Writing for Myself
Russell Baker 1 The idea of becoming a writer had come to me off and on since my childhood in Belleville, but it wasn't until my third year in high school that the possibility took hold. Until then I've been bored by everything associated with English courses. I found English grammar dull and difficult. I hated the assignments to turn out long, lifeless paragraphs that were agony for teachers to read and for me to write.
2 When our class was assigned to Mr. Fleagle for third-year English I anticipated another cheerless year in that most tedious of subjects. Mr. Fleagle had a reputation among students for dullness and inability to inspire. He was said to be very formal, rigid and hopelessly out of date. To me he looked to be sixty or seventy and excessively prim.He wore primly severe eyeglasses, his wavy hair was primly cut and primly combed. He wore prim suits with neckties set primly against the collar buttons of his white shirts. He had a primly pointed jaw, a primly straight nose, and a prim manner of speaking that was so correct, so gentlemanly, that he seemed a comic antique.
3 I prepared for an unfruitful year with Mr. Fleagle and for a long time was not disappointed. Late in the year we tackled the informal essay. Mr. Fleagle distributed a homework sheet offering us a choice of topics. None was quite so simple-minded as "What I Did on My Summer Vacation",; but most seemed to be almost as dull. I took the list home and did nothing until the night before the essay was due. Lying on the sofa, I finally faced up to the unwelcome task, took the list out of my notebook, and scanned it. The topic on which my eye stopped was "The Art of Eating Spaghetti".
4 This title produced an extraordinary sequence of mental images. Vivid memories came flooding back of a night in Belleville when all of us were seated around the supper table — Uncle Allen, my mother, Uncle Charlie, Doris, Uncle Hal — and Aunt Pat served spaghetti for supper. Spaghetti was still a little known foreign dish in those days. Neither Doris nor I had ever eaten spaghetti, and none of the adults had enough experience to be good at it. All the good humor of Uncle Allen's house reawoke in my mind as I recalled the laughing arguments we had that night about the socially respectable method for moving spaghetti from plate to mouth.
5 Suddenly I wanted to write about that, about the warmth and good feeling of it, but I wanted to put it down simply for my own joy, not for Mr. Fleagle. It was a moment I wanted to recapture and hold for myself. I wanted to relive the pleasure of that evening. To write it as I wanted, however, would violate all the rules of formal composition I'd learned in school, and Mr. Fleagle would surely give it a failing grade. Never mind. I would write something else for Mr. Fleagle after I had written this thing for myself.
6 When I finished it the night was half gone and there was no time left to compose a proper, respectable essay for Mr. Fleagle. There was no choice next morning but to turn in my tale of the Belleville supper. Two days passed before Mr. Fleagle returned the graded papers, and he returned everyone's but mine. I was preparing myself for a command to report to Mr. Fleagle immediately after school for discipline when I saw him lift my paper from his desk and knock for the class's attention.
7 "Now, boys," he said. "I want to read you an essay. This is titled, 'The Art of Eating Spaghetti'."
8 And he started to read. My words! He was reading my words out loud to the entire class. What's more, the entire class was listening. Listening attentively. Then somebody laughed, then the entire class was laughing, and not in contempt and ridicule, but with open-hearted enjoyment. Even Mr. Fleagle stopped two or three times to hold back a small prim smile.
9 I did my best to avoid showing pleasure, but what I was feeling was pure delight at this demonstration that my words had the power to make people laugh. In the eleventh grade, at the eleventh hour as it were, I had discovered a calling. It was the happiest moment of my entire school career. When Mr. Fleagle finished he put the final seal on my happiness by saying, "Now that, boys, is an essay, don't you see. It's — don't you see — it's of the very essence of the essay, don't you see. Congratulations, Mr. Baker."
1 Baker's feelings about English courses
2 Baker's impression of his new English teacher
3 A topic that attracts Baker's attention
4 Vivid memories the title brought back
5 Baker's sudden desire to write about that topic
6 Answer: Anticipating punishment
7 Mr. Fleagle's announcement
8 Classmates' response to the essay
9 What Baker discovered
Part One (Paras 1-2) Baker was bored by everything associated with English courses, including essay writing. Part Two (Paras 3-5) Baker found himself attracted by one particular topic and wrote about it for his own joy. Part Three (Paras 6-9) The experience of writing the essay helped him discover his talent for writing and realize what he wished to do in life.
