Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Ladies Entrance

Yours truly, grade 2
Canalta Elementary School. That's where I started school. A low-slung brick building at the edge of town where girls and boys had separate entrances via separate but identical boot-rooms. That's just the way it was and no one thought anything of it. 

Everybody wore boots to school through the eight months of winter and the muddy spring that followed. You took your boots off at the door and put them in your cubby and went to the classroom where you hung your coat on a hook at the back. 

One time my new white overshoes were stolen and a pair of old boots with holes were left in their place. I was traumatized.  It was the first time I ever felt I had been wronged. I refused to wear the old boots and my mom walked over to the school to get me. She told me someone poor had taken my boots. I didn't know what being poor meant. My mom said I shouldn't be mad because that little girl's parents couldn't afford new boots. I knew who had taken my boots. I didn't think she was poor. But I know she wore the same dress on picture day every year and her mom was a secretary. That seemed exotic to me.  None of the other moms I knew worked outside the home. Including my mom with her two university degrees.

Grade Two. I  was shy. I was a dreamer. Mrs. Teeple was our teacher. She was five feet tall and very stout. Kids sang songs about her. I laughed at the songs. I knew they were mean. I liked Mrs. Teeple and her big heart but I wanted to fit in. She grouped for instruction. She doled out rewards and punishments. She slammed the long ruler down on Joey Alsop's desk when he wasn't paying attention. I stopped dreaming and started paying attention. I didn't want that ruler to smash onto my desk. There were 42 kids in Mrs. Teeple's class. 

Recess was wild. Boys chased girls. Girls chased boys. We defended the 'hill'- a mound of dirt in the playground. On snowy spring days we were warned there were to be NO SNOWBALL FIGHTS.  

Melting snow resulted in a massive free-for-all on the playground, especially on the hill. 'No snowball fights' was really more of a suggestion than a rule. The real rule was 'no iceballs'. One day Brent Rose got hit in the face with an iceball by Donnie Smith. There was blood.  Donnie was a little shit who I never forgave for calling me 'Hartfart'-a play on my surname. 

We lined up to enter the school. We knew there would be trouble. Mrs.Teeple stood at the far side of the boys' boot room. She looked grim.

"Line up. Single File. Now bend over."  

Every boy got a single smack across the behind with the pointer. Laurie Kidd cried. The girls took off their boots and and quietly went to the classroom. Some smirked and laughed because Laurie Kidd was being a baby. I felt bad for the boys who hadn't been throwing iceballs. It didn't seem right they were getting hit. I didn't know if I should feel relieved for not getting smacked or guilty because I should have been smacked. But I was a girl. Girls didn't get smacked. That's just the way it was.

* **

The other day my husband and I had lunch with my mother-in-law at the renovated Alberta Hotel. We talked about the past of that historic building. "Can you imagine," Louise said over her glass of wine. "Once there was a time there was a separate entrance for 'ladies and escorts' at every tavern?" 

Windsor Hotel, Dawson Creek.
Ladies entrance on the right
In Dawson Creek, the Windsor Hotel and the Dawson Creek Hotel both had separate entrance-ways, one for men, one for Ladies and Escorts. That confused me. What were "escorts?" What if you didn't have a male friend? Did you have to stay home? My mom's expression when we passed the bar entrance told me it didn't matter that she couldn't go in. Ladies like my mom and Mrs.Teeple did not go to the bar.

A lot has changed since my days at Canalta. Kids don't get smacked by teachers. 42 kids in a grade two classroom is unheard of. Rewards and punishments are dished out regardless of gender. Boys and girls and men and women enter and leave by the same door in schools and bars and virtually everywhere. 

Even bathrooms.