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Averyell A. Kessler

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The Last Day©Averyell A. KesslerIt’s the last day of school, my final day as a six grader at Power School. My brain is pacing back and forth like a caged tiger. We all are. Even Miss Latham, our teacher, has a faraway look in her eyes as she tries to hold back an imminent explosion of joy. Outside, the custodian and his crew are mowing and the fragrant aroma of just-cut clover drifts through the open windows in my classroom. The brown grass edging Riverside Drive is turning lush green, and pink puffs are falling from the mimosa trees on the front lawn. It’s summer. No one can hold it back. I feel it in every inch of my body, tingling like an electric current, or the stomach-churning rush of a descending elevator. After today, I’ll be free. A stay up late, run through the sprinkler, bubble blowing, bike riding, dive and splash summer stretches out like a golden road. I pay no attention to the sweat dibbing into my socks.About a mile to the east, the swimming pool folks at Riverside Park are preparing to open. They are sweeping the remains of winter debris from the empty pool, and stocking the concession stand with Tootsie Rolls, Life Savers, and Bit’O Honey bars. They’re revving up the snow-ball machine too. If I’m lucky, they’ll purchase a cotton candy machine. If I’m truly lucky, Mama will buy me a new swimsuit and a bathing cap covered with flowers. No chin strap!But the day is moving like molasses. Bright afternoon sunlight pours into the classroom and warm air covers me like a wool blanket. Desperation sits in the desk beside me, staring with laughing eyes. Gotcha, it says. I am trapped, held prisoner by the oversized wall clock hanging over Miss Latham’s desk. I am surprised when she stands, looks at her watch, and makes a stunning announcement.“I think we still have time to check the spelling test we took yesterday.” Oh no! I’ve been dreading this, hoping beyond hope that she’d forgotten about yesterday’s 45-word monster. Instead, she plows ahead, methodically passing out papers so that no one gets his own test. I sit squirming as Jimmy Evans’ test falls on my desk. Then it begins, Miss Latham patiently calls out Arizona – A-r-i-z-o-n-a, Kentucky – K-e-n-t-u-c-k-y, misery – m-i-s-e-r-y, despair d-e-s-p-a-i-r. Finally, she says, freedom – f-r-e-e-d-o-m. I rejoice. Jimmy scores 100, because I have not looked at a single word on his test. Miss Latham collects the papers. I doubt she will even glance at them, but the last torment is over. I look at the clock again. Hallelujah, it’s almost time for the bell. No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks! In five minutes, I’ll be gone forever. Gone? Forever? I remember the day it started. It’s only a whisp of remembrance, but it’s there.In August of my 2nd grade year, the new Power School was finally finished and ready to welcome its first students. A modern yellow brick marvel, it was a sprawling, one story building settled in the middle of 5 acres fronting on Riverside Drive. The campus included a softball diamond, a basketball blacktop, hopscotch patterns, and a wide lawn for games. Our new desks were even footed (no rocking) and without initials carved on top or concrete globs of bubble gum stuck under the bottom. The black boards had become green boards, and the windows opened wide to receive fresh air. Everything was fresh and clean, the walls were spotless, and seamless linoleum floors were polished to a high gloss. On that first day, we gathered around the flagpole with our teachers and parents, as Miss Briscoe, the principal, welcomed and blessed us. We sang a loud, off-key version of My Country Tis of Thee and recited the Pledge of Allegiance as the flag was raised for the first time. Here we come, ready or not. After everyone walked inside for punch and cookies, our parents wrangled us into our classrooms and kissed us goodbye. The new school had opened, and we settled in to learn the latest and greatest from a cadre of teachers, both young and old. Anything was possible.Now it is ending. This is my last day at Power School, my final stroll down the long hall leading to the cafeteria, my last time to slink past Miss Biscoe’s office and hope she doesn’t catch me sprinting across the front lawn. Bailey Jr. High was a gleaming star on a high hill, an exciting unknown adventure, with new friends, new teachers and the tantalizing prospect of lipstick and high heels. I couldn’t wait.I am thankful for my Power School teachers. They taught for the love of the job and of the kids too. They would rather have endured a three- hour root canal than miss a day of school. They called our parents when we were out with measles and intervened if anyone was being pushed around on the playground. They patched up skinned knees and helped us button our coats on freezing winter days. They had rules, could control a giggling classroom by clapping their hands, and God help the poor child who stepped out of line or cut up in the cafeteria. They smiled when we did well, and worried when we didn’t. Not just because of our failure, but because of theirs also.I hope there are still good teachers out there now, people who teach because they love learning and slog through difficulty to make sure everybody learns to read, understands fractions, and can write a proper sentence with a minimum of difficulty. The good ones open sleepy eyes and help fledgling adults emerge from the chrysalis of childhood. They are a parent’s best friend, and an ally in learning. They lead us forward, point to the stairsteps of learning, and say, “One step at a time. Take my hand. We’ll climb together.” They are a blessing. I remember them all.

