My mother makes the best egg salad sandwiches on the planet.
And when we were picnicking, back in the '50s and early '60s in our little unique corner of the world, on the rock-strewn but pristine beach at Gander Lake, those sandwiches, along with Mom's potato salad and her chocolate, coconut-sprinkled snowballs, produced the kind of lunch which would have drawn rave reviews from Karl Wells.
Unfortunately, when we moved a few years later to the States, and settled at one point in our nomadic venture just outside of Newark (an esthetically challenged city if ever there was one, especially for seven of its newest inhabitants in 1964, who happened to have been born and raised on one of the most gorgeous islands in the world), those same sumptuous egg salad sandwiches were transformed into just one more excuse for the endless tactics of a gang of bullies.
I found out the hard way, while trying to navigate - without knowing a soul - the 3,000-boy population of a Newark high school, that egg salad sandwiches, even when tightly wrapped in wax paper and pushed into the far corner of the bottom of a desk, smelled like a raunchy fart, and provided another weapon of verbal abuse for the half a dozen arseholes trying to make life miserable for a small and introverted Newf lost in a shockingly new culture.
Now, it obviously wasn't the egg salad sandwiches that provoked the bullying in the first place. In fact, I'm not sure why it all started, other than the fact that the "gang" took delight in setting its sights on a small, vulnerable, quiet kid who, when he did speak, had a funny, Irish-sounding brogue.
Fortunately, the bullying and the teasing took its first serious step towards disappearance later that year (I think it was Grade 8) in the aftermath of an incident in which I was forced to seek the protection of a known "toughie" to keep from being mugged on a stairway by the bullies who'd been after me for weeks.
Although I had no knowledge at the time of how to handle bullies, or what to do to make them stop their abuse, I just decided to take matters in my own, rather naïve hands, and respond to bullying with aggression.
And it took only one confrontation.
Fighting fire with fire
Within days of the near-attack on the stairway, a member of the same crowd began pushing me around in a classroom while the teacher was out. I grabbed him, slammed him up against the blackboard, screamed out every curse word I had accumulated at that early age, and told him and his spectator friends that the next person to touch me would have his head torn off and that I would crap down his neck (or words to that effect - anything to make them believe that even if they could get the better of me as a group, that one or two of them was going to be seriously hurt).
No one said boo to me that year or in the years that followed. And nobody ever made fun of Mom's egg salad sandwiches.
It may have not been a textbook chapter and verse for handling bullies, or one recommended by social workers, school administrators and the like - those who live in some sort of idealistic, unreal world - but it worked for me. I promised myself that day I would never be bullied again, a vow I've never allowed to be broken.
Obviously, those memories of smelly egg sandwiches and bullying were resurrected for me last week upon hearing that story out of Twillingate about the kid who was being taunted and teased after returning to his school smelling like the caplin he had had for lunch.
A couple of points: first of all, it goes almost without saying that each of those bullies should be ashamed of themselves and taught a good lesson by their parents about the fact that the smell of fish is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, especially when your place of residence happens to be Twillingate, with its rich and proud tradition of fishing and sealing.
Secondly, those same children should be lectured big time about the disgusting nature of bullying, period - no matter what form it happens to take - and there should be consequences from the school for their actions.
Loving the limelight?
As for the victim's mother, I don't know about you but I couldn't quite figure out where she was coming from. She claimed she was trying to keep her kid out of the public eye, but then had his face plastered all over the television screens, and had her own mug smiling on the front page of The Telegram. I couldn't help but think she was enjoying her minor slice of fame.
Whether that's a fair assessment of her actions or not, her decision to go public certainly guaranteed that her child will be mocked for years to come as the "caplin boy sprayed by the teacher."
Finally, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the teacher who was made to look like some sort of cold-hearted ogre. We never did get her full side of the story - not an unusual circumstance for people in her profession who are unfairly forbidden from saying anything in their defence by their bosses, and seem to be discouraged even by their union from speaking up for themselves.
Why didn't the NLTA talk to her immediately, get her version of the story, and release it to the media?
In the end, it was obviously inappropriate for the teacher to have sprayed the air freshener, but I'd be willing to bet it was done in desperation, a panicked way to try and help a student already known to be a victim of bullying. The teacher should be cut some slack.
Send the lesson home
Finally, it's apparent that this incident once again shows that kids are still not getting the lessons about bullying, whether it has to do with a student being mocked because of his smell, or a teenager being cornered by a crowd of thugs and knocked around outside a St. John's high school.
I don't have the answers. I just know I found mine.
By the way, my wife - I can declare here that she is, in fact, a teacher - makes delicious egg salad sandwiches for me to take into the woods, and they're just about as delicious as my Mom's.
Tandy, my hunting beagle, never complains about the smell, especially as he devours his half.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.