So I was driving almost due west at sunset with a melting orange sky in front of me that faded into violet and deep blue overhead, and close to the horizon I could see a bright object. It looked like a star but I knew it wasn’t—it was the planet Jupiter, the fourth brightest object in the sky, after the sun, the moon, and Venus, and strangely enough the International Space Station doesn’t come close in spite of the combined brightness of the people on board, but that’s another story.
If I hadn’t known it was Jupiter I might have mistaken it for a star, and it would have seemed to be the first star of the evening, at least that I could see. Overhead, I’m sure, the sky had darkened enough that actual stars were visible, but I had my eyes on the road. I only saw Jupiter because it was in my line of sight. But it did remind me of the old tradition of wishing on a star, usually the first star you see in the evening, and the poem that goes with it:
Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight.
Wish I may, wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight.
It may not have the melody but I do think it’s a little snappier than Jiminy Cricket’s version, but that’s just me. That also brought back memories of third grade and a story I read about a kid named David who, after finishing up a backyard dinner of hot dogs and potato salad and ice cream with his family, makes a wish on the first star he sees. He doesn’t tell his family what the wish is—that would spoil it, you know—but he does tell them he made a wish. And the story follows David over the course of the next year as he keeps wishing. He loses an eyelash and his mother tells him he can make a wish on it—the tradition is you place the eyelash on your finger, close your eyes, and blow. His father points out a rainbow and says those are for wishing, so David makes a wish on that. At his birthday party he makes his wish on his birthday candles. At Thanksgiving he wishes on the wishbone with his sister, and succeeds. His parents take him to a place with a wishing well and he throws a penny into it. His teacher tells him about wishing the first robin of spring he sees, so he does that. Finally summer comes back around and his family has another backyard dinner and his sister brings him a dandelion to wish on. And he says, “Oh, it’s okay, my wish came true. I wished we’d come out to the backyard and have hot dogs and potato salad and ice cream this summer.”
I remember reading that and being fascinated by all the wishing traditions, and then I got to the end and thought, wow, and I was completely speechless for a long time thinking about that and how profoundly it sucked. David really came across as some kind of jerk, drawing everybody else into this elaborate web of wishing and when it’s finally fulfilled he didn’t say anything until his sister—the same one who lost out on whatever she wanted when they broke that wishbone—was about to sacrifice another shot at a wish of her own and he brushes her off with, “Thanks, I’m good!” Not to mention all the trouble he could have saved everyone else if, a year earlier, he’d just said, “Hey, this was fun. We should do it again sometime.”
I’d finished second grade reading at a fourth grade level, but in third grade I had a different teacher who stuck me in the regular third grade reading class. There was an advanced reading group—about five kids out of the forty or so who made up the third grade, and I spent a lot of time wishing I could join the advanced group. And the story about David sparked something in me. Mostly it was a desire to get away from such lousy stories. I went to the teacher and told her I wanted to join the advanced group, that I could do the reading. She was dismissive—third grade was not a great year for me—but gave me a chance to read out loud in front of the advanced group, where I choked. She gave me a second chance to read a story the advanced group was reading on my own, and while I aced the reading comprehension test she said I’d been too slow in getting through it so I had to stick with the regular reading class. But that became a learning experience in itself. I’d at least made the effort, and I got to keep the book the advanced group was using and read several of the stories on my own. As terrible as it was the story of David and his wishes stuck with me and there’s never been a point when I wished I hadn’t read it.
Isn’t it funny how important the right reading group can be? In first grade, I was placed with Mrs. S, and my mother sobbed all the way home because my sister had been in Mrs. S’s class, and she wasn’t a great teacher. Somehow, within a short time, I ended up going one classroom over to Mrs. T’s class for reading which I now realize was where all of the advanced readers were. I really preferred the people in that class, and I wanted to be there all day, but alas, I was not, but believe me – I made up for it in independent reading.
By second grade, I was recognized for the child prodigy that I believed I was, and all the smart kids were scattered across the two second grade classrooms. I also believe they had me in the “good” reading group, but that was 40 years ago, so who knows?
It is funny how important the right reading group can be, although I think there’s much more importance in having the right teacher. My second grade teacher not only recognized me as a skilled reader but pushed me to advance in reading, whereas my third grade teacher, I think, decided she had as much as she could handle in the advanced group and held me and who knows how many other kids back. But independent reading is really the key. At least it makes up for substandard teachers.
I appreciated being in the advanced group, Chris, until some middle ie regular students teased and bullied those either up or down the ladder. That opened my eyes about life.
Bullies are the bane of many of us, or at least were. That is, I hope you’ve also outgrown being bullied, but at least you also made it to the advanced group.
How ironic that you’ve turned into one of the best writers I know! I never divided my students into reading groups; I just let them pick what they wanted to read. Much better than way:-)
That is better! And thank you so much for saying I’m one of the best writers you know. That means a lot. I think it was being propelled to read on my own that helped make me not just a good writer but ultimately made me want to write. Mickey Spillaine said, “I write what I like to read”, which is great writing advice, but also, I think, most of us who write do so because of what we read.
Well, I wish you hadn’t had that 3rd grade teacher, but maybe that’s just me. I couldn’t wish for a better blogger than you, Chris.
Fortunately I had more good teachers than bad teachers, and the good ones made a difference and the bad ones, well, they contributed in their own way. What’s most important now is to have good friends and I’m glad I can count you as one.