When I began tutoring my fifth-grade neighbor Johnny Mac in reading and writing, I gave him a journal and told him he should write in it everyday, even if it was just a sentence. My plan was to read it so I could identify the problem spots.
I pinky-promised I would never divulge what I read in the journal because I didn't want him to be self-conscious with his writing. Now, I've lived in a small town all my life, so what was I thinking?
Here were his first entries:
"Septimber 14 - This is MY JOURNAL. KEEP OUT!!!! (unless you are Miz Aunt Ida Mae).
Septimber 15 - I have to rite in this journal evryday. That is what I am riting today.
Septmbr 17 - I fogot to rite yesturday cause it was Saterday and it was nice out and I hung out at the playgrownd and some other places in the nayberhood. A lady is moving into the house at the end of the street. She wares sunglases and big ear rings. I don't trust her.
Septimber 18 - I hate sckool. My teacher is named Mrs. Stapp. She is I think 4 feet tall but her Hair is humongus like a beehive and she wears High Heel shoes so she will look taller but I am almost taller than she is. She wares glasses that hang around her neck like a necklace plus She is Very Mean. Nobody likes her.
Septimbr 20 - I fogot to rite agen yesterday. Nuthing happened exept I went to sckool and then I hung out wishing I had a Dog."
I had no idea someone was moving into the empty house at the end of our street, or that Myrna Stapp's students felt that way about her. And each week since then I've learned more and more about my neighbors from Johnny Mac's journal. These were his entries from last week:
"October 28 - Momma told me she won't make me a Inkredable Hulk costoom for Halloween cause she didn't know how but she'd make me a vampre one. I didn't tell her that's boring but I did say Sam's mom made him a Inkredible Hulk costoom and she made his older brother Ned a Ninja Turtle one with a big foam shell for some party he went to even tho he is 21 years old. Momma said it was crazy for a Momma to be makin a costoom for a 21 year old boy.
Oct. 29 - I think the lady down the street is a spy. I saw her carting all these boxes into her house with words like "MANUALS" written on the side. She was still waring her sunglasses.
Oct. 30 - Mrs Stapp is mean as ever. That's all I can think of to write today.
October 31 - Tonite I went trickor-treating with my little sister Kristin. Momma let us go by ourselves on our street cause she says she is worn out. Course she says that everyday. I wish we had a Dog to go with us. I got a big bunch of candy but I was mad cause Mrs. Pearl Thompson's house was all dark and she is usally the one with a big skellytin and the best candy. The house ware that new lady moved into was dark too but I swear I saw two big yellow eyes looking out of the top window. I didn't tell Kristin but I made her run all the way home.
Oh dear, something is definitely going on with my friend Pearl. She's missed several walks with the regular "Walkie-Talkies" lately, and now she's missed giving out candy for Halloween, something she's always loved. And what about this sneaky new lady who's moved in down the road? What's her story? And why in the world is Ned's mother still making him Halloween costumes at his age? Who knew I'd end up getting more information out of a fifthgrade boy's journal than I do at the monthly woman's club luncheon?
Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks every bit of gossip is necessarily bad. Knowledge can, after all, be a good thing. But a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, as somebody said, especially if that knowledge is provided by a fifth-grade boy who likes to wander the neighborhood observing its residents.
Well, there's nothing to be done but to keep my mouth shut and do what I'm supposed to be doing in the first place--helping Johnny Mac with his reading and writing. He does seem to be improving, now that I look back on it. I just hope he doesn't reveal anything really juicy about somebody I know or I will be in a quandary. Wasn't it Benjamin Franklin who said "Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead?"
By the way, don't breathe a word of this to anyone.