The Melrose School Picnic

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young adult short story—In a new school at the start of a new year, Gary struggles to fit in but is rejected by most of his classmates simply because of who he is and where he is from.

Submitted: January 25, 2010

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Submitted: January 25, 2010

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The Melrose School Picnic

By G.A. Teske

Children squirmed and leaned, like caterpillars dodging a scrub jay, seeking escape from the bright sunlight shining through open classroom windows. Trickles of sweat rolled down faces. Clammy shirts and blouses stuck to small bodies and damp hair clung to hot skin in Mrs. Wilson’s sixth grade class. Outside, Spanish moss hung from oaks and pines, swaying in gentle, intermittent breezes, whispering false promises of comfort and relief.

“I can’t believe it’s the end of September,” Gary whispered to himself. He brushed his forearm across his face to scrub away beads of sweat; from there he rubbed it on his already moist shirt. Last year at this time he had to wear a coat, but his family had moved south to Melrose in mid-September of 1962 and everything here was different. Fall in north Florida was not the same as in central Illinois—it still felt like the middle of summer—even though the five tall windows were fully open, and the blades of a floor fan whirred relentlessly.

Gary leaned over to Catherine and whispered, “It feels like a heater. It’s only blowing the hot air around.”

She glanced up; her face shiny from the tiny beads of sweat that covered her skin. Her face was so flushed from the heat that it almost matched her hair.

“It’s always like this until Thanksgiving,” she answered.

“Too hot for you, Yankee?” Tom teased. He was a stocky boy with buzz-cut hair who had made it his mission to make Gary as miserable as possible.

“Yeah, he should have stayed in New York,” Daniel added.

“I’m not from New York!” Gary exclaimed.

“Don’t matter,” Daniel said. “You’re still a Yankee.”

“The Yankee’s melting!” Mike chimed in.

“Quiet, class. Everyone get back to work,” Mrs. Wilson said sternly. She walked across the room to the blackboard, picked up an eraser, and wiped away the arithmetic problems the class had been working on.

Gary didn’t expect to be the only one from Illinois, or even the whole northern United States, in his class. Of course, there was only one class for the entire sixth grade so there was no choice as to what room he would be in.

The taunts had started as soon as he had been introduced. “He’s a Yankee!” were the first words he’d heard from the class two weeks ago when he had started school at Melrose. They had been followed by giggles and laughs from nearly everyone in the room.

Gary leaned back in his desk and blew his breath down his shirt to try to cool off a little. It didn’t help. His face looked much the same as Catherine’s: red and wet. At least neither of the two girls named Catherine in class treated him like he had three eyes or something.

Mrs. Wilson turned away from the blackboard and pulled a damp lock of hair that was stuck to her forehead to the side.

“Class, I’d like to have everyone’s attention.”

Thirty students stirred restlessly in the stifling atmosphere of the room as they tried to focus their eyes on the teacher.

“I was going to save this announcement for tomorrow morning, but because it’s so hot in here, I thought that I might perk you up a little,” she said, somewhat mysteriously. Now she had everyone’s attention, even Robby’s, who was always fiddling with something or other: a tack, a pin, or just a penny. Everyone in class guessed at what he would swallow this year that would get him sent to the hospital for the fourth year in a row.

“For lunch on Friday, the cafeteria ladies are preparing a picnic and we’re going to eat outside under the trees where it’s cooler. After lunch, the elementary teachers are going to take turns reading stories for the rest of the school day.”

Mrs. Wilson smiled as her students clapped and cheered. The afternoon outside would be a welcome relief to both the students and the teachers. The fall weather had been unbearably hot this year and everyone was suffering. Her students had a hard time concentrating on their schoolwork but she knew it wasn’t their fault and just didn’t feel like scolding them.

***

Friday dawned bright, hot, and humid, just like every other September morning in Florida. As Mrs. Wilson walked up and down the straight rows of the children’s desks, there was a definite difference in her students’ attitudes. They were all working diligently on their spelling and arithmetic assignments.  Both Catherine B and Catherine G glanced up at her as she walked by, the anticipation of the coming picnic clearly visible in their eyes.

Gary broke his pencil lead three times trying to hurry finishing his long division problems, finally throwing the stub of the pencil in the trash can and rumpling through the papers wadded up in his desk for several moments before finding another. The eraser was almost used up and he tore his paper rubbing out a mistake. He finished just as Mrs. Wilson called for the papers to be passed to the front of the row.

Tom collected them for Mrs. Wilson since he sat at the front seat by the door. As he shuffled through the papers he pulled Gary’s from the stack.

