio and telephone, outside input was restricted to farm journals and rural newspapers. While we did visit mother's relatives three or four times a year, all were middle aged or elderly.
So I was naive to an unimaginable extent. An example involves my older brother. One day he swore at something, naturally out of earshot of our parents. And I can still recall young brother Stanley describing to him in meticulous detail how swearing is meaningless and illogical and pointless. My logic was impeccable but only to my innocent psyche.
Then, triggered by hormonal change and seemingly overnight, I stumbled into a harsh new rationale...the emperor of my beliefs had no clothes. And what shook me then and reinforces my recollection now was the abruptness of the change in perspective. That and the painful logic it carried—that I would never regain an unquestioning trust in truths.
The significance I've attached to this life passage may appear disproportionate. But our self resides in the protocol we use to interpret input, and the abrupt replacement of surety with doubt crashed the old self. It took me a great while, maybe through my high school years, to gradually recast doubt as inquiry. And many more to translate that inquiry into opportunity.
Back to the woodshed. Mother need not have worried. My freckled paramour was wise beyond her fifteen years and far kinder than I deserved. Which too often has been the story of my relationships.
* * *
During this blather, Ursula would discreetly roll her eyes, similar to her reaction to my name-dropping neurosis. The subsequent environmental chill would cure me for a month or so...or until my second martini.
In fact, I have no idea my rate of progression. Maybe the mother-tutored lad just held up his hand to try to answer questions above his grade level.