Prestwood elementary school still houses many memories for me. I cried my first day of kindergarten with Ms. Weir; later I learned to play house and told my teacher I wanted to be a truck driver when I grew up because Bob Todeschini also wanted to be a truck driver. First grade with Mrs. Johnson had a regular soccer match against the kids in Mrs. Moerckes’ class. Ms. McMullen in second grade was the nicest. Mrs. Behrens in third had impossible hair and Elliot Carlson cut his fingernails with a hole punch and then picked his nose until it bled. Mrs. Steinberg in fourth grade always would say “how cross she was” when we misbehaved, and Mr. Griffith in fifth grade showed us the human bean and introduced us to the “mad minute”.
“Don’t kick the red balls! If you kick a red ball you’ll get a ci,” (pronounced “sye”, short for citation). I was a control freak even as a youth and liked reading what was on the agenda for the day: cleaning out desks or moving were among my favorite activities. During recess we played four square, switch, tetherball or lava tag on the jungle gym. There were phases when we’d play football, or soccer, or simply tag (in all of its variations: freeze, TV, Movie). I was faster than most, but never faster than Chris Eves or Daniel Scafidi. Coming home with grass stains on my pants meant my mom wasn’t going to be too happy, but I never remember actually getting those stains. I do remember wood chips in my shoes, wall ball and not wanting to drink from the middle drinking fountain*.
I walked through my elementary school once when I was in high school. I felt huge (which was kind of a big thing for me as I was always the little guy). I practically had to kneel for a sip of water from the drinking fountains (still avoided the middle one). Peeing proved especially difficult in the low urinals and I had much better luck with the sink, I didn’t even have to stand on tippy toes. Rounding the corner of a hallway I almost hit my shin on a bench and when I looked up, I saw an old red fire alarm hanging boldly on a white wall. And I remembered how stupid I was as a child in this very elementary school.
One of the things that would sometimes appear on the agenda was Fire Drill, written in red. The principal himself would come around to all the classrooms to notify us that at 2 pm there would be a fire drill and he was excited to announce that one pupil would get to help out. This pupil would supposedly go and help the fireman with the fire drill; this was a lottery I never won, and I sadly never knew any of the kids who did.
Having a fire drill meant waiting until 2 pm and listening for the grinding, metallic GRRRRRIIIINNNNNNGGGG GRRRRRIIIINNNNNNGGGG GRRRRRIIIINNNNNNGGGG of the drill. We were instructed to hurriedly—but organizedly—assemble at the door, then walk two-by-two to the field to the rendezvous point. Once out there we had to turn around and face the school, which I assume was so we could watch the school go up in flames. We were not allowed to talk, we had to stay quiet so we could hear any instructions from firemen or the principal. Our teachers scrambled around and took roll and hissed at the children. “This is not a game, Matthew!”
We had to stay there, sometimes minutes, until we heard the “all clear bell” which just sounded suspiciously like the school tardy bell, only longer.
Even up until when I was in fifth grade, when I had a pretty good handle on what a fire was and also on what a drill was, I was still quite fuzzy on this whole idea of the fire drill. I mean, the GRRRRRIIIINNNNNNGGGG sounded like a drill, but, I was convinced a drill was not the correct tool to fight a fire with. I had seen on TV firefighters with big hoses flushing water onto burning buildings, yet I had never seen anything that looked like a drill.
I had used my dad’s drill a couple of times. He would allow me to finish screwing in some screws that he had started, or make some holes in some scrap wood. Still I was unsure that using a drill against a fire was the prudent move.
I was sad I was never picked to help with the drill. I wanted to see this drill. To see what it does and how it works. Does it have a crazy fire drill bit that extinguishes the flames? Was it super fast and whipped the fire away? I had so many questions for the fireman, who also, disappointingly, never attended the fire drills.
The realization of my own stupidity was humbling. I was older than I want to admit when the second definition of “drill” when used with the first definition of “fire” finally made more sense than a ludicrous made-up tool against incendiary damage. Now I make less fun of people who say things like “take it for granite” and “all intensive purposes”. These mistakes are easy to make! The child in me, however, still remembers brave firefighters drilling the fire away.
*The middle drinking fountain spewed pee, not water, as was common knowledge and evidenced by the well known rhyme, “Coffee, tea, soda pop, pee!”.