The last day of fourth grade was about to begin. Anna and her classmates in Miss Humphrey’s homeroom got up from their desks as they did each day and put their right hands over their hearts.
I pledge allegiance
to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the republic
for which it stands
and justice for all.
Anna said to her friend, Carlye, “That’s the last time we have to say the Pledge until we are fifth graders.”
“Yeah,” Carlye responded. “The last day of school is great. No more homework.”
“No more math,” sighed Anna.
“And no more vocabulary tests,” said Caryle with relief.
“And the best of all,” said Anna, “no more social studies! I’m going to the pool every day and not think about school. What are you going to do this summer?”
“I get to go to camp in Hot Springs for two weeks. I’ve never been before, and my big sister and I can’t wait!”
Anna could see that Rocío was listening to what they were saying, so she asked her if she was excited about summer.
“I guess so,” Rocío answered quietly.
“You guess?” both Carlye and Anna said at the same time.
“What could be worse than having to go to school all summer?” asked Anna.
Their conversation was interrupted by Miss Humphrey’s familiar voice. “Class, Noel Leon Elementary is beginning a summer assignment program this year. This is to prepare you for the types of assignments you will be doing in your next grade.”
Twenty-four varieties of sighs and words of exasperation could be heard.
Asa was the first to speak. “So much for summer!”
Ellen, the organized one, asked “When is it due,” knowing her mother would ask that question in the car on the way home. Ellen also asked whether she and her twin sister, Nelle, who was in Mrs. Carter’s class, could work together, which was usually not permitted when they both had projects.
Miss Humphrey held up her hand, an all too familiar signal that she would answer all of their questions, but not all at once and not in the rat-a-tat fashion that they were being asked. By the end of the fourth grade, her class had developed an ability to ask the precise questions needed to give them the information they needed to decide whether an assignment would be liked or disliked. She liked to think it showed critical thinking, even if it almost always resulted in the conclusion that they disliked what was being assigned.
Asa needed no more information to make his decision.
“This can’t be good,” he said.
“You haven’t even heard what the assignment is,” Miss Humphrey added quickly. “This is not like anything you have ever done. It requires you to think, but it’s really about observing and listening and writing your opinion. I know each of you has an opinion. There will not be a test. So here is the assignment:
First, your fifth grade English teachers will be teaching you about different kinds of words next year. You will be learning about synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, and palindromes, among others. They have asked that you look for palindromes this summer and keep a list of at least fifty. You can stop your list at fifty, but you can also keep going if you think it is fun.”
“I can tell you right now I’m stopping at fifty,” said Asa without raising his hand.
Remembering that there are rules even for the last day of school, Asa raised his hand and when Miss Humphries looked his way, asked “What is a palindrome?”
“A palindrome is a word or a phrase or numbers that read the same backward and forward,” said Miss Humphries.
“Like my name!” said Anna.
“Yes, that’s right. That’s a good example, Anna.”
Walking over to the board at the front of the room, Miss Humphrey wrote “Never odd or even.”
“This is an example of a phrase that is a palindrome.” She continued writing. “‘Step on no pets’ is another example.”
Carlye said, “Hey, the name of our school is a palindrome! ‘Noel Leon’ Elementary!”
“That’s right,” said Miss Humphrey. “See how easy this is! All you have to do is write down fifty palindromes you see this summer and turn in the list on the first day of school.”
“That’s not so bad,” affirmed Ellen, speaking for herself and the rest of the class. “Nelle and I will have our lists done by tomorrow.”
“But,” Miss Humphrey interrupted, “your list and Nelle’s have to be different words with no overlapping, so if you work together, you’ll need one hundred examples.”
“Unfair!” exclaimed Ellen.
“There’s more. You both have to choose different parts of the Pledge of Allegiance for the second assignment, which is from the fifth grade social studies teachers. Their assignment is for you to pick one line out of the Pledge ofAllegiance and talk to another person about what that means to them. Then you write a summary of what the person said and tell how that made you think about the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance. Your report cannot be more than two pages and you must turn it in on the first day of school.”
“That sounds hard,” said Carlye.
“Well,” said Ms. Humphrey, “think about it this way. If you chose ‘to the flag’ as your line from the Pledge of Allegiance, you might look for someone who is in the military or who raises the flag each day. You could ask that person why she thinks it is important for everyone to say ‘to the flag’ as a part of our Pledge of Allegiance. What that person says and what you think about the phrase after talking to the person are all you have to write.”
“This is pass/fail. If you do the assignments, you will receive an automatic fifty points for each class to start out the year. If you don’t do the assignments, you will receive a zero. This
will be easiest fifty points you will earn in fifth grade. Any questions? If not, have a safe and fun summer!”
“My mother won’t let my summer start until I get this done,” said Ellen.
Rocío, usually very quiet, volunteered that she already knew which part of the Pledge she was going to write about.
Anna noticed and she worried, because she had no clue what she would write about. As the bell rang, she forgot about everything but her summer freedom. The first day of fifth grade was a long way off.
Two weeks later, Anna’s family was on the road to the beach for their annual family vacation. Three generations loaded up cars and vans to travel eight hours to a condo Anna’s family had rented for the week. There would be thirteen in all – her grandmother and grandfather, Anna’s mother and father and Anna’s two sisters, Anna’s Aunt Jessie, her husband, Uncle Trenton, and their two children, and Anna’s Aunt Grace and her husband, Uncle Sidney, and their two children.
Anna loved being with her family, and she always rode with Kappy and Lovie, the names given to her grandparents by Aunt Jessie’s oldest child. Kappy was how Aunt Jessie’s daughter had shortened “Kapugen” and it stuck for the rest of the grandchildren who came later. “Kapugen” was the name of the father of Miyax, a character in the book Julie of the Wolves that was a favorite of Aunt Jessie and Kappy during their attempt to read all of the Newberry Award books.
Lovie’s name was bestowed by the same first grandchild, who was always told, “I love you” in a lilting warm voice that made her know inside that she was loved no matter what she did (or didn’t do). “Lovie” started out as “Wuvie,” but all of the grandchildren had graduated to pronouncing her name correctly. Still, there was always a child-like love that was felt each time her name was called, no matter how old the grandchildren were.
As they drove along the four-lane that cut through the rural Arkansas Delta, Anna asked Kappy to tell stories of Kappy and Lovie growing up in their hometown along the Mississippi River. She had heard the stories many times and she knew where Kappy and Lovie would break off a story with something like, “I wonder what happened to Joe?” Lovie would try to answer those questions by searching on Facebook and would provide an answer, even if it was more about Joe’s sister than Joe himself. Anna liked the way Kappy and Lovie acted toward each other – plain talk with respect and understanding.
For this trip to the beach, Anna’s favorite cousin, Bob, was also in the car with Kappy and Lovie. Bob was the son of Aunt Grace and Uncle Sidney. Bob was four years older than Anna, but he had always been fun with her, and they shared a love for baseball and reading. When she was learning to read, she loved being with Aunt Grace and Bob, because they would sit and listen to her read and then talk about the story, asking Anna questions that made her think about the story in different ways. Bob would loan her books from his own stash that he had enjoyed. Of course, the best ones were about baseball, but Bob did have a lot of books about girls doing spectacular things, and Anna loved those stories. If they were true stories, that made it even better. And Anna knew that Aunt Grace was always going to give her a cool book on her birthday.