Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bike Hike to Aunt Betty's: A Teacher's Narrative

In a few days, I'll ask students to begin a lengthy unit on writing narrative. We'll dive into that genre with zest and spread the focus across our reading, social studies, and science study as well.  A week or so ago, I wrote a post titled, "Have You Written a Narrative Lately?"

Now, since I'm a believer in "practice what you preach," I'll take some time to start a narrative.  I typically like to model my writing for my students as my ten-year-old-self, hence I've chosen a memorable experience, the bike hike to Aunt Betty's. I'll get a first draft done today, then play with the words and sentences in the week ahead. If you'd like to join me for this writing journey, please do. Also, as always, I'm open to your questions, thoughts, suggestions, and writing.   Enjoy!

Bike Hike to Aunt Betty's 
by Maureen Devlin
December 2013

     I lie in bed under the soft, white cotton sheets wiggling my toes. I watch the dust specks dance in the wide slide of sunlight streaming through my bedroom window.  Stretching to catch a bit of the sun's warmth, I smile thinking about the day ahead.

     "Maureen, Paul, Chrissy, Peter, get up!" my excited dad yells from downstairs, "We're going on a bike hike!"  A bike hike, I wonder, but I thought we were going to Aunt Betty's.  Puzzled, I roll out of bed and walk down the thick, green, carpeted steps through the living room into our bright, yellow kitchen.  

     "Get dressed; we've got to get going or we won't make the cook-out on time?" my dancing dad commands as he fishes through the everything drawer for the bike oil, road map, chap stick, and sunscreen.  "Maureen," he chants to my mom who has the same name as me, "Get the kids up and ready, we've got to go!"  

     "Paul, they have to eat first," she cheerfully responds as she places a platter of warm, buttery pancakes on the kitchen table, then leaves the kitchen to get Chrissy, Peter, and Paul.  Baby Michael and little David are already seated at the table amused by the rambunctious ruckus Dad is causing. 

    "Dad, what are we doing?" I ask. 

    "I decided that we'll ride our bikes to Aunt Betty's," he replies, "so eat your breakfast and get ready. You'll love the ride." I know he's right, I love riding my bike, and I also love Dad's adventures so I eat my pancakes quickly, drink a glass of juice, and put on my stretchy new pink Danskin shorts and jersey for the ride. Within minutes energetic Peter, Paul, and Chrissy are ready too.  They excitedly jump about the kitchen asking all kinds of questions.  What route will we take? When will we get there? How long is the ride?  Should we wear our bathing suits?  

    Mom packs a bag of snacks and places them in a white, plastic grocery bag while dad lines up the bikes on our short, bumpy driveway in front of our cozy, green cape house.

    "Okay," he gleams, "Is everybody ready?"  

    "We're ready," we smile back.

    "This is what we'll do," Dad instructs.  "Paul, you take the lead; now stay focused and keep your eyes on the road. We'll start up Brattle Street, and stop at the intersection. Maureen, you're next, then Christine, Peter, and I'll take the last spot."

     Paul takes off like a jet hopping on his small red bike and darting up the steep Brattle Street incline. Christine quickly passes me catching up to Paul. I huff and puff up the big hill wishing I had a three-speed bike like Dad who quietly rides at the rear encouraging six-year-old Peter whose tiny legs seem to circle ten times for every one of Dad's rotations. 

    At the end of Brattle Street, we all stop to take a breath and learn about the next leg of the journey.

   "Next, we'll ride through Holden toward Pinecroft Dairy and into West Boylston.  Let's stop again at West Mountain Street," Dad announces. We ride along this easy downhill past the pretty little Holden houses. When we pass the dairy, my mouth waters as I think of creamy orange freezes, sweet strawberry sundaes, and yummy mocha chip ice cream cones. Then I wonder about the grandparents sitting on the slanted porch of an old, white farmhouse with the "Eggs for Sale" sign out front.  I sing a home-made song as I ride along, "A-riding we will go, A-riding we will go, Hi, Ho the Cherrio, A-riding we will go."  

   At the edge of busy West Mountain Street, Dad acts as the traffic cop. We hop off our bikes and run them across the busy street. Next, like a roller coaster, we quickly pedal up and down the bumpy entrance to West Boylston. Soon we're coasting along the woodsy edge of the Wachusett Reservoir where the view of the pristine water and surrounding evergreens is beautiful. 

