Driving by the Old School
Nothing guarantees a stroll down “memory lane” more than a visit to the house one grew up in or, as I did yesterday, a pass by one’s old elementary school.
I’m sure that looking at old photographs count too, as do meeting up with old classmates at the high school reunion and listening to that song that was on when you first lost your virginity, first got stoned, and exchanged your first serious kiss.
One of the few gifts I gave myself upon receiving my inheritance recently was to buy a new bicycle. Why drive to work when cycling there only takes a few minutes more, right?
The other gift was a massage table and I’m happy to say that my wife and I are using it regularly. Sigh.
Anyway, after work yesterday, I decided to do a little ride before supper. It wasn’t too hard to decide to cross the bridge into Town of Mount Royal from Outremont. There, there are miles and miles of almost deserted tree-lined streets with only the occasional speed bump to slow you down.
I’m attempting to exercise my heart. I came to the realization that this was important last week when I went to the gym. I had been avoiding going to the room with the treadmill and the other cardiac exercising machines while heading straight for the weight room. Big mistake, particularly since I now know that my heart is weaker than I ever thought. No problem, I can exercise it, too, and am happy to say that I feel more energy as a result.
Cycling isn’t that much exercise compared to running, so I pushed it and in a short time ended up in the west end of TMR, the area I grew up in. And there it was: my old elementary school! Except that it’s no longer known as Algonquin Elementary School but École Saint-Clément and is part of the French-speaking Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board.
No matter. Memories rushed in, as they say: Finger-painting in Kindergarten and munching on those nice biscuits just before rest time. Learning how to read in Grade 1 (I had such a hard time with my Grade 1 teacher that my mother sent me to a child psychiatrist. I’m happy to report that he thought me healthy enough to not schedule a follow-up visit.)
There was the crush on my Grade Two teacher (she moved to the West Island and my heart sank that I would no longer see her even after graduating to a higher grade). That same teacher weeping openly the day that President Kennedy was shot.
The mean Mrs. Mitchell who once tried to get me to say “Thank-you”. (Maybe she thought that I was inconsiderate. She might be happy to know – er, she’s no longer alive, stupid – that today I’m usually a polite person with a whole satchel-full of well-used “thank-yous” and “pleases”.)
Anyway, one day, she told to stay in the class after all my classmates had left for the day. She took something off her desk and handed it to me.
“Thank you,” she said. I looked at her. “Thank you,” she repeated. I was confused.
“You’re welcome,” I said.
I don’t know if she rolled her eyes, but I do know that she gave up on me and left me pretty much alone after that. I also remember that she once said that when she went to a restaurant she would immediately go the washroom to assess its condition. If she found it in a dirty state, she would walk out straightway. This isn’t really bad advice, actually.
So I did learn something from Mrs. Mitchell, after all.
Then there was the memorable Grade 7, where I first discovered the joys of necking. I was a hanger-on really (the girls did the inviting and the planning: they had to invite somebody.) During lunch or after school, we would head over to the park adjacent (Dakin Park – thanks, Googlemaps!) and set ourselves up with a partner and begin some serious necking. After a few minutes we would change partners. This was, of course, not only a highlight of elementary school – we would return to class flushed and glowing – but a highlight of my life. (I know that I risk sounding like a loser saying this but… what the heck.)
I first smoked pot while still attending elementary school. There would be more, of course, once I was in high school, but I remember my first time, in the dusk of a summer evening after supper, behind the dry cleaners on the corner of Lucerne Road and Côte-de-Liesse with my buddies Harold and Guy. (Again, I was a hanger-on. Those guys were the inseparable ones, but I’m happy that they invited me.) I remember, besides being stoned – and quite beside myself that I was – burping a lot and having a really sore throat. Holding in smoke was no problem for me, being a swimmer on the YMHA’s swim team, who learned that to win races all that you needed to do was hold your breath and swim like hell.
I was a good student at Algonquin Elementary School, in keen competition with the other bright students. I was always checking out if my marks were close to my rivals, and I remember that they were usually a little bit lower. Grrr.
We started every morning with a salute to the flag, the national anthem (we dropped “God Save the Queen” sometime between Grade 1 and 7) and hymns. Being Jewish, I rarely said the name “Jesus” out loud during the hymns, so it would be: “_________ loves me, yes I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Most of the school population was Jewish so during Jewish holidays the classrooms were virtually empty.
As I continued cycling around the Town, enjoying the cool breeze on my face and wondering if I was giving my heart enough exercise, I noticed that another TMR elementary school – Carlyle Elementary School – was still part of the English school board. That made me happy for some reason.
Who knew that a sudden and unplanned passing of my old elementary school could dredge up so many memories?