Pauline Harte

The ghost of field trips past

Pauline Harte · April 1, 1997

True confession: I was a field trip junkie! Yessiree, climbing aboard a big, yellow school bus and grappling for space with 60 jostling, boisterous kids was a hearty slice of life that I devoured with gusto. Madcap missions on a yellow submarine! I lost count of how many times I herded my personal troupe of six or seven kids through the La Brea tar pits, the Children's Museum and the L.A. Zoo, counting heads of my baby chicks every 3.2 seconds.

But children do have a way of growing up much too fast, and as my own baby chicks entered Saugus High, I was forced to come to terms with the heart-breaking realization that my school bus soirees had come to an end. I felt like Winnie the Pooh.

Not too long ago, while walking through Valencia Town Center, I bumped into a ghost from my past life as a field trip aficionada, an apparition that was vaguely, uncomfortably familiar.

"Mrs. Harte! How are you? Wow, it's really great to see you after all these years!"

ALL these years? Already I didn't like the sound of this.

"Don't you remember me, Mrs. Harte? I was almost always with your group on all the field trips."

Field trips! The cobwebs fell away from distant, cherished memories. I recognized this ghost, this young man with a winning smile that lit up the entire food court, and I remembered how many times that rakish-yet-utterly-sincere grin had saved The Ghost from my wrath.

This ghost was my field trip nemesis. How many times did I have six or seven perfectly well-behaved angels, and The Ghost? Mischievousness was his forte. He wallowed in it like a pig in mud. And he ALWAYS seemed to be in my group.

I remember a particularly riotous and exasperating museum field trip. My group was at the far end of a huge room filled with priceless artifacts, and The Ghost set off an alarm. He had caught the attention of frowning guards twice already!

I panicked. "Run for it!" I commanded my little troupe in a terrified hiss. we loped helter-skelter past an outstandingly orderly group of Japanese students, and I could tell from the disapproving frowns on their faces that they considered this kind of disruptive behavior punishable by death. I was just about to throw The Ghost to them when I smacked into a towering museum guard. He was a perfect replica of King Kong, with a disposition to match, but somehow I was able to talk my way out of yet one more ghostly mess.

Every field trip with The Ghost was replete with hair-raising perils and pranks, and I could never understand how I almost always got stuck with The Ghost in my group year after year.

"You know, Mrs. Harte, I always asked to be in your group because you were so much fun!" Ah, a mystery solved.

"Remember the sixth grade marine biology field trip, Mrs. Harte? Wasn't it awesome?" The Ghost smiled his special smile and I suddenly understood why I never resisted his presence. I was a sucker for that Huckleberry grin!

"Yes, it certainly was awesome," I replied. "Remember how you talked our Captain into that wild bow ride? We were soaked! And we all had to ride home on that cold school bus, wet and freezing. Was that great or what?"

The Ghost was laughing, remembering. That was the Hope Diamond of all field trips, and I instinctively knew on that trip that all my baby chicks were growing up.

"Those were the best times of my life," I told The Ghost, my former nemesis. "You helped make them very special."

The Ghost smiled, and we said goodbye.

I'm grateful that I had a chance to set this memory straight, because the winsome grin of a mischievous and charming rascal has become a glowing ember that will keep my treasured field trip memories shining brightly in my heart forever.

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