Posted 8/25/21

WOODWORKING BY DAVE WOOD 'See Dave fit in' I'm certainly glad that I'm past the age of being a student and teacher. Day after day the newspapers tell me that such and such a …

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'See Dave fit in'

I'm certainly glad that I'm past the age of being a student and teacher. Day after day the newspapers tell me that such and such a district has once again changed its plan for opening and now third graders will go to school on even days of the week, etc. etc. All because of either politics or more recent worries about the pandemic.

In my day openings of the school year were far simpler, but not without drawbacks. I well remember my first day of school, “Now behave yourself and don't forget to go to the outhouse after lunch.” Ma thrust a new Mickey Mouse-stenciled lunchbox into my smarting fists, which had been scrubbed to a scarlet hue only minutes before. It was September 1942, we lived on a little farm in a place called Rat Coulee, hard by the larger Larkin Valley, and I was off on the first leg of my 35-year jaunt through academe. I stumbled over the flexible hose jutting out of the Briggs & Stratton engine that ran our washing machine (no electricity on our farm), picked myself up and headed for the shale road where our neighbor girl, Irene Stensby, an eighth grader, waited impatiently.

As we walked south up the steep hill past Anderson's farm on the first leg of the two-mile trek to Larkin Valley School, Irene asked about my prior educational experiences in Eau Claire, from which we had recently moved.

“I only went to kindergarten for a coupla days last year.”

“How many kids in your class up there?”

“Twenty or thirty, I think.”

“BULL[expletive deleted]!” exclaimed Irene.

Half an hour later the schoolhouse came into view. Perched on the edge of a scrubby cornfield, the yellow brick structure sported a flag fluttering in the breeze, plus a woodshed and a duplex privy out back. Relieved by our arrival, Irene deserted me and I stood tentatively at the steps holding my Mickey Mouse bucket in one hand, my crotch in the other. A beautiful, lady appeared in the doorway.

“Good morning. I'm Miss Hanson. You must be David.”

“Yah, I guess so.”

I entered the little building and put Mickey and Minnie Mouse next to six dented syrup pails in the cloak room and went to meet their owners. Five foot six Barbara Plunkett, the other first grader, the other Yankee. Two third graders named Susan and Ronnie. Donny Borreson, grade five. A really big seventh grader named Lester Luken and seasoned old eighth grader Irene, who looked the other way, embarrassed for having accompanied this neophyte into the Groves of Academe.

I sat in the northeast corner, next to Miss Hanson's piano. Lester Luken whispered—and was immediately sent to the southwest corner near the potbellied wood stove, a stove which was to hiss, crackle and roast alive unruly kids in the wintry months ahead, a rural version of Dante's “Inferno.”

Miss Hanson began the day at “row 1,” first grade: “Barbara and David, here are two brand new readers. Take care of them now.” Ten minutes later we'd been introduced to Mother, Father, Dick, Jane, Spot, and Puff, a typical American family who spoke exclusively in monosyllables. Before we knew it Miss Hanson had worked her way through all the rows and was lecturing Irene about Vasco De Gama's voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.

Then it was noon and we retrieved our lunches. Lester Luken dug a cold side pork sandwich out of his pail as well as an old peanut butter jar full of warm raw milk. Lester glanced at Mickey and Minnie. “Vaired yew get dat, yew sissy?” he asked, his Scandinavian accent dripping with sarcasm.

“Ah, er, Woolworth's on Barstow Street, Eau Claire,” I stammered, tipping over my Thermos of cold Bosco. My tuna salad sandwich turned to ashes in my mouth. After what seemed an eternity, Miss Hanson began her trip down the rows again. Unfortunately, in my embarrassment over Mickey Mouse, I'd forgotten to go out back to the privy after lunch. By 3 p.m. I was bouncing back and forth in my seat like a Chinese ping pong ball.

“That's all for today, people,” said Miss Hanson.

I dashed for the outhouse, discharging ballast as I went and arrived in the “Boys” door not a little bit late, not a little bit damp. Donny Borreson called out to Lester Luken: “Gutten fra byn behover itj aa gaa paa daas!” Years later I would discover that meant. “Looks like that city slicker doesn't have to go to the toilet anymore!”

In the weeks, months, and years to come I'd learn that one finger up meant pencil sharpener, two meant a short trip to the outback and three a longer one, about the importance of grades, graduate school and academic etiquette, but not that first day.

At supper that night Ma asked how school went.

“Okay, I guess, but….”

“BUT what?”

“Ma, if we have one of those tin pails that say Karo could you put my lunch in it?”

As my brand new first grade reader would say “Fit in, Dave, Fit in. See Dave fit in.”

Dave would like to hear from you. Dial him at 715-426-9554.