Monday, March 3, 2014

The Key, Chapter 3

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 3

     The fourth grade Quest Enrichment students filtered into class. We picked up our class notes on the way in the door.  Mrs. Eloise waits for us in the doorway and greets each of us upon entry.  Sometimes she gives high fives, other times just a nod.   Today she tapped Mikey on the head with her “Handy Pointer.”  

     The handy pointer was made from a broken ruler and the white gloved hand of my old Mickey Mouse toddler toy.  Mrs. Eloise uses it to point out words on the chalkboard or countries of the world on the map.  An elementary student can think of many uses for the Handy Pointer aside from the educational ones, namely fake nose picking.   Every kid in the whole school wants to get a hold of that thing.  I once was offered half a tuna sub and a homework pass if I could snag it from my mom’s school bag, but I wouldn’t dream of it.
     My classmate Henry, who is known for always being the teacher’s favorite, handed my mother an apple as he entered the classroom.  “Good morning, Mrs. McG,” said Henry.

     “Why thank you Henry!” she replied.  “This looks delicious!” 

     “You’re right,” said Henry.  “It is going to be delicious because it’s a Golden Delicious!” 

     Brown-noser I thought.  I couldn’t help but  secretly wish for a worm in that apple just to make Mr. Perfect’s gift to my mother a little less than perfect.

     “The key to all things is ……. What?” said my best friend Emily, noticing the words on the chalkboard.  “You forgot to write up the rest, Ellen.”

     “That is what we are supposed to figure out today, I guess,” I said shrugging in a nonchalant way.     

    Unknowns like that kind of make me nervous, but I pretended at that moment like I didn’t care.  I like to know what is going on and when things are going to happen.  It makes me feel safe.   I told my mom this once and she did agree with me.  Mother Eloise also said that it is always good to have something not filled in, a blank left open, or something to wonder about.  I was sure that was Mrs. McG’s intention today.

     All ten of us found our seats.  Our class is small as it is designed that way.  You can’t hide in a Quest class.  Fewer students in a classroom means more turns to answer questions.  None of us really mind though.  We all like to have our turns to talk in class.  I chose a seat between Emily and Rachel.  We sat across the big table from all of the boys who made it a point to sit on the opposite side from the girls.

    We chatted a little and noticed that Rock Test Review was the number one thing on our To Do List.  Mrs. Eloise always puts a list of things we are going to do on the board that day in class.  My mother loves nature and we have been working on a unit about Rocks and Minerals.  

     It sounded really boring at first, but Mrs. Eloise made it fun.  She is making us identify fifty-one rocks and minerals out of her Rock Kit, three boxes full with seventeen in each.  In a few weeks we will be having our exam.  We’ve been studying for weeks.

     “All right, folks.  Time to get started.”   A few kids still whisper to finish their conversations to which my mother snaps her fingers at them and flashes them “the look.”  I know what she’s thinking, but she holds her tongue, smiles, and continues when all is quiet.

     “Today we will be taking a closer look at the metamorphic rocks in our kit.  You will be responsible for knowing eleven of them for our upcoming test.” 
     “OOHHHHHH,” the kids groan.  “Why so many?   We already have to know forty other ones!” 

     Mrs. McG does not handle whining very well.  She does not have a high tolerance for children or adults who do not push themselves to excel.  I guess fifty-one rocks isn’t a lot when you think of all the things in the world there are to know, but it is when you compare it to our weekly twenty word spelling list.  I knew what her response would be even before her lips parted.

     “How many spelling words do you have this week?” she asked in response to the complaints.  My mother never gives a direct answer, it seems.  Her favorite thing to do is answer someone’s question with a question of her own.

     “Twenty,” Henry replied.

     “And how many of those twenty words do you already know?” she inquired.

     “None,” Rachel chimed in, “they are hard this week.” 

     “Oh, lovely!  So now you are not only lazy students, but you are fibbers, too.  Shame, shame, I know your names!” she reprimanded, shaking her finger at all of us. Perhaps we should look at this challenge from another angle.”

     Whenever things look daunting, Mrs. Eloise tells us to change our perspective and look at things  another way.   Often she makes us get up out of our seats and turn our bodies to look at something upside down.  Mrs. McG claims that looking at something from another perspective can often lead you to the answer.

     “They still look like a whole bunch of pebbles to me, Mrs. McG,” said Mikey.  

     He got up out of his seat and bent over from the waist.  He was looking between his legs back at all of us.  The class erupted with laughter as did our teacher.  Mrs. McG was unconventional, but she did have a good sense of humor.

     We got out our pencils and began to fill in the metamorphic rocks on our worksheet:  marble, slate, serpentinite, amphibolite.  They all seemed strange and foreign to my ears.  By the end of class though, Mrs. Eloise would work her magic and have a story behind every single one of them.  Eleven stories that would help us remember each one so that we felt like the rocks were alive and had personalities of their own.

