I taught 8 and 9 years olds for 29 years, and toward the end of every one of them I experienced the most difficult task I had to deal with all year long – finishing up the reading aloud of Charlotte’s Web, by E B White.
The penultimate chapter ends with “No one was with her when she died.” That was always hard to get out, but I eventually learned to quickly compose myself by saying something like, “Well, isn’t it a good thing the book doesn’t end here?!” Always met with nodding heads and misty eyes. And a couple of smiles. Because they all knew how it was going to end.
But the end of the last chapter was the killer. Charlotte’s babies hatch, three stay with Wilbur, her devoted best friend… and it ends with talk of life going on, and the importance of friendship. Sometimes I had to stop, because I couldn’t get the words out, but somehow I found a way to finish the book. Every year.
I went through three copies of Charlotte’s Web. If I were to dig out the most dilapidated copy from a box in the garage and flip through some of the paperback’s pages lucky enough to still be bound to other pages, I’d get a faceful of chalk dust. Yes, I taught in the world of chalkboard classrooms, and all the books I read to the kids rested on the tray of the chalkboard until I picked them up the next day to continue.
Today, on a beautiful last day of May, I sat mesmerized in our back yard, watching as a cluster of dozens of miniature spiders began their journey out into the world.
It all came back to me in a wave – powerful emotions brought on by skillfully written words that I had the privilege of passing on to children every year. I got to be very good at reading that book. I had all the character voices down, and it got to the point near the end of my teaching career where I didn’t really need to do much but glance at a paragraph to be able to read it to my class.
Ah. Here’s to the sweet memory of making it through a hard thing.