I was thinking of the “back-to-school” ads we’ve been seeing and what popped into my mind but group classroom pictures. We used to have a large class picture, taken in the school gymnasium with each of us poised stiffly, smiling on cue. Our teacher stood on guard beside the back row of bigger boys, ready to pounce as needed. On the floor by the front row of deceptively demur young women stood a large sign, detailing the year, our grade and the name of our teacher. Those pictures were taken in junior and senior high, likely suitable for the yearbook. Of course we had individual photos taken as well. Just a look back at those professional shots is a walk down memory lane. The styles have changed: hairdos, glasses, makeup. I do have a photo in an old album of my Grade 1 class, with a long line of young faces, mostly still recognizable. My teacher, Mrs. Clark, was in an automobile accident and Mrs. Armstrong came in early in the year to carry on. We each had that young, partly hopeful, partly frightened expression. I also have a photo from Grade 9 or 10; a smaller group of us who received straight As that semester. I was able to attend a l0-year reunion with most of that same group and was quite amazed. We had moved into Olds for my Grade 11 and 12, so I didn’t graduate with my class of friends. Some of us remained the same, some bore little resemblance.
I needed to think hard to recognize one of the guys who had put on some weight and lost much of his thick dark, hair. He had come to us from Calgary and seemed haughty and removed, until he realized that we were all much the same. I liked to see the teachers in each of those pictures. We had many excellent ones: mentors, instructors and models. Mr. Turman and Mr. Burke taught us a love of literature, the intricacies of poetry. Both read to us once a week, instilling a desire to hear more, getting involved in the intrigue and the flow of the story. Mr. Burke encouraged us to write, to keep a journal. It was from his classes that I learned the love of words. Mom talked a little about her school days in the Aldersyde area. She lived kitty-corner to the country school, Gladys Ridge. She had no photos, but did have a knack for vivid storytelling. I could see the one-roomed little building with its cloakroom, today’s version of a mud room. The coats and boots remained there. It also served as a buffer from the chill of winter. The pot-bellied stove crouched closer to the front, near the teacher’s desk. The teacher encouraged the children to bring hearty lunches and the potatoes steamed away just inside the stove door. There was homemade bread and a little knob of butter, maybe a few apples. I can smell the atmosphere of the old school, the flies buzzing, a bumblebee droning against the window pane. I imagine the school at Heritage Park and can almost see Mom in one of the desks, carefully printing the alphabet. Grandma did have a class photo, probably from the same school. She and her two brothers walked about two miles through fields and down the muddy trail. As typical of their generation, they suffered many devastating illnesses, prevalent prior to immunization. They spent most of one winter fighting diphtheria and whooping cough. According to mom, grandma only was able to complete Grade 3 and that was over the course of several years, due to ongoing health issues. She had three little brothers who did not survive. I looked at grandma’s school photo and tried to consider the lives those children lived. Clayton was the eldest, tall and thin, with spectacles. Grandma (Vera) had light, fuzzy hair and wore a dark dress with a white pinafore. She looked timid and bore no resemblance to the woman I knew. Gordon, the youngest surviving sibling, was good-looking, cheerful and known to tease. I like to look at those old pictures and think about the future of the students, now in the past. I know who they became, some of the choices they made and how they lived their lives.
“Mr. Burke encouraged us to write, to keep a journal. It was from his classes that I learned the love of words.”