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Big Heroes – Little People
Second grade was a very special year for me. In second grade we really started to develop close friendships and share secrets. It was exciting to know something about yourself that your parents didn’t.
Like falling into a swamp on the way to school. That day, my second grade teacher, Mrs. Bjorklund, became my hero. He never told anyone what happened. He could have dragged us to the principal and given us to our parents, but he didn’t. I thought he was wonderful, he was one of us.
It was a warm Friday afternoon in May. Twenty second graders were fidgeting nervously at their desks, looking at the clock. Mrs. Bjorklund made us sing every Friday after three o’clock. He wasn’t stupid enough to try to teach anything to small children who eagerly watch the long hand of the clock sweep past the minutes. Only thirty minutes left.
We sang my favorite song from second grade, “Carmelita.” It went “Oh Sing your song Carmelita, please Carmelita, Sing your song to me. It won’t be long Carmelita, please Carmelita, please Sing your song to me. And the donkey went merrily on, he walks with a happy clip clop” It was a great song, i especially liked the clip clop part of it.
Mrs. Bjorklund led us in song as Mr. Katon poked his head through the door. He was our principal. He was a very nice man. He poked his head in to wish us a nice weekend every Friday. He was friendly, had a big smile and I think he was very tall. I think he was tall, I don’t know, because I was seven, everyone looked tall to me.
He smiled at us as we sang and went to close the door, but it slammed shut. We had the windows open so the air pressure surprised him. It was ok though, we didn’t miss a single beat song.
As the minutes ticked by, we were all nervous and excited. When you grow up on Lake Superior, warm spring days are a big deal. You can actually run and play and not worry about catching a cold. It was perfect weather for games of hopscotch or Chinese skipping rope. We absolutely loved playing these games as kids. They were the video games of my youth. You couldn’t do it inside or alone.
So it was 3:25, Mrs. Bjorklund gave us permission to put our books away and straighten our desks so they would be nice and tidy on Monday. We were all excited. We couldn’t wait to be released. It was like opening a gate on a ranch with all the cattle running like crazy.
Another great thing about second grade, no homework. Our homework was to help around the house. Cleaning the chandelier with my big sister or sweeping. I was too small to vacuum.
Finally, the last ten seconds. I watch the movement of the long hand of the clock as it ticks through the seconds. Then the bell rings. Thank God we all stood up and went to the door.
Why didn’t the door open? I heard someone say the door was stuck. We all spun around and some of the kids started to look worried. Mrs. Bjorklund came to see what was wrong, she told us to move back so she could open the door.
He turned the knob, nothing happened. Then he pushed the door, nothing happened. He shook the door, nothing happened.
The kids got angrier and angrier. One little boy, the headmaster’s son, was crying. He said he was late for a date with Kerri T. I know they were only seven, but we were well developed. He was going to meet her on the slide and they were going to play on the merry-go-round. Very sophisticated.
Mrs. Bjorklund walked back to the front of the room and sat down on her desk. He thought of a way to save us. We all sat back in our seats and looked towards him. We knew he could think of something, he was an adult. He could save us.
He had an idea. We all wrote notes and shoved them under the door. Someone would see the notes, pick them up and save us.
So we frantically scribbled notes begging for help. We were trapped and needed help. We were a bit dramatic. I mean, we were on the first floor, tons of windows and we had running water. Wait, we didn’t have a bathroom. Now that’s a problem. We were only seven years old, we didn’t have much time before someone had to go.
So we shoved the notes under the door and out into the hall and waited. We waited and waited, but no one came. It got us thinking. Who were we waiting for? The bell rang 10 minutes ago on a warm Friday afternoon. The buses were gone and everyone else seemed to be gone too.
A couple of other kids started crying and the rest of us were just anxious. We had been waiting all week for Friday night and were able to stay out a little later because of the warm weather. We had to get home, there were hop-scotches to jump and barbies to play with, bikes to ride. We were all busy that night, we had to get out of there. I’m sure no one else realized this, but we really were little adults with big plans. Friday night, when we played the hopscotch, that was our social calendar and it was time to go.
Mrs. Bjorklund thought again at her desk. Then he started looking at the windows. That was it!!! We would send someone out the window. We were on the first floor. The windows flipped out so it had to be something small to fit through the hole. Who would that be????
We had volunteer Timmy Fleck. Timmy came from a big family. All the kids looked the same. Small frames, skinny, freckles and red hair. I had a feeling that Timmy could have actually gone out of windows like this before. He was the kind of kid who always lived on the edge.
One day in art class we were all wearing our art pants (our dad’s old shirt turned backwards), our art teacher gave us each a piece of charcoal. We had to draw a picture of the house. So while we were all trying to do this, Timmy got up to go into the boy’s room.
He went in and drew a beard, mustache and eyebrows on himself with charcoal. Then he went back to class. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at school before or since. It was the funniest thing a seven-year-old did that I saw. He got into trouble.
So when he volunteered to go out the window, none of us were surprised.
He climbed onto the windowsills and Mrs. Bjorklund told him to get out of the window, she grabbed him by the ankles and started pushing him. There was just one problem. He didn’t agree.
It seems that Timmy had some sort of growth spurt in second grade. I hadn’t really noticed before, but he was growing. Despite this, he was still the smallest child in the class.
Mrs. Bjorklund took him back inside. Two or three other children were crying.
We never got out. We would die there. Our parents got together and looked for us. When our poor limp bodies were finally found, it would be too late. The whole town would be sad. There wouldn’t be a church big enough to accommodate all the grieving families.
They would all be so sad and sing our favorite songs. Yes, they would learn “Carmel”. Maybe they would even get a donkey to pull the wagon for the coffins. Maybe the donkey could even walk with a happy clip. It was so sad.
Years from now, children would look to our example. We died in school learning things and they would remember us for that.
Boy, I was dramatic at seven.
Then I heard a knock!! Someone knocked at the door!! We all cheered!!! It was Mr. Katon, he was there, he would save us. Mrs. Bjorklund ran to the door and told him it was stuck and she couldn’t get it open.
Mr. Katon told him to stand far from the door and tell all the children to go back through the windows. So we all huddled together by the windows. This was so exciting, like an episode of Lassie when the father finally follows Lassie to save the little kid.
Mr. Katon took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves. Shoulder down, he ran to the door and slammed it with all his might. It opened.
We all cheered and cheered. We were saved!! Mr. Katon saved us. We were all smiling and happy. This was the best day of my life. It was like a superhero had saved us. Saved us from death, saved us from the trouble of missing dinner, saved us to grow up and get married and have kids and tell them a great story about how we faced death and laughed.
OK, I’m still being dramatic.
Looking back on that day seems so funny now. It sure wasn’t fun when it happened. I’m still scared. It’s funny, being scared now doesn’t feel any different than it did then. I’m afraid of different things now. I’m afraid AA feels like being locked in a classroom on a Friday after noon. I have so much to do, I’m in a hurry to get out, I want and need to go see my friends, but just like in second grade, the door is locked.
Mr. Katon is not going to come knocking down the door for me this time. I have to do it myself. If little Timmy Fleck can volunteer to go out that window and hold him on the ground by his ankles, I sure can go out and face whatever is out there.
Heroes come in all sizes, from big Mr. Katon to little Timmy Fleck, they are all heroes in our lives. Our greatest hero is within all of us. The little voice that says “I’m still here, you can do anything if you try.”
So, what are you waiting for? It’s Friday afternoon, it’s nice out there, go get it!!!
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