Picture It And Write: Their Mark
Hi There! This is my offering for this weeks Picture it and Write from Ermilia’s blog here. Once again the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Anyway, Enjoy.
The primary school in the village of Arasnaleigh was a relic from the past. Little more that a long shed. It was a single room with ten rows of desks where all ten classes would be taught by the one teacher. The walls were high and light was brought in by a row of high windows seven feet off the ground, too high for the children to look out and be distracted.
My father had gone there as had I and we both had been taught by Miss O’Reilly. A stern but fair woman who we both were convinced had looked the same age from the day she had been born. I remember when I was in my first year there and I first had cause to look at the windows. I was astonished to notice that all along the bottom of them, all the way around the wall was a series of hand prints in many different colours. I remember asking Miss O’Reilly and her keeping tight-lipped about it. As you can imagine that only raised my curiosity.
That evening I asked my father and he chuckled and told me the story.
It goes all the way back to my father’s time in the school. The day he started sixth class, the small contingent of children entered the classroom to find that there was a strong smell of paint in there. It wasn’t unusual, they usually gave the place a lick of paint over the summer to top up the beige, but they seemed by the smell to have left it later than usual that year. In addition, that September was an Indian summer and the combined mixture of heat and fumes left everyone’s head swimming. There was no question about it, the windows would have to be opened.
Normally that would be a straight forward affair but in the case of the schoolhouse it was trickier. The latches for the windows were nearly ten feet off the ground and Miss O’Reilly, barely taller then her students, could not even reach them with the help of the five-foot pole kept for that purpose. It was her want to walk to the nearby O’Malley farm were one of Mr O’Malley’s six foot plus sons would gladly open the windows for her. While she went on that errand she left the oldest class, my father and his two best friends, in charge.
Duncan Johnston, Patches Smyth and my father were always up to something in the manner of boys of that age be it catching bees, selling old scrap they found, or exploring every hole in the ground in the county, but they weren’t bad. In fact, it was their desire to help that was the cause of it.
Patches was the leader and he figured if they could open the windows that would be a big help to her. All they would have to do was get up there. How hard could it be?
Patches organised everything with military precision. The rest of the school were kept at their sums by the threat of a hiding after school if they didn’t ‘cept for Jeanie Corcoran, Patches “Girl”, who kept sketch. The pole was too heavy for them to lift and even standing on each other’s head they couldn’t come close to the window latch so they shifted some stools along the wall and started to climb.
My father and Duncan stood side by side on their stools stooped and arms linked while Patches climbed up both stools and putting his hands on both their heads stood on the joined arms. While patches placed his hands on the wall for balance, My father and Duncan heaved with all their might and Patches began to rise.
He inched his way up calling encouragement to his friends and as they reached their full height patches’ hands came over the sill of the window and came in contact with the glass.
Unfortunately, Jeanie then called out that she could see the teacher coming back with one of the O’Malleys. They scrambled down as quick as they could and with seconds to spare were back in their desk. O’Malley took the pole and started opening the windows but he paused at the one that Patches had tried to climb and looked at Miss O’Reilly made a quick gesture and he continued with his rounds. The class then continued on with the benefit of fresh air.
It wasn’t until the lunch break that they realised what was wrong. As the school filed out. Miss O’Reilly grabbed Patches by the shoulder and held him back. Patches groaned in protest until she pointed him in the direction of the window. On the bottom pane, right were his hands had been where two beige hand prints. Miss O’Reilly then looked down at Patches’ hands. There was paint on both of them. The floor level of the wall must have already dried but the upper part of the wall was still wet, this was a time before wet paint signs.
“The thing was.” My father continued “She let him go then Didn’t give him the strap, didn’t even say a word. The prints stayed there too. We would look for them everyday we came in and they would still be there right to the day we left. And to this one I reckon. I think she was impressed.”
But there was more than two prints on the windows. There were dozens, all in different colours. Where were they from?
“Ah!” My father continued “I’ve heard that after that first set went up, the next year some bucko got the idea to put a set right next to it. Used red paint from doing up his house. From then on it became a bit of a tradition. At least once every year I’m told. Sometimes they do it at night, or in the summer even right when Miss O’Reilly’s out for a second. But the rule, the golden rule is she can’t catch you in the act. There’ll be hell to pay of she does. Other than that. If she doesn’t see you and you can barely make them out from the ground either, what’s the harm?”
I loved that idea, still do really, that every generation has left their mark on that ancient place. It gives a soul to the forgotten students who for years have toiled over those antique desks.
In time I added my own print to the windows. They are still there as far as I know, along with all the others. inspiring a new generation to make their mark. For after all, what is life for a child without something great around to inspire them?