Al Batt: I can still fit into my old school classroom

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

One of us had a pet rooster named Gary.

My primary school class was made of equal amounts of good intentions and mischief. Naps were supposed to settle us down, but just as we’d fallen asleep in a lake of drool, it was time to wake up.

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We had a water fountain in the corner of the classroom, which fostered a need to raise our hands when we needed to use the restroom. “May I go to the boys’ lavatory?” I’d say, making sure my teacher knew where I was headed.

Good food was a thing. Our school lunch program offered delicious food. We knew kids from other schools. They told stories of victuals that tasted like Vicks Vaporub and were best suited for the Book of Revelation. We never had a single child starve to death at our school.

A PK (preacher’s kid) showed me how I could eat white paste to stave off starvation. I never got that hungry. Another kid told me to never lick a pencil sharpener.

We played basketball. There were two teams and one coach who sat between the two squads. “Get in there and guard Tommy. Don’t let him shoot,” he’d tell me. Then he’d lean the other way and tell Tommy, “If Al guards you, you should be able to score at will.” Tommy wondered who Will was, but that’s another story. One coach in charge of two teams during March Madness is unlikely.

There were countless funny sounds that made it impossible not to laugh in class. Only Sunday School presented a greater challenge. Stifling a sneeze is easier than suppressing a laugh.

The playground had a slide, a treacherous teeter-totter, swing set, merry-go-round, slide and monkey bars. Monkey bars taught kids to deal with pain and parents to deal with doctor bills.

Norman absentmindedly whistled when he was working with blunt scissors and construction paper. Each student took a turn serving as a bad example. Troublemakers were kids who brought comic books to school.

We loved our teachers. It was the clergy that frightened us. We liked some teachers so much, we hated moving up the grade ladder.

Our school produced no Rhodes Scholars unless you count Ronnie, a Roads Scholar who operates the township grader. No one went to Oxford, but some students wore them.

I started school with a Big Chief notebook made of newsprint paper with wide-spaced lines making it easier to use for those learning to write and Ticonderoga #2 yellow pencils. The notebook was replaced later by a spiral-bound notebook. The pencils slept in a pencil box that kept them from going berserk. Pencils and BIC pens were chewed, which provided important sources of fiber for students. Each pupil had an eight- or 16-count box of Binney & Smith’s Crayola crayons without the macaroni and cheese color. I got a box of 32 colors for a high school graduation gift. No batteries or charging cords were required.

Chalkboards led to erasers in need of cleaning. The lucky child doing that coveted job became engulfed in a cloud of chalk dust. “A fiery horse with a speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty ‘Hi-yo, Silver!’ The Lone Ranger!” I’d say to no one’s amusement but my own.

We listened to vinyl records played on a record player. My favorite was Sergei Prokofiev‘s “Peter and the Wolf,” a symphonic fairy tale for children written in 1936. The narrator told a story, while an orchestra illustrated it by using different instruments to represent each character. It rocked before things did. It inspired us to sing as they did on “The Andy Griffith Show.” One of us hit a high note and neutered Einar’s parakeet a block away. We each played the flutophone, which caused every dog in town to howl along in agony. The only one that didn’t was Nolan’s big yellow dog that was deaf.

Each day, Mom asked what I’d learned in school. I typically said, “Nothing,” but often told of a funny thing that happened in school that my teacher didn’t get.

We had Dick and Jane primer books. Dick excelled at pointing and saying things like, “Look, Jane, Sally, Spot, Puff, Al, or whoever you are, see tater tot hotdish.”

Sometimes, I whistle like Norman and pretend I’m back in that tiny classroom.

That’s when I take Dick’s advice and look, making sure not to look at someone else’s paper.

Sometimes I see tater tot hotdish.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.