Growing Up* by Russell Baker

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In this description of his high school English teacher, journalist Russell Baker relies on repetition to convey an overwhelming impression of dullness and, well, primness. The passage appears in Baker's memoir, Growing Up (1982).

Mr. Fleagle

from Growing Up* by Russell Baker

When our class was assigned to Mr. Fleagle for third-year English I anticipated another grim year in that dreariest of subjects. Mr. Fleagle was notorious among City students for dullness and inability to inspire. He was said to be stuffy, dull, and hopelessly out of date. To me he looked to be sixty or seventy and prim to a fault. He wore primly severe eyeglasses; his wavy hair was primly cut and primly combed. He wore prim vested suits with neckties blocked primly against the collar buttons of his primly starched white shirts. He had a primly pointed jaw, a primly straight nose, and a prim manner of speaking that was so correct, so gentlemanly, that he seemed a comic antique.

1. What examples of repetition can you find?

2. What does prim mean?

3. How does this suggest that Mr. Fleagle is not a very exciting teacher?

4. In your opinion, what kind of writing style does this excerpt express?

Respond to these questions. Save them in your CLASS FOLDER-[YOURNAME] AUTOBIOGRAPHY-MRFLEAGLE

1. Before I was Born

"Just as you inherit your mother's brown eyes, you inherit part of yourself."

Alice Walker

Who you are today depends a lot upon people who have lived before you. Perhaps you inherited your curly red hair from your grandmother or you learned to play chess from your stepfather, who learned it from his father. Perhaps you live in this country because of your great grandparents' interest in starting a new life in the United States.

Your family may be made up of parents, brothers and sisters, stepparents, foster parents, guardians, some combination of all the above or some entirely different combination. You may be born into a family, adopted into a family or become part of a family in some different way. Some people even consider themselves to have more than one family. No matter what form they take, families have a big effect on our lives.

Tell about the people who came before you in your family. Who were they? Where did they come from? How did they live?

You will need to do some research before you can start writing. Talk to your parents. Telephone your grandmother. Write to an uncle. Visit your mother's cousin. Visit a cemetery. Ask to look at family scrapbooks or mementos. Take time to find out as much as possible about your family's past - the past that helped lead to you.

Getting started

Choose from the questions below to help you write. Be sure to save your finished copy to your Autobiography folder. Name it Before I was Born:

  1. How did your family wind up in this country? Were your ancestors Native Americans? Did your ancestors emigrate from another country? If so, why did they come to America? How? When? Where did they settle? Did they come to the United States by choice?

  1. Tell as much as you can about your grandparents and/or your great-grandparents. Which ones are still living? What are they like?

  1. Do you know about any "characters" in your family's past? Every family has its clowns, saints, black sheep and eccentrics who are deeply loved or loathed. Do you know any stories about "characters" in your family?

  2. Are there any special family history stories that are told again and again in your family? For example, you might have heard how your great, great grandfather's name was changed when he arrived in America, because the officials at Ellis Island couldn't read Hebrew.

  3. Are there any characteristics or personality traits that run through your family? Perhaps they describe Uncle John as "stubborn as a mule, just like all the Millers." Perhaps, generation after generation, there are relatives who tend to be artistic. Explain what family traits run in your family.

Does your family have any items from previous generations? Perhaps you have an old desk, quilt or watch that has been passed down from generation to generation. What stories do you know about these items?

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