Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, July 4, 2013


I was a high school freshman that year, 1958-1959, the Dyers' third year "back East" in Ohio (I'd spent my first twelve years in Oklahoma and Texas).  In grades 7 and 8 in the Hiram Schools I had not exactly distinguished myself academically--lots of C's, a few B's, some A's in physical education.  But I'd had lots of fun--except for report card days (we got them at six-week intervals) when I had to take the foul document home for a parent's signature.  Never a pleasant day, especially when my two brothers--one older, one younger--never had much on their cards except the initial letter in the alphabet.

In ninth grade, though, things would begin to turn around.  (Notice I use the word things, avoiding the I, which, I fear, would be a bit misleading.  I'm not sure, you see, what I did to change things--or begin to.  All I know is that "things" did ...)  Just before school started, at registration, I signed up for the college-prep courses: Algebra I, Latin I.  Both classes sounded scary.  I already knew about the Latin teacher, Mr. Brunelle, who also taught English in the upper grades--he'd taught my older brother, who had good, if scary, things to say about him.  (Brother Richard had forgiven Mr. Brunelle for accusing him of "getting help" on one of his first essays--an ironic piece called "How to Grow a Flower Garden in Oklahoma"; Mr. B. would quickly learn that Richard was a talented writer; he did not learn that about me--not very quickly, anyhow.)

Algebra scared me, too.  I wasn't (am not) all that hot in math, and even the word algebra sounded like Greek for You can't do this.  (I actually did okay, for a while--until I had to understand things instead of do problems that resembled the examples.)

I wasn't all that worried about English class.  I spoke the language.  And my mother, an English teacher (not to mention my older brother), rarely let any unedited spoken word of mine get very far out into the air.  She would nab it, correct it, send it back to me for re-delivery.  Her favored technique I illustrate below:

Danny: I feel like I want to go outside.
Mommy: You feel as if you want to go outside?

My mother, 93, has not abandoned this technique.  Merely perfected it.  Still annoying.

So--I spoke English; I knew, pretty much, what was correct usage.  I didn't really understand grammar and usage (as my wildly inaccurate sentence diagrams illustrated clearly), but I knew what was "right" when I heard it or saw it.  So on multiple-guess usage and grammar quizzes, I would always do well.  I would just try to "hear" what my mom--or Richard--would say.  Pick that one.

Then came English 9.  Hiram High School.  Mrs. Browning.  She was a young teacher--just married, just out of Hiram College.  She was attractive (yes, at ages 13/14 I noticed), not very tall, a little stocky.  And she brooked no nonsense.  Lots of work in her class.  Lots of writing (I wish I could remember some of it), lots of reading, oral presentations (poetry recitations, book reports).  And I quickly discovered that not really understanding something was, well, fatal on her quizzes and tests.

She did, however, soar in my estimation when she let one of us--with earplug--listen to a transistor radio broadcast of the World Series that fall (Yankees v. Braves--Yanks, who had been down 3 games to 1, won in 7) and report any scores aloud in class.  (I think it was classmate Bill Vacha who did this ... could be wrong.)

As that year progressed, I began, for the first time, to understand a few things (Latin also helped), but what really woke me up--and made me question if I had a brain in my head at all--was our literature book, Adventures in Reading.  I found a copy of it a few years ago when I was working on my memoir about reading (Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss, available on Kindle Direct--Link).  And Adventures in Reading--oh, was there a book ever more ill-named!--was the anchor tied to my ankles, the anchor that dragged me to the nether regions of Lake Academic, where I very nearly drowned.

(I know--this link and picture seem crass and commercial.  Deal with it.)


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