My parents informed me that they will be attending a celebration of my childhood school, Dufferin Elementary before it gets torn down or whatever the local school board plans to do, since all three of their children attended it. With the news comes some pangs of nostalgia. I’ve started to collect and list some memories I have, and may add more in time as they emerge into my mind…
- On my first day of school I announced to my mom that I didn’t need her to walk with me because I already knew the way! We had been practising over the summer, and I was feeling pretty confident. Plus, the two neighbour girls were heading my way, so we went together. She did end up popping by my class later on, having forgotten to give me a snack! I think the snack was sunflower seeds.
- A vague memory of growing plants in styrofoam cups and lining them up next to the window.
- Another vague memory of trying to tie my shoe laces on my little Keds.
- Being bad… I knocked down a boy’s block construction, a kind of igloo he had made, with him still underneath the blocks.
- Being good… The teacher was distracted, in some intense conversation with the school Principal while all of us children were waiting, sitting in a circle. I launched into spontaneous song, something about “We all love each other!” and started the kids swaying back and forth. The teacher stated that she appreciated how we loved each other, but to essentially shut up while she was in adult conversation. Sob!
- Being given the honour of playing “Mary” in the Christmas pageant, but then peeing on stage either out of nerves or just not being prepared. Strangely enough, the other children never ridiculed me for this. I remember wearing white stockings and that one of the shepherds started crying and his parents had to remove him from the stage. A very stressful performance!
- Over the summer I had run my first road race at the Red Bay day celebrations. Since Dufferin did not have any structured sports program (we were pretty small), and I really wanted to compete at the local Cross-country running race at Harrison Park, I convinced the school and my friends to enter a team. We ended up getting first place as a team, and I had a third place finish. The school even made an announcement of our success over the P.A. system.
- I remember being suspicious of my teacher. It was the early 1980s when big hair and garish make-up was the norm, but I was convinced that she must actually be a man in disguise. I could think of no other reason why anyone would want to wear so much make-up except for disguise. This thought stems from an earlier assumption that women who wore make-up were clowns. I knew they were women, but the make-up just threw me for a loop…
- We had an awesome playground, and at one point I was dangling from the monkey bars when a friend started swinging me back and forth. Eventually my grip slipped and I went hurtling into the air. I ended up spraining my arm and was most pleased to have to wear a sling for a few days.
- It was a major accomplishment to walk over the high set of rainbow bars, no hands, no fear.
- The playground was the site of many a “kissing tag” chase. I do recall having a long string of boyfriends. I was a real player in elementary school, but my best buddies were Michael Middlebro and Joe Cumming who both lived nearby and played street hockey and capture-the-flag with me and all the kids on Seventh Street West, a convenient dead end where everyone learned to ride their bikes.
Grade Two, Three, Four, Five (a bit of a blur):
- I could not comprehend the telling of time. It was a real frustration to grasp a quarter to, or a quarter after, and half past. I’m not sure how long it took before it all clicked in my mind. Learning my times-tables were equally as challenging.
- Overall, I was a very good student and liked to get good grades, in contrast to my older brothers. I loved to read, and can remember our School Librarian. He wore tweed jackets with leather elbow pads, and was balding. I think his name was Mr. Gzowski, or perhaps I’m confusing him with the CBC persona? He always had great books to recommend, and I even joined his chess club, although I was terrible at the game!
- Around Grade Two or Three, my mom remembers that she drove by the school one day during recess and noticed that I was the only girl playing soccer on the field. I absolutely loved soccer! I also had a distinct distaste for the games, like hopscotch or skipping that most of the girls played. Even though I did not seek female friendship, I remember being annoyed that all the girls wanted to be my partner and befriend me. This one girl in particular chewed and gnawed on her fingernails, so her hands were always moist or bleeding. It was the worst having to hold her hand as a partner.
