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    My Feller Memories  

EARLY YEARS

Yikes!  It's very strange and more than a little unsettling to realize that I am now older than my parents were when we moved to Feller in September of 1957.  How about the rest of you?  Think about how you feel now, your attitudes about and how you relate to school age kids.  Now with that perspective try and think about how our teachers thought about us...  scary, isn't it?   

On my first day of class as a grade 5 Feller student I discovered that my new teacher's name was Mrs. Hoare; it was all downhill from there.  As far as I can remember, she was pleasant, and although elderly, was a reasonably effective teacher.  However, even at the age of 10 we understood that this was not a name that any female teacher should be burdened with.  I know that it's juvenile to focus on this after all these years, but this was something that defined Feller for me, right from the start.  Where else but Feller would one expect to find a teacher with such an incongruous name?  I never met Mr. Hoare but you have to admit, she must have really loved the guy.  

I have very few memories of Mr. Cram, he was an upper school teacher and I think he retired after
I finished grade 6.  My only real memory was of a chapel service in which he was the speaker.  He had forgotten to close his fly, and that day he revealed more than the mysteries of the scriptures for the entire half hour.  I remember that the mood of the small fry in the front rows was amusement tinged with mild horror.  To make matters worse, all the teachers were arrayed behind him and had no clue as to the cause of the restlessness in the audience.  Isn't it funny how these silly things stay with you after 40 years?

My recollection of Butch Boisvert is of a sterner authority than the person depicted by Rick.  He was big and burly, and favoured dark suits.  To a grade five student he was an overpowering presence and at least in my early days he was not entirely reluctant to use corporal punishment.  I remember standing in line one day waiting for chapel with a group of boys from grade 5 or 6.  As has been suggested, Feller kids were not always the brightest of students.  This morning we were standing in the hallway outside Butch's office door and we were making quite a racket.  He burst out of his office with fire in his eyes and tore down the line of terrified boys wielding a well-worn strap, giving  a smack to the right hand of everyone in line, whap, whap, whap (can you imagine what would happen if a Principal did that to a group of 10 and 11 year olds today!).  He was a huge, awe-inspiring, apparently out of control colossus with his black robe streaming out behind him; I still remember the dryness of mouth and the tightness of stomach as I focused on the white cord fraying through the rubber of the strap that was getting ever closer to me.  Suddenly, the storm was over; he stopped two boys away from me and swept back into his office with a heated admonition to be more respectful on our way to chapel.  I guess it must have been several years before I realized that he wasn't nearly as out of control as he wanted us to believe.  I suspect that without missing a beat, he realized that I was standing in line and he stopped just in time to avoid strapping the son of one of his teachers in such an arbitrary way.  When we were in high school, I think he must have mellowed because I do remember him having a more benevolent, tolerant side. 

Does any one remember John Dozois?  He was fresh out of college when he was my grade 6 teacher.  He was a Feller alumnus (I think that he had the distinction of being the only boy to win the gold medal, usually awarded to a graduating senior, in grade 8).  When he was my teacher, I think many of the girls must have had crushes on him; he was athletic and quite good looking.  He was also earnest and hard working and had a real sense of fun.  He ended up spending a lot of time in our apartment because he was somewhat lonely and more than a bit terrified about his first experience at teaching.  That year my parents treated him somewhat like a son, which made it strange and difficult for me since I was being taught by someone who was de facto an older brother.  This was my first encounter with the notion that teachers had a personal life, and were not always in total control (imagine my consternation the next year when I had my mother for grade 7).  Despite his relative inexperience, I believe he actually had a flair for the job, and I was moderately disappointed that he left after a couple of years and went back to divinity school at McMaster.   

Although I was pretty young (in grade 6), I have some memories about the incident that caused Mr. Johnston to leave.   It was interesting to hear Andy's side of things, since I did not witness the event, but I know (or think I do) some additional details.  Andy's piece was remarkably sympathetic given the circumstances, but I'm not convinced that it conveyed the extent of the unrelenting nastiness to which Mr. Johnston was exposed.  At the end, virtually every time he turned his back, guys would start humming 'Pop Goes the Weasel', the tune to which the song was sung.  I seem to recall hearing that the older boys would go out of their way to challenge his authority and try to provoke a reaction.  On the other hand, his rigid attitude and the ease with which he was provoked invited and fed the ill will.  Clearly he did not have the temperament to deal with the Feller high school boys of 1958.  [The following year the grade 8 class so savaged a young, novice teacher, that she had a 'nervous breakdown' and left after about 3 months.  She came in all optimistic and idealistic but was gone so quickly that I can't even remember her name.  You had to be either really tough and/or thick-skinned, or somewhat flexible, or a saint like Bessie Lockhart to survive at Feller. ]  OK, back to the story...  In the version I remember, Mr. Johnston was walking along a line of boys waiting to go down to the dining room and as he passed, each boy started to hum 'Pop Goes the Weasel' behind his back.  He eventually had enough and spun around to confront them and the humming died instantly.  He yelled at the obvious culprits something like "you don't have the courage to do that to my face"!  Whereupon, many of the boys started singing the song, words and all.  He then went berserk and lashed out at someone; Andy at 6'5'' was likely just the biggest target and unwittingly got caught up in the craziness.  

Aftermath:  Andy's parents probably had a lot to do with Mr. Johnson's leaving, but he was most likely finished before they arrived.  That evening a large group of boys first stood outside Johnston's door singing the 'song' trying to initiate a confrontation and then congregated on Mr. Boisvert's porch, I think there were so many that they spilled out into the yard.  [This generation of students appears to have been way ahead of its time when it came to protest marches.]  I seem to remember that my father went over to help Mr. Meldrum and Mr. Boisvert get things under control and I think that there were meetings that evening to discuss the incident.  I believe that the consensus of the faculty, including maybe even Mr. Johnston himself, was that he was not the right person for the job, and he was given the opportunity to leave.  Perhaps the strangest part of this whole episode was that the following year Mr. Johnston's position was filled by someone who was almost certainly gay. IRONY (as Michel Girodo might have said).  And to the best of my recollection, the new housemaster, despite being rather more effeminate, was not subject to anywhere near the taunting that his possibly straight predecessor was. 

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