Rambling Over Coffee: In My Thoughts - A Childhood School Mate

When I was 7 we moved to a new town that was pretty small in comparison to the city we had just came from.  I started elementary school at the Catholic school in town.  Although our class, if divided only by grades would have been probably around 19 kids in it, our school taught in a really wonderful way; the grades in your homeroom were mixed.  It was a mixture of grades 1-4 and when you divided up for classes like reading and math, they used learning groups divided to fit where you were and your learning style. This way you were always learning and weren't held back by being taught to the lowest common denominator.  Slower learners were learning and faster learners were learning... and everyone was kept 'learning' at all times instead of being stagnant, bored, or rushed and struggling beyond their skills.  The slower learners were learning was was required for that particular grade level by law but the rest of us had more in depth learning at that level and were allowed to move beyond that.  It was kept in check by letting us do 'other things' that were creative or fun if we got too far ahead.

I loved this learning style so much and still do to this day.  But anyway... back to my intended post over morning coffee.

When I started at this school I was in 2nd grade, however when tested for my skill level, I was put in the color group with 3rd and 4th graders except for one other girl my age who was also in this group (who happens to be my closest and oldest friend to this day!).  We were advanced readers so we all did work at that level.  There were probably 4 color levels in each class.

And then.... there was Casey.

He was taught on his own and struggled.

To paint a picture of Casey, I, myself am struggling to paint a picture of him for readers.

He was not necessarily a quiet kid, yet he was.  He wasn't timid, yet he was.  He was muscular and built like an athletic brick wall, even at the age of 8.  He was a good looking kid but also had a bit of a 'caveman' look about him.  The strong chin, chiseled face and a strong brow.  He was taller than most of the guys, except maybe one.  I think he was a year older than most of us as well, being 8/9 when most of us were 7/8. He was a tough kid.  One you wouldn't want to fight.  But he was oh so sweet too.  The quiet, tough, bad-boy type kid but it was all a tough shell really.  He was a marshmallow inside.  

And Casey couldn't read.

It wasn't for lack of trying.  I don't know if I've ever in my entire life since then met someone who tried as hard as he did!  Our teacher had a room helper (they would be an official assistant today I'm sure, but back then they were parent volunteers) who would sit with Casey every day to help him through his work and reading.

When we read out loud as a group, each kid usually had a paragraph to read.  We would go around the room in order so we could glance ahead and see which paragraph was 'ours', how long it was and if it had any words we would want to silently practice a couple times in our heads so we didn't struggle with them when it was our turn to read out loud.

Everyone obviously knew the 'good' readers and the 'bad' readers... not that we would SAY anything!  No, we all got along and were friends and were kind to each other!  But in our heads we might silently groan if we saw one of the really slow readers was going to land on a longer paragraph.

Because the teacher would let them take their time to work through it, and we kids would all silently wait for the person to get through it.  Being kind and patient is just what we did back then.  And there was empathy.  But oh... how our shoulders might droop when we counted ahead and saw that Casey would have a longer paragraph!

Yes, the teacher or a fellow student would call out a word here and there if Casey was really struggling.  But he read.  And it's so good he did!  Because the more he was allowed to read the better he got... and skipping him would have a blatant show that he wasn't good enough to read out loud.

So as a class, we worked together.  As a matter of fact, if we didn't have any parent volunteers to help Casey, one of the class would help.  I recall many times going out into the hall or back to one of the corners with Casey during our elementary school years and helping him read, do homework and take quizzes and tests.

You see, Casey was SMART.  SO dang smart!!!  Brilliant really!  What he could do in his head was amazing.  He knew everything.  Learned quickly. And he was so incredibly gifted in art!  His drawings at age 8 or 9 were on par with a typical 18 year old!

But he couldn't read.  I suspect now it was a mixture of a few things, but perhaps a serious case of dyslexia. 

If he was made to take a test on his own, he would get through about 5 questions in the time the rest of us finished 30.  He couldn't finish in time.  Because he had to read. But when a volunteer would read the questions TO him, he would do excellent.  So while he struggled to learn to read and write correctly, he had tests read to him out loud and in his own way had an IEP before IEP's were even a 'thing'.

And so it went.  And he got better.  He made great strides with his individual attention. But he was so embarrassed and aware of his learning disability that he rarely wanted to talk to, hang out with or play with other kids.

