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At the end of the school year, I challenged some of my 8th graders to help me with some columns over the summer. They gave me the first and last lines of a potential fictional short story. My task was to take those lines and write the middle. I was given seven ideas from the kids, so this is the last one! This week’s lines were provided by Jonah Stafford.

The day I became a walrus was a day I’ll never forget. After all, how many fourth grade kids get a chance to dress up as their favorite creature on stage?

Mrs. Wendt, still one of the best teachers in our school, was passionate about theater. Every year, the fourth grade would do a big production as a send-off before we switched to the 5-8 school across town. Looking back on this as an eighth grader, I can still feel the excitement that built through the year toward this end goal. Every kid worked hard to impress Mrs. Wendt so we might get a choice part.

All those seemingly mundane things we did - reading chapter books, creative writing, etc. – seemed unimportant at the time. However, it’s easy to see that those things helped us better appreciate artistic endeavors and added fuel to the fervor we gained for the annual play. So since I’m writing this for English to show my teacher the path I’ve taken to become the writer I am today, it’s easy to look back at that year as pivotal.

I’m sure not everyone sees it that way. After all, it seems like at least a third of my grade has given up at making more than a token effort in school. But I remember people like Peter Vavra being really into the stories we wrote that year. Others like Jennie Lindholm couldn’t wait to get to the next book. Now, as I glance around at these people, Peter is staring at the ceiling tiles and Jennie thinks she’s being sneaky about texting. Oh, how far some have fallen.

But not me. Well, certainly from a popularity standpoint, Brandon Marsch is nowhere near the top, but that’s okay. I’m proud of my grades and the effort I put in. Fourth grade was such a fabulous year that I wanted every year to be like that. Sadly, none have been close, but I do still enjoy writing, just not expository schlock like this; I find this type of writing rather emetic.

Anyway, how did becoming a walrus impact me so much? You remember how in first or second grade, you’d always do a unit on animals before you’d visit the zoo on a field trip? I was assigned the walrus to explore. I looked up information on the walrus, drew a picture of one, and couldn’t wait until we got to the walrus exhibit at the zoo the next week. Of course, every kid was eager to get to his or her animal, but luckily the walruses were about half an hour into our tour.

There was just something about their flippers and tusks that fascinated me. They seemed like make-believe creatures out of some fairy tale, but there two of them sat, sunning themselves on some rocks before diving into the pool created for them in their enclosure.  Years later, I still think walruses are the real deal.

So our play in fourth grade was going to be about our love of nature. Okay, it was really about Mrs. Wendt’s love of nature, but during that year we grew to adore the outdoors almost as much as she did. We learned a lot about mammals, such as the walrus, which were becoming endangered due to the melting ice caps.

Imagine my excitement to be given the role of the walrus floating alone on a miniature iceberg! My mom and I spent hours designing a costume for me to wear. Mrs. Wendt was all smiles when Mom dropped it off one day. “Oh, it’ll be just perfect!” she gushed. We all aimed for perfection with Mrs. Wendt.

Unfortunately, not everyone got the memo for perfection that year. Three giggly girls were going to be gulls, but they must not have been too focused when they were told this. Either that, or they didn’t get the information to their parents about exactly what type of flying creature they were supposed to be.

Mrs. Wendt was in a panic the day before the play. The gulls didn’t have their costumes in yet, which was difficult when we were working on our dress rehearsal. The girls assured her that the costumes would be in school the next day for the live performance to the rest of the school.

And they were. Except they weren’t gull costumes. Sure, they had wings, but they also had blood-sucking mouthpieces; the girls had brought mosquito costumes! Seriously? How do you get mosquitos and gulls mixed up?

But the show must go on. I performed admirably as the walrus, but in the climactic scene, which was supposed to be a parting shot as I floated away on the ocean, not only did the girls who were supposed to be gulls look silly, but they went the wrong way. And so, overshadowing my emotional exit, the mosquitos flew away from the ocean.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is emetic, which means causing vomiting, as in, “The bug going around was emetic, sending kids to the bathroom on a regular basis.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

 

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