I spent Saturday in my hometown of Blackstone, MA, speaking about Something Missing to audiences in the Blackstone Public Library and then down the road at Renaissance Books in Uxbridge, MA. There were great turnouts for both events, thanks in part to Stacy Juba, a local author who arranged the appearances, promoted them aggressively, and spoke alongside me. Oddly enough, the library stands on the former site of my middle school, and before that, my father’s high school. It was quite surreal to return to a space that I once occupied as a student in order to share my novel with an enthusiastic audience. I have many memories from that AF Maloney Middle School, which was raised in order to construct one of the finest small town libraries that I have ever seen. One of my most distinct memories is of the playground, which consisted of a patch of blacktop that was backed by a dirt field. A white line was painted across the pavement, dividing the playground into a boy’s side and a girl’s side, with the patch of dirt in the back reserved for the boys who used it for football and soccer games.
The fact that we still enjoyed recess in middle school is incomprehensible to my current students.
The fact that boys and girls could not play together is still incomprehensible to me.
The fact that boys were allotted twice as much space than the girls was incomprehensible to me even as I enjoyed this unfair benefit as a ten-year-old.
I also had a science teacher (Mr. Morin) who required you to raise your dominant hand (left for me, right for most) and a math teacher who played Dungeons & Dragons with students during study hall. Lunches were cooked at the high school and eaten in the classroom, and as a member of the top group of fourth graders (students were sorted by academic ability back then), my class was sent to middle school a year ahead of the rest of kids in our grade.
Strange times indeed.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Saturday’s visit was the number of old friends and teachers who were kind enough to attend, some of whom have actually played a role in the writing of Something Missing and Unexpectedly, Milo.
Mr. Compopiano, the high school English teacher who is mentioned in the Acknowledgements of Something Missing, stopped by prior to my appearance to say hello.
Laura, my high school sweetheart and the girl from whom Martin’s girlfriend, Laura, derives her name, also stopped by with her sister and mother. I haven’t seen Laura in years, so it was great to spend some time together.
Wendy, whose last name is used for a minor character in Unexpectedly, Milo, also attended the reading. Wendy and I attended our Sophomore Semi-Formal together (she brought photos from that evening to show my wife), and she was also kind enough to bring a photograph of me and Patty Catalano, on stage during the elementary school spring concert. By order of our music teacher, Mrs. Carroll, I kissed Patty at the end of our song and dance number while Wendy was being kissed by a boy named Danny. This turned out to be my very first kiss, onstage of all places, and it was probably Patty’s as well.
I’m sure it’s all been downhill for Patty since that fateful spring evening.
I also saw my high school friend, Jim, who actually appears, alongside his mother, as a minor character in Unexpectedly, Milo.
Later on in the afternoon, during my appearance at Renaissance Books, I was greeted by Mrs. Allen, my middle school social studies teacher. Mrs. Allen’s classroom was formally the middle school’s undersized auditorium, and as a result, she had a stage in her classroom, which was one of the most beautiful and unique classrooms that I have ever seen. Mrs. Allen’s classroom, and specifically her stage, served as the inspiration for the stage that I now have in my fifth grade classroom.
Little did she know how much influence she might have on one of her former students.
In addition to former classmates and teachers, I met a whole bunch of new people, many of whom have read Something Missing and enjoyed it a great deal. I met a woman whose book club just met about the book last week, as well as a man who is currently reading the book to his 85-year old father.
Many thanks to Stacy Juba and her husband, a teacher at my former high school, who were kind enough to make the day possible.