Grade 7: 1978, Van Bellingham Elementary School, Winnipeg, MB. Teacher – Mr. D. Corbett.
Grade 7 found us back in the same space as Grade 4, so more open area. I was still in the “B” class, and still very much distracted by the changes at home.
I do have class pictures from Grade 7, probably because I really liked this one, and I adored that outfit – silky blouse with heavyish peasant skirt, very late-70s, which became my go-to outfit for occasions, including my first dance. The glasses are the same ones that I had in Grade 6, a now permanent facial fixture for me (I’ve never successfully transitioned to contact lenses, and now feel quite bare without my windscreens).
Firsts this year included first school dance and first classes in home-ec and shop. I’m sure there were a few dances, but in my memory they all blur together as a likely typical school dance scene – a darkened gymnasium, a disco ball, top-40 tunes (Saturday Night Fever and Grease, as well as the Canadian classic Roxy Roller), and long crowded sidelines of girls and boys nervously observing each other through an ever-changing circle of dancers. My one slow-dance recollection is of an embarrassing encounter with a boy much taller than me; I don’t recall who asked whom, but I recall nervously hugging him around his chest (I couldn’t reach his shoulders, for the standard slow-dance position), and him backing off and saying, “don’t you know how to slow-dance?” before turning away and going back to his side of the gym. An inauspicious start to romance.
Home-ec and shop were thrilling because they were held at the nearby high school, JH Bruns Collegiate, offering a preview of the exciting times awaiting us in Grade 9. The first half of the year was shop, where we did drafting and metal work. Home-ec (short for home economics) was about cooking and sewing. The co-ed mix of the classes had not yet resulted in true emancipation of the curriculum; the feeling of awkwardness of boys making aprons and girls soldering in a world where these things were still somewhat unusual was tangible. The only remnant from that work – a watering can made from an old tomato juice tin – was a gift to my mom, for her impressive plant collection (especially the dieffenbachia); it’s just recently returned to me, a bit rusty but still usable after 40 years, so I must have soldered something right. Thankfully, my apron and the pair of shorts I made in home-ec do not live on.
Science and math were emerging as my strengths, and I have clearer memories of those classes than of language arts or social studies. What I remember clearly about the latter was the teacher, Ms Birks (note the Ms); a striking and (for Southdale) glamorous woman, she moved and spoke elegantly and bore a mystique that was interesting to me and likely tantalizing to the boys. When leading a class, she liked to sit on a high stool near the centre of the room, so classes were like a conversation rather than a lecture, and felt quite sophisticated.
Science in Grade 7 was about engineering and earth sciences – geology, electricity, physical properties. The late 70s were also a time where pollution (give a hoot, don’t pollute!) and fossil fuels (now called “non-renewable energy sources”) were hot topics. (We also believed in climate change back then, but were more concerned about global cooling than global warming, which shows that we’re pretty clueless about climate.) Fossil fuels were such a current topic that a written assignment was about “Dwindling Fossil Fuels and Their Effect on the World”; surprising how much of this is still relevant nearly 40 years later. Surprising to no one that knows me, my handwriting was as atrocious then as it is now.
It was from her high stool in the classroom that Ms Birks told us about Mr H. In her calm and mature voice, she told us, in language appropriate for Grade 7, that Mr. H. had been arrested for inappropriate interactions with students. With a rapidity that would be impossible today, he was accused, fired, tried and convicted in just over a year; by spring of 1980, he was in jail. The details in the newspapers were scanty but salacious, especially for the 70s. I don’t often think about that time, but when I do I remember my grief at the tragedy of it all – for the school, the students, the teachers and for Mr. H. He will always be one of the best and most influential teachers I ever had. I have just one memento from then – a note from Mr. H. Somehow, I was able to send him a letter (which I have no memory of), and somehow he was able to write me back, thanking me for my kind gesture and wishing me well at school; this exchange was likely facilitated by my mom, a good friend to Mr. H. throughout that time. This is the same teacher who wrote me the nicest wish in my autograph book: May there only be enough cloud in your life to make a beautiful sunset. It was a cloudy time, but I believe most everyone – including Mr. H. – have made lives for themselves beyond that time.
The completion of Grade 7 brought the completion of my time at Van B and in Winnipeg (or so I thought at the time). Late that spring, my pop accepted a job in Souris, PEI. I said my goodbyes to friends (I didn’t have many, and none other than Angie’s that persisted beyond grade school), helped with packing up the house, and headed away from Grade 7 across the country to the little red island in the azure blue sea, and to – for me – the end of childhood.
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