Slip and Slide
Story from my book Unlocking the Tin Box
Slip and Slide
In 1957 when I was in grade three we moved to Kenora, Ontario. We lived in a tent for a while and then we moved into town. The area was crawling with kids and all we did, night after night, was go to the park. Central Park was surrounded on all four sides by apartment buildings. At night kids spilled out of the apartments and joined in endless games of hide and seek. Life was super good. Dad was driving taxi and made lots of tips so we were eating. On weekends my older sister and I went to Eagle River to stay with cousins. I was surrounded by family. I got on the back of a cow for the first time, cleaned out a chicken coop and swam in a murky, stinky duck pond. Everyone it seemed played a fiddle or a guitar, and there were always sing-a-longs, jokes and laughter. The only downside for me was the new school. Central School was a huge three story monster that was yellow stucco and had a brown structure that looked like a silo on the side of the building. I was only a few days into the new school year when I discovered the horrors the silo had to offer.
As we lived in that apartment for a good year, I faced a year of torture every time there was a fire drill. The silo contained a circular slide. Sounded like fun but the slide housed in the silo was never polished by the boys who were supposed to keep it shiny and slippery. Whispering playground kids said the boys were too busy smoking to do the job they were supposed to. The first time the fire bell rang the teacher told us to line up and go quickly down the hall to the fire escape. I followed the kid in front of me and found myself being thrown into the chute by a big male teacher who grabbed me by my shoulders and pushed me through the opening. I tried to hang onto the metal walls, grasping the slippery opening but the teacher pried my fingers off and told me to ‘get going’, with a shove.
I slid for a bit then stalled on the slide that just was not slippery. It was dark, stuffy and I could hear other kids screaming as they were flung into the third floor opening. I knew they were coming but I was stuck. The pile started to build, as one, after another, children were bashing into me. I scrambled with my little legs trying to sort of run down the slide. I stood up in the small space and shuffled down sometimes being knocked over. My ear was bleeding from a shoe grazing it and then after a few minutes I hit a slippery patch and landed on my butt. I went down and out the chute. At the bottom a teacher grabbed my legs preventing me from landing on my feet and actually flinging me to the ground. I hit the pavement knees first, did a somersault and landed legs spread out with my tiny green skirt hiked over my waist. My knees were skinned and bleeding, blood dripped from my ear and all around me children we crying for their mommy.
Eventually, a teacher helped me to my feet and sent me to the office with the line-up of injured kids, which was about half the school. In the nurses office they gave us a drop of iodine and a Band-Aid and sent us back to the class. Nobody ever said ‘sorry’ or ‘that won't happen again’. I went home from school and told my parents I was never going back and even if they made me I would never go down that slide again. But of course I did go back to school and once a month I went down the slide during fire drill. I learned to keep moving by using my feet to pull me along. Then there were the surprise fire drills when the boys actually polished the slide and we whipped down so fast we couldn't catch our breath. Once a teacher flung me so hard through the hole I hit the top and came out at the bottom with a goose egg on my head. Spiraling down a dark hole never seemed like a smart thing to me. I felt like Alice in Wonderland on fire drill day.
I had a teacher I didn't like much. She called me to the front of the class one day and told me to pull up my socks. Being a good girl, I reached down and tugged at my socks. The kids started laughing at me. How was I to know it was just a cliché, warning me to do a better job? I thought my socks were hanging over my shoes. And I can’t tell you how many times I looked for that chip on my shoulder and could not find it. I stumbled through grade three feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood.
I wasn't a very fast runner but I did like the high jump. All spring I practiced the shortest run for sports day. I think it was the hundred yard dash. I needed to succeed at something. The year before I had won a Citizenship Award at Model School in Vancouver, B.C. and I needed a win. I worked super hard on training at lunchtime, even giving up playing marbles for a week. I was a sure winner, I thought. My best friend who was good at everything made a deal with me. Because I wasn't good enough to get too many ribbons, she pinky swore she would let me win, this one race.
We lined up, all the grade three girls. She winked at me and I smiled at her. Then we were off and I sprinted as fast as I could but I guess the competitive bug kicked in for her a couple of feet from the finish line. With a burst of energy she blitzed by me and crossed the line. I was so angry with her that I crossed the line and kept running. I ran off the field, across the street and down the block to my home which was two blocks away. I told Mom I was never going back but there I was the following Monday. I never missed a day. I was proud to have perfect attendance. I was never friends with that girl again. I did carry a grudge.