Georgie C by Dave Haskins

George C. Clifton was a small man with a quiet temperament and a clear liking for the sound of his own voice, characteristics he shared with my father. He had achieved the position of principal in our country school, and soon his unconventional ways drew unwanted attention from the Home and School parent committee and from Board officials.

Such was the state of the art in teaching methodology in 1957 that Georgie C brought in yellow chalk to use on green boards and told us it was easier to see than white on black. He also tested us with the first IQ tests the province had provided, over much dissension from our parents, and then called us to his desk and showed us our results. I was pleased to clock in at 135, a number quite remote and meaningless to me, then as now.

When he put the official curriculum aside and followed his own project ideas, he invoked the ire of the inspector, who came to watch him from the back of the class, and

download player 5150 online afterward to give out to each of us a maroon pocket-sized Gideon’s New Testament, a compulsive mission of his which his job afforded him opportunity to pursue. We mostly buried the Testaments in our desks, along with pencil sharpenings, old lunch food dried into dark nut-like nuggets, elastic band slingshots with paper clip missiles, workbooks, occasional mouse droppings, baseball gloves, crinkled paper aeroplanes, and gossip notes passed around during memory work recitations, the easiest way to fill the 100 line quota being A. A. Milne’s “The King’s Breakfast (“The King / asked / the Queen, / and / the Queen / asked / the dairymaid…”)

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Never one to let books stand in the way of education, Georgie C took a month of afternoons away from the curriculum to make an Indian headdress from feathers, down, leather strips, thong, all materials as authentic as we could gather. My job was to bring in the white down from chickens to be wrapped around the base of each long “eagle” feather. I went to Peter Thompstone’s house, a tall Victorian farm home beneath the Niagara escarpment, when his father and mother were wringing the necks of chickens – I had so hoped to see one running about with its head cut off – and hand plucking them on their back porch. I gathered up the tiny feathers by the bag full, careful to leave behind the blood stained ones, and to get away from there before I was roped into helping out, a prospect which horrified me. Next day in class, each of us was given one long feather to wrap for insertion into the leather headband, and mysteriously we began to learn how patience and skill and care for this artifact could generate respect for our country’s Indians, when just four years earlier in an English schoolyard I had played Cowboys and Indians, and died so slowly and well when shot that I got to be an Indian most often, though of course every dying lasted much longer than the death that followed it. And for fifty years I have carried Georgie C’s interest in Indians of the coast, plains, and forest, (before they were to be called First Peoples, Native Peoples, Aboriginals, Metis, Inuit, and all the other politically correct monikers,) and consider this lesson to be the most valuable of all my childhood teachings.

In the wood shop, he showed those of us who had never lifted a hammer how to use hand tools, and the difference between a cross-cut and a rip saw’s teeth, and how to sharpen a chisel to use on hard walnut. We went home that summer proudly bearing gifts of teapot trivets, bookends, and doorstops for our parents to marvel at. And I began to buy my own tools with my cherry picking money, and built a work bench in our back shed out of 2 x 4’s and 2 x 6’s; and I hammered together a raft from driftwood boards and punted and sailed it out on the lake, and on a pole fastened to a bedstead rail I hung my shirt which mostly functioned as a drooping flag and not the sail I had hoped to set. Never one to resist a “teaching moment”, Georgie C also blew the snot out of his nose after working in the basement wood shop for the afternoon and showed the rag to us all so we would know what black crud our prepubescent nose hairs were hopefully screening from our lungs.
There were other life skills he imparted to us, often without intending to, though with considerable flair. Wearing his suit jacket to challenge his competence, he would put his finger through the loop at the top of a heavy gallon glass jug full of blue-black ink, swing it up and over the crook in his arm, and by slowly lifting his elbow, pour the ink into our inkwells with openings the size of a fifty cent piece without spilling a drop. This is how I pour cider from gallon jugs, without spilling a drop.

Or, sitting at his desk he would watch a fly land, and swoop his open hand over top of it, trapping it in his fist as it rose backward to take off. Then he would raise his fist to his ear and shake it to hear the frantic buzzing of wings as evidence of his success, and with a great flourish of his upraised hand, hurl the hapless creature onto the floor, listening for the click of its body, the coup de grace, on the tile. I too consider myself an expert fly catcher, though more than one glass has gone flying off the table in my enthusiasm.

