In 1759, after over a century of conflict, British troops finally gained full control of the Acadia region, including Mount Desert Island, and the lands along the Maine coastline finally became available for English settlement.
Around this time the governor of Massachusetts, a certain Francis Bernard, obtained a royal grant for Mount Desert Island. Governor Bernard then made the erroneous decision to side with the British in the Revolutionary War, and following its completion, lost his claim to the island. Instead, the western half of the island was granted to John Bernard, the ex-governors son, who had sided with the rebels during the war. One can only assume this made for some heated family reunions:
John: “Oh…oh hey, Dad. I, uh, didn’t know you were gonna be here…”
Francis (gritting his teeth): “Be where, John? At my family’s reunion? Just because you and your Yankee chums kicked me off the continent doesn’t mean I’m exiled from the family as well…”
John: “Look Dad, there’s no need to be a poor sport about this. ..”
Francis: “Oh isn’t there?”
John: “We won, fair and square.”
Francis: “You CHEATED! You didn’t follow the modern rules of warfare!”
John: “We didn’t cheat! We just won…creatively. Get over it!”
And so on and so forth…. I’m sure it was quite a heated feud and I can only imagine how poor Mrs. Bernard must’ve felt in that crossfire.
Much like my gym class.
Since deciding to stay on Mount Desert Island for the winter (spoiler alert: that’s the result of my job search) I found an assortment of part time jobs to help myself stay afloat financially. One such job was as a substitute teacher. Late one evening, about halfway through the week, I was asked if I could fill in the next day for the gym teacher. Few things sounded better than being paid to play sports all day. Plus, I would get a whistle. Boo-yah.
So I showed up the next morning wearing my gym teacher outfit: athletic shorts underneath running pants, an old volleyball jersey I bought at Goodwill, and my whistle (which, in case you were wondering, I couldn’t wait to use). I had blocks of 45-minute gym classes, starting with kindergarteners and working my way up to middle school. It was going to be a good day.
Or so I thought.
My time with the kindergartners and second graders began with me blowing my whistle. From that point on, all eyes were on me. I led them through some stretches (which was more of me stretching and them bending over and falling down in a rather befuddled fashion) and then asked if anyone knew what a jumping jack was.
“YES MR. CLARK, I DO!!!” A chorus responded. And they proceeded to show me.
I think all psychiatric offices should have a staff of kindergarteners on hand for just this purpose: watching a group of four and five year olds display their jumping-jack skills could cure any depression. I watched as some of the little tikes jumped up and down while others hopped and waved their arms. One even executed what looked remotely like my version of the foxtrot (but more elegant). The Grinch would have smiled.
When I bid farewell to my second grade class, I had a note in my hand from one of them that said “Misstr, Clark, yur tha bust” which I could have translated as “Mr. Clark, you’re a bust” or “Mr. Clark, you’re the best”. I decided to assume the latter and I felt pretty good about life.
Then came the middle school. As I’m sure every parent of a teenager will confirm, attempting to assert any type of control over a group of middle school children can be about as effective as telling a group of rogue colonists to “knock it off”, “behave” and “for God sakes, quit throwing that tea in the harbor!”
The class began with me blowing my whistle and immediately ducking as a volleyball flew past my head.
“Hey!” I said. Actually what I really said was more of a squeaky version of “Yikes!”
“Dude! You almost hit the teacher!” The culprit’s peer noted, though it sounded more like “thatwasclose-tryhardernexttime!”.
“Uh…sorry…uh…mister,” came the apology.
“Watch it,” I said motioning to where the ball had gone, “Now go get that.”
He scurried off and I explained what we’d be doing for the day. According to the real gym teacher, this class had been learning the basics of volleyball and today was the day when all these lessons would be put to use. I’d set up a net in the middle of the gym, and fine-tuned what little knowledge of the sport I had (you “serve” the ball, not “swerve” was one such tuning). I divided the students up into teams (the red and yellow team respectively), handed the ball to the yellow team, and blew my whistle.
The ball went sailing over the net, where it landed between two motionless red teammates turned statues. I blew my whistle.
“Okay, that’s a point for the yellow team!” I yelled.
“You need to move!” one of the statues barked at the other.
“That was in your section!”
“No, it wasn’t! It was right on the line! Which means it’s yours!”
“Why’s that mean it’s mine!?”
I blew my whistle.
“Because I said so!”
“Oh, who died and made you king!?”
I blew my whistle again.
“You might in a second!”
“TWEET! TWEET! TWEET!” Went the whistle, and for the moment there was silence.
“Okay!” I began, turning my coach on, “Let’s all calm down, shall we? You need to work together as a team.” I shot a look at the two antagonists. “So let’s try this again shall we? More communication and no death threats!”
One of them crossed their arms the other glared at her. But I took this as a momentary truce and handed the ball back to the yellow team.
“It’s 1-0,” I said.
I blew my whistle.
The ball soared over the net, this time a member of the red team made a lovely return and sent it soaring back to the yellow side.
“Nice job!” I yelled. “Keep it up!”
The yellow team responded with about as good of a set and spike as I’ve seen in middle school athletics, making a return impossible. I blew my whistle.
“Alright!” I said. “Nice set! The sco-“
But I was interrupted by another debate on the red team.
“Nice work, your highness.”
“I hit the ball back the first time, that’s more than you did.”
“Hey…guys…”I tried, but then a member of the yellow team got into it.
“Hey, how about you lay off, huh? Just do your job, then maybe you won’t get creamed by us!”
And that was the proverbial shot heard around the world…or at least the gym. From that point on, my whistle was a moot point.
Red Team: “What did you say?”
Yellow Team: “You heard me, shut up and play. You’re getting owned!”
Me: Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!
Red: “We are NOT getting owned. You’re a cheater!”
Yellow: “We didn’t cheat! We won! GET OVER IT!”
Red: “Are you calling me a liar!?”
Me: TWEET! TWEET!
Yellow: “If the shoe fits!”
Red: “I AM NOT A LIAR!! MR. CLARK HE CALLED ME A LIAR!”
Yellow: “AND I AM NOT A CHEATER! MR. CLARK SHE CALLLED ME A CHEATER!”
Together: “MR. CLARK! MR. CLARK!! They called us a (insert a variety of insults)!!! MR. CLARK! Mr. Clark?…where are you!?”
The answer to this question was Mr. Clark could currently be found curled up in the corner, holding his knees, rocking back and forth, sobbing uncontrollably while muttering, “find a happy place…find a happy place.” I suddenly had no question about how Mrs. Bernard must have felt and I wanted to disappear.
After a little bit (as I assume must be normal with kids this age) the fury dispersed and I re-emerged from hiding and sucking my thumb.
“Mr. Clark! Where have you been?”
“Mr. Clark! He called me a-”
“Oh my goodness!” I said, “Look at the time! You gotta go! Don’t be late to class!”
The students left the gym, a couple of the passive ones giving me a “Thanks!” as they tossed me their jerseys. But most of them were too preoccupied swapping glares to notice my shaking form holding the door.
At the end of the day, I had lost my voice, found a slight headache and left the whistle in the real gym teacher’s office. I returned home, showered, found a blanket and then sat in the corner and maybe…just maybe…sucked my thumb.
Feuds take a toll on those caught between them…even if they do have a whistle.