That fall I started Grade Two at North Otter Elementary, which was located about two miles from our place, down 248th Avenue. It was a relatively new public school at the time, much larger than St. Paul’s private school in Esquimalt. There were about 36 children in my classroom alone. North Otter was bright and new, and seemed a little scary at first. There were a lot of other kids here, from younger than me right up to the “big” kids in Grade Six!
My Grade 2 Class at North Otter School. I’m in the front row at the very left.
There were rules to follow in this new environment, but they were presented and enforced in a more open and less strict atmosphere that immediately appealed to me. My teacher was young, pretty and friendly and spoke to us in a supportive manner that made Miss Pearcey seem almost unrecognizable.
My favourite subject was Language Arts – reading, writing and spelling. Every few days the class would have a spelling test, which I treated very seriously. I usually felt relatively optimistic about my spelling ability.
In reading, one book was my favourite: “Mac the Rat”. Grade Two classes still read it today. I’m not exactly sure what I liked most about it, but most likely it was the large illustration on the cover, which had a mysterious quality. Mac the Rat was kind of an explorer – like me.
My best friend was a boy named Ernie Weibe, who lived just a block away from school. I’d walk him to his place most days, and then continue on the next mile and three quarters home. It was quite a long walk, but I would usually pass the time looking at people’s houses, trying to figure out how tall the trees were, or wondering what was planted in each of the fields as I passed them. Sounds pretty carefree, huh… There were also days when I felt pretty darn miserable and the long walk home would provide a chance to brood, complain or sulk. I remember one day while walking home alone, I wished I was a piece of the sidewalk so that everyone would walk on me.
Ernie’s parents ran an egg farm, and one time Ernie invited me over to see their chickens. I was pretty curious to see how one “farmed” eggs, since my only knowledge of farming was with wheat. I was led into a long dark building next to the Weibe home. I immediately caught a whiff of “chicken coop” – a musty, oily kind of stink. I never knew how bad chickens could smell when a whole bunch of them got together to lay eggs! The chatter and commotion of dozens and dozens of clucking hens drowned out all conversation immediately. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw how all the birds were organized: nests were arranged next to each other on long shelves, and there were maybe two or three shelves up each wall and on stands in the middle of the floor. I watched with fascination as eggs rolled out from under the nests down onto metal rails in the front where they could be easily collected. It was like an egg “factory”. I really don’t recall this experience discouraging me from eating eggs at all. I guess maybe I didn’t have much empathy for chickens.
At Poppy’s house in Victoria, there used to be years and years worth of National Geographic magazines down in his basement. We inherited a load of Poppy’s National Geographics when we moved out to Langley, and I had spent many hours looking through them in fascination. Of particular interest were pictures of skulls that people had dug out of the ground. These were evidence of people and animals from long long ago, I learned. When Mum told us that there was quicksand on the property, I decided that I had to go digging. I was convinced I’d find a dinosaur bone!
I already had an old shovel with a broken handle. That would get me started, but I didn’t have all the necessary tools yet. I’d seen on TV how Archaeologists used little brushes to clean the dirt off their findings, so, wanting to be as authentic as possible, I grabbed my toothbrush and headed off to dig.
I picked a prime spot (not more than thirty feet from the trailer) and proceeded to dig a hole. After about half an hour of digging up rocks, clay, and sand, my fingers found something different. It was hard and whitish – a real bone! I could not believe my eyes! Out came the toothbrush, and as I scrubbed away the sand, I could easily see teeth. It was a jawbone. I was quite sure that this jaw must have belonged to some kind of plant-eating dinosaur, due to the flat teeth it had at the back. I tore back into the trailer to show everyone my “find”. Dad said it was a plant eater all right, but probably just a cow, not a dinosaur.