Blair’s School is a square clapboard building at the corner of McAndrews Road and Perth Road, a couple of miles southwest of Westport. My mother Edna Croskery was the teacher there from September of 1956 until June of 1965. Local historian Diane Haskins asked me to write out some recollections from my early years at Blair’s School, so here goes:
At the time I didn’t know what S.S.#9 meant, but Mom wrote it on the little slip which went away and a week later a box of books would appear.
I waited for that box, because it hadn’t taken me long to work my way through my year’s reader and the Blair’s School Library, the top half of an old green cabinet in the back corner of the 20 X 20 frame building.
Somehow Mom allowed me to climb up onto the lip of the base cabinet and peek at the upper shelves, even though the climb seemed precarious to me at the time, with only the sturdy doors to keep me from a dangerous fall.
I remember the first novel I read in its entirety, A Yankee Flyer on a Rescue Mission. The good guys had planes with names I could pronounce, like Mustang and Spitfire, and those of the bad guys had strange names with a lot of consonants like Focke-Wulf and Messerschmitt. Some enemy planes had a vaguely guilty aura about them, carrying names like Fokker and Heinkel.
I remember some embarrassment when others corrected me on words for which I had invented my own pronunciation. “Sociaboy” was close enough for sociable, and “latrit” would have to do for the cowboy’s trusty rope. I’d never heard them spoken.
I learned early on — I think I was four, actually — that a teacher’s kid leads a privileged life. In mid-August this fantastic box of school supplies came to the house. Mom made the mistake of opening it.
Then she couldn’t get me out of them, so she let me start early on some of the workbooks. By the first of September I claimed to be able to read and write (the words, “look” and “the” anyway), and so I got to enroll a bit early at Blair’s school.
I remember the dreaded visits from The Inspector. This guy named Crammond hated my handwriting, calling it the worst he had ever seen. I remember dreaming at night of a miraculous change where my way of writing would become the best, and all the smooth, cursive letters and their scribes would feel the rejection of bad penmanship. What’s more, it seemed that every time Crammond looked at my work he shifted me ahead a grade. By the time the family moved to Westport, at age nine I was in grade six, a short, verbose urchin who hadn’t yet learned how to duck.
A spectacular example of this tendency occurred the first time I had a confrontation with my new teacher at Westport Public School, Mrs. Knapp. My grandfather was letting me help him cure beaver pelts in the evening at the time, and I had missed a couple of homework assignments. Years later, Beulah told me, “The first time you didn’t have your homework done I forgave you, but then the next day it was the same, so I asked you, why hadn’t you done your homework?”
In saying to her, “Mrs. Knapp, I prefer to keep my evenings free,” I didn’t mean her any disrespect, just that I never knew when I might get a chance to go somewhere with Dad, or a lucrative errand for Grandpa Charlie might pop up, and I was reluctant to make a commitment I couldn’t keep.
When she got down off the ceiling I could tell that Beulah was less than impressed. In the future I resolved to offer more dull specifics and less truth when dealing with authority figures.
Before I leave Blair’s School, though, I must mention what was without a doubt my most memorable educational experience. It occurred on an end-of-year field trip to Ottawa. I was about six at the time. Mom had the bus all loaded for the trip home when driver Jack Rice asked, “Where’s your young lad?” Back into the Museum of Nature they trooped. They couldn’t find me. A security guard joined the search.
All afternoon I had worked my way through the natural history exhibits, fascinated by the gem stones, the dinosaurs, the birds and the stuffed animals, and then I noticed the place was empty, except for me.
That giant buffalo suddenly had a different look in his eye, and the pack of timber wolves seemed hungry. I remembered a large piece of quartz crystal in one hall with a sign which claimed it came from Lyndhurst. I went to ground behind it because I knew Lyndhurst was near Westport. Mom eventually found me in my hiding place, ending a period of considerable anxiety for the adults on the bus.
Later in life as a teacher I ran many field trips. Students and colleagues alike often wondered about my fanatical attention to roll-calls when students re-boarded the bus. Now they know.