This story is by Mark Nicholson and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Hello, I’m William Wardson. I was six years old when my mom told me, “You ain’t no riter.”
My mom didn’t think writer started with a W. When I finally told her that writer actually started with a W, her response hit me like the razor strop our neighbor used to beat his kids.
“Stop that foolishness. You ain’t no riter,” my mom often told me. My mom was illiterate and didn’t believe I could ever be a writer. She thought Blacks would always be second class to whites. Mariam Wardson, my mother, was born and raised in the Jim Crow south. She moved north to Indiana before I was born. She used to tell me, “Boy, ya wanna know why the White Man’s ice is colder than the Black Man’s ice? Because everything they got is better.”
Mom birthed and raised me in small-town New Castle, Indiana. It’s a predominately white town and growing up in the 80s, it was even more white than it is now. Times were hard for us. Mom worked as a housekeeper. My mom didn’t have a driver’s license, so she had to ride the bus to work. I don’t think she even took a driver’s test because she couldn’t read, either. But she could quote the entire Bible like she read it herself!
This Kid Is Slow
I started kindergarten with the belief I could not write. I would never be a writer. The school responded appropriately and placed me in a slow learner class.
“This kid is slow,” I overheard one teacher tell another.
I guess this was the reason they placed me in the slow learner class. The teachers helped me with reading and writing. I enjoyed my time there, but I didn’t like how my fellow students made fun of me. Kids can be cruel.
In the fifth grade, the teacher gave us a writing assignment. The writing assignment was to write about your favorite food. I was 10 years old and my favorite food at the time was chitlins. I still love some chitlins today, but they are so hard to find. Even back then, we only had chitlins on special occasions, like holidays.
Chitlins, sometimes called chitterlings, are the large intestines of pigs. I’ve heard they can also be from calf or veal, but I’ve only had them from pigs. Chitlins were hard to clean. Some people would clean them in the bathtub if they had a lot. After we cleaned them, then my favorite way to eat them was slow-cooked.
For my writing assignment, I wrote this beautiful story about my love of chitlins. I wrote about the smell of chitlins stinking to high heaven. However, they tasted like a piece of heaven. My condiment of choice was hot sauce.
If you think of bacon or maybe shaved beef, then that is what chitlins looked like. The texture was like thin strips of bacon, just not crispy.
My story was a masterpiece about the joys a poor Black family could have eating pig. I was so eager to turn it in to my teacher, Mr. Ben Boor.
The day to turn our writing assignment came, and I was one of the first students to turn mine in. I was so proud. I was a writer and going to prove to my mom that I could be a writer. I sat on the proverbial pins and needles until the day he would let us know our grade. I knew I would get an A. Maybe even an A+.
I remember the day we got our grades back like it was yesterday. Actually, I remember the day like it just happened a few hours ago. My grade, to my utter disbelief, was a big fat F. What the F? I mean, this was crazy. I turned the writing assignment in. I spelled my name correctly and I’m sure I correctly spelled every word in my story.
After class, I asked, “Teacher Boor, why did you give me an F on my writing assignment?”
“Silly boy, I didn’t give you an F. You earned that F, plain and simple. Don’t you understand that writing about your love of chitterlings is not something anyone wants to read? Do you even know what they are?”
Before I could even answer, he said, “They are the large intestines of pigs. Fecal matter, if you even know what that is, comes from that area. It’s gross and people just don’t eat that.”
His words hurt me worse than all those vaccination shots we had to get before going to school. His face looked like he smelled something bad when he talked to me. Well, not to me, but more like talking at me. His nose turned up, eyes showing annoyance at having to explain this to me.
“But, I like chitlins. My family eats them.”
Instead of looking down at me, he looked up, like “Well!”
I had the feeling that what I liked and what my family ate didn’t matter to him. I wondered if what my mom told me was true, “You ain’t no riter.”
In the sixth grade, I had a teacher that I thought was just beautiful. She seemed like an angel with her soothing voice, everyday smile, and patience with the class. Ms. Mary McDonald was the best teacher I had up to that point.
I was still in the slow reader class. Basically, when it was time for the class to read and write, they took me out of the classroom, and I met one on one with another teacher. I felt like I was being singled out. I presumed the other kids thought I was special. It brought unwanted attention to me because my classmates were always asking questions.
“Where did you go?”
“Why did you leave class?”
“What did you do?”
“How come you can’t stay?”
“Is it because you’re Black?”
The weird thing about all the questions was they would ask me each time. Like did they forget they just asked me the questions yesterday? Maybe they should be in the slow learner class.
Then came the day Ms. McDonald gave us our writing assignment. We were to write about our favorite person. I was so excited to write this assignment. The teachers continued to give me below average grades on all my previous writing assignments. But I knew I was going to get at least a B on this one. Maybe even an A, but at least a B. It was my time.
Ms. McDonald was going to be so proud of me for writing about my favorite person. This person was such an inspiration to me. This person made me feel good, proud, and like I was someone special.
So, I got to writing! Yes, sir, indeed I did.
Grade Day 2
On the day it was due, I submitted my paper. I smiled and was full of pride. My time had come. I knew it. A few days later when she gave us our papers back, I saw my grade. It was a big, red letter, one-legged A. Did she forget to put the other leg on the A? Why did this resemble an F?
I approached Ms. McDonald. She was much taller than me and she was even taller because of the high-heel shoes she always wore.
“Um, Ms. McDonald, shouldn’t this be an A?”
“Boy, why do you think you earned an A?” she asked.
“Well, I mean, I wrote about my favorite person. Who I wanted to be like when I grow up and everything.”
She said, “You wrote about me. You wrote a paper all about me and how you wanted to be like me when you grow up.”
“That’s true. I want to be just like you when I grow up. What is wrong with that?” I said.
Her biting remark lingers in my ears all these years later. “You could never be like me. First, I’m a woman and you’re a boy. Second, you’re Black and I’m white. Why in the world do you think we could ever be the same?”
After the two harsh criticisms from my elementary school teachers, I focused more and more on my writing. I didn’t care what they said. I was going to write. In bed at night, I thought of stories. I created families, towns, worlds, all in my imagination. I wrote story after story because writing was my happy space.
Also, I focused on school, getting good grades, and I somehow was on the honor roll.
Eventually, I graduated in the top 10% of my class, with high honors. I received a scholarship to a prestigious university because of my grades. I continue to visit my happy space because I am a writer!
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