by John Hall

I remember the day I started High School and met a completely new set of teachers. In Public School the teachers rarely changed and after eight years of the same old faces, going to High School was something I looked forward to. Perhaps we would meet a whole new cast of characters who might be more interesting than the last bunch. As it turned out, there were several real characters in the teaching staff at Port Hope High, but try as I might I remember few of them. Those I can recall are; Mr Brackenbury, Miss Hammond, Miss Foy, Miss Wilson, Mr Bigelow and Mr Mumby. Each left me with something to guide me and were role models I followed when I went into the world. They were of course, dedicated teachers, but they were also friends I could go to when I needed help and I often did.

George Brackenbury was the Principal when I started in Port Hope High School, but he didn't teach students in the lower forms. I was however, to meet him early in my first year and he taught me a lesson in a way that told me he understood boys and knew the temptations they sometimes faced. He made me feel I cheated myself, but could correct my mistakes if I really tried. He also taught me I was responsible for getting into trouble and I was the only one who could get myself out again. I never forgot what he did and how he did it and while I was grateful at the time, I now know that I learned a lesson which stayed with me and guided me through most of my life.

Like most young men I wanted to belong to a group and be part of the 'action'. There was a pool room on Walton Street owned by a man called Merd Perrin and most of my classmates learned the fine art of snooker, billiards, pink ball and skittles on Merd's tables. He was very strict and would allow no yelling, swearing or other bad behavior and his pool room was always clean and well run. Perhaps if Merd's 'emporium' had been a joint I wouldn't have found it as attractive as I did, but I enjoyed playing pool and Merd's was a place where we could play in a relatively good atmosphere. I started to find the game a challenge and almost addictive and I kept going back every time I could afford to play.

In early June, near the end of my first year, I found it difficult to sit in a hot humid classroom and listen to the teacher drone on about the Lady of Shallot who was no doubt a noble old girl, but didn't do a thing for me on a hot day. I just wanted out of there and the thought of a relaxing game of pool in Merd Perrin's cool poolroom kept getting bigger and bigger in my mind. I could almost feel the breeze from one of his large fans cooling me and I could close my eyes and see the green of the table before me. I had to leave, the thought of Merd's place was just too much to bear and I waited my chance. My cousin who sat next to me, was also bathed in sweat and nodded his head when I passed him a note which said, "Want to sneak out and go down to Merd's place for a game of pool?" He read it, nodded 'yes' and pushed a note back to me saying, "How and when?" Before I had a chance to answer there was a knock on the door and the teacher was told she was wanted on the phone. As soon as she left the room, out the window we went, laughing as we ran down Pine Street on our way to the pool room. We had fooled them all, or so we thought.

We got a table, bought a coke and racked up the balls. We were in heaven, the room was cool, the Lady of Shallot forgotten and we were playing the game with the intensity of professionals. All was going well until I looked up, after making a particularly fine shot, to find myself staring directly into the eyes of George L Brackenbury, the Principal of Port Hope High School, the place where I was supposed to be, learning all about the Lady of Shallot. He smiled slightly and said, "Good shot, John, mind if I join the game?" I stammered a bit, in fact I almost choked out, "No Sir, please do." What else could I say, I knew we were for it and just waited for the blast we were sure was coming. At that moment, having him join the game seemed like a chance to make him as guilty as we were if he too played pool during school hours. The blast never came and he played the game with as much enthusiasm as we did and with much more skill. It was evident that he was a very good player and we wondered how he got to be a High School principal when he must have played a lot of pool and skipped a lot of classes to become that good. We played most of the afternoon and Mr Brackenbury stayed with us, never once mentioning the fact that we had played hookey from school. We kept waiting for the blast, yet it never came and we began to feel uncomfortable. What kind of game was Mr Brackenbury playing with us and what would our punishment be?

In time we ran out of money and told him it was time to go as he couldn't afford to play any longer. He thought for a minute and said, "I know a place where we can go and it won't cost us a cent. I belong to the Country Club and we can go there." He took us out to his car and we drove to the Golf Club where he parked and took us inside. We had never seen a place like that before and would never have dared to go there on our own. We were kids from the wrong side of the tracks, knew we didn't belong and would probably be thrown out. Mr. Brackenbury told us to wait a moment, went inside and returned in a few minutes and said, "OK boys, a table is free now and we can go in and play." We followed him into a billiard room which was unbelievably plush, large, quiet, cool and had class. I didn't believe that such places existed and yet there it was before me. "Come on boys, rack them up and let's start" said Mr Brackenbury and we played for about two hours. At the end of the game he took us on a tour of the Golf Club and showed us how the 'other half' lived. It was impressive and for the first time I realized that there were finer things in life and while the game of pool was basically the same, the atmosphere in which it was played could vary widely. Just as I was lost in thought Mr Brackenbury said, "I hope you like what you see boys, and will try to move up in life so you too can join Clubs like this and enjoy their facilities. You can do it, but it will take a lot of hard work and a good education will certainly help in finding a job that will not only pay well, but will help you in becoming a respected citizen who will be asked to join organizations who have places like this. Playing pool at Merd's place is OK and Merd is a good man, but you two have the ability to go as far in life as you want. The question is how far do you want to go, Merd's pool Room or the Country Club?" I knew then that Mr Brackenbury was telling us that skipping school would hurt our education and if we continued, we would never play pool in the Country Club.

I never skipped school again, but I did get that education and played pool in some very fine places, and for that I want to thank George Brackenbury, who took the time to care.