Tradition. In Miss Ralston's class the boys have always carried the water bucket. Until one day, the girls decide it's time to challenge the rule. .. The last hour of school on Friday afternoons was for Junior Red Cross.
The little kids would get out their Junior Red Cross pins and put them on and us big kids would start elbowing down the aisles to the book cupboard at the back to see who would get the interesting magazines.
There was a big pile of them and they were of two kinds: the National Geographic and the Junior Red Cross News.
Because the boys were stronger and sat near the back they usually got the National Geographics first, which meant they could spend the rest of Red Cross looking at African ladies wearing nothing on top
while us girls had to be satisfied with the Junior Red Cross News, which showed little African kids wearing lots of clothes and learning how to read.
Apart from the magazines for the big kids and maybe the teacher reading a story to the little kids, about the only other thing that happened regularly during Red Cross was picking the two boys who would carry water the next week.
And Miss Ralston, instead of saying, "Whoever heard of girls going for the water?" or, " Are you trying to be saucy, Alma?"
like any other teacher would, said nothing at all for a moment but just looked very hard at Alma, who had gone quite white with the shock of dropping such a bombshell.
After a long moment, when she finally spoke, Miss Ralston, instead of saying, "Why that's out of the question, Alma," threw a bombshell of her own: "I'll think about that," she said-as if, you know, she would-"and I'll let you know next Friday."
The trouble started right away as soon as we got into the school yard, because all the boys knew, from the moment Miss Ralston had spoken
that something of theirs was being threatened and that, as long as there was the remotest chance that any girl might get to carry the water, they had to do everything in their power to stop it.
Like driving a tractor or playing hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs, carrying water was real, and because it was real it belonged to them.
So they went right for Alma as soon as she came out of school and that was when another funny thing happened.
Instead of just standing back and watching Alma get beaten up, as we usually did when the boys were after someone, the girls rushed right in to try and help her.
In the first place we all liked Alma, and in the second place we all had seen, as clearly as the boys, what our carrying the water might mean; that, incredibly, we, too
might get to skip school for half an hour at a time, that we, too, might get to sneak into Rowsell's store on the way back and, most dizzying thought of all, that we too might get to do something real.