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Dummies in School

In to the Wind

May 9, 2012
By Mike Gilchrist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Editor's note: Mike is taking a short break from the routine of his column. Here is an offering from a few years ago.

When I was in school, I was part of a legacy of sorts. Our class was one of notable exception to the norm. We were an anomaly, a spike that rode time through the school system. Our pranks and antics were legendary. Teachers planned their retirement in anticipation of our arrival. Others called it quits after encountering our class. Still others left the very year they met us.

We were a terror cell. Not a malicious terrorist cell like you might read about today, but a terror cell none-the-less. Our antics and deeds were quite devious. We were known to make female teachers cry and male teachers quake in place.

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The first indication of the trouble to come was during third grade. We had a new teacher. This was her first year teaching. As youngsters will sometimes do, we tested her. We poked and prodded looking for a weakness, any vulnerability which might allow us to wrest control.

It was apparent from the beginning this teacher was quite emotional, even to lowly third graders. A couple times she left the room in tears, and another teacher, or the principal appeared in a few minutes to take her place.

One day, one of our classmates brought a large paper grocery sack to school. All of us trouble makers took our turn peering into the sack to see what Kevin had brought. Inside was one of those kid sized ventriloquist dummies. It was a replica of Paul Winchell's Jerry Mahoney. A plan was hatched.

Back in those days, we had coat closets in the classroom. Every kid stowed their boots, coat, and sack lunch in that closet. We put a stack of books on the seat of Kevin's desk, so the dummy was seated at the approximate height of a third grader. We then propped one of those thin spelling books up on the desk, with the dummy's hands staged like they were holding it up. The dummy's head was hidden from the front of the classroom by that book. Kevin went to the coat closet to hide. The rest of us took our seats and waited.

The bell rang and our teacher entered the room. She started to talk, beginning the lessons for the day. She kept glancing at Kevin's desk. She kept talking. This went on for a few minutes. Slowly, while talking, she started towards the dummy and the propped up book. When she got in front of the desk, she hollered, louder than we had ever heard her speak. "Kevin, I want you to put that book down and listen to me," she yelled. Kevin didn't move. Getting more agitated and excited, she continued, this time much louder, "I told you to put that book down!" At the same time she swiped at the book, knocking it to the floor. Because of his precarious perch atop the stack of books, the dummy tumbled off the desk and landed on the floor with a thud. The teacher's eyes bugged out in terror. She threw up her arms and shrieked. She turned and ran out of the room. We could hear her shrieking all the way to the principal's office.

I don't remember that teacher's name. I doubt anyone from our class does. She wasn't with us long enough to have memorized her name. She never came back after that incident; not that day, not that week, not the rest of the school year. She was the first casualty of our class.

The incidents and episodes continued. These stories, at least the more benign ones, have been a source of entertainment over the years for my kids. They have heard many of the stories multiple times, and sometimes put in a special request to have one or the other retold. Some of the stories are not told; not to my kids, and not here. I think you understand.

Our fourth grade teacher took a particular disliking for me after a certain episode.

One of the neighborhood kids taught me a neat trick. He handed me an envelope, and asked me if I had ever seen snake eggs. I had never really seen snake eggs, so did the obligatory thing any fourth grader would do under the circumstances, and opened the envelope. The envelope seemed to come alive as I opened it, and out sprang a small device, making a racket as it exited the opened envelope.

I studied the device, and decided I'd make my own, and spring it on my teacher. The device was no more than a broken rubber band threaded through a large button, knotted, and spread across the open vee of a bobby pin which was spread apart. Centering the button between the sides of the bobby pin, you wound the button up until it was under a great deal of tension. You then folded the button over and tucked it into a corner of an envelope. This kept the button from spinning in its holder until some unwitting victim opened it and freed the contraption. The button would spin wildly against the inside of the envelope and make a terrible racket. To some fiendish kid, it must have sounded like a rattlesnake shaking its tail, so was aptly named "snake eggs."

The carefully crafted and "armed" device was tucked securely into the corner of a bright new white envelope. Using my best penmanship, I wrote the teacher's name on the front. The next morning before the bell rang I deftly placed the envelope on the teacher's desk.

This morning began like most. Our teacher was talking to the class, standing behind her desk when she noticed the envelope. While talking, she picked up and then opened the booby trap. Unleashed from its resting place, the device came alive and spun wildly. It made a terrible racket, but did not spring out. Using both hands, she threw the thing into the air and shrieked.

Visibly shaken, red faced and angry, it was easy for her to pick out the culprit. I was the one slunk down in my desk laughing uncontrollably, with tears streaming down my face. The kids in the class who weren't in the know were asking each other what had just happened. My confederates knew, and were laughing too; just not as intensely as me.

This teacher didn't retire or even leave the room that day. She made it her mission to watch me and torment me the rest of the year. After that episode, we took it easy on her; she was no fun.

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on the "Local Columns" button at the bottom of the page.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2012 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342



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