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On The Banks of Holliday Creek
By David Wright
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 David Wright
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Class of 1947
The bell rang and I said, "Today is September 5, 2007. This is a new 11th Grade American History class and you all know I'm Dave Wright. Most of you know I have taught here at Academy With Community Partners since I retired from Coronado High in Scottsdale in 2001. I do not need the money but I need to teach. Michael Jordan needed to play basketball long after he had enough money. He still had something big to contribute to the game. I feel the same way, so I pledge to you that I will give you my best game every day. I hope you give me your own best game. I have had many of you in other classes and it is good to see you back. If this is your first trip with me, I say welcome. I am a teacher you will like and trust. Just ask around."
I glanced over in the corner at Kirk, age 18, who I had named ACP's Student of the Block in the spring. He was an ex-gang banger who was back in school studying to become a police officer. He thrived on encouragement and ultra sweet coffee. He waved two fingers at me from behind his Styrofoam cup. He was my Enforcer. Next to him was Kelsie, who was set up for a drug deal and now was on probation. She was back. I had her in class last block. Kelsie would respond to a kind word, and she would confide in me. Next to them was Kevin, a Native American who belonged to a group of hoop dancers and musicians. They had toured Europe, but the trip was over, and he had nowhere to go, so he had come back to finish school. He was passionate about hoop dancing and we would talk about Europe. Over there was Ryan, who had a case pending for his role in a drive-by shooting. He was slick. Next to him Nick was sleeping, but soon he would be flying around the room because he was A.D.H.D. There were new students, and I had already memorized their names. I would get to know them soon. These were my lambs, and I smiled inwardly, remembering the lambs on my family's farm long ago.
I continued. "Right now, over at Sandra Day O'Connor School nearby, we have a kindergarten class getting started. How many kids are in that class?" I asked.
Nick sat up and rubbed his eyes. He had been listening all along. He sometimes would try to get off on a good start at the beginning of a Block. He answered. "They probably have about twenty-five kids in that class, Mr. Wright." He yawned and stretched.
"Right, Nick." I said. "Take your hat off in class, please. How many of them will graduate from high school?"
The kids looked at one another. Nick took his hat off, but he put his head back down.
"Out of a beginning class of twenty-five kindergarteners starting school on September 5, 2007, how many will graduate from high school?" I asked, probing a little deeper, insisting on an answer.
Kirk smiled his half-smirk smile. "Probably two or three of them won't live that long." He took a drink of coffee. I provide coffee and creamer in my class. Kirk gets to class early to get the coffee. He uses too much creamer and sugar. Today there was no jerky, but only apple slices.
What do you mean by that?" I asked.
"Some of them will die before they reach graduation."
"Or go to prison," said Nick, sitting back up.
There was general agreement.
"So," I said, "Maybe twenty or twenty-one will live to be age eighteen and all of those will graduate. Your expectation is that only twenty kids out of that group of twenty-five kindergarteners will ever graduate," I said. "That is 80 percent. Actual statistics show that about 90 percent will graduate, so your expectation is a little low. This reminds me to say that if you guys come to this class every day and give me your best you will have a 90 percent chance of getting credit. What expectation was there for a class of kindergarteners sixty years ago? That would be in 1947."
I leaned back against the white board and took a deep breath. I had planned this moment for a long time. Now I was going to go through with it. I was a tough old bird teaching in a charter school called Academy with Community Partners. I started teaching there six weeks after conventional retirement from Scottsdale Coronado High; I was starting my seventh year at ACP. I decided I still loved teaching kids, and retirement bored me. My kids would feed from me, so I went on.
"What expectation was there for a class of kindergarteners sixty years ago? Did you know I started kindergarten sixty years ago today? That was September 5, 1947. That is why I asked the question. There were five of us in my kindergarten class. Back then they did not call it kindergarten, but Primary. I attended a one-room country school in Iowa and I would like to tell you about it during the Block. I graduated from high school in 1960 and Larry Jordison graduated too. He started kindergarten with me in 1947. Two of us out of five graduated. That was only 40 percent of us."
When I said I went to a country school, the kids looked at one another, and eyes started to roll back in their heads. They had heard things before from other teachers about walking two miles through the snow each way and having no TV. I knew what I was up against. "I'm a living fossil," I continued. "I'm really some kind of creature out of the past. I never belonged in your world. What happened to those kids who started Primary sixty years ago? I was one of them. I have been told that only about 40 percent of the kids who started school that same day as me ever finished high school, so Larry Jordison and I were about typical. That is the era we will be studying during this Block. It is called the Post War Era and it dates from 1945 to the present." I paused. "Kelsie, when did your mom graduate from high school?"
"She didn't graduate," Kelsie replied. "She was in jail when she should have graduated."
"I did not know that," I said. "I'm sorry to hear about your mother. Do you know when that was?"
