The School That Was


The field above is where my high school used to be.

Only recently it was torn down after being there for fifty years. I have no fond memories, except for the typing teacher and a little motorcycle.

I remember my first day in grade nine, sitting in math class, and the teacher started spewing rapid-fire equations and I never recovered. On exams I got marks like 9/100. My mother was concerned.

In agriculture class I did better. Maybe 40/100. I sat at the back of the class and once threw dirt from the plants at the teacher writing on the blackboard. I took out my false tooth one day, put ketchup around my mouth, banged my desk with my fist and fell to the floor, acting like I’d somehow had a collision with the desk. I was allowed to go home and went to the pool hall instead.

To this day I type with two fingers, but I took the course in this school and I appreciate the fact that the hugely-endowed teacher showed the guys how to type by rubbing up against us. She didn’t do this with the girls.

I caught wind that some football players were planning on grabbing me and cutting my hair but my neighbour, who was on the team, talked them out of it.

There was that time I had to create a science poster of the planets, and I asked my dad, who was a sign painter, to do it for me. It was the nicest poster in class. I got 0/100.

My English teacher was a cute little thing in her early 20s. For years afterward I’d heard that she’d had an affair with one of her students, my big Italian friend, and I was jealous. Not long ago I talked to my old friend on the phone after he’d come across my blog by accident, and I asked him about that affair. He said he’d never heard that rumour and it never happened. But he was happy about the story and couldn’t wait to tell his wife.

I was suspended several times, mostly because of skipping school and heading to the pool hall. I loved football day, when all the students were let out early to watch the team play the rival Orillia school. I never saw any of those games. I was at the pool hall.

Instead of walking or taking the bus to school, often my best friend would pick me up on his motorcycle and take me. It was only a Suzuki 80 but in those days, before bikes were common, it felt like I was on a monster Harley. Eventually I would trade about thirty record albums for that Suzuki.

I barely squeaked through grade nine and failed grade ten. In my second year of grade ten, I quit midway through. That summer I headed to Vancouver with a bunch of guys, got back to Orillia in October, went back to school for a month or so, and quit again.

This is full disclosure. Never before have I mentioned what a failure I was. It’s embarrassing and I’ve kept it to myself. But my dad only got his grade 8 so I did better than him.

I was basically someone who made my way through life by taking the most horrible jobs out there and gradually finding better ones as I went along. Unless you’re lucky, that’s how it works. I have no time for those who won’t do this.




6 thoughts on “The School That Was”

  1. Marvellous recollections, Dennis. You’re far from a failure. You have had a lifetime of interesting and amusing experiences, have met and formed relationships with a large number (and diversity) of people along the way, and are blessed with a rare ability to tell colorful stories in ways that engage listeners/readers and put plenty of smiles on their faces. Best of all, you honor the tradition of Les Canadiens. I tell all sorts of people about your blog, many of whom are not hockey fans and of those that are, most cheer for teams other than Montreal – that doesn’t seem to matter, as they enjoy hearing whatever tidbits I recount.

    [Speaking of tidbits, within the past week Tim Horton’s closed five of its coffee shops in Maine, including the one in Rockland that’s closest to where I live. It was a Baltimore Colts-type maneuver – open for business one day and completely shuttered (with all signage removed) by sunrise the next. Locally, 18 employees lost their jobs and now it’s going to be impossible to find a maple doughnut or butter tart within fifty miles of here.]

    At any rate, thank you for your wonderful story telling, Dennis – I look forward to your daily missives (even after a disappointing loss by the Habs). Best wishes to you and Luci for a joyous Christmas together in Montreal….

    Eric Buch

  2. Appreciate it very much, Eric. Thank you. I think even if I went back to school now I’d be terrible. They just make it so hard to copy other people’s work. And finding time to do homework with hockey season in full tilt would be impossible.
    Sorry about the Tim Hortons in your area. What, people in Maine don’t like doughnuts? I don’t understand. What about those delicious chocolate things filled with gooey custer?

  3. Dennis, I’m convinced that some teachers decide a student’s grade before they start marking the assignment or exam. This worked out well for me and I probably got marks I didn’t deserve until I moved from Hamilton to Pickering just before my final year.

    My new English teacher never liked anything I submitted. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do better than about 50%. I believe it’s because on the first day I sat down beside the only person I recognized, my next door neighbour who skipped his share of classes. I then received over 70% on the midterm exam which was marked by another teacher who I never met, for an overall 60% mark.

    Since universities base admission on the midterm marks and only include the top 6, I stopped caring about this class and never submitted anything else. Somehow my final mark stayed the same. At the end of the year the teacher indicated that my mark would increase if I voluntarily wrote the final. I think she saw the rest of my report card and changed her opinion of me.

  4. However, I bet you did really well in English class.

    Like many, I think the educational structure is poorly designed. We often neglect to focus on the individual’s strengths which motivates students to learn rather than drop out. I bet you would have flourished had they noticed your talent in writing and geared you in that direction.

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