So . . . this writing-every-day thing is harder than it looks. I come to the blog page with nothing on my plate. How about this — I’ll tell a little tale from my writerly beginnings.
It’s 1967. Fifth grade. I’m . . . what, ten or eleven? . . . and I’m in the classroom of my favorite elementary school teacher, Mrs. Sundvall. (I never did find out her first name.) Mrs. Sundvall was a happy, rotund, larger-than life redhead (though I suspect the red may have been more bottle than birthright) who encouraged her students to pursue whatever interested them. She made learning fun. For the talent show, instead of just a couple of kids entering from our class, she put us all together as a kazoo band performing “Tijuana Taxi” and “Spanish Flea” (both songs by Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass) on kazoos, while one of our classmates danced (boy, could he move!) in a two-sided suit that made him look like he was coming and going at the same time. Some of us did enter as individuals, anyway (I did a slip-shod magic act), but the kazoo band was almost everyone’s favorite memory of that year.
I say “almost everyone” because a handful of us got an even better memory. As a reward (I think for some in-class reading contest, or something), Mrs. Sundvall took us to the movies! We went to the old Fort Armstrong Theatre in downtown Rock Island, Illinois, an old-time movie theater as sumptuous as you would expect. Red carpeting in the foyer, two sets of double doors leading into the theater, a balcony, deep scarlet curtains covering the screen. It was awesome! (It wasn’t my first visit to that theater, nor my last, but it was the most special.) The movie we saw that day? Fantastic Voyage! What a day!
I dredge all of this up to juxtapose it with the first bit of censorship I ran across in my young life. We had a once-a-week showcase in the classroom for anybody that wanted to present something to the class. It was slightly-more-sophisticated version of show and tell: instead of bringing in the family pet or a potato that looked like the President, we students were expected to perform something. That’s how we discovered Gene could dance (I think that was his name), that another student could play the drums, and so on. When it came my turn, what did I present?
I wrote and performed a two-person playlet called Dracula vs. Frankenstein. It it, I sought to prove that Dracula’s brains (I played Dracula, of course) were superior to Frankenstein’s brawn (played by one of my childhood buddies, Mark Brunet). The whole thing lasted probably around three minutes and consisted mostly of the two of us play-punching each other, until Dracula defeated Frankenstein with some kind of weird mind power. Don’t look at me that way, I was ten!
The kids dutifully clapped for the sad little scene. As I went back to my seat, Mrs. Sundvall caught me gently by the elbow and asked to speak with me after school. I thought maybe I’d get a special reward for such an entertaining presentation. Maybe we’d go see another movie!
Nope. Mrs. Sundvall, after lightly praising my creativity and energy, said if I wrote anything like that in the future, it would have to have a lot less violence. There were too many playground fights during recess and lunch as it is, she said, so we don’t need to encourage everyone with pretend fighting, do we? I don’t remember what I said, some form of mumbled assent, I’m guessing, and then I shuffled on home, a bit dejected that my favorite teacher didn’t appreciate the genius that sprang full-grown from my mighty brain.
So I got home, switched on the TV, and watched Yogi Bear until those thoughts went away.
To this day, Mrs. Sundvall is still one of my favorite teachers, though.