When we were ten.
The last week of September, Cassandra Banks’ fifth graders are reading tall tales: Paul Bunyan, a giant of a strong man, with his Blue Ox, Babe. John Henry, the incredible steel-driving man. Davy Crockett’s wild and crazy girlfriend, Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind. Then the kids write their own tall tales, create exaggerated versions of themselves and imagine impossible events.
On Tuesday Ms. Banks sends home progress reports for the first month of school. They are to come back signed by parents on Wednesday. On Thursday there are still two outstanding, so “No Recess Till I Get It.” Tough Love. They’ll thank her later.
The two boys approach Ms. Banks with sad faces.
Tommy starts. “I actually have a good reason for not bringing my progress report back. Last night my parents were fighting, and my step-dad locked us out of the house and we had to get out of there. My backpack is still in the house, ’cause I couldn’t get back in to get it.”
Marc is next. “I have a good reason, too, and it’s the truth. Me and him were just now around the side of the classroom almost crying. I couldn’t get mine signed because my dad had to go back to jail again and my mom was crying all night.”
What can a teacher say? (It’s HE AND I were almost crying.)
“OK, guys, you got me. Run like the wind, be a child, have some fun. We’ll take care of parent communication at a better time.”
The next day Ms. Banks asks Marc about the jail situation.
“Yeah, it’s really bad this time. My dad was down at some bar, he was smoking marijuana and drinking, and he was messing around with a sixteen year old girl and he’s 36, and he got in a fight and when the police got there he fought with them, so he’s back in jail.”
Cassandra nods and tells him, “My dad had a drinking problem, too. When he was about forty, he had finally had enough and asked for help. He turned his life around and began to help other people with the same problem.”
“So there’s hope for your dad, and there’s still a guy there who you love, underneath all the bad behavior.”
Cassandra doesn’t tell Marc how she would find her Dad asleep in the driveway as she left for elementary school in the morning. He would zigzag home before dawn, piloted by good old boys in police cars. Cassandra would giggle at his story. Like angels, they would guide him into their driveway in the suburbs, safe and sound. He’d be too sleepy to come in the house. Funny Daddy.
But that’s another tale for another time. Marc’s Dad will do jail time, and Marc’s life will take a different angle. He’ll create his own tall tale.