All the Cabbie Had Was a Letter
Foster Furcolo 1 He must have been completely lost in something he was reading because I had to tap on the windshield to get his attention.
2 "Is your cab available?" I asked when he finally looked up at me. He nodded, then said apologetically as I settled into the back seat, "I'm sorry, but I was reading a letter." He sounded as if he had a cold or something.
3 "I'm in no hurry," I told him. "Go ahead and finish your letter."
4 He shook his head. "I've read it several times already. I guess I almost know it by heart."
5 "Letters from home always mean a lot," I said. " At least they do with me because I'm on the road so much." Then, estimating that he was 60 or 70 years old, I guessed: "From a child or maybe a grandchild?"
6 " This isn't family," he replied. "Although," he went on, " come to think of it, it might just as well have been family. Old Ed was my oldest friend. In fact, we used to call each other 'Old Friend' -- when we'd meet, that is. I'm not much of a hand at writing."
7 "I don't think any of us keep up our correspondence too well," I said. "I know I don't. But I take it he's someone you've known quite a while?"
8 "All my life, practically. We were kids together, so we go way back."
9 " Went to school together?"
10 "All the way through high school. We were in the same class, in fact, through both grade and high
11 "There are not too many people who've had such a long friendship," I said.
12 "Actually," the driver went on, "I hadn't seen him more than once or twice a year over the past 25 or 30 years because I moved away from the old neighborhood and you kind of lose touch even though you never forget. He was a great guy."
13 "You said 'was'. Does that mean —?"
14 He nodded. "Died a couple of weeks ago."
15 "I'm sorry," I said. "It's no fun to lose any friend -- and losing a real old one is even tougher."
16 He didn't reply to that, and we rode on in silence for a few minutes. But I realized that Old Ed was still on his mind when he spoke again, almost more to himself than to me: "I should have kept in touch. Yes," he repeated, "I should have kept in touch."
17 "Well," I agreed, "we should all keep in touch with old friends more than we do. But things come up and we just don't seem to find the time."
18 He shrugged. "We used to find the time," he said. "That's even mentioned in the letter." He handed it over to me. "Take a look."
19 "Thanks," I said, "but I don't want to read your mail. That's pretty personal."
20 The driver shrugged. "Old Ed's dead. There's nothing personal now. Go ahead," he urged me.
21 The letter was written in pencil. It began with the greeting "Old Friend,"and the first sentence reminded me of myself. I've been meaning to write for some time, but I've always postponed it. It then went on to say that he often thought about the good times they had had together when they both lived in the same neighborhood. It had references to things that probably meant something to the driver, such as the time Tim Shea broke the window, the Halloween that we tied Old Mr. Parker's gate, and when Mrs. Culver used to keep us after school.
22 "You must have spent a lot of time together," I said to him.
23" Like it says there," he answered, "about all we had to spend in those days was time." He shook his head: "Time."
24 I thought the next paragraph of the letter was a little sad: I began the letter with "Old Friend" because that's
what we've become over the years--old friends. And there aren't many of us left.
25 "You know," I said to him, "when it says here that there aren't many of us left, that's absolutely right. Every time I go to a class reunion, for example, there are fewer and fewer still around."
26 "Time goes by," the driver said.
27 "Did you two work at the same place?" I asked him.
28 "No, but we hung out on the same corner when we were single. And then, when we were married, we used to go to each other's house every now and then. But for the last 20 or 30 years it's been mostly just Christmas cards. Of course there'd be always a note we'd each add to the cards--usually some news about our families, you know, what the kids were doing, who moved where, a new grandchild, things like that--but never a real letter or anything like that."
29 " This is a good part here," I said. "Where it says Your friendship over the years has meant an awful lot to me, more than I can say because I'm not good at saying things like that."I found myself nodding in agreement. "That must have made you feel good, didn't it?"
30 The driver said something that I couldn't understand because he seemed to be all choked up, so I continued: "I know I'd like to receive a letter like that from my oldest friend."
31 We were getting close to our destination so I skipped to the last paragraph. So I thought you'd like to know that I was thinking of you. And it was signed, Your Old Friend, Tom.
32 I handed back the letter as we stopped at my hotel. "Enjoyed talking with you,"I said as I took my suitcase out of the cab. Tom? The letter was signed Tom?
33 "I thought your friend's name was Ed," I said. "Why did he sign it Tom?"
