It’s true: when you start remembering and thinking about things that happened in years past, it is hard to stop. And that’s what I found myself doing one day this past week.
I was thinking about my teachers when I went to McKinley Elementary School, and the organized thinker that I am (insert muffled chuckle here), I started at the beginning and kept going, from my first teacher on.
My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Salmon (that sounds fishy – maybe it was Mrs. Sammons – that sounds better). I remember Mrs. Tierney, Mrs. Hart, Miss Colbert, Miss (or was it Mrs.) Carrigan, and a few others.
One thing I am sure of – all of my teachers in elementary school were women.
One of the few men on the McKinley School staff was Mr. George. (Not Mr. George Something, but Mr. Something George). Mr. George was our principal.
Mr. George was a pleasant, friendly man and I liked him most of the time. The one time that I didn’t like him so much was the afternoon that I was introduced to his paddle.
That afternoon Mr. George took his paddle off the nail on his office wall and used it for a couple of whacks on my behind. Those were the days when corporal punishment was allowed in the principal’s office.
I had been turned in after I threw a snowball at one of the little girl crossing guards on the way back to school after lunch.
That episode aside, Mr. George was an interesting principal and I liked him. He raised bees and brought some of them to school. He showed them to us at assemblies, along with little jars of their product, which we could buy.
Mr. George was also a talented film maker. He directed and filmed a cinematic masterpiece called “The Haunted Schoolhouse,” which featured our school building and its janitors in a Halloween tale shown every year to classroom after classroom of McKinley students.
There were a couple of other men at McKinley School. They included two janitors and also a gym teacher who came to our school once or twice a week.
He guided us through an hour of running around the gym, trying to climb a huge rope suspended from the ceiling and tossing wooden “Indian pins” around.
One of the janitors was Mr. Kenyon. I remember the janitors’ little office. It was tucked in between the furnace and the boys’ lavatory in the school’s cavernous basement.
(These paragraphs are from the Hodge-podge column of January 26, 2002.)
A few weeks before Christmas I was with my wife at one of those perfect kind of places that have a lot of stuff to look at.
Some new stuff, but a lot of old stuff – things that still smell like the attic or cellar where they’ve been since they fell into the “not particularly useful, but way too good to throw away” category – probably many years ago.
When we go to those kinds of places we tend to wander off in different directions. She gravitates toward the sewing stuff – spools of thread, thimbles, buttons, old lace, or swatches of material.
That day I wandered around the store, looking at everything, stopping to investigate a few things. I stopped to browse through a couple of old books, but I didn’t buy anything.
My wife did better, finding a whole carton of old sewing stuff. She bought it, we put it in the car and headed home.
“Harold Kenyon,” I said excitedly after we had driven a couple of blocks from the store.
“Where?” she asked, looking in both directions.
I quickly returned to West Genesee Street from my vision from more than 50 years ago of Mr. Kenyon standing in the boiler room at McKinley School.
Mr. Kenyon wasn’t just a janitor at the elementary school that I attended. He was an important part of the lives of every kid that spent kindergarten through sixth grades at the school.
We saw him every day as we passed his “office” while taking the shortcut through the basement from one side of the school to the other.
I had thought of Mr. Kenyon a few times in the 50-plus years since the big furnace in the basement of the school was a highlight of my life, but I hadn’t thought of him for years.
Until that day at the old stuff shop: While browsing through the old books I noticed that a couple had Harold Kenyon, West Pleasant Avenue, written in a boyish scrawl on the first page. And that was that until I was driving home on West Genesee Street.
“Where the heck did he come from?” my wife asked.
“I think he lived right across from the school,” I said.
“No, I mean why did you think about him all of a sudden?”
I told her, and said I’d have to look at the books again the next time we went to that store.
My mother always told me that magical things happened at Christmas time. And it’s true. Christmas morning, Mr. Kenyon’s books were under our Christmas tree. I will probably think of him a lot more often now.
My sixth-grade class at McKinley had to leave the school and go on to Roosevelt Junior High School a year early so construction on an addition to the school could get underway.
At Roosevelt, students moved from room to room between classes, but not us interlopers from McKinley.
We were in the junior high school building, but we were sixth-graders. Our teacher, Mrs. Finnegan, was new to the school too. I remember her sing-songing her name to us – “F-i, double n-e,” she sang, “g-a-n spells Finnegan.”
It wasn’t quite as polished as Dennis Day’s version of the St. Pat’s Day favorite, “Harrigan,” but it was a welcome introduction to our new school.
… Roy Hodge