She thought a few seconds. I waited for her response. "It would have been in 1977. My brother was born that year. He's thirty. He's in prison again. Mom had me in 1991. She was not in prison when she had me."
"You have a good mind for remembering dates, Kelsie," I said. "That is what I'm trying to say in a book I am writing: You need to remember who you are and what you went through.
"Your brother was part of the Post War Baby Boom. That is the era right at the end of World War II when the returning soldiers made lots of babies. Was your grandfather in World War II?"
"I never met my grandfather, Mr. Wright. Or my dad. You are the only grandfather I ever had."
I did not know what to say to her. I took another deep breath. I loved the kids, but this was to be my last year at ACP. I had been teaching since 1966, but the pain in my spine was unbearable and I did not know how to deal with it. I couldn't actually pour out my life in front of the class. I couldn't last. I was used up, as Saint Paul said it. But if I could have poured it all out, this is what I would have said.
It's Off to School We Go
David knew it was going to be hot at Holliday Creek School, but at seven in the morning, dew was still on the grass. A big grasshopper leaped from a brown grass straw beside David's foot and flew across the road. He wanted to chase after it. It would be a perfect bait to catch a big chub in the Creek beyond the willows. For now, however, he would stand here in his new blue bib overalls, waiting to start the daily walk to school. He glanced over at his mom, who was holding the hand of his four-year-old brother, Johnny. She was looking down the lane. The Jones girls were overdue.
They soon appeared, rounding the bend in the lane, Janette Jones leading, carrying a black lunch pail in one hand and a paper bag in another. A year older than David, Janette was going into Fourth grade. Kate followed. She was going into Eighth.
Janette had on a new print dress and a white blouse. Her hair was golden and braided. When they told the story of Rapunzel you would think of Janette's hair, or so David imagined. The braids were coiled on the back of her head with a red bow. She was dancing as she walked. Janette was always dancing and flirting. She could outrun every kid at school except Larry Jordison.
Her older sister Kate wore a blue skirt with a red top. She carried a black lunch pail in one hand and clenched a paper bag in the other. She carried a purse under her arm. There was no red bow in her hair. She walked with deliberateness, but if you played tag she was elusive as quicksilver.
"Hi, Mrs. Wright," they said together. Their sister, Joan was not with them this year. She had already walked up the lane to catch the bus to Fort Dodge High School.
Since Janette and Kate had now arrived, David picked up his black lunch pail in one hand and the paper bag in the other. Inside the bag was a new box of crayons, a handful of pencils, an eraser (left over from last year), a jar of glue with a rubber nipple, and a tablet of paper. The tablet had a picture of Roy Rogers. Down at the bottom of the sack were a six-inch wooden ruler and a pair of blunt-ended scissors. There was also a coloring book with Hopalong Cassidy on the cover. The coloring book depicted cowboy situations. These were the items the letter from the school required him to bring.
He hoped Janette would notice his recently bought bib overalls with a red and white striped polo shirt, and new shoes. The shoes felt stiff and unnatural. He did not wear shoes much in the summertime. He wanted her to notice he had a pencil sticking out of the pocket on the bib. He could have shown her he had his three-blade jackknife in his pocket along with his lucky rabbit's foot. In his hip pocket he had a billfold from his birthday last year. He even had a whole dollar bill in it—a birthday gift from Granddad Bryan, and forty-three cents in the wallet's coin purse to buy pop and ice cream. He carried the billfold even though he would not be anywhere near a store for the rest of the week. His identification said he was David Wright from Rural Route 2, Coalville, Iowa. Date of Birth was May 28, 1942. His weight was listed as seventy-five pounds; his hair, brown; eyes, blue; standing four feet five inches tall. His parents were John Richard Wright and Shirley Wright. The space beside "Telephone" was marked N/P—no telephone. The information was far out of date. He was bigger now. And they had a telephone, along with electricity.
Janette did not notice anything about David.
David's Mom came over to him and hugged him. She did not kiss him because he would be embarrassed. Looking at the three of them, she said, "Do well in school. Make us proud of you. Watch for cars." She did not say, "Do good in school." She had taught him the difference.
"We will," they said, and they started to walk.
Johnny ran after David and grabbed the suspenders of his new blue bib overalls.
"Deedee" he cried. "Where are you going, Deedee?"
David turned around and looked at his brother and smiled. "I'm going to school. You can come next year when you are five, but we can play in the hills when I get home this afternoon." Johnny gave David a hug and that was that.
David and the two girls walked up the lane. As they neared the first bend, David looked back and saw his mom watching them as they were about to go out of sight. She waved.
* * *
She had brought out a handkerchief from her apron pocket and wiped her eyes. Then she blew her nose because David was going off to school and she thought, "God, take care of David because you didn't take of Richard." Stop! she said in her mind, and took Johnny by the hand. This happened every year.