     “Ahhhh, serpentinite, one of my favorites,” Mrs. Eloise said, plucking a rock from its resting place in the box with her thumb and forefinger.  She told us this story of how serpentinite was actually a sea serpent with many heads that she plucked from the sea when she was on an expedition before she became a teacher.  According to legend, Mrs. Eloise fought the sea serpent with a sword, she plucked it from the sea, it became a rock with a greenish color with a sandy feel to it. 

     “So, is The Key To All Things about bravery?” said Henry, trying to link today’s saying to what she was teaching. 

     “Nice thinking, Henry.”  Mrs. Eloise complimented.  “I see Henry, as some others of you, have noticed our unfinished sentence on the board.”

     Brown-noser, I thought again. 

Mrs. McG does this often.  She writes things on the board that seem random, but really aren’t random at all.  Then she cleverly makes a point of not mentioning them.  She lets the students bring it into conversation naturally.  I suppose it is some teacher trick she learned in college that has a big fancy name.  I just call it Mother Eloise Being Obscure. 

     “Bravery could be a key to all things.  I wonder if it could be something else, too?”  There she goes again, throwing a question back at us.

     We continued on with stories about the other rocks. Mrs. McG made the kids roar with laughter when we got to the schist series of samples.  Mrs. Eloise warned us to speak very slowly and clearly when discussing rocks of this categorization, especially around our parents.  Surely if they misinterpreted what we were saying they would be calling for her resignation.

     We all sat there looking at each other, dumbfounded for a minute until Mikey, the most likely one of the bunch to connect the intended sarcasm, blurted out, “I got it!  The key to all things is speaking clearly!  THAT’S BECAUSE SCHIST SOUNDS JUST LIKE…..”

     He was met with Mrs. Eloise’s, “Stop right there young man!  Get your mind out of the gutter!  One more word out of you and it is straight to Juvenile Hall.  I will skip the principal’s office altogether!”

     Every class was like that.  At least once in the hour we had Mrs. McG for class, she got us laughing.  I think she does that on purpose to make us forget all of the horrible things she makes us do, like memorizing the names of fifty-one rocks and minerals.
     “Now my little Einsteins, calm down.  We have one more rock, and as always, I saved the best for last.  Meet my favorite, Quartzite.  She’s a beauty.”

     My mother delicately lifted a sparkly rock from the box, gently placing it in her palm like she was cradling a newborn baby, and held it out for all to see.  Mrs. Eloise began in a voice barely above a whisper

“Quartzite is the epitome of the metamorphic rock set.  She was at one time just plain old sandstone.  Just a bunch of tiny grains of sand that got sat on and pressed together to form a rock.  This little gal was fine with being plain old sandstone.  There was safety in that since there were gazillions of other rocks just like her.   Sandstone felt secure because she looked just like everyone else around her, but yet there was something defeating about being so plain old ordinary.   Something gnawing at her that she wanted to be more than just run of the mill.
Then one day, when Sandstone least expected it, something big and heavy landed on her and smothered the light.  Poor little sandstone thought she would surely suffocate and die under the enormous pressure of the weight on top of her.  To make it worse, someone cranked up the heat and she got so hot she began to melt.  Poor little Sandstone was in silent agony for what seemed an eternity.  What a horrible way to be in existence, she thought!  Soon I will die and it will be of great relief to me, she lamented.  Surely I cannot live much longer in this horrid state!

 As little Sandstone was deciding what was worse to die from, suffocation or melting, suddenly there was LIGHT, something she had long forgotten about.  And with the light came sound—the whirring sound of a drill.  She felt herself being pulled upwards, drawn through the tunnel closer to the source of the light.  Little sandstone was frightened, yet something in her very being, in the tiny grains of her makeup, told her to trust that this would be a good thing.  And it was.
Sandstone emerged from the long dark tunnel, and into the light of the world finding herself transformed.  She was a rock of beauty.  Her exterior was black and shiny, with pink and gold crystals. She began her life as sandstone, but heat and pressure over time changed her ordinary to extraordinary.  She had been metamorphized.  She became beautiful Quartzite. 

     We all waited breathless at the end of Mrs. Eloise’s story, just to see if there was more.  But Mrs. Eloise just stopped and allowed us to remain in the silence with our own thoughts.   She walked back to her desk, and called out to us while still walking, “See you next week.”

     “Wait!” called Emily.  “There’s still a blank in our notes.  What should we write down for The Key to All Things?” 

     “Let me know when you figure it out,” replied Mrs. Eloise.

     I lingered at the table a bit longer than the rest of my classmates, slowly gathering up my class materials and safely zipping them into my binder.  I was in that funny place, lost in thought between something left unfinished and the place I had to go next.  My mother seemed to sense this and walked over to me.  She patted me on the back, leaned down, and whispered in my ear, “See you after school, Quartzite.”

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