The Water Fight

This is my account of the epic indoor water fight of 1989 that laid waste to Mr. Galvin’s grade 4 classroom. Enjoy

Our classroom looked like an exhibit at the BC history museum. The north wall was covered with a landscape showing the exploration of the “new world” by Europeans like Jacques Cartier. This mural was constructed using an adaptation of the Bob Ross method, whereby we staple the background elements (land, ocean, and sky) to the wall first, and then proceed to add the foreground details, including lots of happy little trees. First and backmost was a layer of light-blue wallpaper representing the sky, which stretched all the way to the ceiling. Covering the bottom half of the mural was darker blue paper representing the Atlantic ocean. Its top edge was cut into waves, and it was book-ended by two brown landmasses resembling the foothills of mountains rising out of the ocean. These brown mountains represented Canada on the left and Europe on the right.

Mr. Galvin had set up the background on his own, but he left it to the class to populate it with happy little trees and the like. The mural was littered with cut-out drawings of ships, forts, people, buildings, tee-pees, bears, and just about anything else that could possibly spawn from the imagination of a nine-year-old when provided with such a juicy blank canvas. Mr. Galvin didn’t tell us what to draw, or how to draw them. The only rule was that it had to be “appropriate”. Drawings were colored using paint, crayons, pencil crayon, and felt marker. A drawing, once approved, would be stapled to the mural by Mr. Galvin.

We started building this mural in September, and continued to develop it throughout the year. At the end of the school year we were told that they would be transporting it to some other location, like the school district offices, so that it could live on. It represented a significant amount of work, and we were all very proud of it.

On the other side of the class was a science fair exhibit which was a little less grand, but also involved lots of paper-based artwork and diagrams. The class had been split into groups of five or six for this science fair. A section of table had been allocated to each group to display their project. Most of the projects consisted of charts and diagrams glued onto some brightly colored paper. Some exhibits also included three-dimensional visual aids that had been constructed out of materials such as popsicle sticks and egg cartons.

It is relevant to the remainder of this story that neither the mural nor the science exhibits were designed to withstand water damage. It is also relevant that our classroom had a sink.

That night, the school would be hosting the annual Spring Peterson Road Carnival, but it was already set up in the gym, and classes had each been designated a time when they could come down and “preview” the carnival during the day.

It was about to be our turn.

“I expect you all to be on your best behaviour”, said Mr. Galvin with his Liverpool accent. He sounded like one of the Beatles.

After he had finished delivering his pre-carnival “expectations” speech, Mr. Galvin directed us to line up at the classroom door. Then he led us down the stairs to the gym where we were set free.

The perimeter of the gym was lined with attractions that were being operated by aspiring carnies (i.e. grade seven students and parent volunteers). They had the usual stations you would expect to find at a fair, from the fishing exhibit (where you throw your clothespin fishing rod over a sea-themed bulletin board, and hope to catch a prize), to the dunk tank (where a teacher who probably drew the short straw, sits precariously on a plank above a water tank and waits for students to throw balls at a target).

My personal favourite was the floor hockey station so that was my first stop. After a short wait, I was invited to step up to the line that had been taped onto the floor. Then the carnie handed me a plastic hockey stick, and placed a bright orange plastic puck onto the line. I dragged the puck back and forth a few times with the stick to get comfortable and looked toward the net, which was about fifteen feet away. It was blocked by a wooden piece of plywood with a hole cut out of the bottom just big enough for a puck to fit through. I released my first shot, and it thudded off the sieve, about a foot off the mark.

“Oh so close!” said the carnie. “Don’t worry, you get two more tries”. Then he set up another puck.

I don’t recall how many tries it took, but eventually I threaded the needle, and was allowed to claim a prize.

The prize vault was a plastic milk crate filled with an assortment of brightly colored plastic goodies and candies. I quickly scanned over the rings, and plastic spiders before settling on a tiny lime-green water pistol.

I completed the circuit, and then Mr. Galvin directed me to return to class. Our departure from the carnival had been staggered and, for whatever reason, Mr. Galvin was the last one to return to the classroom.

Upon my arrival, I discovered that nearly every boy in the class had also won a water pistol. There we were, a room full of nine-year-olds armed with water pistols, in a classroom that just so happened to have a bottomless supply of munitions. For a few minutes we all sat in our desks, harmless powder-kegs awaiting our teacher’s return. Then, someone lit the fuse. A single boy, I don’t remember who, walked up to the sink, and filled up his water pistol.

Then another boy did the same, and they started squirting at each other.

“They are going to be in so much trouble”, I thought, watching these two fools dueling toward certain doom.

But then another boy joined in. And another. Before long it was full-on war. Boys would be ducking behind the science table, then pop up to squirt their enemies, then duck again to avoid the return fire.

I didn’t participate right away, but every boy has his threshold beyond which the temptation to follow his friends off a cliff is irresistable. I rose from my desk, walked over to the sink, popped the cap off the top of my pistol, and ran the water over it. Once it was filled, I pushed the cap back on, and dried the gun on my pants. Then I found a corner that could be easily defended and engaged in the fire fight.

Streams of water arced through the air, splattering the mural, the chalkboard, the science table, and just about everything else in the room. Boys ran with glee around the perimeter and through the rows of desks with their pistols cocked imagining we were living in an episode of GI Joe. We even made the “pew pew” sound effects to accompany our shots.

This continued for a glorious 2 or 3 minutes before we were rudely interrupted by Mr. Galvin’s booming voice.

“What is going on here!”, he yelled with a ferocity that I had never heard from him before.

Instant silence, except for the shuffling of feet of students trying to quietly return to their desks where they could feign innocence.

“Everyone who was involved in this, come up and stand at the front of the classroom”, he continued, in a stern but more controlled tone.

One or two students rose from their desks and sheepishly walked up to the chalk board and turned around. I resisted this first alter-call, as did most of the other boys.

“That’s all?!!”, he yelled incredulously.

And that’s when the fingers started pointing. The boys who had answered the first call started calling out their co-conspirators, and a few of the conscientious objectors to the great war began reciting what they had witnessed in such great detail that there was no denying the war crimes.

Ultimately there were about fifteen of us standing up in front of the chalk board with our hands in our pockets and heads hanging in shame over what we had done.

“Hands out of pockets and stand up straight!” he ordered.

He then proceeded to admonish us for this episode. Some key themes of his speech were betrayal of trust, destruction of property, lack of respect, and responsibility. It must have been a good speech because I felt ashamed. During his tirade, I looked around the wasteland we had left behind on the battlefield. The full extent of the damage was not yet known since the water had yet to dry, but there were already many cases of felt marker drawings bleeding and smudging.

He ordered us all to detention that afternoon. I don’t think there was a single girl among us.

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