Living Out Loud

11th Grade English


I started the 11th grade in the fall of 1981 at Westover High School in Fayetteville, NC. It was the 13th public school I'd attended and the first time in my educational career that I'd been with the same group of kids in three different school years. By the luck of the draw, I got Chuck Stanton for English. Everyone in the school knew who he was because of his habit of freely dispensing the candy he carried around in his pocket. You couldn't catch his eye in the hallway without walking away with a peppermint. Although he wasn't a coach, he made a habit of attending every football game and standing on the sidelines with the players. 

The 11th grade was my year. For the first time in my life, I had stability and wasn't worried about what was going on at home. I lived with my aunt and uncle on their farm a a mile from school. I had zero doubt of their love for me, and they did everything they could that year to make my life normal. Even though there was plenty of work on the farm to be done, I still got to play football. I wanted to audition for Lil Abner when the school put on the musical. Not only did they let me, but they came to every performance. Every Friday night I got to use the family car, a 1975 Impala with no heater and was given $10 to have fun. My friends and I were welcome to build a bonfire in the fields out behind the chicken houses if we wanted to hang out and nothing much was said if there were a few beer cans left there on Saturday mornings.

My classes were a breeze, except math at which I was never any good. I took Geometry and passed with absolutely no room to spare, making a 70 for the year. My fondest memories were of that English class with Mr. Stanton. I ended up loving him so much that I can't tell how much I learned in his class. My biggest academic memory was being chosen to read aloud Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Mr. Stanton didn't approve of the state's choice of textbooks and he had us use these old falling apart relics from the late 60s. When we had to study grammar, he let us know that he hated it as much as we did but that we must all soldier on. But it wasn't his literature instruction that made me so fond of him. It was his love of poetry and his fierce belief that I was a poet. 

He made sure that I always had new black fine tip pens to write with. He gave me unlined paper to carry around with me to write whatever came into my mind. He found a book at a used book store on the poetry of rock and roll music and gave it to me, full of Doors lyrics with Jim Morrison's mysticism and songs by Pete Townshend from The Who like My Generation. It was the year after John Lennon was killed and my group of friends revered The Beatles and Mr. Stanton encouraged us to read their work as poetry. 

Years later I went to see him at school one day and when I knocked on his door the first thing he did was give me a piece of candy and the second thing he did was pull out a folder of my poetry which he still kep in his desk. I don't know if ever felt so validated. I remember him an all his quirks so well. He was prone to sweater vests and would stop right in the middle of a lesson to "make" us play nerf basketball if he sensed it might make things more interesting. If I was caught up on my work, he would let me go to the teacher's lounge with him where he'd make me a cup of coffee to go with his own and we would stand in the hallway and shoot the shit, talking about football or poetry or anything really. He just made me feel valuable and I loved him for it.

His class was special for a lot of reasons. I met my first wife, my high school sweetheart in junior English. She's the mother of my kids and we enjoy sharing grandchildren these days even if we are long divorced. Another life long friend was in the class as well and although he is today a Colonel in the Army and a career chaplain, in those days he was one of the people at the farm contributing to the beer can situation.

Mr. Stanton died relatively young and I only saw him twice after I graduated but I haven't and never will forget the way he treated me. He was a prince among men and true credit to his profession.