Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, memoirs, personal history

Grade School Confidential

When I wasn’t shoving mathematical compass-points under my finger-nails (by mistake, I assure you – I wasn’t some juvenile masochist), or trying not to gag up my peanut-butter and apple-slice sandwich after someone in the class barfed up HIS Beefaroni, I, like many of my female counterparts, was caught up in a crush.

A crush means you’re “sweet on” somebody, or you write their name in a big heart with a big AND, and your own moniker below. In my case, it meant being obsessed to the point of making anonymous phone calls and doing drive-bys on my one-speed bike.

I had many the crush in my early years. I have often wondered what it was that really drew me to the boys at such a young age. What did I truly hope to accomplish if and when I got their attention? Was I expecting to tiptoe through the tulips hand-in-hand and share ice-cream sandwiches at the Becker’s convenience store? Did I really anticipate little kisses and making daisy-chains together? Where did I get this notion?

Why did I have this yearning to get close to the members of the opposite sex in my elementary school? Even in nursery school there are photos of me holding the chubby hand of another boy in my class. Perhaps it all came about from seeing my parents so cozy and cuddly together. As much as I squeezed my Teddy (and rubbed his glass eye) he never squeezed back. Maybe it was at the same nursery school, when I was paired with a “Prince Charming” in a performance for our parents that I began to envision living out my own fairy tale. Perhaps it was the 1965 T.V. film of “Cinderella” with Lesley Anne Warren and Stuart Damon, I don’t know. All I do know is that I was smitten with every tow-headed, freckle-faced, checked-shirted shorty of the Sixties and Seventies that even smiled crookedly at me or loaned me a pencil from his prized plaid case.

The sad part is, they weren’t smitten back.

I was a pretty smart kid in Grade School. I had transferred from Our Lady of Sorrows elementary in Toronto, where I had astonished my teachers at my ability to read and write. In my new school, St. Francis de Sales, I was in Grade One when I was summoned to the Principal’s interior office for a personal assessment by him. His name was Mr. Miller and he was the nicest man. Over a few days, he tested my abilities with the conclusion being that I was rather advanced for my age.

In the 60s we didn’t really have “enriched” programs and I wasn’t accelerated to Grade Two or anything, but I was designated some work that was more appropriate to my strengths. This was great for my education, but not so great for my personal advancement in the eyes of the boys. I became a bit of a threatening figure I guess. I was too much of a smarty pants for those young lads who were still grappling with spelling their own names.

I was a shrimpy little kid. My mother will be pleased to relate the story about how I’m an “eight-month baby” and that apparently accounts for any ailment I’ve ever had from Chicken Pox to Alopecia. To this day, my pre-mature origins are put down as the cause for every sniffle, sore throat and stomach upset To my way of thinking, the only detrimental effect of being premature was that it gave me a handicap in stature and made me as clumsy and uncoordinated as a foal just popped out of its mother’s belly.

When it came to gym class, I was hopeless – a scrawny little, bandy-legged runt with bad eyesight. No baseball, volleyball, basketball, or scoop-ball didn’t get the better of me. I couldn’t catch, throw, run, jump, vault, or whack in any way shape or form. I was always the last one picked for a team, and spent most of my outdoor Phys-ed days as far out in the field as possible, hoping to be forgotten or at least left alone.

My one saving grace was that I could dance. In folk-dancing, I was a pretty little thing in peasant dress and buster browns – all smiles, with coloured ribbons streaming from my golden hair.

Problem is, boys don’t like to dance, do they? A little too close for comfort, right? Too many steps to learn, restrictive clothing and it’s just not manly enough. So, where did that leave me? I was a too-smart, non-athletic, puny girl with no hope of attracting the boys I so longed to be with. So, what did I do?

I did what many girls have always done through the ages, I got my friend to tell the boy that I liked him. Then there was that waiting … and waiting … and waiting to find out what he said. Problem was, nine times out of ten, he liked the girlfriend, didn’t he? Or, he was just a boy’s boy – didn’t like the girls (yet) and just was NOT interested.

So then what did I do? I got out the phonebook, looked up his last name and tracked down his phone number. (I have been known to do some pretty amazing detective work with a phone book in my time. I have infinite patience when it comes to getting a result over a man/boy. I had no problem spending literally hours tracking down someone’s address simply because I had the phone number and it was in my home-city.)

