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October 14, 2019

#YEG: W.P. Kinsella

The acclaimed writer reminisces about Grade 9 at the now closed Parkdale School.

Illustration Lino

When I was 14 I couldn’t imagine being 76, as I am now. I recently learned that Parkdale School at 117th Avenue and 86th Street, where I spent Grade 9, my happiest year of education, had been closed. It saddened me, like losing a childhood friend. I suppose the closing was due; Parkdale was an ancient, creaky red brick building in 1949, and that’s 63 years ago.

I remember the odours of chalk, varnish and floor wax, and of bologna sandwiches in the lunchroom. I remember the cavernous main floor hallway, dark even at midday, the creaking basement boilers and a mysterious old caretaker with only one ear.

School work was easy, and I earned good grades, though I remember on the provincial exam, when asked to define “a British Thermal Unit,”I ventured it was an expedition studying health conditions in Africa.

Our homeroom teacher, Mr. Souch, had studied psychology at a university. We were used to teachers who slammed doors, pounded on desks and threatened death and destruction like Old Testament prophets. When the class was unruly, Mr. Souch said calmly, “Ladies and gentlemen, please refrain from creating a disturbance.” We were stunned, and usually complied.

I maintain there should be a statute of limitations on the social ineptness of adolescence. I was awkward, self-conscious, tongue-tied around girls, though completely in their thrall. Sex was never discussed in my home. Parkdale sex education consisted of an embarrassed health teacher, turning bright red as he stammered, “Uh, you know, that’s when rabbits have little rabbits.”

I bought a little wind-up record player with paper-route money, and my first record, a 78 r.p.m., was “Slippin’ Around,” sung by Jimmy Wakely and Margaret Whiting.

I had my first kiss that fall with a sweet girl named May, after a walk through crunchy leaves in the shadowy Rat Creek Ravine (now Kinnaird Ravine), where flying squirrels floated eerily from tree to tree.

The Christmas after-school dance: Tinsel, glittery streamers in the third-floor gym, a blue spotlight, a recording of “Blue Moon” played repeatedly on the school Victrola. I had several left feet, and lacked the nerve to ask the girls to dance. A lifetime later, I still wonder what became of some of those girls: Barbara Massie, Mary Coffey, Shirley Leal, Mary Skoreko.

Oh, yes, at 76, memories of 14 are clearer than yesterday. And all the things I might have done differently? As Willie Nelson sings, “Nothing I Can Do About it Now.”

W.P. Kinsella grew up in east Edmonton, and has published 30-some books, including Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, over a 50-year career. His latest novel is Butterfly Winter from Great Plains Publications.

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