We put the house for sale (my parents had high equity and it represented their nest egg) at the beginning of fourth grade and told teachers and friends that we would be moving soon. The pending move and my father’s weekly commute saw us saying no to Boy Scouts and little league sports — both things that I really wanted to do. The move to San Antonio, to unite our family, did happen – – five years later. Love Letter – – part 5 from the beginning
You read it right. From fourth grade through eighth grade I saw my Dad 2/7th of the time. He left Sunday evening at 6 pm and returned home Friday night – – working an hour extra each day to allow for an early departure on Friday. At first I cried when he left on Sundays. Then, likely as a defense mechanism, I did not. I always missed him. I was deprived of much time, but thankfully was not cursed with apathy.
We settled into this routine. On the weekends he was completely home – – not playing golf, not going out with friends. We were his family. Of course since fourth grade when Sister went to college, it was just the three of us. Me developmentally very much like an only child or hyper-firstborn as Kevin Lehman describes in The Birth Order Book. So, from fourth grade on, at least during every school week, it was Mom and me. Can I relate to men raised by single Moms? In many ways quite well, in others not so much. For both of us our fathers and our relationships were caught in a type of limbo – – yours worse than mine. Sixth grade came and with a different loss. I was in one neighborhood on the district fringe that fed another middle school and high school. So nine of my ten friends went to Arnold MS and Cy-Fair HS while I and the one kid in my neighborhood that I liked headed for Bleyl MS and Cy-Creek. Ironically and painfully, I was plucked to the more affluent dyad. The kids lived in 4000 sq ft (+) McMansions. I was alone and lonely.
What then of the work? Enter Donna Gibbon, GT English 6th grade.
3/12/13 – – Penang, MY
What I remember most about Mrs. Gibbons is her expectations. They were quite high. And as my friend count dropped, glasses got thicker, and my social graces became more awkward – -these expectations were just what I needed. There was one assignment that gave me a glimpse of how I should teach and what I should do. “Houston, a diamond in the Texas crown” she wrote on the board. Classmates groaned as she explained this to be the topic of our 500 word essay. 500 words? At that time an eleven year old only worried – – how could I fill it? Today I share your opinion – – it is so much easier to write 5000. I don’t recall to what extent she emphasized or deemphasized the hook. I would probably have emphasized it, and since she influenced my teaching in a formative way, that’s probably what she did. This assignment was actually us piggy-backing on a youth writing contest for the Houston Chronicle. I don’t know if she believed it when she said that she expected one of us to win it – – I expect that she did. So the triad of title, length, and deadline was issued. I don’t remember my feelings toward the assignment, but I remember what I did. Are we more honestly defined by our feelings or our actions?
There was a library by our home, close enough to run to in later years, and my parents dropped me off there for a pre-negotiated three hours on a Saturday afternoon. I found a book on Texas history and the encyclopedia and read about how Houston developed and the journey of a diamond from rough to wedding ring. There were several steps in revealing the beauty of a diamond, beginning with its discovery. It seemed natural to follow Houston’s development through these steps as a metaphor. I read and thought and wrote on a Saturday afternoon surrounded by books in a welcoming library. I was happy at my work and proud of the paragraphs that I penned. This was still a healthy pride – – that of a craftsman who loves to create. My mother, a secretary, typed it for me on Sunday evening. I still remember that she used a red ribbon – – we were out of black. Although we had our first personal computer by then it was a VIC-20. Ask Russell what the 20 stands for! The Summer after this I mowed lawns to save $200 for a Commodore-64. So, the VIC-20 had no floppy drive, word processing program, or printer. The Summer after this, Mom taught me how to type – – a gift that I remain thankful for. So, I put that essay in a manilla folder to guard the fragile onion skin, and I turned it in the next day. Quite uncharacteristic of me to finish an assignment the night before it is due – – my best work now completes the morning of. I remember that Mrs. Gibbon liked my essay and gave me some gentle ribbing about the red ink – – saying something like I would be saving her the trouble.
-to be continued-
Photo credit: Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons