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Clandonald Elementary: An Early Education Memoir Part 2/3 (Creative Non-Fiction)

by Dustan Hlady on Saturday, May 14, 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.

GRADE 3

There were a lot of recess games we played. Some were common to all playgrounds (grounders, boys chase the girls) and others were (as far as I know), native to only our playground.

One of these games was called Squishing Machine. It was played when the older grade 8/9 boys would sneak to our side of the playground. One of the biggest kids would stop up the bottom of a small tube slide. The rest of the big kids would stuff the younger kids through the top of the slide until they ran out of room (or kids).

There was this one grade 8 kid, Kriss Kent (a double K! How 80s cool is that?). He would usually be the one getting this started. After we were squished in, he would try to crawl over everybody without popping the cork at the bottom.

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Another fun game was called Scales. Two kids would start on either end of the teeter totter.

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The two kids would then call out to their friends to join their side. Throughout the playground we came out of the woodwork and jumped on the side of the person we liked more. It was a popularity contest but it was also also a test to see who had the heaviest friends.

This one kid, Cam, was a bigger kid. He was well-liked enough usually but when a game of Scales was at stake, he was a rock star trudging over to the teeter totter while a dozen kids screamed for his acceptance and allegiance.

The only other kid I remember generating such fervor was Kyle. He was in the grade below us. He lived near my house and we bonded because on the same day he peed his pants, I crapped mine.

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We talked about cover up techniques in the bathroom. I ditched my underwear and went commando. He did the same, but also soaped up his jeans to cover the smell and tried to get his crotch under the hand blow dryers to dry things up.

So one day I’m putting hot water in my Cup O’ Soup when kids start screaming down the hallway, “KYLE’S HUMPING! KYLE’S HUMPING!” I didn’t know what to expect. I dropped my soup and ran to his classroom with the rest of the kids. Sure enough Kyle was on top of his desk, pelvic thrusting the air while Billy Ray Cyrus’ Achy Breaky Heart played out of the class cassette player. To this day, that is his main dance move.

The third grade was the first time I realized that I was probably an idiot. It was the introduction to the multiplication tables. Memorizing the table was the only standard for intelligence we held. On the wall our names were in a chart that displayed how much of our multiplication table we knew. A common pastime was checking out the chart and seeing who was smartest and stupidest kid in class.

I still don’t like math and I might be teaching it next year.

We could still hear Mr. Pritchard yelling at students in the hallway.

GRADE 4

In grade 4 I ordered the book, “RAP!”. It was the first time I had ever heard of this genre of music. It had bios on some bands that would be my favourites in the upcoming years like DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Kriss Kross and Young MC.  In the back of the book was a glossary of Rap Slang. I started incorporating these words into my everyday language.

“Thanks for supper Mom. It was dope.”

I started a rap band with the two other guys in my grade and Mrs. Ward even let us perform a song in front of the class.

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I worked for hours on my opening line “My name is Dustan and I’m going to be busting”.

We could still hear Mr. Pritchard yelling in the hallway. Next year it would be us.

GRADE 5

Mr. Pritchard never took me into the hallway and yelled at me but he didn’t like me much. The reason for both was because of my mother.

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Grade five was when sex ed started and my Mum didn’t want me or my sister learning about condoms. She met with Mr. Pritchard and, while history has shown my mother to be on the wrong side of her argument, she never lost a debate. The meeting ended with Mr. Pritchard fuming mad staring at the floor trying not to lose it and my mother still talking.

“What you’re not going to even speak to me? Well, if you don’t have a decent argument for why you’re teaching these students about this supposedly-safe sex maybe you shouldn’t be teaching it.”

A compromise was reached. Lindsey Rewuski, my sister Nicole and I left Sex Ed. to goof off in the library twice a week.

I was a weird kid. I should have been one of the losers but in my grade there were only two other male students in my grade. Scott was kind of artsy like me. Matthew was more normal-to-the-area, meaning he hunted, fished and got in fights.

Me and Scott talked about our future acting careers and our favourite Fred Savage films. If I was in another grade with more guys, I wouldn’t have had any friends. I always felt like Mr. Pritchard could tell I didn’t belong and would do his best to keep me out of my social circle. This was of course most likely paranoia but hey, I was 10.  I remember once going on a field trip to a dinosaur exhibit.

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We were split into groups. I was not grouped with my friends but rather with who I perceived to be a smattering of unpopular kids in other grades. I saw this as confirmation that teachers thought I shouldn’t be one of the cool kids.

Because I thought I was teetering on the edge of loserdom, I felt inclined to enforce the social hierarchy that just barely benefited me. It took me years to realize it was all BS.

When Robert Olson kicked snow at me on the sledding hill, I felt like he was attacking a social system that placed me as just barely more important than him. It was bigger than the school. The whole hamlet shunned the Olson family. I’m not sure why. Everyone just had it in for them. They were a large family, Mormans. Sometimes their faces weren’t washed and their Dad wasn’t working. All this added up to rejection.  So when Robert kicked snow at me, I had Matthew beat him up.

We followed him to the general store and waited for him outside. When he came out the door we blocked his path. Holding his bag of groceries, he swung a wide kick at us.

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We backed up and he ran through the opening he had formed. Matthew ran after him and caught him in the stomach with a punch. He hit the snow and we kicked him while he was down. I have a very vivid memory of walking back to Matthew’s house and looking back, seeing Robert limp across the road.

For a long time it was the worst thing I had ever done.

When we got to Matthew’s house, Robert’s mom had already called Matthew’s. She yelled/asked, “You beat up Robert Olson?!”

Matthew’s response was, “He’s an Olson, Mom. What’s the big deal?”

She paused and seemed to shrug as if she had been met with a superior argument. We never got in trouble for it.

I contacted Robert years later in 2007 when Facebook became big. I apologized but he never responded. I can’t image the effect that having a whole community disregard you for a decade. All of us, that were part of this social belittling must have grown up and thought the better of it. I couldn’t have been the first person to contact one of the Olson kids and apologize. Maybe it’s annoying getting apologies from those that put you on the bottom because they didn’t want to be there themselves.

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