Miss Westen was a hard teacher. She seemed to be about six feet tall but, looking back on those days I would guess her to be five feet four inches or so. I remember occasions where she would be at the black board, probably teaching us cursive or more math tables which we did every single day, but mostly she would walk about the room and hover over our desks, this giant
of a teacher, strict and no nonsense! I dreaded this "Summer Vacation" essay. I knew she would make us write it a million times, changing words, looking them up in a dictionery, finding different words in the thesarus, and always, as was her want, "be descriptive", make the sentences longer! Writing something for her would be a job and we could never just sit down and get it done. She would go on and on about adjectives and metaphors, the "little helpers" that bring language alive. These assignments always began simple enough. She would bring something from her home and we would have to describe it. What was simply "a box" would become "a box on a table" and she would encourage our ideas as she wrote them on the blackboard. "Green box"! would enevitably become "the flat squarish box with tattered green wrapping paper, a gift always recycled and missing its ribbons, waiting to be the last present opened on this snowy Christmas Eve." That is really the way she did it, always a subject and a verb, those damned adjectives and metaphors can always tell a story in themselves. Make the reader want to know more, eagerly turning the page, alive.
Even at ten years old I knew this was going to happen. How could a teacher as old as the hills
really be curious about my summer vacation? It was going to be about writing and rewriting and making a big deal of something that happened during the summer. We had already been taught about "the audience", blogging had another fifty years before it would appear and only personal journals could start a topic with "I". This is almost before television, that media which destroyed reading, entertaining us with the delusion that an entire story could be told in thirty minutes. Television got the format right. Always set up the scene first, developing the questions
of where and when and who and why and how? I don't think Miss Westen owned a television set
but I knew she would be looking for these questions and their answers in our essays, and I knew
she had a penchant for making the reader curious! Now, how was I going to do that? I didn't remember exactly what happened that summer, not in every little detail that she would want to hear...