A Man Out of Time

I used to know a guy named Jack VanSickle; Mr. Van we used to call him. The chatter around Blue Water Lake is he died a lonely and miserable drunk. So naturally, I’m looking for the punchline.

I met Mr. Van in 1971. He was my group leader at a backpacking camp in New Mexico called Cottonwood Gulch a.k.a. the Prairie Trek Expedition. We traveled around the four corners area, so called because of the the right angle joinery of the four states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. We were in search of good, off the beaten track backpacking and adventure. Mr Van was a bachelor science teacher from Rushville, Indiana and this was his summer gig.

I spent three summers with Mr.Van; my last two as his quartermaster. This promotion came with the perks of lower tuition, greater responsibility and while not exactly a councilor I was not exactly a camper either. An early step, if you will, in my long ascent to world domination. My job was to pack, unpack and generally keep organized, Mother. Mother was a motorized Conestoga wagon. A large, rumbling, slat sided truck with arched hoop roof covered in old fashioned oil canvas. She held our gear and food and water. Often times, while exploring the dessert, the water from her side tanks was the only water we would have for weeks. Strictly rationed. No washing. Her petcock was our nipple of life.

There were 16 campers as well as three other counselors including Kurt Vonnegut’s nephew, Ricky Vonnegut. We called Ricky, Choo Choo, because he was obsessed with taking pictures of freight trains as we drove in our van from one spot to another. Nobody would have noticed this, we were self obsessed teens after all, but Ricky had figured the best way to get a clear shot was to match the train’s speed, lean out the window, face glued to the viewfinder and ever so carefully focus and then wait for the engines to align with the mountainous background to form the perfect composition. The problem was that we were doing 70 miles an hour in an effort to overtake the train’s engines and get everything just so. Ricky was the only adult in the van and consequently the driver. Take it from me, regardless of claims to the contrary, teenage boys do scream like little girls.

There was a cook named Tom Hyde. Tom’s secret to perfected eating habits, which was no secret at all, was that whatever didn’t get eaten at dinner, was included in the next morning’s breakfast. This was before nouvelle cuisine so Beef Stew Pancakes and Barbecue Chicken Oatmeal were not considered delicacies.

The peculiarities of memory allow me to remember Ricky’s name because of his famous Uncle Kurt. I remember Tom’s name because of a single piece of junk mail. I was the quartermaster and therefore I called out the weekly mail from stops that were arranged before the beginning of the summer. Tom was a botanist and this was in the early days of automated mass mailings for credit card applications. One day Tom received a letter from a credit card company. Showing off their intelligence network capabilities of combing data for worthy credit card recipients the letter started out as follows.

T. Hyde Botany

We know who you are and We know what you do.

From then on he was known as T. Hyde Botany.

There was a third counselor but I don’t remember his name. No stories attached themselves to him therefore no memory cues. All I do remember is that he left at the end of camp and went directly to Amsterdam. At 13 that didn’t have any meaning for me. Now I understand that he was off on an adventure of his own.

We picked up mail along our travel route at these one room post offices; sometimes nothing more than a desk in a store or the front room of somebodies house, in towns that probably no longer exist. The southwest was full of ghost towns but there were an equal number of fringe communities. Clusters of old houses and shuttered businesses; wooden mausoleums that were waiting for their elderly inhabitants to die, so that the buildings too might finally rest in peace.

Most of these towns had grown up in the 1870’s and 80’s around mines and mills producing silver. Silver and gold, the so-called bi-metal standard, had been used in US coinage from the beginning. The use of gold and silver allowed for large and small denominations of coins, before the introduction of paper money in 1862, without resorting to gigantic and minuscule coins minted from a single metal. That sounds good. Exchange rates between the two metals were set by law. That sounds bad.¬† Laws are the kind of thing that markets are notorious for ignoring.

Then along comes the California gold rush of 1849. So much gold gets introduced into the market that not only does it damp the value of gold it undermines the value of silver. The good news is that with more metal you can mint more coins. Instant prosperity. Simple! Silver mining remains profitable enough and towns here grow. That was good news.

However, as I understand it, which is just another way of saying that I don’t really understand it, the constant recalculation of value between the two metals by speculators¬† was becoming unmanageable. That was bad news. Hoarding and dumping were a constant strain on economies and in 1873 the US Congress, along with most of Europe, followed England’s half century lead and tipped towards a gold standard. If you were big into silver, a so-called Silverite, you would have called this The Crime of ’73.

