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Revised 7 December, 2009
Our small town school had a wonderful custodian who, for some unfathamable reason, was nicknamed Hoolie. To this day, I still do not know what the man's real name was. Hoolie was the man you wanted to know when trouble happened, or you needed supplies, or you just wanted someone to be there. He withstood ridicule from the kids nonstop, but in reality, they loved him to death.
When the teachers threw out the old schoolbooks because they were no longer servicable, Hoolie would pass out the news that there was something interesting in his incinerator just wanting to be burned. Then he would wait a day or two so we kids could forage through the stuff first to see what treasures we could find. Many of those books were old friends and we carefully dusted them off and took them home to join our other Hoolieware.
One of Hoolie's jobs was to ring the school bell. He would ring it twice in the morning. Once to let you know it was time to come in and then a second one to let you know you were late and therefore in trouble. He also rang it at our recess times and at lunch. Our school was three stories tall with a full basement. When I say he rang the bell, I mean in the full traditional sense. The bell was housed on the roof of the building on a free-swinging stand. There was a rope tied to the top of the bell. The rope was then threaded down through a hole in the floor in the eighth grade room and below that, in the third/fourth grade room, culminating in the basement cafeteria. Hoolie would come out of hiding from his custodial offices and begin to do the bell ringer's dance to gather his little flock together from whatever corners of our huge schoolyard they had gone to play. The school covered well over an acre of ground. Now children being the smart alecs they usually are, would wait until Hoolie went to ring the bell. Four or five of the largest kids in both the eighth grade and fourth grade rooms would grab onto the rope. (Hoolie knew that the rope would sometimes get snagged on the roof and knot itself so he would have to pull harder to get it to move.). Hoolie would tug and pull at the rope trying to get it unstuck. The kids would hold the rope for about four or five good tugs, knowing that the next pull would be a really hard one.....sure enough, Hoolie made one last struggling attempt and pulled with all his might. The kids let go of the rope just as he pulled and the bell would spin round and round on its frame, caterwalling and clanging loud enough to wake the dead. Another job well done. I'm fairly certain he knew what we were doing, but he wouldn't have spoiled the game for us for the world.
Hoolie's biggest nightmare on the job was Halloween. He never knew quite what we would do, but he knew that it would be a doozie. I understand that one year, someone took a buggie apart and got it up the stairs to the 2nd floor. They then led a horse in and hitched it up. I'm not sure what made him madder---having to get the darned thing back down or slipping on the road apples that the unhappy horse left from one end of the hallway to the other Thankfully, it did not bolt and take off down the halls or stairs before being discovered.
One other thing they did to him requires a description of the building. The front stairs into the building were covered by a free-hanging concrete roof. It was a flat slab of concrete and really heavy. It's weight held it to the side of the building and it was hung on huge chains. Under no circumstances should anyone ever have gone out and stood on that thing because it could tip and drop you two stories to the ground. On the year in question, the high school Seniors decided it was their turn to do the prank. Hoolie came in the next day and discovered they had somehow managed to take apart an entire classroom and move it out onto that slab without tipping the slab, but the weight load was way too heavy for the chains. Even without the addition of Hoolie's aged body, the slab was groaning from the weight and threatening to pull loose from its tether. After much thought and consideration and in fear that we would have a tragedy, Hoolie managed to slowly drag the pieces closest to the building back in through the window. He continued in this manner until he could reach them no furter. We all watched with our hearts in our throats as that man crept out on the ledge, risking life and limb to ensure that none of us would be harmed should the chains give way, and we held our breath as those last couple of pieces were pulled in until he finally crawled back in the window, white-faced and obviously shaken. That was the last prank ever played on Hoolie while I was there.
I have one last memory of the man as we moved to California shortly after that. One of my classmates was routund to say it politely. She was always being teased about her weight. Our old bathrooms were on the upper floor and held the old antiquated plumbing from around the turn of the century. The toilet tanks hung high on the wall and flushed with a pull chain. You got doused when you flushed unless you moved fast enough. it was also a great place from which to unroll the toilet paper on a good windy day with the full knowledge that it would wrap itself neatly round the branches of the superintendant's lovely big back yard tree. The sinks were in another section and the pipe were so old, they were just about to come off the wall. On that day, one of the sinks finally gave up the ghost and tore loose from the wall. I jokingly suggested to Rosalie that she sit on the sink and put it out of its misery. She gave me a dirty look and said even she was not that stupid, at which point, she turned around and absent-mindedly did just that, to the sound of shrieking metal and a loud crash, followed by hot and cold spraying fountains of water. I lit a shuck out of there for the classroom, with the faint sound of my classmate screaming at the top of her lungs to "Run get Hoolie, Run get Hoolie." I suppose that was mean, but I still sometimes hear her voice in my memory and remember the one time we had an indoor swimming pool that flooded the entire school and I never did tell my folks that I was the one who instigated the whole affair.
Somewhere there is a special heaven for the Hoolies of this world. I know in my heart that he is in a much better place than we made for him.