Page A3 / The Joan De Arc Crusader / Saturday, December 24, 2022
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Undampened spirits: The “Rainy Day Schedule” at Sahuaro

By J. Bueker

     For the very reason of their conspicuous infrequency, rainy days at Sahuaro School were distinctively memorable occasions.
     Never shall I forget the days immediately preceding Christmas vacation my fifth-grade year; the rains fell relentlessly that entire week, and by the time we departed for holiday break, the school playgrounds had all become completely submerged into exquisitely expansive lakes. I vividly recall a small coterie of upperclassmen devising ingenious paper watercraft and floating them out across the placid surface of the engulfed playing fields, an impressive sight for a ten-year-old in 1968, I reckon.
     When those rare rainy days at school did happen to materialize, profound adjustments to the daily academic routine became necessary, resulting in the fabled “Rainy Day Schedule” at Sahuaro. These were school days like no others.
     On any normal school day of course, students would populate the playground before school and remain there until the bell sounded, at which time we would line up in formation for our teachers to escort us to our classroom. This protocol was completely abandoned on a rainy day: upon arrival we were immediately greeted by urgently repeated school office announcements over the PA system requiring we report directly to our classrooms, as we would be unwilling shut-ins for the balance of the day. A handful of faculty members was typically stationed near the playground entrances to turn away any students attempting to access that forbidden realm, and so we reluctantly wandered into our rooms to see what the rainy day would bring.
     Being stuck in the classroom before school and during recess was a uniquely unusual experience, transforming the entire character of the school day. Most of my classmates ardently rued rainy days at school, as they eliminated any possibility of fleeing their desks for the great outdoors, but my own feeling was that spending all day cooped up together in the classroom created unique opportunities for otherwise unattainable fun at school.
     The ultimate orchestration of student activity on inclement days naturally fell upon the venerable Sahuaro faculty, who suddenly found themselves obliged to scramble and produce an adequate variety of classroom activities to fill the void of lunch and recess, at which time we would normally be outside frolicking on the swings and slides. This presented a challenging circumstance, both in terms of meaningful instruction and classroom management, but the more adept instructors at Sahuaro were well prepared and invariably rose to the occasion admirably.
     A staple of the rainy-day schedule activities at Sahuaro School was the legendary “Following Directions” handout. The Sahuaro teachers were evidently quite fond of this mimeographed masterpiece of busy work, as I encountered it several times during my eight-year sojourn at the school. Atop the page of the mundane-looking worksheet appeared very simple but quite emphatic directions for each student to observe: “Read everything before doing anything. Then work as quickly as possible.”
     This curious directive was followed by an excruciatingly long and eclectic series of seemingly pointless tasks to perform, everything from solving an arithmetic problem on the back side of the page to drawing and coloring a random geometric shape. Faced with this lengthy and arduous to-do list, and limited time to execute it, the vast majority of students would of course launch immediately into the work, ignoring the clear directions to read everything first. Those few who did bother to actually follow instructions would ultimately arrive at the final item on the list, which revealed the true and nefarious nature of the exercise: “Now that you have carefully read everything first, only do task #1: write your name at the top of the page. Then sit quietly and watch your teacher.”
     The clever sleight of hand of course was that the “following directions” theme at first blush appeared to apply to the tediously long list of tasks on the page, when it in fact was pertinent only to the brief directions appearing at the top. I myself fell victim to this devious ploy upon my first exposure to “Following Directions,” probably in third grade or thereabouts, hurriedly attempting to complete every item before ultimately realizing my blunder. The “gotcha” at the end of the list packed quite a punch -- not only had you been caught not following directions, but you had just frantically worked through about twenty highly annoying activities on that piece of paper for absolutely nothing. Whoever devised this exercise was a sadistic genius of the highest order.
     After my initiation, I became hip to the entire charade and knew exactly how to proceed when the “Following Directions” activity came my way again. Instantly recognizing the document, I would dash my name off at the top of the page and then sit smugly observing my clueless classmates hurriedly trying to complete all those silly tasks. Hah, the fools. I’m not sure the activity instilled in me a life-long ethic for always following written instructions, the ostensible purpose of the assignment, but it certainly rendered me somewhat more cynical regarding my teachers’ motives going forward. In any event, “Following Directions” was unquestionably a useful device for killing time on a rainy day at school.
     Sporting events are a quintessential playground activity for elementary school students, and rainy days in no way deterred us from pursuing our beloved athletic events during recess time. Well, sorta.