Silver was still used in coinage (that was good news) and it would be, in ever more dilute amounts, until 1965 but a one to one correspondence between the metal value and coin denomination was on the wane. The demonetization of silver, along with the great silver strikes here in Colorado that flooded the market in the last quarter of the 19th century, further eroded prices. That was bad news.

The good news was that help was on the way in the form of The Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, whereby the government promised to buy silver. Lots and lots of it. 4.5 million ounces a month more than it was already buying for the purpose of coinage. That’s over 280,000 pounds! A Month! The miners took a moment to wet their pants, jack up the price and then dig like mad.

Of course for every profitable action there is an unprofitable reaction. All this government support for silver caused a flood of silver in the market that eventually undermined its value relative to gold. As they say, or more accurately as Gresham’s Law states, “Bad money drives out good” which means that overvalued money drives undervalued money out of circulation into hoards. Everyone ran to the bank to trade silver for gold. That was bad.

At the same time, all this unexpected federal support for silver undermined confidence in the promised gold standard and the Silver Purchase Act was repealed in 1893. The market was flooded with cheap silver and everyone holding Treasury Notes, which were redeemable in silver or gold, ran to the banks to get the gold. That was bad too. The resulting run on gold brought the United States to the brink of bankruptcy before the jolly joker himself, J.P. Morgan, and a syndicate of his pals stepped in with a loan of gold, on attractive terms naturally, that saved the nation from insolvency. Not a great guy to owe money and favors to. Nope, not a good situation to find yourself in and one I personally have tried my best to avoid by consolidating all my gold holdings into a single low karat ring on my left ring finger.

In 1900 the Gold Standard Act made the gold standard official but in these parts the steep decline had already taken hold. Mines and mills, banks and railroads throughout the region were shutting down. When the money left, the people left. Silver camps shut down all over and real estate values simply dissolved. Other metals of value, Lead, Zinc, Molybdenum for high strength steel, saved some towns and slowed the demise of others for awhile. But by the time of the Great Depression, when metals demand all but disappeared, many towns throughout the region had been abandoned. The days of mine camps and remote mountain towns was over.

But there are always those few souls who root easily and deeply; those who never leave, preferring to tend the graves of their loved ones while waiting to join them. Enter Mr. Van. It seemed to us that Mr. Van knew everyone in the southwest worth knowing. Tribal elders, shop owners, nomadic prospectors still panning for gold. He knew everybody that was nobody. Old old people; the children of boom and bust. These ancients had stories to tell about the mines, the ore crushing mills, the tribes, the rustic living homesteads, the tragic deaths of loved ones.

And then there was the backpacking. Caves and canyons, lava beds, rock formations, mesas and mountains; we covered them all. Mr. Van was our Wagonmaster; we were his pioneers; Mother and the two Ford Econoliners were our wagon train. For us, every road was a back road, every town, every pueblo, was in a state of ruin and every ruin was open for exploration. Hiking in the San Juan’s? Mr. Van knew people at the San Juan County Historical Society. Of course he did! So we went following the trail of a doomed 19th century expedition. Of course we did! We were looking for the remains of the definitely lost and probably cannibalized Fremont Expedition of 1848-49. It was all directly under foot; a finger touch away.

Mr. Van had nothing but contempt for what he called GAT’s; Great American Tourists, enveloped as they were, in the fatness of their luxury. He hated their crass ignorance of this holy land; a land they ignored in favor of cheesy roadside attractions offering cheap imitation mementos of the vanished and vanishing cultures he held in such high regard. For Mr. Van, and therefore us, authenticity was the law. He was right but he was also a man out of his time.

After setting up a base camp in a new location we, the boys, would break out the topographical maps, plan a trip and pass it by the counselors. The counselors would point out that we had the map upside down and were planning a trip over a cliff. After a brief lesson in topo map reading we would plan again, get approval and the following morning set out with tents, sleeping bags, food, water, stove and toilet paper. Everything but a counselor. We were on our own, unsupervised for a few days. We’d walk through deep waterless canyons, along high desert cliffs and over windswept mountaintops thousands of feet above tree line. Not for a moment did this strike anyone as unwise or unusual. Up until this moment I never gave it a second thought at all. But I will say this; Every bit of self confidence I have springs directly from those formative times, the responsibility that Mr. Van put on us and the prize of winning his trust.

