Janet Sheridan: Peaches on the apple tree
March 30, 2011
We sat in scarred wooden desks nailed to the floor that creaked whenever Mrs. Pulsipher, hugely pregnant, walked the aisles to check our work. Lately, the floors didn't complain much; with maternity leave approaching, our teacher mostly sat at her desk, ate soda crackers, and burped.
We sang an April Fools' song, admiring the colorful construction-paper umbrellas and fat raindrops that danced around the classroom in anticipation of April showers.
Hoping to postpone our spelling test, we begged to sing the song again. Mrs. Pulsipher plucked her ukulele, burped, and began: "Look out the window, what do you see? Peaches on the apple tree. I fool you; you fool me. This is April Fools' day."
Does anyone get excited about April 1st anymore? Or has the fun of fooling others faded because no candy is involved?
When I was young, we warily boarded the bus on April Fools', alert to any scam. If tricked, we chanted: "Up the ladder, down the tree. You're a bigger fool than me." But even I knew a silly rhyme didn't even the score when Blake Huff loosened the lid on the saltshaker before passing it along.
All day, we'd try to catch one another with obvious ploys, yelling "Mildred, look out!" then shrieking with laughter when she ducked. We claimed to see spiders in hair and flies in spaghetti. We swore the principal sent us with the scrawled note that told Johnny to report to the office "imeaditly."
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The only person who never fooled anyone was Lamont Sorenson: year after year, he repeated the tired claim that you had a booger in your nose.
As a teacher, I was on the receiving end of pranks. My fourth-graders taped the button on the handset of the room phone so it didn't pop out and connect when I answered. I repeated "hello" with increasing volume to a ringing phone several times before their giggles gave them away.
A sixth-grader offered me the grape juice he'd saved from his lunch. Fortunately, I spotted the purple puddle collecting in his hand from the tiny holes he'd poked in the bottom of the carton.
My ninth-grade students simultaneously dropped their books to the floor at a signal from their ringleader. Having experienced the trick before, I retained my composure and trumped them, exclaiming, "Oh, sorry I'm late," and dropped a dictionary.
Then we all laughed.
One year, a colleague at Hyrum Elementary, Rich Roberts, executed a gag that amused the entire school. Rich epitomized professional dress and careful grooming: white shirt, coat and tie, creased slacks, polished shoes, hair only on his head, and every one in place.
The morning of April 1st, he stopped to talk with the grandmotherly school secretary after he collected his mail. In mid-chat, she reached out to perfect his splendor by removing a stray thread from his lapel. She tugged and tugged; the thread grew longer and longer; her jaw dropped lower and lower.
Rich had used a needle to pull an inch of a yard-long thread through his lapel, letting the rest droop inside his jacket—until some helpful soul decided to remove it. All day, staff, students, and parent-helpers tried to clean him up and then felt foolish as those who'd already seen the prank whooped.
Years later and in a school hundreds of miles away, I tried the same trick. No one took the bait. Evidently a stray thread didn't look out of place on me.
Last year, I walked bleary-eyed from the bedroom into the kitchen just as Joel yelled, "Janet, bring something quick. I've spilled coffee all over the carpet."
Picturing a large brown stain on our off-white carpet, I groped for sponges and cleansing agents and grumbled my way toward my gesticulating husband, wondering how he upended his coffee this time, and heard: "April Fool!"
On second thought, I'm glad the April 1st tradition has faded. I'm too old for such fun.