He was an angry, tough little man when it came to other boys in the class.  A quiet, frustrated and sad little man to the teachers and adults.  A silent, sweet teddy bear of a little man to us girls.

He wanted to preserve that 'shell' he built around himself.  Perhaps he was afraid of being made fun of (although seriously, our grade was very empathetic to everyone.  Even the classmate with severe epilepsy and mild retardation, who functioned at about a 4 year old level, wet her pants in her seat at least once a week and had seizures in class about every two weeks.  We knew Rosie would do these things and if any of us little 4th graders [at the time I really recall her being in my homeroom mixed grade class] knew she was starting a seizure, we would quickly help her as she fell to the ground, move the desks back and get the teacher, calling out that Rosie was having a seizure. Or alerting the teacher when Rosie wet her pants again - or the dreaded moment we sat in the same seat or place on the floor where Rosie and previously sat and we got full of urine.

It's like... we were all a big family.  Casey and Rosie and another little boy who looking back was probably as ADHD as you can possibly be, were all part of our 'family' and we accepted them and went to school with them as such.

But somewhere around 5th or 6th grade I think he transferred to the public elementary school.  I don't remember him being in school with us in 7th or 8th grade for sure.  In our town the Catholic school only went up to 8th grade, then you had to attend the one public high school in the community.  After I transferred to the large, public high school I recall seeing Casey in the school a couple times but by that time they had put him in the special education classes.

I truly think that was the nail in the coffin for him.

The special ed class in the high school was full of serious special education students.  These were the students with cerebral palsy, in wheel chairs with special braces to hold their heads up.  These students had Down Syndrome and were often 19 and 20 years old by the time they graduated.  It was a loud, boisterous room that I only really knew of being it was right next to the Art Room, where I took numerous art classes throughout high school.

And after 9th or perhaps it was 10th grade... I don't ever recall seeing Casey in school.  Or out, for that matter.  I don't recall seeing him or hearing about him at all.  I think because they had put him in the Special Education Class when he was really, so dang brilliant, just dyslexic, that he gave up and quit school.   I know I didn't have a clue what happened to him.

Until a couple years later....

I had moved thousands of miles away after high school graduation, but upon a trip back 'home' to visit about two or three years later, I learned that Casey was in jail.

His Dad had just died. He had been drinking that week.  He had been in a car accident in which a passenger in the other car died, and Casey was found negligent and went to prison.   After that I didn't hear anything at all for perhaps another 10 years when he was mentioned in passing (by whom, I don't even recall now) but I knew he was out of prison and trying to get on with life.  Still struggling, now not only with a reading learning disability but a prison record.

I had asked someone about him just a few years ago when I was back in my old hometown and hanging out with a friend who still lives there.  She related the very, very few things she knew.  Apparently he's led a pretty tough life.  Has worked in an assembly line at a large manufacturer for years and years.  That's all she knew about after he got out of prison.

This morning I was reading through the local obituaries from my home town.  I recognized the name of a woman who died this week.  It was Casey's mother.  And in the list of surviving relatives, I saw his name listed... no spouse, just him.

And I thought of him.

And I had a rush of memories come back... some of which I've posted here.  And no, not for any reason whatsoever except perhaps, in a small way, I like that I've wrote about him.   

Because someone remembers him.  Someone unexpected. Me! Someone (me) remembers him as an innocent, wonderful, funny kid.  A sweet kid.  I remember to this day his crooked smile.  His features, his deep voice.  I recall a few really sweet things he did and said back when we were childhood classmates.  I recall him walking through high school with his books curled in his hands, arms swinging by his sides.  I know he was wearing a reddish brown button down shirt and jeans that day I remember seeing him in the hall of the school.  I recall his hair color, his eye color (green) and so many things about him.

... they say you never know whose life you touched.  Who might remember the most random things you've said or done in the past.  You never know who recalls you fondly from childhood, or high school.  You never know who remembers you and smiles or was touched by something you said or did.

And that's true.  Because I'm positive Casey has no idea someone from his childhood remembers him.  Likes him.  Would gladly be friends with him today if we were neighbors or didn't live 1800 miles away from each other.

And all this came rushing back because I happened to see his Mom's name and photo listed in the local obituaries this morning.

He was a good kid and honestly, I truly believe his learning disability played a major part in how his life turned out.

It's just something I'm pondering over coffee.....  don't mind me.  It's just the coffee talking again.