   Dad and I sing loudly as Chrissy, Paul, and Peter try to beat each other's pace along the windy path that blows Chrissy's pig tails into the air and inflates Paul's shirt like a puffy, striped balloon on his back. Every now and then a car whizzes by reminding us that we're still not far from our city neighborhood and there's miles to go before we reach Betty's country home.

   A left at the reservoir finds us in the quaint town of Boylston. Drums beat in the distance. I pretend I'm a princess riding a giant elephant as we pedal to the beat. Then we spy a parade with a band, colorful floats, baton twirlers, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts marching through town. We slow down as we ride through the center of town by flag waving children and grownups lining the sidewalks with blankets, lawn chairs, and baby carriages. Before we realize it, we've passed the town and arrived at the other side of the reservoir and Betty's town of Berlin.

    Berlin is a real country town with lots of farmhouses, animals, meadows, and hills.  As we drive down the road, memories of the many fun times I enjoyed at Betty's come flooding through me. We drive by a giant empty hill that had once been a ski hill, and I remember laying there in the middle of the hill last winter just looking up at the gray sky while flurries floated down and covered my cold, pink cheeks. All around me sledders giggled and screamed with joy. 

   We also pass the old red barn where my cousins and I played follow the leader with the rope swing as we jumped into a scratchy pile of hay on Saturdays in the fall. Later, the meandering, rocky brook parallels our path, and I remember the many forts we made as we played pioneers, explorers, house, and campers in and around the water on hot summer days. 

   Three miles down the road at the crossroads we pass Harriman's Ice Cream Shop. My cousin Judy, Aunt Betty's daughter and I, had hiked to Harriman's for the very best onion rings and ice cream cones many times. At this point, I know we are close to Betty's, and I start to imagine jumping into her above ground pool in the middle of her vast country back yard. Tired at the end of this 15-mile ride, the thought of the pool, playing with my best cousin Judy, and visiting with all the relatives at Betty's creates the adrenaline I need for the last mile.  

    The final road meanders by fields, forests, and farmhouses. We ride with a bit less caution weaving in and out of our bike hike line racing each other to the finish.  
     "I'll be first," Paul yells as he rushes ahead.  
     "Oh no you won't," Chrissy screams as she stands up pedaling madly. 
     "I'm tired," Peter cries as he realizes he can't keep up with his older, faster siblings.  
     "Dad, are we almost there?" I ask.  
     "Yes, we're almost there," he affirms. 

    Then in the distance I see Betty's newly built white split level home, and her  300-year old farm house. I pedal faster pretending I'm fleeing the bullets of the Redcoats, the same bullets that pierced that old farmhouse that Betty used to live in. I awake from the battle and see my mother smiling and waving her hands. 

     "Mom's in the front yard," I yell out to the others.  "Hi Mom!" I yell. Mom has a big smile on her face. My little brothers David and Michael are running around her. 

    "You made it!" Mom applauds. 

     "Yes, we did," I laugh as I drop my shiny blue bike on the grassy front lawn and run to find Judy by the pool ready for the day's next adventure.  

Edit Day One.  Good writing takes patience.  As I reread the story today I found a number of errors, added descriptive detail and dialogue and played around with the tense.  I'm still not satisfied with the tenses so I'll consult a few colleagues.  In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.  As I undergo this process I realize how much hard work, imagination, visualization, and patience my students will need as they engage in this process.

More edits, some questionable additions (I'll think about them), and still dealing with tense.  More to come.

Saving the tense corrections for another day--but I notice more.  Also as I read this week I want to think about narration (first person, second person, third person--need to remind myself) and its effect on the reader.  I want to draw pictures to match the story too--will I use digital images, digital drawing, photos, or hand drawn.  Perhaps a combination of all three.  I can see it's time to visit Mom and go through the old picture drawers again, culling those pictures from my favorite moments.  I need to assign this task to my students as well for our upcoming narrative work.

I need to shorten up some of those sentences and make a bit more of a poem out of all these words. I made a few quotation connections. It's amazing how difficult it can be to edit one of your own stories even when you have "fresh" eyes.