The school bells are tolling again.
Today all the schools are back in session. I don’t have to look at the calendar date – nope, and I don’t even rely on common sense – just my senses: who can miss that yellowy-orange bus amid a sea of SUVs, all grinding to a halt as they enter a school zone? And look at the school kids hefting brand-new backpacks and not even attempting to hide their sullen looks as they trudge to the door where the principal greets them with a smile. Those scowling kids see right past that principal’s silly grin as they anticipate 179 more days of tests, homework and alarm clocks going off at the crack of dawn.
Next, while I wend my way to the Park, of course I could hear that school bus, chugging up and down the street, gears grinding like it was hauling a load of middle linebackers, instead of just a group of school kids.
Once that bus had passed, in its wake was the unmistakable smell of diesel fumes as huge plumes threatened to choke every squirrel and bird in the ‘hood … and Yours Truly too.
Yep, school is back in session, the 2019 version.
Many moons ago it was the first day of school for me too.
I didn’t take the bus, as E.A. Orr Public School was just a stone’s throw away from the cul-de-sac, a/k/a Sandmere Place, where I lived. All us kids in the neighborhood were around the same age and someone’s older sister would herd us along to school every morning and again at the end of our school day. Big sister Monica was puffed up with importance as she walked alongside all of us fresh-faced tykes. We giggled aplenty and childish squeals erupted as we tripped along Sandmere Place, but when we got to Tansley Drive, we obediently did as our parents asked and clasped onto a friend’s free hand. Then, with Monica in the lead, we were a brigade of munchkins marching across this busy street. We arrived safely at our elementary school (pictured below) simply because there was safety in numbers.
I wasn’t scared in the least and I figured I had this kindergarten thing licked, because we’d already practiced spelling and vocabulary words, plus I learned math by adding and subtracting animal crackers or Smarties, the Canadian equivalent of plain M&Ms. (Despite those fun exercises, math has never been my strong point and evidently I was not a stellar speller, despite Mom’s coaching, because I enlarged the photo to check out the name tag on my dress for the first day of school – I’m pretty sure I wrote my name, not Mrs. Kellett and I made an abomination of it.)
Long before I started kindergarten I could rattle off: “My name is Linda Susan Mary Schaub, and I live at 497 Sandmere Place, Oakville, Ontario, Canada. My phone number is Valley 7-3219.“ (Oh my, but the human brain is pretty amazing isn’t it after all these years?)
When just a handful of days remained before kindergarten began, and I would finally don my new plaid dress and sport a barrette that was positioned just so, to pin some wayward strands of hair from my eyes so I could see the blackboard, Mom sat me down and said that yes, I was a big girl going to school, but she had something important to tell me. No, it was not a spiel on the birds and the bees, nor to bust the myth about Santa and his reindeer, but instead, it was a lesson on “stranger danger” even though this was decades before the term “stranger danger” was coined. Sadly today’s 5-year olds are much savvier about such unpleasant subjects, than we were circa 1961. That’s thanks to the internet which they readily access on smart phones and tablets. Face it, they know a helluva lot more about life in general than we ever did at their age.
So, after Mom imparted her wisdom to me, she said “now don’t be scared, learn lots of new things and make Mommy and Daddy proud of you.”
So, off I went, leaving behind my comfort zone of Mom, “Romper Room” and “Captain Kangaroo” and began kindergarten with Mrs. Kellett and all my new classmates. Some were already my playmates from the neighborhood. We learned a lot and had mid-morning milk and cookies and a nap on a pad that was placed on the classroom floor.
So what advice did Mom give me all those years ago?
As I recall, it went like this:
“If someone tries to give you candy or sweets, politely say ‘no thank you’ and then run away!”
“If someone tries to lay a hand on you, scream as loud as you can and then run away!”
“If someone calls you over to their car, you run away!”
“Don’t get into anyone’s car – ever. That means even a neighbor’s car, even someone you know – don’t get into their car. You know what to do Linda, right?”
“And, if someone tells you Mommy or Daddy were hurt and they’ll take you to them, run as fast as your legs will carry you!”
“If you are lost, look for a policeman, or ask someone to find a policeman, then tell him your name, address and telephone number that you memorized. You can always trust a policeman. When Mommy was your age, all the kids wanted to walk across the busy street in front of the school with the policeman and hold his hand.”
“So, have you got all that Linda?”
Wow, that was a lot to absorb and I obediently said “yes Mommy” … a lot to fill a little kid’s head with.
As a kid I always toed the line – my parents were strict and with no siblings to back me up or help forge new trails, I was all on my own. I never forgot Mom’s warnings as I advanced through elementary, middle and high school. Even as I wandered the halls of Old Main on Wayne State University’s campus in Detroit, her words echoed in my mind. I was always aware of my surroundings and I was always careful.
Until one rainy day.
