Did you catch Monday's blog where we featured Rec's story, Jake's Hand? You can also download an image there for your signature if you want to share your enjoyment of the story and promote it to fellow readers! If you haven't read it yet, maybe this excerpt will help you decide to put it on your list!
I picked this excerpt because it resonated with because I work with students. I know how many have to overcome the assumptions made about them, and how hard it can be to try and be a mentor at the same time you're a teacher. Also, this scene mentions a very obvious theme in the story in relation to the discrimination rampant in 1969 facing African American students in poorer areas, but that theme is echoed in far more ways through the story in very real and personal ways for Jake and Robbie.
It was Jake who announced at the end of the first week that he would direct a play and that we all would contribute with set-building and stage design, which would set the curriculum for the arts class. No ‘would-you-all-be-willing-to-help-out?’ Just an assumption that we would contribute and that we would be happy about it. And, he was right. After volunteering to lug his suitcase that first day, I was not surprised that no one objected to his assignment of tasks. It was his way.
“Now, who wants to be stage manager?” Jake asked, looking directly at me as we five sat around one day after class. I tried to avert my eyes, to no avail. There was no hiding from what I was to learn was a master of wile’s con job, so I became stage manager, which meant, in that case, that I had to make sure everything worked on time and as scheduled. The trouble was, I felt happy to do the job for him.
As part of my job, I had to scour the neighborhood for materials and donations of paint, furniture, barrels and whatever and slowly accumulated them in the already overfull church store room, much to the consternation, I suppose, of the church elders.
Jake found out which kids wanted to be in a play, sized them up by giving them poetry to read—most of Jake’s heavy books were poetry—then wrote a play to fit the cast. He told me it was easier to write the play himself, rather than setting the cast based on an existing play. I edited what he wrote.
We spent long hours together reading lines to each other to get the vocabulary and dialect true. At night in our double bed for the summer, the lights out, we would talk long into the early hours of the morning sometimes about what Jake wanted to say in the play and how he would say it.
The play was about coming of age in an era in which official discrimination was ending but de facto discrimination still existed. The kids in the play had to come to terms with each other at the same time as they were coming to terms with a hostile world outside that had just lost its right to maintain segregation. It was done with poetry and humor. It was really good. At least, I thought so.
By mid summer, we were in major rehearsals. We were spending most afternoons and evenings in the church auditorium polishing the parts. The kids worked hard and learned a great deal about the theater, as did I. Jake charmed, pushed and prodded them to give the parts their all. He gave them a chance to improvise their own routines, particularly in the comic parts, stopping only to give helpful suggestions. Jake was intensely wrapped up in the play for a full month. As a consequence, I was, too.
The play was a triumph. So many people came the first night that we had to turn them away at the door and schedule an extra performance, to the delight of the cast.