In a flash she relived the circumstances that brought them to Holliday Creek. An old man ran over Richard as he was crossing the street on the way home for lunch. He died an hour later in Mercy Hospital amid screaming, prayers, and cursing. Then there was the funeral, and later David searched under the bed and all through the house for Richard; she remembered telling David that Richard is in Heaven. They cried. She closed her nursery school and they sold the house and moved to the apartment. Dick stayed up nights smoking and blaming himself. She remembered her withdrawal into depression with headaches and that David often slipped out of the apartment and hid. She was not up to chasing him because she was pregnant again, so Dick suggested they buy a farm. They had lived on an uncle's acreage before, during the war when the draft was getting close. You could avoid the draft if you could prove you were a farmer. That farm they nicknamed "The Rat Roost." Dick hated the place, but he was willing to move back to an acreage if he could continue teaching in Fort Dodge. They found a small farm where they could recover. The valley along Holliday Creek promised healing and no busy streets, so they remodeled the house and agreed Dick would commute to his teaching job in town. They did not need income from the farm, but it was a possibility.
* * *
David waved back at his mom. She did not continue waving; it looked like she was blowing her nose just then and she took Johnny by the hand and walked away. David turned around and resumed his trek. It was two miles away—not much of a walk. He had played running ragged through the hills all summer barefoot. Farm kids did not wear shoes in the summer. Today he had new shoes on and they felt stiff and awkward. He was going to school.
They were going due north, walking above the Creek. David looked below the road to his right. That was east. The Creek was a good quarter of a mile away and forty feet lower in elevation. We paused here and looked because you could see most of the valley with the creek running through it. North from the bridge was mostly pasture, and when the wind blew the grass flat it would shine. The hillsides were dark green with August foliage and crows cawed. It was well known this was a favorite parking spot for lovers from Fort Dodge. They would leave cigarette butts and debris strewn about. The view was spoiled because people also used the lovely spot to dump trash. Fresh cans lay on top of rusted ones along with rotted rags and magazines. The sight made David angry. It is hard to keep a lovely thing. Yet, he looked east over the valley across the Creek, and he could see Oren Gray's new barn below. They had nailed down the galvanized roofing and it reflected the early sun. They walked on, and David looked uphill to the left above the road. Up toward the top of the hill of the hill he knew was the Shack. Stay away from the shack, his conscience said.
David wanted to make his parents proud of him. He thought about this a lot. Right now, he was thinking about it because Kate and Janette were going on and on about who was smartest, fastest, and prettiest in the school. They named who was the handsomest boy, the bravest, the strongest, the best speller, the best at marbles shooter and jacks player. Who was best at hop scotch, and the kid with the best penmanship and the best singer? They named many categories and then argued about who was first and second place. They did not mention him even once, and he became jealous.
David could take it no more, and he burst ahead and ran up the road to where a Boxelder tree grew. He set his lunch box down by the road and set the bag of supplies beside it. He broke some branches from the tree and stood in front of the Jones girls holding the leafy branches above his head. "I am going to be the outstanding student this year," he cried, smashing the branches on the road for emphasis. "Outstanding student and King of the Cowboys. The King. I am not doing any more smoking, either," he said. "You hear that?" he yelled, dramatically.
"Roy Rogers is the king of the cowboys," said Janette, mockingly. "Everybody knows that."
"You're too big for your britches," Kate said, walking by him. "Besides, you smoke every chance you get."
"You'll see," David said. "You'll all see." He tossed the branches beside the ditch and picked up the lunch box and paper bag. He hurried to catch up. He was sweating and he could feel the sweat trickle down his back. Sweat mixed with rose-scented hair oil ran down from his scalp to his face.
Soon they were at the corner where the lane met the main road. If you turned right and went east you were headed toward Holliday Creek School a mile and a half away. If you turned left and went up the hill west toward Fort Dodge you would pass by Bob Jordison's place. Using that route you would reach Coalville about a mile and a half beyond. Fort Dodge was another five miles beyond that. David noticed there was a fresh layer of gravel, so there would be less dust than usual when a car drove by. They turned east and the road ran downhill to the bridge. There was a grove of sumac growing at the corner with leaves beginning to turn red along the edges. The leaves were dusty from the gravel road. Small birds pecked at its ripening seeds. There were lots of Black Eyed Susans, goldenrod, and ragweed. They did not give him hay fever. Other people talked about hay fever a lot in September. Weeds were pungent, he thought. He liked that word. Soon they reached the bridge. The Creek ran below. It was a concrete and steel bridge with no superstructure. There were pilings near it where an older bridge once stood.
Excerpted from On The Banks of Holliday Creek by David Wright Copyright © 2012 by David Wright. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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