Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Night Frolic — In Which Mr. Sawyer Forwards a Letter

Do to various commitments, and, to a lesser degree, technical glitches, the Suburban Soliloquist is unable to bring to you the regularly scheduled Friday Night Frolic. In lieu of this tragic turn of events, she offers you something, with relevance, found just this morning in a soggy box: proof positive the power of a teacher's charitable words to a then eleven-year-old wanna-be writer. Kindly note the second paragraph of the above letter, in which her fifth grade teacher, Mr. Walter Sawyer (of whom she's made past mention) replies to a letter and short story she sent to him the summer of 1972:

"I really did like Ban Rollon. I don't really have any stories, but a good way of getting ideas for stories is by listening to songs and making them into stories. Remember the song 'Drill Ye Tarriers Drill?' That would make a really funny story if you made the characters act like the Three Stooges."

And so you see, dear reader, Friday Night Frolics' seeds were apparently planted many, many moons ago. The Suburban Soliloquist doubts she has a copy of Ban Rollon, but she has a suspicion that it may have been sparked by this (remember In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida?):

The letter's flip side offers a sweet sign off and a joke that no pre-teen would appreciate today:

(Ten hours a day of homework. Sheesh!)

So there it is: evidence from where the Frolic first took roots.

The Suburban Soliloquist remembers Mr. Sawyer as not only an inspiring teacher, but also as pretty darn cool (the Fox Hollow Folk Festival and the Philadelphia Folk Festival in one month?).

Many thanks from the bottom of the Suburban Soliloquist's heart to Mr. Sawyer for taking the time to write and humor the skinny kid with big dreams. It took a long time for the seeds to germinate (maybe the soil was too heavy or dry or not well fertilized, or the seeds were slow growing and the farmer impatient), but they've sprouted, the crop's maturing and she's getting around to the harvest.

Every morning, seven o'clock
There's twenty Irishmen a pounding on a rock
The boss man says, "Shut up, keep still...
Come down heavy on your cast iron drill."

And Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill
And Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill
For it's work all day no sugar in you tay
Down beyond the railway
And Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill

The big boss man, he down to the ground
Married a lady 'bout six feet 'round
She bakes his bread, she bakes it well
She bakes it harder than the nobs of Hell.

The foreman, name of John McCann
Swear I never met a meaner man
A premature blast went off
And a mile in the air goes big Jim Goff.

The next payday she come around
A dollar light poor Jimmy found
"John, what for?" comes this reply
"You're docked for the hour you was up in the sky."

Tarriers live on work and sweat
There ain't no tarrier, got rich yet
Sleep and work, and work some more
And drill right down to the devil's door."

There I stand me hat in hand
With two trains kissing in the Utah sand
There's no one now, who knows my name
An Irish derby is me claim to fame


  1. What a wonderful teacher! You are so very blessed to have had her. I'm happy to say, I had an unforgettable teacher too, and that was hard to do for me, since we moved around so often. BTW- I got the joke, haha!

  2. Nessa- I hope everyone's had at least one of those teachers. Would be sad to think otherwise.

    I did laugh when I read the joke. Then I remembered the days before refrigerators with ice making machines. I remember the metal ice trays with moveable slats and levers, for gawdsakes, and well, that was kind of like a recipe for ice. It was a lot of work, too!

    Something to be said for getting ice from the fridge door. But those fancy appliances always poop out quickly. ;)

  3. Mr. Sawyer must have been a fantastic teacher. His letter is fun, upbeat and perfectly geared for a fifth grader- he includes a joke! I love it. I'm impressed that you saved all this correspondence!
    "Ten miles from Albany" is where I grew up and the Adirondacks were our summer stomping grounds.

  4. Please thank Mr. Sawyer for me, too!

    We just never know what lasting impact our actions might have on a child...a timely lesson for this week.

  5. Great teacher you had. Enthusiastic teachers are important. Unfortunately, I had very non-inspireing language and literature teachers. On the other hand I had some fantastic math and physics teachers, so that's the shelf I landed on. My passion for reading and (later) writing, kind of grew in spite of poor teachers doing their best to choke it.

