Story by Bill Waddell | Illustrated by Beka Duke
Story © 2016 Bill Waddell – All Rights Reserved. | Illustrations © 2016 Beka Duke – All Rights Reserved.
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.
For the next thirty minutes, Anna and Bob texted and Tweeted to their friends and to their cousins in the other cars in their caravan. Their cousins were having a good time as well, watching the movies that were the family’s standard beach fare. Everyone had the lines memorized to the dialogue and they belted out the songs in overly dramatic fashion. In Kappy’s car, it was either NPR or some group from the Seventies like Crosby, Stills & Nash. And she didn’t care either, thinking to herself, “I like what they like.” Anna’s and Bob’s friends all knew exactly where they were along the route to the beach, because Anna and Bob thought they needed to know. And texts allowed their friends to experience every odd cow, ancient tractor, church marquee message, and mysteriously shaped cloud along the way. For most of Anna’s friends, this meant that their mothers were constantly passing the phone to their daughters, because they didn’t have the benefit of a Nana phone.
However, the texts also brought responses from their friends like, “Are you going to stop at Otto’s in Hattiesburg? They have the best chicken strips.” That would inevitably lead to a question to Lovie, the more flexible grandparent, about whether they could stop at Otto’s. Lovie would respond, “I don’t know what your mother has planned for lunch. And you know all of the men want to keep charging toward the beach like they’re on a mission. It can’t take long. But ask your mom and dad.” Despite Anna’s best efforts, the ultimate response from her mom and dad would be, “We’ll talk about stopping there on the way back.” That meant it wasn’t likely to happen, because the trip home was usually a mad dash so the adults could get back to their jobs and other routines.
Both Anna and Bob had downloaded different GPS apps that spoke to Kappy in different voices at roughly the same time. Kappy was in a good mood, but he told them he wanted their phones off when they got to Mobile, because “those phones will get us lost and I have to concentrate.” Bob and Anna both said, “Yes” but they knew Lovie would have her phone on “just in case.” Instead of saying, “Siri says to turn left in about a mile,” Lovie understood that the better way to manage Kappy was to say, “Seems like we turned left in about a mile or so when we came through here last year.” Anna smiled to herself as she focused again on her phone. It was always entertaining to watch Kappy and Lovie as they “negotiated” the route.
One of Anna’s texts was from Carlye, who was at camp and was having a blast. She had made a lot of new friends, and as long as her mother kept sending care packages, Carlye told Anna she would not starve. There was to be a dance on Friday, and Carlye was hoping Lawson would ask her to dance.
Another text was from Rocío, who asked Anna if she had started working on her summer assignment. Because Rocío used her mother’s phone and they only had a set amount of minutes each month, Anna didn’t have the kind of back and forth text exchange with Rocío that she and Carlye did. “I haven’t even thought about it,” Anna thought to herself. “I’ll respond after a while.”
As they approached the Mississippi River, Kappy said, “Let’s play the alphabet game.” With Rocío ‘s text on her mind, Anna responded without really answering Kappy’s invitation, “I have a silly summer assignment, and I haven’t even started.”
Her exasperated tone stood in stark contrast to the mood just fifteen minutes earlier. Lovie said, “There’s still a lot of summer left, Annie. Don’t brood over something like that and let it spoil your beach trip.” Lovie knew that once Anna got something on her mind, she wouldn’t let go of it until she had a plan, so she decided to help the process along.
“What is the assignment, Annie? Maybe we can help you think about it so you will have a plan.”
“It’s about palindromes and the Pledge of Allegiance,” said Anna with no enthusiasm.
“How do palindromes and the Pledge of Allegiance go together?” asked Lovie.
“I don’t think they do. One is for English and the other is for Social Studies. I have to find 50 palindromes and write them down. And then I have to pick a part of the Pledge of Allegiance and talk to a person about why that part of the Pledge is meaningful to them. Then I have to write why it is important to me. I don’t see why they have to ruin our summer like that.”
Kappy piped up, “I remember one summer Aunt Grace had to read Guns, Germs & Steel for a summer assignment, and she waited until we were on vacation just a week before school started. She read it on the way back from the beach – in the car – aloud – to all of us. Good book, but it wasn’t as enjoyable as the time Lovie read To Kill A Mockingbird using all of the different voices for Atticus, Calpurnia, and Scout. We laughed and cried, sometimes at the same time, as Lovie read it to us. I’ve got an idea. Let’s play a palindrome version of the alphabet game. And we’ll play together, not against each other. You can start your list right now. And we don’t have to go in alphabetical order.”
“You only need forty-nine more,” said Bob. ‘My name is a palindrome, so ‘B’ is sitting right next to you.”
Lovie quickly noticed Ava’s Beauty Salon, so “A” and “B” were checked off.
“‘T’ for Little Tot Daycare,” shouted Anna.
“There’s the Hattiesburg Civic Center. We have our “C,” said Kappy.
And so it went with words on a tee shirt that read “Bank of Dad,” a highway sign that warned new paving meant lanes were “not level,” another sign indicating “radar in use,” and an LED flashing billboard that listed the “stats” for the Mississippi Braves. Even with Kappy’s eagle eye, they were not able able to find the letters “q,” “x” and “z,” but Anna was off to a good start on her assignment.
About the Author
Bill is a lawyer who has made pro bono cases a priority in his practice for more than thirty years. “The original purpose of this story was twofold. I wrote this as a loving tribute to my wife, Patty, and my three daughters, Jessie, Grace and Anna. My second purpose was to provide a resource for children and their adults, whether that be parents, grandparents, or teachers, to begin exploring why ‘justice for all’ is an important cultural value for everyone.”
Story by Bill Waddell | Illustrations by Beka Duke