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School Days

At 20 minutes to 7, a cheery voice called from the hallway below, "Hello!" 

I looked down over the banister, and shouted a welcome in the direction of the woman with short auburn hair and vibrant blue eyes; my friend Carolyn.

"You're probably thinking I'm early, but I'm not staying," she said, her voice husky with congestion, and coughs punctuating her words.

"I'm sick and I don't want to spread it to everyone else, but I just had to drop off your copy of my book!"

The book, Pine Warbler, is Carolyn's third, and one of the endorsements of her writing, at the beginning of the book, is mine. Exciting!

I followed Carolyn out to her car to pick up another copy of the book from her trunk. A September heatwave has enveloped Ontario and late in the day, the air outside was still hot. Against her protests about not wanting to spread whatever she was fighting off, I hugged her goodbye, and went back inside as she drove off, just as other writing friends arrived.

In the end there were just six of us, as several couldn't make it tonight. As I had anticipated, the topic "School Days," elicited creative responses.

Debbie said that she hadn't written about the evening's topic, but shared a speech she's giving this weekend on the disease she survived 5 years ago; ovarian cancer. When she finished the speech, which chronicled a journey none of us would wish to take, sharing all the things she had learned along the way; we insisted that she had indeed written about the topic, even if she didn't think she had!

Susan Starrett wrote about her favourite school day memory--recess! She wrote in slam poetry, a word picture that had us laughing and remembering, it was so vividly evocative, describing the games we all played and the wildly spinning pieces of playground equipment, long removed from the safety conscious playgrounds of today.

I shared the blog post I wrote yesterday, including my friend Dave's comment at the end, about life classes he's had to retake, which made everyone laugh.

Magda wrote her memories of school in one room country schools in Canada after leaving her homeland of Holland, just before the end of her first school year; of an ill-equipped teacher who forced Magda, a left handed child, to write with her right hand until her parents intervened, and who flew into a rage at the children one day when she was unable to maintain classroom discipline with the older boys and took it out on two little six year old girls because they were talking to one another. She told them they would be strapped, even though she had told Madga to help the other girl, who was having difficulties, and that was why she was talking to her. She refused to listen though and told them that they could choose between being strapped immediately, or at 12 o'clock. The other girl chose to be strapped right away, while Magda chose the later time, having a getaway plan in mind. She remembers running home to the calls of the older girls shouting that the strap didn't really hurt that badly. 

It turned out as we talked, that three of the other writers in the room had been strapped in school. It is hard to imagine that anyone thought this was okay at one time, not so long ago. Parents would say, "You must have done something to deserve it," if a child complained, and often add their own punishment to reinforce solidarity with the teacher.

Gail read two poems recalling the magical hiding places found by children when they want to escape.

We laughed and cried a little at the stories that tumbled out one after the other. School days had traumatized some, and shaped all of us. Magda said that just writing about it was healing.

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye again. I walked out with my friends, into the dark driveway. A hot breeze still blew, feeling like air from a heating vent in winter. School days may be back, but there remains a bit of summer to enjoy, even now!


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