Christopher Burton graduated from Douglass in May, 2005. He spent that summer the same way he had spent the two previous summers, working with Students at the Center in writing workshops, video productions, mentoring and teaching younger students in summer camps, and helping us train teachers and develop plans and projects for the next school year.
He left New Orleans by train on the morning of Friday, August 26, 2005. Most of us had not received evacuation orders for Hurricane Katrina, which would eventually hit New Orleans early the morning of August 29. No, Chris was on his way to start his freshman year at Hampden-Sidney College in Virginia.
He finished his first year of college, but then decided to move back to New Orleans to help take care of the family that had taken care of him growing up and to help with the rebuilding of Students at the Center and public education. He is continuing work on his degree in secondary English education at University of New Orleans and is part of the growing group of SAC graduates who are pursuing careers in teaching.
Chris wrote the essay that follows during SAC’s summer 2005 sessions and at the Andover Bread Loaf Writing Workshop, where teachers working with us and United Teachers of New Orleans (AFT Local 527) have the opportunity for on-going development as writing teachers.
Chris is a big help in our classes since Katrina. He is not only learning how to teach through direct participation and assistance in our classes but also through his writing and our students’ reactions to those writings. He will start his teaching career keenly aware that knowing his students and responding to their thoughts and experiences is as important as knowing well the content he will teach.
Go to Grandma’s
Hey, Mom. I have never written to you before, but I thought I should, so I’m doing it now.
Hey, Mom. Do you remember those days when I was in kindergarten at Nelson? You would come by to pick me up wearing that long dress of yours. How your dress never reflected brilliance, even when the sun was shining full and bright without a cloud in sight. And even though your dress didn’t shine in the sun, that plastic pack of Lance cookies you always brought with you did. You would hold my hand, and we would walk home, just you and I.
Mom, remember the time when my older brother, twin sister, and I came home from school, my older brother having been directed by you to go to grandma’s after school? We found you in the big, brown, lazy-boy recliner with a blanket on your lap and eating Coco Puffs in that distinctive way of yours: spoon pushed down the center of the bowl until you had a spoonful of cereal. I found some of your hair on the floor that day, and I picked it up and rolled it between my fingers, not getting any grease from it. You had told me that your hair was falling out.
Mom, I don’t know if you know this or not, but every time my older brother, twin sister, and I came home to our home and found a note on the door saying “Go to Grandma’s,” my twin sister and I never knew what had happened to you or where you went. But we were always glad when you came back. I know that for some reason every time the note on our door said, “Go to Grandma’s” my siblings and I would walk back down the pissy stairs, and I would think of clean things, of sterile things. I would remember that day when we were in the Desire Projects, and I spied a glimpse of you in your room with a nurse, or I think that’s what she was. The nurse was applying a clear liquid that smelled sort of like rubbing alcohol to a big sore you had on your chest where your breast should have been.
And momma, I was really sad when you didn’t come back a day, a week, or a month later when the note said, “Go to Grandma’s.” By the fall, when school started again at Nelson, we had no more notes on the door, because you were no longer here.
Grandma took me to the first day of first grade.
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