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Fifth Grade

By Joanne Hunt

When I was in fifth grade, my homeroom teacher was Mr. Orifice. Yes, really. He was Italian and when he came to Canada as a boy, his father changed their surname to Orifice from Orifici (pronounced Ori-fi-chee). He changed the "i" at the end of the name to an "e" and personally, I think that was a mistake. He should have left it alone because Orifice, well, there's just a lot you can do with a name like that. Can you imagine the names Mr. Orifice must have grown up with as a boy: "Shut your orifice!" or "Up yours, Orifice!" Painful but true.

I feel like I am back in Grade 5 as I write those words. Taken back in time to when you were just mean and cruel to others in many moments for no reason except that others were mean and cruel to you. Fifth grade can be a killer.

I loved Mr. Orifice. He seemed to be a sweet, happy man with a little round belly and a gentle demeanour. I remember having a fight with a girl named Amelia Bourguignoni (Hey Meatball!) because she was stealing my best friend, Sharon, away from me. Oh, to be nine years old again. Mr. Orifice wiped away my tears and asked me what was wrong. I said, "I'm not crying, I just have the sun in my eyes." Then I told him the whole sordid story of being best friends with Sharon and Amelia moving here from Toronto and not wanting to play with her during lunch and so she and Sharon played without me. It was serious. Mr. Orifice convened a three way meeting between Amelia, Sharon and me. Fifth grade mediation at its best. We got things all sorted out and became best buddies through most of that term even though I secretly harboured thoughts of killing off Amelia in dodge ball.

Our French teacher in Grade 5 was Madame Gauthier. She was in love with the stencil machine. It was one of those old stenographs that you cranked round and round. It smelled like pure alcohol in the small stencil room and the copies came out with a purplish ink colour. The pages smeared easily and often whoever was running off the copies for her would end up with bluish purple fingers. You didn't want to wear a white blouse running off her stencils. And Madame loved lots and lots of hand-outs. I had never seen so much paper in my young life.

We sat in rows of little green metal desks that had wooden tops on hinges so that you could open up the top and pull out your notebook or text book (or stencils). One day, Madame Gauthier was handing out another stack of stencils for us and Chantal went ballistic. She was a little, hot-tempered fireball of a fifth grader. Freckles and shoulder length brown hair that was always messy. She opened her desk lid and yelled, "I couldn't get another fucking stencil in here if I tried." Madame Gauthier just about had a heart attack. Her face turned beet red and she marched over to Chantal's desk and told Chantal that she needed to work on her "organizational ability" (she said it in French and I don't remember the translation). Chantal replied something rude about Madame's relationship with the stenograph and then stood up, tipped her desk over and sent all the stencils flying. Paper covered everything like an avalanche roaring down Mount Everest and all along the Khumbu Icefield. A white paper roar of stencils across the grey, worn carpet. Chantal was yelling, "You and your fucking stencils." We all sat there wide-eyed, mouths hanging open watching this exchange. Way better than a school yard fight at recess. Chantal was taking on Madame and holy shit, Chantal seemed to be winning!

But Madame shut her down with an angry, "Chantal, go to the Principal's Office." Chantal smirked and commented loud enough for everyone to hear, "Gladly - there's way less paper down there." And she stomped out with the final word. Slam dunk. We all tried to smother our laughter but secretly we were all rooting for Chantal.

Madame Gauthier left the upturned desk sitting there as she distributed that day's stencils. As she dropped more paper mountains on each of us, we replied one by one, "Merci, Madame."

© Joanne Hunt

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