Covered Wagon Carol And The Cooties

Twice every school day of 1962/63 I saved the lives of the kids from the Covered Wagon Trailer Park.This miracle occurred every time they crossed at my intersection, Waterford and Beaumont. That was a Lieutenant’s crossing; Captain Jimmy McLaren had the more prestigious and more traversed Beaumont and Mars Drive, right outside the main school building. There were no privates or sergeants in the sidewalk patrol, which, without a trace of irony, I called The Force. None of us would have joined if we’d been forced to wear geeky orange vests. No, our official status was indicated by a Sam Browne belt and a police-style badge, silver for all of us lieutenants, and gold for Captain Jimmy. If I hadn’t been too grown-up to own one, I might have strapped on a toy Colt 45, too, by way of a deterrent to jaywalking.

Captain Jimmy’s was the crossing favoured by the girl in the fluffy off-white parka with the red diamond pattern on the hem. Possibly he had no idea (and he’d better not have, neither) that he was twice daily protecting a dream princess. No, not the dream princess Agnes LaChance, with whom I opened this series of little stories, but another, similarly French-named. Because of her address, I just think of her today as My Favourite Martienne (MFM), which I admit does not trip as prettily off the tongue as her real name, but c’est la vie.

I might more profitably and less achingly have flipped for Covered Wagon Carol, but she was a little too much of this world to inspire a grand passion. My but she was funny, though; so much a natural comedienne that I unofficially changed her surname from Britnell to Burnett. Here she is a few years earlier, sailor-suited in the second row, directly behind me and in between Bobby LaFond of ‘nooperator’ fame and Diane Ooto, who lived next door to school and, I think, owned the black Lab who wanted to eat me.

Carol had a joke or two for me every time she crossed. I don’t remember any of them. I know I was cracked up by most of them; being ten years old probably helped. What I do remember, though, is the day she got serious and told me all about the Cooties.

The Cooties: A mysteriously asymptomatic and highly contagious condition, carrying a degree of social stigma, albeit only for a day or so. You caught it simply by being tagged physically and verbally (“You’ve got the Cooooooties!”) by a sufferer/carrier. You self-cured in similar fashion, but only after 24 hours had passed; not much point in being socially stigmatized if you don’t have to sleep on it at least once. You only had to have the Cooties once, and were then immune*. Do the arithmetic, and it’s plain to see that even a good-sized school would quite quickly run out of potential victims and carriers, and the Cooties would peter out. This is where the asterisk comes in.

When I asked Carol, “O Cooties, where is thy sting?” she went on to explain that your immunity did not cover infections received in pure form, directly from a progenitor. General Byng School had two progenitors: a brother/sister team. Unfortunately for them, progenitors could run around giving kids Cooties till the cows came home, but could never shake their own case, not ever. Now we’re talking real social stigma, and boy did it take, so much so that to this day I don’t know whether or not that boy and girl were able to shake it off in adulthood, let alone in the following school year or when they went off to junior high.

So, I hear you asking, how did one become a Cooties progenitor? Well, Carol wasn’t exactly sure, but thought perhaps all that was required was to have come from somewhere else: quite a trick in a brand new subdivision with a trailer park adjacent! Simpler times indeed.

This little piece was meant to include a reflection on the long-gone Covered Wagon Trailer Park, and then maybe trailer parks (which I love!) in general, sidewalk patrol days, streets named after planets, fluffy parkas and so on, and on, and on, but I’ll leave all that for the time being. Don’t want you catching what I’ve got, now do I?