“Look at this!” he exclaimed, displaying Gary’s torn paper. “The Yankee doesn’t know how to use an eraser.”

“That’s enough, Tom,” Mrs. Wilson chided above the laughter of her class.
The temperature rose and the fan whirred but there was no relief from the heat inside Melrose High School. As lunchtime neared, a buzz of whispered conversation blanketed Mrs. Wilson’s room.

“All right,” the teacher said. “I’ll dismiss you one row at a time. You’re to go to the playground, pick up a bag lunch, and then find a place to sit at one of the picnic tables the janitor has set up. “Tom, your row can go.”

Tom stood and walked to the door but as soon as he was outside he sprinted away down the hall. Gary watched him through the window as he ran to the stone tables where the cafeteria ladies had set out the bag lunches. He saw other students walking and running to pick up their lunches, too. Sitting in the last seat in the last row, meant that Gary would be the last one to get his lunch, but his turn finally came.

He hurried out to the playground and was handed a lunch by one of the smiling cafeteria ladies. He glanced around and watched as his little sister, Susan, picked up her lunch. Together, they walked to a table with a few empty spaces still open.

“There’s no room for y’all at this table, Yankees!” Tom said harshly.

“Yeah, go find a different place to sit,” added Daniel.

“Thanks for saving my seat,” Mike said as he slid in across from his two friends.
Gary looked around and every table now seemed to be full.

“Where do we sit, Gary?” Susan asked.

He shrugged in answer to her question, as his other sister, Peggy, walked up and stood beside them.

Mrs. Wilson scanned the temporary picnic tables and their occupants seated under the oaks and pines. She noticed the three newcomers standing by themselves in the middle of the luncheon.

Gary looked up as his teacher walked over and bent down to face them.

“Would you three like a place to sit?”

They nodded their heads in unison. “All the seats are taken,” Gary said.

“I know where there are some seats,” replied Mrs. Wilson. “Come with me.” She stood up and placed her hands on Susan and Peggy’s shoulders and ushered the three children over to where the teachers were sitting.

“You can sit on this side of the teacher’s table.” Mrs. Wilson indicated a bench attached to a picnic table with Mrs. Warder seated on the opposite side.

Mrs. Warder winked at the three children between bites of a large chicken leg. They gratefully sat down and began eating.

Suddenly, Gary, Peggy and Susan bounced up in their seats as Mrs. Samson sat down on the opposite bench. Peggy smirked at Susan who couldn’t suppress a giggle.

Both Mrs. Warder and Mrs. Samson were rather large and robust women. They both were enjoying the picnic lunch, talking to each other and basically ignoring the three kids seated across from them. Gary dug into his potato salad while Peggy and Susan munched on peanut butter sandwiches.

A short time later, Mrs. Baker walked up to the table carrying her lunch. She looked at the three children seated on one bench of the picnic table and then sidled over to the opposite side.

“Could you slide down a little, Angie?” she asked Mrs. Samson.
The third grade teacher pushed her plate and cup to her left and slid over a couple of feet, making room for Mrs. Baker to sit down on the end of the bench. Now, Mrs. Baker was a rather large woman, as well, and as she sat down next to Mrs. Samson a strange event occurred.

The Florida sand under the bench was soft, and the weight difference between the three teachers and three kids was enormous. As if they were on some giant teeter-totter, the bench the three Yankee children were seated on began to rise, while the opposite bench began to sink into the earth. The tipping table began to gain momentum and propelled the three kids into the air. The three teachers slid off their bench and landed on their backs. Susan and Peggy screamed as they vaulted over the top of the table and down toward Mrs. Warder and Mrs. Samson. Gary waved his arms and legs helplessly as he, too, flew over the top of the table and down toward Mrs. Baker.

Two plates of food landed on the chest of each teacher an instant before the three Yankee children. Following closely behind the kids was the picnic table, which flipped over and pinned the surprised kids to the breasts of the fallen teachers.

“Get this table off me!” yelled Mrs. Warder.

“Someone help me!” wailed Mrs. Samson.

“Somebody get this Yankee boy off of me!” cried Mrs. Baker.

Gary squirmed, trying to get away, but he was securely pinned on top two plates of food between Mrs. Baker’s breasts, held down by the picnic table.

“Look at the stupid Yankees!” Tom yelled. Other kids took up the cry and the sound of laughter was practically deafening. They gathered around the table, jumping up and down, pointing and snickering, but no one seemed willing to help get the table off the unfortunate siblings.

Pleading teachers, laughing kids, and squirming Yankees made a noisy, chaotic scene on the school playground for a couple of minutes before the other teachers finally arrived to pry the picnic table upright once more.



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