Found my elementary school adaptive P.E. teacher, Mr. Dave. But he has cancer…
I remember him coming to class with his bike shorts on; playing with the colorful parachute that came out of his duffle bag full of gym toys with my schoolmates with disabilities; crawling on the cafeteria’s carpeted floor to get to t-ball bases.
He instigated my almost first kiss with, Ben, a Jewish kid a grade below me who used a wheelchair but could walk independently. Ben kept saying “Miss me, miss me, now you gotta kiss me,” probably as we played t-ball or some other game involving tagging. So Mr. Dave put him in a headlock and encouraged me to kiss him.
I got into the headlock and kissed Ben’s nose, but told everyone I kissed him. Nobody believed Ben when he said that I didn’t. Ben and I rode the bus from Skokie together to our school in Northbrook. He lived behind the SAS Shoe Store. We lost touch when he transferred to his Skokie school once laws changed and Skokie schools became accessible to us. I stayed at the Northbrook school until my family moved my 5th grade year.
Anyway, back to Mr. Dave.
I remember he gave a talk on eating healthy to all my classmates in my grade. It felt odd seeing him with my abled-body classmates instead of in my adaptive gym class. He mentioned how his brother only chewed meat, which sounds like me. When he asked what we ate, my friend answered seaweed, probably thinking this was the smart, healthy answer that would stump him. I don’t remember his reply.
He was the only person to get me to do sit-ups.
He got me in so much trouble with my mom. Instead of stickers, he’d stamp our hands. My mom thought this’d put me on the road to getting tattoos, and got mad at me every time I came home with stamped hands.
Before 4th grade, I used a manual wheelchair. Mr. Dave pushed me on the school’s then brand new wheelchair accessible playground, for which I gave my first public speech covered by local media.
He tried getting my parents to buy me kneepads, which didn’t work. I bet they didn’t want me crawling on the floor, ‘No daughter of ours…” I still crawled and just got rug burn.
He convinced my parents to send me to an overnight summer camp that his wife, Peggy, ran for kids with disabilities; I bet that was hard with my overprotective parents, with whom I had never been apart from at that time. I went for two summers before we moved, during which his youngest son annoyed the ants out of me—the first of the overly obnoxious male species I’d put up with.
But I had fond memories of Peacock camp—grabbing my wheelchair brake handle like a mic and singing “Oh My Darling, Clementine” at the top of my lungs (my music teacher would’ve been proud, hopefully), making new friends and frenemies, watching ’60s movies I would’ve never heard of, wearing my Tea Rose perfume everywhere to the point a counselor said she could smell it all over the pool and long after I left, winning the fastest pee-er award, and not knowing any better than to wear Hawaiian Tropic Tanning Oil for the coconut fragrances but still not burning since the sun and ozone were healthier back then. I wrote my first not-for-school story, maybe making up how the camp was haunted, for the camp newsletter.
My sister still complains that she never went to camp. But then again, she didn’t have someone like Mr. Dave in her corner.
I don’t think I was ever the teacher’s pet, but Mr. Dave liked me enough to try talking my parents into moving to his neighborhood. What adaptive gym teacher wouldn’t like a competitive tomboy who crawled on the floor? I take that back, my 8th grade adaptive gym teacher and I clashed heads…a lot. Guess Mr. Dave was a hard act to follow. Gym class would never be the same without him! Mr. Dave’s class was the only time I crawled at school.
NOTE: I never know how much of my childhood memories are accurate and my former teachers don’t always appreciate what I remember, but hopefully that’s not the case here.