No wonder they call it the ‘Rim of the World Highway,’ ” Bob explained. Their school bus made its way down a narrow winding road. “You’re looking a mile straight down. That’s San Bernardino at the bottom of the mountain.”
Sally opened the window a few inches and breathed deeply. She looked down the face of the mountain and saw all the blackened places where the fire had burned the trees. “I think the ocean is just over those hills,” Sally said. “I can almost see it.”
“You still miss the water, don’t you?” Bob asked.
“Oh, yes!” Sally replied, with more enthusiasm than she meant to reveal.
“You said that God has a plan for you, and you love the ocean. His plan must include something you love so much,” Bob said. “Someday you’ll live by the ocean again.”
Sally stared at Bob. “But not in a tent,” she said, laughing to hide the deep emotion she felt at the idea that something as wonderful as that could ever happen.
She felt trapped in a world of fear, poverty, and tension that she didn’t understand. What hurts most is that no one talks about it, she thought. It seems like I wouldn’t feel so sad and frightened if someone would explain something. Father has never sat down and said, “I lost my job again, and I’m sorry things are difficult right now. But it’s going to be all right.” We just get yanked out of one place and thrown into another without explanation or comfort. I know that Mother does all she can to make every home comfortable, even though many times she has very little to work with.
The road twisted and turned so much that it almost ran over itself when it came around a curve. Sally’s stomach lurched with the bus.
“Take a deep breath,” Bob said, looking at her. “You should ride with Father when he drives this stretch of road. My stomach almost turned inside out the first time.”
“I know you go with Father to Blue Jay lots of times,” Sally said, trying to ignore the sick feeling inside. “What do you do there?”
“Father teaches us how to ice-skate sometimes,” Bob said. “I asked him if we could bring you next time. I think you could learn to skate too.”
“That would be wonderful,” Sally said. I mean that, she thought. It would be wonderful to do something with Father like her brothers did.
When the bus finally arrived at its destination, they filed out the door and headed toward the school that clung to the mountainside just beyond the highway. Sally walked; she didn’t run. I’m a high school girl now, she reasoned. In the next four years I’ve got to discover who I am and what I want to do with my life.
A sign over double glass doors read: “Rim of the World High School.” Once inside they walked down a long hall toward their first class. They stopped at a door marked “Mr. Thompson, Freshman English.”
“What a way to start the day,” Bob moaned.
“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” Sally comforted.
“Class,” Mr. Thompson called, “please find a seat.”
Everyone found a desk and sat down, stashing their schoolbooks on a shelf beneath the seats of the desks.
“I want us to try something a little unusual today,” Mr. Thompson began. “When your name is called, please come to my desk and receive a square of plastic with a piece of brown clay on it,” he said, dropping a glop of clay onto his desk. He looked at us with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. “I want you to make a small piggy bank from the clay.
“Frank,” Mr. Thompson called, motioning to a tall boy on the back row. Frank swaggered to the front. He grabbed a hunk of clay and carried it to his desk. He banged it onto his desk and attacked it with two knotted fists, his face twisting into a look of determination.
Susan inched to the front of the room when Mr. Thompson called her name. She extended both hands, holding the clay as far from her pink sweater as possible, then dropped the blob onto her desk.
The minute Harold heard his name he covered the distance to the teacher’s desk in two long strides, grabbing his chunk of clay and pushing it into shape even before he reached his desk. He poked it and rolled it, forming a giraffe with an astounding long neck. Then, dissatisfied with this first attempt, Harold flattened his masterpiece with one slap of his dark hand.
One by one the students, including Bob, picked up their clay and sat down. When the teacher called Sally’s name, she walked to the front, determined to hide any clue as to her opinion of the situation, and took her piece of clay. She swallowed hard. I’ll never make anything useful, much less something good to look at, she thought, wishing she could run out of the room.
Once at her desk Sally stared at the red-brown glob. She visualized the form of a fat pig with a curly tail and placed her hands on the clay. For some unknown reason, her hands could not obey the commands of her brain and the object before her refused to shape itself into something that looked even remotely like a pig. First it mimicked a basketball with lips, so she rolled it a bit to thin it down. Then it appeared to be a legless lizard with a walnut trapped inside. The minutes ticked away, and the clay blob came no closer to becoming a pig.
“Time’s up,” Mr. Thompson announced. “You will now paint your creations. Carve your initials into the soft surface of the pig’s undersides so that no one will get mixed up and take home the wrong bank.”
Sally felt sure no one would accidentally take her pig. She glanced around and saw that the other students sat frowning at their clay objects. Frank sneered at Susan’s pink piggy bank and planted a blob of brown clay on a yellow curl that hung across her forehead.
“I’ll bake the pigs overnight,” Mr. Thompson explained as the bell rang. “Wrap your plastic up and dump it in the trash. Please stop by the restroom and wash your hands.”
Tuesday morning arrived far too soon. The pigs had been baked and cooled. They sat on the windowsill staring at the students, blaming them for their outcome.
“Class,” Mr. Thompson said smiling, “I gave you some clay to work with and a few tools. I allowed you 30 minutes to produce a piggy bank. Let me ask you some questions. Did you want to make a piggy bank?”
“No!” nearly everyone shouted in unison.
“Did you have enough tools to work with?” Mr. Thompson asked.
“Did you know how to use the tools that you did have?”
“No!” everyone agreed.
“What does this have to do with English?” a voice from the back row asked.
A loud bell rang.
“Sorry,” Mr. Thompson said, grinning at them. “We’ll continue this tomorrow.