- I did cultivate “best friends” with Sari Connell and my neighbour Liz Grace. I remember it was a highlight to get to play Barbies with Liz, because I was never given any (she had loads!). And, it was awesome to play video games with Sari, whose mom managed the local arcade in the mall.
- My first official boyfriend, Otto was bestowed upon me in Grade 5 (he was a year younger!). I remember feeling badly because on a walk home in the snow I accidentally smeared neon Zinka on his cool “Sun Ice” jacket. I stuck by him even after my best friends dumped their boyfriends (his mutual friends), but then it just faded away. We did kiss at night on the street, with the snow falling once. How romantic.
- There was one Chinese family at my school, and I was really fascinated with Nina Wong, in my class. She had me over for dinner, and even brought me a brooch from China, which I adored. I think the allure was also heightened by my learning about China in the National Geographic magazine.
- A boy that I befriended, on request of my dad who was a Pediatrician was named Sajeed. His family was one of the only Indian families at our school, and poor Sajeed was in and out of hospital, and cultivated very few friendships. I remember some boys in our neighbourhood teasing us that he was my boyfriend, and I got really defensive. I feel sad that I was not a better friend to him before he passed away of Leukemia. His parents re-named him Muhammed and then moved back to the city.
- Our teacher was “Mr. B.” (short from Mr. Balls… which must have been brutal before caller I.D.) who I remember being gruff, slightly overweight with a goatee beard, and a tad sexist. My mom recalls being insulted when he confided in her that he noticed I was becoming quite the feminist, and he had no idea where I got that from!
- There was one Aboriginal girl placed in our class, from out of town… perhaps from a local reservation. She would arrive for a few days, then disappear for a week, and return randomly. I was really curious about her, but she was so shy and sullen. I remember that some of us girls decided to “cheer her up” with a song called “Shannon Came Back” – comparable to “The Cat Came Back.” I can imagine that it was not a comfort to her, and I feel sad thinking of her.
- My next “serious” boyfriend was named Travis, or “freckle-frog Travis” most of us endearingly called him (poor kid!). We kissed while dangling on top of the metal soccer net posts, but the relationship also faded away despite our initial passion. I remember in the middle of the summer being shocked at the realization that I hadn’t called him for weeks, or vice versa! Oops.
- I think I did go on a date with Travis… I believe we went to the movies and saw “Three Men and a Baby” (1987). All I remember was holding hands, kissing, and then getting mononucleosis not long after. I had the most horrific symptoms, as my whole body ignited in fever and then a festering skin rash, which even calamine lotion could not relieve. I thought I would never recover. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t call Travis back? My parents have no recollection of this horrible ordeal.
Throughout my years at Dufferin school I cherished the walk home in the snow the most! It seemed like every winter the snowbanks were at least four feet high, and it took hours to get home as impromptu snowball fights would ignite, or one would just get distracted and lie down for awhile in your snowsuit, gazing at the snow drifting down.
The only walk home I hated was the time an older boy named Ron Gillespie dunked my head in the snow out of rage. It was actually another group of kids heckling him, so I thought I was safe. I vowed to take revenge on him, and enlisted myself in Judo classes. Unfortunately, the Judo classes conflicted with Saturday morning cartoons, so I only lasted one or two sessions. While we did not own a television, my parents would rent a TV over the Christmas holidays, or I would have sleep-overs at my friends’ places so that I could enjoy “The Gummy Bears,” “She-Ra,” or whatever show was hot.
There were also a few instances when the school got closed down because of snowstorms blowing in off of Georgian Bay. I especially loved when the “snow day” turned into a “snow week” off school because the entire town of Owen Sound was completely immobilized, including the snow plows due to the massive dumping we had. It was idyllic. Tobogganing down the local hill, building snow forts, drinking hot chocolates, going to Harrison Park. A childhood dream come true.
While my Dufferin years were pretty wonderful, Junior High at Hillcrest and High School at West Hill proved to be a real mixed bag and emotional roller coaster full of teen angst and acne, but I’m grateful that my early school years were relatively positive and joyful.