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Letter to a Classmate

By William Christison.

The Proficiency level (very advanced) English activity below is by William Christison who is an English teacher in Madrid, Spain (Clases Particulares de Inglés) . You can either simply read and listen at the same time to the text below or do the interactive activities in this order: Websequitur, Vocabulary Matching, Listening and Cloze, Comprehension Quiz, and for the really daring: WebRhubarb (extremely difficult).

William Christison:

Profesor de inglés en el centro de Madrid imparte clases particulares de inglés.
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William Christison
William Christison.

William y Steven: MadridTeacher podcast: "Anatomy of a Murder" (MP3, Text)
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Read and listen to the story/letter

(If you prefer, read and listen to the text in the interactive activities listed above instead.)


Listen to MP3    MP3

Madrid, Spain
10 November

Dear Mary,

You won! Congratulations! When I saw the name in the local elections, I knew it was you. In the 60’s, my family had the little brick place on Brocker and our school bus stopped at your farmhouse every morning. Sometimes you boarded with a niece in tow and on the side of your barn once hung a string of pelts. Remember the fat kid across the aisle who copped a feel from you, the one whose hair you tugged till Mr Brown had to pull the bus over and tell you to quit? Well, never too late for apologies. I often sat with his son, Lanny, who did Jack Kennedy imitations (better than Vaughn Meader--and dirtier). Later, you might recall, three-fingered Mr Jewell took over the route, followed by a droopy lidded Mr Welch whose leering through the mirror at the senior girls once sent us into a ditch. Tammy Dean was the star. When the bus drew up she’d pitch her fag and strut the steps working a wad of Juicy Fruit like a popgun all the way back to where the big kids kept. The barely pubescent of us found her rimmel lashes and ratted hair intimidating and, after a night of pining over those glossy lips and laddered tights, we heckled and teased her relentlessly.

I’d almost forgotten Tammy’s little brother, Harold. Every day, he too would board, largely unnoticed, behind her. He appears now first at--then suddenly beneath, a table in the cafeteria. A little kid with a rather large braincase, he is not, save for today, the first to puke on the tuna noodle casserole. Against all orders to the contrary, our classmates have polished off their canned peaches and cottage cheese first. Now, like the good little soldiers they aren't, they've begun the final assault on the double dollop of what looks like to some, and tastes like to most, barf on a bed of worms. Thanksgiving is coming, however. Bright-colored turkey cut-outs line the mint green cinderblock. Their construction paper feathers are still damp and puckered from this morning's activity, yet a fistful has already been plucked and lies dried and curling on the floor beneath. Paste eaters. Nearby sits Rosemary Lutz. She's a tall and pretty redhead with long curls and a reputation for tattling on swearers (the bitch). She is also the daughter of a prosperous doctor and never eats cafeteria food. As usual, today she's brought her lunch and, to our chagrin, has just noshed an open steak sandwich on lettuce. Rosemary now smoothes the paper sack bearing her name in front of her. Her middle finger is wrapped in a jagged brown strip and, when she has folded the sack into a neat square, she unravels the paper ring and pops it into her mouth, then, pinching the end, she slowly draws it out, savoring every pasty inch before letting it drop discreetly onto the pile behind her. Dessert.

Across the room a whine draws the attention of the day's minder, snowy haired Mrs. Ivory. Ivory’s is the class whose students, when instructed to make flowers, usually draw her pushing them up. She’s a slip of a woman but hard as nails, and as Ivory scurries down the aisle, pinching necks and ordering her troops to dig in, dig in, because by-God-people- it's-good- for-you! she barely notices old Crampton with broom and gunny sack shuffling in. Cafeteria detail. Worst part of the day. He is sprinkling sweet sawdust over Harold's meal when Danny Haber drops forward three seats down and lets fly with his own. Old Crampton lifts a hand and nods. At Haber's elbow, a mangled pair of Scotch-taped glasses, an overturned three cent carton of milk, and Donnie Stern blubbering over the state of his shoes. Across from me, little Julie Stacey warbles a strand onto her tray.

"Clean your plates, now, people--or no recess! Do you hear that, people? People!" Mrs Ivory is barking. She was forever calling us people. It was a defence mechanism born of fifty years' teaching goofy kids. The mechanism isn't working too well today, though, as she bounces a bundle of napkins off Danny's shoulders and orders him to wipe up his mess. It is kindergarten teacher Mrs Pratt, on the way in from the parking lot and a stalled Rambler, who spies her colleague's distress.

"For Heaven’s sake, give them air, Mildred, not noodles !" she cries, pulling off gloves and scarf. Crampton by now is on his second sack. His broom is getting soggy and, lacking reinforcements, he is starting to fall behind. Beyond the serving counter, our two cooks gaze on, slack-jawed and arms folded. Neither is about to go to the boiler room for shovels (where, to their eternal bemusement, they might have come across principal Smith’s cat o' nines, paddles and thumbscrews). Chairs topple and trays fly as classmates duck and cover (Lanny would later call it a puke-ular attack) and goofy Glenn Van Horn seizes the moment. In a flash, the wiry little twerp leaps onto our table and launches into the twist. He’s pretty good and his resemblance to Sammy Davis Jr. is frankly uncanny. In later times, Glenny would have been on medication and the rest of us denied a superb, if fleeting, performance. Now he is collared--pant legged, rather, by Fat Roger, his cousin, and dragged off kicking and screaming.

