Thursday, April 21, 2011

It might be called the state militia, the state troopers, or. . .the Safety Patrol!

From 5th grade on I wanted to be a "SAFETY!" I remember so well how we would say "SAFETY" with awe in our voice. "You know Jim. He's a SAFETY!" or "Careful, here comes a SAFETY!" A "safety" of course, was a member of the Safety Patrol, charged with crowd control when kids were lining up to get on their buses or to have lunch in the cafeteria. In thinking back on it, I now realize there was something minorly fascist about the organization. In fact, I think that's what I liked about it. You got to wear a sort of bandolero minus the bullets with a badge that said you were a member of the patrol. Also, you got to push kids around, and you couldn't get in trouble for it. I remember the "safeties" in our 6th class were Jim Boniface, who always got to do the responsible things, and a tall girl, whose name I have lost over the years. I imagine she was appointed for her height. I remember before Jim would go on patrol each day, which got him excused from class a couple minutes early, he would remove his safety bandolero and badge from his desk, where he had it folded up just so. I think they probably taught the safeties how to do that, kind of like how you learn to fold the flag in Cub Scouts. Jim would unwrap that white belt slowly, then strap it on, and sashay out the door, ready to do battle against the forces of pushing and running. Jim and the tall girl were good safeties. They never abused their power.

I do remember a couple of martinets, though, who flaunted their safety powers at the expense of mere kids. One was a large, mean girl, who I only encountered during the course of one week in elementary school. She was the muscle for a fat, little bus driver, who drove with an iron foot and brooked no misbehavior. For one week, the fat driver drove our bus as the mean safety stood facing the seats, glaring us all down, while our regular driver was absent for some reason. If you even spoke above a whisper, she would rumble back to your seat, pull you up by the arm, then crash you back down. This doesn't sound like much now, but the pure "elementary" violence of it frightened us. I've wondered if they were a permanent substitute driver and safety team, too mean to have their own bus run. I've also wondered if the driver and the safety were father and daughter, because they had the same pig eyes.

The other martinet was a classy one, a senior who patrolled the halls around the cafeteria, when I was in 7th grade. He was a good-looking athletic guy, who when he saw the slightest suggestion of misbehavior or the presence of someone in a hall that was closed during lunch, would dash at top speed, grab the perp by the collar, and read him the proverbial "riot act." I never got in any trouble with this senior safety, but often saw him in action, and probably thought he was pretty cool.

I can't recall the presence of safety patrol after 7th grade. Perhaps, it was a late casualty of the groundswell against Joe McCarthy and his House on Un-American Activities Committee. Seriously, I wonder if it still exists. Is there a place where the term "SAFETY" still creates awe.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Drawin' and Marchin'

I am doing my best to knock the socks off my writer’s block, and that’s a truly strange image. To do so, I have clarified an idea for a summer play and am grinding at it. Also, I’m burning the “Daylight” in my room to help combat my seasonal associative disorder, (SAD), I believe they call it. I thought a trip to Dubois Hill might also perk me up amidst this long, cold winter of my creative dysfunction.

In my last post, I wrote about 2nd through 6th grades, and the teachers I remember from then. Junior High is the next logical place to disinter some recollections, but before I do, I need to recall a couple more memorable characters from Bay Road School. The first was our art teacher. I’m not sure of her name. Something like Miss or Mrs. Hertel? I can see her smile, and I remember how wonderful a teacher she was, and how she supported and nurtured my creativity. I wasn’t sure if I had any talent with pencils or pastels or paint, but she assured me that I did and invited me to be a member of art club. Bay Road School Art Club met after school in the art room once or twice a month. We sat at tables or on the floor or out in the hall and did our “art.” I remember someone working on a giant comic strip and someone painting the view from inside a house through a window. My personal favorite creation came when Miss H had us make a strange shape, and then craft a picture from that shape. Somehow mine became a cowboy with a huge hat, a stagecoach behind him, some cactus, and boot hill. I liked it, but our teacher just loved it. She told me it was wonderful. Time passed, and I kind of forgot about my cowboy art, but then Bay Road had an evening festival or fair for students and parents. There on the wall of the hall, as I passed by with my mom and dad, hung my surreal cowboy. There were people looking at it and enjoying it. I have never forgotten that moment.

My other memorable character was Mr. Bob Cobbett, our gym teacher and the hairiest man I have ever encountered in my life. We fifth graders were amazed at the hirsute nature of this very likeable man. Hair curled out of Mr. Cobbett’s collar, out of his sleeves, and he looked like he was wearing dark mittens all the time. PE was different in the late 50’s. One of our activities was marching. We learned all about “dress right dress” and “to the left” and “at ease” and such, and marched along the lines on the gym floor. At that time in history, society still must have been enough enamored of the military-industrial complex, or whatever it was called, to feel that a good thing for 11 year olds to learn was “present arms.” My other memory of 6th grade gym is a bit of a nightmare. I believe that 6th grade was the first year we had to wear gym suits, t-shirts and shorts with Webster Physical Education or something printed on them. I don’t know if there is still a school in the world that requires uniform exercise gear, but those were different times. Anyway, one day I made the horrible mistake of wearing a pair of boxer shorts to school on gym day. The lengthy boxers were longer than my gym shorts. Try as I would, I could not pull them up far enough to make them invisible. As my underwear was showing, I was picked on unmercifully. At one point, Mr. Cobbett walked past me and patted me on the back as if to say, “Sorry, buddy, but whatever you do, don’t wear those shorts again.” He was a nice man.

So ends most of my elementary school reminiscence, but one observation still remains. When I think about my classmates in elementary school, I have male dominated memories. When I think of 7th grade, though, suddenly there are a lot of feminine faces and shapes wandering about my recollections. Like a school day, biology, too, has a strict schedule.