Fifth grade at Center School was a pretty cool year. That year, for the first time, I had a male teacher. Mr. Twiss was the coolest guy I had ever met. He was tall, funny, and pretty well dressed. Unlike a certain computer teacher I know that is partial to blue jeans and collarless shirts, he wore a suit, white starched shirt, highly polished shoes and, of course, a tie. All the kids adored him. He could encourage you with a simple pat on the back or stop you in your tracks with a steely stare. He must have really loved teaching because back in the early sixties, the average pay for a teacher was about five thousand dollars a years. Most had to work summers as well. It must have been difficult to support a family back then.
As kids we would invent different games, activities and fun ways to torture one another. Putting tacks on each other’s chairs was always good for a few laughs. It got to the point that everyone, would make a special effort to always turn toward the seat, brush it off regardless, because you never knew if someone developed the invisible tack and then sit down. The challenge now was to put the tack on the seat after the person turned again to sit down. You had to be quick. One time I waited until Bobby St.Onge turned to sit down, my hand went out, put the tack down in the right spot—the right spot was the cheek part of the butt and not the thigh part, the cheek because it caused the maximum amount of pain--and quickly withdrew my hand just before he sat down. “OW!” he cried and stood up swiftly. Everyone had a good laugh, Bobby punched me in the arm, and Mr. Twiss smiled as he forced me to apologize. “What about Bobby apologizing to me because he hit me in the arm?” I protested. “That doesn’t count.” Mr. Twiss said sternly. “You started it!” Good life lesson there. Don’t do crime if you can’t do the time.
Another game we played during in door recess was Pins. Mr. Twiss used to hang our papers up on the bulletin board using straight pins. We figured out that if you held the pin by the point and flicked it, they would stick in your shirt or sweater. This was especially fun if you did to someone when their back was turned. When they sat down… Where was Mr. Twiss during indoor recess? Back then, he was in the Teachers Room having lunch, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. We were unsupervised.
One day my mom came home with a bag, of all things, syringes. What? Till this day I can’t figure where she got them and more importantly why she brought them home and gave them to an eleven year old. Anyway, what am I going to do with these? Hmmm. Having watched many Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey shows (medical dramas from the early sixties) I figured out that the syringes would make good water pistols. So I brought the syringes to school and we had a good time running around the hallways squirting each other. Once we got too exuberant in the hallways and Mr. Twiss came up to investigate. Busted? Psychologist? Detention? No, no, and no. “Put ‘em and away and clean up the mess!” Like I said he was a cool guy.
The most memorable thing that we did in fifth grade was building a crystal radio set for science. We had to bring in two things from home. A toilet paper tube and a quarter. The toilet paper tube was for the antenna and the quarter was to buy the Germanium diode. The diode picks up the radio signals. The class was so excited the day we started the project. Mr. Twiss supplied the nails, base, wire and headphones. We first took a length of wire and carefully wound it around the tube. Then we nailed the tube to the wooden base. Next we carefully took the diode and fastened it to two more nails. Finally we attached the headphones. Wow! We were able to actually listen to a few radio stations. Even though my transistor radio at home could pick up more stations and didn’t need headphones, this was the coolest project. Cool because we made it ourselves. Cool because we learned practical science. Mr. Twiss made learning fun. Imagine that. Learning was fun and we didn’t have to take a million tests to prove it.