Friday, October 24, 2014

The Little Things

This week's creative writing assignment was to use dialogue as a way to create characterization about a person who had an impact on your life, preferably not a family member.

The Little Things
I hesitated before handing Mr. Gatley my transfer slip. But I had to tell him. I was transferring from his Advanced Science class to Beginning Typing. 

“Typing and Advanced Science meet at the same time,” I said apologetically. “I wish I could take your class too.”

“I'll be sorry to see you go. You have a real talent for science,” he replied as he signed the transfer slip.

I had debated what to do. I really liked Mr. Gatley, and I had learned a lot in his 8th grade science class, but typing was a skill that seemed useful and so grown-up, especially to a kid of 14 getting ready for High School.

I would have liked some advice on the subject, but Mr. Gatley was obviously biased and my parents merely said, “It's your decision. You'll do the right thing.” I had even gone to my guidance counselor for help. After a moment's thought, he suggested, “Why don't you take Metal Shop? It only has 7 students.” So I went with my own theory. 

The typing teacher, Mrs. Walberg, radiated order and precision from her tasteful earth-toned business suits to her cutting-edge 1973 Shag hairdo. The classroom had 25 silver manual typewriters, and there was a big scroll-down poster of a keyboard perched at the front of the class for the students to see as they practiced their exercises.

Each day we focused on a particular keyboard key, and by the end of the first week, I had learned the rudiments of typing, though I could only type five letters. But in Mrs. Walberg's class learning the physical skill of typing was only the first step toward becoming a good typist. We also learned how to structure letters whether personal or business and how to correctly address correspondence. 

Each week we had a test to measure our typing speed and error rate. I sat next to Diana Leeper, a girl whose fingers just flew over the keys. By mid-term, she was typing 100 words a minute with only one or two errors. The best I could manage was 40 words a minute, not the best in the class, but certainly not the worst. That distinction went to Danny Mahood, a boy who gave new meaning the term all thumbs.

As the term progressed, I looked with awe at the students in Mr. Gatley's Advanced Science class. They were working on their science fair projects, taking field trips, and studying the ecology of the city's water shed preserve. I felt jealous as I struggled with my typical typing assignments, such as how to book a hotel reservation and how to make an inquiry to a tourist office. The typing class was certainly practical, but it definitely lacked the intellectual pizazz of Advanced Science. 

One day, as I contemplated the usefulness of the skill of typing a letter to request a theater program listing, Mrs. Walberg told us a story about the importance of detail and the niceties of proper correspondence. She said the story had nothing to do with typing but was worth mentioning.  

“When I was at college,” she began, “I worked as typist in the secretarial pool at the Allstate Insurance Company. I often worked late just to make sure my work was free of errors and obvious typing corrections.

“I can't tell you how many times I had to re-type an entire page just to correct a single mistake. These were the days before liquid paper and I was a perfectionist,” she said, shaking her head ruefully. 

“About a year in, my manager took notice of my conscientious work, and suggested that I apply for the company scholarship. At the time, I was barely making ends meet and a scholarship could make a big difference. Unfortunately, I had also heard from reliable people that the scholarship was normally reserved for men with corporate ambitions. Whereas, I was a woman who didn't want a career at Allstate. I wanted to be a teacher.

“With a nudge from my manager, I applied. Eventually, I had an interview with the scholarship committee. I was very frank and told them that I wanted to be a teacher and not a businesswoman.

 “After the interview, I sent a perfectly typed thank you note to each of the committee members, which I always did after a job interview,” she said as she scanned across the room to drive this point home. She then drifted back to her story. 

“I didn't think I had a chance at the scholarship. But then, a few weeks later, to my amazement, I was notified that I had won it! Why me? It was a complete mystery. You know, a lot of things happen that way. We never understand why things happen the way they do. 

“Several years later, while I was attending a local Rotary Club event, I happened to run into a member of the scholarship committee. I reminded him of the scholarship and told him how much it meant to me.

“He said he remember me quite clearly. I wasn't the typical candidate they normally awarded scholarships to. In fact, there were other candidates with more experience and stronger credentials than I had had. But when the committee members received my polished thank you note, they decided to award the scholarship to me. You see, no other candidate had taken the time to say thank you. That little courtesy and small attention to detail won me the scholarship and allowed me to finish college.”

Mrs. Walberg's story impressed, if not inspired, me. I had learned a valuable lesson on how the little things in life can sometimes have an enormous impact. 

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