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Back in 1969-70, when I was a second-year schoolteacher with a mustache, a tie and a grin, my class had a dog.
His name was Knuckles.
He belonged to Eric.
It all started on the first day of fifth grade at Norwood Elementary School in Port Jefferson Station.
The kids were all washed and waiting excitedly to enter their new classroom, Room 106.
The room had two doors, one to the hallway and one to an outside courtyard.
Some kids waited at that door.
Eric was one of them.
Knuckles, a light-brown mutt, followed Eric to school on that first day, probably not realizing that summer was over.
When the kids entered, it just didn't seem right to leave Knuckles all alone, so I invited him into class. The kids were excited -- first-day energy, plus a dog in class!
They gave him water, lunch snacks and took turns petting him.
He got lots of attention.
Knuckles came back with Eric the next day.
And the next.
And the next.
And every day.
No one ever wheezed.
After a few weeks, the excitement of having Knuckles in the class wore off. He was just our class dog. I never even asked the principal, a laid-back sort, and he never raised a fuss.
Knuckles always came in through the courtyard door because we couldn't have a dog walking through the hallways.
If he got impatient before school, Knuckles would scratch his paws against the frosty Plexiglas window so I'd know he was ready for school, even if Eric was still out on the playground.
One amazing day, Eric was absent but Knuckles scratched at the window and entered the class.
That convinced us for sure that he was our class dog.
Around noon, he ate stuff the kids donated from their lunchboxes, including a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwich crusts. Peanut butter was allowed in school then.
We'd open the courtyard door and he'd relieve himself.
When the class went to gym, music or art, we'd close the hallway door and Knuckles would sleep. He didn't attend assemblies either.
The year went pretty much that way.
In the spring, it was time for class pictures. The kids came to school all combed up. The photographer lined up the kids according to height.
The class vote was to have Knuckles in the picture.
I said, "Absolutely not! I refuse to have a naked dog in the picture."
Robert volunteered his tie for the cause.
Well, OK. As long as he wore a tie, I let Knuckles be in the picture.
He was short, so the kids put him in the front row, next to Eric.
That's how the year went.
One day Knuckles didn't show up at our door.
Eric entered the class crying.
We all knew.
Reader Bruce Stasiuk lives in Setauket.