I was going down to visit my parents today.

Every time I go down I practically go past the middle school where I spent my grade seven and eight years. So many times I wondered if I, being a children’s author, shouldn’t pop in and introduce myself.

Most of the time it’s not even an option because I’m going down on a Saturday or holiday, but today I was passing by aroune 11:30 a.m. on a weekday. Why shouldn’t I pop in? I was dressed decently (not for gardening) and I had my presentation gear in the trunk of my car.

So I did.

I told myself there was no point being nervous. I’d been to thousands of schools, this really was just one more.

But it’s interesting. I’ve been all over the world as a children’s author but no school in my home town has ever invited me to present to their students, never mind one of my old alma maters.

In fact, back in about 2000, I had applied to the Ontario Arts council for an Artists in Education grant. It’s an arts program, almost a mini-residency, where the OAC subsidizes a number of artists to workshop with students in schools  to enrich the artistic aspect of the students’ education.

The OAC covered the majority of the artist’s fee and the school only had to cough up $60 per day for five days for the rest! Basically the school would get an artist for five whole days for only $300! (That’s really nothing!!!!)

The OAC was concerned though that only the schools in the greater Toronto area were benefitting since most of the artists lived there. To encourage more ‘rural’ schools to benefit, one of the workshop programs had to be conducted in a school outside the greater Toronto area.

And I thought why not offer it to my old elementary school. I called up the school and spoke to the secretary, told her about my website and the program. She sounded excited at the prospect but the principal was less so. Finally he told me, “Thanks, but no thanks, we don’t need that multicultural stuff here.”

I couldn’t believe he was saying this. I expected that kind of attitude in the sixties and seventies, when I grew up. I didn’t expect it around the year 2000.

When I told an equity officer at the Toronto District School board what happened, he said, “You want me to go after him?”

I laughed. “No. It’s okay.”

Maybe enrollment was just too low and they really didn’t have the funds. But if that were the case, why didn’t he just say that? Nobody would find, “I’m sorry we don’t have the funds,” insulting or offensive. Why had he felt the need to say that they didn’t ‘need that multicultural stuff here’?

I can’t help feeling a bit of schadenfreude at the fact that my elementary was torn down a few years later to make room for more houses. I wonder if that principal is out of a job now.

This had been my only experience offering my author/storyteller services to a hometown school, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that today, when I got out of the car, wheeling my presentation case behind me, my breath was coming shallow.  

How my heart pounded as I walked up to the old brick building. There were a bunch of white ladies out in front, obviously parents, and it brought back a lot of memories.

I think my father wanted us to live in a ‘better’ neighbourhood, that’s why he moved us to Dundas. It just wasn’t as gritty as Hamilton but there are loads of disadvantages to living in an area that is ‘beyond your means’, or ‘above your class’ if there really is such a thing.

The school was smaller than I remembered. I’m sure the foyer shrank. The front office was like a cubby hole. The building was built in 1953.

It doesn’t go up to middle school any more, just elementary.

And yet the secretary was charming. She smiled politely and didn’t snicker at all when I told her my credentials.

The principal was out, but I left a galley (advanced loose-leaf copy of Big Red Lollipop) for her to look at as well as one of my brochures.

Don’t know if she’ll call me, but maybe she’ll at least check out my books and stock them in the library. You never know.