I put Matt Stefano and my troubles with him out of my mind as I prepared for my afternoon classes. Yes—I was still afraid of him; but now I was also thinking about Leah, whom I would see in the first of my afternoon classes.
I walked down the hall toward Mr. Snyder’s classroom. The surrounding walls were decorated for Halloween: cardboard ghosts, jack-o’-lanterns, and haunted houses—all the usual clichés.
Was twelve years old too old for Halloween? I wondered. My father certainly seemed to think so. When I announced, several weeks ago, that Leah and Bobby and I were planning one last trick-or-treat, he gave me that gentle, fatherly disapproving look of his and shook his head. My father was a member of a very different generation, and he had some equally different ideas about the proper lines between childhood and adulthood. I was certain that I hadn’t heard the last from him on the issue.
And I was ambivalent myself about this year’s trick-or-treat being a threesome of Bobby, Leah, and I, even though it had always been so, ever since we were little kids. I would have much preferred it be just Leah and I.
As I walked into Mr. Snyder’s classroom, the teacher was jotting some notes on the chalkboard. This was seventh grade religion class. Although we sometimes discussed church history and theology, Mr. Snyder was one of those “free ranging” teachers who liked to incorporate plenty of discussions about current events, too.
And in that fall of 1980, there were plenty of contentious current events to discuss: Since the previous November, fifty-two American embassy personnel had been held hostage in Iran. That provoked the question: Should the U.S. bomb Iran, or try to make a deal? Most of the boys in the class seemed to think that the US should send in the bombers. Mr. Snyder urged a more cautious course.
“Don’t forget,” Mr. Snyder admonished. “President Carter did attempt to respond with force last spring. Operation Eagle Claw. And it was a disaster, wasn't it?”
In those days before CNN and the Internet, few seventh graders read the newspaper or watched the six o’clock evening news. So one day Mr. Snyder showed us a newsreel film about the botched operation: We learned how the U.S. aircraft sent to rescue the hostages had collided with each other and burned in the Iranian desert.
Discussions about the hostage crisis naturally segued into discussions about the upcoming U.S. presidential election. As Mr. Snyder had repeatedly noted, President Carter’s approval ratings had fallen as low as 28 percent. His administration was under siege not only from the Iranians, but also from the flagging economy.
All that made the victory of Ronald Reagan more likely. And with the election only days away, this was a hot topic in class.
I had no real grasp of current political topics like supply-side economics, East-West détente, and stagflation, of course. My parents were both Republicans; and in classroom discussions I supported Ronald Reagan out of a vague sense of parental loyalty.
This was one of the few topics about which Bobby and I disagreed. Out on the playground one day, he had solemnly informed me that he was a Democrat and would be rooting for Jimmy Carter. When I asked why, he merely kicked up a little clod of dirt and said, “My old man is a Democrat.”
But on this day, it appeared that Mr. Snyder would not be discussing either theology or current events. Taking my seat, I noticed the exotic-looking words that the teacher had written on the chalkboard: Samhain, Crom Cruach, and Bwca Llwyd.
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Serial be continued....
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