Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hold a Mirror Under My Nose

My first six years of formal education were spent in two schools. I lovingly call my present hometown Small Town, but those schools were in REALLY small towns, each consisting of a grain elevator and a post office and not much else. The first school (where I completed grades one through four) was six miles from our farm, and when my father left his teaching job there to become administrator of a school in the opposite direction, my siblings and I transferred to an even smaller school only two miles from home.

In Even Smaller School there were only two classrooms--one for the 11 kids in grades five through eight, and one for the dozen or so in grades one through four. Two teachers taught academic subjects, plus music, phys ed, and art; collected milk money; and supervised our recesses in the windbreak behind the school. It was glorious fun and amazingly good education.

Mr. Tilley, the teacher in the big kids' room, was also the principal of the school and he was conscientious about safety. He knew that our big old building would go up like a Roman candle if fire ever broke out so he sat us down and gave precise instructions for that eventuality.

"If your hear the fire alarm go off and I'm not in the room, the eighth graders [who happened to be three boys] need to take care of the fifth graders," he told us. "That means if for some reason you can't get out the door, you may have to climb out the windows, and if that's the case and the younger ones are scared, they may need to be pushed."

It was such an exciting prospect that when Mr. Tilley scheduled a fire drill and blocked off the north door the eighth graders didn't even check to see if the east exits were clear. These strapping farm boys just pushed the screens off our second-floor classroom and began flinging out fifth graders like bales out of the hayloft at feeding time.

I can only imagine the horrified look on Mr. Tilley's face as he saw us fifth-graders landing in a heap (having missed the concrete sidewalk by inches), but the story has a happy ending: The worst injury was a sprained ankle, and certainly we learned to check other exits before jumping to a conclusion.

I thought of that incident last night as we were wheeling the final boxes out of my mother-in-law's apartment. In addition to the 20 boxes of Christmas decorations (no, I am not exaggerating) we packed up the most horrifying animatronic cat ever manufactured, and I once again gave instruction to the Boys who were doing the heavy lifting.

"When your father and I breathe our last, just carry out our bodies and set the house on fire," I told them.

That's when the image of our grade school fire drill crossed my mind. I hollered down the hallway after them.

"Hey! If we pass on a Sunday afternoon, check our pulses before you strike the match--we might be napping and not dead."

No, I did not try to explain that conversation to the residents in the other apartments.


  1. I am afraid of cats and when I saw one like this at the retirement center office moving and meowing, it caused me to jump and shriek.
    I laughed when I saw the cat picture and also think it is horrifying.

  2. I think that story will make me laugh out loud under any circumstances. Being one of the "older" kids, I remember directing traffic out the windows. I'll bet Don Tilley still has nightmares!