This week I will present two pieces of writing, both from students I taught in my first years of teaching, at South Iredell High School in Barium Springs, NC.
The first is a paragraph I received in a creative writing class by Ruth McLean, who at that time was a sophomore in high school. The assignment was to describe a place, using catalogue. Here’s Ruth’s essay:
On what used to be the main road, now replaced by an interstate highway, is a beer joint known as “Hatties.” As you enter, the heavy wooden door closes behind you with a bang. The ceiling on this cement block building is low and the rooms are filled with noisy people and smoke. Pin ball machines with flashing lights crack and pop. Crowded around the bar, people choose their favorite beers. Drafts in big glass mugs, brightly labeled cans, and brown tinted bottles go out. Wines in beautifully shaped bottles from every country line the walls. A single lit light bulb hangs from the center of the ceiling. High-backed, thickly stuffed booths hide the faces in the dark. A juke box plays and sticks on the words.
Ruth was living in Blue Springs, Missouri, last I heard from her several years ago.
In 1975, I received a letter from a former student, Frankie Archer, then a freshman at UNC-Charlotte. I answered the letter. The correspondence has continued to the presence. In 2002, I published excerpts from his letters in a book, Winter Wren Lane, his address in Iredell County. Here is a selection from the “Summer” section of the book:
August usually comes to the South just as the leaves are beginning to die, as yellow and brown ones litter the ground beneath the apple trees, and August comes while tent caterpillar nests hang amid the outer branches of persimmon, pecan, and wild cherry.
August is ushered in through heavy haze which never stirs in the death-still air but lingers between woodlots and over weedy pastures.
Whenever August arrives, grass has lost its vigor and gone to seed, and day after day of intense heat has baked away its green. Even the more deeply-rooted woody vines have dropped leaves and appear spent–all except kudzu; kudzu thrives and trails through sunny passages and climbs high over the wood’s edge.
August must be the manifestation of Nature’s harsh relentlessness; whenever August arrives in the South, we’ve already experienced enough summer.