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I start up the street toward my grandfather's house. Just how weird is it that I, Brad Stanislawski, am walking toward a funeral home of my own free will?
Where do you fit in when you're oversized, underappreciated, and faced with a name like Stanislawski?
Brad Stanislawski is looking forward to summer vacation, if only to get away from the classmates who make fun of his size (it's not his fault he's so tall) and his last name (Stan-is-lousy being their moniker of choice). So when Brad's mother announces that she's taking a summer vacation by herself and sending Brad across the country to stay with his estranged grandfather-who happens to be an undertaker-Brad thinks life couldn't possibly get any worse. Still, as Brad ought to know, first impressions can be deceiving, and a name can hold a lot more than embarrassment.
What exactly does it mean to be Brad Stanislawski? In this thoughtful, funny first novel, Brad (with a little help from his grandfather) is about to find out for himself.
Funerals and Fly Fishing is a 2005 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
|Publisher:||Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)|
|File size:||132 KB|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Mary Bartek is a teacher for the "gifted and talented," as well as a school librarian and an award-winning journalist. She is the author of Funerals and Fly Fishing. Ms. Bartek lives in Centennial, Colorado, with her family.
Read an Excerpt
Funerals and Fly Fishing
By Mary Bartek
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2004 Mary Bartek
All rights reserved.
The Last Day of School
"Brad? Brad Stanislawski? Did you hear me?"
My pencil freezes mid-doodle. The art teacher's voice jerks me back to reality. I must have missed the beginning of this conversation. She looks annoyed, and the kids around me are snickering.
"I said I'd like all students to claim their work if it's still on display." She looks at the almost-bare art room walls. "Yours are the only pictures still affixed."
"You can have them, Mrs. Avery," I say quietly. "I don't need them."
"Thoughtful of you though that is, Mr. Stanislawski, I don't need them either." More snickers from around the room. "Would you remove them, please?"
"Sure." I get up. My chair slides back too far and clunks into the seat behind me. Rachel Martin, a tiny girl with a loud mouth, lets out a sigh that's noisier than my chair.
I am so glad it's the last day of sixth grade that Mrs. Avery's attitude hardly even bothers me. Usually when I go to a new school, the art teacher is the one person who makes me feel like I belong there. Mrs. Avery has been the exception. She likes my drawings well enough to keep putting them up, but I seem to annoy her just by being in the room. On the day I arrived three months ago, the first words out of her mouth were "I don't have an extra desk. I don't know where I'm going to put you," followed closely by "Stan — Stanis — How do you say your name?"
So now I stand beside my desk without moving. I'm trying to plan the route to the walls that will cause me the least trouble. Just my luck, the two biggest creeps in the class don't sit together here like they do everywhere else. Mrs. Avery never lets troublemakers sit side by side. It makes it easier for her to keep them under control, I guess, but at the moment it's severely limiting my options: I can't get to the walls without passing directly by either Jason Miller or Anthony DeVito.
"Mr. Stanislawski?" Mrs. Avery says. "Do you need help finding your way?"
By the class's reaction, she could have a great future at the Comedy Club. Maybe now that she's retiring, stand-up comedy will be her next gig.
I don't bother answering. I start for the pictures. Unfortunately, since my eyes were checking out how I could avoid Jason and my feet were already planning to stay away from Anthony, I trip on my first step. I saved both of them the trouble this time. They should thank me.
Overall, sixth grade has not been my favorite. Not at North Middle in Denver, where I started the year, and not here on the southern edge of the Denver suburbs. Just as she has with every other move, my mom keeps saying, "Look at all the people you're getting to meet. I never had those opportunities." When I mention that no one seems especially interested in meeting me, she says, "Just look for the friendly faces." Apparently, this is the year when all the friendly kids moved out the week before I moved in.
My mom used to work as a receptionist at a real estate office that also handled rental properties. Whenever Mom heard about a decent place for less rent than we were paying, she'd start packing boxes. She got her agent's license a while back, and this time when she found a great deal she bought the house instead of renting it. That could mean we're staying put, but I'm not counting on it.
This is also the year I grew four and a half inches, something I am reminded of on the weekdays when I hear somebody refer to me as "that big kid," and on the weekends when my mom says, "I wish I could know how much taller you're going to get before we invest in clothes again." She always smiles after she says that, but it makes me feel guilty anyway. I'd quit growing if I could figure out how.
I take my time getting my four drawings off the walls, and Mrs. Avery seems to have forgotten about me. She's droning on to the class about how she hopes they have a good summer vacation. She looks at the clock, talks, looks at the clock again. I know how much I want the next two class periods to fly by, so I can sympathize with Mrs. Avery. She must be ready to go nuts, stuck in this room for the last thirty years.
I pull the last drawing off the wall and start back between the rows of desks just as the bell rings. Suddenly, I'm on a one-way street, driving the wrong way. The kids behind me are blocking the retreat, and I can't move forward either. Worst of all, I'm nose to nose with Jason. "Get out of my way, you ox," he growls, well within earshot of Mrs. Avery.
"Mr. Miller," she bellows, "I heard that."
