Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Wonder of a Teacher ... 4

Adams Elementary School
Enid, Oklahoma
Last time, I wrote about my discovery that my own fourth grade teacher (1953-54), Mrs. Stella Rockwell, had edited the massive two-volume history of Garfield County (Enid is the county seat), volumes I'd consulted a number of times during the research for my e-book Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss (Kindle Direct, 2012).

And the volumes are massive--as the photo shows you--more than 1100 total pages, full of photographs and information about the history of the region, the stories of the schools and churches, the stories of families who'd been there a while.

In the volumes is the story of the Rockwells, as well. In Vol. 2 is a picture of her with her husband, Glenn, during their college years at Phillips University (RIP) in Enid, the school where my grandfather taught, where my parents met, where my father would teach.

She was born as Stella Mae Campbell on Feb. 10, 1914 (about a year younger than my father), in Olive Township in Garfield County--just a little east of Enid, where her family moved when she was about a year old. The article says that she had herself attended Adams School (as my mother would a bit later), then Longfellow JHS (as my older brother did for a year before we moved to Hiram, Ohio, in the summer of 1956), and Enid HS. She played first violin in the Enid HS orchestra, then played for the Enid-Phillips Symphony Orchestra.

In some online research I discovered that when we were living in Enid at 1706 E. Elm Ave. (we were there when I was in fourth grade), the Rockwells lived at 805 E. Oklahoma Ave., about a mile southwest of us. She died on June, 10, 1993, and is buried in Enid Cemetery, which lies north of the city, but near Independence Ave., the street where once stood the old Carnegie Library, the razed (1972) shrine that I'd been researching, that had brought me back to Enid in the first place.

The current Enid Library was kind enough to send me her obituary from the Enid News and Eagle, June 13, 1963. I learn from it that she had four children, that she left the classroom to be a principal, then a curriculum coordinator, then, finally, Director of Elementary Education in Enid. She retired in 1978--the year I left the middle school classroom (I thought forever) and headed off  with Joyce to teach at Lake Forest College north of Chicago. (I was wrong: I went back to the middle school for fifteen more years: loved it, didn't leave it until retirement).

What was I doing on June 10, 1993, when she died? Initially, I cursed myself: I did not begin a regular journal until January 1997. But where was I in the late spring of 1993? I was teaching at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio--only I wasn't, I remembered. I was on sabbatical that 1992-1993 academic year. I had won a Teacher-Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities and was spending the year studying, traveling--all related to Jack London. And during that year, I kept a diary. And here's some of what I wrote that Thursday she died. We were living in Aurora at the time.

JUNE 10, 1993 (Thurs.): Worked in the morning on adding material to cards from Smoke Bellew. [a Jack London novel].  Lunch at Harmon [School, where I taught] (teachers' work day).  Drove to Hudson to mail Steve's financial aid forms [for college; he was about to start his senior year] ... then to Solon for oil change + new sandals.  Koenig's has good camping gear--so I'll probably be buying stuff there for my Chilkoot hike [in August I would hike the Chilkoot Trail, 33 miles from the coast of southeastern Alaska into the Yukon, a trail of great prominence in The Call of the Wild].  In the mail: Two letters from Russ [Kingman, a Jack London guru] ... Will drop him a note, asking for photocopies of a couple of things.

So ... I realize as I look at this now that Mrs. Rockwell's silent influence had remained. I was a teacher; I was deeply involved in historical research (as she had been); I was pursuing the things I love. And something else, as I think about it: I loved reading aloud to my students--practically from Day One.

Mrs. Rockwell's funeral was at University Place Christian Church in Enid--our church, the church where my grandfather had once served as pastor, the church where he baptized me on April 18, Easter Sunday, 1954. The year I was in fourth grade. The year the spectacular Mrs. Stella Rockwell was my teacher. She would have been in the congregation that day; she would have witnessed it.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Wonder of a Teacher ... 3

Adams Elementary School
Enid, Oklahoma
Now here's the damnedest thing ...

I wrote last time about the enormous influence of Mrs. Rockwell (my fourth-grade teacher, 1953-54), about her reading to us after recess (if we were "good"), about how she read to us The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (expurgated!), about how my friend Pete Asplund and I ran around our neighborhood as if we were Tom and Huck, as if we had a Mississippi River nearby ...