But alas, Mary! How much if any of this really happened? Save for a lifelong aversion to tuna casserole, following orders, and panting, tobacco-breathed, disciplinarians like Miss Smith (was she ever released?), I can offer no clues as we’re led out, dazed, green and gagging, to the playground by the kindly Mrs Pratt.

Hope you are well. Please write soon.

Yours truly,

Bill C.


If you prefer, do the interactive Vocabulary Matching Activity.

1. farmhouse - granja, cortijo
2. in tow - en compañía de
3. barn - granero, establo
4. pelts - pieles de animales
5. cop a feel - tocar a alguien inesperadamente en las zonas íntimas
6. tugged - tiró de
7. pull over - detenerse en el arcén, etc.
8. took over - asumió el control
9. droopy lidded - párpados caídos
10. leering - mirando lascivamente,
11. ditch - la cuneta
12. drew up - hizo parar el vehículo
13. pitch - arrojar
14. fag - el pitillo
15. strut - pavonearse
16. wad - una masa (de chicle, etc.)
17. pop gun - pistola de juguete
18. lashes - pestañas
19. ratted hair - pelo escardado
20. pining over - suspirando por
21. glossy - brillante
22. laddered tights - una carrera en las medias
23. heckled - interrumpía
24. teased - se reían de
25. relentlessly - implacablemente
26. puke - vomitar (fam.)
27. casserole - guiso
28. polished off - zampó
29. cottage cheese - queso blanco grumoso
30. dollop - pegote
31. barf - vomitar (fam.)
32. worms - gusanos
33. Thanksgiving - Día de Acción de Gracias
34. cut-outs - recortes
35. cinderblock - ladrillo grande
36. damp - húmedo
37. puckered - arrugado
38. fistful - puñado
39. plucked - arrancado, desplumado
40. curling - rizado
41. paste - engrudo, cola, pegamento
42. curls - rizos
43. tattling on - denunciando a alguien
44. swearers - los que usan palabrotas
45. chagrin - disgusto
46. noshed - engulló
47. bearing - llevaba
48. jagged - dentado
49. strip - una tira
50. unravels - desenmarañar
51. draws it out - lo saca
52. pasty - pastoso
53. whine - lloriquear
54. minder - monitor (persona)
55. pushing up flowers (usually “pushing up daisies”) - criando malvas
56. a slip of a woman - una mujer menuda
57. scurries - corre a toda prisa
58. dig in - hincar el diente
59. barely - apenas
60. gunny sack - bolsa de arpillera
61. shuffling - caminando arrastrando los pies
62. sawdust - serrín
63. lets fly - él lanza, arroja
64. nods - saluda con la cabeza
65. mangled - destrozado
66. blubbering - balbucea mientras se llora
67. warbles - cantar (como un pájaro)
68. strand - un hilo
69. recess - el recreo
70. barking - ladrando
71. goofy - tontorrón
72. bundle - fajo
73. napkins - servilletas
74. wipe up - limpiar, secar (con un paño)
75. stalled - calado (un coche)
76. Rambler - Marca de coche antiguo
77. distress - angustia
78. soggy - empapado
79. fall behind - retrasarse
80. serving counter - mostrador de un autoservicio
81. gaze on - miraba fijamente
82. slack-jawed - boquiabierto y con poco que decir (imbécil)
83. boiler room - cuarto donde se encuentra la caldera
84. shovels - palas
85. bemusement - desconcierto
86. cat o' nines - especie de látigo usado para la tortura
87. thumbscrews - instrumento de tortura antiguo que aplastaba los dedos
88. topple - caerse, venirse abajo
89. duck - agacharse
90. seizes the moment - aprovecha el momento
91. wiry - enjuto y fuerte
92. twerp - tonto, idiota
93. uncanny - extraordinario
94. fleeting - fugaz, efímero
95. collars - pescar, agarrar
96. alas - ¡Ay! ¡Ay de mí!
97. panting - jadeando
98. released - (a un preso) poner en libertad
99. dazed - aturdido
100. gagging - nausea con arcadas

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Comprehension Questions

Read the text again and answer the questions. The link to the answers page is below. If you prefer, visit this page to do the interactive Comprehension Quiz.

1. When do the events described in the latter take place?

2. Who is Mr. Brown?

3. Why does the writer apologise?

4. Who is Mr. Welch?

5. Did the writer find Tammy attractive?

6. Who is Harold?

7. Does the tuna noodle casserole look appetizing?

8. Is the cafeteria decorated for Christmas?

9. What did Rosemary have for lunch?

10. What did she have for dessert?

11. Do Mrs. Ivory’s students like her?

12. Who is Mr. Crampton?

13. What did Danny Haber do?

14. Why is Donnie Stern crying?

15. How long has Mrs. Ivory been teaching?

16. Who is Mrs. Pratt?

17. Do the cooks help with the cafeteria cleanup?

18. What was kept in the boiler room?

19. What did Glenn Van Horn do?

20. Is the writer sure that the events in the cafeteria described really

Read the answers here: Answers to Comprehension Questions


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