I found out through Facebook that one of my grade school principals died. I'm not sure exactly when he passed but I heard that his wife died within six months of his death. Mr. Gibson was a nice man.
My most vivid memory of him was the year I was seven and attended school for the first time. We were adopted the June prior and spent the entire summer learning English. My parents (the people who adopted me) wanted to place my sister and I into our age appropriate grades even though we had never been to school. My mother, who was a grade school teacher herself, had conveniently forgotten to mention to the school that this would be our debut into the education system. So she spent June, July, and August prepping us in a way that didn't betray her oversight.
Besides a mulatto boy we were the only brown kids, my sister and I, going to that school. It was 1978. Culture shock could not aptly describe what we faced in those first several months in Canada.
Every morning we boarded the school bus, lunch boxes in tow. By our stop the bus was already half full of rowdy kids, laughing and boisterous, deaf to the bus drivers shouts to "SIT DOWN!" We attracted some curious stares with our wary immigrant dispositions, me, shy and always in my sister's fearless shadow.
It didn't dawn on me that the chanting was aimed at us. On the way to and from school it was the same boys in the back of the bus whose rhythmic shouts finally caught my full attention.
"Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!"
In truth it was the wad of paper that hit me on the back of the head one day which clued me to the fact they might be shouting this at me. I had never heard the word before.
"Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!" Every morning and every afternoon.
Soon, the same boys would greet us this way on the school yard.
"Hey Paki, you stink!"
My sister and I discussed this and concluded that it most certainly was not a good thing to be called Paki.
She had made fast friends with a wonderful girl who lived down the street from us. Kathleen was beautiful and fun and very kind. But she was also very knowledgeable especially in our eyes. She told us that we needed to yell back at these boys. She even told us what to yell.
"You can't do nothing when they throw things at you either. Throw something back!"
Her words were empowering.
The next day we boarded the bus, anxious but equipped with a proper defense. The boys in the back of the bus began their chant as soon as we came into their sight.
"Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!"
"Shutup you Honkey!" we both said shakily but loud enough for them to hear.
The boys started to laugh hearing our feeble attempts to retaliate. They began wadding up paper and throwing them at us. Not backing down, my sister opened her lunch box, unwrapped her sandwich and hurled it at them. She missed the boys and hit the back window of the bus instead. The boys were giddy with this reaction and grabbed the sandwich and whipped it back. It hit me square in the face. Cheese and Miracle whip.
I bit my lip to keep from crying. My sister shoved me into a seat and grabbed the sandwich and threw it back. It became somewhat of a food fight with kids throwing all sorts of things. In the background the bus driver could be heard shouting and threatening.
"SIT DOWN! YOU'RE ALL GOING TO THE PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE WHEN YOU GET TO SCHOOL!!"
And this is when I had my first meeting with Mr. Gibson. Our conversation went something like this.
"So I heard that there was a foodfight on the bus today. Can you tell me what happened Kim?"
"The boys were calling us names and throwing things at us." I croaked shaking with fear that I had really gotten myself into big trouble if the principal was talking to me.
"What names were they calling you?" he asked gently.
"Every day they say Paki! Paki! Paki! Then they say 'You stink Paki!'"
"And so tell me what happened today. What did you say to them? It's okay, you won't get in trouble. You just tell me the truth, okay?"
"I said 'Shutup you Honkey!'"
I could tell from his reaction to this that he already knew what we had called those boys. I couldn't be a hundred per cent sure but I think that he was also trying to keep from laughing.
"Kim, can you please tell me what that means, that word you called those boys?"
"I don't know." I started to cry.
"It's okay, you're not in trouble." He came around the desk and put one arm around my shoulder. "I'm going to talk to those boys. They won't be calling you names anymore."
And sure enough the name calling stopped after that.
Mr. Gibson moved on after that year. I ended up going to highschool with his kids. I learned then that he was married to a Chinese woman and his two kids Mai Ling and Mark were biracial. I was sad to hear of his death this year.