I was wearing a brand-new outfit, a sky-blue sundress made of silk voile fabric. There were at least a thousand tiny white polka dots splashed across the bodice and a swirl of tiny pleats that swished when I walked. A white linen bolero blazer completed the ensemble. It was the first day after the Memorial Day holiday and I was excited to get dressed up with white sandals and a white purse since it was now acceptable to “wear white” … suffice it to say I thought I was “all that”! 🙂
Because the dress had an under liner it had to be dry cleaned … in fact, a warning on the label said “do not wash!” There were no worries as it was supposed to be a beautiful and sunshiny day. But alas, the weather forecasters didn’t always get it right (even back in the 80s). I was sitting on the bus on the way home and out of the corner of my eye I could see dark clouds gathering. I couldn’t concentrate on my book as I stewed and fretted over the fate of my dress once I got off the bus, since I had to cross busy Fort Street and walk a block or so after that.
As the bus pulled over to my stop and I hopped off, the big fat drops started a’ flyin’ and soon there was a rumble of thunder as well – just great. I dashed to take cover under the drive-in bank’s concrete canopy, prepared to plant myself there until the storm was over, even if it took all evening.
But, after hunkering down for a short time, I heard a horn honk and a police car pulled into the bank’s parking lot. I watched the rain-spattered window roll down and a young police officer gave me a toothy grin and said “it looks like you’re going to get your pretty dress all wet – want to hop in and I’ll give you a ride home?”
Casting all sense and sensibility to the wind, I smiled sweetly and said “sure” and got into the police cruiser. The officer asked my name and address and we were off, (thankfully without the sirens going), and not a thought in my head except how I was salvaging my new outfit. He pulled up in the driveway and I said “thanks a bunch – I appreciate it immensely” and I hopped out.
When I got into the house, my mom said “I thought about you coming home in the rain with your new outfit – why, your dress is bone dry. Did someone from work give you a ride home?”
I told her about my good fortune.
She said “oh, was it one of the cops you knew from Carter’s?” (I worked at a diner through college and we prepared all the meals for the prisoners, so I got to know all the police officers who came to pick the food up.)
“Nope, just a young officer, likely fresh out of the academy, who was being polite, considering I’m a lot older than he was – he was just being nice Mom.”
She didn’t miss a beat and said: “well I thought I raised a smarter kid. Didn’t you pay attention to me all those years ago?”
Hmm …. well, I didn’t miss a beat either and said “but you always told me it was safe to trust a policeman when I was a kid, so why is it any different now, if I may be so bold and brazen as to ask?” (My mom and I didn’t always see eye to eye on everything.)
She sighed long and loud and took a moment to respond, and when she did, she said “Linda dear – sometimes you just have to use your head for more than a place to hang your earrings.”
Well, chastising me like that stung a little, but I have to admit it was a bit reckless on my part. No, I was not a babe in the woods, so blame it on vanity, or even stupidity if you will. Or perhaps I was just too trusting.
After that episode, I got a fold-down golf umbrella and a lightweight, full-length raincoat and they stayed in my bus tote bag year around for the rest of my commuting days. Of course, if you listen to the news these days, there are the occasional rogue cops, or persons impersonating a police officer who stop women for traffic infractions. This was just a nice officer being a good guy. But yes, I do concede you have to have your wits about you every time you step out of the house, no matter what age you are.
So why did I relay that silly story from eons ago?
Saturday morning I got to Council Point Park and soon thereafter, a truck carrying a crew of grass cutters arrived and began to unload their large and noisy industrial lawn mowers. Well that was a bummer because I knew the squirrel interaction would be zero, because once the machines started up, the squirrels would beat a hasty retreat to their respective nests to cower in silence. I knew the grass cutting would continue even after I departed, so I deposited peanuts on the picnic tables, a few park benches and a cement wall to give my furry friends a snack later.
But one squirrel, either oblivious to the roar of a half-dozen large lawnmowers, or very hungry, threw caution to the wind and came to see what I offered, though he appeared a bit wary to this tall stranger, obviously a “newbie” to this venue. As I stood there trying to coax him over to the park bench for some peanuts, he gave me the once-over to determine whether I was indeed trustworthy enough to come down from his high perch atop a chain-link fence, where he hightailed it once the noise began.
He looked down at me with a hint of disdain.
Then he tip-toed along the top of the fence, treating it like a thick tightrope, and I pictured the gears in his brain simultaneously matching the soft clicking noises I made to try to woo him to the short tree next to where I stood since he didn’t seem to like the park bench.
Alas, he deemed this stranger posed no danger, so, with a little fancy footwork …
… he joined me on the ground where I coaxed him closer to me with peanuts, many more than he could stuff into his mouth (though he would surely try to do so).
Unfortunately, the fellow with the weed whacker came along and fired that baby up – the noise was deafening, and my furry friend took off, the half-eaten peanut shells scattering to the wind. He beat it up the tree at the speed of sound, and, heart pounding, he looked around …
… so, was he looking for help, (the squirrel equivalent of “phoning a friend”), someone to come fetch him from the horrible noise and a stranger who was way too close for comfort?
His safe haven became a fork in the tree and that cranny seemed tailor-made for him.
There he perched, just waiting for a chance to bolt and be done with all these intrusive humans. When I tried to put some peanuts up there for him, I obviously intruded into his personal space, and he shot right to the top of the tree. He’s no Parker and we’ll have to work on establishing some trust here. I tried to find him each successive time around the walking loop to no avail.
So here’s a quote to close this longish post: “Safety is as simple as your ABCs – always be careful.”