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Clandonald Elementary: An Early Education Memoir Part 1/3 (Creative Non-Fiction)

by Dustan Hlady on Sunday, May 8, 2016

Clandonald is a small hamlet in the Lakeland region of Alberta. I attended a school there from Kindergarten to grade eight. These are a few stories I picked up.

*Some names are changed; others I didn’t bother.


My mother taught me to never to hit a girl. This is something I’m proud to say I have never done. I probably shouldn’t feel proud, I should just feel normal. It’s not like I needed to install an app in my phone to remind me not to strike women. It’s just not my thing. Not now or in kindergarten. But a fellow kindergartener, we’ll call him Matthew, didn’t get the memo. He thought that, in principle, you never hit a girl but there are exceptions to this rule.

Connie Sanquist was that exception. Connie wasn’t tame. She didn’t take crap from anybody. If you had somehow wronged her she would not back down. She would go toe to toe, nose to nose with you and let you know what went wrong. Even in kindergarten I remember her as a force of nature rather than the five-year old girl she was. Even now I’m worried she’ll read this and send me a strongly worded email.

I can’t remember why but I remember Matthew  throwing her into a handmade, large-scale calendar that had 31 carpenter nails sticking out, off of which the dates hung.

I remember Connie crying. She was such a confident kid that her red-faced blubbering was unsettling. Like seeing an eagle covered in oil.  I think this probably solidified the “don’t hit girls” value I had.

Miss Pontin loved singing songs with actions with the class. My favourite one was the fingers song.

Mainly because you got to flip off the whole class. I remember thinking “I can’t believe we get to do this!”


I fell in love easily in grade one. First I was in love with Tara. Her ponytails were always on fleek. So I did what anyone does to show their love. I made her a card. It had 3 hearts and said, “I like you.” I left it on her desk and awaited her response.

After recess I saw that there was a card on my desk. Excited, I  ran to find that it was my card that had been returned. I opened it up. She had written something in response. It said:

I hate you.

Not your friend,


(The dot on the “i” was not a heart.)


Undeterred, I moved on to a new love. To Ashleen. I decided to raise the stakes a bit. I made another card. This time I had coloured 15 hearts and on top of one of the bigger ones I drew us kissing.

The message had also been upped from, “I like you” to “I love you.” When I came back from recess the card was back on my desk. But at least she didn’t write, “I hate you” (even though Tara tried to get her to).

I had a lot of loves in the first grade but none was more encompassing than the love for my teacher, Miss Cruthers. Which is why I felt bad when she caught me lying to her.

Every month we received Scholastic book flyers where we could order books from a warehouse somewhere out in Ontario.


One month my parents told me I couldn’t order a book. I was heartbroken and took matters into my own hands. I took my dad’s cheque book, turned the lights off in the living room and hid behind the couch with a flashlight. With my  six-year-old brain I tried to figure out how to write a cheque.

Confused,  I peeked from behind the couch and saw my dad pass the entrance to the living room. He stepped on a toy car I had left out and yelled,


I came out from behind the couch and asked my Dad.


Shocked that he was caught using loose language, he took a knee and gave me a speech.


“Listen son. I didn’t say ‘re:’. I said the word ‘shit’. This isn’t a good word to say. I shouldn’t have said it. But sometimes adults say things they shouldn’t when they get hurt or lose their temper…”

The whole time I’m thinking “Dad, I know the word ‘shit’. I’ve been saying it since I was f***ing five years old. I say it all the time. You know last month when I thought the laugh track on sitcoms was real laughter coming from homes around the world? Instead of asking you about it, I cussed into what I assumed was the microphone on our television while watching Night Court and waited to see if I’d get in trouble. I just waited for our phone to ring and Judge Harry on the other end calling me a twerp. So yeah, Dad, I’m pretty smart. I know the word ‘shit’.”

So, one heart-to-heart later and I was still no closer to ordering the new Garfield book and seeing if he was ever going to meet a lasagna he didn’t like. Since my dad was no help in me illegally attaining books I just had to guess how to fill a cheque out myself.

The next day I noticed there were two piles of book order forms on Miss Cruther’s desk– everyone else’s and mine. Not even my forging my dad’s signature from a Valentine’s card he’d given my mother worked.

It probably didn’t help that the “O” in his name was a heart.


Over the summer holidays, Miss Cruthers became Mrs. Martin. I was devastated. I really had no chance now. I was unlucky in love but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Out of the three boys in our class of 27 the only one getting any attention was Scott. Jill, I think generally accepted as the prettiest girl in grade 2, gave him a penny. She said it was her great-great-great-grandmother’s, that it was passed down through the generations and now it had been given to him.

I’m only realizing now as a 35-year-old man this was BS.

She also wrote in a note, “I like you because you’re not like the other guys.” This was kind of insulting when he showed it to me and Matthew because WE WERE THE ONLY OTHER GUYS!

This was the grade that we first heard Mr. Pritchard in the hallway. He was the Grade 5/6 teacher and the stuff of legends. With some degree of regularity, he would take kids out to the hallway and yell at them until some of them cried. If he was able to break a student and they blubbered out their pain in the form of tears, he would yell:


And while it doesn’t make much sense, I always thought it was bad-ass that he had a villainous catch phrase.

I was super disappointed when I discovered last year that he had stolen his super cool catch phrase from the 90s B-Movie “KILL CRAZY”.

The thing about Clandonald School was it was one long hallway.


Grade 1/2 was on one end of the school and Grade 9 was on the other. As you progressed in education, you progressed up the hallway as well. Every year brought us closer and closer to the terrifying Mr. Pritchard and the possibility of being taken out to the hallway and having awesome catch phrases yelled at us until we cried.






Dustan Hlady
dustan j. hlady is the founder of Middle of Nowhere music and sings and writes songs for his band, Friend Friend.