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True Winter Tales

Girls Versus Janitor by Katrina Johnston

To celebrate the holidays and give you inspiration for our current creative nonfiction competition, we are presenting seven of our favourite stories from last year's True Winter Tales challenge. 

In today's story, the winner of the challenge, winter pits a gang of grade-four girls against the school janitor.

elementary school post.jpgDuring the winter of 1963, I joined a gang of grade-four girls who plotted schoolyard domination. We laid our sieges upon the ice and snow of Mount View Elementary in North East Calgary. Our opponent, the school janitor, Mr. Sadakowski, found himself deployed as an army of one against many. Intervening years have blurred my childhood ghosts, but I recall the janitor was a shrewd and worthy adversary.

No one really noticed Mr. Sadakowski except when someone barfed and he arrived like a saviour toting his grey bucket of Sorb-All sawdust. He rattled a set of keys that made his belt loops swag. He wielded a giant broom. After he had swabbed the floor, he thumped into the basement to invoke private spells upon the furnace. He staunched many an over-flowing toilet, plungered sinks and hammered cloakroom hooks.

Class schedules and bells meant that we remained strangers, but I watched Mr. Sadakowski one late afternoon as he muscled the industrial floor polisher. He etched such beautiful symmetric waxen loops. We smiled at one another briefly - secretly.

In the schoolyard, the girls hunkered down. It went like this: We spent most of our recess and before-school times constructing slides of compacted snow and ice - shaping minor ski jumps. We dragged snow with the edges of our boots and tamped it tight against short hills. Then we carried mouthfuls of water from the drinking fountains and spat upon the slides, re-freezing the surfaces to a shiny gloss. We took turns after that, launching and sliding and joyously skittering a maximum of three or four feet. Whoosh! Turn after turn and again and again until the bells tolled and our troops retreated back indoors. When we had fashioned a half dozen slides, a teacher or a parent or a school supervisor ordered Mr. Sadakowski to remove the dangerous slicks to ensure the schoolyard remained absurdly safe.

We settled into routine. The girls built. The janitor demolished. First, he used a shovel and then a hatchet. We hauled fresh batches of snow from distant fields until tiny balls of slush hung like burrs from our woolly mittens. Our cheeks stretched red and taut. We spat more water. Mr. Sadakowski applied quantities of sand and salt. We started again.

Our enterprise reached crescendo around the Christmas break. We kept Mr. Sadakowski busier than Santa. He must have exhaled a heartfelt sigh of relief when the ice-sliding girls slogged out through the playground gate for a ten-day Christmas truce.

In mid January, we built and slid again until Mr. Sadakowski rented a Big-R Snow Plow and bulldozed everything. The encroaching spring sent warmish winds and soggy snows enforced our shaky armistice.

Next year, now in grade five, we spent our recess differently - mainly leaning around the corner where the boys' side met the girls, our interest in ice-slides waning. We never noticed that Mr. Sadakowski slid into retirement. In our world, he just melted.

Find out more about our creative nonfiction competition.

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