The odyssey of a stool in the school

From the Eclectic Mind of Roger VanHaren
By: 

Roger VanHaren

Many years ago — probably 55? — in the early days of my teaching career, I found an old wooden stool the janitors at the junior high were throwing away because one of the legs and two of the cross-pieces had fallen apart. I rescued the stool and re-glued it. That stool became a permanent part of my classroom furnishings for the rest of my career.

But that’s not the end of the story. When Beaver Dam Area Community Theatre did its first production of “Godspell” in 1977, one of the props people asked if they could use my stool in the show. Well, why not? They asked if I cared if they painted it (it was a natural shade of oak). Well, sure. So when I got the stool back after the show, it was very colorful – yellow, green and orange. Very “Godspell-y.” But that was OK. It gave it character.

Then, when the community theater group did a reprise of “Godspell” in 1989, the stool got a callback and underwent a new iteration. This time, the stool came back with a new coat of day-glow orange, yellow, pink and green. But that was OK. More character.

Now I need to digress for a little bit. Because the story will not be complete unless you know about this.

Sometime in the late ’60s or early ’70s, I found what I thought was a great poster. It showed an orange stool and the saying: “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.” That poster became a permanent part of my classroom furnishings also.

Why would an English teacher have such a non-grammatical poster on display? Well, why not? Some pretty sophisticated writers have adopted an unsophisticated style for their message, sometimes with a self-deprecating effect to get the reader in the right mood. I taught writing and I liked the idea of “style” that the poster suggested.

Back then, when I first got the poster, you couldn’t just go to Google to find sources for quotations, but I knew that Winnie the Pooh had said, “S0metimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.” Many years later, when I was able to go to the internet, I found out that Henry David Thoreau had also used the quotation. Thoreau was a sophisticated man, but was willing to speak the common language in a common way to get his point across to common men and women. So maybe A.A. Milne stole it from Thoreau?

I also found references to a very old cartoon featuring a vicar’s wife talking to a rustic old man laid up by an injured foot. Vicar’s wife: Now that you can’t get about and are not able to read, how do you manage to occupy the time?

Rustic man: Well, mum, sometimes I sits and thinks and then again I just sits.

Digression over. The story of the stool continues.

One day, in the mid-’90s, I came into my classroom at Wayland Academy, and my stool was missing. I asked the janitors if they knew anything about its whereabouts. Nothing. I asked the director of the school play if they’d borrowed it for their production. (After all, it already had a storied career on the stage!) But, no.

So, I’d pretty much made up my mind that it was gone. Oh, well. It was just a stool.

Then one day a couple of weeks later, I walked into my classroom and there it was, wearing a bright new coat of orange paint. Printed in a circle around the seat of the stool was, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.” And on the underside of the seat, all of the students in my Junior Honors class had signed their names. What a neat surprise.

There’s just one chapter left in the odyssey of the stool. After I retired, the stool got relegated to a spot in the storage area of our basement. When we decided to downsize, we had a garage sale, and I decided I really had no more use for it, so I put in the sale. A former student came to the sale and bought it – as a “remembrance” of me. How cool is that? I’m not sure where it is now.

So ends the odyssey of a stool.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.