The phone number was excellent for making those after-school calls to the boy’s house. Unfortunately, it was often his older brother who answered and gave your true love a really hard time, thus turning him off the prospect of speaking with you even before he reached the phone. Worse still, was if a parent answered and he was embarrassed even more. Often he would not even come to the phone.

In that case, Plan B had to be put into action; time to get out the blue bicycle, put on the windbreaker, grab your best friend (who wasn’t always as keen as you would hope) and cycle over to his house. This involved skill in anticipating where he might be at the time. He was most likely outside on his or a neighbour’s driveway shooting a ball at a raggy old hockey net (this is Canada, after all), or he’d be playing tag with a bunch of friends (just like I should have been doing, if I’d had any sense).

Often, you would ride by and there’d be no sign of your prey. The adrenaline would be flowing as you cycled past the white-siding bungalow like the alter-ego of the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”. Quite frankly, I think, to your boy-target you had about as much appeal as Miss Gulch too.

When you didn’t catch sight of him, you’d circle around and have another breeze past the house. As many times as it took, you and your gal-pal would pedal furiously back and forth until the boy emerged, unknowingly, rather like a deer in the forest, held in the sight of a hunter’s rifle.

Bang! There he is! You’d squeal, and suddenly he’d catch sight of you and his face would run scarlet as the behind of a newborn with diaper rash. Swiftly, he would make a mad dash around the corner and out of sight, never to be seen again.

In school, you’d send scrap-paper missives his way asking if he saw you at his house. He would ignore them. Undaunted, you’d send a friend over to ask him point blank. Never a good plan, for these little charmers can turn when cornered. He would go all red again, but this time, not with embarrassment, with anger. “Get lost!” He’d say pointedly to her, all the while glaring at you. Your hopes dashed, you would go home that night and sniff a bit, but in those days you were a resilient little madam and the next day, you’d set your sights on some other Mc or Mac or St. Something-or-other (Catholic school, remember?)There was always somebody else to fill their size 4 sneakers.

I’ll leave you with my most catastrophic fatal attraction:
It was Grade Eight and I still had not learned that I needed to let the boys come to me. I was absolutely smitten with a bleach-blonde boy called DW, who was in Grade Seven. I can still picture him: he wore a brown-plaid mid-length jacket most of the time that offset his beachy hair. He had a gorgeous smile and blue eyes. I had just seen “The Way We Were” and I fancied him as a very (very) young Robert Redford. I was really in love this time.

DW also went to my church, so every Sunday I was keen to get to mass, where I knew I could catch a glimpse of him dressed in his finery for the Lord. At school, he barely gave me the time of day. By junior high, I had attained two broken teeth in a bicycle accident, was sporting gorgeous tortoise-shell framed glasses that could start a fire in an instant and my now mousy-brown hair had a tendency toward the oily side. Hand-me-down polyester top-stitched jeans and skin tight sweaters that revealed either my undershirt or training-bra, did nothing to captivate the boys in school (for all the Yardley pot-o-gloss lipgloss I smeared on my lips).

I truly was a brave young lady though, because I wrote DW a long letter trying to explain my admiration for him, appealing to his sense of Christianity and decency to give me a chance. Not only did he tear it to pieces and flush it down the toilet, when I asked him if he had read it, he took fiendish delight in telling me he had done so.

Such is the course of young love, mostly one-sided and often ending up down the pan.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009


Canadian, Married, Catholic, Cat-lover, Vegan, Artist, Footy-fanatic, Anglophile, Music-lover, Multi-blogger

8 thoughts on “Grade School Confidential

    1. I didn’t like it when they stopped chasing us boys and we had to chase them. It wasn’t nearly as fun then. I was not comfortable enough in my own skin in those days to just be myself. I don’t blame the girls. Who would want to be around someone who wasn’t comfortable with who they wanted to be?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Very interesting and funny recollections. I have always been and still am baffled and rather scared of the opposite sex. My own reflections of that time are of a timid boy who had absolutely no idea about girls, although I was always quite popular with them.

    Liked by 1 person

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