But those reading-after-recess experiences with her are about the only specific things I can recall from that long-ago school year. I remember the classroom--old wooden desks bolted to the floor in rows; I know that we must have done worksheets and turned in book reports; we must have done arithmetic problems and  penmanship exercises; we must have gone to music and art classes occasionally; we must have read through our reading books; and on and on. But I can't remember any of it. Not precisely.

Oh, I just remembered! I remember a book report I did for her--a little biography of George Washington Carver--George Carver: Boy Scientist (1944), part of the Childhood of Famous Americans Series (Bobbs-Merrill). (The copy you see is one I bought, years later.)

But what else do I remember? Mrs. Rockwell. Her kindness. Her acceptance of all of us. Her intelligence. The feeling that I actually wanted to be in her classroom. That I felt safe there. That I didn't want to disappoint her (though, of course, I'm sure I did).

I was a pretty good student then. Worked hard for her. I do remember, though, that Mrs. Rockwell and others would mark me down for Keeps hands and materials away from mouth. I guess I remained a bit ... oral?

When I became a teacher myself in the fall of 1966, I am sure that I did not really think about Mrs. Rockwell's classroom--so much had happened in the interim--but I am confident, as well, sitting here right now, thinking about her, that she had a silent and subtle effect on me. I felt (if not knew) that I wanted a classroom like hers--not a place with desks bolted to the floor (those days were over!), but a place where kids felt safe, where we were kind to one another, where kids wanted to be, where they wanted to learn.

That didn't always happen, of course--let me be the first to say so. But it's what I wanted. What I sought.

And now ... in our recent days of Test Mania ... our educational leaders seem to have forgotten the lessons of the Mrs. Rockwells. How do I--how can I--"measure" what she did? What test is there that can in any way--with any accuracy whatsoever--delineate the boundless boundaries of her heart, the richness of that room? Or measure--then, now--the enduring influence she would have on me--without my even knowing it, without my even suspecting it?

On August 21, 2004, I was in Enid, researching the book that would become Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss (Kindle Direct, 2012). Among my stops was the Museum of the Cherokee Strip in Enid, where I hoped to find some information about Enid's old Carnegie Library, which Enid (curses! curses!) had razed in 1972. (The museum did have a library display--with some artifacts.) But I found something else there that totally surprised me, as this little excerpt from my memoir shows ...

I am yet again in Enid on a research trip.  At the Museum of the Cherokee Strip I am looking again at a book I have consulted several times before, the two-volume history of Garfield County published in 1983.

Now I need the complete citation for the book.  And in the front, there is the editor’s name: Stella Rockwell.  I have never noticed it, not all the times I have used these wonderful volumes.

I tell the curator that Mrs. Rockwell was my fourth grade teacher—and a great one.  He smiles.  He knows.  She’s a relative.  And he tells me that in 1993, her labors complete, she died.

I now own those books.

Next time--the final installment: Some recent research into Mrs. Rockwell's life and career ... some surprises for me ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 308

And now, returning from this fruitless mission, Falkner realizes that he must tell Elizabeth the truth—a truth that he fears (knows?) will damage—or perhaps permanently sever—their relationship.
And so begins his narrative, his confession … and, once, again, Mary employs the story-within-a-story technique to advance her narrative.
Mary tells us that as Falkner considered the effects of telling his story, the blood stood chilled in his heart when he thought of thus losing the only thing he loved on earth.[1]
Elizabeth—unwitting—is eager to hear her father’s story and rises the next morning with great happiness to hear it.[2] But he says little more than this: I am Rupert Falkner, your mother’s destroyer.[3] He immediately leaves for business in London—but gives Elizabeth the explanation/confession he previously wrote for her. And now … we get a text-within-a-story, another device Mary was fond of. He begins by telling a bit of his earlier biography. We reach a key point—that a love of his young life, Althea, does not share his passion; in current parlance, she says the equivalent of “We can still be friends.” Depressed, he flees to India for ten years, returns, discovers she has married another.
By chance, he is part of a dinner party that includes Neville, her husband, a boor and a beast (thinks Falkner), and he is horrified. He goes to see her, and she, initially, is happy—it’s been a decade. But when she discovers his romantic intentions, she stops. Cold. She is a wife. And although she no longer cares for her husband, she will, she says, persevere. She says we do not live to be happy, but to perform our duties; to fulfill mine is the aim of my life.[4]
So Falkner—deeply disturbed—leaves her in tears. And begins to plot …

[1] Ibid., 146.
[2] Ibid., 148.
[3] Ibid., 151.
[4] Ibid., 180.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

That Wonder of a Teacher ... 2

A few days ago, I posted a little bit about Mrs. Stella Rockwell, who was my fourth-grade teacher at Adams Elementary School (Enid, Oklahoma), 1953-54. I'd thought of her  because Joyce and I were talking about how a teacher can read to a class of youngsters a book that they would, on their own, perhaps have a bit of trouble reading--or a lot of trouble. I was thinking specifically of Michael Chabon's 2002 YA novel, Summerland, which I had just finished, weeping at various places near the end. A baseball fantasy novel ... appropriate for our grandsons, 8 and 12?