     The ultimate origins of desk football are lost in the classroom mists of time, although my colleagues and I naturally assumed that we had ourselves invented the pastime at Sahuaro School. The teachers pretty much unanimously frowned upon this particular activity occurring in their rooms, and yet they seemed oddly happy to acquiesce during a rainy-day schedule. Anything to keep the little darlings preoccupied until the end-of-recess bell sounded!
     The first order of business in playing this classic two-player desk game was to create the triangular paper football itself. This was achieved with varying degrees of skill and each classroom usually had a single student who somehow excelled in such procedures. A standard sheet of notebook paper was the typical construction material, folded repeatedly into a triangle with the excess paper neatly tucked in at the bottom. Crucially, the football needed to be more or less uniformly balanced and symmetrical.
     The rules of the game are simple. Players share a common classroom desk for the playing field and take alternate turns flicking the paper football across the flat wooden gridiron to their opponent’s side, typically using index finger guided by thumb, with the objective being placement of the ball just beyond the far edge of the desk without having it fall off, scoring a touchdown. After a touchdown, the defensive player was obliged to form field goal uprights with their hands, with thumbs attached at the bottom, so the offense could kick their extra point. Some variations of the game allowed players to also kick field goals, but at Sahuaro we customarily played exclusively for touchdowns. Incidentally, the longest recorded all-time successful desk football kick occurred in 2012 at College Station, Texas – an astounding 23 feet. 
Consistent success at desk football demanded exceptional eye-hand coordination and distance judgement. The inexperienced, or worse unethical, desk footballer would insist on slowly pushing the ball across the desk rather than flicking it with a single steady and continuous motion. This was a clear violation of the rules and was simply not tolerated. Controversy could also erupt in the event of a football just barely reaching the edge of the desk – was it a touchdown or not? This circumstance could lead to heated arguments, which is undoubtedly one reason the teachers discouraged the activity. The duration of the game was ordinarily decided by a set time or score to be reached, and during rainy day schedule the game would terminate upon the sounding of the end of recess bell.
     Rainy day schedules also provided the ideal occasion to indulge another largely forbidden paper-based classroom game that soared in popularity in American classrooms in the 1960s – the paper fortune teller. This was a sort of origami device that seemed exclusively popular with the girls and could have any number of prophetic purposes, although it was customarily focused on romantic intrigue. The paper fortune teller was also known in some quarters as the “cootie catcher.”
     Each of the exterior and interior squares of the standard cootie catcher was labelled with colors and/or numbers, and the person having their fortune told would select their number or color to initiate the magical process. The routine varied with each student administering the procedure, but generally the fortune-teller holder would manipulate the paper device by using fingers and thumb inserted into the bottom of the mystical device according to the number selected, ultimately leading to one of the eight flaps inside, each of which concealed a message.
     Barbie Bueker Formichella attended Sahuaro in the 1960s and well remembers the fortune teller game: “Making a cootie catcher at school is something I remember as a rite of passage. If you were cool, you knew how to make one and could teach the other girls. You could tease your friends by making them choose first a color, then a number, and then the innermost flap would reveal their “secret crush” or some other embarrassing detail of their pre-adolescent life.” As with the paper footballs, the cootie catchers were considered a distraction from classwork and routinely confiscated, “but five minutes later, you would just fold and produce another, probably better version,” Formichella remembers. “It was silly, innocent fun and I think school-age girls still construct and play with something very similar.”
     Our rainy day at school would inevitably conclude with a leisurely walk home, carefully splashing through each and every one of the extraordinary puddles that would form along the gutters, streets, and front yards of Surrey Heights. The school authorities could prevent us from playing outside in the rain, but after school by God, we made up for it! These acts of playful defiance on the journey home invariably resulted in soggy clothing and annoyed parents, but that pent up energy from being trapped in the classroom all day had to be expended somehow.
     Growing up in the desert instilled in me an inordinate fondness for rainy weather, and there can be little doubt this enduring affection colors my fond memories of those long-ago damp days at Sahuaro School. I estimate that less than 2 percent of my Sahuaro school days were officially declared rainy day schedule, and so my vivid recollection of those occasions seems a testament to their uniquely fun and memorable character. What I wouldn’t give to have just one more go at one of those insanely obnoxious “Following Instructions” activities, scribbling my name at the top of the page and then gazing out the window at those beautiful dark and drizzly skies.


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