The word was ‘beautiful’.
The little kid, sitting in the middle of the third row, swung her feet which didn’t quite touch the floor and chewed on the end of her pencil, thoughtfully.
She printed beautifil and hoped for the best. Spelling test was over.
Hold out your hand. One quick sting of the strap and it was over.
One word wrong, one strap. Two words, two straps.
Though it was long ago and I have to travel far down the long, dark corridors of memories, that particular one will be etched in my mind forever.
The day I got the strap.
It came to light the other day when an old school mate came to visit.
The visit was, as it always is, punctuated with ‘remember whens’ and lots of laughter.
Of course, we did the usual talking about the grandchildren, showing off our pictures and being all proud, the way grandparents are.
And then he said ‘do you remember those oiled wood floors in the school?” I used to always get slivers in my feet because of those floors.”
It took less than a heartbeat for me to go back there to that two-room school house, which did, indeed, have oiled wood floors and about another heartbeat for me to remember when we played prisoner’s base in the basement at recess. And I remembered the classroom and the long row of windows facing west, windows where the rays of sun inevitably crept in, coloring the grey and dusty molecules of air in the classroom with mini rainbows.
As we talked, the memories came fast and furious, ricocheting off one another and bouncing about in the present like so many soccer balls.
“I don’t remember getting any slivers?” I said.
“You probably had shoes,” he said. “We never had shoes.”
“I got the strap,” I said, somewhat proudly. “For getting a spelling word wrong. Did you ever get the strap for getting a spelling word wrong?” I ask hopefully.
“I never got any spelling words wrong,” he replied, smugly.
“Of course, you didn’t.”
We laugh together, comfortably, bound forever by the invisible thread of memories, some true, some not quite so true.
Oh to be a kid again in September when threshing crews ruled and golden fields of wheat and barley were dotted with rows and rows of stooks, stretching from the edge of barbed wire fences to the end of forever, maybe even to Saskatchewan.
It was the days where rules were black and white; like the dusty white chalk and the ominous black board that covered the wall at the front of our schoolroom. It was the days when students began their day by saluting the flag and saying the Lord’s Prayer. We did it without question. In our world, there was no grey, no in betweens, no maybes.
It was the days when a teacher, even a meek, mild and gentle teacher, could wield the strap for the crime of getting a spelling word wrong and no one freaked out.
Weirdly enough, I loved that teacher. She was kind to me, even sometimes sharing the lemon tea she brought in a huge silver thermos with me and a girlfriend, quietly on the sly, after school, when the other students had gone home.
“Lemon tea,” we would say in unison, looking at each other conspiratorially, like we had this huge secret no one knew about.
And, another weird thing.
I know I will remember, now and forever, how to spell beautiful, even without spell check.
On The Other Side