THE APPALACHIAN HIGHLANDS
Let me tell you a little story.
When I was in the fifth grade, I had to write a report about The Appalachian Highlands for my Social Studies class. I call it a class but it was more or less just a period of time we worked on social study type things: geography, history, culture, politics, monarchs, and others. My grade five teacher was an old Irish woman named McLarney. She liked to wear white collared blouses with grey hand-knit shawls that she clipped together with brass broaches. She had a thick accent and she like to slap the top of desks with metre sticks when we were being unruly. She had this tendency to use strictly yellow chalk. It meant that her hands were always covered in a thin film of banana peel coloured dust which she generously transplanted to your shoulder when ever she checked on you doing your work.
McLarney was my second teacher at the elementary after I moved back to the city. She was, unbelievably, my fifth consecutive middle-aged female homeroom teacher. In hindsight, I only had 1 male homeroom teacher my entire grade school experience.
Anyway, McLarney was a rigid disciplinarian and believed in the rule of law in the classroom, neat handwriting on your assignments, and she rarely tolerated any kind of outburst. Once, a student went on a name-calling rampage in the coat and boot area. He called us all “stooges.” It felt worse than it really was but the allegations found their way to McLarney in proper time. She had him reprimanded in the “quiet room” — a blue padded room near the principal’s office where hyper-active children were sent to calm down. I don’t think Derrick every forgave us for getting him that time in the hole. I hope he’s over it.
So early in the year, McLarney handed out our first-half projects for each course. Science was designing a Science Fair experiment. Language Arts was a novel study: Lois Lowry’s The Giver. And in Social Studies, well, we had to write a research report about one particular geographical region of Canada.
This assignment was exciting for me because it was going to be the first full length research report I’d written on something that wasn’t an animal. Recently, I had knocked both walruses and polar bears out of the park, I was excited for the change in theme. And, the other cool part, was that we had to work in teams. I loved working in teams. I think it was a sports thing.
I ended up teaming up with a new kid at school. He’d just started at our school in grade five, but he liked playing soccer at recess and talking about the Oilers with me over peanut butter sandwiches at lunch. His name was Ryan Wass. In a funny turn of fate, years down the road, we ended up playing against each other in high school football. I heard he got into insurance back home, as far as I know, he’s still there.
So it goes that Ryan and I were teammates on this report. It was my job to pick the region from a list of fifteen or so. Of course, looking for the easiest way out of most things, I picked the region with some of the smallest area in Canada — at least that’s what I thought by the colour coded map of the regions McLarney laid out for us to choose from.
The Appalachian Highlands