A Sixth-Grade Scrupulous Scrooge

"Don't forget. Your rough drafts are due tomorrow!"

Coffee House Readings

Just as Mr. Naggar, my sixth grade Language Arts teacher, shouted out this reminder, the final school bell rang marking the end of the day. I made sure all my note pages were tucked into my folder before sliding it next to my three-ring binder, safe from damage in my lavender rolly-backpack. I wheeled it out of the classroom, into the sharp, chilling December breeze, and onto the bus. When I got home, there was the usual routine: first, I had a snack and watched TV (ZOOM, my favorite PBS show, was on at 4:00); then I started some homework, probably just five simple math problems or reading a two-page chapter on cell division; after, I set the table and had dinner with my parents. But on this particular day, this entire routine was a means of procrastination. I knew that after dinner, this rough draft was going to be… rough.

After dinner, I sat at the head of the kitchen table in front of a blank sheet of college-ruled paper. In the room next door, I could hear the hum of the TV, and I pictured my father reclining in front of it in his pajamas, resting a bag of roasted almonds on his stomach to munch on. Overhead, the bulbous lamp was casting a bright, off-white light that served as a spotlight over my entire work area. I tried to begin my essay.

"In this book… "

No, that wasn't a good beginning. I crumpled up the paper and tried again, taking time to write my name meticulously on the top of the page. This time, there would be no cross-outs.

"I enjoyed reading the book "The Giver" becaus-"

Nope.

After I endured about thirty minutes of trial and error, the table was blanketed in balls of scrapped copies. I had gotten nowhere. I slumped back in the kitchen chair, tapping my pen on the page. I felt the lump in the back of my throat begin to swell, and I knew the tears were coming. Another error, another cross out, another do-over. Again, I wrote my name at the top of a new page with extreme care.

A few minutes passed, and I heard my mother climbing up the stairs from the basement. When I turned around, I saw her with a basket of folded laundry resting on her hip, her brown curls twisted up in a clip. She looked at me, and her face morphed from a casual smile to a face flushed with motherly concern.

"Mia, what is the matter? What are all these pages?"

Now I was crying. Hearing her exclaim it out loud made it real; all of my failures lay in wrinkled balls of trash before me. I had wasted trees, I had wasted time, and I had made no progress. All of my thoughts flew in my brain, constantly colliding; even in the cold weeks before Christmas, I was burning up inside.

"I can't do it! We need a rough draft by tomorrow, Mom, and I keep on making all these mistakes!"

"Mistakes? But Mia, it's a rough draft. That's what it's meant for."

"But look at how messy it looks! I don't have time to rewrite all of this. It's just a disaster. I QUIT!"

In a fit, I swung my hand out across the table; each ball of loose-leaf sputtered off the edge and plopped onto the floor. Instead of getting angry or scolding me, my mother simply left the room. I was panting and embarrassed; I was never one to throw temper tantrums, but I was unbearably stressed. I knew that this issue was not the end of the world, but I felt as if all the pride of my academic reputation was disintegrating. In all my years of schooling, I never asked for help on my homework. I was an only child, an independent and hardworking student, the kind of student who would rewrite her notes if one word was misspelled. I put my head in my hands and rested my elbows on the table, not even pleased with my favorite seasonal smell of the Christmas tree, which was glowing in the living room behind me.

I heard the chairs at the table shifting and I looked up out of my hands. My mom had returned with a special artifact; it was A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. The large book had a hard green cover and the binding was intensely frayed. It had been my mom's as a child, and every Christmas season we would pick a night when she would read it to me. No one else could read it the way she could - she even knew some dialogue by heart. I had no idea why it was on the table; why here? Why now?

She opened the book and passed over the cover and title pages, which were slightly yellowed and smelled like our basement. After those pages, she opened up to a page that was more tan than the rest. There was smeared ink everywhere; the paragraphs were out of line and there were black, loopy scribbles etching out entire sentences. The bottom paragraph had a box drawn around it and lines slashed across the text. The script handwriting was significantly smeared; the crossed t's looked like black dots, and the inserted sentences were barely legible crammed between lines. It was overwhelming to look at, and it took me a minute, but I finally figured out what it was, what she was showing me. She only had to say one thing.

"If Dickens could have a rough draft this messy, you are certainly allowed to."

I studied the scraps of dialogue left over by Dickens, traced the script markings across the page with the tip of my finger. A Christmas Carol was a story so familiar to me, so special. When I was looking at the page, its imperfections did not matter; I knew that it was destined to become a great work of literature, one that I had appreciated every December of my adolescence. My mother gave examples of my favorite parts that were sloppily written above carets in between lines, walking me through all of his paragraphs, none of which were without errors. I felt silly, but thanked her for putting such a childish fit into perspective. She left to let me continue my work, leaving the book opened on the table as a reminder throughout my writing process. On her way out of the kitchen, she gathered some of my scrapped copies to throw out; just like my mother – always there to clean up the mess I was in.

I took a deep breath and focused my eyes on the blank sheet in front of me. I picked up the pen and wrote my full name in the top left-hand corner. I then marked the date in the right-hand corner. So far, so good. I took another deep breath as I moved the pen down to begin my opening paragraph.

An hour later, I had produced three pages full of my jumbled ideas in a basic essay. There were arrows pointing to afterthoughts etched in the margins, grammatical errors addressed in red pen, and even four or five lines that were completely scribbled out. I placed my flawed draft into my folder, slipping it neatly into my backpack for the next day. Before leaving the kitchen, I took one last look at Dickens' draft and smiled to myself. I carefully closed its cover and took it back to the bookshelf, neatly placing the documented evolution of masterful writing back in its place. There it would sit among all the other books, whose authors had endured the same tedious process of editing. I took a deep breath of relief and left the room, being sure to take in the lulling scent of the Christmas tree before going off to bed.