    Cold As Heaven

  6. What a wonderful teacher! I had one of those teachers, and I still think of him every so often.

    Loved the joke! I actually turned my lap top upside down to see the answer...haha.


  7. what a cool teacher...i had one like, mind you..the rest spent their time chasing me around trying to pin every conceivable school crime on me....maybe i shoulda been wearing ban....btw why is the travel size bigger than the regular size??
    that was just a trippy advert and i do remember an old housemate had a copy of inagaddadavidda or however the truck it is spelt hehe...good posting! ;)

  8. It makes one feel good about the future to read these kinds of tributes.

  9. Are you still in touch with Mr. Sawyer? Teachers like him are rare and precious, his beautiful letter says much of who he is, I am so glad you have kept it - perhaps one day your own teenaged offspring might also read it?

    Seems he spotted your talents early!

  10. As a teacher, I love this post-gives me fuel to keep plugging away in the classroom.

  11. Leonora- Really? Well did you know any Sawyers? I remember Mr. Sawyer as being such a nice, gentle soul with so much more patience than the nuns. He was quite the anomaly at Holy Family.

    My mother has even more correspondence (probably a lot of school paperwork) in the old stone basement bunk house... I still haven't sifted through any of it, but I think she's given me as much as I can handle right now. ;)

  12. Nance- Wish I could thank him personally for you. I don't know what's become of him... except I did track down a Walter E. Sawyer at Amazon--the author of the book "Growing Up With Literature," which,I guess, might be classified as a trade? book for literature/english teachers. And I wonder if it could be... hmm..

  13. Cold- A scientist and novelist... I'd say it all worked out well for you, despite the uninspired instruction from your language and lit. teachers! I don't know but for some reason I think it would be kind of difficult to not inspire children when teaching literature. Seems almost impossible!

  14. Suze- Bahaha! You do have a way with words. ;)

  15. Loree- Mr. Sawyer drove a white-top, blue VW bus, had hair on the longer side, and a bushy General George McClellan type mustache (thought you might appreciate that). He was grooving' I tell ya. A far, far cry from the nuns and their habits.

    And look what he made you do! You see, then, how unconventional he was. ;)

  16. Dan- LOL! I'll bet your teacher's just loved you. And if they didn't (impossible!) they were all, at the very least, talking about you in the teacher's lounge. You know that, though, don't you?

    My dad, who taught English for 30 years, often bumped into former students, and he used to feel terrible if he didn't remember one of them. He always said that he could easily remember the good students and the bad students, but never the ones that fell in the middle. ;)

  17. Laoch- Yes, i'd hope it would! Glad you thought so. :)

  18. Shrinky- I'm not sure what's become of Mr. Sawyer. I didn't keep in touch with him beyond the summer after Holy Family closed and he returned to New York. I have a picture of him with our fifth grade class and based on the photo it's difficult to pinpoint his approximate age at the time. If he's still with us, he may be around 70 to 80 years old today. Hard to say.

    I'm not sure how much of my old paperwork I'd want my kids to read. Certainly not my report cards!

  19. Tim- Isn't that letter terrific? And I know you'd return just as kind a letter, as Mr. Sawyer did to me, to one of your students if they were to write you.

    (Careful what you write, though--never know if it might end up on the internet!)

    Oh, and itt works both ways, too--what my dad said about remembering the good and bad students more readily than those that fell between them--a student never forgets the good teachers (or the bad!). ;)

  20. that everyone remembers one good one is almost a shame. I would wish for several great teachers in every academic lifetime, kindergarten all the way up.

  21. Love the tale of Mr. Sawyer. (And of The Soliloquist, of course.) (FWIW, there was a song -- by the Cowsills! -- popular a few years before Mr. Sawyer's trip there, called "Indian Lake." (Indian Lake is a scene you should make with your little one...) Of course it's on Youtube.)

