The Year of the Chicken Bones

Long long ago, in a land far away, a girl straight out of highschool’s grade thirteen could pop herself into Teacher’s College and emerge one year later with an elementary school teaching certificate.  Sounds like a fairy tale, but strangely enough it’s true.

Taking the college route seemed like an excellent idea to me at the time.  One more year of school and I could be out on my own, working, making money, being all grown up at last.  It would be a lot easier for my parents to finance, and university could be an option at some later date.  What I failed to take into consideration except on the very shallowest of levels was that I would end up being a school teacher at some point in the future.  Dealing with children.  Helping them learn stuff.  It turned out to be SO not my thing I’m kind of amazed that I even gave it a go.  But that’s how I did a lot of things then.  On impulse, with little thought, confident everything would sort itself out.

This was also the era of  the boarding house.   A friend from highschool was my chosen roommate, and my mother found us a suitable house where we could stay from Sunday night to Friday afternoon and then travel home on the weekends carting gigantic bags of laundry.  Breakfast and dinner every day was included.  We were within easy walking distance of the college, so no vehicle was required.

Mr. and Mrs. Orchard were pensioners who took in boarders during the school year to make ends meet.  That must have been the reason we were there, I can’t imagine that they did it for love of students.  My roomy and I occupied one bedroom on the top floor and a girl from Toronto had the other one to herself.  Our room was barely big enough for two, but we had a lovely big closet and a little balcony overlooking the backyard.  Mr. Orchard was friendly and chatty and we eventually learned to avoid him if we didn’t have time to waste.  Mrs. Orchard was stern and strict and advised us of the house rules.  No boys could visit.  There was a weekday curfew.  Absolutely no food or drink in our rooms.  The previous year they had tried having young men as boarders and they were sorely disappointed.  They were brutes, boors, disgusting pigs.  Something like that, I don’t recall the exact wording, but we certainly got the message.  We were to be young ladies and respectful and professional.  How boring.  But we did try, honestly, we did.

All that walking to and from our classes in the brisk fall and winter air was great exercise, but we invariably had no time for more than toast for breakfast, and almost always skipped lunch, so we would arrive home with voracious unlady-like appetites in the late afternoons.  Mrs. Orchard was a marvelous cook, but her portions were inactive-old-people sized.  One pork chop, a round little scoop of mashed potatoes, three carrots, six peas.  One dollop of gravy optional.  Jello for dessert.  A cup of tea that we would load with sugar and cream simply to ingest some extra carbs.

We weren’t even halfway through September before we started breaking the rules.  It was two-for-one Tuesdays at Kentucky Fried Chicken that pushed us onto the crooked path of deception.   We were walking by and saw the sign.  Our stomachs grumbled.  We had enough change between the two of us to get a couple of dinners.  The place was closing and curfew loomed, so we got it in boxes to go and raced back home and snuck up the stairs to our room with the forbidden food concealed inside our jackets.  It was the best thing we’d ever eaten.  We promised each other that we wouldn’t do it again.  Then we hid the evidence.  We shoved the soiled boxes and picked clean bones into a white and yellow vinyl carry on bag, zipped it up and stuffed it into the dark recesses of our closet.

We didn’t mean for this clandestine Tuesday deceit to become a habit but it did.  Rarely if ever did we miss the weekly chicken run.  We kept meaning to take the yellow bag home on the weekends and empty it out but more often than not it ended up forgotten under our shoes and dirty laundry.  A couple of times we marvelled at its capacity and made wild guesses at what exactly it might weigh, and at what rate we could expect chicken bones to decompose.  On odd Tuesdays if the mood struck we plunked the bag outside in the snow on our little balcony to slow down the process.  We must have taken it home for Christmas.  We would not have wanted to risk Mrs. Orchard discovering it during one of her more thorough cleaning fits.

Our room didn’t start to smell weird until springtime, surprisingly enough.  It’s not like we hadn’t ever emptied the chicken bone bag, but with mid terms and finals and practice teaching weeks it was forgotten more times than was healthy.  We dragged it out of the closet and crossed our fingers that no one would ask us why we were taking a little vinyl bag out for a walk.  We meant to empty it into the nearest refuse container, but when we opened it up the smell and the mould caused us to quickly dispose of the whole thing.  It felt like we were abandoning a dear old friend.  Our little yellow partner in crime.  It was a sad moment.

I’d like to be able to say that long, long ago, in a land far away, a young girl straight out of  Teachers’ College gave up her childish ways and went off on her own to make the world a better place by enriching the minds of the little children entrusted to her care.  Didn’t happen.  It’s not a fairy tale, remember?  What I did learn was that kids scared the hell out of me.  I did not feel mature and responsible enough to be part of their education process, so I took the coward’s way out and headed back to school.  Still with no clear idea of where I was headed or what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but with an undying  love of Kentucky Fried Chicken which has remained with me to this very day.

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