"I didn't mean you, Mrs. Avery," he says. I knew this guy was stupid, but that last line verges on a death wish.
"Sit, Mr. Miller," she says, pointing as if he were her dog, "and don't get up until I tell you to."
This time the snickers are aimed at Jason. I try not to look at him, but his squinty glare drags my eyes like a magnet.
"Later, Stanislawski," he says, just loud enough for me to hear.CHAPTER 2
Problems and Prizes
I waste no time leaving the building after the last bell. Not that I have any great plans for summer. It's just that right now not going to school every day for the next ten weeks sounds like vacation enough.
Hopping on my bike, I can't help smiling. I start toward home feeling like everyone who sees me will automatically think the word freedom. This is my best day since we moved.
My great mood lasts for a record three and one-half blocks, when somewhere close behind me a water balloon hits the sidewalk. It lets out a loud whoosh, but just a few drops splash my leg. I keep pedaling.
"Hey, Brad-lee, wait up!" Jason whines my first name in a loud, obnoxious voice. I know that will be Anthony's cue to murder my last name.
"Get back here, Stan-is-lousy!" he yells.
For the millionth time, I promise myself that the first thing I'll do when I'm eighteen is change my name. But I don't have a chance to sit around thinking about it now. I pedal faster. Unfortunately, so do Jason and Anthony.
I still have a couple of bike lengths on them. I'm taller than these Neanderthals, but I've got more than a few pounds on them, too. Out-biking them isn't easy. The burning in the back of my calf is about to turn into a full-blown muscle-twister.
Another water balloon whooshes. This one lands even with my back tire, but off to the left. I get a wet ankle out of it.
Time for Plan B. There's a cul-de-sac just around the curve. I hope I know this neighborhood better than these jerks do. At the last possible second I veer into the little street pocket and up between two houses where I know there's a shortcut. Gravel sprays behind me as they try to follow, but somebody's bike goes down. Judging from the swearing, I'm guessing it's Anthony's.
"I'll get you, Stan-is-lousy!" Yep, it's definitely Anthony's, but I don't turn around. I just remind myself that sixth grade is finally over. I concentrate on feeling the breeze dry my sweaty hair as I finish the ride home.
Walking into the house, I let the screen door slam behind me. When my mom doesn't yell at me for it, I realize she's on the phone. I walk into the kitchen to grab a snack.
Mom is sitting at the kitchen table with the phone in her hand. Her voice sounds calm, but it doesn't match her face. She looks upset.
"I understand, really. ... It's not like you have any choice." There's a pause, and then she adds, "Don't give it another thought. I'll work something out. Bye now." She sets the phone on the table, then lets her head klunk down beside it. Tea sloshes in the mug beside her. A few drops spill out.
Assuming that she'll tell me what's the matter when she's ready, I put down my backpack, pour myself a glass of milk, and grab a couple of cookies. I carry the snack to the table and sit down across from her. I'm halfway through the first cookie when she slowly sits up.
"Bad day?" I ask.
Mom's eyes widen. "Oh, I've had better. That was Laura on the phone. Her sister in Nebraska — the one with the two-year-old twins and the husband in the Army — broke her leg yesterday. She's begging Laura to come up and help her. She says she doesn't have anyone else to ask. So Laura's family is leaving tonight."
Laura is my mom's best friend. We've known her forever. She lives on the other side of town, near where Mom lived when I was a baby. She and her husband have a four-year-old named Nathan who's a pretty cute kid.
"Is she going to be back before you leave for California?"
Mom lets out a sigh and answers, "I don't see how she could be."
I'm supposed to stay with Laura's family while my mom goes on vacation. It's not the kind of thing Mom has done before — ever — but this has been planned for months. After working long hours all last winter at the real estate office, she earned the Rookie of the Year Award. Among the new hires she sold the most properties. Not the expensive ones with the high commissions. But at least there were a lot of them, and that's what counted. As a bonus, the company gave her the trip.
Mom runs a hand through her hair, stands up, and says, "I've got a house to show. I'll have to worry about this later."
She grabs her keys and purse, then turns back to me. "I'm sorry, honey. I didn't even ask you how the last day of school went."
I wave her on.
"It was fine. It's summer vacation now. How bad can that be?"
"Great." She continues toward the door. "I shouldn't be long, okay?"
"Sure. See you later."
I pull out my sketchbook and pencil and take it to the back porch with the rest of my milk. Propping myself against the porch railing, I put pencil to paper.
"I had another swell day, Mom," I say to no one. My pencil takes off and wants to draw something ugly. It's a monster that's more apelike than anything, but its eyes bulge in a disgusting, bloodshot way. "I get to spend my days with people who either ignore me ..." The monster is hunched over the handlebars of a bike that's two sizes too small for him. The hair on his back twists into little curlicues. "... or they have nothing better to do than make fun of my last name."
The monster has buckteeth. I'd make them yellow, but this is a pencil sketch, so some shading will have to do. I check out what I've drawn so far, trying to decide what's missing. A minute later, I'm putting the finishing touches on Anthony's baseball cap. It looks perfect on the monster's head.
