was serious business at my high school. To begin, we had to write. We
had an essay a week. 300 words as freshmen, incrementally up to 1000
Copyright 2022 by Fred Cheney
Photo courtesy of Pixabay..
year started like the others. We wrote about what we read, Hamlet
Return of the
enough stories. Then we did a critical analysis which critiqued three
works by one author. I chose Kipling because he seemed easy to read.
To get ready, we read Pope’s Essay
on Criticism, which
I’ve gone back to over the years, but I was too young for it
then. My English teacher also happened to be the monitor of my study
hall in the auditorium. She paced the aisles like a specter, keeping
everyone studying, or at least silent. She was old, squarely built,
and had a penchant for navy blue suits.
side of Miss Pease inspired me to write a limerick, my first personal
encounter with writing. In retrospect it was even more doggerel-eared
than most, but I do remember it.
phantom is dressed in blue.
nylons are that color, too.
you cough or you sneeze.
have no talking, please.”
what are we going to do?
didn’t have the term “viral” back then, but the
poem certainly went that way. Everyone knew my limerick. I’d
hear it recited behind me in the hall. The teasing was good-natured,
and lasted a long time. It seemed I had written something that made
me sort of famous. And I could have gained a new perspective on
came spring. We were all accepted in college. The English department
was not obliged to “grow” us any more, so we students’
task became the personal essay. Miss Pease introduced it, and I
greeted it with the same lack of enthusiasm I’d greeted the
précis or the comparison. But I was wrong. Miss Pease proved
took her up on her dare to write about myself, about what mattered to
me. First, I wrote about what it was like to outsmart a trout with a
dry fly. And she read it. I could tell by her comments. Then I wrote
about an athlete I admired in a neighboring school who overcame great
difficulty to excel. She read it and commented. This was new to me. I
was writing about things outside academia, things alien to her, and
she was right there with me. I wrote about the time I inadvertently
betrayed my cross-country team in my sophomore year and won a race
when we were all supposed to hold back and tie for first. I earned
the name Glory Boy for that little blunder. She commented that I
seemed to have redeemed myself when I won the mile at the last indoor
changed for me when I learned that I could use it to connect to
things that mattered to me, and that someone without those
connections would read it and understand it. I submitted an article
to a sporting magazine that covered hunting and fishing in Maine, and
they accepted it. I had an editorial published in the
newspaper—something about a new driving regulation. Writing
became more than personal; it became important and satisfying.
our last class of the year, I stayed behind to thank Miss Pease. I
presented my yearbook for her to sign. She turned to the English
faculty page and above her picture, wrote the customary, “Wishing
you every success in all your endeavors.” And then she signed
it. “Fondly, The Blue Phantom.”
Cheney lives in rural Maine (USA) on the property where he grew up.
In fact, his great (x?) grandparents acquired the land in a grant from
King George, after he stole it from the Pejepscot Indians. Fred plays
pidjin bluegrass on his guitar. Now retired, he divides his time
between volunteering at the local elementary school, a nearby
homeless shelter, and with a veterans’ project. And he writes
some. His writing is in or will appear in the Sandy
River Review, Goose River Anthology, Omni, and Parabola
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Another story by Fred
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