I knew I was in trouble when I saw a gun rack in the window of the Bangor Elementary school bus. Don’t be ridiculous.
Of course, it was empty. But when I spoke with “Bud,” the driver, he assured me, “Ahh…don’t worry none. I just hang it thar for a scare tactic. ‘Liminate any problems.” Bud also had a Rush Limbaugh For President bumper sticker on the back bumper of the bus. Uh…no. Bangor Elementary is a public school.
You can do that kind of thing in Bangor, that, and things like Bible Study Hour every Friday during class time, because you see in Bangor, Ca rules are made to be broken and clearly, there is absolutely no separation of church and state. No siree. All the parents sign a waiver, Mr. Grady has them on file, giving their permission for their children to attend “We’ve been doing this for years, Ms Fern” worship hour every Friday after lunch.
The Reverend from Bangor Community Church walks from down the road and picks up his flock. Each teacher lines their students up in front of the classroom doors making sure their hands are folded behind their backs.
Off they’d go for an hour of praising the Lord, while all the happy teachers rejoiced in an hour of free time. Well, all except my second grader, Jessie Thurman, whose mother refused to sign the waiver. Initially, it was Jessie and I every Friday afternoon; reading poetry, building architectural structures, writing and illustrating books, peering through microscopes. The rest of my first and second graders would return at 2:00 with Tootsie Pops hanging from their mouths and morose looks painted on their faces as they gawked enviously at all Jessie was creating. As weeks passed, Jessie and I were joined by another kid, and then another and it didn’t take but about a month, for me to get called into Mr. Grady’s office. “Ms. Fern. That hour on Friday afternoons remains an academic time. It is being questioned as to your activity during that time and if in fact you and your students are simply ‘playing’.” When I explained to Mr. Grady that we were actually addressing all the CA State Standards during that hour including those in science, language arts, mathematics, and social studies, he had a perplexed expression on his face that I interpreted as, “What rock did we find her under?”
To call Bangor Elementary my personal purgatory would be putting it mildly, but nothing surpassed the day Mr. Grady’s voice came blaring out through the intercom and into the air of Room 3 during a language arts lesson, “WATERMELON!”
Ok. Hearing the name of a melon clamoring through my classroom by our principal left me speechless, which is difficult to imagine I know, but I did my best to ignore it and continued with our lesson. “WATERMELON!” he bellowed a second time.
Pausing and looking through the blinds of my windows, I noticed scuffling outside.
While attempting to teach and keep the kids focused, there was a banging on my door and then it flung open. There Mr. Grady was all red-faced, huffing and puffing and eyes bulging out, “MS. FERN, DID YOU NOT HEAR WATERMELON? DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT’S OUR CODE WORD FOR A LOCK DOWN ON THIS CAMPUS? YOU ARE TO CLOSE YOUR BLINDS, LOCK YOUR DOOR, INSTRUCT YOUR CHILDREN TO GET DOWN ON THE FLOOR. THERE IS AN ANGRY PARENT WITH A WEAPON ON THE SCHOOL GROUNDS!”
Ok. Clearly, I would have remembered a “code word” such as that had I been told it. And do you have any f*@!$ing idea what shouting into a room that a lunatic parent who's packing, is running loose on their schoolyard, does to a group of 6 and 7 year olds?
Meth was never my drug of choice so I must admit my knowledge of it is minimal. However, the concept of pious families, powering meth labs in their backyards and attending church service in between batches, still baffles me to this day. But, I now believe that this introduction has built my strong character and provided me with the skills I hold today to be a successful and highly effective trailer park manager.
So, thank you Bangor! I am forever in your debt for so many things, less I forget, that day in April, when you all came to my aid as that wild pig chased me across the soccer field. Thank you for that and so much more!