School Days

Chocolate and Wild Onions

It is strange how so many small insignificant events form a vivid part of my childhood memories.

There was one classmate, Allen Mar, who lived on a farm two miles out of town. He was the youngest in a family of five children, and had apparently come along as an afterthought. Allen came to school by horse-drawn van every day as did all the country kids, complete with jacket and lunch pail, which were left in the cloak room until noon, when the lunch was quickly eaten, jacket donned and a rush made to Main Street, where the two stores were located.

The favorite store was the Red and White, a two story red brick building that used to be the Royal Bank before the crash. I used to deliver fliers for George Aitken, who owned the store.

Allen Mar was a regular customer every noon at George's Red and White store. The only problem with Allen and many of his country classmates was they had no money. They did have light fingers however and poor George dreaded every noon hour.

George set up an elaborate peep hole system through the wall and into the supply room, where he would lie in wait, then pounce on the young thief as he was pocketing a chocolate bar or trying to stuff a comic book inside his shirt.

This system worked well and George's noon losses dropped dramatically, until some young urchin discovered George's secret. After that one of the kids would stand in front of George's peep hole while an accomplice stuffed his pockets. This forced George back behind the counter, and the losses continued to mount.

Now young Allen Mar had the fastest hands in town and he also had a weakness for real chocolate. George was taking very heavy losses in the chocolate department until he finally hit on a successful plan. George carefully unwrapped a bar of Allen's favorite brand and substituted Exlax in it's place.

Sure enough Allen came into the store the very next noon and after fifteen minutes of examining the merchandise he left quietly, and the special bar was gone.

Poor Allen didn't make it home in the van without messing his pants (the horses weren't moving nearly as fast as he was) and he missed the next two days of school. More bad luck - he was banned from going into George's store ever again, since he was a proven felon.

Now the Allen Mar incident happened in early June at a time when our school yard was lush with what little lushness there was on the prairie. This was the time of buffalo beans and spear grass. The prime time for wild onions. Now if you haven't eaten wild onions, you can't appreciate the subtle cloying flavor of this plant. Wild onion is a short grass-like plant. The bottom inch of this four inch grass blade is white and very edible. The flavor is a combination of onion and garlic which wafts on the breath of the eater for several hours. This plant also causes belching, which adds to the odor.

At the peak of the onion season, all the young boys hunted and chewed their way through as much onion as they felt the stomach could take, so as to be the top belcher of the room that day. I'm not sure why, but the girls never took part in this noble contest.

I remember one teacher we had who was especially allergic to garlic and onions passed a rule banning the partaking of any form of wild onion during school hours. This temporarily reduced the odor, but as we all realized the ruling was not enforceable, the smell strengthened. The only real cure was nature since when the wild onion went to seed the taste became so strong we could no longer eat the stuff.

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