Second grade was a very special year for me. It was in second grade that we really started developing close friendships and telling secrets. It was kind of thrilling to know something about yourself that your parents didn’t know.
Like falling into the swamp on the way to school. That was the day that my second grade teacher Mrs. Bjorklund became my hero. She never told anyone what happened. She could have hauled us to the principal and ratted us out to our parents, but she didn’t. I thought she was wonderful, she was one of us.
It was a warm Friday afternoon in May. Twenty second graders were all fidgeting at their desks, nervously watching the clock. Mrs. Bjorklund always had us singing after 3:00 on Fridays. She wasn’t fool enough to try and teach anything to little kids who are anxiously watching the long hand on the clock, sweep past the minutes. Only thirty minutes to go.
We were singing my favorite song from second grade “Carmelita”. It went “Oh sing your song Carmelita, please Carmelita, please sing your song for me. It won’t take long Carmelita, please Carmelita, please sing your song for me. And the donkey went merrily onward, he walks with a merry clip clop” That was a great song, I loved it especially the clip clop part.
Mrs. Bjorklund was leading us in the song when Mr. Katon stuck his head in the door. He was our principal. He was a very nice man. He stuck his head in to wish us a nice weekend every Friday. He was friendly, had a big smile and I think he was very tall. I think he was tall, I don’t know because I was seven years old, everyone seemed tall to me.
He gave us a smile as we were singing and he went to shut the door but it slammed shut. We had the windows open so the air pressure caught him off guard. It was OK though, we didn’t miss a beat singing.
As the minutes ticked by we all were nervous and excited. When you grow up on Lake Superior, warm spring days are a huge deal. You can actually run and play and not worry about getting cold. It was perfect weather for hopscotch games or Chinese jump rope. We absolutely loved playing those games as kids. Those were the video games of my youth. You couldn’t do it inside or alone.
So it was 3:25, Mrs. Bjorklund gave us the OK to put our books away and straighten out our desks so they would be nice and tidy for Monday . We were all excited. We couldn’t wait to be turned free. It was like opening the gate on a ranch when all the cattle run like crazy.
Another great thing about second grade, no homework. Our homework was helping out around the house. Cleaning the chandelier with my big sister, or sweeping. I was too little to vacuum.
Finally, the last ten seconds. I watch the stilted movement of the long hand on the clock as it ticked through the seconds. Then the bell rang. Thank goodness we all stood up and went to the door.
Why wasn’t the door opening? I heard someone say the door was stuck. We were all milling around and some of the kids started looking worried. Mrs. Bjorklund came to see what was wrong, she told us to move back so she could open the door.
She turned the knob, nothing happened. Then she pushed on the door., nothing happened. She shook the door, nothing happened.
Kids were getting more and more upset. One little boy, the principal’s son was crying. He said he was going to be late for a date with Kerri T. I know were were only seven, but we were very sophisticated. He was going to meet her at the slide and they were going to play on the merry-go-round. Very sophisticated.
Mrs. Bjorklund walked back to the front of the room and sat on her desk. She was thinking of a way to save us. We all sat back downs in our seats, looking up at her. We knew she could think of something, she was an adult. She could save us.
She had a thought. We would all write notes and shove them under the door. Someone would see the notes, pick them up and save us.
So we feverishly wrote notes, begging for help. We were trapped and needed help. We were a little dramatic. I mean, we were on the first floor, tons of windows, and we had running water. Wait, we didn’t have a bathroom. Now that is a problem. We were only seven years old, we didn’t have much time before someone would have to go.
So we shoved the notes under the door and out into the hall and waited. We waited and waited, but no one came. That started us thinking. Who were we waiting for? The bell had rung 10 minutes ago on a warm Friday afternoon. The busses were gone and it appeared everyone else was gone too.
