Today was the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s orbit of the earth, the first by an American. It was also the 50th anniversary of the first story I recall ever writing. Mrs. Slocum, my fifth grade teacher at Mt. Tabor School, gave us the assignment to write an essay about Glenn’s historic spaceflight on that day. She wasn’t more specific than that—it just had to be about Glenn’s spaceflight. I remember pondering over what to write for a while without coming up with an idea, then started writing when Mrs. Slocum said we had 15 minutes left, putting down the only thing that came to mind.
It was a story about seeing Glenn sitting on the steps of the Mercury capsule, looking dejected (I’m sure I didn’t use that word). I asked him what was wrong and he told me he’d locked himself out of the space capsule and had no way to get back in, and no way to get home again. I told him not to worry and tossed him a skeleton key. He thanked me, unlocked the door to the capsule and went in. He waved to me through the window as he continued on his way, orbiting the earth and finally splashing down safely.
I remember walking home that afternoon with second thoughts about my “essay,” afraid I’d get in trouble. The Glenn flight seemed to be the only thing anybody talked about on the way home from school, all we talked about at dinner and the only thing on television that evening. I couldn’t get away from it, and kept thinking about Mrs. Slocum sitting in front of the TV watching Glenn on the news, reading our essays, getting to mine and saying to herself, “What’s this? This isn’t an essay.” I had visions of getting my story back the next day with a “C” (that was the worst I could imagine, never having gotten one that I can recall up to that point). I went to sleep thinking, “Oh, man. A ‘C,’ Mom and Dad are going to be mad.”
When I got to school the next day I was still anxious. Mrs. Slocum went about our lessons the usual way, never referring to the essay on Glenn. It wasn’t until after lunch that she handed them out. I sat about halfway back in my row, and the wait was excruciating as the kids in front of me passed them back. When it arrived I was thrilled: an ‘A.’ Mrs. Slocum even mentioned my story to the class, saying she thought it was a clever approach or something like that. I took it home and proudly showed it to my Mom, who also thought it was great.
Mom saved it for years, every once in a while showing it to a neighbor. Mrs. Hutchinson, as I recall, pretended not to have read the story when Mom showed it to her the second time. It got to the point that I started to cringe whenever Mom brought it up with one of the neighbors around. Even so, as I write this I remember thinking back to that story many times over the years as the first evidence that I might have the inclination to be a writer one day.