Diary of an Average Thinker, 2011 First Place Youth Division
By Aurora Cossairt
My name is Christopher Langdon Keats, but friends call me Jack. Not that you need to know or care. You don’t need to know anything about me, my family, my town, or anything else I’m about to tell you about, and yet here I am telling you, and here you are listening. I guess that’s just the way stories work.
You also don’t need to know the name of the town, it’s too insignificant to mention, but then again you are reading this scrap of work. All you need to know is that it was a small town in southwest Idaho, surrounded by uneven fencing leaned asymmetrically against rocks, which too was insignificant. Everyone here knew how to handle a gun by the time he was eight, and if he made it past that, then he would become a true citizen. There’s no laws stating that, it’s just something we’ve always known.
The town wasn’t much to look at, but it had everything we needed. A bank that housed the banker, who was the barber on Saturdays, a one roomed school building taught by Mrs. Mitchell Monday through Wednesday, and Mr. Lewis Thursday through Friday; and smack in the middle lay the farmers market, where everyone came to trade catch-up, and make a dollar off those who were there.
Sometimes a fiddler or a harmonica man came to the side filled with lumber and would tip his hat and play for you. On a good day someone might lay flat a sheet of plywood and start to dance, which would be both entertaining and good for business.
The school however, was something entirely different. We would sit in a cramped, asthmatic, little building, as the teacher rambled on about subjects we had nothing to do with. We, who lived our whole lives farming, ranching, and hunting, who were born and raised surrounded by mountains and plains, were expected to use the same subjects in the same way, as someone living over on the east, and got water without lifting a finger. It wasn’t that we weren’t smart, but if you don’t use the whole idea of what you’re learning, you’ll never understand it. And what did I care about Ben Franklin’s wife’s niece’s dog? Mrs. Mitchell tried to help us as best as she could, to help us relate it to something we knew, but she only had so long before Mr. Lewis came, to do the required state testing.
But I suppose I should be grateful that I’m not like Adam, who lives in his own world, and seems not to here what the teacher says to him, and stares blankly at the tests in front of him without ever picking up a pencil. Technically, he was expelled four months ago, but Mrs. Mitchell refuses to give up on him. And besides, I only have to go to school in the winter. During the summer I stay home on the farm, and then learn the day’s lesson at home from my little sister Sadie, who goes to school full time, and I swear is well on her way to becoming the worlds first nine-year-old lawyer.
I was grateful, and counted my blessings every night, as Dad reminded us that when he grew up they didn’t get an education. And Mom reminds me that if I were required to teach a certain amount of schoolwork, I would probably find a loophole too. After all, they never said how well we had to be taught. So I let Sadie teach me, and suffered through the class lectures while listening to the wind whistling out side. I tried hooky once, but when Dad finally found me I was frostbitten and unconscious. Long story short I never did that again.
So I focused on my other work, we all had to pitch in around the farm of course, but in my free time, I worked on my book. It was a brown leather book about seven inches in height and two inches in depth that I was given as a Christmas present. Mom always said my head was bursting with ideas, and I needed to get them down somewhere. I guess Santa knew what she was thinking.
Needless to say, I love that book. I hate the process of writing itself, as I feel cramped and claustrophobic, but I love the stories I create, some so old that I find myself wondering desperately what happens next. Mrs. Mitchell has even said that my focus and my vocabulary have improved immensely since I started writing. Not that I know what immensely means, but that’s beside the point. My family couldn’t afford books, and I couldn’t afford to buy Christmas presents, so I share my stories and they work just the same. Mom even says that my short stories are always the best part of her birthday. The tales I give away as gifts have all been on separate paper, or from other little books, but the brown leather book, that’s all mine. This is where I put ideas that know one will listen too, ideas for plays that will never appear on stage, and where I plot out what to say and how to say it every time I break a window. So when Mrs. Mitchell gave the announcement, I was shocked to hear and thrilled to hear it.
It was late afternoon two Wednesdays before Christmas. And I was writing underneath my desk, when I picked up a few words.
“Now I know some of you enjoy stories more than others…” said Mrs. Mitchell
My ears pricked up and I started to turn red. I looked up, but she wasn’t looking my way.
She continued “So I have a wonderful, and quite enjoyable opportunity for you.” She looked around “As many of you know, our town has been having financial trouble lately, trouble with money.” She said looking toward the few second graders in our class “So I thought of an idea that I need your help with. There may not be enough food and firewood for everyone in to make it through the holidays. So I say that on Christmas Eve we should invite everyone to come to the school building for a potluck, where we could pool our food and wood, and I thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity for you to show off what you’ve learned. All of you may submit to me a piece of writing, of which I will select 10 to be read the night of the gathering. If anyone has anything besides writing that they would like to share, please talk to me after class.”
Mrs. Mitchell now had my full attention. A gathering of the whole town on Christmas Eve, I couldn’t wait to tell Sadie, who was sick at home. Then I noticed Mrs. Mitchell was looking at me.
“This will not be a grade, but I expect everyone to submit something,” a smile crept up to her face “I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Class dismissed.”
