Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving, 1966

When Thanksgiving arrived in 1966 (November 24 that year), I was just completing my third month of my first year of teaching at Aurora Middle School. Seventh grade "Core" (English and American history). I had five sections of students, forty students per class. Do the math. I had just turned 22 (November 11) and was already beginning to wonder if I were in over my head. (Photo above is from the school yearbook that year.)

I was exhausted, all the time. I was overwhelmed with grading and preparations for class, and (I should confess--it's good for the soul, I hear) there were days when I walked in my room with only the vaguest idea of what I was going to do that period. Sometimes things went well. But then there were those other times ...

I was grateful that I had wonderful young men and women that year (those 12-year-olds from 1966 are turning 60 this year: think about that!). Some have stayed in touch over the years; some have found me (or I them) on Facebook recently. I had difficult days that 1966-67 school year, no doubt, but I'm certain that much of it was my own making. I was discovering what it meant to be a teacher. And it was a rough discovery.

Mine looked like this, minus the
fancy wheels and spotless
One of the things I was discovering--near poverty. My take-home check (on the 1st and the 15th--no direct deposit in those days) was $168.42. My rent for my tiny Twinsburg apartment was $75; my car payment (1965 VW Karmann Ghia) was about $60. Add food and utilities and clothing and gas and whatever. My checkbook usually showed some sad figure like .08 in the week before payday. I had no money for anything extra--not counting cigarettes, which, of course, were a necessity (I quit six years later).

By the end of each pay period I was eating boiled potatoes, smashed with margarine, sitting in a lawn chair (most of the furniture I had in my unfurnished apartment in Twinsburg was lawn furniture my parents had given me), trying to watch TV on the old black-and-white set (rabbit ears!) that my parents had given me when they got a new (flashy, color) one.

I was also lonely, profoundly so. That summer my parents had left Hiram (where we'd lived from 1956-1966) to take positions at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, about 700 miles away. My older brother was working on his Ph.D. at Harvard (or was he already teaching at the Univ. of Iowa? I don't remember), and my younger brother was a frosh at Harvard. My closest friends from high school and college had been scattered by the winds of grad school and marriage and Wanderlust, although a few remained at Hiram College (my alma mater), and I saw them as often as I could--which was not often. I had no money.

I had no love life. Zero. I'd had no real steady girlfriend for very long in college (Hiram girls were far too intelligent for that!), and most of the women on the middle school faculty were married or soon to be so. And because I was without money, I couldn't go out very often, and when I did, I found myself drinking beer alone--the brand called Self Pity. I soon stopped trying. I would not meet Joyce until the summer of 1969, nearly three years farther down the Heartbreak Highway.

As Thanksgiving approached, I knew I couldn't go out to Des Moines. Money, of course, was an issue (though I'm sure my folks would have helped out), but time was the real problem. School ended on Wednesday afternoon, and there was no way to drive 700 miles. Even I--in the deep Foolishness of Youth--would not have attempted it. And so I didn't. I figured I'd just sleep late, watched TV, eat some boiled potatoes. Maybe do a little schoolwork ... nah.

But early that week I got a phone call from Mrs. Ruth Rosser. Her husband, Ed, was on the faculty at Hiram College (chemistry), and the Rossers were among my parents' best friends at Hiram. The others were Paul and Rose Sharp, whom my folks had known since college days in Oklahoma. Paul Sharp was president of Hiram College. Anyway, our three families often got together for Thanksgiving, rotating venues. Dyers (5), Sharps (5), Rossers (4). The Sharps' three children--Bill, Kate, Trevor--were close in age to the Dyer boys (Dick, Dan, Dave). And I was in Marcia Rosser's class throughout junior high and high school. We all pretty much got along most of the time. In fact, it was fun. Ruth Rosser taught home economics at Garfield High School in Garrettsville (my mom taught high school English there, too), and her husband loved to cook, as well, so the meals were often awesome. It was fun to sit at the table and just listen to the conversations among some awfully smart and educated people. (At the time, I was not in that category: I could talk about the Indians and the Browns (the Cavs didn't exist yet) and any TV Western you could name. Impressive, eh?)

It was a different time, though. After the meal (which the women had pretty much prepared), the men went for a walk to smoke cigars while the women cleaned up. Oh, and we kids scattered to distant locations in the house, avoiding work if we could. If the weather was decent (it sometimes was), we played our "Annual Bowl Game"--touch football out in the yard. Or we watched Green Bay v. Detroit (on every year in those days).

So when the phone rang that day and I heard Mrs. Rosser's lilting voice (she made "Dan?" into several syllables), I was so happy to hear it. I think I had tears in my eyes already. And then she said that if I didn't have any plans--I? Have plans?--I was welcome to come to their house for Thanksgiving. I accepted with alacrity--and a deep gratitude. Not only did I know that I was going to eat the only decent meal I'd had since my parents moved away, but I knew that I was going to be in a very real way, home.

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