The hallway was long and narrow; concrete block walls separated by a sterile green-tiled floor. Sturdy wooden doors marked grades one through six, and a small office area where the Principal and his secretary were located. Across the hall the janitor’s room, with seating for one, an eraser-cleaning machine, and boilers to heat the school. Washrooms marked “Boys” and “Girls”. It was a perfunctory, utilitarian, soulless box located physically, perhaps metaphorically, across the Red River from the University of Manitoba. Alpha and Omega.
Such was Minnetonka School in the 1960s, where hundreds of young minds would be educated and formed. Some 55 years later, a former student’s description on an alumni Facebook page dubbed it “a place to be survived”. Frankly, it was an academic outpost at which teachers would begin or end their careers, and where the sons and daughters of blue collar families were “schooled” in every sense of the word - in bullying, authority, hierarchies, peer pressure, respect, corporal punishment, alliances and allegiances.
In Minnetonka Elementary School, both friends and enemies were made for life.
While academic studies occurred in the classroom, the playground was where I earned my place among my new friends. Soccer was the game of choice for both Summer and Winter, though it was actually a hybrid of hockey and soccer. Checking was allowed (mandatory for survival, actually), and so injuries occurred daily. It was “boys only”; an unofficial rule accepted without objection by the girls who watched passively from the sidelines. If they watched at all. We assumed they did, and fought tooth and nail for their attention and admiration. I don’t imagine they really cared.
I will always remember my first moment of “glory”, when I established myself as a contender in the herd. An open “free ball” some 30 feet away, and the athletic (and older) Gordie W and I were on a collision course. We connected shoulder to shoulder at full speed. I threw all of my weight into him, and he went down hard. I kicked the ball downfield, and turned to see him picking himself up, with a look that said “Who the hell are you?”. But in that moment, and on that day, many in the school would ask the same question. And I would have 6 years to provide a more complete answer.