B.R.A.T.S. Lessons in the Country
I had only been at Holmesville (now Brindley) school a week or so and I thought it was so unfair; I had to learn thirty-two new names and they only had to learn one; mine. It was a lot to try to learn in grade three, what with the arithmetic and spelling and reading. Did they want my brain to blow up?
And I had to get used to the new way of things. So far, I had only ever lived on a military base, in houses supplied by them, schools supplied by them, sports supplied by them. For this move to Clinton, there wasn’t a house available on the base, we had to live somewhere else. Dad had found a farm where the farmer had divided his house in half and we lived in the other half. The non-farm half. Mom had done some reminiscing about when she grew up on a small farm.
It was strange not being surrounded all the time by other kids. Houses in the country are far apart. I should have been happy at the school since there were a lot of kids, but I couldn’t remember all their names. And they were different from the kids I was used to going to school with. I don’t know what it was, but there was something different. My older brothers called them civis, saying it like it was something bad. I only laughed with them, not wanting a punch to the shoulder for being a doofus or a kick in the butt or the silence that an older brother can crash on your head like a hammer, and they were farm kids.
Now, farm kids are like other kids, they have two arms and two legs and speak the same mostly, but they use different words and they are tough. At least that’s what my brothers said. Tough, to a military brat can mean strong, but it can also mean a little thick in the head, like ‘he doesn’t know that because he’s tough’. I was too smart to ask what my brother’s tough meant, thought I would figure it out in time.
I remember heading out to the schoolyard after eating my lunch one day. I had to eat in the classroom, I was a bus kid. Some kids lived close enough so they could walk home like we used to at our last school. When us bus kids were done eating, we had to put our lunchboxes in the cloakroom at the back of the class and then we could go outside. I ate slow, so I was one of the last ones out.
It was still September, so it wasn’t cold out. We had to wear jackets, but just light ones, not the thick ones like when the snow comes. And anyway, we were in Ontario now, not Manitoba so how cold could it get compared to what we were used to? I came out of the school and, as I walked down the concrete steps to the playground, I saw and heard a group of kids. They were gathered at a little mound of grass by the school. The first thing I thought was, ‘there’s a fight.’
I was used to that. At my school in Winnipeg, a group of kids yelling and screaming always meant a fight. I had been at the middle of some of those groups, so I knew all about it. Glad it wasn’t me, I thought I should go and find out who it was. Perhaps they would be chanting someone’s name and I could learn it. There were girls and boys in the crowd. That was different, usually it was just the boys would gather around a fight. And everyone was screeching. Boys don’t screech, only girls do that. If a boy screeches, he might find himself in the middle of a group of yelling boys.
I pushed my way through, needing to see what was at the center. I was still wondering why some of these tough boys were screeching when, all of a sudden, there were no more kids in front of me and there wasn’t anyone fighting. Nothing but an empty circle with a group of kids still screaming. The girls were holding their hands over their mouths, the boys had wide eyes, everyone was moving forward, then back, some running. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was, there wasn’t anyone fighting.
Then someone pointed at the ground and that’s where I looked. It took me a moment to see the wriggling thing in the grass. Then my heart hammered, my vision narrowed, and I felt like I needed to run away. Remembering what happens to boys who get scared, I stood still, staring at the wriggly thing. It was a snake. A little brown snake with white stripes. My heart stopped beating so fast.
Now, I don’t like snakes, but once I’ve seen them and know they are there, I’m not scared any more. Only when I first see them, even a picture in a book. I looked around at all the screaming kids, some of them coming back for a second or third look and I couldn’t believe they were still making such a fuss. I guessed they weren’t the strong kind of tough.
I stepped forward and grabbed the snake behind the head. I’ve caught lots of snakes, there were tons of garters under my grandma’s house and I couldn’t back down from a dare from my brothers. I know you hold them behind their head, so they can’t bite you. Their tail will slither against your arm but that only feels gross, can’t hurt you. I grabbed that snake and picked it up.
More screaming and yelling erupted. Lots of kids saying ‘eww," and ‘oh," and ‘gross’ and other things that I guess farmer kids say. Now that I was looking at it up close, I thought it looked kind of nifty, all twisty and wriggly. I couldn’t believe that these kids who all lived on farms, could be so scared of a little bitty snake.
I turned, and everyone backed away from me. Eyes were still wide, hands were still in front of mouths, but I hardly noticed. I needed something to put the snake in, so it couldn’t get away. It could be my pet. Then I knew what to use. Mom filled a thermos with milk every day and put it in my lunch box. I hoped I could get into the class and secure that snake before the teacher saw me.
After the school bus dropped me at home, I ran inside the house, dropped my lunchbox on the counter then rushed into the living room to watch Bonanza, my favorite TV show. My brothers and I were cheering as big Hoss beat up some bad cowboys when Mom screeched from the kitchen.
“What’s that?” my oldest brother asked turning away from the TV for a moment.
“Nothing,” I said, remembering the snake in my thermos, the snake that was probably wriggling in the kitchen sink now, “I guess Mom really did grow up on a farm.”