A couple of more kids were starting to cry and the rest of us were just getting anxious. We had been waiting all week for Friday night and being allowed to stay out a little later because of the warm weather. We had to get home, there was hop scotch to hop and Barbies to play with, bikes to ride. We were all busy that night, we needed out of there. I’m sure no one else realized this, but we really were little adults with big plans. Friday night, playing hopscotch, it was our social calendar and it was time to go.
Mrs. Bjorklund was thinking again at her desk. Then she started looking at the windows. That was it!!! We would send someone out the window. We were on the first floor. The windows cranked out, so it had to be someone small to fit through the hole. Who would it be????
We had a volunteer, Timmy Fleck. Timmy came from a big family. All of the kids looked alike. Small frames, skinny, freckles and a shock of red hair. i had this feeling that Timmy might have actually gone out these kinds of windows before. He was that kind of kid, always living on the edge.
In art class one day, we were all wearing our art smocks (our Dad’s old shirt turned backwards), our art teacher gave us each a piece of charcoal. We were supposed to draw a picture of a house. So as we were all trying to do this, Timmy put his had up to go to the Boy’s room.
He went in there and drew a beard, mustache and eyebrows on himself with the charcoal. Then he came back to class. I don’t think I had ever laughed that hard at school before then, or since. It was the single funniest thing a seven year old kid did that I witnessed. He got in trouble.
So when he volunteered to go out the window, none of us were surprised.
He climbed up on the window sills and Mrs. Bjorklund had him start out the window, she grabbed him by the ankles and started pushing him. There was just one problem. He didn’t fit.
It seems that Timmy had some sort of growth spurt in second grade. I hadn’t really noticed before but he was getting bigger. Despite this, he was still the smallest kid in class.
Mrs. Bjorklund hauled him back in. Two or three more kids were in tears.
We were never going to get out. We would die there. Our parents would band together and search for us. When our poor limp bodies were finally discovered, it would be too late. The whole town would be sad. There would not be a church big enough to hold all of the grieving families.
They would all be so sad and they would sing our favorite song. Yes, they would learn “Carmelita”. Maybe they would even get a donkey to pull the wagon for the caskets. Maybe the donkey could even walk with a merry clip clop. It was so sad.
Years from now, children would look up to the example we set. We died at school, learning things and they would remember us for that.
Boy I was dramatic at seven.
Then I heard a knock!! On the door, someone was knocking!! We all cheered!!! It was Mr. Katon, he was there, he would save us. Mrs. Bjorklund ran to the door and told him it was stuck and she couldn’t get it open.
Mr. Katon told her to stand away from the door and have all the children go back by the windows. So we all huddled together at the windows. This was so exciting, like an episode from Lassie when the Dad finally follows Lassie to rescue the little kid.
Mr. Katon took off his jacket, and rolled up his sleaves. Shoulder down he ran to the door and hit it with all his might. It opened.
We all cheered and cheered. We were saved!! Mr. Katon saved us. We were all smiling and happy. This was the best day of my life. It was like a super hero had saved us. Saved us from death, saved us from getting in trouble for missing supper, saved to grow up and get married and have kids and tell them the mighty tale of how we looked death in the face and laughed.
OK I’m still dramatic.
Looking back on that day seems so funny now. It sure wasn’t funny when it happened. I still get scared. It’s funny, being scared now doesn’t feel any different than being scared back then. I’m just afraid of different things now. I’m afraid that AA feels a lot like being locked in a classroom on a Friday after noon. I have so many things to do, I’m in a hurry to get out, I want and need to go see my friends but just like second grade, the door is locked.
Mr.Katon isn’t going to come and knock down the door for me this time. I need to do that myself. If little Timmy Fleck can volunteer to go out that window and be held over the ground by his ankles, surely I can go outside and face whatever is there.
Heroes come in all sizes, from the big Mr. Katon to the little Timmy Fleck, they are all heroes in our lives. Our biggest hero is the one inside us all. The little voice that says “I’m still here, you can do anything if you try.”
So what are you waiting for? It’s Friday afternoon, it’s nice out there, go get um!!!