HIGH SCHOOL DAZE (apologies to Spike Lee)Not surprisingly, as others have indicated elsewhere, the students had nicknames for many of the teachers. Certainly, some of them were long standing, school-wide nicknames passed down from generation to generation (e.g., ‘Butch’ Boisvert and ‘Mouldy’ Meldrum). However, I believe that many of the ones that existed during my high school years were often coined by my class and then picked up by the rest of the student body.
How Elmer Fudd got his nickname: My father was at various times during his working life both a certified electrician and a plumber. When we moved to Feller, my mother, who had a BA from McGill, took over as grade seven teacher. My father took the position of maintenance supervisor, taught the woodworking shop class (misnamed as manual training) and ran the bookstore. His original nickname was Maintenance Man, but one day the urinals on the fourth floor sprung a leak. This should not have been too surprising given the age of the pipes, the height to which the water had to be pushed and the quality of the water (see above). So my dad went and worked on the urinals for a while and then certified them as ‘fixed’. Upon hearing the news, Uncle Stevie (with whom my father had a sort of dislike-hate relationship), went to use them but when he flushed, all they did was make a strange thumping noise... sort of fudd, fudd, fudd. So he started sarcastically calling my father Fudd. That caught on instantly but, at least in my class, quickly evolved into Elmer Fudd (who my father somewhat resembled). Anyway, everyone started calling me Elmer, which also only lasted a short while and then eventually I became Fudd jr. Surprisingly, I was quite comfortable with this nickname, I suppose that even a mildly odious nickname is preferable to being dismissed completely? I believe, although I am not certain that my mother now became Mrs. Fudd.
Bessie Lockhart was indeed a sweetheart,
although we treated her rather miserably when she came to teach us in grade 8.
At the time I thought she must be about 90 years old, but she may have been late
60s-70ish. Bessie, had been a Baptist missionary in India for essentially her whole adult life but now she had been
forced into retirement. Rather than relax and enjoy it, she decided to come
to civilize us; that's just so Feller, isn't it. I honestly do not remember many of the pranks
that we played on her, but I know that we were rather disrespectful and that we got
away with a lot due to her gentle nature and her naïve inability to believe
that people could be as rotten as we clearly were. She had a high squeaky
voice and characteristically held one hand on her hip, so she was very easy to
mimic; I believe that we did that to excess.
I remember that very early in the new term, one of the girls accidentally dropped a used tissue on the floor beside her desk. Bessie saw it and asked her to pick it up so the girl bent down and started to retrieve it with her right hand. Bessie, to our amazement came careening down the aisle between the desks screeching some gibberish about it being unclean and that the girl should use her left hand. Now to someone who had just spent the better part of 50 years in India where apparently no one would think of picking up a dirty tissue with their right hand, this likely made perfect sense. But to us it was the purest nonsense and it set the tone for our attitudes about her the rest of the year.
Another trait that she had in abundance was gullibility. In October she caught one of the boys listening to game 7 of the world series using an earplug attached to a portable radio hidden in his desk. The boy brazenly explained to her what he was doing and somehow convinced her that it was customary for teachers in Canada to allow the whole class to listen to such important events instead of learning English or Arithmetic. Rather than checking with another teacher, she accepted this as true and let him take out the earplug and turn up the sound so we all could hear. Luckily, the grade 8 classroom was off by itself in the far corner of the girl's side so we didn't get busted and we spent most of the rest of a pleasant, sunny fall afternoon listening to the game. That is how I got to listen to the now classic play-by-play call of Bill Mazeroski's world series winning home run in 1960. I believe that it was this incident, or something similar, that Uncle Stevie heard about, and soon after this he read us the riot act; telling us what sniveling, ungrateful wretches we were. I don't recall that it had much real effect in changing our opinions, but he also made it quite clear that he would be watching us, and that caused us to partially mend our ways. Thus, Feller avoided the distinction of having their grade 8 teacher quit before Christmas 2 years in a row.
Postlude: A decade or so after we graduated, I was sharing a house with some other graduate students in Kingston. One evening as we were playing bridge at our kitchen table, a chap from Windsor, NS was telling an amusing story about this elderly lady who came over for dinner one Sunday after church. This lady had become incensed upon seeing a deck of cards tucked mostly out of sight up on a bookshelf. He imitated this squeaky voice (wait for it) and said something like "cards are the tools of the devil, how could you even have them in the house". Of course I said, why that sounds just like old Bessie Lockhart (at the time I was joking because I sort of thought that she would have been over a hundred by then). His jaw dropped open as he did one of the best double takes I've ever seen outside of a movie and acknowledged that that was exactly who it was. Bessie had retired to her home town in NS after leaving Feller and much to my surprise was still alive and kicking in this very small world.
Uncle Stevie I remember with ambivalence. As
I’ve mentioned, my father and he did not get along all that well and at the
time I put it down to the fact that Uncle Stevie had worked behind the scenes to replace
my father as Commanding Officer of the sea cadet corps.
But as I’ve been writing this I realize that I am coming up with quite
a number of reasons as to why my father might not have cared for him.
Uncle Stevie drove a Volkswagen beetle.
They did not have nearly the cachet in the late 50s & early 60s
that they have today.
Aside from being lumpy 'puddle jumpers' in the era of land yachts with
large fins, they were made by Germans!
My father had been shot in the back during WWII and
was more than a little leery of anyone who would drive a German car. In addition, Uncle Steve was a bit of a drinker [IRONY, thank you
again Michel]. He
gave me my first glass of Chianti (not on Feller property and my father probably never knew
but more importantly he was instrumental in helping one of the other
teachers, a friend of the family who was a recovering alcoholic, off the wagon (my father was a strict
and emphatic teetotaler). Uncle Stevie was also liberal in his use of corporal punishment,
one night he caned my whole study hall because a few guys were giving the prefect
grief by making Spence-like slurping noises and no one would own up to it. That
may have been the last straw; after I came home with welts on my rear end, my
father never let me go to an evening study hall again.