In the Cold©Averyell A. Kessler(I wrote this during a weekend of extremely cold weather. I decided to post it again today, because there is shouting in the streets.)

Father, I pray for all who suffer in the cold,For those who know you, and for those who do not,For those whose eyes are open, and those who have closed theirs and walked away,I pray for those who are called by your name, and those who will never know it,I pray for all your creation,Continue reading “In the Cold©Averyell A. Kessler(I wrote this during a weekend of extremely cold weather. I decided to post it again today, because there is shouting in the streets.)”

Up to No Good with WG©Averyell A. KesslerSaturday reprise – This is the first story I wrote about my grandfather.When I was eight, going on nine, my grandfather, WG Avery, taught me how to shoot craps. The lesson occurred in his office a few weeks before I entered the third grade. I was already an expert at Parcheesi and Chinese Checkers so when he opened his desk drawer and lifted out a pair of shiny red dice, I was entranced. A new game!“Where’s the board?” I asked.“You don’t need a game board for this,” he said. My eyes widened. This was not Candy Land or Shoots and Ladders. “Close the door,” he ordered.At that time, WG’s office was in an old worn out house at the corner of Mitchell and Northwest Street, and so close to the railroad tracks that the building shuddered when freight trains clacked into town or the City of New Orleans roared by. The windows were coated with a fine patina of dust and cigar smoke. The floors boards groaned when the front door squeaked open and the walls were infused with the faint aroma of motor oil. But this was his territory, his home, the make or break center of his business. For some obscure reason, Mama dropped me off to stay with him while she ran a few errands. We were best buddies. What could possibly go wrong?“OK,” he began. “You shake the dice hard and toss’em on the desk. If you get 7 or 11, you win. If you get 2,3, or 12, you lose.“What about the other numbers,” I asked.“We’ll get to that in a minute,” he replied. “Let me show you.” He rolled the dice back and forth between his hands, tossed them onto his desk, and shouted, “Gimme a big red, come on big red.” A pair of 6’s landed on top of a copy of the Wallstreet Journal.“Boxcars, dadgummit,” he said.It didn’t matter; we kept going. We played until Mama returned. By this time, I knew the important terminology, “bones, snake eyes, and crapping out.”When Mama discovered my new game ad it’s singular vocabulary, she was horrified. A second lesson occurred in the car on the way home. I would not tell my father, my teachers, or anyone at Sunday School. I would not explain this game to my friends or sneak dice out of the Monopoly box. I would not peek into the secret gambling room at the Jackson Country Club.“But it was so easy,” I exclaimed. “And I won.”“Sometimes, your grandfather teaches you things he shouldn’t,” she said. “Craps is a bad word. Don’t say it again.”She failed to mention that he taught her how to smoke a cigar in the basement of their home in Detroit, Michigan. She was ten.WG wasn’t a total ne’er-do-well. Just an interesting man from another era. He taught me important lessons too, “Don’t follow the mob, work hard, most politicians are weasels and pole cats, and you can do anything you want to do (an important lesson for a female child in the 1950’s). He also taught me craps. So, don’t take me on in a game!When WG was approaching 90, he taught my sons how to shoot craps also. They were 6 and 8. I never said a word.Update for next week – I’ll be posting a reprise story on Thanksgiving Day. I’m the family pie maker and there won’t be much time for writing. I’m also in charge of cornbread dressing and roasting ducks with a recipe from Mulate’s in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Have a happy, festive, and thankful day.

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