I used to sometimes remind my son, “The best two things money can buy are the morning paper and flowers for your mother.” When Mac was in seventh grade, I would ask him to read an article out of the morning paper before heading off to school, which he did without complaint—sometimes. One morning around 2001, he read an article about skiing in Iran, where if you were caught skiing with the opposite sex, you could get thirty lashes and a fine of $100. Mac pondered that social constraint a moment, then expounded with the easy insouciance that only a seventh grader can command: “They need to get with it a little.”
Seventh graders at thirteen years of age are in the catbird seat of an earthly lookout tower that is near the heavens. Not yet fully tainted by testosterone nor fatally poisoned by mean-spirited politics, the seventh grader has a free-spirited view of our world and her events. To my mind, seventh grade observations are as trustworthy as those of seasoned philosophers, preachers, and scholars.
Following the attack of 9/11, with the help of a seventh grader, I painted the hood of my Toyota red, white, and blue. Over the couple hours it took us to paint a flag, Russell and I had time to talk. We discussed the possibility of making four stars for the four planes we lost and why we were painting the hood in the first place. We talked about college and dogs and wars, and we even tried to figure out how many people lived in our village and how many of those people we actually knew.
Painting the hood was a worthwhile project, and I dare say we did a good job. But more than that, it was a couple hours well spent, and we came away from that project feeling good about it. Sometimes it's the little things that count, little projects that give us time to talk when we want to talk and provide a silent harmony of working together without talk.
Over the past 33 years, I have had the pleasure of visiting hundreds of classrooms as an impressionist of Mark Twain, and seventh grade has always been my favorite, even when I come home on a gurney.
One seventh grade boy asked, “Mr. Twain, who was president when you were my age?” After a pregnant pause, and possibly a look of consternation, I pleaded, “Well, I knew when I was your age. … Look it up in the library, why don’t you?”
I do remember for my own part that the girls in Mr. Jackson’s seventh grade class were not as yucky as I had remembered them to be in sixth grade. In fact, Kathy Stafford was kind of cute, though she couldn’t see me for dirt, and humility became my middle name.
Yes, seventh grade holds a special place in time. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would have both been in seventh grade, had they stuck it out.
McAvoy Layne is a 30-year impressionist of Mark Twain who can be reached at GhostofTwain.com.