I am very grateful to the welcoming and enthusiastic students, teachers, staff, and parents at Swallow School in Hartland, Wisconsin, for inviting me to be their guest author today. What fun the morning was! To help them to kick off a school-wide writing contest, I spoke to three different groups of students, ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade, about writing and being a writer.
They made this beautiful poster for the event:
One of my favorite moments came from the K-2 group of students. I was preparing them for a reading of an excerpt from the book (included below), and wanted to make sure they knew what an outhouse was. We talked about how things were different one hundred years ago, including the fact that most people did not have indoor bathrooms.
“Does anyone know what outdoor bathrooms were called?” I asked.
Several young heads nodded and many hands went up.
“Portable potties!” a girl said with confidence.
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Excerpt from Oscar’s Gift, Chapter 9: “Barn Dance”
Late in the summer, the wind began to blow on a Sunday afternoon. It blew all day Monday and all day Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, I couldn’t remember what it was like not to hear the wind. By Wednesday night, Mama could no longer keep up with sweeping out the dust that blew under our door and through the holes in our soddy. By Thursday, the wind had blown down our outhouse.
When I woke up on Friday morning, I thought someone had put cotton in my ears. Then I realized the wind had stopped. Everything sounded muffled without the roar of the wind.
I thought I would never again feel clean. My ears and nose were filled with dirt. Dust coated my hair and my clothes. Our beds were coated with dust. Our food tasted like the prairie sod.
Mama said I could go down to the creek to take a bath, even though tomorrow was Saturday. We usually took our baths on Saturday in a tub of heated water, so as to be clean for Sunday.
When I got to the creek, I stripped off my clothes and walked into the water. At first the water was so cold that I walked back out. But I knew that I would soon get used to the cold, so I went back in and walked to the deepest part, which only came up to my ribs. Soon the water felt warmer. I splashed and rubbed myself clean, swishing my hair in the water and wiggling my toes.
When I stepped out, the air made me shiver. I let the breeze dry me as I flapped my clothes in the air to shake out as much dirt as I could. Clean and dry and dressed, I felt like a new person. I walked back to the soddy with a spring in my step…