The elementary school in Crystal Lake predated World War II. (Possibly also World War I.) It was a hulking great brick behemoth with a tower. They blew it up the next year to build a new school; I remember seeing the tower come down. Miss Olson was the third grade teacher, and also the fourth, all of us sharing a classroom on the second floor, just off a cavernous hallway whose walls were lined with lockers. Nobody locked the lockers. To the best of my knowledge there were no thieves in Crystal Lake.
Although we moved to Crystal Lake from New Jersey in the summertime, I hadn’t managed to make very many friends by the opening of school. Recess was dismal. I had no skill at jumping rope or playing jacks and nobody talked to me. Fifteen minutes was a lot longer in those days than it is now, have you noticed? An entire dramatic radio show could be consummated in fifteen minutes. In a freezing cold play yard with no friends fifteen minutes was an eternity. One day I realized I didn’t have to go out. While the other children were getting their coats out of their lockers I found that I could slip into my locker all unseen and latch the door shut behind me.
The slits in the locker door came just about to where my eyes were, so that I could look out and see when the hallway was empty. Then I could get out, lounge around, and jump back in if I heard anybody coming.
This worked great for about a week. But one day I failed to complete the maneuver fast enough. The elderly Miss Stevenson—a twin! The other Miss Stevenson was also a teacher there—made so little noise in her approach that she was inside the hallway by the time I clicked the latch shut. Her hearing was acute. “Who's there?”
I tried lying doggo, but she was insistent. “Come out! Come out right now!”
So I came out.
I thought I was in a lot of trouble. Clearly I had given the old lady a bad fright. But as it happened she was fascinated. “Show me how you did that.”
“You can work the latch from inside,” I said, and did it again. She called the other Miss Stevenson to show her what I had done. Then Miss Olson. The other kids came in from recess, and they wanted to see the trick. Before I knew it I was the school celebrity, fifteen-minutes famous. So you just never know.
© 2015 Kate Gallison