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Hunker Down with Kes

Teach A Young Boy To Fish...

By Kesley Colbert
Posted 3/24/20

Miss Barbara Clark taught our freshman high school English class. Holy Cow, Goodness gracious, merciful Heavens, sakes alive, Mother Maybelle! It was without a doubt the most difficult—dare I …

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Hunker Down with Kes

Teach A Young Boy To Fish...


Miss Barbara Clark taught our freshman high school English class. Holy Cow, Goodness gracious, merciful Heavens, sakes alive, Mother Maybelle! It was without a doubt the most difficult—dare I say impossible—task ever assigned a person in the educational business!

I’m telling you with my hand up, at that particular juncture in our lives, me and Buddy Wiggleton didn’t want no English! Pam Collins and Bobby Brewer were worse than we were! And on the days Squeaky Ridinger showed up, he was way more interested in how his hair looked than reading about some village blacksmith guy standing under a spreading chestnut tree.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wasn’t quite as high on our radar as he obviously was on Miss Clark’s.

Believe me, in the fall of 1961, freshman English wasn’t “where it was happening!” We had to get ready for football practice, there was always a weekend dance at Ann Carol McCalab’s house and the new car models would be in the showroom any day now.

You think about it. We were almost fifteen. And “hip” to the gills. “Cool” personified! We had things to do, and places to be…

And none of it included subjugated verbs or dangling participles. We might read a Marvel Comic—hey, that was Literature—but don’t give us any Shakespeare or Ralph Waldo Emerson. And poetry in any shape, form or verse was as “unhip” as a day old open bottle of Pepsi!

“Edna St. Vincent Millay” I repeated the name over slowly in my mind, “that doesn’t even sound American!” Miss Clark had us knee deep in “The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver.”

She moved seamlessly from Edna to Nathanial Hawthorne. She MADE us remember him! He’s the dude from Salem, Massachusetts, who lived in the house with seven gables and wrote about that girl with the scarlet letter tattooed on her dress.

Miss Clark wouldn’t give up, give in or slow down! Even if she didn’t understand...We weren’t studying anybody that wasn’t named Chubby Checker, “Come on baby, let’s do the twist…”

Our poetry was, “Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl, Duke, Duke…”

Charles Dickens WASN’T an American. He was English. And he wrote an entire book about a poor boy named Pip. Let me tell you, we got to know little Pip like the back of our hand! Miss Clark’s “Great Expectations” were a sight higher than ours.

She wouldn’t lower them—and she drug us along…usually kicking and screaming!

My favorite line from that particular Dickens tale is, “Scattered wits take a long time in picking up.” I saw a tad of humor there, plus it made sense to me. Miss Clark could somehow “teach” you to remember what you didn’t even want to.

Girls, sports and convertibles were still way ahead of Henry David Thoreau, Stephen Vincent Benet and Sir Arthur Conon Doyle in our hearts and thoughts. But some of that old “stuff” wasn’t half bad.

And then Miss Clark brought out Edgar Allan Poe. I’m telling you, this guy was touched….in a bad/good way. He buried people beneath the floor; he put them in a pit with a knife bladed pendulum slowly moving toward a hapless victim; he bricked’em up in the dungeon; he “ushered” them into the big house on the hill…

I received a letter from Miss Barbara Clark this week. Amazing! You can not imagine the hundred wonderful thoughts that raced across my mind before I could get the envelope open. Edna St. Vincent Millay spoke to me. I heard the hoof beats from Alfred Noyes’ poem, “The Highwayman”, clattering against the cobblestones.

The tears came as I recognized the handwriting, even though it wasn’t on a chalkboard, from fifty-nine years ago.

She once again had turned aside, took the time—cared enough—to send along some most encouraging words regarding my small writing efforts. She didn’t quit on me in 1961 and she wasn’t giving up on me today. Now, that is some more teaching!

And I have already paid her the greatest tribute I possibly could. There is no telling how many times I have stood in high school and college classrooms, historical society meetings, PTA gatherings and running down the road absolutely by myself…and recited,

“Between the dark and the daylight, When the night is beginning to lower, Comes a pause in the day’s occupation, That is known as the Children’s hour. I hear in the chamber above me, The patter of little feet, The sound of a door is opened, And voices soft and sweet...”

I told you, Miss Clark was big on that Longfellow guy.

Most Respectfully,



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