He’d heard of the ocean in that tiny school tucked away in the rolling hills of interior farmlands. The teacher, Mr Radford, had been posted there after finishing teacher training, and it was apparent to all in that rural community he was not happy with the posting. Caning was his reaction to any pranks played by the tough farmer children under his care, and Jac often trudged the five mile home with hands turning blue from bruising.
The children responded in kind to his cruelty lacing his drink during teacher tea breaks with concoctions guaranteed to keep Radford running desperately to the tin toilet block located at a distance from the single room school elevated above the ground to protect it from termites. His reaction was to think either this rural community was unsafe for a civilized man to dwell in because of hateful gut infestations, or someone was lacing his drinks. Though Radford watched his lunch pack very carefully those rural children were sneaky and watched for an unguarded moment.
Perhaps as an act of contrition, or to try and build bridges after Radford realized he was disliked by not only the children under his care but also the farmer folk, he arranged for a government sponsored field trip to the coast for his school children. However Radford was not to accompany them on this looked forward to excursion. Rural community ire had reached the education department and transfer to another school before the vacation happened was arranged. A young and gentle Matilda Smith took his place in an attempt to placate the community.
So at the appointed vacation time Matilda and her pupils made the five hundred mile trip by bus to the coast where accommodation had been arranged at a camp site. They were on their way there when Jac caught his first sight of an ocean he’d heard so much about from his teachers.
This was Matilda’s first school posting and she was overwhelmed with the thought of controlling these tough rural children in their unfamiliar environment. Their range of ages from elementary to pre-high school was of further apprehension. Fortunately rare wisdom had come forth from the Education Department bureaucracy and on arrival at the camp Matilda was met by an equally young adult Col Butler who informed her he was to be in charge during the school’s sponsored vacation.
Col was well built and had a commanding appearance. The eldest children fell under his spell immediately and younger children gravitated to Matilda in their unfamiliar environment. Col commanded and they followed, but it was done in good spirit.
He explained use of the facilities, and the rules, then settled boys and girls in their respective residence halls. Matilda was to stay with the girls and Col would look after the boys. They were not to venture to the beach without Col’s permission. He pointed to the schedule of activities and times displayed in each residence hall and told them everyone would be expected to attend those activities and they’d be supervised. Matilda was relieved to forfeit a role she’d dreaded on the bus trip to the coast.
Jac was leader of the eldest boys and as is custom of all children looked for an opportunity to test boundaries. So not long after getting settled and unpacking their things he started some playful pushing and a fight started.
Col’s reaction was immediate. Strong hands separated the boys and his penetrating look bought that one and only test to a halt. Col laughed and picked Jac up under the arms so they were eye to eye.
“You’re a bright strong boy so I’m appointing you my assistant. If you see anyone not following the rules and placing themselves in dangerous situations you need to alert me immediately. Here, move your bed next to mine. This should be a happy vacation and we don’t want to see anyone hurt. Here’s a clip board and pencil. You’re responsible for calling the role whenever we leave camp and before we return to camp to make sure everyone is safe. Can you do that?”
Jac blinked and nodded his head. He was getting sore under the arms and wanted to be let down again.
“Good!” Col said with his booming voice.
The boys looked at Col with awe as he swept his eyes over them. He smiled; there’d be no more challenges to his authority.
“Get into your swimmers, we’re late for our first activity. This will be your first experience on the beach I’m told?” Jac grabbed the clipboard and pencil and followed Col stretching to try and imitate Col’s appearance.
There was urgent activity as boys changed then followed Col to the girls residence.
Jac stood beside Col and proudly produced his clipboard. He carefully wrote each name on the board after it was called. As he looked at his writing he suddenly realized how misshapen it was and wished he’d paid greater attention to the teacher as they were learning to write words and how to use them. When they got back to school he’d be more diligent in his studies and not fool around so much he thought.
Col took the clipboard and pencil and patted Jac on the back.
“Good job!” he boomed. Jac stood straight and tall and felt proud.
Matilda watched it all incredulously. Jac had been a problem for her in the short time she’d been at this school. She wondered how Col made such a difference in the boy and determined to watch them both carefully.
Soon they were all going single file down the sand track to the beach filled with excitement. There was apprehension as they walked. Crashing of waves on the other side of the sand dune in front of them sounded powerful and disturbing. At the top of the sand dune young children stopped and held onto Matilda. Giant waves sped toward the beach and broke with a crash. Would those waves stay at a distance or come up the beach and trap them in deep water?
Matilda laughed at the reaction of the younger children. “Come on, it’s safe!” She said.
“Follow me and never get ahead of me.” Commanded Col. He raced for the water with boys in hot pursuit. Then knowing this was a first experience for them he paused and let the waves wash over his feet so they’d become familiar with the ocean. Younger children ran to where Col stood as the waves receded and ran back up the beach squealing as waves returned.
“Sit!” commanded Col. The boys sat and squealed with delight as waves swept over their bodies spraying foam into their faces. All of a sudden the ocean didn’t look so threatening.
“OK, we need to do something for the younger children,” commanded Col.
They trooped down the beach to rock formations uncovered by a receded tide. Col and Matilda took them from one rock pool to another showing them sea creatures living in pools to the delight of those rural children.
Matilda glanced at the receding sun and deepening shadows on the beach. “What time is it?” she inquired. Col glanced at his watch.
“It’s time to go! Role time call! Where’s the clip board Jac?”
Jac froze in embarrassment. He’d left the clip board on the beach with towels and now peered down the beach but the place they’d entered the beach was too far away to see if it was still there.
Col laughed and pointed to a dry rock where the towels and clipboard were neatly placed. Jac raced to the rock and retrieved the clip board and pencil. Then began to check off each name to see all were present.
Col led the group and Matilda followed behind to make sure none were lost on the way.
Back at camp they were surprised to find two more people had joined their camp. Col’s mom and sister had volunteered to care for meals during this vacation and they’d already prepared an evening meal. Mrs Butler and Claire waved.
“Come and get it!”
The children raced to tables and sat expectantly.
“Pick up your plates and come over here to the serving deck. We’ll serve you here!”
The boys grabbed their plates and rushed to the serving deck to be first.
“Hold on there!” commanded Col.” First the little ones, then the older girls and then the boys!”
“Not fair!” hooted the elder boys. But one look from Col silenced the protests. The boys remembered Col’s strength in lifting Jac off the ground effortlessly; even rural boys know their limitations.
Col flexed his muscles in front of the boys. “Know where I got those from?” he asked. The boys looked up with interest.
“I got them from ploughing fields and driving tractors when I was your age!”
“Yes he did!” shouted Col’s Sister Claire from the serving deck. “We used to ride horses to school and milk cows and plant and harvest crops just like you do! That’s why we wanted to share your vacation with you.”
“Wow!” said the children. They looked at the Butler family with respect. They were farmer folk, they understood.
That evening Col had arranged a camp fire and they told stories and sang songs together. It was the best day these children had ever had and there was a whole two weeks of it ahead. As the children climbed into bed that evening waves crashing on the beach was not sinister sounds any more, they found it relaxing and sea air made them very sleepy.
“Are you a real teacher?” Jac asked Col as they climbed into bed that evening?
“Yes I am! I’m being transferred to another school and the Education Department knowing I was from a farmer family thought I’d be the best person to be with you on your first vacation by the sea before I took up my new appointment. I was happy to accept. What are you going to be when you grow up Jac?”
“I’m going to be a teacher.” Said Jac sleepily.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2014 All rights reserved”
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