The Longest Day

Posted on March 28, 2019 under Storytelling with 5 comments

Thanks to the yearbook staff (1976) at SAJH for the picture and to Gerard MacDonald for posting this photo a few days ago which resulted in this flashback.

We’ve all had them.

Have you ever had one of those days when you wondered if it would ever end? I’ve witnessed labour and delivery of a child.  Four to be exact. Surely this is one of the greatest tests of endurance and perseverance. Writing final exams would be high on my personal list, especially when we wrote provincial exams in high school where your entire year was riding on the results. Anybody who has traveled from North America to far flung places like Australia or India can attest to utter exhaustion after 40 hours of cars, buses and planes.

While weddings are mostly joyous occasions, it can test the boundaries of patience.  Completing the Boston Marathon is another example of a very long day, especially when you haven’t slept the previous 48 hours wondering if you could do it.

A three hour root canal is right up there too.

Most people of my vintage have had at least one (?) altercation with alcohol and came out on the losing end.

The year was 1976. After a less than stellar performance during my undergraduate years, I went back to university to get a Bachelor of Education. I took the secondary program and made some lifelong friends who toiled with me to learn how to become  English teachers. It was a memorable year. Especially the last day.

When I did my undergraduate degree, I didn’t stick around for graduation so I missed all of the grad week functions. Speaking of long days, is there anything longer and duller than sitting through graduation exercises? So when grad week came along in May of 1976, I took in all of the festivities.

I had done my practice teaching at St.Andrew Junior High. (SAJH) It was a great school and my supervising teacher (KF) was a gem. Prior to graduation, I had secured a commitment for a full time teaching assignment in the Peace River country of Alberta in September. With a newly polished degree tucked under my arm, I decided to put my name on the substitution list in Antigonish to see if I could pick up a few days of paid teaching before heading out west.

I remember the graduation clearly but the ensuing 12 hours is a bit of a blur. We danced and we drank but mostly we drank. At 6:00 a.m. the morning after convocation, a handful of my buddies and me were perched on the very top row of the grandstands at Oland Stadium. The sun was coming up.

Luckily I only lived a short distance from my mother’s home where I was living at the time. I crawled home around and was fast asleep by 6:30.

“Wake up. Wake up. You have to teach today.” Was this a voice from Hades? No. It was my mother. “I just had a call from St.Andrew Junior High and they want you to come to work,” is what I thought I heard through a boozy haze. I was tempted to say that I had already been offered a contract in the fall but mom was quick to point out that she told the principal that I would be there in 20 minutes. I recoiled in horror.

I had the quickest shower on record and struck out across the same turf that I had trod less than two hours ago. SAJH was just a stone’s throw from the football stadium. As I was walking past the stadium, I glanced up and could see a row of beer bottles on the top row of the bleachers, an honour guard of sorts.

I made my way to the principal’s office. Staggering might be more apt as I was still well over acceptable breathalyzer levels. Through bloodshot eye, I listened in wonderment and I heard the principal say the following: “You will be instructing the sheet metal class today.”

My English methods course during my education year consisted of writing, grammar, methods, philosophy and measurement. There was never a mention of sheet metal.

I’m not very good with my hands when I’m sober and alert. Putting me in a room with young adolescents and dangerous equipment while intoxicated sounded like a recipe for disaster. I thought of the doctors’ Hippocratic Oath: “Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.” Luckily, the young people in this class were right in their element and didn’t need me. I tried not to breathe on anyone and was forced to consume several cups of coffee throughout the day to maintain consciousness.

Normally when the bell rings at the end of the day, it is the students who are most joyous. On this day, one of the longest in my life, the sound of the bell was akin to a boxing ring at the end of a twelve round bout. I felt beat up but somehow survived.

It was an inauspicious beginning to my teaching career.

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