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Mel's Musings: April Fool

Mel Olson
Mel Olson

When I was hired to teach at Mitchell High School in 1982, I was the only new MHS teacher and as such was the sole subject of good-natured hazing.

MHS was a 10-12 high school then (without the building addition on the west wing where the science and math rooms are now) with 1,100 students in round figures, compared to the 750ish 9-12 we have now. Those numbers, combined with students switching out of classes of an unpopular history teacher in his last year of teaching before retirement into mine, meant my smallest class was 33 students.

We got “drop-add” slips of paper then with names of new students and my mailbox was full of them. I was so furious I couldn’t see straight, my classes were already overflowing. I called the roll, announcing these added students’ names angrily; May O’Clinic, Orson Buggy, Manuel Transmission etc. The swarm of sweating students crammed into room 200 stared at me but didn’t say anything utilizing a wise “never interrupt a raving maniac in mid-rant” philosophy. It was a joke by my more experienced colleagues of course. I was just too irate to recognize all the “punny” names.

They also gave me a message to call notoriously difficult parents. Anxiously, I dialed the number. It turned out to be the phone company’s time and temperature service, which existed back then, and as I faked a conversation I scanned the room to see which coworker looked guilty of this latest hoax. There were many other pranks and scams I endured that first year. It was a long year, in more ways than one.

The origins of April Fool’s Day are obscure but many believe it began when France switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The New Year used to begin on April 1 and those who didn’t make the jump to the new date of January 1 and still celebrated in April had a paper fish placed on their backs, which signified a gullible person (an easily caught fish) often without the person being aware of it. “April Fish” morphed over time into “April Fool’s.”

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When I was in the Legislature there was a “Wives’ Club,” very few legislators were women so husbands didn’t really enter into the picture. There were a variety of activities for the spouses of legislators but once a year they baked cookies and other treats for their hard working lawmaker husbands. My wife isn’t a feminist per se but she isn’t a “Wives’ Club” person either so for her contribution she baked chocolate covered cotton balls. I dutifully took them along and laid them next to the other (delicious) confections. Mike Rounds, now U.S. Senator but S.D. State Senate Majority Leader then, picked one up. I told him NOT to eat it. He asked why, was my wife a bad cook? I told him no, Julie’s a great cook but also a diabolical joker and explained about the chocolate covered cotton balls. Mike grinned and picked up the entire tray of booby-trapped delicacies to give to the unsuspecting Republican interns. I served in the Legislature 12 years but Julie wasn’t asked to bake treats again.

My wife has placed dog treats in a serving bowl and tried to trick me into eating them. She’s offered me handfuls of bugs as if they were candy. She’s jumped out, dropped in and otherwise startled me. She’s rigged mechanical spiders to fall from the ceiling, fake bats to swoop around and more. Julie does all of this with a straight face, an innocent air and a, “Who, me?” attitude. April Fool’s Day is a national holiday as far as she is concerned. However diabolical, it can provide a bit of levity in a troubled time, as long as limits of good taste and good fun are followed. Remember what Mary Pettibone Poole said, “He who laughs, lasts.”

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