Editor's Note: For the first time in the history of the San Mateo County Fair, a 300-page anthology has been published that includes more than 100 stories, poems and essays from writers who submitted award-winning work for the fair's literary contest. The idea was the brainchild of Bardi Rosman Koodrin, a San Bruno resident who runs the fair's literary contest, and the anthology, titled "Carry the Light," features work from many Peninsula writers.
During Louise Lenahan Wallace's junior year in high school, a fellow band member taught her a valuable lesson in the art of “Carrying the Light” when, in front of a large audience of classmates, she was thrust into a situation of soul-shriveling humiliation.
From p. 277, “Teacher of the Heart”
Thrown off balance, I smacked my injured foot down full-force onto the pavement. Agonizing pain clawed me. School books flew every direction. I tumbled backward, my heart plunging, too. Shock-frozen faces hovered, following my descent. I heard a distant laugh and braced for impact….
My mid-1960’s high school experience included a principal enamored of all-student pep rallies, complete with “educational” speakers, staging them on Friday before Saturday’s varsity football game. The entire student body packed into the stuffy gymnasium and sat on non-yielding wooden risers. Scrunching uncomfortably together (except for couples going steady, who gladly squeezed over to contribute room) folks fervently hoped the neighbors had showered after gym.
I played clarinet in the band, and the principal volunteered us to provide music during these rallies. This honor required sitting at floor level on metal folding chairs, sideways to the similarly seated faculty. Thus ensconced, we endured the every-movement-was-noticeable scrutiny of the entire student body. Our job description, therefore, included the requirement that we remain enthusiastically alert. From the risers, nodding heads and jaw-splitting yawns taunted us as the speaker of the moment, clearly impervious, droned. Occasionally, with wicked glee, we observed a teacher’s head dip, then come up sharply.
My junior year, I received a lesson about “carrying the light” that has stayed with me much longer than many mathematical and scientific facts. A band classmate, habitually quiet and unobtrusive, contrasted sharply with the more raucous students. Besides large, beautiful eyes and a serene expression, she possessed graciousness rare among our more vocal contemporaries.
One hot May Friday, the principal convened another assembly, complete with speaker. Even with the doors wide open, the gym hit “high stuffy” in record time. As always, band and faculty perched on metal chairs at floor level, the risers crowded with restless, perspiring students.
My co-band member appeared slightly drawn, but she was always quiet, so no one paid particular attention. She sat in the front row, a few chairs from me. In the midst of our rendering a lively tune, I heard a resounding thump. She lay writhing on the floor, helpless in the grip of a seizure. The music trickled off like a leaky faucet. The eyes of the entire student body riveted upon her as faculty members rushed over. When the seizure finally loosed its vicious grip, two teachers helped her stand. In silence so vast one could have heard the proverbial pin bounce on the hardwood floor, under scrutiny of a thousand pairs of eyes, a covey of teachers supported her as, head high, she wavered to the door and exited the gym into the May sunshine.
Excerpted from "Carry the Light" with the permission of Sand Hill Review Press, the publisher. The book is available for purchase for $12 on Amazon.com.
Louise Lenahan Wallace was born in the Sacramento Valley. She always knew she wanted to write but never believed she could do it “for real.” Her first novel took 25 years to be published. Thankfully, the next three books came more rapidly. Her advice to beginning writers: “Don’t give up your dream of writing.” Louise said she received enough rejection slips to paper two walls before her first novel was published. But when it happened, it was exactly the right time and place.