Something Personal

Fred Cheney

© Copyright 2022 by Fred Cheney

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay..


Writing 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 as seniors.

Senior year started like the others. We wrote about what we read, Hamlet and The Return of the Native, both good 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.

That 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.

The phantom is dressed in blue.
Her nylons are that color, too.
If you cough or you sneeze.
“I’ll have no talking, please.”
Oh what are we going to do?

We 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 writing.

Then 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 it.

I 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 state meet.

Writing 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.

After 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.”

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