Patrick Kuhl: Wishing for the school bell to ring

August 18, 2013 

The unmistakable aroma of a mimeographed geography test.

The military-like order to line up single file. Arm's length apart.

The farm kids scrambling to get their homework and coats together to catch the bus 15 minutes before we city kids were dismissed.

The ecstasy of a third-place finish in the weekly spelling bee.

The agony of having to stay after school and beat the erasers for talking during English.

The big barrel of red sawdust the janitor always brought out to sprinkle on the floor after some kid got sick.




Those are the things I think about at back-to-school time. When I was in the middle of it, I never thought I'd miss anything about school. I just couldn't wait for that bell to ring every day, and the mad scramble for freedom that ensued. I miss that, too.

My first clue that my carefree summer was coming to an end was unfamiliar clothes showing up in my closet. No more tennis shoes, T-shirts or jeans to school. We had to wear "school pants," "school shirts" and "school shoes."

With five brothers going through the grades before me, there were always lots of school clothes waiting for me to grow into. In August, Mom pulled out the box of clothes she had been saving since my brother was in third grade and started patching knees, hemming cuffs and moving over buttons.

Trouble was, my next closest brother was seven grades ahead of me, so it would be October before the aroma of mothballs was completely out of the hand-me-downs. Come to think of it, I could use some new clothes right now. I should call my brother. ...

My sister and I always got a head start on school. Weeks before, we headed up to St. Paul to help last year's teacherset up her classroom. Carry stuff in. Unpack boxes. Clean. Mom wondered why we didn't do those things at home.

It was also a chance to meet our new teachers and give them a hand. Never hurt to have a little insurance ... just in case the dog eats my homework later in the year.

That dreaded first day of school actually turned out to be pretty cool. Sure, it was a shock to learn that Mike Cheney had moved to Washington, Mo., and that someone decided Allan was so smart he needed to skip a grade.

But I got over it quickly when I found out new guy Paul could hit a softball even farther than Mike. And that, with Allan out of the picture, I had a real shot at third place in the spelling bee.

I miss all my grade school teachers: Sister Salvador, Mrs. Brasel, Sister Peter Marie, (Oh, no, I forgot the name of the rookie teacher I had in fourth grade but I remember what she looked like -- all the boys had a big crush on her.), Mrs. Mason, Mr. Harrigan, Mrs. Rudd and Sister Etienne. They should all be declared saints for putting up with all 50 of us (give or take, depending on the year).

I miss all my classmates. I wonder how they all turned out. Whenever I run into one, it's like we're still in third grade.

I miss eighth grade, because we finally got to be patrol boys and girls. That meant getting to wear the white patrol belt that wound around the waist and over the shoulder. We learned the super-secret way to wind it up so it looked like a little ball.

When you put on your patrol belt, you were "somebody." You stood a little straighter. Walked a little taller. You stopped traffic to help kids and teachers across the street. You controlled the playgrounds. All the little kids looked up to you and actually minded you when you declared some kid needed a time out.


Where else could you take aim at the convent windows in right field? In all my eight years, we broke only two. And got away with it.

And where else could you see perhaps the greatest dodgeball player in the world -- Sister Peter Marie? She magically pinned her floor-length habit up just enough to jump, slide, spin and otherwise dodge anything we kids could throw at her. She was deadly when it came to nailing us with the big red ball.

Never thought I'd say this, but I wish it was back-to-school time for me. Want to play dodgeball?

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