Hap's Corner May 2015
The Emperor's New Clothes...
It has been more than six decades since I wiled away lazy days in the cradle of my education, Mrs. Levinson's kindergarten class, at Harbor School. The boxy three story red brick building, known to its inhabitants as 'The Old Brick Jail,' had the usual elementary school fixtures, baseball fields, asphalt basketball courts, several sets of swings, and a Mount Everest of a playground slide. Ascending to the top of the giant steel structure and screeching to the bottom was a kiddy masculine rite of passage that presaged earning a drivers' license at 16, the first kiss on a car date a few days later, a Draft Card at 18, and blowing the head from the top of your first legal beer at 21.
The jewel of the school was the large emerald green front lawn. Shaped like the trough of a sinusoidal wave pointing at the main entrance doors a towering white flag pole was planted in its center. The inviting grass was no man's land, Mr. Stanley Hall, the formidable principal ruled with an iron fist. Punishment for treading on the greensward was firm and fast. Few tread on the grass because spending a precious recess standing in the corner of the school office, facing a large grandfather's clock which glacially ticked off each long second of the interminable sentence, was simply not worth it.
There were two exceptions to the grass prohibition. On Tuesdays the two local Boy Scout troops met and all of us wore our uniforms to school. On that day Mr. Hall, white haired, ruddy faced with a moustache stained a light yellow by his cigar habit, and resplendent in his traditional white linen suit-to the prepubescent student body's mind he looked like a Mephistophelian Mark Twain-selected a pair of khaki clad kids to assist the school custodian, in raising the flag.
The second was Decoration Day. On May 29th, the day before the floating holiday, classes ended at noon. We would have lunch and then take part in a patriotic ceremony. Each year the sixth grade class would provide four Boy Scouts to post the colors, the whole class sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and a very honored sixth grader would recite the Gettysburg Address. An oration by a local politician or veteran of note closed the program.
The back of the lawn was crowded with grandparents, parents, and younger siblings perched on lawn chairs or darting about them. The New London High School Band, resplendent in green and gold, was bussed across town to play the National Anthem, various patriotic airs, and most importantly, march music. As the band tooted, tootled, and banged the entire student body, 600 strong, snaked from the school in two long lines each bearing small 48 star US flags to sit on the grass for the program. It was a very exciting day.
I do remember one other time I sat on the sacred lawn. On a sunny day before school closed Mrs. Levinson took us outside and sat us on the verge of the grass, just out of Mr. Hall's office's sight line I suspect. There she read us a few of Aesop's fables and Hans Christian Anderson's 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' In retrospect perhaps it was an oblique reference to Mr. Hall.
Flash forward 60 years and there I was sitting, not on the edge of the sacred lawn, but next to the Emperor of Conventional Smallbore Prone, Kevin Nevius. A few hours earlier the challenge period had closed and Kevin had won his second conventional prone championship. He was contentedly leaning back on the couch of our motel room savoring his accomplishment. As my brother Steve and I heaped lashings of sycophantic praise on him he suddenly sat bolt upright with a look of panic on his face and moaned, "Oh! No!"
Startled we asked what was wrong. Had he left his rifle at the range? Did use up all of his knot lot before the Dewar Match? Was he having a coronary incident caused by the first two? It was none of the above. He had just remembered that he didn't bring appropriate clothing to appear at the awards ceremony.
Much like the two tailors in the Hans Christian Anderson tale Steve and I told him not to worry as we had dress clothes he could borrow. We started pawing through our wardrobe to pull together a suit of clothes for the new Emperor. Kevin rejected a tie my brother proffered. I don't think it was the crusty gravy stains that caused its rejection but rather the fact that it was a flamboyantly hand painted Hawaiian hula dancer tie, circa 1940, that Steve had inherited from our father. My blazer was cast off as the sleeves were too short, the shoulders too tight, and the belly too ample. Kevin's sense of style and body type was more normal than ours.
The next morning we all piled into the van and followed GPS instructions to the nearest haberdashery. Pulling into a mall Kevin went off to find a blazer, trousers, and shoes while I was assigned to pick out a nice shirt and tie. Steve, unassigned, unattended, and worst of all, unfettered, wandered off like a lost sheep. We eventually found him, an hour later, in a nearby bookstore where he was engrossed in a copy of the Nicomachean Ethics and muttering to himself something about ethical virtue.
That evening Kevin arrived at Das Dutchman Essenhaus all primped, polished and spiffy for his first official function as the 2014 champion in the company of, and in spite of, the two 'tailors' that promised him a new suit of clothes.