And I recalled that Mrs Rockwell--one of the very best teachers I ever had, K-Ph.D.--had routinely read to us after recess each day--her way of calming us down, and, believe me, we needed calming down.

Outside recess was rough in my day. The playground was red dirt--the Oklahoma clay so close to the surface that when the dust storms came (and they still did come in my boyhood), the sky boiled red and pink. Along the highways, where unpaved country roads joined the main routes, you could see streaks of red that the turning cars had left behind as they joined the traffic flow.

Anyway, back in the early 1950s no one seemed to worry about kids getting hurt on the playground--or playing stupid, even violent, games. I remember during one period, we boys (well, mostly boys) divided into "Confederates" and "Yankees," moved to opposite ends of the playground, and charged--battling right in the middle of the red. As far as I can remember, that was the only time that the playground supervisors (teachers) ever stopped us--but only after a few days of delightful mayhem.

Broken scabs and leaking wounds were common, after recess. And we all--especially in the fall and the spring--were perspiring heavily. This was north-central Oklahoma. No schools had air-conditioning. We didn't have it at home; neither did any of my friends. Just the movie theaters, all of which had signs out on the street that said: It's Cool Inside! And it was.

So ... on those hot fall and spring days (when it could reach 100) we sat and sweated and maybe even bled at our desks while our teachers tried to settle us down.

Mrs. Rockwell knew how to do it. If we were "good" when we came in, she would read to us for, oh, fifteen or twenty minutes--until our perspiration dried, our wounds scabbed over.

I remember, very early that fall, she said she would read aloud to us from books we brought in. At home, we had a set of books--The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. One was red (Tom, I think); the other, green. Both had some full-page illustrations, in color.

They next day I brought in Tom--and she read it to the class, praising me for such a fine selection. Those were the days, by the way, when praise from a teacher was not a cue to the bullies in the class (and there were a couple) to look for us after school for a little whup-ass.

And then--right afterward--I swept in with Huck, which she also read aloud to us--though, years later, when I read it myself, I realized she had done some judicious bowdlerizing for her nine-year-old listeners.

After she finished Huck, I brought in Tom Sawyer, Detective from my grandfather's complete Twain set (they lived only a few blocks away), but this time Mrs. Rockwell--being Mrs. Rockwell--said we should let someone else have a turn.

Someone brought in Black Beauty, which I steadfastly refused to listen to ... pouty little jerk, I know.

Anyway, those two Twain titles had a profound effect on me. My friend Pete Asplund (RIP), who lived only a couple of streets over, was similarly smitten, and we ran around on weekends pretending to be Tom and Huck, pretending that we'd shimmied down the drain pipe to join up and have our wild adventures, adventures which generally ended at the neighborhood J & J Grocery, where we bought a Grapette or an Orange Crush for a nickle.

There was a little patch of woods across from our house, and I remember Pete, on Saturday mornings, would show up there, early,  and cry out like a crow in his fourth-grade soprano: Caw! Caw! Caw!--my signal to sneak out and have some Tom-and-Huck adventures. (My parents were probably relieved I was out of the house so early.)

Mrs. Rockwell, by the way, who was rather ... stout, would not permit us to use the word fat to describe a classmate or anyone else. She suggested pleasingly plump, which has some alliterative power, I grant you, but it's not a phrase I've had a lot of occasions to employ ... But I learned her lesson ...

To be continued ...

