I spent 24 hours with my partner’s family, telling stories, eating pistachios, not letting the men get a word in edge-wise, and at one point, they begged me to tell the story of my year from hell in a place called Bangor, California where I accepted a teaching contract for a 1st/2nd grade class at Bangor Elementary.
A little background on Bangor…
Bangor is located in Butte County, in the hills above Oroville. Its population is 160, which includes approximately 65 households. Houses have depreciated 12.5% over the last 12 months and there are 11 homes for sale at this time, including 18 foreclosures. This does not include the campers, trailers and recreational vehicles that are tucked away down back roads and function as not only homes but also makeshift meth labs, which is Bangor’s number one source of income besides AFDC.
When I told my friends and neighbors in Chico I had gotten on in Bangor, their facial expressions waved between nervousness and fright.
So… I got in quite a lot of trouble at Bangor Elementary and of course was in Mr. Grady’s office almost daily pleading my case for such crimes as why picking up trash from the schoolyard wasn’t just for custodians and students' punishment for not doing homework; that in fact, picking up trash, discovering where it ends up if you don’t, encouraging recycling, making “trash sculptures” from tossed garbage is actually academic. Mr. Grady's and my other conversations included my opposition to rewarding children by tossing bags of Peanut M & M’s at them when they sit quietly at a school assembly, giving a child a ‘whoopin’ and sitting him in the corner and forcing him to read the Bible for 30 minutes because he’s getting an F in reading, and doing science projects during “Bible Study Hour.” These, and many more felonies, were usually given the same reply. Mr. Grady would say, “We’ve been doing it this way for years, Ms. Fern. It’s just the way it’s done ‘round here.”
One afternoon, I had the kids out for P.E., which was frowned upon by the other 7 teachers because “These kids need the 3 R’s,” when a little girl named Hopi, who was part White and part Maidu, looked up and in a breath of excitement started pointing at a helicopter which carried a lengthy rope with something attached to the end of it. “What’s that hangin’ on the end, Ms Fern?” Unsure, I suggested that it might be a large vat of water, that perhaps the helicopter was part of the Fire Service and maybe they were putting out a fire in a remote area. We continued playing soccer and the next day rumors circulated down the already creepy hallways that an unknown man “Had gotten himself drunk as a skunk and landed in the crick; done drowned.”
Evidently, it was the only way to get a dead body out of these Bangor hills.
Mr. Grady asked me to be the volleyball coach for the 6-8th grade girls. At the time, I had no idea why me, but after the season, it became clear as spring water that no one else was dumb enough. I had never coached volleyball; in fact, didn’t know a damn thing about it including how many players fill the court, what score you need to reach to win and well, how seriously Bangor parents take the game.
When I phoned my partner to say I had been offered “the job” her reply was “You don’t know a thing about volleyball!” “I know, but there’s a $750.00 stipend.” I replied.
“I’ll teach you.” She and my pals tried. For several Sundays we’d make a makeshift court on our backyard lawn and I’d begin a series of Volleyball 101 courses. Game time came and this is what I recall…
Game One: We lost so quickly neither my girls nor I realized it and the referee had to notify me to get my players off the court.
Game Two: A raging mom called a timeout from the bleachers, bolted down to the court and gathered my team in a huddle. The referee did not interfere.
Game Three: A large father, in overalls and missing a front tooth, who everyone called “Big John” screamed at me so loudly from the corner of the gym because I wasn’t playing his daughter enough, that I had to call my first timeout simply to compose myself.
The other games continued in much the same manner and we ended the season with me finding inspirational quotes for the girls, giving everyone an award at the pizza party, being absolutely hated by the upper grade parents, and zero wins.
This is becoming quite lengthy, so I’m thinking there’s a part two coming because I haven’t even told you about the world boar loose on the playground, the lock down or the gun racks!
May God bless the kids of Bangor!