Sunday, August 21, 2016

High School (for Me, not Curt)

Tonight is the eve of the week Curt begins high school.

His first day of the 9th grade isn't until Wednesday, but every milestone urges me to remember the day his neurologist advised us to look into a group home, back when Curt was barely 2 1/2.

I like to look back and laugh. Or at least cheer.

But actually, this post isn't about Curt, although thinking about Curt going to high school certainly was the catalyst.

This post is about two people I encountered in high school who shaped the course of my life.

Every high school student should have some of those, one of those; I was lucky enough to have two. I had two in college, too, but that's a post for a different day.

Mr. Caskie and Ms. Adams-Caskie weren't married when I first met them. In fact, their (perceived) secret romance was quite titillating to a high school student, when perhaps, in fact, it was only secret to us students, AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN, and there was nothing actually as salacious or exciting as I imagined it in my 16-year-old brain. But that's really neither here nor there, what matters is that Mr. Caskie and Ms. Adams were my heroes.

My junior year at Midlothian High School dawned and I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt I wanted to take Creative Writing as my elective. I'd taken Drama my freshman year (a total failure in my mind as I never quite fit in with the drama crowd, valuing my Outback Red layered henleys with coordinating layered socks over heavy black eyeliner and jeans held together with safety pins). I had to skip an elective my sophomore year, bucking for that advanced credit diploma, so I was chomping at the bit to sink my teeth into creative writing.

I knew from Day 1 that's where I was meant to be, talent or no talent.

Mr. Caskie, whether he saw talent or not, nurtured the enthusiasm I brought to the table. I asked to be editor of the Literary Magazine that year and somehow, I got the job. I remember pouring through short stories, poems, drawings and essays, penned on sheets of well-worn paper, spread out on the floor of my bedroom. I spent countless hours selecting which pieces would grace that year's magazine, maybe a little power hungry for a high school junior. I can still feel the weight of the selection of the paper for the cover, probably a 90 pound weight with a linen texture, in a lovely taupe shade that leaned toward pink. I know I have a copy somewhere; I should probably dig it up. Honestly, ,I can't remember much about what I actually wrote that year. Probably some angst-filled poems (by definition, all teenage poetry is angst-filled) and some short stories, heavy-handed on the forced symbolism. I do remember that Mr. Caskie was encouraging without being cloying; there were no medals for trying, he wanted you to produce something of quality.

My senior year, I moved on to Journalism, with Ms. Adams-Caskie. If memory serves me correctly, Mr. Caskie married Ms. Adams the summer between my junior and senior years. It was a match made in heaven, or, at least, the hallways of Midlothian High School. Mr. Caskie sported a mop of unruly hair, spectacles that were always slipping down his nose and bore himself with the air of the absentminded professor. Ms. Adams was a hippy! She wore broomstick skirts and her hair, also an unruly mop of raven curls, were as untamed as her infectious, booming laugh and her easy smile. She had a been a reporter at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. As we say these days, she was legit.

So I entered her classroom ready to take on the world. I ended up editor of the paper that year, too. I'm beginning to think no one else wanted those jobs. Ms. Adams-Caskie (it was hyphenated, because she was such a feminist; she was sooooo cool.) was our Don Quixote, tilting at windmills for the beleaguered student journalist.  She allowed me to write a cover series on abortion, even though a fellow paper staffer disdainfully informed me that "so many" friends of our had already had abortions and it was such a nonfactor (I refuse to believe it, to this day). Once a month, we mimeographed that student newspaper (OK, not really, I drove it to a printer in downtown Richmond, accompanied by a floppy disk in case the printer needed backup from our hard copies) and I couldn't have been more proud of anything in my meager 17 years on earth. Ms. Adams-Caskie taught me to look for the truth, to be fair, to be balanced, and to never let The Man dictate the news. Ok, so she didn't call it "The Man" but I could just tell that I'd totally be best friends with her and Lois Lane if we were all older. (And real, but whatever).

Long story short, Mr. Caskie and Ms. Adams-Caskie solidified a love of writing, a love of reporting and lifelong passion for storytelling in my fledging soul. Neither of them ever looked at me and said, "You can't do it" (like that English teacher in high school...but that's yet another post), instead, they showed me I could.

And I did.

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