Mr. Bryson’s Creative Writing

Prairie Schooling

My first three years of public education were lost at Benson Elementary School, kitty corner from my home in Regina, Saskatchewan. The Institution was a monstrous brick construct reminiscent of harsh residential schools and prairie government bureaucracies that haunted mine and Canada’s past in the fifties.

I always felt tiny and insignificant next to it.

There was a huge playing field attached to the school coated with a cold brown nobbly gravel, unforgiving to slides and dives but nevertheless full of children’s invention and playful possibilities.

There was a native kid, named Robert, who was much larger than me. Word was out that he was tough and could fight “Indian style.”  Whatever that meant to me at the time, I don’t recall, but I do remember a sense of awe at his presence and cool manner.

It was a jean jacket Fall day, cool enough for playing hard and feeling strong. I always felt quick, light and invincible in that jacket and my perfect sneakers. My high-tops were just thick enough to feel the gravel and thin enough to let me fly. I was at one with my skin, ready to move.

We were playing tag and I felt Robert’s challenge. As the game grew in energy, I knew he was going to “get me good” so I ran full out road-runner fast, with invisible legs, catching air and gravel, touching down just long enough to let my toes wrap around another stone. I could still feel him right behind me, so I fell to the ground and quickly jabbed my legs up in the air at an angle set for incoming.

My unexpected strategy happened so quickly that it took him off guard and he did a perfect flip over his head and onto his back.  Amazed at my success, but terrified of the consequences, I leapt up and quickly asked if he was o.k. He gave me this crazy grin and said in a huge breathless that “I was a really good wrestler.”

After dusting off, recess was over and we walked in together not saying a word. The very next period we were asked to choose partners for bean bag toss and I jumped up right away and chose him to be my partner. We immediately started goofing around throwing the bags up way too high to be caught, I suppose not wanting to test each other beyond what we had just experienced. After receiving “the look,” from Mrs. Little, we tried to obey, but we were too absorbed in recreating our friendship to really care.

I don’t remember if I ever actually played with Robert after that. I think he moved away, but I do remember us smiling at each other in the hall, the kind of look young boys give each other knowing that on a primal level we had established the type of brotherhood that can only be shaped in battle.

Forty three years later I returned to Regina to see the house I grew up in, and to show my kids where, in my early years, I had been shaped and sewn together. I took my family over to the school and to my amazement it was almost identical to what I could recall, the same forbidding façade and painful looking field.

Of course it wasn’t at all as big as it was when I was seven, full of yee-hah and so very busy creating my own myth. Yet I could still feel the jean jacket binding my muscles, the molded sneakers full of spring and sprang and the glorious triumph of my first wrestling match.

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