By Ken Bradbury
If your house resembles mine you have three types of drawers: drawers, deep drawers, and deep-deep drawers. You use your drawers daily, your deep drawers hardly ever and your deep-deep’s are so deep and forgotten that you may have forgotten you had them. This week I took a dive into the deep-deeps and it was a terrifying journey.
I was moving a chest of drawers out of my house and so one afternoon I took on the daunting task of cleaning out its contents. What should have been a half hour’s work took the rest of the day as I channeled Indiana Jones in my excavations. Dear God … I had no idea. Medals for high school trumpet contests, 4-H pins, my bronzed baby shoes, sleeve garters, collar stays, socks have a match only in heaven, reams of letters from former students, my 8th-grade autobiography, a mostly plagiarized essay called “Italy, the Land of Splendor!,” a sack of balloons, about five dozen kazoos, two penny whistles, a book signed by my grandmother, a book signed by President Carter, and enough paper clips to hold a sale and put Staples out of business. Then I spied them at the bottom of the deep-deep drawer …
A small packet of cards, more than yellowed with age, crumbling a bit around the edges … my report cards from grade and high school. I thought for a moment that it might be best not to open them since over the years I’ve fooled myself into thinking I know what I’m doing, but curiosity got the best of me and I opened the first report card. I think I trembled a bit.
2nd grade, Mrs. Brim. The report cards in those days listed the grade averages in the various subjects but also included boxes for such encouraging terms as, “Comes poorly prepared . . . Appears not to try …Inclined to mischief …Indolent,” and such. Mrs. Brim had plastered what I thought was an overly black checkmark in the box labeled, “Whispers too much.” I whispered something under my breath when I read then. But my grades were spectacular. All A’s except …a C in Writing. Bummer. My career with words was getting off to a stumbling start.
I couldn’t find my 3rd grade report card, but since my mother was my 3rd-grade teacher perhaps that’s just as well. I opened the next card, 4th Grade. Mrs. Waters. This one included two check marks in “Whispers too much,” and my grades were starting to slip a bit. Mostly A’s except for a B in Language and a D in writing. I was becoming a worse writer by the year. And Mrs. Waters was my cousin! Gimme a break, Wilma!
Fifth Grade, Mrs. Smith. My A’s were getting fewer as I’d slipped to the B level in arithmetic, geography, and again language. And there it was again, my lowest grade. A grade of C in writing. This was the same teacher who looked at my first essay and said, “Kenny, you’re a nice boy, but when you grow up maybe you should find a job where you don’t have to write.” And this lady liked me! Really! She let me dust the erasers out on the sidewalk day after day. She let me take roll. She knew my mother. She just didn’t want me to become a writer.
Sixth grade, Lola Cory. Mrs. Cory was known as the terror of Perry Grade School so I figured that to simply pass sixth-grade would be a victory. I opened the card. “Work carelessly done,” and “Hurries too much,” were the opening words, and she was kind enough to give me an “OK” in music. Just okay. Then I saw it. The only C on the card: “Writing.” Double bummer.
7th Grade, Mrs. Daigh. Marie Daigh was one of the friendliest teachers in the building and I knew that she’d surely recognize budding genius when she saw it. This was the same lady who taught this strange course called Orthography, a class I dearly hated. If you showed me a diagram of the human body I still couldn’t point to the “ortho.” I scanned the card … I was improving … nearly all A’s except … except. By now you can probably finish this sentence. “Writing: C.”
8th Grade, Mr. Roberts. This guy liked me. I know he did. I played forward on his basketball team so surely he’d give me a break. The grades hovered around the A and B level and there was no low writing grade! Whoopee! Okay, there also was no category for writing on my 8th-grade card, so I assumed that I had improved so much that the school saw no need to test me. Or maybe not.
I took a senior writing seminar at Illinois College and Professor Ruth Bump gave me the only C in the class and told me it was because she hated my topic. It was some consolation in that it was the only thesis to be published.
I have no ending to this column. For some reason I just don’t feel like writing.