He was a knucklehead. He didn’t take school all that seriously and was continuously getting himself into trouble. His prior teachers told me ALL about it. I loved him. This was the kind of kid they always seemed to give me. I guess it takes one to know one.
You should know this about me before I go any further. My wife’s first teaching job was in the exact same elementary school I attended in Louisa County. Quite a few of my old teachers were still there and BOY did they have some stories for her. You know…..I was a knucklehead, too.
This particular version of knuckle-headness was in my fourth grade class. One month into the year we were sitting together at lunch and after taking a bite out of his Pop Tart he said, “Man I sure do love a good pop tart!!!” Now you have to know that getting a nickname from me was known as a badge of honor. There was more than one parent who told me that they also now called their kid the nickname I had bestowed on them. So, of course, the Knucklehead became “Pop Tart.” I NOW PROCLAIM TO ALL WITHIN THE SOUND MY OF VOICE THAT FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, YOU SHALL BE KNOWN AS “POP TART,” I said in a very loud voice. He smiled so wide the top of his head almost fell off.
A few weeks later we were at Virginia Historical Society.
Pop Tart and I were touring together, just the two us. Mostly because I liked being around him because he made me smile. We were looking at the model for the Arthur Ashe statue that now stands on Monument Avenue. It’s a beautiful statue. He’s looking at the model and he says, “What are the books?” I asked him what he meant he said, “The books have no title on them. What are they about?” I said, “Let’s go read the information plaque and see if it says anything about the books.” It didn’t. I told him, “That’s a mighty fine question, Pop. Tell you what. When we get back to the class, I’ll see if there’s some way we can contact the sculptor.” He walked with a little swagger the rest of the day.
I did indeed email the sculptor, Paul DiPasquale, when I got back the classroom. I told Pop to not hold out a lot of hope, because I’m sure Mr. D. was a busy man.
The NEXT day we got a response. Mr. D. said some nice things and then specifically remarked about what a neat kid Pop must be (I didn’t give out his name). He went on to say that NO ONE had ever asked that question and that it was an awesome question. He told us that the books weren’t meant to be any special books at all, but rather they represented Mr. Ashe’s love of reading and his quest to make reading a priority for the children of Virginia.
I couldn’t wait for Pop to come in that morning. I called him over right away and let him sit in my chair and read the email. The look on his face as he read thru the response is one I’ll never forget. It started with an anxious expectation, turned into small smile that got increasingly bigger as he read all the nice things that Mr. D. said about him. I looked at him and yelled, “Look at you, Pop. I’m so proud of you” and we high-fived. Along with the smile on his face, I saw a couple tears form out the corners of his eyes. It was less a teachable moment and more a sacred moment. Two knuckleheads together; separated by decades but still one.
The rest of the year, he tried harder to be a better student and in less trouble. He wasn’t perfect but what fourth grader or 50 something year old man is. He became beloved by his classmates. I would sure like to know where he is now. I bet he still loves a good Pop Tart.