Remembering June

              Remember June when you were a kid? It was warm outside and the last thing you wanted to do was sit in a classroom.  Yet, you had to endure exams even if you wanted to be playing baseball, or skipping rope, or just doing nothing. Remember when exams were over, and it seemed silly to still be in school?  But those days at the end of June were a nice breather—the teachers were a little more relaxed (once they got the exams marked) and many a June day was spent outside with your class under a shade tree, listening to the teacher read a book, or using art class to sketch a little nature, or doing a science project which entailed examining a pail of water with tadpoles and other tiny life forms found in a nearby mud puddle, or if you were lucky, the creek.

            June was also the month when teachers found time to take students on nature hikes or a picnic at the park.  It also featured the end of the year party. That party was always fun, but you knew once the summer was over, you were another year older, and in another grade which expected more of you than the grade you were currently in.

            One of the fun things that happened in June when I went to a one room school house was that we sang a lot. We had a music teacher come in during the week, but every day our regular teacher would lead all the grades from one to eight in a sing song. One of my favourite songs was “Puff the Magic Dragon”, the words of which take me back to a time of innocence, when summers went on forever and growing up seemed far away. The song, written by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) and Leonard Lipton is based on a poem Lipton wrote in 1959. (info from Wikipedia)

            Examined more closely from an adult perspective, it is actually quite sad—it is the story of a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the things of youth and belief in the imaginary. To jog your memory, here are a few verses from the song:

1. Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.
2. Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whenever they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name.
3. A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
4. His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.  

          

Puff, the Magic Dragon

Puff, the Magic Dragon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  I am not going to ruin a song from my youth with rumours of what some of the words “really meant”—I am taking them at face value. And at face value they tell the story of growing up.

            As adults we can capture the children we once were with memories of songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon”. We can remember those days with a fond nostalgia that does not have to be lost. The days with seemingly no responsibility, when our parents sent us out to “play” and we were not confused as to what to do—we rode our bikes, went to the store for popsicles, explored nearby creeks, read while sitting in our favourite tree, played a game of baseball that needed no adult supervision or organization, discovered fairy rings, or just lay on the lawn seeing what we could see in the clouds.

           

Is June the beginning of summer bliss? According to Wallace Stevens: “A summer night is like a perfection of thought.”

A memorial of sorts

One Room School

One Room School (Photo credit: W9NED)

This is a shortened version of my column for the newspaper:

Sometimes writers need prompts. Something to get the juices flowing. This morning a prompt from WordPress read: “A place from your past or childhood, one that you’re fond of, is destroyed. Write a memorial.”

And do you know what immediately came to mind? The one room school house that I attended for the first four years of my school life. It was called  Zion — and yes, we walked about a mile and a half to school (it seemed like five miles) but not in bare feet, or in ten feet of snow.

I cannot remember when the school was torn down, but whenever I pass the spot where it stood, a wave of nostalgia passes over me. I wish it were still standing, though if it were, it would probably have been turned into someone’s residence as so many of the smaller schools have been. Students who attended these schools were eaten up by either regional or town schools, but their experiences at the one room schools would never be lost.

I loved and hated that school. We were exposed to such a variety of kids that it really did stand us in good stead for a life that is made up of all kinds of people, and not just kids our own age. You learned how to cope, how to get along, and you learned that life was not always easy.

What I loved about the school was the fact that we were exposed to a unique learning experience. We learned our lessons, but were able to “listen in” on the lessons of the other grades, and if you were an eager student you garnered an education above your years. We did a lot of things together as a whole school. We played baseball together; we had a school choir where we competed at a yearly concert; we practiced for the yearly Christmas concerts together; and we exchanged names for Christmas gifts.  You were just as likely to end up with some grade eight boy’s name, as the girl who sat next to you in your grade.

What I hated about the school were the things most students would hate about any school—if you were picked on, or you were not quite up to snuff in sports, or if you were the teacher’s pet. But those were all valuable learning experiences as well, if not the most pleasant. (I still remember being taught how to make an iceball—a snowball with ice in the middle that hurt like heck if you got hit with it.)

One of the best things about a one room school for me was that the teacher had to divide her time among all the grades, so when she was not teaching you, you had all the time in the world to do your lessons, then read as much as you wanted. Since I loved to read, this was a real bonus for me.

After grade four,  I was moved to a regional school and put in a classroom of kids who were my own age. It was quite a transition. We had a teacher who was available to us all throughout the day, which was a good thing, but left little time to be on your own.

I am glad that I got to experience both ways of being educated. I would never give up the things I learned at the one room school house. To this day, I miss being able to see a piece of my history. The school was the same one my parents and aunts and uncles attended, and even some of my grandparents.  It was the true essence of community.

I will never bid a fond farewell to Zion—it will always be fraught with sadness.

Where is the bliss? Not in the fact that the school was torn down, but in the fact that it was a piece of my history. What piece of your history is missing, but still remembered?