On The Lighter Side

True educational stories from three levels: grammar school, junior high, and high school.

1950, Hillside Elementary School 

The Cold War was raging. Bomb shelters in the news. Nuclear bombs being tested. I was in the 5th grade. Someone thought we should all have metal “dog tags” like soldiers wear. In the event of a nuclear attack, they could identify our charred bodies. The dog tags could withstand 1500 degrees. Reassuring. 

One at a time we were called to the teacher’s desk at the front of the room to do the serious business of filling out the order forms for our dog tags. She asked what my full name was, including middle name. I said, “Frederick Seymour Gilbert.” She responded: “Let’s just call you Rickey. By the way, how do you spell ‘Seymour?'” I had no idea. Neither did she. 

I week later I was proudly wearing my A-bomb-proof dog tag identifying me as “Rickey Seemore Gilbert.” Fortunately my dog tag never had to be used for identification, with or without the proper spelling of my name. 


1952, Garfield Junior High School

Science class with Mr. Edwards. He was known for being eccentric. Some said he was a drunk. Occasionally he fell asleep in class. With our homework reading, he told us to write down words we didn’t know and ask for a definition in class. “Don’t hesitate, even if it seems silly,” he said. 

One day, a timid boy in the back slowly raised his hand, “Mr. Edwards, I don’t know this word, ‘spout.'” Edwards responded with an enlightened, humanistic, student-centered approach by bellowing at the top of his lungs, “What! You don’t know what a ‘spout’ is? You are in the seventh grade and you don’t know what a spout is? Jesus!” 

At that point, Mr. Edwards filled a pitcher with water, climbed up on the huge lab bench in the front of the room and poured water all over the floor, yelling and pointing, “See, this is a spout.”

To no one’s surprise, that kid never asked another question. But none of us ever forgot what a spout was. 



1956, Berkeley High School

Drama class. I was working with a partner on a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. She was Maggie and I was Brick. Tempers were flaring. The scene called for her to smash a vase. During rehearsal the day before our performance in front of the whole class, we had no vase. 

So on the way home I stopped at the Goodwill Store and bought an old vase for 25 cents. Came the big scene, and she threw the vase on the floor. The vase pulverized into about a million pieces. My next line, which I dutifully said was, “That’s OK, Maggie. I can glue it back together.” 

The class was laughing so hard, you’d think we were doing a  Jackie Gleason routine from the Honeymooners. We still got an ‘A.’ 

10 thoughts on “On The Lighter Side

  1. Michael Joyce says:

    As you recall, Mr. Edwards was famous for standing on desk with a shotput and a pencil, then dropping to demonstrate that gravity effected the fall rate equally.

    We ran into him in a campground at Lake Tahoe, and he took me for an afternoon fishing lesson which sparked my interest which has remained the rest of my life. A very personable guy with a ferocious reputation among us kids!

    And Hillside was before the cold war too, a time of dancing around a May Pole on May Day, an event that ceased with the "Red Scare."

  2. Barbara says:

    Was Mr. Sostaric (civics) at Garfield when you were there? He was a class dictator, with an eastern European accent. When the braver students reminded him that we were in a democracy and that he couldn’t be a dictator, he’d sneeringly remind us that he was the Supreme Court and could overrule us all.

  3. Bill Spaulding says:

    Berkeley High School?—-I only remember three teachers by name—-Wild Bill Emery, the Physics teacher who didn’t teach Physics in an understandable manner but was a successful insurance salesman (I guess—he worked hard at it), Mr. Carr in Chemistry who provided such a good chemistry foundation it was my third year in college before I really had to work at chemistry (as a Chem E major) and Mr Lindsett the vocational Machine Shop instructor who taught me skills I use to this day in my personal machine shop. They should never have eliminated the vocational shops in high school as not everybody is an academic—including me. I often wonder if I had spent more time in HS in the vocational classes and skipped college where I would be today. My Cal MBA? Essentially worthless beyond getting my first job…Cal in the early 60’s was a real experience—had to take Econ as a part of the MBA program and I argued for a week with the Prof. over his position that inflation was good as was deficit spending. I argued that growing the economy through inflation was not as constructive as growing it via increasing the GDP by creating new jobs and products. We agreed to disagree and therein lie my conservative roots.
    Note to the trolls—my spelling and grammar usage is courtesy of a public educational system that was only beginning to rot when I was there. Discuss what I say—not how I spell it.

  4. Larry Bourret says:

    Oh yes, Mr. Edwards. 7th grade Garfield. I was scared enough coming from Whittier Elementary where it was safe to this large campus with what seemed like thousands of kids. And Mr. Edwards. I was sure he lured kids into an underground room that nobody knew about and that’s where he killed them. One day I was late for his class because I couldn’t find my science book and homework. Later I would find it at home where I left it. He ordered me up to the front of the class to find out why I was late and after some discussion he lit into me, yelling: "you expect me to believe that? You think if I killed this kid (pointing to a shivering Steve Sowell) I’d hang his bloody shirt on the door?" I don’t remember much after that. Yep! I’m convinced that many of our missing Garfield classmates are entombed below in Mr. Edwards’ grotto.

  5. John Warren says:

    Can’t beat the "Seemore" story, but when I was in 2nd grade in a Catholic school the teacher asked how to spell my middle name, which is Thomas. To differentiate me from my cousins, who were also named John, I was called John Tom. I told her it was spelled "TOM". I did not know how to spell THOMAS, but now I am shocked that the nun who was my teacher did not know how to spell such a simple name, Seymour I can understand, but Thomas? Really?

  6. Harold Fethe says:

    Mr Edwards, consciously or otherwise, seems to have played a rope-a-dope strategy on you innocent kids. His reaction was 180-degree-opposite behavior reinforcement from his "feel free to ask a dumb question" pitch. I’d seriously wonder how anybody knew from his demo whether "spout" referred to the pitcher, the pouring motion, or the water going somewhere it didn’t belong–the floor.

  7. Peter Darnall says:

    An idle Internet moment . . . and a surprise.

    If you google the words Wild, Bill, Emery, and Berkeley you’ll find a listing which provides a link to an article I had written some time ago. The article recalled an incident involving “Wild Bill Emery” and Berkeley High School. Of course, I knew about the article and was amused to see the association between Wild Bill Emery and something I had created.

    My surprise was the blurb immediately above my piece titled “On the Lighter Side”/ Rick Gilbert. At the click of my mouse, the targeted site opened; halcyon days of Garfield Junior High, Berkeley High and, of course, Wild Bill Emery lived again.

    Thanks for the memories, Rick.

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