I will never forget that cold November morning. The doors of the school bus opened and we piled out into the rain. Most of the children ran into the shelters at the big school. Just a few of us had to cross the field to get to our classes in the old one room schoolhouse. The square building, black with age, had stairs leading up to a large porch. Inside the school there were five rows of desks, the kind that are joined together one behind the other in a line. The old school building was brought back into service once more because the new school overflowed with “baby boomer” children. The old school’s one classroom was used for grade two and three students. The Grade one class relegated to the community hall.
The boys went directly into the school, while Shirley, Linda, Betty and I waited on the porch overlooking the parking lot. I was very shy and I longed to be included in their games. Mr. Dick, the Grade four teacher climbed out of his car. Betty called “Hello Mr. Dickey Bird” to him. Shirley and Linda joined the chant… ”Hey Mr. Dickey Bird, fly away home”. They looked at me so I joined in the chant… I wanted to belong in the group so I whispered “Mr. Dickey bird” as he turned to march toward us. The others ran into the schoolhouse but I stood frozen to the spot. His feet made a loud thunderous sound as he stormed up the stairs. I felt myself melting, my legs no longer able to hold me. His looked down at me from his towering height. “What did you call me?” His voice sounded like thunder. I thought for sure I was going to die. My mouth opened but no words could escape. My effort to speak turned into crying. I felt abandoned by my friends. I could hear them laughing from inside. Mr. Dick heard them too and stormed inside. I stood motionless, glad he was gone. I began to breathe again. Just as relief washed over my shoulders, the door opened and my friends came out followed closely by Mr. Dick. “Come with me to the office” he barked at me.
“The office” …the words echoed in my mind, filling me with fear. “That was for bad kids” I thought. I am not sure how my legs were able to move. I obediently followed Mr. Dick into the rain. As we trudged over to the big school I was glad it was still raining, I lifted my face to allow the rain to wash over my tear stained face. Maybe no one will know I was crying again. Mom always says I am crying for nothing, but I knew this was not one of those times. This was serious. It was the first time I was ever sent to the office.
Mr Dick ordered us to sit in the hall and wait. One by one our names were called. I sat trembling, my thoughts filled with dread. Every minute I waited was one more minute of imagining the pain that was about to come. I was facing an unknown with my brother’s tales of the principal to feed my fear. My older brother knew everything and he says there is a big black strap that really hurts. He said that the strap can make a person’s skin split wide open. I felt so helpless and terrified.
I was last to be called. The others had hurried past me and out the door without speaking or even looking at me. The Principal called me into his office and told me to sit down in the big wooden chair beside Mr. Dick. My eyes fixed on my wet shoes; I tried to listen to the lecture about teasing and about respect… I felt deep shame. I thought up all the excuses I could think of. ” It’s not my fault” I wanted to tell them, but I was afraid to talk.
I knew in my heart it is wrong to make fun of people.
“Now, young lady, I want you to apologize”. My eyes opened wide, the terror of his words left me speechless. “He wants me to apolo… what? “My mind searched for the meaning, but I did not know what he wanted me to do. I had never heard that word before. I looked at my hands, my fists clenched knowing they were going to feel the pain of the strap any minute.. I was afraid to look up. The principal stood up. “If you do not apologize I will have to give you the strap”. He pulled a large black strap from his desk drawer. I raised my eyes to take a peek. I gasped as I saw monstrous weapon. It is huge, just like my brother said. Fear overwhelmed me, I could not contain my crying any longer. Terrified sobs burst from my heart. I fidgeted and cried, so afraid.
“Do you want the strap?” The principal leaned closer.
“No,” I managed to gasp trying to make myself disappear.
“Then apologize for what you did” I did not understand what the words meant.
“I.. I don’t know how” I whispered into my hands.
“Apologize means to say you are sorry” the principal sat down again. Relief flooded my soul. I felt so dumb.
‘I am sorry” I breathed the words without looking up. “I’m sorry” I managed to speak a little louder. I felt so stupid for not knowing the meaning of the word “Apology“.