And it’s not like we didn’t get lost once in awhile. But when we did, we figured it out. Poured over the maps, checked compasses and backtracked or set out on a new route. It was a thinking man’s game entrusted to a bunch of 13 year olds. Genius really, when you think about it.

Mr. Van would stay back and drink scotch while the other counselors did the same or borrowed the Ford van and went in search of a town with a bar and a girl or set out with a group of the boys who hadn’t proven themselves. The name of the game was Wingin’ it and nobody did it better than us.

One afternoon, after I was done setting up camp and supervising the digging of the pit toilet, Mr. Van called me over. “Art, do me a favor. Go get me some snow for my drink.” We were camped beyond Mayday, a ghost town in the San Juan Mountains of south western Colorado. Our base camp was at about 9,000 feet. The snow pack was directly up the almost vertical mountainside at about 10,000 feet. I never would have thought to question Mr. Van. I was happy to do it for him. Things are different now aren’t they; the expectations of children and grown ups. But I’ll tell you what; if he asked me to do it again tomorrow, I wouldn’t hesitate.

The second to last time I saw Mr Van was 1973. It was my third year; my second year as quartermaster. I was already being groomed as a counselor although I never did become one. We did the desert loop. Keet Seel ruin in Navajo National Monument, the Gila Wilderness, Canyonlands, Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shay), El Malpais Lava Flows, Arches and more. We saw ancient Native American cave paintings deep underground in a cavern on a reservation ranch that nobody saw but us because these were Mr. Van’s people. He was like a white medicine man who held respect wherever he went because he valued that which every other human had passed by. He was not so much the story teller but he knew where every story was hidden.

He took us to see very old people, sitting in dusty yards or on the rough porches of their tiny desiccated towns. Our job was to listen. The land, the houses, these shuffling relics were all equally dry. The people and their stories would soon disappear but not the towns. The buildings, in this arid environment, will last for another century at least. I have stood, at a steep angle, in a miners boardinghouse, half slid down a talus slope, that had not slept a soul in any living persons memory. And of course the land. The land would remain; little different than when these people’s grandparents had arrived a century ago.

Dust devils, cholla cactus, dead grass, tumbleweeds, open sky and light. So much light that an Easterner’s eyes become thirsty for color. Touching down in Philadelphia at summers end, the lushness was an ocular plunge into cool waters.

It would be 20 years before I saw Mr. Van again; it was also the last time I would see him. I took my wife to visit the camp when we were backpacking in the area. I was in my mid-thirties. We pulled up and he was sitting on the porch of the log cabin mess hall. Camp had ended for the summer. Hummingbirds were whizzing around; all else was quiet. We got out of the car and approached him. “Hello Mr. Van. It’s Arthur Mednick. I was your quartermaster back in the early seventies.”

“I know Art. I’ve been expecting you.”

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10 Responses to A Man Out of Time

  1. Barbara Edelstein says:

    Brilliant

  2. Dan Wolf says:

    Dan Wolf checking in. I was with you during those summers. Do you remember? Love your piece here. Brings back lots of memories-mostly good. Dan.wolf@capeair.com

  3. Jeff Kerper says:

    I was there too. I may have missed you by a year or two, but Ricky and Tom were my counselors as well….1973 or 1974, a little hazy. Mr. Van was running the show. The other counselor played guitar, Tom played banjo, I remember we sang Ripple around the campfire, Moonshadow, Teach your Children, Mr. Tambourine Man. Memorable summer. jeffkerper@gmail.com

    • Memorable people, memorable summers and a memorable era. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the councilors were all young men, come of age in the sixties, singing Grateful Dead songs and that we were all kind of in the middle of a fantastic social experiment.

  4. Michael Wright says:

    That was a fine portrait of Jack VanSickle you wrote, Art. You are wonderfully articulate. It is a shame you didn’t know Mr. Van in his other role, as Junior High Science Teacher back in Indianapolis. I had him as my teacher for 7th through 9th grade (general Science, Chemistry and Biology, respectively) and he sponsored my participation in Group III Treks of 1962, 1964 and set me up to be part of the base camp staff in 1965. Part of the deal was I had to work as quartermaster on both the ’62 and ’64 Treks for Dr. Ostrum, just like you in your last two years. During my base camp time the summer of ’65, I was the only white boy to work with the Navajo men, John and Tom Henio, in building the traditional Navajo hogan that sits up the hill from the mess hall. I also helped them build the pole barn across the road from the Gulch just west of the Caretaker’s house and a number of other projects around the mess hall and swimming pool.

