Symphony 58

                On October 30, 2015, I excerpted this part of Neil’s story for a post. Today it seems awkward to have a Halloween story coming at Christmas, but there was no way to coordinate what happens in Symphony with what is happening in 2017.
                I also made a ten post excerpt of the Christmas section of Symphony in December of 2015. Few people reading now were with me then, so when it comes up in late January, it should be new to most of you.
                I’ve said it before — writing a blog has many of the same paradoxes as time travel.

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Halloween 1988

“What is Frankenstein’s favorite food?”  Lisa Cobb asked.

Neil looked up from his desk to see that she was in tutu, tights, and dancing shoes. She was taller than the average sixth grader with more maturity in her face but still flat chested, so she looked the part of a ballerina. For the last several weeks she had been coming in to spend the time before school in Neil’s room, but she rarely approached him. She just hung around with her friends Sabrina and Elanor.

Neil said, “I don’t know, what is Frankenstein’s favorite food?”

“Hallo-weenies.”

Neil grinned and she ran off, pleased with herself.

Not since May, when Neil had first come onto the campus, had it seemed so different from a high school. Most of the sixth graders were in Halloween costume, and the rest were carrying around paper sacks with costumes inside. Half of the seventh graders, and even a few of the eighth graders had followed suit. All of the periods had been shortened five minutes to allow for a half hour assembly at the end of the day when the children would vote on who had the best costumes.

All the preceding week, the children had been in a state of high and rising excitement.  It was the teachers’ misfortune that Halloween fell on a Monday this year. Little productive work would be done today, and for the rest of the week the children would be excitable and irritable until their hoards of candy ran out.

Neil didn’t care. He was high with the excitement of it himself. These children were alive to every moment.

He found that he did not miss the feigned world-weariness of his high school students at all.  He missed their conversations, and he missed the sense of camaraderie that came of teaching near-adults, but they were too staid. In their own way, following their own values, high school kids were as puritanical as any Pilgrim that ever rode on the Mayflower. Peer pressure was like the rule of the church patriarchs, looking over every shoulder, examining every action by the yardstick of current fashion. Everything not required is prohibited.

These children were in a different kind of transition. Their teachers encouraged them toward maturity, and most of the time they conformed. But on Halloween, they were all seven years old.

When the bell rang, the students came in reluctantly, and Neil chose to overlook their tardiness. He also raised his voice and spoke over their conversations while taking roll, rather than try to quiet them. Then, without announcing his intentions, he opened the book he had brought from home and began reading in rolling, sonorous cadences:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore . . .

He carried The Raven through to the end, letting his voice rise and fall with the storyline, now harsh, now fearful, and falling away to near silence on the last nevermore. When he had finished, the class was silent for a moment, then broke into conversation.

The gist of the conversation was that they liked it. more tomorrow

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