Friday, January 29, 2010

Bluegills from Gallaher Elementary

Sometimes you have to squint your eyes and strain your brain real hard in order to remember.  Else you'll forget.  It's like fishing.  You throw back your arm, then whip it forward, letting go of the little button on the reel.  And the see through line whistles as it sails towards the center of the pond.  The red and white bobber goes plop, and then you wait. 

That's how I caught these memories.  I laid in bed on a Sunday morning, waiting for the red and white bobber in my brain to pop in and out of the water.  "Got one!" I said.  Actually, I got more than one.  The fish were biting.  They do that in the morning, you know.

I went to Gallaher Elementary School.  Or was it Gallagher?  I'll have to ask my mom or my oldest brother, Mike.  He's the only brother who cares about the old stuff.  It's not like I can drive down to Huntington and check the sign on the school.  Mike called one day a few years back and told me they tore the school down.  "I got some bricks," he said.  "Want one?"

Every morning, Monday through Friday, Labor Day to Memorial Day-ish, I walked to Gallagher School with my dad.  It was just five blocks.  We'd talk about everything--Alistair Cook on Masterpiece Theater, our next camping trip to Carter Caves, or Piggy Boy Twisty Tail.  He was a pig on the farm where Dad grew up, before his family moved to Charleston. 

Dad got grumpy when I told him I was going steady with David Lively.  "You're only in the fourth grade, for crying out loud!" 

David was the only guy who signed up for the Gallaher School Summertime Reading Contest and he beat me.  Me!  Of all people.  I went to the library twice a week in the summer.  Read under the covers at night with a flashlight and everything.  I was a shoo-in to win.  But the summer before fourth grade, David Lively crashed his bike and his foot got stuck on the banana seat and he ended up with a cast from his ankle to his hip.  Wasn't like  he could do anything but read that summer.  That made me think he was pretty neat.  That he read a lot.

David wasn't my first crush at Gallagher School.  In first grade I was gaga for a boy named Beau.  Know what beau means in French?  Beautiful.  And he was.  Had the biggest baby blue eyes ever.  Sometimes we'd just stare at each other with silly grins pasted on our faces.  Mrs. Collins would tap the blackboard with her pointer stick.  "Pay attention, you two."

Green paint's what I remember from second grade.  Mrs. Calfee handed us each a piece of off-white paper, big as our desk tops.  "Green starts with the letter 'g,' so we're going to paint something green."  Then she picked up the big container of grass green tempera paint and shook it real hard.  I guess the lid wasn't on good 'cause next thing you know, we were something green.  I bet if Gallaher Elementary was still standing, you could walk into Mrs. Calfee's classroom and the green splatters would still be up on the ceiling.

In fifth and sixth grade, I got picked to be a safety and a fire patrol person.  When I was on safety patrol duty, I wore a white cross-my-heart-go-'round-my-waist thingy.  I carried a flag made out of a bamboo pole and a twelve inch square of orange cloth.  I'd open it and shut it after I looked both ways 'cross Gallagher Street or Norway Avenue.  If it rained, we got to wear cool yellow coats and hats, like the guy on the box of fish sticks. 

When the fire drill bell rang, I'd put on my orange cross-my-heart-go-'round-my-waist thingy.  I'd run to my post--the second floor stairwell on the Gallaher Street side of the building--and hold the door.  I was ready to shout, "Stop, drop and roll!" if I saw someone a-flame.

The cool thing 'bout being either kind of patrol was going to Camden Park at the end of the school year.  I was too chicken to ride the roller coaster so I'd ride the Whip and the Tilt-a-Whirl over and over.  And eat cotton candy.  Pink please.  Oh, and pronto pups with bloody ketchup and sunny yellow mustard.

Mr. Lee was our principal.  Remember that saying?  "The principal is your pal."  Mr. Lee looked like a bull dog.  Like the one on the Purina dog food commercial.  "This is dog chow's finest hour."  Mr. Lee made it his personal mission to make every child at Gallagher School an adventurous eater.  "Eat the nutritious before the delicious."  Like there was something delicious.

The worst day of the month was Liver Day.  The school would stink to high heaven.  'Round 'bout eleven o'clock I'd start poking at my uvula with the bubblegum pink eraser of my orangey-yellow, #2 pencil.  Tried to make myself throw up so I wouldn't have to taste the liver.  Mr. Lee would stand over your shoulder 'til you took, "just one bite."

The thing was, the liver looked like a square b.m..  My mom was a nurse and that's what she made us call poop.  It smelled like it too.  If I'd been unsuccessful triggering my gag reflex, there was always Timmy Howard.  He was the only boy in school who liked liver.  For a quarter, he'd eat yours.  Man, that kid ate a lot of liver!  I always wondered if he died young.  Doesn't eating a lot of organ meat give you something called gout?

I think my sixth grade teacher ate something that made her sick.  Her skin was all bumply.  All the time.  She tried to cover it up with lots of face makeup and cream rouge the color of Bozo the clown's nose.  You could still see the bumps though.  Kinda looked like toad skin.

I had to mouth breathe whenever I went up to her desk to ask a question.  Her perfume was rank.  She said it was Wind Song but we called it Break Wind Song.  Her lips looked like the Joker's but she didn't smile much.  I reckon I was partly to blame for that.

See, I was ornery.  No one knew it 'cause I made good grades.  No one thinks the smart kids ever do anything wrong, but I did.  I had the world's A #1, best spit ball system ever.  First, I made my ammo.  I'd tear off little bits of notebook paper and put 'em in my mouth.  When they were good and soggy, I'd roll 'em into little balls, just a tiny bit bigger than a beebee.  Then I'd roll 'em in Elmer's glue.  The last step was covering 'em in pencil shavings. 

When I had a dozen or so of my super awesome spitwads, I'd work on the delivery system.  I'd pry the stopper off my Bic pen with my teeth.  Couldn't use my fingernails 'cause I bit 'em.  Then I'd grab a hold of the writing tip and pull it and the ink tube out.  Then real sneaky like, I'd load the tube with a spitball.  When the teacher went to write on the blackboard, I'd . . . ready, aim, FIRE. 

The spitwad would fly through the air and get caught in the adhesive that held her hair together.  See every day after lunch, she'd spray her hair real good with a blast from her big  pink can of Aqua Net.  The spitwads would dangle in the back of her hair for a little while, then they'd fall to the floor like little woody booger balls. 

The hardest part was trying not to get caught laughing.  I had to bite my lip real hard.  If I laughed, I'd get caught.  If I got caught, I'd probably have to go to the principal's office.  I'd never been in Mr. Lee's office but I was pretty sure it'd be scary.  He'd probably get in my face and I'd faint from the terribleness of his breath.  I was sure he had bits of liver between his teeth, decomposing at various rates.  Worse even than his breath was the possibility that my safety and fire patrol privileges might be yanked.  No more Camden Park?  Perish the thought!

Well, the sun's coming up.  Time to get cakes on the griddle.  But I sure am glad I went fishing first.  Just think, if I hadn't gone fishing this morning, the woody booger balls and the bits of liver might've been the ones that got away.

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