Island Voices, November 2023


Above photo by Dawn Stief

By Seán Malone and John Sweetman

We all have distinct memories of our early school days, and some memories stand out long after the “bell.” Seán had an unusual opportunity to “go back” to the third grade. Thankfully, he did not have to pass his mathematics exam again, but was offered a chance to impart some of his life learning to youngsters.

One of Vashon’s third-grade teachers asked if I would be willing to mentor an aspiring third-grade writer. I told her that I would be proud to help in any way I could. Wes, a third grader, would write a story and I would endeavor to respond with answers to the questions he raised. Vashon Artists in Schools was the sponsor of the program, partially supported by Vashon Allied Arts.

We had a safety patrol at Vashon grade school in the 1950s. If you had a red background on your badge, you were sergeant, and blue if captain. I was a sergeant. Miss Thompson was our sixth grade teacher, and had recently graduated from college with a teaching degree. Vashon was her first teaching assignment, and we harassed her constantly.

One day, she sent me to the principal’s office. We all knew that our principal carried a three-foot garden hose to correct us with. He sat me down in a chair in front of his desk, and while he lectured me about the need for discipline, kept tapping his left hand with his hose. He didn’t ever beat me, but his hose-tapping brought his lesson home.

Mrs. Larson was the school cook, and her kitchen was in the basement as well as the lunchroom. Her hot lunches were good, except for the canned peas which she constantly burned. We called them “cigar peas” because their smell reminded us of burnt cigars.

Our janitor, Mr. Steen spent all summer varnishing the wooden floors and stairs, so that in the Fall our school stank to high heaven, but you could almost see your face in the shiny wood floor. Mr. Steen stacked all our desks on one side of the room, and when the newly waxed floor was dry, he just moved the stacked desks to the other side of the room, so as to wax and polish where the desks had been stacked.

I too learned some things that stood with me for a lifetime. In the third grade, I played baseball although I was always the last one “chosen” as we selected teams, as I was klutzy and pretty well sent to the furthest outfield position. My lifelong friend, Gene Amundson would help me out by pitching “slow” balls, but I was pretty much hopeless.

One day, Gene and I persuaded our teacher to let us listen to a baseball game on the radio. I was taken aback by the roar of the crowds! Sadly, after this I became a lifelong Cubs fan for no particular reason, not even knowing where Chicago was, but I thought the little bear was cute on the bubble gum baseball cards. Gene liked the Yankees, which ended up being a contentious point between us.

One game, I was up to bat and somehow improbably hit a long, bouncing grounder to a hole in right field. I stood stunned at the plate, in awe of my only hit of the year, and heard the roar of the crowd (all 10 of them). As I was thrown out at second, it dawned on me that the crowd was yelling, “Run! Run you idiot!”

Yes, the things we remember. But I’m still a Cubs fan. After all, there’s what Sean and I said in third grade … “Wait ‘till next year.”

November 8, 2023

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