In September I will be a presenter at the Leaside High Class of ‘59 reunion. The time of Margaret Atwood, then known as Peggy.
The cultural myth of that era told us that there was a straight string tying together your education and your career success. Boys knew their list of acceptable careers and girls could select jobs that prepared them for marriage (nursing or typing that you could always fall back on).
Peggy shocked her schoolmates by stating that she wanted to be a writer. When the dream persisted her parents asked a family friend in journalism to explain to her that newspapers would only let her write obituaries. The myth was that fitting in was security.
People from across Canada will be attending this reunion. Their LHS memories must be very strong to bring them back.
My strongest high school memory is the surprise of failing math. Actually failing is not an adequate description. On my aptitude test the bar for math was penciled under the graph!
The tutor hired by my distraught parents only made it worse. His searing body odour certainly created math anxiety; my marks went lower. Our doctor suggested tranquilizers to lower stress during exams.
On my personal doomsday, floating on chemical calm in spite of my father’s prediction that I would end up in the gutter without math, I signed my name at the top of the aptly named foolscap. I stuck the compass point into the paper and the screw holding the pencil fell out. I spent the next hour in giggly focus trying to fix it.
When the paper was returned my now sober self received the white sheet with my name at the top and a pinhole.
One math class there was a light (or right) at the end of my failure tunnel.
Mr. Patterson started each class with a difficult problem on the board. One stumped the entire class, even the usual showoffs.
In the expanding silence and increasing teacher irritation I glanced at the board and my brain decided that it knew the answer. I went back to looking out the window but my inner self would not let the possibility go.
Timidly I raised my hand and Mr. Patterson said, “Do you need to leave the room, Karen”? No, I whispered, I think I know the answer. His stifled laughter contorted his face as he squeaked, “Go ahead.” I began: if A is to B…. I did it!
The teaching achievement of the century! Papers would be written! Awards!
It never happened again.
In Grade 10 Mr. Allen placed all math failers near his desk. Obviously we just needed discipline. My fellow failers were all male and class clowns. What fun I had.
That year all eight classes took the final exam together in the cafeteria monitored by student teachers. As I had nothing to do I watched one of the clowns cheating. After removing papers from his shirt he buttoned it crookedly.
I guess I was staring in horror as a hand grabbed my shoulder and a voice yelled, “Stop the exam, send for her teacher!” Mr. Allen soon burst into the room tie flapping, a picture of fury. “Who was it?” he yelled.
The monitor pointed at me.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he bellowed, turned on his heel and left.
Our class cracked up, the clown blew me a kiss, the rest of the room was bewildered.
I have run a successful business for over 30 years. I can add a deposit list of cheques upside down faster than the teller can do it with a calculator. One of the clowns became a very successful stockbroker. The myth did not mention that there was more than one string.