As part of the compulsory entertainment portion of our monthly Red Cross meeting, I once stood in front of the class and sang in a boy’s unbroken treble voice, “O for the wings, for the wings of a dove”, which I had rehearsed for the Kiwanis Music Festival. It was the first time I had shown my peers that while I could not win a fight against the class bully whom I had earlier insulted in the washroom, (Georgie C gave me no comfort for my drubbing, but admonished me, “Some boys fight with their fists, some fight with their mouths”), I could do something they could not, and I sloughed off the ridicule of those boys who already had their high school voices, and hoped in vain that I might have impressed Helen or Diane or Josie or Nancy or any one of the unattainable lovelies, though especially Helen, in our senior year. That bully who had punched me out had a more repulsive way to garner attention. In the back of the playground, he ate worms. Again, Georgie C reacted with peculiar restraint. “Worms probably have a good deal of protein,” he quietly remarked, and that was that. After our “fight”, the boy invited me back to his house, a ramshackle hovel that explained why he wore the same clothes every day and stank, but not why the school health nurse pointedly told us all after examining his mouth that he had no tooth decay because the harmful bacteria that caused it simply didn’t live in his mouth. He gave me several carpet squares as a peace offering, samples from his older brother’s past temporary job, and I took them home to line the floor of my creek-side dugout fort. I never invited him to my place. His brother killed himself by ramming his car into the side of a concrete bridge abutment on the main highway, and soon afterward the family left the area.

I wrote for Georgie C my first story, an account from memory of my life-altering journey from Liverpool to Montreal by ship, the Ascania, at the age of eight in 1953. He liked it enough to keep it, which now I regret as no copy was made nor could have been, and I would like to read it again, having forgotten some of the on board hi-jinks my deck friend and I got up to. And yet, had he not praised it by keeping it, I might never have been encouraged to take up writing in my adult life.

One day, the boys in our grade seven-eight class picked up Georgie C’s Volkswagen Beetle and carried it around behind the school building out of sight. To escape detection, we all went straight home at the 3 o’clock bell, and never heard a word about the incident from him, but next day the car was back in its dedicated spot in the parking lot again. Oddly, he repaid our prank with various acts of kindness.

There was the Spelling Bee. These were class, then school, and finally county wide competitions. Lower Thirty was a small four room school, and we had never attempted more than class contests, until my year. I had been a perfect speller in England by the age of seven, and yet here in Canada, I could not spell “aunt” (“ant”) or “bought” (“box”) or any word that when dictated, suffered from my hearing a confusing Canadian accent and mistaking the word for its apparent homonym. Yet in Georgie C’s class, I excelled.

On to County. One night in the dead of winter, Georgie C, my parents, and I piled into his Beetle and beetled our way through death-defying snow drifts along unlit concessions to a small hamlet I had only heard about, to take on the best of the county’s spellers in a first ever spell-off. A country school’s pupils may meet a town school’s pupils once a year at softball finals if they are exceptionally lucky, but never a city school’s champions. Never in front of one’s parents. Never in front of one’s teacher, who had personally brought us to this remote and secret ritual. Suddenly, this wasn’t to be about me. I was merely the standard bearer. It was about the class where my friends and those who were not my friends had unwittingly wagered their reputations on my performance; it was about the school for whom I was their David against the Goliaths the rest of the county had mustered; it was about my parents whom for once I had the chance to make proud; and it was about Georgie C, as payback for his IQ test results, his skill with Indian head gear, his courage to follow what he felt was the right thing to do and to teach, his praise of a young boy who might have been defeated had he not driven me to this showdown.

I do not remember the first word I was given. I know it was a monosyllable. Too easy! I rattled off the letters, and slammed on the silent “e”. The moment I said it, even before I had finished hearing myself say it, I knew I had brought crashing down the whole edifice of expectations. The word had, of course, no silent “e”. I managed to shuffle off the stage into the audience to sit between my mother and Georgie C where in silence I endured shame on a Biblical scale, of a schoolboy’s pride fallen, not daring to wipe the tears from my face lest I make even more public my disgrace. In the car ride home, nothing was said, mercifully, so I would not have to speak. Nothing was ever said.
When I was hospitalized that year for an extremely painful operation, Georgie C had the class draw and paint cards wishing me well, and brought them to my bedside. He also came to our house during my recuperation to bring me work, and to visit with me and my parents. My father and he swapped their scouting stories, as both had been active in the movement. Next year, when we bought an old house in town for $7,000 over 25 years, we found out that he, a bachelor, lived like a hermit in an upstairs room in a boarding house across the road from us, and we hardly ever saw him. Soon after that, he was gone.

watch zombie strippers in divx Some years later, the inspector who had given out the New Testaments told me that Georgie C had burned to death in a cabin fire in the bush in northern Ontario. I used the ending of his life in a story about a fictional character I had to bump off, a story I submitted to a national CBC story competition. My entry won over 900 others. But I always knew the death was not my character’s, but his. He even gave me that.

– Dave Haskins