Various Veins

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I went to the closing ceremony at Maple Lane Public School on Friday, knowing it was the last chance to visit the familiar building. I won't repeat the formal history. You've read it, probably. Besides, I only experienced the years when it housed Grades 7 and 8.

The students' recitations were outside the reach of my hearing aids but their movements spoke of much rehearsal and enthusiasm.

Mayor Stephen Molnar's voice fell well within my hearing, and his memories are in the era with mine. They are different, his being from the student's view, mine from staff.

Speakers made it clear that the building has little to do with how the lives of students are directed into the many paths that lead to all parts of the world. Much praise was heaped on staff, teachers and custodians for dedication to the students. It may be that the students themselves have much to do with how lives unfold, the effects of friendship and rivalry equally part of the process.

The building did contribute to the flow of learning. I remember a few kids almost in tears during the hectic days of a new order. They came from schools where they stayed in the same room all day. Itinerant teachers came to them for music, art, and so on. Here the kids moved from room to room which required memorizing the geography of halls.

They had to learn to adapt to the expectations of very different personalities, too. I have heard from kids who listened to my roaring. It penetrated walls. They didn't know a lot of the noise was pure acting, although I could be roused to more dangerous moods.

One memory came to the fore on Friday. Doug Dutton was coaching basketball after school hours. He whipped the ball over his shoulder from one end of the gym to the other. It passed through the net with a whoosh! Doug said something to the effect, 'that's how you do it!' He didn't try it again that day.

Another scene arose. It was near Christmas. The staff was performing a skit on stage in the gym. Over the PA came the song, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. I was Grandpa, a beer swilling card player who interrupted his game to beg Grandma not to venture out into the raging snowstorm to deliver cookies. She did indeed get run over by the phys ed teacher wearing a massive rack of antlers! It was a spectacular sight!

On another day we were rehearsing in the gym for Pirates of Penzance. I was lounging on a scaffold against the back wall waiting for the cue to train a spotlight on the stage. The house lights were off. My cue came. When I stood up, the mother of one of the stars who was sitting on a chair right below me nearly had a paroxysm of fright. She thought I was a mannikin, part of the scenery.

Although I taught other subjects, my primary job was teaching Industrial Arts. In a shop equipped with many sharp edges it was not unusual for some blood to be spilled. One day a lad was turning a wooden bowl on a lathe. The bowl was rotating fairly slowly when he raised a chisel to point out what he intended to do next. I said, "Don't!"

It was too late. The lathe whipped the chisel back toward his left arm. It slashed only deep enough to expose a white layer of fat. Blood oozed up into the gaping slit.

I summoned the vice-principal to come and take the lad to emergency. He took one look and whirled toward the door. "You better hang onto him," I said. "He may be going to faint!"

"So am I," said the the VP.

It was little things like this that moved me to retire a year before I reached maximum pension.

After we were dismissed on Friday, I approached a man to ask his name and role. Chris Henry, custodian. The custodian, the person students go to for comfort when teaching staff has pushed them too far! That carried me back to high school in the 1940s. Has anyone written a book about the importance of custodians?

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