Instances of adventure and hairbreadth escape were frequent at this time.
—First Lessons in Georgia History, 1913
“I don’t know, he might take to schooling,” the old man said. “He ain’t had a fit for going on two months.”
“I speck he better stay at home,” the officer said. “I wouldn’t want to put a strain on him,” and he continued to speak of other things.
—The Violent Bear It Away, by Flannery O’Connor
So now in late October we come to the case of disappearing Dill. Never absent. Always in class. But there he is … I think see him … the phantom eighth grader.
Parent-student-frustrated teacher conferences have a super nifty way of acting as a hot spotlight on the annoying gorillas in the room of which we actually talk about in order to develop strategies and expectations for our lives ahead. Conferences and the amount of money parents are spending have a way of cutting through the stupid eighth grade doo-doo, in other words, especially when all of Dill’s teachers and Lurlene and Coco, our assistant principal, have had enough of nothing.
Lurlene says in her parent-student-frustrated teacher conference voice … Dill … buddy … you’re a great kid … we’re so glad you’re here … but this is called school and you’re required to do work and not act like such a wimp. We need you to man up. I know you can do it.
Dill’s parents nodded in agreement. They’re either paying for super expensive baby-sitting or a chance of a lifetime, they said. You’re surrounded by experts, they say. Teachers who care. It’s time.
Lurlene says … it’s so time.
Dill … mealy-mouthly says … O-kaaaay.
As if all this is an option.
Dill. Not the time to be a rebel. Always agree with Lurlene and act real enthusiastic about the road ahead when Lurlene’s in the room.
So over a Friday, post conferences-catered gourmet lunch of sandwiches, salads, cookies the size of hubcaps, and motor-oil-thick sweet tea, Lurlene briefs us and reads the new Dill act, soon to be a riot of work and dedication and expectations like he’s never seen or felt before. Lurlene said soon we’ll know if he’ll stay or if he’ll go. Turn the screws hard as you can. Get his attention. Stay on him. Mom and dad are on board. It’s up to Dill now. Lurlene says, Aren’t these cookies wonderful.
So we come to today, Dixie, and my better focus, finally, on Dill. In my class his assignments are complete … up to speed … he’s never given me any sass … but he’s absently in class and now I want to call him out. I’ve been in a dancing mood lately, especially when an eighth grader plays with a little Bakugan Battle Brawlers toy while I’m eminently lecturing and that would be Dill. Here’s what a mean ol’ teacher I am: I asked Dill to start reading out loud from the book and not stop until I moaned something.
You, Dill … Right now.
Dixie, this morning if you would have described to me through the shower curtain while I was shampooing my hair about what was going to happen next I would have stopped shampooing my hair and I really love shampooing my hair. Dill starts up on page one hundred and thirty five in a section I can’t say is real stirring, Westward Expansion. Anyway, Dill reads the first part real loud in an announcer voice … as if where announcing a Braves baseball game. Keep in mind, Dill has auburn hair and freckles across his nose and cheeks and a smile full of braces and when he’s reading his eyes bug out and overall he’s a good looking kid except for the eyes bugging out situation …
After the Revolutionary War, Americans believed they had a right to Indian lands west of the Appalachians, the area formerly claimed by Great Britain! Increasingly, they believed it was their nation’s destiny to expand westward! This was especially true after the Lewis and Clark expedition revealed the richness of the vast area gained by the Louisiana Purchase!
Okay, then. Oh, my God, then. They’re all of a sudden looking at me with their own bug eyes and I’m looking at Dill with my bug eyes and I know the rest of the class is wondering if Dill and I worked something out before class because this was the first time Dill had ever read out loud in class and it was quite a weird and welcome treat. I’m wondering why I waited so long to call on him. A whacky, unprompted treat … truly a wild thing was happening in The Cozy Room of Learning. In other words, I never asked him to all of a sudden start reading out of the Georgia History textbook in an announcer’s voice. Hell, I’m sitting there like everybody else trying to get some sleep. Then Dill starts in on the next section in an English accent. Again, on his own … theatrically … confidently … with the biggest goofy-ass grin on his face you’ve ever seen … and those bug eyes of his …
Belief in western expansion came to be more than a desire for cheap land; it represented the freedom and unlimited opportunities that America offered! Initially, expansion involved moving eastern tribes of Indians to the West whether they wanted to go or not! Ultimately, Americans adopted the idea of a continental nation! By the 1840s, many held an almost religious conviction that their nation should extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific! This belief came to be known as manifest destiny, a term coined by a New York editor in 1845!
What the hell else was there to do? We clapped and screamed his name as loud as we could. A move in the right academic direction? Who knows. Who cares. He’s got a B in my class and that’s fine with me. But he has a certain way of reading historical literature … and we’ll be freaking for more in the coming weeks and months. Guaranteed.
Dill raised both hands up as if to stop our applause.
We didn’t stop.
Dill still had that goofy-ass grin on his face.
I said to Dill … Awesome. Just awesome. Holy God almighty that was hilarious.
Like the entertainer he was, and probably always has been but we’ve never known it, Dill said … Folks, I’ll be here all week.
Next Entry ... October 29: What Dyslexia Looks Like