    Jack VanSickle’s influence on my life made the difference between me being the successful owner of an Analytical Biochemistry Laboratory business that I am and being a janitor or lawn care laborer somewhere, which is where I was headed when he took me under his wing in the 7th grade and opened my eyes to what I could be. He not only taught me the science materials, he taught me how to take a test, how to perform under pressure, how to stay alert to opportunities to learn and take advantage of those opportunities when they presented themselves. He taught me to be inquisitive and think outside the box, to remember what I learned and put it to use learning more. I had no idea how to think effectively until he showed me and drilled me with problems I didn’t know existed before he pointed them out to me. Jack was a genius student of all that was around him and an equally genius teacher in getting others to see what he saw. Like most geniuses, he couldn’t help being a man out of his time. I knew he had died in Jan of 2009 because my subscription to Arizona Highways that he paid for over 40 years stopped coming that month. I’ll never forget how important Mr. Van was to who I am. I am trying to honor his memory and the memory of the late Mike Denker, my cook during my years as quartermaster by sponsoring kids to participate in the Trek and giving regularly to the Foundations general fund.

    • Michael, thank you so much for drawing back the curtain on what we all thought of as his secret life. I think it says it all that half a century after the fact, we who knew him still remember him with great affection and hold him as a pivotal influence. Again, my thanks.

      • Michael Wright says:

        Art,
        It might interest you to know that Rick Vonnegut was not Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s nephew. He was his second cousin once removed. Kurt’s only brother, Dr. Bernard Vonnegut had five sons, Peter, Scott, Terrance, Kurt and Alex. No Richard or Rick. Rick Vonnegut’s father, Richard C. Vonnegut Sr. was Kurt’s second cousin. Their common ancestor was Clemens Vonnegut Sr. (1824-1906), the German immigrant father (1851) who founded Vonnegut Hardware in Indianapolis. Clemens Sr. had four sons: Clemens Jr., Franklin, Bernard, and George. Kurt Vonnegut Jr was descended from Bernard, the only son who refused to go into his father’s hardware business and founded an architectural firm instead. Rick on the other hand was descended from Bernard’s eldest brother, Clemens Jr. through his eldest son, Anton Scituate Vonnegut, (Rick’s grandfather). That makes Rick a second cousin once removed to Kurt Jr., and from his perspective I am surprised he even claimed relationship to Kurt. You see, Rick was from the respected, successful Vonnegut hardware business line of the family while Kurt was from the renegade, bankrupt line of beer brewery & architecture firms that belonged to, Bernard Vonnegut’s line. There definitely was an attitude of superiority with the Hardware Vonnaguts, which I think only much later was balanced out with the success that Kurt Jr. found as a world famous author. In the 60’s I was just a poor boy living in a pocket of poverty situated in the middle of the richest residential area of Indianapolis. From that vantage point I had a front row seat for watching the rich and famous of Indianapolis shoulder their way around each other.

        My connection to the Vonneguts was that I was, for a brief time, the paper boy (Indianapolis Star) to the Kurt Vonnegut Sr. residence during the last years they resided in the William’s Creek enclave in Northwest Indianapolis. I only met Kurt Sr.’s sons, Bernard and Kurt Jr., once before the old man sold the place and moved to Brown County, Indiana to wile away his remaining years in seclusion. They were a strange bunch. I remember it being a very awkward encounter. I was 9, I think, maybe 10. I’m not sure. I know it wasn’t my first year of paper delivery which I started as soon as I was 8 years old. The old man was in a wheel chair (lung cancer I think) and both sons were dithering over him like they expected him to give up the ghost at any second, and he’s sitting there with a half smoked cigarette in one hand and a whisky in the other, totally ignoring both of them. It was time for my Christmas silver dollar bonus presentation. I knew what the old man wanted to do because he had made a big deal about it on past Christmases, and his boys were making it difficult for him to do it the way he wanted to. He ended up telling them both to, “Just shut up and get out of my way for a minute, would you!” Awkward. I rarely saw him other times of the year as I delivered, but whenever I did, he always acknowledged my wave and once even waved me in past the gate to look at some roses. He was really drunk that day and I think these were some roses his wife had either planted there or had been transplanted from their former home on Illinois Avenue. He was kind of a mess and having trouble explaining to me their importance to him, so I left pretty quickly. The roses were gorgeous but again, it was all too strange & awkward.

