Places I’ve Played

Feb. 17, 2011

‘The Waterfalls’

By Bill Skiff

From the 1930s to the 1960s Jeffersonville, Vt. had a waterfall not seen by many people. Only half of our school population ever saw it, while the other half never knew it existed,
The waterfalls were in the basement of Cambridge High School: three vertical marble slabs, each 5-by-2 feet. A ½ inch pipe at the top of the slabs was full of holes. Water flowed out the holes over the top of the marble slabs. At the bottom was a tin trough that directed the water down the drain. We boys called it “The Waterfalls.” It wasn’t natural but it served nature well – the waterfalls were our urinals.

This special feature played a vital part in the initiation of freshmen boys. It went like this: our study hall ran the full length of the second floor of the school, and was wide-open. When you entered, the entire student body could see you. When a freshman boy raised his hand in study hall, asking to go to the boys’ bathroom in the basement, a senior boy would do the same. Then when the freshman boy approached the waterfalls the senior would move in and stand beside him.

At just the right moment the senior would place his hand in the middle of the freshman’s back and gently push him forward so his pants hit the waterfalls – leaving a round wet spot on the front of his pants. As the senior disappeared, the freshman was left standing with the realization that he was going to have to go back to the study hall with the front of his pants all wet. No time to dry; he knew the study hall teacher was waiting for him, and time was running out. It was a dirty trick but if you had ever witnessed a freshman returning to study hall, you would agree it was worth it. I know because I stood in both boys’ shoes.

Sometime in the 1960s, when Cambridge High School was changed to an elementary school, I paid a visit and walked down to see the old waterfalls one more time. It ran no more. In fact the boys bathroom had been converted into a “Speech and Language Lab.” I thought that was appropriate because it was in that room where all of us guys practiced our swearing (well, language is language).

The Perfect Essay was written on a spring day at Cambridge High School:
“Upon entering the classroom, my friend Dick’s English teacher, Mrs. Westman, asked his class to write an essay about a sporting event. They just had to witness the event, not play in it. The assignment was to explain what they saw.

The class began in earnest to accomplish the task – all except, Hoyt. He spent the period gazing out the window and tapping his pencil on his desk. With five minutes left, Mrs. Westman  said to Hoyt, ‘young man, you have five minutes to put something down on your paper or you are going to fail this course, and I will see you again next year.’ Hoyt sat a minute longer, scribbled something on his paper and handed it in.

The next day, Mrs. Westman told the class she was going to read Hoyt’s paper. She stated that it was a fine example of creative thinking, use of language, and getting right to the point. Mrs. Westman had awarded Hoyt an A for his effort. Then, she read his paper: ‘rain, no game.’”
Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at