Monday, May 22, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 307

Then we get one of Mary’s famous devices—a story within a story. She employed this most famously in Frankenstein—which features stories within stories within stories—and here Mary stops the progress of her narrative to allow Lady Cecil to relate the background of her family—and its mysteries.
Well, it’s a long story, Lady Cecil’s, consuming several chapters, but basically it tells how Gerard’s mother mysteriously disappeared one night, how his father believed his wife unfaithful and left him, how Gerard refused to believe this and would thereafter devote himself to find out what happened to his mother.
(Oddly, one of the key things Gerard learns is that a man named Osborne was possibly involved in her disappearance. My middle name is Osborn—simply a variant spelling. Ah! Another connection with Mary Shelley!)
Meanwhile, Falkner, hearing from Gerard’s family that he (Gerard) and Elizabeth ought to marry, is doing some research on poor Elizabeth’s family—the Rabys, a family, he discovers, that still has considerable means, but the Raby patriarch is old, bitter, still angry about his disgraced son who sired her, and he tells Falkner there is no chance he will alter his attitude. (Hmmm, does this sound like Sir Timothy Shelley? Bysshe’s father? Who never forgave Mary for what he believed until his death was the corruption his son?)
And now, returning from this fruitless mission, Falkner realizes that he must tell Elizabeth the truth—a truth that he fears (knows?) will damage—or perhaps permanently sever—their relationship.
And so begins his narrative, his confession …

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 142

1. AOTW: No one, really--though I can always confer the award upon myself. I can be a jerk. But perhaps I'll give it this week to a class of people--the inveterate, impatient, habitual honkers on our highways and roads, those AOTWs who simply cannot permit the tiniest portion of a second to pass if it somehow delays their progress by the tiniest amount. These AOTWs are the geese of humanity.

2. We saw a great film last night (via Netflix DVD): I Am Not Your Negro, the recent documentary about writer James Baldwin (1924-87), whose works I first started reading in the mid-60s. (Another Country blew me away!)

Anyway, we didn't know until we saw the opening credits that the film was "written" by Baldwin--viz., his published and recorded words compose virtually the whole of the screenplay. At times it's his actual voice (appearing, for example, on the Dick Cavett Show); at other times, actor Samuel L. Jackson recites his words (most effectively, I would say). Much archival footage--and much from our own recent, sad racial days, as well. There's a touching moment or two when Baldwin talks about the possibility of our ever having a black president; then we see the Obamas on his first Inauguration Day.

Powerful stuff. Those of us who came of age in the early days of the Civil Rights era can recall so much--Birmingham, Selma, Little Rock ... but younger folks, if they watch the film, will no doubt be amazed at the virulent hostility of many whites, who spat upon and cursed a black girl entering a previously all-white school.

Film is also available to stream on Amazon. Link to official trailer for the film.

3. I finished several books this week ...

     - The first was The Far Music (2016), a memoir by Earle Labor, the principal Jack London scholar in the world, a gentle soul I met in in the summer of 1990 out in Rohnert Park, Calif., where he was leading a six-week summer seminar for teachers (on London) sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was a life-changer for me. It was there that I began working on an annotated edition of The Call of the Wild, which I later (1995) published with the University of Oklahoma Press. Anyway, Earle and I have stayed in touch over the years, and I was happy to read and respond to a draft of Far Music a few years ago.

It's the story of Earle and his friend Pink, undergrads at Southern Methodist, who decide to take some time off (just after WW II),  to work the harvests in the Central Plains, then head to the Canadian wilderness. Earle writes about helping to build grain elevators, about doing other very rough manual labor during the grain harvest season, about having some other gigs--including working at a burlesque show!

We also learn about the origins of his interest in Jack London and his emerging realizations about who he is--and what he needs to do on this earth.

It was a pleasure to hear his voice on his pages ...

     - I also finished a very fine book by Michael Sims--Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes (2017). Sims interweaves several stories in this--the biography of Doyle, the emergence of the detective story (and the word detective itself, which did not appear in general English usage until the mid-19th century), and, of course, Doyle's creation of Sherlock Holmes, a character still cavorting around in our movies and TV shows, our novels, our plays. (See, of course, Sherlock on PBS and Elementary on CBS.)

It was an uncle who urged young Doyle to read Edgar Poe, who, of course, wrote those three tales of ratiocination featuring Dupin, the Sherlock-forefather("The Murders in the Rue Morgue," 1841; "The Mystery of Marie RogĂȘt," 1842-43; and "The Purloined Letter," 1844). Arthur Conan Doyle was always frank and appreciative about Poe--and never claimed to have invented the genre which he perfected and which remains resolutely with us today.

Sims also tells us about the creation of the early Holmes stories, speculates about the origins of the characters' names (including, as I posted on FB last week, that Oliver Wendell Holmes, a favorite of the Doyle family, supplied the hero's surname), talks about the critical and public reaction to each of the stories, and shows us how the financially struggling young Dr. Doyle found wealth and security and celebrity through this most stunning character.

