It’s a rainy Monday in October. The leaves are changing color and falling to the ground, the temperature is falling too. Yesterday’s high was in the 40’s with no sunshine, just a cloudy, cold and rainy day.
I grew up in a little town on Lake Superior. Ashland is on Chequamagon Bay. I wonder how many times we were asked to spell Chequamagon, Mississippi and Albuquerque while in school? It seems one of those names was on most every spelling test.
Fourth grade was kind of the middle of grade school. We had completed kindergarten, first, second and third grade, only fourth, fifth and sixth left. Although in fourth grade you went to class in the old part of Beaser School.
Beaser had 2 distinct parts. The south end housed K-3 and they gym and offices. This was a one story addition, with a long flat roof and lots of windows. Fresh air in school, what a concept.
The old part of the building was really old. It housed grades 4,5 and 6. Also the room we used for Girl Scouts and Band was in the old part. It also had one of those cool circular slides as a way to escape fire. Boy how I wanted to get on that slide. Actually, I was on one of those slides several times, but not at Beaser, they kept it locked. Probably a good idea.
Anyway, here we were in fourth grade. It’s kind of a middle grade. It was the year before fractions and really hard story problems, but a year after all the timed math tests for adding and subtracting. You are kind of growing up, but you still get treated like a really little kid even though most of us would turn 10 in the fourth grade. That’s right, 10, 2-digit number not a one digit.
Even though it felt like pretty much a nothing year, I remember the fourth grade for 3 specific reasons.
1. We started playing real band instruments instead of the dreaded Tonettes. I started on clarinet, switched to the flute because of my overbite and eventually switched to the bassoon because a really cute guy at band camp played it. And of course also because I loved the sound and didn’t have to sit by all the blonde cheerleaders anymore.
2. It was the year that some unknown kid in our class, jumped up and pushed the door shut on the closet when our teacher Mrs. Carlson was in it. The door locked and none of us ever ratted out the kid that did it.
and perhaps the most fondly remembered event
3. The Great Milk Break Incident of 1969. Now I realize that a lot of folks don’t know about this and probably think I’m making it up. So I’ll just throw in one name and that name will surely convince you this really happened. Timmy Fleck. No need to provide further proof.
Over the years the Great Milk Break Incident was overshadowed by many who claimed in never happened, but I can assure you, my account is true.
It was a few weeks after Mrs. Carlson was locked in her closet in the classroom. None of us ever told on the person that actually did it, so for now, no one was really in a lot of trouble. Timmy Fleck’s name came up as the next student to be the Milk Monitor for a week.
The Milk Monitor job was pretty easy. When we had milk break, the whole class lined up and went downstairs to a little alcove in the old part of the school. There was a milk machine with 2 big 5 gallon boxes of milk in it. The milk came out of a rubber spigot that was in the bottom of the box and threaded through the machine so it poured only when you lifted the lever.
We would each get a paper cone cup, flip it over and put the pointy end through a plastic melamine base that had rubber teeth in the bottom to hold the cup steady, then you handed the cup to the milk monitor and he either filled it for you or the teacher did.
If the box of milk ran out, the teacher opened the machine, pulled the spigot from the other box, threaded it down through the top of the lever, then she shut the door and snipped off the end. Then she just lifted the lever and out came the milk.
Pretty easy really, it was a routine we followed and it hardly ever led to any kind of trouble for anyone. After we finished our milk, we had time to go to the restroom and then back upstairs to class.
So when Timmy Fleck’s name came up for milk monitor, we all expected Mrs. Carlson to skip him and go on to the next person in the alphabet, Dennis Groom. But Mrs. Carlson surprised all of us when she announced that Timmy would be the milk monitor. I guess it was the right thing to do because she really couldn’t pin that closet thing on him.
So it was time for our milk break, we all lined up and filed downstairs. I don’t know what it was that was so important, but at the last minute Mrs. Carlson told us we would have to go without her and that we needed to obey the milk monitor. In other words, Timmy was in charge.
When we got downstairs, Timmy began filling up the glasses as they were handed to him. He was joking of course, but not really doing anything out of line. Things were running really smoothly until ....the milk ran out.
Each of us had seen this dozens of times. So Timmy opened the front of the machine, threaded the rubber spigot down through the lever and then shut the door and latched it. Now the only problem was that Timmy didn’t have a razor to snip off the end of the spigot so the milk came out. Little kids, even Timmy did not bring knives to school.
Timmy decided the best thing to do was to see if he could just break or rip off the end. I guess he was just pulling on it too much because all of a sudden, the entire spigot came out in his hand and milk began rushing out of the machine at a very fast rate of speed!!!
We all stood there for a moment with big eyes, open mouths and racing minds wondering what our punishment for this would be. What if this flooded the whole first floor and the furnace was flooded. What if it was so much milk we had to start swimming????? We were 9, we were panicked.
That’s when Timmy started doing the job he was supposed to do, only faster. He began filling up the cups as fast as he could so it would stop running all over the floor. At first we tried to gulp down the milk as it was handed to us, but it was too much, too quickly so we started a kind of cup line, handing the cups down to those at the end who dumped them in water fountain or the girls/boys bathroom sinks. We were all handing off the glasses as fast as we could. Timmy really kept his cool and was filling 2 or 3 at a time. It was really something to see.
So there we were frantically handing off glasses of milk, trying to stem the flood of milk. Those little cups held 8 ounces. There are 128 ounces in one gallon. So we had a possible 80 cups of milk before we would be done. We just kept handing off glasses and dumping them as fast as we could. We were beginning to wonder how long this would go on.
Finally, Mr. Zifco brought down his class for milk break and when he saw what was going on, he opened the milk machine, took out what was left in the box and turned it upside down so the milk would stop pouring out so quickly. We would have done that but, we were not adults and there is no way that we could lift a 5 gallon box of milk.
When the milk finally stopped, we all stood there looking like the most guilty kids on Earth. This looked bad, really bad. And of course who was going to really get in trouble ? Timmy Fleck the milk monitor. But we would also be in trouble as we stood there panting with a trail of spilled milk all the way from the machine to the girls bathroom and the water fountain. From the huge milk mustaches we were all sporting, identifying the kids who participated wasn’t going to be difficult.
Mr. Zifko was well known for his short fuse and his loud yelling. But he didn’t seem mad, he asked us who our teacher was and where she was. When we told him she sent us down alone and that the spigot broke off, he didn’t yell at us at all. He just got the janitor to mop up the spills.
My guess is that this incident resulted in a new rule about not leaving little kids to themselves during milk breaks after this incident.
The rest of the day flew by. I remember being really tired when we walked home from school. I also remember not wanting a big glass of milk with dinner.
When I look back on that day, I remember how funny it was when we tried to drink the milk as fast as they were passing us cups. And forming the chain to dump the milk in the fountain or the bathroom sink. Looking back on it, it was a great team bulding exercise. An unintentional team building exercise, but a good one. All the thoughts that raced through our minds about flooding the whole school or having to swim to get out of the basement was really funny. I remember telling my sister Clare when we were supposed to be sleepting, we were laughing a lot.
I wonder what ever happened to Timmy Fleck. I like to think he’s out there somewhere using his imagination, running a big company, or a jet pilot or maybe even a teacher. He sure would have stories to tell his students. Then again, I don’t think he wants to give them any ideas.
Thanks for listening.