School Days


Our school yard was large. It must have been at least two acres, fully fenced with that type of page wire used to keep sheep where they belong. Just inside this fence was planted a row of Canadian maple trees. The row was six feet wide and ran around the complete perimeter.

Trees were almost unheard of on my bald prairie, which is what they called my homeland. In fact before the homesteaders came there were no trees at all for 100 miles in any direction. The only exception was the cottonwood trees that grew along the Red Deer river forty five miles south of our town of Chinook.

Every one was very proud of our fine growth of Canadian maple trees, and Sy O'Malley was hired to till and harrow a six foot swath on each side of the trees for protection. Sy was a first class horseman and kept our trees looking good. He also had a large Irish thirst, but that's another story.

No one was allowed to set a foot in this tilled soil, with only two exceptions. One to retrieve a ball, if it didn't happen too often. The other, grade twelve students in June when studying for departmental finals. This hard and fast rule was a good one since it stopped all those country kids from wantonly cutting the trees and taking all the best sling shot material.

The town boys were not allowed to get near these precious trees either. However on Saturday if we rode our bikes to the far north end of the yard and hid the left over branches carefully, it could happen. All the very best sling shot crotches came from the school maples, but I don't remember my folks ever asking where I got my new crotch. I'm sure because there were so few toys to be had they didn't want to have to confiscate it. Which they would have to do if they knew where it came from.

The "Gym"

School played a major role in our young Chinook lives, and it seemed that a major part of the school year was winter, which meant heavy coats, boots, scarves, mittens, and cold. The teachers tried to send us out every recess, but when the temperature ran to minus ten or lower, they had to find somewhere for us to play inside. A lower classroom (not now used because of the shrinking population) was turned into a gym. A ladder was bolted to the ceiling and the room sported two gym mats plus an exercise horse. I don't think you can imagine the din produced by fifteen or so young boys penned up in a nearly barren room for fifteen minutes twice a day.

Frank Morall, who was in charge of all our sports programs, was also charged with keeping the equipment (meager as it was) in good shape.

One day when we boys were totally out of control, we started shoving the exercise horse violently around the room, yelling "whoa Nelly, go Nelly", when suddenly the door to the room burst open and there was Frank Morall, so shocked and frustrated, he was unable to speak. Finally he shouted "Boys, don't call that horse Nelly!". Now that poor horse had never had a name before, and if it hadn't been for the gym caper it would never have been named, but that did it, from that day on Nelly was Nelly, even Frank recognized her name.

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