“I See Dead People!”: Worst Field Trip Ever
Breathe in deeply. Smell that? Smells good, doesn’t it.
That’s the smell of hands-on learning.
Which curiously enough smells a lot like school bus exhaust.
Because it’s that time again! It’s time to go on class field trips, everyone!
Yes, it’s time to pack a brown bag lunch and choose a hand-holding partner.
It’s time to collect pond algae, tour the honey factory and see a bill become a law.
And it’s time to visit the site of a hanging and gawk at mangled corpses.
This was my class field trip. I was 9.
I grew up in rural Nebraska with few options for educational sightseeing. We could go to a cattle feedlot. We could visit a nursing home. We could tour the town Dairy Corner and learn how to make the swirly thing form on top of the ice cream.
Or we could go see dead people. Because we had plenty of those lying around.
First our class heard some historical background. It was the Olden Days. Way back. And the cattle ranchers and the homesteaders were all up in each other’s business. A few of the cattle ranchers said that two of the homesteaders took a few of their cows. Their names were Mitchell and Ketchum.
Which we unanimously changed to Mustard and Ketchup.
Of course we did.
So the cattle ranchers decided to take matters into their own hands, because after all this was the Olden Days. A gun fight ensued, naturally, and the cattle ranchers kidnapped and hung Mustard and Ketchup from a tree. Or maybe that was later.
Because then it gets worse. Because then somebody had the grand idea of setting them on fire. I don’t think they were dead yet. I can’t remember that part. I don’t want to anyway. And then after all of this, people took pictures of the corpses for gawking purposes because people back in the Olden Days always took pictures of the corpses for gawking purposes because everyone in the Olden Days wanted everyone in the Modern Days to look back and think that life back in the Olden Days must’ve really, really sucked.
Because it really, really did.
But right before we left for our trip, we had to pass around the historical book with the pictures of the mangled corpses.
And then our entire 3rd grade class trekked 23 miles to the town where it all went down. We got to see the infamous tree where Mustard and Ketchup were hung. We got to see a headstone or two. And we got to see an old house with bullet holes.
And then, while looking at the old house with bullet holes, the woman who lived there (I’ll call her Betty) thought she should talk about the murder part again and that it would be nice to pass around the historical book again with the pictures of the mangled corpses. Did everyone get to see it? Did you get to see it? Make sure everyone gets to see it. And then it was suddenly getting to be all too much for me to handle and I was on the brink of tears and I started feeling sick to my stomach from the intensity of everything I was witnessing.
So I did what any normal kid would do while on the brink of her own psychological demise.
I heckled Betty.
As Betty went to hand off the book, I yelled, “Oh, no! Not that book again! Not right before lunch!” Which was answered by some approving snickers.
My teacher, who was as terrifying as an Olden Days cattle rancher, shot a look back at me with her dead, creepy eyes and then took off on a rant that made a turn of the century mangled corpse seem adorably harmless.
“YOU! Go sit on the bus! NOW! YOU! Go sit on the bus! NOW! YOU!” Index finger pointing. Head vein pulsing. Kids’ mouths gaping. The works.
I’d never been a “Go sit on the bus!” kid. Never. Ever. Not even once. So I just stood there in shock. Completely frozen. I wasn’t moving unless she made me. Which posed a problem. Should she pick me up? Should she drag me there? Should she hang me from a tree? But not before she set me on fire?
Perhaps due to the nature of our field trip, she let me live. It would be inappropriate otherwise.
So she finished me off with, “Alright, then you better SHAPE UP!” Index finger pointing. Head vein pulsing. Kids’ mouths gaping. The works.
And then we got to look at the pictures of the mangled corpses again.
It may be unnecessary to explain my upset — but I’d like to point out that turn of the century photographs, with a special emphasis on those depicting human peril, just so happen to be on my Top Five Worst Visual Nightmares list — which would easily beat out (5.) Porcelain Dolls and (4.) Abandoned Warehouse Mannequins and even (3.) Cymbal-Bashing Monkeys, though probably not (1.) Rasputin due to the obvious fact that he also resided in the turn of the century and was pretty much the personification of Satan.
So I’m talking that level of upset.
Following the infamous Mustard and Ketchup field trip, I had nightmares for weeks upon weeks and kept a light on in the hallway while I slept. At one point I believed Mustard and Ketchup had actually wandered into my bedroom, were standing by me at eye level, an elbow against my mattress, and telling me how they really liked my bunk bed. Was I using the bottom bunk? It sure didn’t look like I was. Could they rest a while? They’d had an awfully hard day. Which was already apparent to me because they were missing limbs.
And so the Mustard and Ketchup tragedy would make its mark in my own history book — as one of the most horrendous forms of school-sponsored torture ever experienced in my young life. In fact, on a Top Five School-Sponsored Tortures list, it would fall just after (1.) Forced Group Showers in Junior High Gym Class. Though well ahead of (5.) Senior Term Paper, (4.) Cat Dissection and (3.) Mandatory Speech Class.