Ridgewood 2: First Boarding
by Gil Osgood

Written 10 November 1997

[This is the second installment of three recalling my experiences at Ridgewood. The first installment was sent out months ago and I didn't expect such a long delay before I sent out the second part but here it finally is.
(And here's the third installment.)]
I first went into boarding in the fall of 1949 when I was in first standard. The time was chosen because my sister Lu was going to graduate from high school in November of that year and my mother thought my first experience of being away from home would be easier if I still had my last sibling around to look out for me. About a week before my mother was to go back to the plains, she walked down from Zigzag just as school was getting out and took me down to Ridgewood to look around. She showed me the playground, the dining rooms and the dorms and so a few days later when I walked down to Ridgewood to stay for the first time, I was filled with confidence. All was well until I got into bed that night in the third floor attic dorm where the smallest boys stayed and the young Anglo Indian matron, Dolly, turned out the lights. Then I started to get scared and homesick. Dick Smith, who was one of my two best friends, was in the next bed. He was an old hand, having been in boarding a week already, and he tried to comfort me but somehow we both ended up crying.

Things soon got better as I began to learn the ropes at Ridgewood. One of my first lessons took place in the dining room when someone sitting next to me chanted "Gilly, Gilly strong and able, keep your elbow off the table!" while simultaneously grabbing my forearm and slamming the offending joint into the table top. This behavior was tolerated and perhaps even encouraged by the teacher on duty so I was soon on the lookout for other young offenders on whom I could retaliate.

I also quickly learned that the highlight of each week was the arrival of the cake wallah. I watched reverently as he set his tin trunk on the ground, opened it and removed the upper tray to reveal the second layer of wonderfully delicious cupcakes. The allowance, in those days, was four annas a week for boys my age. This was enough for exactly two cupcakes so this became the most agonizing choice of the week. Chocolate eclairs soon regularly became one of my two selections but the second choice continued to be agonized over, week after week. There were also treats sent from home and kept in an almirah in the dining room from whence they were dispensed once a day. I remember particularly the pleasure of sucking sweetened condensed milk out of a can that was always part of my stash.

I had only been in boarding for three weeks when both Dick and I ended up in Landour Community Hospital. The third floor was just being added and we were put in a room in the east end since the west end of that floor was still unfinished. The nurse in charge was a tyrant who made it clear that terrible things would happen if we left our room to go down the hall to the bathroom without first ringing the bell in our room and getting her permission. One of the occupants of the room next to ours was Ken Bonham (Robert John's older brother) who was then a sophomore in high school. He had found a piece of metal amongst the left over building scraps in the unfinished part of the floor and he discovered that if he banged it on the end of his bed it made a sound very like the ringing of his bell. This would bring the nurse, who could not tell which room the bell had rung in, and she would ask if he had rung his bell to which he would answer quite honestly that he had not. After a few repetitions of this the nurse decided she was not going to answer any bells in our area of the building. This created a terrible dilemma for me when I rang and rang my bell to get permission to go to the bathroom and no one came. Knowing that wetting the bed was also forbidden the best solution I could come up with was to use the corner of the room. The nurse was not at all impressed by my ingenuity when she discovered what I had done. Fortunately, my big sister showed up to defend me before serious bodily harm could be done. My sister also showed up at the hospital a couple of days later to help me celebrate my eight birthday.

I was back at Ridgewood in time for Sports Day, where I competed in the giant stride race, an event in which little boys had to walk down the 100 yard dash track taking very large steps and moving as fast as possible. I had never seen a track before and knew nothing about staying in lanes. The race started with my sister and her friends standing at the finish line and cheering wildly for me. In the excitement I swerved out of my lane and discovered that I was blocked by a solid line of bodies in front of me. I still think I could have won the race, instead of coming in last, if only the other competitors had gotten out of my way.

Halloween was celebrated at Ridgewood just a few days after Sports Day. I had never heard of this holiday before and I was quite intrigued by dunking for apples in a tub in the dining room. I also remember wanting badly to listen to the ghost stories that one of the teacher's was telling in his room. The only problem was that this teacher had wired his door knob so it would give anyone touching it a mild shock and I couldn't figure out how to get in. I have memories of catching glimpses inside the room when older kids managed to get the door open by insulating their hands with their coats but I can't recall if I ever got in myself.

My sister's high school graduation took place in Parker Hall at the end of November and, since my parents lived too far away to come, I was the only member of the family who could attend. I almost didn't make it either because I had a hard time convincing the teacher on duty at Ridgewood that, I, an eight year old, had a sister who was graduating. But I was determined to go to see my sister who had rescued me from the wicked nurse, cheered for me when I ran last, and generally looked out for me, and I finally got there, late, but in time to see her get her diploma.

I was only in boarding for two months that year but it seemed like forever to an eight year old boy before Going Down Day finally came. I was fascinated by the trunks accumulating on the Ridgewood veranda, all sorted into stacks by party. Names like the Delhi party, the Nagpur party, the Bombay party, the Punjab party, and my own Calcutta party, still seem magical to me. I remember making the long walk to Kincraig and riding the stomach churning bus down to Dehra Dun. Then we rode the train for two days to Calcutta, where my parents met me and my sister. We stayed overnight at Lee Memorial and then loaded down with the supplies and Christmas gifts my parents had bought in Calcutta we got on the train again heading south. We were no longer on an express train and it took most of the day to go the 110 miles to our stop in the little town of Jaleswar.

From there, we had a two mile walk, along a road that paralleled the railway tracks until we reached a village where there was a boatman who could take us across the river to our jeep. Then we drove the remaining seven miles, racing along at 20 miles an hour, to our bungalow in the little village of Hatigarh. I was home from my first experience of boarding school.

Sent - Date: Mon, 10 Nov 1997. From: Gil Osgood. Subject: Ridgewood - first boarding
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