79. Hartley Bay, 1960-61: Play and School
The transition from the Boneyard to the Inside Passage was a change of water as well as place. The waters of the Skeena Estuary are murky, silty, sandy. In the Inside Passage and at Hartley Bay, they are green and clear. The waters of the Skeena and Bulkley were clear at Gitanmaax, of course, but flowing fresh waters and tidal waters are not at all the same. As soon as my father and I entered the clear green salt of the Inside Passage our skiff began to leak. There was a lot of bailing to do until we got a chance to pull the skiff up onto a float and apply some extra caulking. Muddy water is somewhat self-sealing where clear water is not, I guess.
The water in Klemtu and Hartley Bay was also green and clear, a somewhat different experience than Port Essington offered. You could see the starfish clinging to the rocks and patches of underwater grass. The boardwalks in Hartley Bay followed the edge of the water, and, in some places, passed directly over it.
I remember looking down into the water at such a place and boasting that I could climb onto the railing and dive in. Somebody called me on my boast, and I stood on that railing for a while staring down into the water, deep enough for diving, I guess, and couldn’t bring myself to leap. Now, that must have been mid or late October, and I suppose that water was cold. I remember passing through the central coast of California, it might have been winter, a little south of San Francisco, and seeing a surfer riding the waves in a wet suit. That surfer knew the water was too cold for surfing otherwise, and in October, more than a 1000 miles further north from that surfer, the waters of Hartley Bay were much too cold for diving.
But that’s thinking rationally, and the fact is in 1960 I didn’t dive in because I chickened-out. I just didn’t like the idea of it.
I climbed down from the railing in disgrace, expecting to get continued razzing from the other kids who witnessed it because of my empty boast. But that didn’t happen, I’m not sure why. Perhaps because no one else went into the water, either. Whatever the reason, on that occasion at least, merely been shown as a boaster was apparently enough to satisfy the schadenfreude of a usually merciless age group. Yet no one mentioned the incident again.
That fall and winter in Hartley Bay I remember spending a lot of time in the living room of the house where I lived playing board games, learning card games, doing jigsaw puzzles, sometimes drawing. Charlie Brown I remember was the most difficult cartoon character to draw, Sad Sack the easiest. (I remember being consoled some decades later when I discovered that creator Charles Schultz also had a hard time with the shape of Charlie Brown’s head.) At the long table in the dining room I remember adults and children indulging in a game of telephone, where a message passing in a whisper from ear to ear around the table transmogrified hilariously along the way.
In Hartley Bay I also returned to Sunday School. I remember pictures of White Jesus on the walls, with donkeys and sandals and little children, but specific lessons escape me. I must have learned something, both then and in my previous bout of Sunday School, however, judging from my own later knowledge of the Bible which could have come to me no other way.
It was natural that church and Sunday School should have been part of my life there. Because of its history, Hartley Bay had always been, was then and I imagine still is a seriously Christian community.
I also resumed Grade Five in Hartley Bay, and continued my successful year, although in a different manner that it had proceeded in Prince Rupert. The Hartley Bay school had two classrooms, grades one to four in the classroom to the left of the front entrance, grades five to seven in the classroom to the right. Unlike the even smaller school in Port Essington, there were enough students to represent every grade.
Within the classrooms, the grades were divided into separate rows, with, in the classroom with which I was familiar, the grade fives in the row to the right, the grade sevens in the row to the left and the grade sixes in the middle.
In the course of a regular school day, the teacher in my classroom began with us in grade five first, set out our lesson, assigned our classwork, then ratcheted along to the grade sixes. I saw an opportunity in this system. In arithmetic, I found that if I did the in-class assignment the teacher left us with quickly and efficiently enough, I had time to tune in to the grade sixes’ lesson and learn that too. In fact, further to this notion, I worked out a method of writing down my answers that was far more efficient in time than the standard one. By this method, I stole the secret of long division from the next row over.
I was very proud of overtaking my fellow students thusly, but it wasn’t a portable boast. Later in 1961, when I had returned to Prince Rupert, my accomplishment was nullified by the fact that the grade five class in Rupert learned long division anyway towards the end of the year’s curriculum. I had been only a few months ahead of them.
That meant, I guess, that the grade six class in Hartley Bay, although somewhat in advance where we were in the grade five row, had been trailing behind the standard provincial grade six curriculum. Maybe that was the inevitable fallout of having two teachers teaching seven grades between them, I can’t say.
I didn’t like it when I found out, though.