        Anyway, Rick Vonnegut is spending his time these days as vice-chairman of the Rails to Trails Council of Indianapolis, continuing his Prairie Trek inspired love of nature coupled with his innate fascination with trains and finding ways to connect people with them both. He’s had a rough go in the last several years. His wife, Dianne, died in late 2005 at only 51 years old and after only 7 years of marriage. So far as I know that is the only attempt at marriage he has ever made and he has no children of his own. Then three years later his father Richard C. Sr. died. I believe his mother, Barbara, is still living, but I am not sure about that. They had been married over 60 years when Richard Sr. died.

        I kind of know what it must have been like for Rick to bury his wife then turn around and bury his father. I buried my mother in Nov. of 2010 and then just this last July my wife of 28 years. My mother was 83 and quite ready. My wife was only 55 and resignedly ready. She was in perfect health, except for the golf ball sized tumor in her right lung. Never smoked anything in her life: clean living, no salt, low sugar, tea-totaling, active Lutheran woman beloved by all who met her. The smartest woman I ever met and a huge talent for technical matters and people management; a very rare combo gift. So, in side of four years I’ve lost the only two women I ever really loved with all my soul. It hurts a lot, but I am of an age where I need to get used to losing those close to me. It is going to happen more and more often until it is me that’s moving on. Time is precious. The sense of urgency to use it wisely grows in me by the day. And when I hear that someone else’s time is up, I get the urge to work faster and harder than I ever have. My wife left me a little book with a lot of “to do” stuff in it whereby she has charged me with finishing a number of important things she started. It was a good parting gift and a powerful motivator to get busy doing some useful things, even if all that is today is to lift the veil for a few people on the lives of those they only knew briefly. My thinking is this: The more we know about each other, the more connected we feel in this life. The more connected we feel, the greater our emotional stake is in each other’s welfare. The greater our stake in each other’s welfare, the more carefully we wade through life in search of ways to fulfill our personal ambitions. The more careful we are as we push forward, the less damage we do to others along the way and the happier we all will be in the end. Jack VanSickle taught me to think like that….several steps ahead of the moment and the obvious.

        So here’s to getting to knowing you and the others who have blogged here about crossing paths with Mr. Van, with Choo Choo and with you and other fellow Trekkers. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are a connected community whose connections will come to bear fruit someday in some way none of us can foretell. May I live to see it happening.

        Mike Wright

      • Mike, I read this 3 times and I don’t know what exactly you do for a living but I hope it involves writing. Absolutely fantastic; like reading a Ted talk. Thank you.

      • Michael Wright says:

        Art, I am glad you find my reminiscences interesting. However, I am not quite sure what to make of you reading it three times! Either I was a bit obtuse with sentences that were overly long (a habit of which I am much too fond!) and it took three reads to digest what I was saying or perhaps the subject and writing style just struck you as Ted-like entertaining/educational? I hope the later to be true.

        If I have any talent at all for writing, it has been bloody hard coming to mastery of the craft. I have spent over 35 years earning a very good living writing up the results of my analytical chemistry research for a Federal regulatory agency audience that would love to find a mistake of any kind in my write-up with which they might professionally bludgeon me as a means of justifying the existence of their own job. I have learned to parse extremely large databases and broad scope projects with multifaceted variables and nuanced interpretations of the same and then serve up an uncomplicated written analysis of all that complexity in a way that cuts to the core of the purpose of ever bothering to put words to paper concerning the subject. When I was younger, the writing part of my job was a terrifying endeavor. A lot of blood, sweat, tears and bludgeonings accompanied my early career efforts. But I learned to succeed at persuasive discourse in a hostile environment and there probably is no better way to achieve mastery than to fear for your professional survival every time you set pen to paper.

        Now, as I keep trying to retire, this talent, if I might call it that, is simply an annoyance because I have gotten good enough at it that everyone else wants me to produce or help produce their work reports in addition to continuing to do my own. I went to college to be an analytical chemist, not a writer or editor, yet, there is no doubt that acquiring a certain amount of technical writing skill did vastly augment my analytical chemistry career. God works in more mysterious ways than I ever imagined as a child.

