Friday, August 24, 2018

A matter of historical record: One old-timer’s memory of a bizarre playground incident at an old-time Windham schoolhouse by Walter Lunt

The bizarre incident at North Windham’s old Arlington School ran in The Independent (a local weekly) in 2011 as an amusing, though unfortunate, incident witnessed nearly a century ago by the late Phil Kennard, a long-time Windham resident and storyteller.

It was one of a five-part series on Kennard’s memories of Arlington Grammar School in the 1920s. Kennard had a unique way of telling a good story, so with full acknowledgement that we are reprinting his original article using Kennard’s own words, here is the story of the missing apple, or as Kennard titled it, “A major tussle with a disagreeable teacher”:

Windham's old Arlington School 
“…1929 saw us in the fifth grade with the upper classroom’s big boys and girls. That year, they had hired a new teacher ‘From Away,’ a Mr. Perry. He was probably 30 years old, of average height and, while a little on the stocky side had a muscular body and a ‘don’t tread on me’ attitude which tended to fill us with a great deal of respect when we were in his presence.

His classroom demeanor was brusque, and he wasn’t bashful about letting us know when even the smallest of school rules had been breached. Subsequently, the following spring we found out through a curious happening what we had already suspected: that he had a bad temper. I remember it well because I was only a few feet away when he came out of the school one noon, walked up to Candy Lamb (…a boy…if my memory serves me right, his real first name was Walter) and, shaking his finger in his face, bellowed accusingly, “You stole an apple out of Ruth Philpot’s desk! Where is it?”

It took a moment for Candy to realize what was taking place, but when he did, he came right back with, “No! Sir! Not me! I never stole no apple out of Ruth’s desk!

“Don’t you lie to me!” Perry snarled, she saw you put the cover down on her desk and walk away, and she couldn’t find her apple when she looked for it. You stole it, and you better admit it!”
No, sir, Mr. Perry,” Candy tried to explain, “She couldn’t have seen me steal her apple because I didn’t do it! What happened was that I saw her pencil on the floor, picked it up and put it back in her desk.”

“You dirty liar! If I get any more lies out of you, do you know what’s going to happen? You are going to find yourself flat on your back in that mud puddle right down there!”

Candy hesitated a moment and then said bravely, “I never stole no apple!”

At that, Perry made a jump and got Candy in a neck hold, but Candy, being a big boy for his age, without so much a lifting his hands from his sides, took a side step and, with a sudden twist and roll, deposited his attacker on his back right smack-dab in the middle of the aforementioned puddle!

For a moment, it appeared that Perry was about as surprised as we were, but then he came onto his feet like a roaring bull and this time Candy gave no resistance, probably because he knew that to be involved in a knock-down, drag-out fight with a teacher would get him expelled.

Down they both went with Perry on top and, getting on his hands and knees astraddle Candy, he grabbed his hair with one hand and, shaking a fist under his nose with the other snarled, “You see this fist right here? You make one move and I’ll beat your face in!”

I was scared to death, as I am sure the others were, too. However, it all ended abruptly when Mary Proctor yelled out of a window, “Ruth just found the apple behind some stuff in the back of her desk!”

At this, Perry relinquished his hold on Candy’s hair and got slowly to his feet, probably realizing that his actions had placed him in a less-than-admirable position. Even so, he showed no signs of remorse as he turned and walked back toward the schoolhouse door.

Later, Ruth told Candy how sorry she was for her error, but Perry acted as though it never had happened. At any rate, the following year, he was replaced by a lady teacher. I don’t know if the school board let him go or he decided to go of his own volition. Whichever it was, it didn’t hurt my feelings any!

Many modern-day readers of this old school tale find it incredulous. Although fading rapidly, some of the old schoolhouse culture and customs of the recently concluded 19th century persisted into the more progressive educational movements of the early 20th century.’

As stated in last week’s Historical Record, early schoolhouse education was dominated by disciplined learning and occasional chaos. Phil Kennard was obviously a testament to both.
The Windham Historical Society will welcome visitors to the grand opening of its Village School, a late 19th century recreation of a Windham one-room schoolhouse. Join the schoolmarms and schoolmaster on Saturday, August 25 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  <

No comments:

Post a Comment