I draw Jason and Anthony in as many bug-eyed, scaly ways as I can think of, and still Mom's not back.
Suddenly, I realize that I've got an answer for her vacation problem: I'll go with her. I tossed out that suggestion when she first told me about earning the trip. She had a bunch of reasons why it couldn't work at the time. But if she wants to go, she'll have to take me. I know she's not going to let me stay home alone.
I put away the sketchbook and get out a sheet of paper. "See It This Summer," I write at the top, and start my list:
1. The Pacific Ocean,
3. A Disney animator,
4. A movie star,
5. Palm trees.
I know my list will get a lot longer before the trip, so I number the rest of the way down the page to fill in later.
The truth is, there are about a million things I could write on this list. All I've ever really seen is Denver — North Denver, South Denver, East Denver. Everybody's been more places than I have.
I've taken three phone messages by the time Mom comes in at about six-thirty, and the first thing I do is hand them to her. Real estate agents get called a lot, so I've become a good message-taker. This time, though, she doesn't even look at them. Instead, she sits down on the step beside me, pulls out a cigarette, and fumbles around for a while as she tries to light it. She takes a couple of puffs and says, "Okay, kiddo, I've got a new plan."CHAPTER 3
A Change of Plans
"Here's the deal," Mom says. "I think I've come up with a way that I can still go on the trip." She takes another puff on her cigarette. "But I'll need your help."
I think she wants to surprise me, but I can't keep from smiling.
"You've decided to take me with you!" I look at her, expecting to see her face break into a grin like mine. Instead, she wrinkles her forehead and starts shaking her head.
"Brad, we already discussed that, remember? I can't afford to take you. To be honest, even if I could this wouldn't be the right time." She sighed. "I really need to get away by myself for a bit."
The smile slides off my face. Stumped for any other possibilities, I ask, "Do you want me to stay here alone?" That option does sound sort of interesting. "I guess I could do that."
"Of course not."
As far as I can see, we're at the bottom of the choice list. "Then what?"
"I've had time to give it some thought on the drive home. I tried to picture what else we could do. I couldn't think of any friends you have from school that you might want to stay with. Can you?"
She's got to be kidding. "Stay with? There's no one from school that I even want to talk to."
She raises her eyebrows but doesn't stay distracted for long. "Anyway, it finally occurred to me that there might be one other possibility. Your grandfather wrote again recently, suggesting you come and see him. So" — she takes a deep breath before she rushes through the rest of her sentence — "I'm thinking you and I could take vacations at the same time."
"You want me to visit your father? I don't even know him. He's someone who sends me a birthday card — that's it."
"I'm just offering it as an option. You could go to Pennsylvania while I go to California."
When I don't say anything, she keeps talking.
"He's even offered to pay your way, so I was thinking that could be a good solution. How about it?" She smiles, I guess to pretend that this is a fun idea.
My mom and I usually get along pretty well. It's always been just the two of us. But when I hear her say "a good solution," both my hands clench into fists.
"You need a solution to your problem, and I'm the problem, is that it?"
"Too bad there aren't any kennels where you can send me. Anyplace with food and water would be just fine." The sarcasm pours out of me.
"You're not being fair," she says.
"I'm not being fair?" My voice keeps getting louder, but I don't seem to be able to stop it. "You get to go to the beach, and I have to stay with some old person I don't even know?"
"I'm sorry," she says. "I don't know what else to do."
Mom had been looking out at the grass. When she finally looks at me, I'm afraid she's going to start crying. I try to ignore it.
"You could wait, and we could go some other time," I say.
"And when would that be? I've been trying to win a bonus for as long as I've had my license." Now she is crying, which is pretty impossible to ignore. "Who knows when I'll be able to pull it off again?"
I want to keep arguing, but I've run out of ammunition. What am I going to do? Keep her from going to California?
"Okay, I'll go," I say finally. "But I don't have to like it. As far as I'm concerned, this is just some guy who got stuck baby-sitting me."
And so, just days after that conversation, I'm boarding a U.S. Airways flight to Pittsburgh, ready to travel fifteen hundred miles to meet a stranger.
Excerpted from Funerals and Fly Fishing by Mary Bartek. Copyright © 2004 Mary Bartek. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 - The Last Day of School,
2 - Problems and Prizes,
3 - A Change of Plans,
4 - The Trip,
5 - The Stanislawski Funeral Home,
6 - Wallace Corners Pennsylvania,
7 - The Baseball Game,
8 - The Bag of Scalps,
9 - My Grandfather Explains the Scalp Bag,
10 - The Art of Tying Flies,
11 - The Phone in the Night,
12 - Mom's News,
13 - The House,
14 - The Climb,
15 - Following the Leader,
16 - Respect,
17 - The Bookshelf,
18 - Stanislawski the Great,
19 - Fishing,
20 - My Chance at the Fish,
21 - Getting Ready for the Festival,
22 - St. Mary's Festival,
23 - Trying Our Luck,
24 - The Hospital,
25 - Visitors,
26 - A Family Reunion,
27 - Going Home,
28 - Showdown,
About the Author,
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