George Slade wrote me a few weeks ago, after seeing me on television. I did some quick math and realized he’s sixteen now, very grown up. He would probably be appalled by the fact that I keep his school picture, circa 2001, on my desk.
Three years ago, in honor of my last day at Goucher, I ran my all-time favorite article, the one I most enjoyed writing. It occurred to me that some new folks have started reading the blog since then, so here it is again, in honor of the coming summer — and George.
(c) Baltimore Sun, from June 2001.
George Slade is pretty sure this summer is going to be the best summer of his life, even better than last summer, which is his current best summer. For one thing, he is going to New York City for the first time. His cousins from Colorado are coming. He’s going to day camp and, of course, Ocean City. And when he’s not going anywhere, he has a baby sitter who comes to the house, which means he can play Freeze Tag and Television Tag and Clue with Nick and Kevin and Corey and Amanda and Stephanie and, every other weekend, Gregory.
Yes, this summer is going to be great – if only it would _start_. Because, right now, it is 3:10 p.m. – 15 minutes to freedom and five minutes to “Doom Day,” the moment when report cards are handed out. It is the last day of school at Hickory Elementary in Harford County and the school feels like a large can of wriggling, happy worms. George is the worm with light brown hair and dark brown eyes, sitting at the back of Cindy Stone’s fourth-grade class. Summer has been sneaking in for almost two weeks in the Baltimore metropolitan area as schools close for the season. First the private and parochial schools released their students, then a few public school systems. By tomorrow, all students will be free (except those who must attend summer school, alas).
Yesterday was Harford County’s turn. And, by extension, Hickory Elementary, and Mrs. Stone’s fourth grade, and George Slade, age 9. Well, 9 1/2 , as of June 2.
From George and his classmates’ perspective, the day is the usual six-plus hours of lessons and distractions, no different from the other 179. He and his squirming classmates don’t realize how carefully the faculty and staff of Hickory have orchestrated this day, providing a structure that allows for key moments of release, interspersed with quiet activities.
There are lessons, even a comprehension drill and a spelling bee. But there also is a movie, “The Phantom Tollbooth,” a surprise ice cream break and a talent show that ends with a surefire crowd-pleaser: Principal Michael Heiberger, backed by several faculty members, performs “Wild Thing.”
“They’re a little high today,” admits Mrs. Stone on the way back from the talent show. “They’re usually very sedate.”
For George, the day is sweet, yet tinged with sadness. He loves summer, but he’s going to miss school. “Some kids don’t like it, but I do. My favorite subject is math, because you think a lot.”
His hardest subjects are science and social studies. He got D’s in both on his last report card, but he studied hard this spring and he thinks, maybe, he brought those grades up.
Other things make this final day bittersweet. Mrs. Stone has announced she will be moving up to fifth grade, and her students will come with her, unless their parents choose otherwise. But George is changing schools next year, to Bel Air Elementary, because he has moved in with his father, who lives in that district, while his mother lives in Baltimore County.
George doesn’t mind transferring. He went to Bel Air from kindergarten through second grade. But leaving Hickory will mean leaving his best friend, Lauren McCormick, who sits one desk away from him. Megan Good, who sits between them, has passed many a note this year.
Lauren is his best friend because they have so much in common, George explains. “A best friend is someone who likes the same things. If you liked Britney Spears – I don’t, that’s just an example – if you liked Britney Spears, you would want your best friend to like Britney Spears.”
Lauren, for her part, says she likes George because “He’s a nice friend and a hard worker.”
But has he worked hard enough? That’s the question that’s plaguing George as he endures these final minutes. He would so like to make straight A’s, the way Ashley Gudenzi does. And if he can’t make straight A’s, he would like to get C’s in social studies and science, instead of D’s.
Fourth grade was _hard_. Mrs. Stone’s 22 students have learned rocks and minerals, supply and demand, latitude and longitude. They studied vocabulary words that could be used to describe people. Words such as arrogant, mischievous, observant and narrow-minded. They learned what immigrants are, and how Maryland came to be. (George was Father Andrew White in the Maryland Day play, a key role.)
With the help of a parent, the students even put together a scrapbook for Mrs. Stone, not knowing she would be coming with them to fifth grade. “Dear Mrs. Stone,” George wrote. “I enjoyed being in your class this year. … I am sorry this is Spice Girls [stationery] but this was all I had. Sorry. I really liked the book `The Secret Garden.’ I learned a lot! Your friend, George.”
3:15 – “Doom Day” is here. George, with a surname that falls near the end of the alphabet, is one of the last to get his grades. In Mrs. Stone’s class, students take their cards to a “secret spot,” then put them in their backpacks, vowing not to take them out on the bus, where they could fly away.
George unfolds the green card slowly. It’s good, better than he hoped. Not straight A’s, but social studies came up from a D to a C, science from a D to an A. All his other grades are A’s and B’s. He can’t wait to take this card home.
For now, finally, it’s time for the best summer ever. Which is not necessarily the perfect summer. On Monday, Mrs. Stone had her class write essays about what the perfect summer would be like, and George had a detailed list. He would go to Disney World and get on the ride that his dad’s friend told him about, the one that drops you 13 stories and makes it feel as if your stomach is going to fall out.
“And then my grandmother would give me $200 and I would buy a house for a person who doesn’t have one. And then, with what’s left over, I would buy Mrs. Stone a Mustang. And then, with what’s left over, I would have a sleep-over and we would go to the Hobbit [restaurant] and the video arcade and then everyone would get a T-shirt.”
But the perfect summer will have to wait. For now, he will settle for the best summer. So goodbye, Lauren; goodbye, Megan; goodbye, straight-A Ashley. Goodbye, Broch, Kimberly, Courtney, Casey and Julian. So long, Ryan, Robert, Samantha, Jacqueline, Christopher and Kyle. Hasta manana, Casey, Kaitlin, Gage, Michelle, Akoye, Jeffrey and Shelley.
Last but not least, goodbye, Mrs. Stone. Sometimes you were mean, but mostly you were nice. The Mustang will be in your favorite color, should George ever get that $200. Because George wants you to know he really, really liked the fourth grade. Especially math.