March 21st………“AS A FAMILY, DID YOU HELP YOUR FATHER, IN HIS WORK AS A SCHOOL CUSTODIAN, AT GLENWOOD HEIGHTS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL IN THE BATTLE GROUND SCHOOL DISTRICT”?
My pile of school books were still bouncing on my bed as I spun around and headed out the door with Mom and little sister, Candi. It was once again Friday afternoon and time to jump inside our brand new 1967 Dodge Coronet 500 for the drive down to our father’s new work career jobsite. We had sold our family farm in Minnesota in July of ’67 and Dad had begun working as the new Head Custodian at Glenwood Heights Elementary School near Vancouver, Washington (which is yet part of the Battle Ground, Washington School District). Just like the popular television show of that era, ours was a “Family Affair” when it came to helping our dad get his work done. Just as in our previous vocation of farming, success was achieved by a team effort. Therefore, we four were in route each Friday afternoon to assist Dad in whatever chores we could perform there in his school that he cared for.
Being young teenagers, and full of energy’s spunk, little sister, Candice, and I were assigned the weekly task of cleaning 60 chalkboards (20 classrooms times 3 chalkboards each) and burning the trash in the monstrous incinerator back behind the school building. Every aspect of life was new to us since moving here to the Pacific Northwest and I, for one, relished each new adventure……even cleaning chalkboards.
Schools, back in these dear days gone by, still used good old-fashioned white chalk on either traditional slate chalkboards or fiber boards painted with a “chalkboard paint”. After a week of teacher and student usage, the trays, below those chalkboards, were usually filled thick with white chalk dust and itty bitty pieces of broken or used up chalk “crayons” (as one manufacturer called them). In residence, on those trays, were usually six, or more, small erasers that had become impregnated with white dust from erasing the chalkboard surface. Together, they made quite a mess to clean up. Some wise custodian, in the past, had come upon the bright idea of using a large, tough “egg carton case” to haul clean and dirty erasers. That originating custodian had also installed a wooden panel, with a carrying handle, at the center of said box and it worked very well in carting around our board cleaning supplies.
First, we’d each grab a small eraser from the tray and hard-rub all the writing from the board’s surface. Now removing all the dirty small erasers from the tray, we’d throw them into the dirty side of the “egg carton case” box. Next, we’d take a rag to gently push the chalk dust from the tray and into a coffee can, leaving the tray nice and clean. Each of us then took a long, chamois-covered eraser to deep clean the chalkboard’s surface. We’d walk along the length of the chalkboard holding the long eraser tight against the surface. At the end of each pass, the chamois eraser was rubbed clean with a rag for the next pass on the board. When the board was groomed for the upcoming week, we’d then put out the same number of small, clean erasers as we had taken off in the beginning of this procedure.
With all sixty chalkboards cleaned, now came the fun part; well, for me at least. In Dad’s collection of custodian gadgets was this really cool electric machine, called “The Little Giant”, that was a combination of spinning brush and impellor fan that sucked the dust from erasers and deposited it into a fine cloth bag. For this former farm boy, though, I preferred to take the “Little Giant” outside the school building and clean the erasers outdoors withOUT the cloth bag. The kid in me loved to watch the massive white clouds of chalk dust fly into the air with each eraser’s pass over those spinning brushes. Upon inspection for cleanliness, each clean eraser now went neatly into the side of the “egg carton case” box for clean erasers and sat in reserve to be used the following Friday afternoon.
Tall, cardboard barrels, onboard the long custodian cart, were filled to overflowing with mostly paper trash from the 20 classrooms each evening. Since most of that garbage was burnable, we’d pull that long cart outside to the northeast corner of the school property. Out back, all by its lonesome, was a gigantic metal incinerator for burning that refuse. It was fun to fill that monster to the brim with all of our school trash for that day and set it afire with a match or two. We’d then let the big metal lid go KAHBANG as it shut and trapped everything inside. With each passing minute, we could hear the roar of the fire within the beast climb to a higher and higher decibel as that day’s undesirables were consumed and smoke bellowed from the tall stack above our heads.
By this time of the evening, the sun had set and darkness enveloped the Northwest countryside around us. With Friday night chores completed for our dear daddy, it was now time to get his weekly reward of a delicious “Captain Crunch” ice cream or a “Double Delight” vanilla n fudge ice cream bar from Alda Nutter’s school kitchen. Alda was Glenwood’s beloved school kitchen manager and she was such a darling lady. Daddy paid her in advance each Friday for our ice cream, so after our teenager work was done, Dad keyed his way into the kitchen and popped open the ice cream freezer for our treat to enjoy. Until the end of our father’s work shift, we also were rewarded with a fun time in Glenwood’s gymnasium. Some Fridays, we played hoops, either just shooting baskets independently, or Candice and I would play a game of H-O-R-S-E. Other Friday nights, we’d play indoor frisbee, climb ropes to the ceiling and any number of other fun ideas contained in those big gray Physical Education cabinets.
Glenwood Heights got its name from resting on top of one of the highest promontories of land in that part of Clark County. And, with it being so situated, at night, you could gaze down and see the lights of Portland, Oregon sparkling in the far distance. Depending on my mood and energy level, some Friday nights, rather than play basketball, I’d just quietly enjoy my ice cream bar and gaze southwards to the city lights of Portland far off to the south horizon. Having come from a tiny town in the flatlands of Minnesota, I was mesmerized by the immense expanse of this large city that I beheld. While I pondered on those beautiful quiet lights in the distance, a revolving search/spot light on top of tall Rocky Butte, there in east Portland, would “wink” at me each time it made its pass in the nighttime sky. This former farm boy was enthralled with the beauty of our new land that we called home for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.