My Teacher Changed My “C” to an “A”

I can’t remember if it was an English or Literature class. Regardless, the assignment was to write a short story. As with several assignments, I chose to write along the lines of one of my favorite subjects—fishing. I wrote the story in the first-person, from the standpoint of a bass being hooked by an old fisherman. I let my creative juices work and then turned in my paper by the deadline.  My creative story was titled “HOW I ESCAPED THE OLD FISHERMAN,” (Yes, I used all caps). Typical for my school work, when the short story was returned there was a red “C” next to my name.

Mrs. Freeman was one of my favorite teachers, though I drove her nuts. She knew my pattern of study and fully expected anything I did to be of “C” quality. Fully convinced that English, History and Algebra would not be needed later in life, I found no reason to fully engage with my studies. I did just enough to get by and, regretfully, did not focus on learning.

I won’t forget the day, however, when Mrs. Freeman came into our classroom beaming. One of the reasons why our senior class was given the creative short-story assignment was because all of our stories would be entered in the Young Writer’s Contest sponsored by the Shades Mountain (Birmingham, Alabama), Junior Women’s Club.  On this day, Mrs. Freeman was ecstatic because the story of one of her students won first place. I was that student!  Miracle of miracles, I had done something to make Mrs. Freeman smile.

The story was sent on to the Third District where it again took first-place. But the winning didn’t stop there at the District. “How I IMG_0017[1]Escaped the Old Fisherman” won the statewide contest. I was thrilled with my $50 prize money from The Alabama  Federation of Women’s Clubs. Yet, the greatest satisfaction came when Mrs. Freeman changed my grade to an A. Jack Bruce got an A! For one brief moment I had the same feeling Susan Keith had every time a paper or test was returned, (Susan, a classmate, is now a professor at Rutgers). It was supreme contentment.

I have always remembered the story, winning and Mrs. Freeman changing my grade. Several years ago I searched through all of my files, trying to locate a copy of the story, only to realize it was lost, never to be found. That changed, however, earlier this week.

I spent a couple of days with mom over the weekend. One of our projects was to go through my dad’s personal effects. My dad passed away just three months ago and it was time to pack up his clothes and put some of his belongings in order. It was a painful process that had to be done.

While going through his closet I found an old gray hard-shell Samsonite brief case. It was filled with choir music and notes from days-gone-bye when he was the music director at the Westside Alliance Church. Packed away in the accordion files of the case was a copy of a newsletter, the Scroll, from my high school. It was dated March, 1978. On the back of the newsletter was the story of “How I Escaped the Old Fisherman.”  Dad had kept the story. He must have been proud.

Reading through the story, I now agree Mrs. Freeman was right the first time. My story deserved a “C.” I wish I would have listened better to her and soaked in everything she was trying to teach us. If I had, not only would my grades have been better, but this blog would be more interesting and with fewer grammatical errors—and, who knows, maybe I would be teaching at Rutgers.

Mrs. Freeman must have believed my story was good, however, because after winning the contest she sent it to Reader’s Digest. They didn’t publish it. However, to honor her effort I have decided to publish it in my blog. To read the award winning story, take a look at the next blog post where I have copied it just as I found it on the back on the Scroll: How I Escaped the Old Fisherman. Again, she was right—it’s “C” work.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Awesome story, Jack.

    And by the way, I’m glad you didn’t wind up teaching at Rutgers. Doubtful our paths would have crossed in New Jersey.:)


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