Every generation creates its own horror stories of suffering. Consider my grandparents’ generation who truly discovered the meaning of sacrifice during the Great Depression; even they embellished tales with details of walking uphill in the snow to school both ways . . . which was impressive until I grew old enough to realize it snows about once every 57 years in South Georgia, and even then it doesn’t stick to the ground. Or how about the times I watched my grandmother swipe a piece of fat off my plate because I “was wasting good food,” leaving me covered in a thin layer of guilt for rude ungratefulness until my dad assured me that as farmers, they had plenty of food on the table and MaMa was just partial to slivers of gristle, gizzards, and chicken feet. When I discovered she ate these tidbits by choice, I almost went into a great depression myself. But times have changed, and legends of monumental suffering must transform with them. I experienced one of these generational transitions today in my classroom.
I have two classes preceding lunch, and my fifth period freshmen must make way for my sixth period seniors. As often happens during that five minute interval, I have students from both age brackets commingling as one group hurriedly stuffs papers into their thirty pound book bags while the other saunters in carrying only a pair of earphones and a Powerade. Today my younger scribes were gathered around the vocabulary list on the board, brandishing iPads and snapping photos with more gusto than the paparazzi. You would have thought a scantily clad British royal lurked behind those words the way they were jockeying for position and tapping the screens.
“Would you look at that?” Chase said, wagging his head in disgust. “They have no idea what real 9th grade English is like. I remember the days when we had to write down our words using wooden sticks with lead.”
Thomas placed a beverage the color of pureed Smurfs on his desk and join in the commiseration. “I remember those. They were called pencils, and you had to whittle away the tips with a razor blade and then press them against an absorbent tablet called paper in order to capture the likeness of those words.”
“You kept paper in a spiral notebook . . . “
“Or a folder . . . “
“Which was in a binder . . . “
“That you kept in a locker.” I’ll say one thing for those guys: they would have made an impressive duo in a doubles match.
Chase propped half a leg on the desk and polished off the sermon his 1,000 extra days of existence ordained him to deliver. “Youngsters these days just don’t know what it’s like to rough it.”
“That’s a fact,” Thomas said the way a deacon offers an amen. Freshmen darted for the door, intent on making their next class under the cloak of punctuality. “These guys are living the soft life with their iPads.” As the last slender body cleared the doorway, he looked at Chase. “Hey, man, can I borrow your earphones? I left mine at home.”
“Sure, I’ve got an extra set. But I’m gonna need your flash drive because I left mine in the truck, and I don’t want to have to walk out to the parking lot to get it.” Chase turned to me. “Ms. Carver, do we need our laptops today?”
“No, we’re doing something in class . . . with paper.”
Chase looked at Thomas. “I’m gonna need a pen, too.”
Thomas reached into pockets that could have swallowed a grapefruit and pulled out a slender tube. “You’re gonna have to borrow one from Dakota. All I’ve got is a Sharpie.”
© 2012 – Traci Carver