A Journey Towards Literacy
Today we will ride together in the ‘way back machine¹,’ my 1989 Oldsmobile, which is equipped with a flux capacitor and spray painted (poorly) in metallic silver.
Our first destination: Bridgewater, New Jersey, 1976. Brahma Avenue is a sleepy street in a quiet town — at least in 1976, it was quiet. I’ve heard it’s gone downhill, but that’s not the point of this story.
At the end of a cul-de-sac sits a two-story home complete with the basement family room that was all the rage in those days. And, in that basement, glued to a 27-inch Magnavox Console TV — you’ve seen them before, it was like a TV built right into a wooden cabinet — was four-year-old me. And, from that glorious, glowing box, the images of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch and of best friends named Bert and Ernie taught me about letters and numbers and that it was OK, even encouraged, to see and speak to giant, furry, imaginary elephants.
I learned that it was fun to make up stories of my own. I would compose elaborate tales in my mind — because I could not yet write them down — and would regale anyone who would listen with my elaborate creations.
Our next stop: Bradley Gardens Elementary, 1977. The school was a mile from my front door. I rode that mile in style on my electric-blue Schwinn Stingray, complete with chopper-style handlebars and metallic-blue, vinyl-covered banana seat.
In the room of Ms. Lamb*, I would learn to put the words in my head to paper, brightly colored — and more often than not sticky with Elmer’s glue — construction paper. For Mother’s Day, we created a book about eight pages long and bound with cardboard wrapped in colorful contact paper. I still have it tucked away in storage somewhere. It was filled with hand-drawn (badly) stick figure pictures of my mother and all the things she enjoyed and short, simple sentences describing the scenes. I was learning to take the stories in my head and show them to others.
Hold on tight, big jump coming up: East Stroudsburg High School, East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, 1986.
It was my first year of High School. I had made it through the trials and tribulations of middle school alive, barely. Clad in my brand-new parachute pants, Converse Chuck Taylor’s — in cherry red, of course — and my ‘The Clash’ t-shirt (No, I’m not making this up, this was my actual outfit on the first day of 9th grade, and I have the pictures to prove it!) I stepped into the next chapter of my literacy journey.
Mr. Lutz* was the teacher that every previous class would warn you about, the horrible English Lit pedagogue everyone dreaded. And it was with good reason. He was a strict grader and gave tons of reading assignments. Our papers would often be returned to us filled with more red ink than black. We read all the classics you would expect — Salinger, Dickens, the Bronte Sisters, Kerouac — and wrote long papers about their interpretation. At the time, I thought writing 500 words was the equivalent of producing a Homeric epic, but as the year passed, it became easy for me. I found that — as in my early years — I enjoyed writing. And I also learned to enjoy reading too! I read voraciously from that point on. I would often sit by myself at lunch to do so undisturbed. During these years, I decided to pursue writing more, even though it never really amounted to more than a hobby. But teachers like Mr. Lutz left me with a long-lasting impression and a desire to be a guide for others someday.
My journey toward literacy has been long, and I have been fortunate to have teachers along the way that genuinely cared about my education. I look at the modern educational system and all the changes that have taken place — not all of them positive — and hope to be an example of the passion and dedication I was shown over the years.
* names have been changed to protect the innocent
- Not the website that shows you archived copies of websites. I borrowed the name because it’s cool.