In the Words: A Bud within the Raving Gard’n…er
The only logical step from middle school seemed to be high school, and from that to there I went. In terms of writing, the early years of high school offered little: Sophomore comp was spent glossing over Antigone, cringing over Our Town, and fretting over an essay in which we were required to describe our footwear. It did, however, introduce me to the scholarly works of Dave Barry, who memorably ingrained within we advanced nose-pickers the distinction of usage between “me” and “I”:
“Mom, is it okay if Jimmy and me back the trailer over the cat?”
“Son! However could you say such a thing? It’s ‘Is it okay if Jimmy and I back the trailer over the cat.’”
Junior year, however, I was looking forward to, because it meant I could take American and British Lit. from my sister’s idol: Mrs. Gardner.
I had never met Gardner, but I had heard stories. Mrs. Gardner was, is, and will forever be a legend. The Dude-iest Dude I ever knew said he would cry if he so much as heard Mrs. Gardner yelling at a student—even if my acquaintance were casually passing by Mrs. Gardner’s classroom in the hall. Mrs. Gardner is one of those souls who defies description.The closest one can come to any sort of account is to detail her classroom: The wall lined with ‘80s wrestling figures; the wall festooned with students’ portraits modernizing each pilgrim showcased within the Canterbury Tales; to borrow my sister’s anecdote, when that time of year came to read Beowulf, she issued the following proclamation:
“I hate this damn book, so just shut up, and we can get through it fast.”
So Mrs. Gardner was intimidating. And when my sister, one winter afternoon, classes long-since been out, insisted I meet her, I felt shaken. Sara spirited me away from the walls of middle school and planted me down square within Mrs. Gardner’s den.
Mrs. Gardner, Sara informed me, hated Christmas, and as a sign of resistance, Mrs. Gardner made a point of going overboard on Yuletide decorations. We two small Almiralls walked in, and, Mrs. Gardener, with her back to us, Mrs. Gardener rather aggressively trying to staple a flimsy plastic St. Nick to a hard, brick wall, heard our footsteps:
SARA: Mrs. Gardener? This is my little brother…
Not allowing my sister to finish her sentence, Mrs. Gardner turned and spoke:
MRS. GARDNER: It looks like Santa Claus threw up in here.
Clearly, I had to take her class.
Now—don’t tell anyone—but it was because of Mrs. Gardner that I technically didn’t graduate high school. Every school has their requirements, and our registrar, despite my making a point of singularly requesting Mrs. Gardner for my British and American Literature teacher, put me in the one hour taught by someone else.
And so I, who would prefer to slide down the slide of life and have things happen rather than make them happen to me, marched up to the registrar and so requested:
NAT: Sorry, I asked to take Brit/American Lit. from Mrs. Gardner.
REGISTRAR: Oh, right. Well, just take it next year from her.
And that was the agreement. But I couldn’t wait. So, with an elective credit in my palm, I took Creative Writing, the singular elective taught by Mrs. Gardner—rhapsodic, and stupid, I didn’t take Brit/American Lit. from her the next year.
And it was a wondrous class. She so elegantly corrected my misuse of the word “complement” (when I meant “compliment”) by cursively scripting “Really? What do they complete?” Each day she would write a grammatically (see? I know how to spell it now!) perverse phrases on the marker-board, and we had to correct them.
But what I remember most about the class was keeping a journal. In it we had to write, at least once a week, something. And that taught me something, something my boss would emphasize later on.
You see, amid the “clever” essays espousing how society would be doubtlessly enriched if we let things be run by lyncanthropes or narratives detailing a sea journey from the perspective of a QueeQuegian navigator (so I could use the phrase, “The Islander brandished his formidable sextant”), the lesson Mrs. Gardner taught, (and which I attempt to absorb, while my classmates were at work on lesser lessons, such as how to deflower potential prom queens) was this:
Writing: You get better at it as you write more.