Pastime: Dustin’ the erasers

Back in the day when “white boards,” and “computer screens” were the sci-fi subject of the educational and classroom future, according to the Weekly Reader, there was the chalkboard and eraser duo found in every classroom.

By Maylon T. Rice

And what a duo they were. It was the mass communication vehicle for learning most every subject.

How many times have I, and some of my classmates, stood in a virtual cloud of chalk-board dust while out “dusting off the erasers” after school?

At least a million, I would hazard a guess.

In my Elementary and Junior High school days – there was no Middle School concept back in antiquity – the kids that rode the school buses – had a few minutes extra each day after the regular dismissal of classes, before those large yellow and black behemoths lined up to take rural kids home.

Invariably, one or more of my teachers would suggest, especially in these hot, dry days of the early school term – that the erasers in the classrooms needed a ‘good dusting off.”

And we would gladly volunteer to do so each time.

We would take the erasers out to the east rear door of Eastside Elementary (where the playground was located) and bang the erasers on the brick walls of the backside of the building.

And the dust would just fly.

Over at the now gone forever Junior High, where the U.S. Post Office sits, the dusting of the erasers was done on the half-brick wall of the lower half of the old white board building on the southeast corner of the complex.

There was a lower half of the building, a small brick structure aside from the old wooden frame upper part of that building.  The upper section was the study hall, the small, but efficient offices of the junior high, a teacher’s longue and the library.

Some teachers, notably, Mr. Wayne Gross, the biology and science teacher, had a classroom, lab in the older part of the building. There was also a classroom across the hallway. I think that was where our sainted Junior High Principal Mrs. Weiss, and others taught English.

That classroom was near her internal office and the tiny library. As the principal of the Junior High School, Mrs. Weiss’s office was a place one would wish they were never to appear – sadly and with some shame on my part, I visited that office twice – both times – justly as swift and attitude altering justice was meted out with a small, white oak paddle.

But that’s another Pastime for another day.

Back to dusting off the erasers.

The large black-cloth erasers were virtual clouds of dust when banged against the side of the bricks outside the classrooms.  Most of the chalk dust was a thin yellow sheen, not necessarily white chalk dust, since the blackboards in the classrooms were indeed not black – but a deep, dark hunter green in color.

Each classroom had a wide expanse of chalk boards, often enough in the math classrooms where individual students, at least 10 to 12 of us at a time, could go to the board and work those elaborate multiplication and division problems. But be careful not to sneak a look to either side at the adjoining work being calculated by your neighbor at the chalkboard.

If you got caught looking, you might discover they had an entirely different problem – often off by just a few numbers different from your problem.

And in English class there was the dreaded diagramming of sentences, where a six-word sentence was dissected and placed on all sorts of slanting lines and angled lines pivoting off the slanted lines – each with a specific name and purpose.

We would “bang those erasers,” swiftly and deliberately until the chalky build up was pummeled into dust all over the brick work and on to the sidewalk there.

Your jeans, tennis shoes and even that sweaty tee-shirt from the hot September afternoons would carry the chalky dusty imprints back into the tiled building as you returned the erasers to the classrooms.

Those falling in “puppy love,” might sneak off with a broken piece of the yellow chalk to scratch out a big heart with a couple of initials in its midst on the side of the building.

If the artist wishes were found not to be true, well you could count on your want-to-be-my-sweetheart and her girls’ friends quickly smudging the artwork from the masterpiece.

Eraser fights often ensued if there were two or more other volunteers from a nearby classroom doing the same after school duty as you. That made the clouds of eraser chalk dust really swirl.

After “dusting” the erasers, those black pieces of felt and cheap cardboard, were returned to the room for another day of work for the following school day.

Dusting the erasers was indeed a “cloud” of a Pastime too fond to forget.

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