Sunday, March 1, 2015

A to Z: P for Paradise Elementary School

A Cement Pole and a Carton of Milk

I would have named the school something else. It was anything but Paradise.

But, before we get into all of that...a little back-story.

We were sitting in the kitchen in our home in Kinzers. My first home. It was sandwiched between the well-traveled Route 30 and railroad tracks - which set a few feet up from our garden behind our barn. I loved that house, but I'm thinking now it's not a place I'd would want to raise my girls. Fast traffic in the front. Roaring trains in the back. I do, however, owe my strong throwing arm to those trains that went whizzing by. I often would pick up rotten tomatoes and throw them towards the tracks hoping to hit my moving target. Yes, they were rotten ones, Mom. Mostly...I think.

What's the statute of limitations on being grounded?

It was dinner time and we were - as we always did - eating together. Our table was a white-topped semi-circle with a bread box or some kind of pantry built into the center of it along the wall. I can't remember what delicious meal my mom had made. All I remember is lots and lots of tears.

When they broke the news to me, my eight-year-old world was crushed. Crumpled. Impounded and left in rubble and ruin. I threatened to run away..far away! Probably to the tree house that sat right outside in the backyard. I threatened to take the air out of all the tires on all the bulldozers. This was my first tragedy as the middle child. This change didn't affect my youngest brother at the time. He was only three. Four at the most. My older brother was already in middle school...or was going to middle school so his scenery wasn't so much changing, but rather just new. I had to change schools! At that time, I was in third grade and I remember three things about that grade: Mrs. Phillips (my homeroom teacher), Mrs. Shearer (my math teacher) and Julie (the girl of my dreams). There were also many friends I'd be leaving behind that I wouldn't see for another two years. I wouldn't have cried more if my mom had served monkey brain that night.

Nonetheless, my parents said it. And what they said changed my life.

"We're moving."

World. Crushed.

I hated fourth grade. Most of it anyway. Ms. McG was an alcoholic who couldn't park her car and wore the same awful blue-patterned dress pretty much every day. Being bullied didn't help the situation. I remember being pounded over the head with textbooks on the bus. I also remember a handful of hair being ripped from my scalp. Same bus trip. 

I do miss that hair though.

I probably have genetics to blame for my bad back, but being dropped kicked in my lower back certainly didn't help. It knocked me to my knees. Did Ms. Drunkard do anything? No. Too busy thinking about happy hour. I didn't say anything either. I don't think I ever did. Not to teachers or my parents.

There were some bright spots. Girls. They fought over me. Or so I heard. Okay, so maybe it was just two girls, but the silver lining belonged to only one girl. Gone from my heart was Julie. Hello, Amber! To be this ga-ga over a girl so young...probably not healthy. But one particular recess I'll never forget. Well, there's two I won't forget. The one is what this whole post is about. This other particular recess is embedded into my brain forever. Because Amber could yell...loud!

She was on one end of the playground giggling and whispering with the other girls. I was on the other boyz. You know, the ones that didn't want to drop-kick me or pound me over the head. We knew Amber was talking about me. The whole playground knew it. Then, the scream that stopped the world. My cousin, Gayle, who was in 5th grade sitting in Mr. Shurr's class, heard it. The entire school heard. I believe it even stopped traffic out on Route 30.

Deep within her young lungs came the loudest, ear-piercing scream I had ever heard in my life. I still have never heard someone yell so loudly. But it was all in the words that made it one of the few silver-linings at Paradise ES.

"I LOVE YOU, RYAN!" Talk about everything coming to a dead stop. Not my heart though. It was pounding.

I'm going to digress for a moment and talk about 5th grade. This is a post about Paradise ES after all so I must leave room to mention it. Mr. Shurr, at the time, wasn't much of a step above Old Drunk Face. Although, now being a 5th grade teacher myself, he wasn't so bad. He was however, tall, a very loud talker which made him extremely intimidating. Oh, and he had thee worst handwriting ever. But Mr. Shurr did something for me that I will always cherish. It was the same thing Mrs. Phillips did for me in 3rd grade. They both read aloud to the class. These were my favorite parts of the day. He read A Wrinkle in Time and she had read Indian in the Cupboard. Because of the both of them doing this, the portal to my creativity and imagination began to open. A world was being created within me that I really didn't know existed until many years later when I decided to become a writer. To these two teachers - and to Mrs. Ranck who read Where the Red Fern Grows in 6th grade - I thank you.