Everyone jumped up into a flurry of scarves, hats, and mittens, except for me. Did Mrs. Mitchell really expect me to read one of my short stories in front of everyone? It was true people knew that I was constantly telling or writing stories. But how could I show off in front of everyone I knew?
I decided to forget about it and just write for the fun of it. I could submit that little tale about the frog that learned to fly that I wrote when I was seven. In fact I forgot about the Christmas story for a full week, when Sadie had been back in school as of Monday. That night dad asked her how it was to see her friends again.
“Well, it was kind of odd.” She said, a very serious look on her face. “Everybody either cut their hair or let it grow.”
Dad chuckled. “Did they now? Fascinating.”
Mom glared at him
He continued to laugh, “What do you think Anna? Just look at the scholar in our family.
Mom whacked him on the head with the spatula.
Sadie looked at him oddly, not understanding how she had worded her thoughts in such a funny way, but I knew better than to tell her. She continued to talk about the day’s lesson, and since I was in a good mood I even let her work with me on my grammar a bit, but it wasn’t until later that she reminded me that my story was due soon. My head got hot and my temples tensed as they always do when I realize I’ve forgotten something. It was obvious that everyone was expecting me to make the top ten, but I knew the truth. They all expected me to be perfect again and show off. There was know way I could do that to these people, no one understood how hard it was for us, and never would I leave my own kind for those who thought themselves better than us.
But then, if I had a talent, I didn’t want to give it up. I had so many things to say and so many ways to say it, but it’s not as though anyone would listen.
That night, I rode one of the family horses out to the peak, a comparatively short mountain that’s perfect for taking a breather and regathering your thoughts, so I hooked up Blaze and set out for the trip, it would take about 20 minutes on the well paved road.
When we got there I tied Blaze to a long overused tree stump and grabbed my gunnysack. I sat down at the edge of a small ledge with my legs overhanging the rock and opened the sack. Out I pulled a piece of cake, my whistle, and the brown leather book. I placed the first two asides and opened the book to the first page; it read “Diary of an Average Thinker, By Christopher “Jack” Langdon Keats. Here lay more than the paper and leather, but my history, my mind. Here I had put everything that ever mattered to me, and everything I felt worth writing down. Here I could see the stories that made me laugh, and the memories that made me cry. I turned the page and stopped. This was something I hadn’t remembered writing. In fact it was one of the first things I wrote on a loose-leafed sheet of paper that I had once decided was important enough to put in my book. As I read it, I really started to listen for the first time, to the banging of iron and splashes of water and other signs of life, to the wind in the leaves and the creek a few miles away. For the first time I felt the dirt between my fingers that made up the mountain strong enough to support me. The mountain was magnificent, and it took every grain of sand to make it up.
As I looked around me with open eyes, a strange sort of peace overtook me. There were so many problems in the world, many of them more than I could begin to fathom, but we still managed to survive. I would likely never be able to fix the world, but I realized as I rubbed the dirt, the most abundant and overlooked piece of matter, that I didn’t have to, I only had to hold it together. It was that night on top of the mountain with the cold closing in around me and my horse chewing noisily on the grass behind me, that I realized the meaning of life. I wasn’t going to live forever and I accepted that without a thought, it was never before that I realized how ignorant I was by accepting the fact that I would die. Of course I would die, but when I did, someone else will take my place, the only thing that I could ensure is that I pass on what I know, and what I want. I realized, as the chill grew stronger, that as I began to understand I had to tell others. I realized it would be selfish not to, because I could go at any time.
It was Christmas Eve as I clutched my paper in my hands nervously. I was set on what I was doing, but crowds always scared me, so as my turn came I took a deep breath, and caressing my paper walked to the front of the room.
I looked around. This would be the first real time that I shared something that was mine, usually it was by me but for someone else, it wasn’t really mine.
I held my breath, “This is for them, too.” I thought.
As I read I watched the faces of my family and friends turn from expectant to awestruck. I hadn’t planned a reaction to go for so I kept reading. It was only the silence when I finished before the explosion of applause that I smiled. I knew. They understood.
I love to laugh I’ve always cried
My thoughts have always been denied
I pray at night that I will be
Whatever you should want of me
But in the dark of night I pray
A different prayer from meal and day
I pray that someone will be still
And listen through the evening chill
Someone believes my words are true
Someone thinks they’re worth listening to
I’m not a priest I’m not a Saint
I’m not a thing the devil take
I am a life a piece of work
I’m always told about my quirk
But among friends and foe and love
We meet in the meadow, me and the dove
We say nothing for there are no words
There’s nothing more that tongue deserves
I realized on the brink of death
That laughter is all I have left
I smile and chuck, and go in peace
I listen, as words are my lease
Though stones and hate and mind take me
The meaning of life is eternity
This may seem that it is the end
But thoughts shall ever be my friend
Our time is spent so we must say
Our mind for that’s what stories lay
“I teach, you learn. You learn, you teach. The meaning of life is eternity.”
–Christopher Langdon Keats