My notes tell me that it took me about two weeks to read Lodore—from May 30–June 12, 1997. Just now, I took a look at my journal for that period to see what else was going on in my life those days, nearly twenty years ago. Over the weekends, I see, Joyce and I were still doing our usual: going to bookstores (remember them?) and movies. There used to be quite a few bookshops around us; nowadays, we are fortunate that our local independent store, The Learned Owl, is still hanging in there, but the three Borders stores near us are gone; Barnes & Noble is fading; other, independent stores in the area are just gone.
In the news, I see, the Oklahoma City bombing trial had come to a conclusion. And I read that on June 5, 1997, I drove over to Harmon Middle School, where I’d recently retired, to pick up the final yearbook of my public-school career. I’m not much of a factor in the book: I’d retired in January, and in the previous months that year I’d had a student teacher. So I didn’t know those eighth-graders particularly well; I was not around to have any of them sign the book; and my final faculty picture shows my usual unsmiling self wearing a polo shirt, my default upper part of my Teacher Costume my final years.
I attended our teachers’ union’s annual spring banquet on June 5, and I reacted in my journal a bit bitterly, for the little speech that the union president gave about me was totally ironic, sarcastic—even nasty. He said he’d seen me jogging around town and had to resist the urge to run me down (ha, ha); he said that proficiency test scores were sure to go up now that I was gone (ha, ha, ha). That was it. Thank you for thirty years’ service, in other words. (Can you tell I haven’t gotten over it? Old Guys carry grudges.)
The next night I went to the 8th Grade Farewell Show, a tradition a colleague and I had started more than a decade earlier. I had always written a series of skits based on the theme that year (Harmon in the Fifties, etc.) along with lyrics to relevant popular songs, which the kids would perform, including the “closer” we used every year, “Bye Bye, Harmon,” based on “Bye, Bye, Birdie.” That song always brought tears to my eyes—and to the eyes of many of the kids. Some years there were more than a hundred kids in the cast. But I wept for a different reason on June 6, 1997. The kids messed up the words, laughed, didn’t seem to care all that much. I left the moment the show ended.
Can you tell I was having a rough time with retirement? That I was feeling … gone?
And then—the very next day—I got the news that a former Harmon student had committed suicide, and suddenly my self-absorbed, self-pitying emotions tumbled into a chasm of irrelevance.
|final yearbook picture|
Harmon Middle School