For the life of me, I can’t remember if I was in fourth or fifth grade. But the events of that day are still vivid in my mind.
I am a baby-boomer, though I didn’t realize it growing up. I was born a couple of years after the end of the war. We lived in a bustling river town about 45 miles west of Chicago.
My dad worked at a lumber yard in a bigger town ten miles north. He was the first employee hired by the partners who started the company. One story he loved to tell illustrates the times. There was so much demand for lumber they had to scratch to find it wherever they could around the country. He would tell about going to the train yard on a cold autumn morning to check a shipment from Georgia. When they opened the door on the boxcars that pine was so wet and green that the steam just rolled out.
I experienced the boom when I started school. Shelby School was an old brick building with six class rooms and a kindergarten wing. Instead of having grades K though 6th, there were so many kids in town they needed two rooms each for 1st through 3rd, the same being true with the other schools in town.
The year I got to fourth grade, four new elementary schools opened. Fourth grade was the only class in the schools the first year. The next year they add fifth and then sixth the year following.
Davis School was a nice modern building. There was even a small gym. You should probably know that I didn’t care much for PE. Being a “husky” kid I couldn’t run, jump or shoot baskets worth a hoot. One day though, PE went clear through the floor: they announced we were going to square-dance. Boys and girls together. Mortified, I was certain I would be infested with cooties.
The morning came and I feigned illness. Mom saw right through me. I dallied at breakfast. Threateningly Mom said, “You’d better get moving or you’ll miss the bus.”
Moping, I started out. I had to walk north to the end of the block, turn left at the corner and go to the next corner.
It was late winter. It would snow a little, then warm up and rain a little and then the puddles would freeze again overnight. As boys are wont to do, I was slowly moving north breaking the thin crust of ice on each puddle I encountered, hoping to miss the bus. Then, splash. I found myself sitting in a puddle with my pants soaking up the frigid water. At first I was very upset. Then it occurred to me that I might miss the bus. Oh happy day.
I went home and confronted Mom. She was not pleased. “But it was an accident,” I pleaded. She found some dry clothes and urged me to change quickly, there was still time to catch the bus.
Back out on the street I headed north. There was the puddle. I stopped and looked at it. I started out again then turned around and went back. I stood there thinking for several minutes. With the decision made, I slowly sat down in the puddle. Now I would miss the bus for sure.
When I got home, Mom was standing in the open door looking like she would explode. “I slipped aga…..”. “YOU DID NOT,” she said very loudly.
It seems I made a critical error as I was reasoning at the puddle. I neglected to factor in that the puddle was in front of my aunt’s house. Mom had called her to watch for me as I headed back to the bus. She of course witnessed the whole thing and called Mom back before I got there.
I paid dearly for my sin.
“But Mom, I missed the bus.” “You are going to school,” she said with more ice in her voice than there had been in that puddle. The last clean pair of pants in the house was too short and made of hot, itchy wool. She put me in a taxi with a note to my teacher. Arriving late and looking frumpy, I had to endure the jeers of my classmates and the stern look from my teacher. The greatest humiliation of the day, though, was that I had to square-dance…….. with girls.