Some days, I wonder if what I learned at school had much value. I still struggle with long division. Then I remember Mr. Davis.
Before they replaced Johnson Memorial, my old school, Mr. Davis was our crossing guard at Russell near Talfourd.
My world then was in apple-pie order. My mother walked me to my first half-day of Kindergarten. On the second day she told me I’d be OK on my own. Mr. Davis, tall, soft-spoken and civil, was there to keep me safe.
Once, later on, some of the big kids crossed Russell Street without Mr. Davis’ permission. “Boys, boys,” he said with quiet urgency. “Boys, boys.”
They laughed, called him a loud name, and ran across the road to honking horns, screeching brakes and howling drivers.
The next day our teacher Mrs. East and the other teachers – and even the principal himself, Colonel Coleman – gave every child the full skunk treatment. We were told, directly, to do as Mr. Davis instructed.
There was a thin line in my young brain then between fact and make-believe and I couldn’t imagine breaking the unspoken but evident rule to respect Mr. Davis.
But that was the day I began to understand I was part of a community, included in its ups and downs. And its rules.
I was used to following rules. At Johnson Memorial the schoolyard was divided by a white line – girls on one side, boys on the other.
The little kids like me had to skip rope and play hopscotch and Mother May I on the asphalt (pronounced ash-fault) while the big kids played ball and gossiped and bragged out on the grass. When the bell rang, we filed in through separate entrances to the sound of Sousa marches on crackling speakers.
The memory of those school speakers reminded me of the recent loss of my friend, John K. Wilson. A little over a year ago, at an intersection in Corunna, over scratchy speakers from the back of a pickup truck, his friends and neighbours shared stories and smiles and tears about John, a crossing guard who worked the corner of Albert and Birchbank.
Organizers hoped a few people would show up. Instead, by 6 p.m., as The Journal reported: “The candlelit street was lined with hundreds.”
The memorial included flowers and letters from area children about John, a thoroughly decent man, who “was always going out of his way to lift up others.”
Times change and some virtues go in and out of fashion.
But decency is always an option, and each of us needs to give it a puff of oxygen now and then.
Bob Boulton is a Sarnia writer and creator of a blog for new and renewing writers, bobswritefromthestart.blogspot.com