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.
There were two things to do after school as a twelve year old in Clandonald– you could go to Bible Club on Thursday nights and Youth Group in Friday nights.
Bible Club was run by Eunice Potzold. It was an after school bible class. Also twice a week we had religion class in school. The Catholic kids had to leave and go to the spare classroom and learn about transubstantiation or whatever. The few of us Protestants that were left were taught by Eunice. She was an “old maid” type that lived across the street from the evangelical church. Her most dominant feature in my memory is her long stringy grey hair that sprouted up and out into a large balloon of knotty frizz. I’m sure she was the nicest lady but almost everything I can remember is negative.
I remember her breath, hot, heavy and rank on my face as she looked over the progress I had made on my Bible key words crossword. I remember so clearly the thick spittle– caked, wet and clingy to the sides of her lips. If you were unlucky enough it would land on you if she got frustrated and spoke in your direction.
And we gave her plenty of reason to be frustrated. Really, we were ungrateful brats. Looking back it’s easy to see that she was dedicating her life to the service of God and we couldn’t have cared less. I remember once throwing a paper airplane at her when her back was to me. The nose of the plane stuck right into her unintentional afro. It didn’t even fall out when she turned around and berated me. No goal in any sport could have ever felt so good.
My mother recently told me that Eunice passed away a couple months ago. She moved back to her hometown in Louisiana. She had come to Canada as a missionary of sorts and had eventually moved back when the burden of unruly, ungrateful students became too much. I’m sure there is a special place in heaven reserved just for her.
But also I remember getting in a water fight outside of her house. She said she’d put my shirt in her dryer. I gave it to her but quickly changed my mind when I became uncomfortable being shirtless and alone with her in her home. She wouldn’t give it back and gleefully hid it behind her back while I grabbed for it. I freaked out and screamed until she gave it back. Is that weird?
Mr. Pritchard led the youth group in town. We did 30 Hour Famines and Bigger and Betters but for the most part it was unregulated 11-15 year olds running free. We burned things in fire pits, smoked cigarettes, watched R rated movies and listened to a lot of metal with cusswords.
It was on one of those nights we were in the Pritchard basement that Laurie Barber said she would show us her barely-existing breasts if she could beat the crap out of Mike Nelson. And he let her do it because I guess he wanted to see them just as much as the rest of us. She was full on punching him in the face and I remember her throwing him over the back of a couch. She hadn’t given Mike a time limit of how long she got to beat him up for. It seemed to go on forever.
She had punched him in the gut when she let on to a clause in the contract: “Oh, Mike doesn’t get to see.” Mike was doubled over on his knees. When he found out that he was not going to benefit from this beating he was done. He stomped up the stairs even though we begged him to come back.
I fell in love with a feminist. She was my grade 8 teacher Ms. Chychul. Ms. Chychul often talked about gender roles, terms that were derogatory to women and other issues. Anyway, I thought she was cool. She was also the first teacher since Miss Cruthers to laugh at my jokes and not think I was a weirdo.
At the time I didn’t really understand the obstacles between us that included a significant age gap, illegality and just overall grossness of grade 8 boys in the eyes of a grown woman.
I had a recurring fantasy. She would take me to the boot room to chastise me over something and we would end up making out.
Eventually the idea blossomed into a plan. I was going to kickstart this fantasy into a reality. The first step of the plan was to give her a reason to take me to the bootroom. So I had to start acting out in class. This wasn’t easy for me because I liked Ms. Chychul. But I started to backtalk and make little jokes at her expense. I made a joke one day and it must have hit the right nerve. She took me out into the hallway and into the boot room. She took me to the exact same spot that my fantasy occurred. We stood in the same place we had so many times before in my imagination. Was this a sign? It was now or never. She asked me “What has been going on with you lately?” “I mumbled an excuse and steeled myself to make the first move. I began to move my head a little forward towards hers. Not enough to let my intentions be known beyond a shadow of a doubt but enough to imply my intentions. She made a look like this:
In that moment, I envisioned a meeting. I imagined sitting in an office with her, my principle and my parents. I ‘d be sitting there trying to explain to all those adults why I thought it was appropriate to try and kiss my teacher. A meeting like that, in a town that size would never stay quiet. I would be hearing about it for the rest of my life. So I backed off and I guess we’ll never know if she was into me… just kidding.
