Science Experiments Gone Awry


Why is it that life’s blackest moments seem to be the most vivid in one’s memory?  Such impressions march loud and clear-never fading, as one grows older.   Many of us in school in the 1930’s can relive (without even trying) a long ago catastrophe in chemistry class.


Charles Gaston, our teacher, believed in the hands-off approach to education; so he dealt out supplies and directions and then retreated to his office while students worked in the lab.


Donna Belle MacIntire was my working partner.  She was a large boned, no nonsense sort, whose mission in life was to always be first in everything.  Because of her aggressiveness we were the first to receive our Bunsen burners, glass flasks and hoses.   We were the first to finish every experiment and the first to gain an “A” in performance.  It was possible to feel the waves of resentment toward us as she put together chemicals and I wrote down the results in our notebooks.  We worked at long tables; facing another team, with a sink between us.


One morning, we had our experiment going merrily along when one of the two boys we faced curled his lip and muttered something about women having no place in a lab.  Then, he turned on the faucet full blast.  A tremendous splash ensued turning the words I had just written into little black waterfalls.


Donna Belle was instantly on the table arms outstretched reaching for the throats of our schoolmates.  In her onslaught, she overturned our experiment and propelled the boy’s tubing, burners and instructions up in the air.   In seconds their experiment lay crushed on the floor.


Another team, in the back of the room, heard our yelps and craned to pinpoint what had happened, while knocking over their own equipment.   Mr. Gaston popped out of his office and yelled some words we were forbidden to say and Miss Barney, from the English department next door, rushed in demanding to know what happened.   None of us answered as we were overtaken with coughing and gagging fits-even though the windows were open.


School was immediately dismissed, however, none of us said anything to our parents about the sudden vacation.   I was sure we were the lowest of worms and I thought Donna Belle must have thought the same way too, but since there was no investigation I found out I was wrong.


One day after school, Donna Belle jubilantly said, “I guess nobody but us ever closed down the school before making chlorine gas!”


Donna Belle was first again.


Mary Elizabeth Mruzik

Pacific, Missouri