Tales
Ridgewood 3: Not a Chut anymore
by Gil Osgood

Written 2 May 1998

[ The first installment and the second installment of three recalling my experiences at Ridgewood.]
I was already homesick that evening in early March of 1953 when my parents delivered me to the train at Howrah station in Calcutta that would take me back to Woodstock. I had not had to go into boarding for a whole year while we were in the States in 1952 but now I was going back again. I was armed with the usual stack of comics that my parents had bought for me to ward off the tears but a new distraction unexpectedly presented itself. There were two new boys my age on the train. Their names were David Sorley and David Chance and they had never been to Ridgewood before. For two days and two nights as we traveled I was the resident expert telling them what to expect in boarding school. Thus began my last two years, 5th and 6th standards, at Ridgewood.

Miss Meany was our dorm matron during those years and I think I assumed, perhaps a bit unfairly, that her name reflected her disposition. One day we boys invented a game in which we gathered dirt in our handkerchiefs out on the playground and flung them up into the air enveloping ourselves in clouds of dust. Don't ask me why this was so much fun. We were, after all, only 11 or 12 years old. Unfortunately breathing all that dust had an unfortunate side effect. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like my throat had almost swollen shut and that I could barely force air into my lungs. Very frightened I got up and went and knocked timidly on Miss Meany's door. It took a lot of knocking before she finally woke up and asked me sleepily what was the matter. "I'm having trouble breathing", I said. "Go back to bed", she said, "You'll be alright until morning". "I think I'm dying", I said. At this point the door was suddenly flung open, my arm was grabbed and I was propelled across the room to where she could examine me under a light. After looking me over and listening to my breathing she assured me that my condition was not terminal and sent me back to bed.

One of the cruelties of boarding life was the hazing that went on. By some mysterious process, one boy would become the target of practical jokes and other kinds of harassment perpetrated by a small group of the other boys. Once, all of Danny Fritschle's belongings were piled in his bed under the covers. Mr. Allen, supervisor of Ridgewood, tried to make us squeal on the culprits but nobody would talk. Finally, he decreed that everyone in the 5th standard dorm would get strapped. We proceeded in a line through his quarters on the second floor of Ridgewood and one by one bent over while he swatted us with his doubled up belt. It soon became obvious that he had a very good idea who the miscreants were because they got more and harder blows than anyone else. This is the only instance of corporal punishment I can remember at Woodstock.

One of my favorite activities in those years were the chestnut fights that took place in the fall. We would climb to the top of the hill where the best chestnuts grew near the abandoned British Army hospital. We would select the largest and toughest looking nuts, peal them and then allow them to dry. Then we would drill a hole through them, thread a shoelace through the hole and then tie a knot at the end of the lace. One boy would hold his nut dangling in mid air while another would take a swipe at it with his nut. The fight was won when someone's nut broke in half. One win over a fresh nut made your nut a "one year warrior", two wins a "two year warrior" and so on. But if you defeated a veteran nut you got to add all of its years to your chestnut so your "three year warrior" on defeating a "five year warrior" would become an "eight year warrior".

We had other entertainments as well. For a while we were all engaged in experiments in ESP which probably laid the ground for my later skepticism of all things paranormal or supernatural. Every Friday night we were allowed to tell ghost stories while lying in bed after lights out. I remember making up a series of tales featuring an evil strand of wire that went around attacking people. Apparently boys that age have no standards because everyone seemed to listen raptly. Perhaps it was better than the alternative of just going to sleep!

Our Ridgewood days ended in 1955 when we moved over to the Hostel for standard 6B. We were back to being chuts again after our year of being at the top of the heap. I was still too young to realize that this is one of life's recurring patterns.

Sent - Date: Sat. 2 May 1998. From: Gil Osgood. Subject: Ridgewood 3
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