Teaching with my cats
As a librarian and teacher, my students wrote. How better to understand the life of the sentence, the emotional impact and interplay with description, than to write? How can one better appreciate the choice books lining the library shelves, than to appreciate the craft of writing through the act itself?
Using the short story form and essay prompts from a favorite title with works by young adult writers the likes of Matt de la Peña, Ransom Rigg, Rita Williams-Garcia, et.al., Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays: Your Favorite Authors Take A Stab at the Dreaded Essay Assignment provided our template.
As with all lessons, it was incumbent upon me to “do the work” too. How could I understand my students otherwise?
My essay below is based upon the exemplary writing in this collection by Elizabeth Winthrop, “My Life Before Television.”
Wolf, Brad, and Rebecca Stern. Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays: Your Favorite Authors Take A Stab at the Dreaded Essay Assignment. Roaring Brook Press, 2013. Print.
My Life before Cats
Our house always seemed too quiet for my taste, as a child. We lived in, what was called back then, a row house. This is where one house is slammed against the other, as if they are trying to hold each other upright. What this also meant was that you and your next-door neighbor shared a wall. You shared the sounds each house made if those noises were against the shared wall. So, it was important to BE quiet. Fortunately for our neighbors, my two sisters and I were fairly well-behaved. Oh, this was not because we were born that way; rather, because my dad meant serious business if he told us to “quiet down” and we ignored him!
We rarely had pets of any sort. Once, when my older sister was doing a science project in high-school, we kept the guinea pigs afterwards. Unfortunately, my mom got asthma, and they had to go, even though they were quiet. Next, my middle sister brought home a stray dog. We kept him too… for a while. He was not quiet. My father found a home for him. A guy he worked with at the steel mill had daughter who was “simple-minded” – a label from the early 1960s. Other kids were afraid of her, even though she was really nice. She did not have a lot of friends, and she was lonely. So, our dog went to her. I cried, but it was better for her, our dog, and especially our neighbors.
When I grew up and had my own family we bought a house – standing all by itself and surrounded by a big yard. Space between our neighbors and us. It was living here when I finally got my first cat. She was a tortoise-shell stray who just showed up. She stayed. She was not terribly friendly or cuddly, but I liked the way she strutted around, talking incessantly. She was noisy.
Next, my sons found an orange cat – a stray with only three legs. He was very friendly, very quick, and very talkative. We had to keep him. Then, the animal shelter called us, “Did we want another cat – a three-legged one – a little black one. Of course we did! For many years in our house we lived with these three, no-longer-stray cats. Until on an autumn night, a fourth, feral kitten, a calico, came to our kitchen door. The following week we brought her in. No surprise here.
It was never quiet after that! There was constant meowing, howling, growling. There were my two boys fighting over who won this and that. Oh! Did I mention the dogs? Two. Big ones. And, a husband. The only quiet, living thing in the house, except when he yelled at our boys for fighting. Then, everyone was loud.
My life was no longer quiet at home, except at meal times. And, this was A-okay!