Uncle Stevie started out as a teacher, but became Housemaster by working behind the
scenes to force out his predecessor (does any one sense a pattern here).
In this case, there is little doubt that it really was for the best.
The man he deposed was the fellow who we all believed was gay.
At this point, this chap was almost certainly on the verge of outing himself because his
behaviour towards his ‘special friends’ was becoming indiscreet. Now this part is fiction, since I’m not absolutely certain
that the guy was actually gay (that is to say he had enough sense not to hit on me) or that Uncle Stevie talked to
him. However, the
conventional wisdom at the time was that Uncle Stevie had told this guy "Look, I know
what’s going on, if you don’t resign, I’ll tell the Board of Governors
what you’re doing and you’ll be ruined, if not sent to jail. If you resign quietly and recommend me for the position, I’ll
keep quiet." True or not, the next Fall Uncle Stevie was the Housemaster and I think
other chap was office manager.
Looking back, I realize that I am really puzzled by these memories and I can't help but wonder whether this story is at least a bit of a legend. I firmly believe that the facts of this situation as I tell them above, were considered to be 'truth' by the students. Even at the time we knew it was unforgiveably wrong but we had an extremely laissez faire attitude about this guy. Why was it so accepted, or am I wrong about that? Also, it seemed so blatant; how could at least some of the other teachers besides Uncle Stevie not know? Could they all have been THAT naive? Alas, I never got a chance to talk about this with my parents but it is something about which I remain very curious. (Given what has come out concerning Uncle Steve's proclivities, as I read this a couple of years later this now seems doubly ironic. Further, it is a powerful illustration of how naïve I was, and a caution against taking anything that I write as anything but semi-truth.)
Anyway, after becoming Housemaster, Uncle Stevie implemented his vision of Feller as an English public school. He instituted a prefect system, which we accepted gladly, perhaps because rank had its privileges. At the time, did any of us realize that he was using us to spy on each other and cut down on his workload? Well, I never said he wasn’t clever. In fact, he was quite an entertaining and interesting chap. He was kind to old ladies, does anyone remember Auntie Gert? He made a scrumptious spaghetti sauce (a recipe he claimed to have picked up from an Italian matron in Italy during WWII), as I discovered when I was spending a week-end visiting David Oliver. He was strict but, I think, fair (as long as he wasn’t after your job). Arguably the nicest thing about Uncle Stevie was the dog he adopted. Tammy Blue was a smallish, brown and white, short haired mongrel about the size of a border collie. She was the school mascot and essentially had the run of the place. Tammy Blue was a lot smarter than most of the students and almost all of the teachers. I remember sitting in Uncle Stevie's office one evening with a couple of other guys and he sent Tammy off to fetch a boy who lived on another floor. She was gone for a few minutes and returned with the correct boy apparently in tow. Perhaps Uncle Stevie had been expecting this fellow and he was due to arrive soon, or it was a coincidence, but the feat impressed me nonetheless.
| Uncle Stevie was also a
clever cartoonist. He drew this after observing that Terry Phillips was causing much more of
a disturbance than the people he was trying to keep quiet.
The captions read;
Answer: Fearless Fillups Flys Off The Flippin' Fulcrum [Alliteration! ]
another one of
his drawings. I can't find it at the moment, but I'll keep looking.
Mr. Boisvert retired and John Gilmour replaced him as Principal, either our junior or our senior year. Mr. Gilmour was more involved in the day to day school activities than Mr. Boisvert had been the last few years, and clearly had issues with Uncle Stevie, the drinking likely being a major one (oops). I do not know exactly what happened, maybe Gilmour out-uncle-stevied Uncle Stevie, but he quit and opened his own school, St. Nicholas, in an abandoned mansion just down the road from Feller. He took Mr. Imre and a small group of students with him. I visited once and the kids were learning Greek and Latin and doing high school math when they were still in elementary school. It seemed a bit crazy at the time, they weren’t learning any of the formal subjects in any apparent order. Looking back, I realize he was way ahead of his time; it was a mix of Montessori, home and open schooling, and advanced placement. Unfortunately, Quebec of the mid-60s was apparently not ready for this forward thinking approach and St. Nicholas closed after a couple of years. I don’t know what became of Uncle Stevie after that, maybe David Oliver would know since his brother was one of students at St. Nicholas.
As I said above, after writing this I've looked over the class and faculty lists recently provided by Rick and Andy, as well as my incomplete collection of old issues of L'Echo. If you have a few minutes and haven't already done this, look through this material to see how much you actually remember. I was rather alarmed to realize that I remember virtually no one in the graduating classes of 58, 59, and only about half the graduating class of 60. It seems my memory for people in my own class for those years is fairly good and I can conjure up faces for the almost all the names in the graduating classes of 61-65. However, my recall for people in the lower school, even up to what would have been grade 9 in 1965 is spotty at best. From my 1965 copy of L'Echo, I discovered that Mrs. Hoare moved up from Grade 5 to Grade 6 at some point, likely after John Dozois left, and apparently was still at Feller as of 1965. I have virtually no memories of her after my stint in grade 5 and if someone had tried to tell me that she was there throughout my Feller days, I would not have believed them. The selectiveness of my memory makes me a bit uncomfortable and suggests that, in the absence of corroborating testimony, this stuff really shouldn't be taken too seriously.