The other day, I was reminiscing through some old photographs and papers when I found it. Thought it was long gone, but I guess Mom saved just about everything.
It was a composition assigned by my eighth grade English teacher. The theme was supposed to be a murder mystery. Perhaps a little morbid by today’s standards, but in those times, people understood the difference between fantasy and reality.
Most kids didn’t like creative writing homework, but I was excited about this one. I loved those TV cops and robbers shows and, of course, the shoot ‘em up Westerns that dominated the prime time media scenes.
Perhaps this would be the beginning of a television writing career. Couldn’t do worse than most of the trash out there.
Not to bore you with the entire composition, my masterpiece when something like this:
Lefty was looking for revenge. His brother had been killed by Rocky for cheating him in a poker game. He lured Rocky to a hilltop with the promise of a big deal.
“BLAM!” went the shotgun. Rocky was no more and the deal was sealed.
Friday came, and young Mrs. Dwight returned our papers. I awaited with great anticipation for the expected A-plus grade.
You can imagine my surprise when there was no such reward. Instead, a D-, scribbled from a Paper Mate ballpoint pen, stood out like a lit-up cop car in the rearview mirror.
But that wasn’t the only red ink covering my paper. Little marks about paragraphs, periods, commas and spelling also appeared, along with comments such as, “No character description or development,” “No follow through” and “No moral considerations.”
I was devastated. But what could a 13 year old do? The system was to big for a kid to fight.
“I know,” I thought. “I’ll complain to Mom. She’s a White House reporter and knows more about writing than my stupid teacher will ever know.”
But you guessed it: Now it was surprise number two.
Mom just shook her head, as she read my piece of literary garbage. I could see the disappointment on her face, as if to say, “Where did I go wrong with this kid?”
I hoped for the best. Surely, Mom would be nurturing and supporting, but I was in for disappointment number three. She began to speak:
“This is terrible! You’re lucky you didn’t get an F. ‘BLAM! went the shotgun?’ Are you kidding me? This is awful!”
Well, so much for the supportive and empathic Mom. Three strikes and I was out! I hung my head in shame and sorrow. Dreams of becoming a great screen writer were no more.
She must have read the disappointment in my face and began to reassess her approach to the situation.
“OK, I’ll show you how this should be done. First of all, there is no excuse for bad spelling. Look in the dictionary for what you don’t know.”
I retorted with logic: “But how am I supposed to know when something’s not spelled right, and how can I look it up if I don’t know how to spell it in the first place?”
Being not that logical herself, she responded with, “Look it up, anyway.” (Funny, my teachers used to say the same thing.)
She began to rewrite the entire composition, pointing out my many flaws along the way.
But Mom moved so quickly that I began to daydream about a ‘58 Thunderbird I’d seen in Popular Mechanics. A great effort on her part but lost on a kid whose head was somewhere in Detroit.
I resubmitted my assignment and this time got a B. No doubt, my teacher knew I had “cheated,” but wasn’t going to question my newspaper mom nor myself.
For years after this experience, I shied away from any creative writing activities. But life offers plenty of opportunities, and through various unexpected twists and turns, I now crank out one composition per week. The best part is Mom no longer corrects my stuff, (or does she via the “Twilight Zone?”)
I’m still not writing mysteries for Hollywood, but that’s surely no loss to anyone.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.