34 "The letter was not from Ed to me," he explained. "I'm Tom. It's a letter I wrote to him before I knew he'd died. So I never mailed it."
35 He looked sort of sorrowful, or as if he were trying to see something in the distance. "I guess I should have written it sooner."
36 When I got to my hotel room I didn't unpack right away. First I had to write a letter — and mail it.
·Answers the questions
1 What does the story begin with?
Answer: The story begins with the cab driver reading a letter.
2 What helped start a conversation between the cab driver and the passenger?
Answer: The letter Tom wrote to his friend Ed.
3 What was their conversation centered on?
Answer: Their conversation was centered on the lifelong friendship between the driver and Old Ed.
4 How did the author get to learn more about the friendship between the driver and Ed?
Answer: The author got to learn more about their friendship by reading the letter himself.
Part One (Paras 1-20) From a conversation with the cab driver the author learned how much he regretted failing to keep up correspondence with his old friend Ed.
Part Two (Paras 21-35) Reading the letter by himself, the author learned more about the lifelong friendship between the driver and Old Ed.
Part Three (Paras 36) The driver's experience urged the author to reach for his pen.
Never Let a Friend Down
Jim Hutchison 1 "Coming to the football match this afternoon?" Bill McIntosh asked 59-year-old Royce Wedding as they drank beer at the Eureka Hotel in the Australian town of Rainbow. Royce shook his head. "I promised Mom I'd burn off the weeds on one of our fields."
2 Bill, who was thin but strong, looking far less than his 79 years, peered outside at the heat. A light breeze was blowing from the north, making conditions perfect for the burn. But Bill felt uneasy about Royce doing the job alone. The farmer had a bad leg and walked with great difficulty.
3 The pair had been best of friends for 30 years, ever since the days when they traveled together from farm to farm in search of work. Now, living alone 12 miles east of town, Bill scraped a living hunting foxes and rabbits. Once a fortnight he went to town to buy supplies and catch up with Royce, who helped run the Wedding family's farm. "I'll give you a hand," Bill said.
4 The pair set off in Royce's car. Soon they were bumping over a sandy track to the weed-choked 120-acre field. "Fire's the only way to get rid of this stuff," said Bill as they tied an old tire to the tow bar with a 50-foot chain. Soaking the tire with gasoline, Bill put a match to it and jumped in the car.
5 Driving slowly from the southern edge of the field, they worked their way upwind, leaving a line of burning weeds in their wake. Half way up the field, and without warning, the car pitched violently forward, plowing into a hidden bank of sand.
6 The breeze suddenly swung around to their backs and began to gather strength. Fanned to white heat, the fire line suddenly burst into a wall of flame, heading directly toward them. "Let's get out of here!" Royce said.
7 Desperately he tried to back the car out of the sand bank. But the wheels only spun deeper in the soft sand.
8 Suddenly the fire was on them. Bill pushed open his door only to find himself flung through the air as, with a roar, the gasoline tank exploded and the car leapt three feet off the ground. When it crashed back down Royce found himself pinned against the steering wheel, unable to move. The car's seats and roof were now on fire.
9 Bill lay where he fell, all the breath knocked out of him. The front of his shirt, shorts, bare arms and legs were soaked in burning gasoline. Then the sight of the car in flames brought him upright with a start. "Royce!" he cried, struggling to his feet and heading for the car.
10 Pulling open the door, he seized Royce's arms through the smoke. "I'm stuck," Royce said. "Get yourself away!"
11 The fire bit at Bill's arms, face and legs, but he tightened his grip on Royce. "I'm not leaving you here," he said.
12 Now Bill dug his heels into the sand and pulled as hard as he could. Suddenly he fell backward. Royce was free and out of the car. As soon as he had dragged him away he patted out the flames on Royce's body and on his own legs and arms with his bare hands.
13 Royce saw a second explosion rock the car, as it was eaten up by flames. I'd be ashes now if Bill hadn't gotten me out, he thought. Looking down, Royce was shocked by the extent of his injuries. His stomach and left hip were covered in deep burns. Worse still, his fingers were burned completely out of shape.
14 Lying on his back, Bill was in equally bad shape. Pieces of blackened flesh and skin hung from his forearms, hands and legs.
15 Bill looked across at his friend. Reading the despair clouding Royce's face, Bill said, "I'll get help. You hang on." Royce nodded, but as he watched Bill set off slowly across the blackened field, he wondered how his friend