Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ode to Mr. Leeper

In the third grade I had a teacher who wore red plaid shirts and corduroy pants. He played basketball with us at recess. He read A Wrinkle in Time out loud to us. Smelling like tater tots and basketball rubber, we would settle back into our green plastic molded chairs as Mr. Leeper circled the front of the yellow-lit classroom with the waxy paperback folded open in one hand.

His reading voice was like the voice I used in my head to read to myself. Either that or my reading voice originated in his. It was a deep, quiet, rollicking voice. Nobody would budge. He read that book to us for a month or so, "It was a dark and stormy night," and I longed for a farmhouse and a dog named Fortinbras, an attic bedroom and a little brother in blue pajamas. I fell in love with Calvin and adopted Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which. The tesseract was real, and Meg's mother had violet eyes. "No, Meg. Don't hope it was a dream. I don't understand it any more than you do, but one thing I've learned is that you don't have to understand things for them to be." "Oh, my darling, of course not," Mr. Leeper would read, in Mrs. Whatsit's soft voice, and "the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers." I sat quietly through Camazotz and cried when Meg found her father in the transparent room. I couldn't look for too long at the Man With Red Eyes on the cover, or I'd get too scared. I was dually terrified of and comforted by Aunt Beast. Perched at the edge of my seat, I gasped in terror at the description of the giant, seething brain, in joy at Meg's triumph in saving her brother, and at the end of the book, I collapsed onto my desk, face to the spongy-smelling wood, and breathed hard.

It has always been easy to pay attention in English 380 this semester because we arrange our desks in a circle every day.
It has always been easy because I like reading and talking, and we read something and then we talk about it. And because the classroom is two feet from my office, and because the class is at one, which is an easy slot to make it to and a difficult one to not be around for.

But the real reason it's been deliciously easy to pay attention in British and international English literature from 1950-present this semester is because my professor reads aloud like Mr. Leeper.
Not exactly like him, you see, he's louder and rolls the words around more in his mouth, but he reads with the same enthusiasm.
I don't know quite how to describe it, but this professor of mine reads out loud, in a rollicking voice, like I'm still eating a hot breakfast every morning and having trouble zipping up my own coat and don't have funds to worry about, and like I still have art class once a week to paint watercolors of peaches in. It's like he still reads because he likes to read. Like I could plausibly believe that this man would go home and pick up something recreational after grading our papers all day.

We finished class yesterday by his giving a little presentation on each author we'd read this fall, and by his reading a segment from each book. Return of the King, Midnight's Children, A House for Mr. Biswas, Omeros, Possession, The Famished Road, Translations, and The Cure at Troy. As my teacher read out loud to us this semester, I was happy to find myself perched unconsciously on the very edge of my chair, feeling like a nine-year-old again.

Thanks, Mr. Leeper.


Jeremy said...

Dear Julie,

I love this post for SO many reasons.

But mostly because I was suddenly sitting in my own elementary school listening to my own teacher read it to me.

Well done, Julie. Well done.

Brittany said...

Even though I don't know why in the heck I'm an English major, I am because of this exact stuff and because of so many Misters. And because of desks in circles and words rolling around in my mouth.

Thank you thank you thank you for reminding me.

Also, I listened to A Wrinkle in Time on tape last summer. And I can't believe I didn't read it as a child! Love it.

rebecca said...

This is the post that finally demanded that I respond instead of just blog-stalk and Jeremy stole my comment. Your writing is impressively evocative, yet simple. I love it.

aj said...

I had a professor that read to us at the beginning of every class, and I loved it.

I teach second grade and every day after lunch we turn the lights off and I read a chapter (or 2, or 3... especially if I get into the book) to them. I'm pretty sure I love just as much as they do :)

And I'm pretty sure I'm gonna go read a book now :)

Liesl said...

I knew this was going to be good the instant I clicked on it. I love being right.

I had a 6th grade teacher who would read out loud to us books out of print like "Born Into Light" and would make stuff up in the middle of it to see if we were paying attention. If we caught him at it, we would yell "YOU'RE MAKING IT UP" and whoever yelled first got candy. I will never forget the sound of Marc Morgan's high-pitched voice yelling that. Good memories.

Kevin and Mindy Sagers said...

This post made me so happy. First of all you are amazing writer, I could totally picture everything you described about Mr. Leeper's classroom. Although maybe that's just because I had him also in 3rd and 6th grade. haha. Anyways, thanks for this post, I loved it!

AJ and Kelsey said...

Ah.. Good old Mr. Leeper. I remember him reading to my class as well. Lovely.

Rebeccah Louise said...

I just reread A Wrinkle in Time and it was just like being a 9 year old again.
And my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Kantak read us the hobbit aloud, and I still hear HER gollum voice when I read any LOTR book.
Those teachers.
They are the best.

Andrea said...

Mr. Leeper.
Loved him so much.
He was the only teacher I was brave enough to give a hug at the end of the school year, because I couldn't believe it was over.

Bender said...

Julie, this is the first time I have read your blog, but I feel the need to express my absolute love for "Wrinkle in Time"! I read it again over this past summer with Brianna. We would put up a backpacking hammock in the park and I would read it to her. Good memories thanks to an outstanding book!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Leeper was Brother Leeper to me-- the father of many lovely children, and the husband of one of the most angelic and talented women ever. He's so great, and has such an infectious, hearty laugh. I always wished that he could have been MY elementary-school teacher.

Also: he owns a very cute, very fat cat.