Chapter 2 continues

The story so far: Allen Post meets his colleagues at the high school.

Shrugging, Superintendent Magnuson reminded everybody that students were to be excused for religious instruction first period every Tuesday by request and that private piano lessons were to be given again by Mr. Johnson during school hours as well as at his home. Scholarships were offered each June by the Thorson Music Club to the band member making the most progress during the year ($20), the Stone Lake Merchants club to the best student ($40), and the American Legion to the student who ranked highest in honesty, courage, service, industry and scholarship ($50).

"Arnold," one of the teachers in the back row asked, "I've always wondered — how on earth can we be expected to judge a student's courage?"

Allen turned to look at him. It was the same middle-aged man he'd seen in the drug store the other day, wearing the same shabby suit and necktie, still smoking a cigarette: George Schuelke, the chemistry teacher.

"Listen, George," someone responded, "anybody who takes your class has to have a little courage."

Schuelke chuckled.

The secretary passed out schedules and assignments and a code of conduct for the new people. Allen saw that he was to teach two sections of seniors, two of juniors and one of sophomores, the load alleviated by a lunch hour, a study hall and a free hour. He was also the 12th grade adviser, whatever that meant.

The meeting was about to break up when the door opened and a very large young woman came in, wearing a bizarre red hat and heavy, black-rimmed glasses. In spite of her size, she had a surprisingly narrow face.

"Am I late?" she said. "I think I overslept. I'm Patty Porter. I'm the new junior English teacher."

Allen sighed. He had hoped there would be at least one attractive woman in the room. There wasn't.

Not that he was looking for a girlfriend. In college he'd had several more or less unsuccessful relationships — the most recent of which (not yet unsuccessful) was with a marvelous girl whom he admired very much. He'd promised to write to her and looked forward to receiving her letters.

* * *

After the meeting, alone in his second-floor classroom, Allen discovered shelves of textbooks and anthologies. He thumbed through them, pleased to find some of his favorite stories and poems. He also found multiple of copies of "Great Expectations," "Ethan Frome" and "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin," as well as a collection of short stories and many thumbed copies of "Modern English Grammar." Good enough.

Late in the morning, he walked down the hall to the library, wondering if there was more material there that he might use. The librarian, Evelyn Wilson, a fortyish woman with dark circles under her eyes, showed him the fiction shelf, but he found little more there than adolescent novels. He asked where the card catalog was and found, to his dismay, that there was no card catalog.

"Is there a library in the town?" he asked.

"Oh, it's just a little hole-in-the-wall above the mayor's office — open two afternoons a week."

Back in his room, he was getting ready to leave when one of the other new teachers stopped in his room, Dave Meyers, the history teacher. Dave was from Minneapolis too, had attended the University of Minnesota and, though somewhat older than Allen, was just beginning his teaching career. They went out to lunch together at Hilma's Café, a little place just across the highway. He ordered a hot beef sandwich and a glass of milk, 30 cents.

Dave Meyers was married. But, unable to find a suitable apartment for two in Stone Lake, he'd left his wife in Minneapolis temporarily, an arrangement that suited neither of them. Magnuson had assured him, however, that something would be available soon. In the meantime he was living in a room in a house owned by two old bachelors, retired farmers who'd moved to town a few years earlier.

"You can't imagine what the place is like," he said. "One of them cooks and the other keeps house. I have no idea what the food is like but I hope it's better than the housekeeping. I don't think they ever talk to each other. They both have a favorite chair in the living room and every time I come in they're just sitting there, not doing anything. Maybe listening to the radio. So my project for the moment is to teach them to socialize a little bit. Not that I expect much success. Fortunately, my room is in the attic."

Allen smiled. "Did Magnuson show you a room in a house owned by a young woman," he asked, "who has two kids in school?"

"You've been there too, eh? Pretty grim. But I felt sorry for the woman."

"I did too."

"A nice-looking woman."

"A very nice-looking woman."

"Hardly the place for a married man, though," Dave said.

They talked a little bit about the education classes they'd taken at the university, agreeing that such classes were of little use — History of Education, Philosophy of Education, even Teaching Methods, which should have been helpful, but wasn't.

They agreed that the College of Education should offer more practical classes — a class in which, Dave said, they would learn such things as how to handle disciplinary problems. He laughed. "And what to do if a student falls in love with you. Or vice versa."

"Does that happen?" Allen asked.

"Oldest story in the world, my friend."

That evening, at Dave's suggestion, they drove over to Crookston, 30 miles away, to have supper. The poor guy needs company, Allen thought — puts up a good front, but he's desperately lonely for his wife.

* * *

The next day, by special delivery, he received a letter from his father in Minneapolis containing not only best wishes on his new career but a $5 bill. Allen was very happy to get the money, even though he knew that his father, who lived in a little hotel room and was a butcher at the Great Northern Market on Hennepin Avenue, could ill afford it.

He was also very happy to be in Stone Lake. He enjoyed the same feeling of independence now that he'd had in the Army. At that time, however, he'd been just one face among many. Now he was an individual responsible for the welfare of others. He was accountable. He stood in front of the room. He was the teacher.

He wondered to what extent he would be successful.

Tomorrow: Chapter 3