    I've got a couple of treasured letters from teachers, too: one from my former 6th-grade teacher, to whom (at her request) I once sent off a batch of stories I'd been working on as an adult; the other from my ninth-grade English teacher. And I've got a shoeboxful of letters from a college professor (English/journalism), on whom I almost certainly had a profound crush. None of those ladies struck me as flatterers, so the correspondence really meant a lot to me. Young people of all stripes surely need a psychological boost at some point in their lives, but young would-be writers maybe especially so. (We're such an insecure lot.)

    That's... quite a commercial, too. Now you know, you must locate a copy of that story. I'd be willing to pay a hypnotist if regression therapy might help.

  22. Margie- I couldn't agree with you more. I do remember several teachers who were very good at what they did. But aside from Mr. Sawyer, and my own father (whom I had for English my senior year of high school)--which is a wholly bias opinion, of course--I remember only a few others who were extraordinary. One was also an English teacher, and the other two that come to mind now were French teachers.

    Hmm... well, I do tend to like the languages.

  23. JES- I think I may have located the Mr. Sawyer...! A former school teacher who authored a book (Growing Up With Literature) shares the same name as Mr. Sawyer. More research to do...

    Indian Lake! That's great--and it looks like it was written about the Indian Lake in NY. Fun song--one of those surf songs, eh?

    I am relieved to hear that I'm not entirely an oddity in having held on to my letters for so long. And how nice for you that you had not only one, but three teachers encouraging you! (Charmer, you are ;)--Although I'm certain your innate writing talent was evident from the very start.)

    As for the Ban story, I'm quite sure it's vanished like a good deodorant should. No marks left behind. (Lordy, I hope my mother doesn't dig it out of the bunkhouse!)

  24. It's true to say that 'you never forget a good teacher'. Particularly one who came along with a few extras like taking the time to write a letter, having a sense of humour and being just that little bit different.

    I haven't thought of 'Drill Ye Tarriers Drill' in a long time - we used to sing it round the camp fire along with songs like 'Whiskey in the Jar', 'Wild Rover' and 'Black Velvet Band'!

  25. SF- Oh, all great camp songs! I think I ought to suggest them next time we're around our campfire up in Maine. I'd better fetch the lyrics, though. ;)

  26. Hi Jayne - I'm excited to think you might have located this same Mr. Sawyer! Wonderful. I can't imagine him being anything but thrilled to know you still have his letter and that he recognized that special something in you way back when you were a girl. . . You/he reminded me of my favourite teacher at high school - also, a welcome expression of the unconventional amongst an otherwise tightly-run community of nuns. Cathy Solomon is her name - we recently re-connected (via the web - not yet in person, though that will happen before too long, I hope) when we realized we had both emigrated from South Africa to New Zealand and live five hours away from each other on the South Island! It's powerfully affecting to be 'seen' by someone ahead of us in years and with whom we feel a resonance. I realize all these years later that in her quiet way she has been an enduring beacon in my life. Blessed be the universe for those who, like Mr. Sawyers and Ms. Solomon, light our path.

    Love to you, Claire

    (Thank you, too, for continuing to visit my blog, despite the 'all systems crashed' phase I've been in lately.)

  27. Claire- Such encouraging news to hear that you reconnected with Ms. Solomon and will soon personally meet her! Very exciting news.

    If I've got the correct Mr. Sawyer, he may be in Maine--which is a place to which I often travel! I can't find business or social network info for him on the internet, so I'm hesitant to send a letter to the wrong person in Maine, but your story makes me think that it might be well worth it.

    But then, there's the doubt that he'll even remember me! Think of all the students teachers taught, they can't remember them all. (Boy, I can talk myself out of anything.)

    However, I did feel that resonance w/Mr. Sawyer. And we was, indeed, a mentor of sorts. And a blessing to many of us. So... I'll work up the courage. I will! xo

    (Hope your website's behavior is improving!)

  28. Memories can be fun, or if not fun, at least entertaining. I'm a bit older than you having been married for a year in 1972. In fact, I taught fifth graders. Now, like me, they're all practically dead of decrepitude--poor old things.

  29. Snowbrush- And sometimes, memories can be just plain painful. (Especially the middle school years!) But I ordinarily try to suppress those.
    "...practically dead of decrepitude..." Ha! I'll bet your 5th graders had fun with you! ;)