Another side note: If you are a teacher/parent, please read out loud to your matter how old they are and no matter how much they say or think they hate it, it will do a world of good. It's difficult to find a child that doesn't enjoy that time with a parent and literature.

So back to the fourth grade...because I know you're waiting for the cement pole.

Being the new kid, I think I was determined to make some friends - which meant stepping out of character. I was not a bad kid. Not a trouble-maker at all. I was a bit of a show-off at times - for there were times when I was not such an introvert. I distinctly remember walking around Mrs. Phillips' room like E.T. and there was the time every kid on the bus asked for my Pee-Wee Herman autograph because I had his laugh down pat. And then there was the day where the entire cafeteria went BOOM! Okay, that may be a tad misleading. There was no "real" explosion. But there was most definitely a boom.

The cafeteria was underground. The food probably tasted like it too, but I can't remember. I usually sat with George - we had meant at Camp Donegal summer camp the previous summer, but this particular day I sat with some other guys whom I wanted to impress. There was a conversation that thinking back reminds me of the gang of geeks from Big Bang Theory. It's a conversation that, had they known each other in elementary school, they would have had...and argued about...until someone did something about it. Well, I did something about it.

The theory: An empty carton of milk, if stepped upon, will in fact make a loud noise. 

To make a long story even longer, I tested the theory.

The outcome: Yep! An empty carton milk goes boom if you step on it.

I grabbed the carton, stood up from where I was wedged in between what I hoped were new friends, placed the carton on the ground and STOMPED!

I don't know a whole lot about why certain places echo more than others, but that cafeteria echoed. Big time. Remember how Amber's declaration of love for me basically stopped traffic? Well, this was kind of the same. And my heart was yet again pounding...but, for a different reason. Everybody...and I mean EVERYBODY just stopped. The cooks, the kids...everybody. Once again I was the center of attention.

After that, not a single sound was made. The cafeteria lady walked over, lips tight and eyes-wide and dismissed everybody for recess. It was the most quiet a class had ever been while heading to recess.

There I was. Alone. Since the cafeteria was underground, the windows looked right out to the playground. Everybody and their booger-picking brother was outside looking in. At me.

The section of the cafeteria where we ate was well-lit, but there was one part - around the corner from the windows - that was dark and shadowy. But the lighting from behind this dark section made for some cool effects. I didn't think this at the time though. I was sitting alone at the table next to the scene of the crime and a long shadowy figure comes creeping out from the dark corner. It was getting closer and closer and...

Well, I knew who it was. The cafeteria lady told me who she was going to go get. His name was Humma. Mister Humma.  Short, bald and somewhat intimidating.

As the shadow approached, my heart only beat faster. Like I said, I wasn't a trouble-maker. I wasn't used to being in this position. Oh, and did I mention I was bawling like a baby. Huge tears. Choppy breaths. Everybody watching from outside.

Mr. Humma sat down next to me on one of the wooden-backed chairs. I don't remember the entire conversation, but I do remember this...

Mr. Humma told me to stand so of course I stood. In front of me, about ten feet away, stood a cement pole with a three-foot circumference. "On the count of three," he said, "I want you to run as fast as you can into that cement pole. I want you to run into that cement pole three times..."

I didn't think it was humanly possible to cry more than humanly possible. Another theory I got myself involved in that day.

He continued. "I'll make you a deal."

Oh, good! And here I thought this day wasn't going to get better.

"If your head is bleeding after the second don't have to ram it a third time."

Boy, do I have the best principal or what?!




At three, before I could even move a muscle, he grabbed my hand and sat me down. I do not remember a single word of the conversation that followed.

Appropriate punishment? Not at all.

Effective? 1000%.

Beat that, Judy Blume.

1 comment:

Ehren said...

"I do miss that hair though." Lol best line