I finally was in grade six and that meant I had to take a bus to Mulvey school which was almost in downtown Winnipeg. I could hardly wait. Travelling the bus and then a street car every day was a neat experience and going to a large school with lots of classrooms was right up there with the stars. Mom packed a lunch and I was ready for my first day. I jumped aboard the bus and it took us all the way to the main street of Portage and Main. Once there we transferred to a street car. The street car was really different. It had big antennas that came off the top of the roof and attached to a cable where electricity ran through. There was a clanging bell, hard seats and handle attached to a gear that the conductor pulled back and forth to slow or speed up the car. The seats were made for short people and being long legged I had a hard time fitting in the space between me and the next seat. There were advertising signs along the top of the windows and the car rocked back in forth as the street car went along. My stop came and I got off and followed the other kids who had been there before.
My first look at the school was to see a gray colored structure made of brick and along one side was a fire escape. It was made out of steel and looked like a farm silo except on the inside there was a circular slide that came from the third floor to the bottom. I soon learned that when we had fire drills we had to slide down the shute and it was great fun. I was put in Mrs. Schmidts' class which was my home class. She was a German lady who was a no nonsense person and when we went from class to class she would bark orders at us and if it was not going right she would shout,"Halt!" and we did if we knew what was good for us. Lunch time came and some of us were given a pint of milk and we had a whole hour off for lunch.The principal's office was on the second floor and there were stairs leading up and down to all three levels. Pretty soon we got in the routine of it all and so being bored we looked for things to do. Some days we went down town to the Manitoba legislative buidling (which was the capital building of the Province). Perched 240' above the ground atop the dome was a glittering statue of a Golden boy with 23 1/2 K gold. The torch he held symbolized economic progress in the North while the sheaf of wheat held in his left arm represented agriculture.
We had to learn about that right off in our history class. Other days we roamed around Eatons Department Store or the Hudson Bay Store. We had to be quick if we were going to get back in time for school but it was great fun.
One day one of the kids in school came and showed the rest of us how to make a water bomb out of paper. It was square looking when finished and had a hole you could pour in the water. The idea was to fill it up and throw it at other kids. I got the idea to go to the stairway on the third floor and throw it down on someone below. I had two water bombs and I let one drop on a kid below and then fired the other one in the same direction. What I didn't know was one of the teachers stuck her head over the stair rail to see who was throwing the bomb when the second one hit her square in the face. I heard one heck of a commotion down there and took off running. It didn't matter for the teacher had recognized me. Guess who? Yep, Mrs. Schmidt. She came up the stairs and was dripping with water and her hair was matted down but she found me and marched me right to the principal's office, all the time muttering in English and German. She soon explained the whole scene to the principal. He looked sternly at me and said: "What do you have to say for yourself?" I said: "Nothing," and he went to his desk and came back with a strap. He told me to hold out my left hand and gave me ten licks then he had me hold out my right hand and when he struck the first blow I pulled my hand back and he hit his knee. That did it; I got another ten for being a smart aleck. When he was done my hands were tingling and I could feel the throb of pain quite acutely. He sent me back to my home room with Mrs. Schmidt and she sat me in front of the class while she explained the penalty for such behavior. I sat on my hands because they were trembling so and I couldn't keep them still. She sent a note sealed in an envelope to give to my parents. All the way home I contemplated not giving it to my mom but thought better of it because if she found out I would have to leave home to keep from getting killed. I waited for dinner time when we were all sitting at the table and had finished our meal then I gave her the note. She took it and read it and said: "Come with me." I figured she wouldn't be so hard on me in front of my brothers and sisters. Dad wasn't home yet so she whacked me a good one and yelled like she always did: "What is the matter with you? Can't you do anything right? What am I supposed to do with you? Don't I have enough to worry about without having you constantly getting in trouble?" You know what followed next; I was sent to my room but it wasn't so bad. Our walls did not go to the ceiling. It was a small apartment and I could hear every word that was spoken. I climbed up on my dressor and looked over the wall. One of my sisters saw me but didn't give me away. I laughed and stuck my tongue out at her and she laughed and turned away.
The next day I headed back to school and when I entered the school yard one of my friends came up to me and said: "What are you going to do today, Digger? Set your home room on fire?" I said: "Shut up," and started toward the front door. There at the entrance was the principal. I started to turn away but he spotted me and motioned for me to come ahead. Great, I thought, this ought to be good. He said: "I want to see you in my office." I followed him to the second floor and was getting a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. He closed the office door and said: "I have been thinking about you and it seems to me you need some homework." My knees started to get a little wobbly. "I have decided to give you an assignment to read 'The adventures of Tom Sawyer and Hucklberry Finn.' When you have finished reading the book, report back to me." I said: "OK," and he handed me the book and said: "I will ask questions so don't try to skip reading it." I was delighted for I had already read it and it was great fun. Still,I decided to read it again to refresh my mind.
I read it over the weekend and returned the book to the principal. He asked some questions and I answered them well. He paused then and said: "Digby, there is no Indian Joe in your life so try to behave yourself and try to think more and talk less."
School was OK in one respect: Most of the kids there were poor off and there was no worry about how you dressed and if you had a funny lunch. I knew what the principal meant. Maybe things weren't quite the way I wanted them but having an Indian Joe in one's life hadn't reached me yet and if I was smart it never would.
I went home on the street car and saw advertisement for a taxi. One guy said: "Call me a Yellow Cab," and the other guy said: "OK, you're a Yellow Cab." I thought about that and started to laugh. People turned around to stare at me because I was laughing hard and no one was sitting near me. Perhaps tomorrow will be better if I don't stick Margaret's hair in the ink well. Heh!