Dawn Reader

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

Friday, July 6, 2012

My Son in Room 101

The other day, I wrote here about George Orwell and about an old writing assignment I used to give my eighth graders, an assignment based on 1984 that asked students to imagine what would be in their Room 101 ... what is their greatest fear?  And how would Room 101 present it to them?

I commented in the post that I hadn't saved any of the papers, and that I didn't remember what any of the kids had written.  I chided myself.

And then I remembered: I had saved the work of one student. Our son, Steve.

When he was in sixth grade, in the fall of 1983, we removed him from the local schools after the first marking period (he was with a brain-numbing teacher for three periods each day; the school would do nothing about it) and enrolled him at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, where I taught eighth grade English.  He did much better there, for Harmon in those days, I believe, was one of the best middle schools in the area--if not the country.

Since I was the only eighth grade English teacher, he entered my classroom in the fall of 1985, and after some initial awkwardness (What do I call him?  What does he call me?), things settled down, and I enjoyed him--and that year--very much.  (I remain close to his entire class--many of whom are now FB friends; this summer they've all been turning forty.  Unthinkable.)

That year (1985-1986), I drove Steve to school in the mornings, and his mom would pick up up afterwards--unless he was at one of my play practices (which he often was), in which case I was the afternoon/evening chauffeur, as well.  I had decided before that year began that I would one day want to write about our year together--a father teaching his son.  (I'd had my own father as a teacher in college; my younger brother had our mother as a teacher in high school--a couple of years; Joyce would later teach Steve at WRA--as a sophomore and senior.)  And so I saved all of his English work in a folder, and in another folder I put everything else that seemed relevant that year.  I also kept a diary--in cursedly desultory fashion, I fear.

Well, I never did the writing--not yet!  But the other day I remembered the folders and found Steve's Room 101 essay.  I know that he has a feral fear of snakes (in a natural history museum he does not like even to enter a room where a stuffed snake might be coiled in wait for him), so I assumed that he'd written about his herpetological hysteria (nice phrase, eh?).

I was wrong.

It was bees.  His two-and-a-half-page effort shows flashes of his humor and writing skill (later, he was a journalist for ten years) and some of the silliness you would expect from an eighth grader dealing with a weird assignment.

Bees.  His interrogator (named Mr. Henderson, whose associate/lackey is Fritz) tells Steve "Ever since your mom was killed by them, you've been scared of them, especially killers, which these are."

I'd forgotten that.  Bees killed his mom!  Joyce--who does have a bee allergy--will feel even more bemused than I when she reads these words from twenty-seven years ago.

Fritz enters, places a beehive over Steve's head.  And the final two sentences: "They are now attacking in full force.  My last wish is to have a new skateboard."

Now that was subtle: asking your dad for a new skateboard in an English essay!

Here's what I wrote on his rough draft: Good dialogue here, and a few good sense descriptions, too, Steve.  Quite a few comma errors, though--make sure you understand what you've done wrong so you won't repeat the problem.  A few more details about the Questioner would help, too.  As I look at his paper now, I see he didn't know about commas with nouns of address.  Who on earth was his teacher?

I don't know why he didn't write about snakes--possibly because he didn't even want to think about them.  Perhaps he knew, even then, that thinking about them might invite them for a nocturnal visit, later on, while he was dreaming.

But I'm touched now as I read this piece.  Because one of our son's greatest fears, at age 13, was not of something that had ever harmed him.  But had once hurt his mother.

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