The scream heard 'round the halls

The scream filling the elementary school hallway seemed more animal than human, more anguish than anger.

It silenced us urchins at Kerby Elementary School like nothing else ever had, even more than a hallway sighting of Bessie Watts, the most feared teacher of them all. Now there was a no-nonsense pedagogue who would have made a zombie quake in his or her bloody boots.

The unruly mob that was the third-grade class had just come in from recess only to be instantly hushed by the screams emitting from the boys bathroom. It was 1960, some time around Halloween.

We cringed in the hallway that had become as quiet as a tomb, waiting for whatever loathsome creature would emerge ...

That haunting memory surfaced a week ago today when Maureen and I dropped in at Rogue Community College's Kerby Campus for the last day of Artoberfest 2013. Now known as the Belt Lodge building, it was an elementary school when I was last there half a century ago.

Granted, I have no artistic ability whatsoever. Even my stick figures look like, well, sticks. But my wife has a keen eye for art. And she was mightily impressed by the quality of work in the show hosted by the Southern Oregon Guild of Artists and Artisans.

While I enjoyed viewing the pieces and chatting with extremely talented artists such as Medford native Deborah Dawson, Applegate Valley artist Dan Barker and O'Brien's Johnnie Walker, I couldn't stop thinking about the memories of the old building I knew so well.

Take the scream. Please.

As I cowered behind other third-graders in the hallway, I just knew motorists on Highway 199 were locking their doors and gunning the gas to get out of Kerby. No doubt worried mothers were scooping up their toddlers and hurrying indoors. Hound dogs for miles round were howling in terror.

But Mrs. Haugen, the little, white-haired, second-grade teacher whose room was adjacent to the boys' bathroom wasn't afraid. She bowled youngsters out of the way as she marched into the bathroom.

There was the sound her yelling "Hold still!" and another piercing scream, followed by whimpering.

The door slowly opened. Out strode Mrs. Haugen with a teary-eyed boy in tow. It seems that in the post-recess rush to get back to class, the poor fellow had hurriedly zipped up before all items were safely tucked away. We'll leave his name out of this in the event he has become litigious in his old age.

And just down the hallway, beyond RCC room No. 3, where Mrs. Orton — one of my all-time favorite teachers — once taught, was the cafeteria.

That was where my 1961 day-before-Thanksgiving lunch was sullied. The kid to my immediate right, after consuming the lion's share on his plate, decided the food was not to his liking.

He hurled. Big time.

Unfortunately, if he was aiming for his plate, he overshot his target a mite. Pre-chewed food splashed onto my plate. That explains my 52-year revulsion at the sight of green peas, by the way.

One second I was happily digging into my pumpkin pie, the next I was frozen in horror. Kids scattered from the table like rats from the proverbial sinking ship.

First-grade teacher Mrs. Cribb, a kind-hearted soul who happened to be our neighbor, stepped in to clean up the mess.

Thoughtfully, she even brought me another plate. But no amount of encouragement on her part could get me to take another bite. Stick a fork in me. I was done.

The visit to the old school prompted me to call my childhood chum Cliff Phillips, who was in my class from second grade through high school. Now retired from the U.S. Forest Service, he also recalled the projectile Thanksgiving lunch and the bathroom screamer.

"It wasn't just your plate — yeah, he got a couple of others, too," Cliff recalled after he finally stopped chortling.

As for the scream, he remembered the eerie quiet as we waited outside the bathroom that day.

"Mrs. Haugen took care of it, all right," he said. "Yow, that must have really smarted."

Before I left the old elementary school that day, I stepped into the boys' bathroom for a second, given the fact we had a long drive home. I don't know why but they have switched the rest rooms, placing the boys facility where the girls lavatory used to be.

I do know that I was very, very careful to ensure nothing occurred to prompt a scream from the boys' bathroom.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or

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