Little did Eric realize as he donned his cap, put lunch box into the shoulder carry pack and kiss his Mother goodbye this was to be the day of an amazing revelation. He was off to school, and of immediate concern was how to saunter nonchalantly past the opposing school complex at the top of the hill, rushing at the appropriate time when it was seen he was beginning to be viewed suspiciously. This rush being necessary to reach safety of the downside of the hill where an unwritten law placed a barrier on blows encountered by students on their way out of what was considered the opposites turf.
There’d been rivalry between the two schools since their creation decades before in the wild west days following collapse of goldfields around town and exit of miners to new pickings across the ocean to Alaska.
While teachers mingled together from each school at town social events showing each other a pleasant face, when mustering their student football teams privately to practice each team was energized to defeat the other in frequent football matches with stern warning winning at all costs was a priority no matter how much blood was spilt or bones broken. Such was the spirit of those times. Winning teams would strut their success around town after the match, and losers slink off to lick their wounds and receive a tongue thrashing from their losing school team coaches. The humiliation to the school name was a great energizer for training to whip the pants off the opposition next time around. Training was sometimes as rigorous as the army for little people.
All this competition between school administrations had a nasty side effect. No student walking alone in the other’s claimed territory was safe from opposing tiny testosterone team. There were times when a wide diversion was necessary if travelling alone, that being judged depending on the number of opposing students present on the street as a refugee readied for the break through.
Afternoons had Eric and his pals from school lingering in the main street. That was the half-way home point and a sensible place to delay respective journey’s through each other’s territory. Both schools mingled together in town. While wary eyes were cast at each uniform to judge the respective strength of clumps moving through the main street together. They knew Clancy the Cop and some of his mates patrolled this street and took no nonsense administering stern justice regardless of which uniform was the instigator of trouble.
While the press of students exiting school for the day was clearing, Main Street was the place to be. It was long before billboards frowned on the imbibing of such treats as sherbet suckers, toffee apples and penny farthing ice-cream cones from the corner store. School health police in today’s world would call in parents for a dressing down over such crimes if a child were to be caught, however in those days it was considered a harmless diversion as students waited for the downward rush of students to clear so a steep hill accent could be made at leisurely pace, examining sides of the road for loose gravel in the hope of finding real gold rather than plentiful quantities of fools gold.
It was on one of those uphill climbs with school chums Eric made the most amazing discovery of his life. Many were the topics of conversation as they went. Russ had a fixation on his neighbour Mary Mahoney who had a warm and inviting afternoon play time with Russ after school, but would coldly ignore him if he passed her going to or from her school with friends. This was a source of great puzzlement to him and a recurring conversation each afternoon. Ted had a similar experience with his next-door neighbour Mike who happened to be on the opposing football team. The two families vacationed together but when they were contesting at a regular football match between schools Mike would use some of the most interesting language shouting at him across the football field. He’d asked his Dad about that, but his Dad played cricket with Mike’s father as team members and Dad told Ted it was just friendly rivalry.
Eric didn’t have any problem with his current girlfriend Patsy who also attended the opposite school. His Mother and Patsy’s Mother were close friends and Patsy was not at all coy about sharing her fixation with Eric to her friends from school. They’d travel together to get a glimpse of him and giggle as they went past and Eric would smile happily and wave. So, he didn’t understand his friend’s concerns.
However as personal details had to be shared with friends at this young age his mind cast about for something profound to add to the conversation. He nodded his head as the thought suddenly struck him there was something novel to share.
So, he told of his recent trip to private hospital where he’d been instructed to stay in the garden patch at the back of the small private hospital and watch for the stork to arrive. His Father had placed a hand on his shoulder and shared the secret. He and Mother would be in the hospital to check with doctors, but they’d ordered a baby to be delivered to the vegetable patch where babies were to be deposited. His job was to be alert for the stork and rush inside to inform his Mom and Dad so they could take delivery. For some strange reason the stork had arrived inside the hospital and he’d felt he’d let down the family by not doing his duty properly.
Russ stopped sliding down the steep slope in loose gravel with his shoes on to listen to the loud outburst of laughter from Ted. He ran back up hill to see what fun he was missing out on. Russ invited Eric to repeat his story then both broke into fits of laughter. Eric looked at them both shocked and they stopped laughing in surprise.
“You were fooling, weren’t you?”
Eric looked at his friends in equal surprise. “No, I wasn’t! My Dad told me so it’s true!”
Russ looked at Ted uncomfortably. Invoking a parent was like playing a trump card.
“My brother says babies come out of a Mother’s stomach.” Ted said cautiously. One must be careful arguing facts with a Father so perhaps his brother had been messing with his head. If so they’d have that out when he got home.
“That’s what my big brother told me too,” said Russ sullenly.
Quietness reigned for the rest of the way home as the three pondered these conflicting reports. To these wee lads the stork and stomach stories seemed equally implausible so they’d have to check facts with teachers at school. They were the final arbitrator of knowledge or they wouldn’t have been appointed as teachers.
Eric arrived home looking dejected and threw his school bag on the bed.
Mom looked at her son’s face and stood up in surprise. “What’s up son, have a bad day at school or did the kids at the top of the hill hurt you again? I’ll have to go and speak to their Principal. This shouldn’t happen!”
Eric grunted and shook his head. He needed answers and wondered if his Mom could clear up the mystery.
“Ted says babies come from Mother’s stomachs, and Dad said the stork delivered my brother to the hospital!”
Mother smiled, but this was a serious situation. Parent’s credibility was at stake here and she thought carefully before replying. Her son was small, but it was time to deal with the subject. She reached over and pulled Eric onto her lap.
“Eric the birth of a baby is like a miracle. Some day when you’re older you’ll learn more about this miracle but babies do grow in a Mother’s body like seeds grow into beautiful plants in soil. People long ago used to see storks building their nest on a tall pole and watch as they hatched their babies from an egg. Perhaps Dad wanted you to see if you could see a stork and watch it hatch it’s young so you’d understand this miracle. What exactly did Dad tell you to do down at the vegetable patch behind the hospital when baby brother arrived?”
“He told me to look out for the stork and let you know when the baby arrived.” Eric tried to recall exactly what his Dad had told him.
“Did you see a stork?”
“No, I didn’t see any stork.”
“Oh, that’s too bad! We’ll have to ask Dad if he’ll take us to see one some-day and hope it’s having babies so we can see this miracle in bird land. Now go outside and play, I think Patsy’s coming over this afternoon and you wouldn’t want to miss out playing with her would you?”
Eric climbed down from his Mother’s lap quickly and ran outside. He’d explain it all to his friends on their way home from school next afternoon, but now it was time to play.
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