   - Finally, I continued with my journey through the books of Michael Chabon with his 2002 YA novel, Summerland, a novel I wrote a bit about yesterday. I loved this book. Near the end, a couple of times, reading in the coffee shop, I wept openly--tears flowing from me as if I were  a little boy who'd lost his puppy--and then the puppy raced home and leaped into his arms. (I know: a bit much. Deal with it.)

It just resonated with me in so many ways. It was about an eleven-year-old kid who became a baseball catcher (as I did), about his close friends, about his dad, whom he nearly loses (don't get me started on that), about a series of adventures in other dimensions, where time is not the same and where baseball is the way to settle disputes (!!), about the contributions made by all kinds of other creatures--like a were-fox, a Sasquatch (a female, with a heart), about the struggle with darkness and evil, about the imminent end of the world (unless our heroes win the game), about believing in yourself, about loving your friends, etc. And on and on and on.

There are direct connections to mythology and legend (including King Arthur, Thor, and others), to Tolkien's novels, to the Narnia books, to the boyhood baseball books I consumed like Cracker Jacks, to the history of the Negro Leagues, to ... about everything else I ever cared about. Including love.

As I wrote yesterday, I was wondering if my baseball-and-Tolkien-loving grandsons (8 and 12) could read the book (it's a bit sophisticated in language for the usual YA audience--but ... I'll give a copy to my son, see what he thinks).

Every now and then in my long reading life, I've come across a book that makes me believe This guy wrote this book for me. And so I felt as I wept through the closing pages of Summerland.

4. Final Word--One I liked from my various online word-of-the-day providers.

    - from wordsmith.org

sadiron (SAD-eye-uhrn)
noun: A heavy flatiron pointed at both ends and having a detachable handle.
From sad (obsolete senses of the word: heavy, solid) + iron. Earliest documented use: 1759.
“The next day, everything was ironed with a sadiron.”

Jean Baggott; The Drama of a Very Ordinary Life; Daily Mail (London, UK); Feb 27, 2010.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

That Wonder of a Teacher ...

Adams Elementary School
Enid, Oklahoma
I attended grades 1, 3-6
This story (these stories?) could take several posts to tell ... so ... here we go ...

Yesterday, I finished reading Michael Chabon's 2002 novel, Summerland, a baseball fantasy novel published by the "children's" arm of Hyperion Books. I suppose it's supposed to be a YA novel--and it could (just guessing) have come from Chabon's pen/word-processor as part of the publishing phenomenon known as Harry Potter, whose first adventure appeared in 1997, and by mid-summer 2002, J. K. Rowling had published four of the seven titles in the series. Everyone knows about their wild, unprecedented popularity.

But who knows if this was Chabon's inspiration? Chabon is a brilliant writer, and this one could have been simmering in his brain long before little Harry walked on the stage--and stole the spotlights.

Anyway, I will be writing more about Summerland in "Sunday Sundries" tomorrow in this space, but suffice it now to say that it's a book about an eleven-year-old boy, Ethan, who sucks at baseball (but doesn't want to), a boy who finds himself drawn into another dimension (think: Narnia--where time is not the same as here), a boy who realizes he has been chosen to save the world from the darkness (think: every fantasy novel you've ever read). Along the way, Ethan and his motley crew of companions (think: Lord of the Rings) must use baseball to defeat some of the Bad Guys who stand between them and the world's salvation. Ethan acquires a sort of magic bat (think: Sting in The Hobbit). And so on ...

I was reading the book for more than one reason. Visitors here know that I've been reading my way through all of Chabon's novels. So ... I had to read this one. But I was also wondering if our grandsons (both of whom love baseball), ages 8 and 12, would be able to read the book. Not only do they love baseball--they love Tolkien, et al., a legacy from their father, who loved those books back when he was a boy. (Okay, and so did I.) Joyce read them to him when he was a Wee One--her nightly, loving ritual as she put him to bed. He's seen the movies countless times--and has passed along his passion to his sons.

But, reading Chabon, I felt that Summerland might be just a bit down the road for them. I thought maybe I'd give the book to our son and daughter-in-law--see what they think.

And talking this over the other night with Joyce on one of our "evening drives," I mentioned that it would be a great book for a teacher to read to an elementary-school/middle-school class.

And thus I remembered my own remarkable fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Rockwell--Mrs. Stella Rockwell--who read to us every day after lunch recess. Helped us calm down for the afternoon's work and activities. Oh, she was a wonder, Mrs. Rockwell, and in the ensuing posts here, I will tell you how and why.

To be continued ...