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My Big Red Couch

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Best Thing I Ever Wrote

When I was in 6th grade in Valdez, Alaska our teacher, Mrs. Reynolds, was on maternity leave and the school secretary, Mrs. Dodge, was assigned to take care of our class. In 6th grade it is easy to get your routine upset and, having followed Mrs. Reynolds through the majority of her pregnancy (and by majority I mean from when we noticed her showing, my guess is around 12 or 16 weeks, until she left to have the baby) we did not at all want Mrs. Dodge. I don’t know how long Mrs. Reynolds maternity leave lasted, probably 6 or 8 weeks, but we pulled plenty of grade-schooler tricks on Mrs. Dodge, culminating in the entire class dropping their books on floor at the stroke of 11:30 on her last day with us.

“I can’t take this anymore,” she screamed, or something to that effect. It was high drama to 6th graders. She stormed out of the room and we all sat there quizzically looking at each other as if to say, “What had we done that was so bad.” My cynical adult self wonders if it was all staged to teach us something bigger. I don’t think they were together enough to do that. It was 1980 after all and the world was so innocent then compared to now. After staring at each other in a silent eternity of about 5 minutes Principal James came in.

“Class, what you have done to Mrs. Dodge is bad, very very bad,” or something similar. “I am going to punish you collectively because you ALL did this to her. You are each going to write me a letter your actions and apologizing to Mrs. Dodge and you will not be allowed to go to lunch until you are finished. There will be no talking. There will be no more pranks. The only sound in this room will be pencils on paper.” Fascist (although I didn’t have a concept of fascism at the time). Principal James left and the acting school Secretary sat with us while we wrote.

I didn’t write. I had no idea what to write? They may have been carting Mrs. Dodge off to Harborview Medical Center for a straight jacket and some quite time but that didn’t have anything to do with any of us. We had not done anything wrong, even if we had. I was taking the moral high ground on this.

After a while Principal James came back and told us we were being dismissed for lunch. “If I could I would keep you here but Alaska State Law does not allow me to keep you from food. You will not have recess. You will eat and return.”

I walked the two blocks to my home for lunch with my Dad. I think the only times I saw my Dad when we lived in Valdez were at breakfast and at lunch. I’m sure he was around at other times but in my grade school days but I was too engrossed in cable TV or my Legos to have noticed much of either of my parents at that age.

Over canned soup, what we had most days, Chunky with, um, chunks, I explained the incident. I was 12 and had already acquired a fairly decent grasp of what was and was not acceptable to say to and in front of my parents. “I think Principal James is a jackass,” I told my Dad. “Mm, hmm,” my Dad most likely replied through a mouthful of soup. I went back to school and Dad went back to work.

My pencil and paper were waiting for me and the hot chunky soup had my blood boiling.

Dear Principal James,

I think you are a jackass. My Dad agrees with me.

Sincerely,

Jonathan C. Lang

If I had the original I would frame it.

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