Robert G. Cowser
I began the seventh grade at Saltillo,
Paul Dodson, our teacher, told us that the State Department of Education would
present a certificate to those students who read and reported on thirty books
during the school year. Although I had received awards from the school, I had
never received an award directly from the state capitol. I decided to tell Mr.
Dodson that I planned to earn the certificate. Three others in the class also
pledged to read thirty books that year. |
As proof that we had read each
book, we students in the project were required to write book reports. Though I
probably would have read at least thirty books during the year even if a reward
had not been in the offing, I surely would not have written thirty book reviews.
Mr. Dodson provided each of the four in the project with an official form to follow
in writing our essays. On occasion I would see on Mr. Dodson's desk a report from
one of the others in the program. Almost every time I saw one of those reports,
within a couple of days I would write a report on the most recent book I had read.
Even though Mr. Dodson faithfully recorded the credits we earned as readers,
he never discussed our outside reading with us. Neither did he prod us to complete
the project. Clearly, keeping the pledge was our responsibility. I believed that
our teacher did not care whether any of us finished the project or not.
the time April had passed, each of us who had begun the program had read and reported
on thirty books. We assumed that our certificates would be awarded at the eighth-grade
commencement exercises held late in May each year. Usually the teachers would
tell the students in the lower grades who were scheduled to receive awards so
that the students could ask the parents to bring them to the ceremony. On the
day before the eighth-grade exercise that year, I realized that Mr. Dodson had
not told me that I should attend the exercise. When I asked the others in the
program, I learned that he had not told any of them that they should attend the
exercise. Each of us was too timid to ask Mr. Dodson about the certificates.
as the school term ended that year the county workers began a major reconstruction
of the dirt roads in our community. They came with a grader and other equipment
needed to rebuild the roads. With huge blades attached to the front of the machines,
they cleared the ditches of the debris left by the winter rains. The glistening
blades pushed relentlessly, piling mounds of white sand so high that it was difficult
for the few drivers who came down the road to maneuver their automobiles. When
the west winds began to blow each morning, the sand blew across the roadway, lowering
the visibility for drivers and walkers alike.
Late one morning about three
weeks after school had ended, I began to read a novel day I had borrowed from
the rental library in Saltillo's
only drug store.
After I had been reading for an hour or so, I decided
to step out on our front porch. The sun's rays were reflected off the white sand
in the roadway. With my eyes squinted, I looked toward the south where I could
see a cloud of dust billowing. Soon I saw that the cloud was caused by a slow-moving
car. Eventually, it stopped in front of our house.
I was startled to see
that the driver stepping out of the car was Mr. Dodson. Why would any teacher
come to our house, especially during the summer vacation?
In his right
hand Mr. Dodson waved a sheet of white paper. Even then I did not consider that
he had brought the reading certificate I had earned. Because of the effects of
polio that he contracted when he was a boy, he could not grasp anything with his
left hand. I wondered how he was able to shift gears and steer the car over mounds
of sand with the use of only one hand.
"I brought the reading certificate
for you," Mr. Dodson said. The gold seal with its Lone Star emblem in the lower
left-hand corner sparkled in the bright sun.
"I just came from Jo Nell's
house, and I'm on my way to deliver the other two certificates. I'm proud of all
of you," Mr. Dodson said. "You read and reported faithfully on the required number
After the dusty Ford coupe pulled away, I stood for a minute
reading the commendation in the Gothic script the printer had used. I looked at
the seal again. There was nothing bogus about this document.
the sheet of paper itself did not seem as important as it had seemed at the start
of the project. What was more important to me was that my teacher had brought
the certificates to each of the four who had earned them. I learned that Mr. Dodson
would not be teaching the following year. His health was failing, and the men
who had left teaching jobs to fight in the Second
World War were returning to claim the jobs they had left.
As a teacher
myself, I realize now why Mr. Dodson needed to deliver the certificates to us
© Robert G. Cowser
shoe horses, don't they?"Guest
Column, March 15, 2010
Columns by Robert G. Cowser
Schoolhouses | Texas Books