Every teacher’s best reward is knowing they made a difference. With the school year about to close, Johnny’s Essay is my sweet reminder:
Oconomowoc, Wi September, 1962
You could get a paper route when you were twelve On August 22, 1962, I was twelve years old On August 22, 1962 I got a paper route You got Esther Schroeder in the deal On September 4, 1962 I went to Junior High I became a thing, in the name of my school, for the first time Like all my classmates from sixth grade, became a Lincoln Bulldog
It was a huge transition. In the very building where I had spent K-3 The building, where, in the corner room on the first floor Next to the office of Principal Don Kramer Where only a few short years ago I had earnestly tried to convince the testy Mrs. Voight that my father had played with Blackhawk as a child
There was not just one teacher to win over, as there had been every school year prior to this There was one for History -love history, but…Miss Neuman was an acquired taste There was one for Math – hated math, but Mr. Geraghty-ya gotta’ love him There was one for Science, Mr. Merrill – he seemed so young to have his pants hitched up so high
There was art and music and gym and health A different teacher for all of them There was Gus. Gus the janitor that all the staff tried to get the kids to call Mr. Vogt But he was Gus. Sat by the boiler. And chewed and spit Cleaned floors, windows and bathrooms And chewed and spit
Then there was English. And Homeroom You went there to get your marching orders for the day The announcements. No one listened. For everything else you were in the cautious, caring hands of a teacher For homeroom, though, they all turned into wardens They kept the peace-most of the time Mrs. Kroseberg -Homeroom Warden Where had this one come from? I knew most of the teachers-My mother was The School Cook I had big brothers. Lots of them. I knew things
Quality was the Sixty Three (yes, sixty THREE) It was a Ford Galaxie 500 XL convertible that THAT guy used to pick her up after school It could have been a commercial for Ford. It was the car they used to get you into the dealership so they could sell you the Country Squire. But you could still think about the Ford Galaxie 500 XL. With bucket seats. Blue interior and the girl, with the dark hair, and the flashing dark eyes.
Later in the day, she turned up in my English class or I in hers. From my usual place in the back of the room over days and weeks, I migrated. To the center row and then to the front of the center row – something about talking out of turn, not paying attention, dark hair, the same flashing eyes – she could put you in your place without a word, but when words did come – Hell was never so hot. She was different. She didn’t tell me to stop doodling. She asked me to draw for the school paper.
She asked me one day if I was the Journal boy for Wisconsin Avenue, you can just put it on the stairs. And so I did. And Christmas came. You never quit your Journal route before you collected your Christmas tips. The first year it was more money than I had ever seen. I had forty three customers when I started my route. By Christmas I had fifty six. When Christmas was over I had $212 and a foil package with a beautiful ribbon and instructions that I could not open it until Christmas Guess who?
I don’t know why she did that. Made me wait and fantasize the contents of the box – two weeks at least It was a comb and brush It was not something cool but it said you have potential kid, use these. For me, it was a good Christmas. Pair of pants, a “school shirt” a Kodak Instamatic from my brother and sister and a comb and brush with a big doubloon on the brush. The comb was gone early, broken teeth and being kept in my pocket. The brush stayed around. Twenty years or more, as I recall. Took me awhile to understand the message.
It was the school year I never wanted to see end. No one had ever taken an interest in me like this one. I felt good about myself. MY cartoons were in the Bulldog Bulletin. MY poems got into some book and it was okay for a guy to write poetry. Susie said so
After the school year was over, there was still the paper route. I got to walk Nokes, the Labrador. I mowed the neighbors lawn. She said that since the school year was over, I could call her Susie – and I still do. She seems to think that gave her license to call me Johnny. Forever. And that’s okay.
I continued to teach and smoke in the boiler room with Gus for two years, until our first child was on the way. I loved the old building with its creaky, glossy wood floors that smelled like fresh wax, and the ditto machines that sent me home with purple hands. I remember having to tell my class that the President had been assassinated. One of the few sad days I had there. The old school was razed years ago to become a parking lot, and many residents are unaware that it ever existed – I still drive the same road, and have happy memories of that time. When I retired from teaching in 2004, Johnny’s Essay was my favorite gift.
John Lindsay graduated from college where his punctuation improved; he married a tall beautiful girl who is a teacher, and they raised three very bright, pretty young women. He is now a good grampa. He was our insurance agent until he retired to his well equipped wood working shop to handcraft heirlooms. We still keep in touch – and I don’t think he allows anyone else to call him Johnny…