Friday, October 4, 2013

Casper Hamilton

by Audrey L. Barclay

The dapper little man stepping briskly along, the soft April breeze ruffling his thinning black hair, was Casper Hamilton, head of the history department in a New York City school. He was planning to celebrate his fifty-second birthday by settling himself for the evening with the new novel he had tucked beneath his arm, a story of the Civil War. Such stories were a hobby with him, and he anticipated an enjoyable evening.

Casper lived alone in a modest two-room-and-kitchenette apartment in Manhattan, with neither wife nor television to interfere with his reading. He was a timid little man, so it was inevitable that he feel ill at ease and in the way on those rare occasions when he did join the few friends he had among his colleagues. This timidity and his slight stature--he was barely 5'7" tall and had never weighed more than 147 pounds, sopping wet--had earned for him the appellation "Mr. Milquetoast" among his students. Privately, of course.

Casper had been born in Reading, Pennsylvania, where his father worked for civil service in the State Department of Commerce. His mother taught kindergarten and was unable to hide her frustration when her frail child failed to behave with the maturity of her small pupils, almost from the day he could walk. As a result he came to rely almost wholly on his own resources for companionship.

The boy was a good student and graduated from Penn State at the age of twenty. He realized he must choose a vocation requiring little physical ability. Teaching seemed the logical choice, so, having majored in history, he went to Pittsburgh and secured a position teaching that subject in one of the high schools there.

The first rumblings of World War II were being heard then, and the young man kept an alert ear tuned to the progress of the European conflict. It was history in the making, and he was among the first to offer his services following Pearl Harbor. To his chagrin he was rejected because of faulty vision; the best he could do to show his patriotism was to serve as air-raid warden for the duration.

After twelve years with the Pittsburgh school, the little teacher went to New York. He'd had an attractive offer to teach history and economics in the system there, and he was ready for  change. It was a good move, resulting eventually in his present position with the large high school that had come to be a second home to him.

The 52 years sit lightly on the erect little shoulders as he hurries homeward, the bright black eyes looking neither to right or left. He whistles softly beneath his breath the strains of his favorite song, "Mine eyes have seen the glory-----."


Editor's Note: Audrey's vivid descriptions in this story make it one of my favorite examples of her writing. I don't know if Casper Hamilton was a real person or a character born of Audrey's imagination, but she made him seem real to me. In fact, if I had to guess, I would speculate that the writing assignment that generated this story might have been to interview someone and then write a short biography based on those interview notes. Except I can't even imagine where Audrey would have met a timid little teacher who lived in Manhattan. Can any of you Barclays out there shed any light on this?

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