As much as I liked Ms. Chychul I disliked most of my other teachers. Mr. Hryhor and I were malevolent enemies. Each day a chess game battle. Sometimes I lost and sometimes I won.
One day, Matthew came to school with a warm beer. We went behind the school to drink it. Matthew had just cracked it open when Mr. Hryhor came out of nowhere. Matthew hid the can behind his back. It was a miracle we weren’t caught.
One day I even made a piñata that looked like Mr. Hryhor and when he came into the room we all started beating on it. I think I ripped the head off and paraded it up to him.
One day I had a few run ins with Mr. Hryhor but not enough to be worth calling home about. I could tell he was annoyed with me and wanted to end the day with a victory. Me and a couple of the guys got caught going off of school property. He made the assumption that we were smoking and sent letters to all our parents telling them that we were “probably smoking off school property” which is the same thing as a letter that says we were caught smoking. I mean, I guess we shouldn’t have been so upset. We were smoking but we felt that they should have to catch us to make an accusation. Matthew, Scott and I were diligent sons in the following weeks; volunteering to pick the mail up for our parents. And we were faithful to this duty, until we had intercepted a letter to our parents with no return address.
On my very last day of school at Clandonald, I thought I’d go out with a bang. I brought my super-soaker water gun to school. At the end of the day, Mr. Hryhor and the superintendent were chatting outside the school. I ran up to them. He saw me coming and said, “Don’t you dare, Dustan.” Even at that age I knew that the superintendent was his superior and that to him an out of control student reflected worse on Mr. Hryhor than it did me. We were at war. Our weapons were not bullets and bombs, they were defiance and detention, back talk and hallways to wait in. I wanted to end the year in victory.
I soaked both Mr. Hryhor and the superintendent. I then ran to my getaway vehicle which, poorly-planned, was my school bus. I was only 13.
He took me to his office one final time and called my mother. My mother, who, because I had intercepted all the letters he wrote home, thought I was model student. I missed my bus and she came to the office. Mr. Hryhor had been compiling a list of all my misdeeds. Every little thing, from swearing on the playground to throwing paper airplanes. I sat there while he read every last page to my mom.
You win, Mr. Hryhor.
The next year I was sent to a private school to help curb my rebellion and help with my grades. Clandonald was a K-9 so I didn’t get to graduate from there. I went to the grad and watched Mr. Hryhor present all my friends with their diplomas. He was not a sore winner. He suggested that I join my ex-classmates in the grad photos.
I went back to Clandonald last year. All my former teachers and schoolmates have moved on, some to nearby Vermilion, others as far as Vancouver or Edmonton. They have married, not-married, divorced, stayed together, gone through depression, had kids, had no kids, drank, quit drinking, found Jesus, lost faith etc. The breadth of our collective experiences is amazing.
The school seemed bigger when I was a kid. The hill we’d slide down in winter and run down in spring is barely a mound. The long hallway from 1st to 9th grade seems no longer than a bowling lane now. When I attended there were 100 students K-9, now 27 students cover the same grades. It’s not likely to stay open much longer.
Memories are interesting things and some places are more saturated with them than others. Is there one square foot of space in that school that hasn’t meant something to someone at some point in time? There’s a school in the small hamlet of Clandonald, Alberta that meant something to hundreds of kids-turned-adults, many with their own kids. It’s carried mostly in our memories and collectively in those memories the place is fully represented. Every blade of grass, every square tile, every book in the library and every toilet in the bathroom is accounted for.
I probably won’t go back. I’ll never have a reason to. But I’ll remember it as it was, in a certain moment in time, probably until I’m so old that my mind slips in and out of reality. I have a feeling I’ll forget my own name before I forget that place.
ENDNOTE: Mr. Pritchard has always been the most prominent figure of that community. He has put on countless events and raised an untold amount of money for charities and non-profits. In a way he’s the kind of guy I believe most people should aspire to be. He spent these last decades working with victims of crime and tragedy. He volunteered while teaching and now commits himself to the endeavor full time. My old, outdated memory of him probably isn’t fair or accurate. But memories if anything, are subjective and these are mine.