        I am also a hobbyist class genealogist with so much breadth of research experience that most people mistake me for a professional in that profession as well. In truth, there is little difference in the way you go about analytical chemistry and genealogy insofar as your thought processes and research practices go. In any case, my interest in genealogy, and my predisposition for getting the facts straightened out in other people’s mind, is the root cause of my last blog here. I just happened to have been in the right place at the right time to know what the facts were concerning the Vonnegut clan of Indianapolis. And the Vonnegut’s story is not the only one from a family name you would recognize that I gained from my youthful years delivering papers and mowing lawns there.

        Growing up in Indianapolis in the 50’s & 60’s, a poor kid in a rich people neighborhood, made for a lot of interesting connections, experiences and stories. You know, not much worth talking or writing about happens in poor neighborhoods. Rich neighborhoods, on the other hand, are full of happenings of all kinds. Rich people make things happen. They use their money and the influence that money brings to create interesting lives for themselves and others around them. Poor people just huddle around the fire and try to stay warm and out of the way of the rich. Not much to talk about there, so I decided to wade into the rich guy’s world and see if I could live like they live. Why not!? They lived right next door! I mean, I rubbed elbows with their kids at school all day long why not start thinking like they think? So I did. I watched and I learned. Not so much from the kids my age, but from watching their parents.

        But the maturing process of learning to live like the rich, making things happen, taking risks, building a business from scratch, it all followed pretty much the same path as my mastery of the written word. Terrifying and brutal at first, but eventually I succeeded in building a national and even international reputation for what I do, got paid well to do it, built a business around it and had the good sense to invest the proceeds of my business success wisely rather than spend beyond my means trying to look as rich as my richer neighbors. I never much cared what my neighbors thought of me, my house, my yard, my car, my cloths; because my success in business did not hinge on what they thought of me. It was what I could produce that mattered, not how I appeared. I’ve been sneaking up on people with that sandbagger approach my whole life. You might say I specialize in it. The rules are simple. Make no visible waves, make no enemies, burn no bridges, ignore the small talk, work hard to produce something of lasting value and be innovative in marketing it to the people who care. If you do that, it won’t matter what the neighbors think, you’ll be richer than them in time.

        I am somewhat amused to have observed in recent years that many of my ‘richer’ neighbors lost their land and houses when money last got tight, while I easily kept all my property. Maybe they weren’t as rich as they wanted me to think they were? My properties are not fancy, but they are all in good shape and what’s key is that they’re all mine. Just like my vehicles. My car may be 14 years old, and my truck going on 12, but they are well cared for and still serve me reliably and are paid for. So why should I run out and get on the hook for the latest model vehicle? New cars are terrible investments. For the vast majority of people new cars are a stupid waste of money, and for what? So you can look rich? Believe me, no rich person would be that stupid and stay rich for long. Getting through life in good health, getting a useful education, raising kids, meeting the cost of the necessities of life, putting aside for retirement, all of this is a hell of a lot more expensive than most of us can imagine and most of us fail to adequately plan for how we are going to afford it all. I learned to set up and watch my budgets when young. I watched those old money folks in my neighborhood whose kids I ran with every day. Their parents would pinch every penny they had to spend on even the simplest things like getting a paper every day and having their grounds mowed and landscaping tended to on time! But I noticed that when a big investment needed to be made, they always had cash money with which to do it precisely the way they wanted it done. I learned to sandbag as a kid by watching the old money in my neighborhood.

        Well, sort of gotten off topic here, but it was Jack VanSickle who first noticed I could write a good science paper when I described a week-end fossil gathering trip we went on in 7th grade. He particularly liked the way I described a trilobite fossil we found, where we found it, and what we did to extract it from the stone in which it was embedded. Even as I sit here tonight I can see him sitting sideways at his desk, slumped back in his chair, slowly nodding his head while absently stroking his chin with one hand while he read my draft paper, and finally looking up at me and saying, “This is good, Mike. Really good. We need to find other opportunities for you to write about this kind of thing.” For a seventh grader still struggling with having been labeled “learning disabled dummy” in the third and fourth grades, this kind of praise from a teacher had a huge impact on my self esteem. That same year my English teacher, Mr. Howl, said something similar about one of my composition efforts in his class. I guess in the 7th grade I discovered I had a ‘voice’ through which I could get welcome attention and that voice was the written word! Been working like the devil with it to get attention ever since!

        Best Regard,
        Mike Wright

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