“D” is for Disaster


Grades were a serious business at our house.

By Joey Kennedy

When my teaching semesters at UAB end, I’m kind of sad. Sure, there’s a ton of grading to do during that final week—I teach in the English Department and everything is an essay —but it always gets done.

I’m kind of sad, though, because I’m closing another little chapter on my teaching career. I meet and teach some amazing young adults, and they teach me, too. I occasionally have a class that I’m glad is over. Good riddance. Mostly, not.

I love being in the classroom.

Curiously, for me it wasn’t always that way.

UAB’s spring semester ended late last month. Most Alabama public schools recess for summer later this month.

When I was a public schoolkid, though, I couldn’t wait for the school year to end. I counted down those days.

And on the last day of school in May or June, we were excited. When that final bell rang, we ran out, facing a long (to us, almost endless) summer of sleeping late, watching television, playing in the nearby woods. Did I say sleeping late?

Without classes. Without probation.

My parents, but mostly my mother, expected a lot from me and my two sisters. If we made a “C” in any subject, we were grounded for the next six weeks, until we got another report card and, hopefully, brought our scores up.

I thought it was a harsh punishment. After all, a “C” is average. What did mom expect?

Our groundings could include anything from losing television or telephone rights for six weeks, to having to cut back on our extracurricular activities. I’m a voracious reader, and one six weeks, my mom banned me from reading for entertainment. I wasn’t allowed to read anything but schoolbooks. It was true. I simply spent more time at the library. “Studying.”

Once I was telling a friend about our mother’s draconian groundings. He told me he had grounded his son just that week for making a “D” in one subject. I might understand a “D.” That’s below average.

I saw his son not long after and asked him how he was doing in school. He informed me he had been grounded for making a “C.”

“You were grounded for a ‘C’?” I asked, surprised.

“It was a veerrry low ‘C’,” he said.

Oh, I made my share of D’s, but fortunately, as far as my home life was concerned, after I started college. My first two years of college were fairly rough. I smoked a lot of weed, skipped a lot of classes, and my grades reflected that lack of responsibility. By the time I had finished my bachelor’s degree 14 years later, I’d sobered up and was making practically all “A’s.” It took me a while.

But there was one “D” I brought home when I was an 8th-grader that scared me to death.

It was the end of the school year. Final report cards were issued. I had a D in some math class (for the six weeks, not the school year—for the year, I made a “C”). But a “D” is a “D.” I was frightened about what my mom would do. We’d never been to “D”-Town before in our house or, as my friend’s son called it: Veerry low “C”-Town.

As the final bell rang, I felt no joy about the end of that school year. The summer ahead seemed infinitely long since I was going to be grounded for three months at least. Who knew what privileges I would lose? I’d never been grounded from breathing, but I thought it was a real possibility this time.

A “D.” My mom bragged often that she made only “A’s” when she was in school. I knew that last school day of 8th grade I would be her greatest disappointment. (After she died, we found some of her old report cards; she did not make all “A’s”).

On that last day of school, I got on the bus, certain of a horrible fate ahead.

When the bus rolled up to our little house on Duet Street in Houma, Louisiana, my mom was out front, weeding her small flower garden. As I slowly walked down the bus steps and onto the street, she turned around and greeted me. She was smiling. No way to avoid or delay the news.

I waved as I walked toward her, pulling the “D”eath-sentence report card from my back pocket. Just get it over with, I thought.

Mom looked the report card over, raised her head (smiling no longer), and drilled me with her eyes. She looked at the report card again. Looked at me again. I could tell she was about to pronounce the sentence.

Instead, she turned around and calmly strolled into the house, making certain, even, that the door didn’t slam.

I finished weeding her garden, and she never said a word to me about that “D.”

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