Karen Swallow Prior had Mrs. Lovejoy. I had Miss Roark.
Over at The High Calling, we’ve been discussing Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. Technically, we should be posting on Mondays. I did post Monday, on how literature has helped me make sense of the world, but I also posted last Wednesday, fascinated with the origins of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution noted by Prior in the book.
The fact is, I could likely get as many blog posts out of Booked as there are chapters, and likely more than one a chapter. We’re covering about three chapters a week, with our discussion leader (Laura Boggess) aiming to finish the book at the end of the month.
But chapter 4 – oh, my goodness, it’s all about one of my all-time favorite books, the one that set me moving in the direction of writing (more on that next Monday). And it’s all about middle school, not one of my all-time favorite educational experiences.
Mrs. Lovejoy, says Prior, was her seventh and eighth grade English teacher (middle school – did you hate it as much as I did? ). I had Miss Roark for ninth grade English, and ninth grade was part of middle school in my school district. And middle school wasn’t called middle school – instead, it was known as junior high school. It was a strange set-up – we actually graduated from eighth grade, ceremony and all, and then came back to the same school for ninth grade. High school didn’t start until tenth grade.
Miss Roark was a native of Alabama, with a soft southern accent and a mind that was razor sharp. She endeared herself to me from the beginning of the school year over our choices for research papers. We had to do two – one on an English author and one on an American author. She wrote the names of 32 English and 32 American authors on the blackboard. One by one, and in alphabetical order, the 32 of in an all-boys class had to walk up to the board and select our authors by erasing their names.
Guess who was last alphabetically? Which meant I would have the two authors no one else chose.
After everyone but me had selected, left on the blackboard was William Shakespeare (everyone else decided he was too hard to read) on the English side, which was okay. But on the American side, there was the name of Louisa May Alcott. A 14-year-old boy was going to have to read Little Women and Little Men, and 31 other boys in the classroom knew it.
Yes, I was ready to die.
The class started laughing, and all the comments started. And then Miss Roark erupted, and said if another person said anything about it at all, in or out of class, they would have to switch authors with me. That shut down the catcalls and insults. Immediately. And permanently.
Personally, I thought she had demonstrated the wisdom of Solomon.
I did my projects, and they turned out fine. I read the Alcott novels. I liked Shakespeare better. But the Alcott books were okay. It turned out to be a great year for English.
The next year, when I was in high school, I sent her a Christmas card, which I think shocked her. She called on the phone, which shocked me. And we talked. I sent her a card the following year, too, but she had left the area. I don’t know if she went back to Alabama or somewhere else. I never saw or heard from her again.
When I first walked into her class, I already loved to read. By the time I left her class, I loved literature.
Faith, Fiction, Friends: Making Sense of the World
Faith, Fiction, Friends: Do You Know Where the First Amendment Comes From?
The High Calling: ‘Booked’ by Karen Swallow Prior