Senior year started like the others. We wrote about what we read, “Hamlet” and “The Return of the Native,” both good enough stories. Then we did a critical analysis on three works by one author. I chose Kipling because he seemed easy to read.

To get ready, we read Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Criticism,” which I’ve gone back to over the years, but I was too young for it right then.

My English teacher also happened to be the monitor of my study hall in the auditorium. She paced the aisles like a specter, keeping everyone studying, or at least silent. She was old, squarely built and had a penchant for navy blue suits. That side of Miss Jensen inspired me to write a limerick.

“The phantom is dressed in blue.

“Her nylons are that color, too.

“If you cough or you sneeze –

“ ‘I’ll have no talking, please.’

“Oh what are we going to do?”

We didn’t have the term “viral” back then, but my writing certainly went that way.

Everyone knew my little poem. I’d hear it recited behind me in the hall. It seemed I had written something that made me famous. And I gained a new perspective on writing.

Then came spring. We were all accepted in college. The English department was not obliged to “grow” us any more, so our task became the personal essay. I greeted it with the same lack of enthusiasm I’d greeted the precis or the critical analysis.

I took Miss Jensen up on her dare to write about myself, about what mattered to me.

First, I wrote about what it was like to outsmart a trout with a dry fly. And she read it. I could tell by her comments. Then I wrote about an athlete in a neighboring school who overcame great difficulty to excel. She read it and commented. This was new to me.

I was writing about things outside academia, things alien to her, and she was right there with me. I wrote about the time I inadvertently betrayed my cross country team and won a race when we were all supposed to hold back and tie for first. I earned the name “Glory Boy” for that little blunder.

She indicated that I seemed to have redeemed myself.

Writing changed for me when I learned that I could use it to connect to things that mattered to me, and that someone without those connections would read it and understand it. I submitted an article to a sporting magazine that covered hunting and fishing, and they accepted it. I had an editorial published in the newspaper – something about a new driving regulation. Writing became more than personal; it became important and satisfying.

After our last class of the year, I stayed after and thanked Miss Jensen.

I presented my yearbook for her to sign. She turned to the English faculty page and above her picture, wrote the customary, “Wishing you every success in all your endeavors.” And then she signed it. “Fondly, The Blue Phantom.”

— Special to the Telegram