“James, you’re up next.” Mrs. Winshire peered over her moon-shaped reading glasses at the class of seventh-graders sitting in front of her.
Thirteen-year old James reluctantly slid out of his desk chair and shuffled his five foot, seven inch, stooped-shouldered frame to the front of the class.
Today was the first “impromptu exercise” day in Public Speaking class. The assignment? Select a random topic out of Mrs. Winshire’s fish bowl, “reflect” on it for ten seconds, and then speak to the class about that subject for thirty seconds. Mrs. Winshire used a stopwatch and rang a bell at exactly thirty seconds, at which time all talking had to stop—even if it was in the middle of a sentence.
“Okay, James, go fishing in the fish bowl.”
James had been nervous about this first class exercise, but after watching some of his peers stumble over topics such as snowstorms, pets, birthdays, and celebrities, he figured he couldn’t do any worse than they had.
At the sound of the first bell, James opened the slip of paper to read the topic and begin his ten seconds of “reflection.” Immediately, the suffocating feeling of dread overwhelmed him.
How in the world am I going to talk about this? What if I start to cry? That will be horrible. What am I…?
Ring-ring. James heard the sound of the bell and turned to face the class. He opened his mouth—he thought he was talking—but no sound emanated from his lips. Classmates began to snicker until Mrs. Winshire silenced them with “the look.”
“James, you need to start now…the clock is ticking.”
“My topic is ‘grandparents.’ I only have one grandpa left, and he has cancer. My grandma died last month, and my other grandma and grandpa died in a car crash.”
Mrs. Winshire hurried over to stand by James.
“Oh James, I’m so sorry. You don’t have to talk about this topic. Why don’t you sit down, and you can pick another topic later.”
James expelled a large breath of air and turned to his teacher.
“No, Mrs. Winshire, I want to do this topic. I think I might have something important to say.”
“Okay, if that’s what you really want to do.”
Mrs. Winshire returned to her desk and rang the bell again.
James swallowed exaggeratedly and sent a silent prayer to heaven. God, please help me do this without crying. I don’t want to look dumb. Amen
“Grandparents are very important, and you shouldn’t take them for granted, ‘cause you never know how long you’ll have ‘em. And, um, when they want to do things with you, you should do it, even if it sounds dorky, ‘cause the dorky things are what you’re going to remember when they’re gone.
“And, you shouldn’t be embarrassed when they wear funny clothes or hats to your baseball games and things, or when they stand at the fence taking lots of pictures of you, or when they want their picture taken with you, ‘cause one day you’re only going to have pictures to look at. And, oh yeah, when they get mad at you for stuff, you should remember that they’re just trying to do what’s best for you.
“And, um, when they ask you to help them in the yard or something, you should do that. It’s the nice thing to do, and they usually take you for ice cream or something. And you should feel lucky that they care about you so much and that they want to do things with you--like make Christmas cookies or take you fishing.
“And when they call you to ask how you are, you should take time to talk to them. And maybe you should even call them sometimes to ask them how they are doing. Grandparents like that a lot.
“Yeah, so, um, grandparents are very special, and if you have them you are very lucky.”
As James finished speaking, Mrs. Winshire rang the bell. James dropped his head, shuffled down the row of desks, and slouched into his seat.
While the next classmate was walking to the front, James felt a tap on his shoulder. The new girl, Mallory something, handed him a folded-up piece of paper.
James slowly opened the paper as the next speaker began talking about vegetables.
Hi. My name is Mallory Uhnrue. My grandma lives next door to us. She makes the best snickerdoodles. Would you like to come over and bake cookies with us?
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