life and times
hiram who
birth of the auto
border cities
sports heritage

Pigeons, Poetry and Pugilists

by Al Roach

Little of all we value here
Wakes on the mourn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there’s nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.

(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it — your welcome — no extra charge)

I sit on the concrete basement window

sill facing the boys’ schoolground, trying to memorize Oliver Wendell Holmes’ delightful poem "The Deacon’s Masterpiece" for the test after recess.

Beside me a group of boys squat, holding a cord which leads to a stick propping up an iron-ringed net with corn scattered beneath it on the gravel schoolyard.

A nervous pigeon is sidling his way toward the corn. Soon the net will fall and another ingredient for a pigeon pie will be delivered to the janitor, Mr. White.

Suddenly there is an eruption at the foot of the schoolground and shouts of "Fight! Fight!" are heard. I drop my book and join the congregating mob, stumbling and shoving around the two shaggy-haired combatants, flailing away in the middle of the circle.

Moments later, Mr. Vincent is hurling boys to the right and left as he charges through the dusty assemblage, pulling the terrifying strap from the hip pocket of his blue serge suit as he advances.

It is a typical early 1930’s day on the elm-lined grounds of one of the many two-storey red brick elementary schools, which dot the northern part of these Border Cities.

King Edward, King George, Assumption Street (soon to be Begley), Dougall Avenue, Gordon McGregor, Wyandotte Street (later Benson), Brock, Cameron Avenue, Ontario Street (Ada C. Richards of the future), Mercer Street, et al.

Stern, impressive structures (built in the 1890 to World War 1 era) spawning stern, impressive pedagogues who brook no nonsense.

Swift justice having been administered to the two perpetrators of the fisticuffs, we seek other means of entertainment.

Only to have Mr. Stonehouse (grey tweed suit, gold watch chain through the third buttonhole of the vest) signal the return to classes with the clanging of his brass hand-bell.

As the double lines of suddenly deflated pupils tramp up the wooden stairs inside the double doors, the travelling school nurse, Miss Lowndes glides silently to the curb in her tall black Detroit Electric: "Don’t use that nasty Americanism; spell it ‘kerb,’ children."

In her free time she lectures the younger pupils on the evils of chewing gum: "It’s made from horses’ hooves, you know."

And she relates Aesop’s Fables and other moral tales. Such as the one about the man who kept a pet tigress. She affectionately licked his hand one night, as he slept, and her rough tongue accidentally drew blood. Her wild instincts returned and she sprang on her master and ate him up.

Moral: don’t keep wild animals for pets.

Marvellous, innocent, naïve, incredible days.

It is Tuesday today. And those of us who have any, carry two or three sweaty pennies up to the teacher’s desk to deposit them in the Penny Bank. Thus we acquire a quaint old-fashioned notion of thrift: "A penny saved is a penny earned, children."

Who should arrive now but walrus-moustached H. Whorlow Bull, travelling music teacher (the appellative "co-ordinator" has not become part of education jargon yet). Singing the note in his rich bass voice, he admonishes us to "sound your doh." Most of us cannot get our squeaky voices below High C.

But we try. By God, we try; the strap lingers nearby!

These are the days of infantile paralysis. And I think of the freckle-faced kid who left school one September day, never to return. We took up a ten-cent collection to send him flowers near the end.

These are the days, too, of "Barnacle Bill the Sailor," Kate Smith singing "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain," Amos ‘n’ Andy shenanigans at 10 p.m. daily on WJR. And Jackie Cooper in "Skippy" at the local movie house. Days that are destined to disappear.

The test is near at hand and I return to my memory work: End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.

Logic is logic. That’s all I say.



©1999-2015— Walkerville Publishing — All Rights Reserved