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How The World Wags

"School Daze, Part One"
By Dave Kiffer

September 03, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - School has started again in Our Fair Salmon City and that has me remembering my school days. Surprisingly enough, I was paying attention all those years ago, sort of.
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Back in the Pleistocene Era, I attended Kindergarten in a row of classes on the street level of the Tongass Towers (where there are stores, a real estate office and a bar now!). Mrs. Kienel was my kindergarten teacher, she had red hair like me and that was cool.

I remember being whupped upside the head by a couple of girls on the way home one day and my mom was not amused that I had a bloody nose and shirt. She wanted to know what I said to them. I told her I didn't say "nothing." Which was true, I didn't say "nothing." I said "something" about how skinny their legs looked in their new school dresses. Today, that would probably be a compliment.

In first grade I went to Houghtaling. My family lived closer to White Cliff, but Jefferson Street was the cutoff point and we were just west of it. I could have gone to White Cliff through the "legacy" program (my mother was one of the original White Cliff students in 1927) but I was more swayed by the fact that my posse - mostly Carlanna and North Tongass street urchins -were going to Houghtaling. So I wanted to go there.

It was a pretty long walk -and uphill in the snow both ways too - , but most of the time my Dad gave me a ride. We sang "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder" as my Dad's trucked lugged its way up the hill. When I try to sing to my son now, he tells to me stop because it "hurts his ears." My Dad had a voice kind of like Bing Crosby but mine is closer to that of a Bing Cherry, being stepped on.

My first grade teacher's name was Mrs. Smith, she had a wooden leg and played piano for us. That was also cool. We had five different boys named David in our class. To differentiate I was "Red" David. At least it better than being called "Howdy Doody" David or "Bozo The Clown" David.

In second grade, our teacher was Mrs. Johansen. She was short, really short. Definitely on the southern side of five feet tall. Some of the girls were taller than the teacher. But I remember Mrs. Johansen keeping a pretty tight rein on things.

My big second grade memory was getting pushed under the merry-go-round (in the old days, there was a covered playground of sorts under the school) by a girl. I'm not sure what I had to inspire such a reaction, but it must have been pretty good.

Naturally, I was too stupid to just lay on the ground and wait for the merry-go-round to stop spinning. I kept raising my head and getting bonked by the bottom of the ride. Later that same year, I was standing on the playground (innocently, I'm sure) and had a large rubber ball land on the top of my head (yes, it had been kicked into the air by a girl). That removed the last of my baby teeth. Lord only knows how I survived the "concussions" I undoubtedly received in both those incidents. In both cases, I had bloody noses and my mom wanted to know what I had said.

In third grade, our teacher was Mrs. Lovett. She was nice and I most remember her being very patient. She used to put notes on my report card suggesting that I try a little harder to be quieter in class. Third grade was neat at Houghtaling because you were sort of the czars of the lower grades. In those days, the school was generally split between 1-3 and 4-6. In third grade we were right next to the principal's office. It was handy because every so often I had to check in with the principal, Mr. Montgomery, to see how he was doing. He was very stern. Later I learned that he was only very stern around me.

My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. McDonald. She used to also suggest that I allow other children to voice their opinions too. She also suggested that I "practice" patience. I practiced really hard, but the truth was that I simply had more interesting things to say than the other kids. That's not my fault!

In fourth grade, they allowed us to begin to play real music instruments. I wanted to play trombone like my friend Larry Settje. Mr. Porter decided I should play clarinet instead. I have never forgiven him.

My fifth grade teacher was Miss Pool (now Mrs. Thompson). I had never had an unmarried teacher before. I don't know what the girls in class thought, but most of us guys thought she was really pretty. One day she let us bring our pets to school. It was great fun and very chaotic, but I heard later that she had to have a "visit" with Mr. Montgomery on that one. To this day, she reminds me about the red fireman boots I used to wear all the time. Since red fireman boots are not considered cool, I have deleted that memory from my hard drive.

In fifth grade, there were 10 clarinet players in the school band. The first eight were girls and the last two were boys. I was number nine. The other boy quit and I was horribly embarrassed to be the worst player in the band. One day, I heard a six-grader honking away on a saxophone. I was allowed to switch ( a sign that I really, really, really must have been bad on clarinet!) and I almost instantly became the best saxophone player in the school.

I also remember that the art teacher, Mr. Hudson, had a large piece of wood in his class called the "Board of Education." I don't need to explain why I remember it.

In sixth grade, we had our first male teacher, Mr. White (a different Mr. White than is currently in the school system). He was a big burly ex-military sort of guy. He didn't smile much, but that may have been because our posse was a little on the rambunctious side by that point. We were sixth-graders and we were the kings and queens of Houghtaling.

My favorite memory of that year was Houghtaling's first interscholastic basketball team - the Houghtaling Hurricanes. We even had a school song - written by Mr. Green. All I can remember now is the final line: "And the baskets will pour as often as it rains, for the Houghtaling Hurricanes!"

I don't remember playing again games against White Cliff because they didn't have any sort of usable gym at that point. But we did face off against our arch-nemesis, Main School. We played in the big old two story gym at Main School and it was packed. As typical of my sporting career, I occupied an important seat at the far end of the bench. Larry Settje won the game for us by throwing the ball into the basket from more than half court as time expired.

I was so excited I jumped off the bench, tripped and hurt my knee. For a change, a female of the species was not involved and my mom didn't have to ask what I had said.

I'll write about my time at Schoenbar in a future column, after the remodel is finished, the children are in their desks and my blood pressure has returned to semi-normal. Right now, just thinking about Schoenbar is giving me a bloody nose and I don't want my mother to wonder what I said this time.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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