Pip

By Doreen Frick

The year was 1969. My dad was taking me and my sister on a trip, a trip that involved a passport, inoculations and school teachers assigning work to complete in each subject while we were gone. My English teacher wanted me to read Great Expectations which I began in good faith above the Atlantic Ocean on an airliner complete with a little lamp overhead.

Dinner had already been consumed, steak done just the way I liked it, medium-rare on the tray with a hearty dessert my sister and I attacked first: Chocolate brownies. Diane began her homework, and I began my book and Dad fell asleep exhausted beside us, already weary from carrying our slug of schoolbooks through the Philadelphia airport.

Diane, being the studious one, was hard at work, pencil in hand, scrunched-up eyebrows, furiously taking notes in her workbook while I, the lollygagger and elder statesman, read and re-read the same page over and over again until my eyelids drooped and eventually blotted out the great expectations of poor Pip, a name which for some reason had already begun to annoy me.

By the time we touched down in London, I’d made up my mind that not only did I not intend to read the rest of the chapter, I had no intention of slaving away on all the other dumb assignments my teachers had given me, some involving physical science experiments impossible to perform or understand while away from the classroom.

My sister, however, could not be convinced of this logic, and since she was the tearful sensitive one, I let her alone to miss the wide open skies of the English countryside, the smell of London in spring and the freedom of being an American in England with the gall to disobey the kings and queens of our dull schoolhouse in the States. Let it be known that I was a straight-A student, at least up until this point in history, and so was she.

Dad never claimed to be a good student, but he did his part for his two industrious daughters, faithfully lugging our suitcase full of schoolbooks all over England, Israel, Italy, Greece, and Switzerland. He complained about his shoulder. Somewhere between Italy and Greece the suitcase handle broke from the strain of all those textbooks. Something had to give. Dad was young, he could clutch the broken case to his chest if he had to, but eventually even young, ordinarily patient fathers can reach a breaking point, and when we touched down in Zurich he shook his head when he realized I was playing hooky big-time. “Why on earth did you bring all these books if you didn’t intend to study?” he cried. Clearly I was a mystery to him.

I thought I’d clarify. “Because my teachers made me!”

The whole trip I had been pretending to be doing my homework. Like a good big sister, I ignored my little sister hard at work while in the car traveling to the Dead Sea. Or at the restaurant where the waiter got Turkish coffee splashed all over him by a misplaced hand-waving tourist. Or while we were both down with food poisoning. Yes, while I was throwing up, Diane was computing math problems between episodes. And Dad? Dad was busy taking pictures with his free hand – shaky shots of me at the hotel pool sunbathing in a lounge chair, waving, smiling in my new sunglasses while Diane hunches over a stack of books completely covered in clothes and shade and not getting a tan – or noticing the lifeguard. Or the Israeli soldiers stationed on the rooftop.But this was not all fun and games. While at the Western Wall, Dad was intercepted by some men in uniform and questioned. My sister and I were in a room nearby but to this day have no idea how Dad talked his way out of whatever trouble they seemed to think he was in. I think it had something to do with his camera or his passport or his heritage. Being a teenager has its advantages, you don’t really know enough about the world yet to be afraid of it.

Dad set things straight and returned to us in good form, buying us souvenirs along the way: a cameo pin, a bracelet watch, a camel carved from olive wood, a cashmere sweater. And a pen in each country in case I’d forgotten one – to do my homework, not to write postcards to my friends. Conveniently I ignored him, after all I was a ninth-grader, and we know everything.

Eventually our trip was over, and we flew home, ecstatic to eat a good old American hamburger and French fries, pizza that tasted like we remembered, hug Mom and tease our little brother and sister, and call all our friends before going back for one last week at school until summer vacation. Yeah, that one last week where all accounts became due, where my English teacher would quiz me on Pip and his adventures gloriously recounted in the book which I was happy to return even if I never got past chapter one.

I tried to tell her, “Hey I had an adventure, and it was great, and I’ll write it for you if you want to read about it,” which of course might have flown in some schools, just not mine. That was my first “C.” A devastating blow.

Nor did my Physical Science teacher, Mr. Unger, have much sympathy for the student who could fly all over the world but never so much as take thirty minutes to try and keep up with the students back home who’d slaved over test tubes and a pop quiz and tandem trials in the lab for the meager grades he doled out. No, Mr. Unger was firm, at least that’s how he began the test when I gave him my song-and-dance hoping he would reconsider, but the further I got down the page the more I realized I was in big trouble. Nothing made any sense; it was if I’d not only not studied, I hadn’t a clue as to what he’d tried to teach me all year. Was I just nervous? Or was science truly never going to be my true calling. All I remember is I performed badly, and upon receiving the word of an almost failing score my face went absolutely ashen. “Okay maybe that was a lot to ask of a student. Maybe I’ll just give you a ‘B’.”

By the time my first day back at school was over, I was an accomplished failure – but a relieved one. Nobody actually failed me; they just looked disappointed in the change that had come over their usually compliant student. Oh sure, she had sent postcards to the class from Rome, and even brought gifts for the teachers, but had she even bothered to actually complete one assignment? Where had they failed her? If your straight-A student doesn’t care, how could one possibly hope to motivate the ones teetering on the edge?

And Dad, he never stopped the running joke about the books he carried all over the world for his two daughters. And the strap that didn’t hold. And the books that never got opened. What Dad couldn’t see was the future; the younger daughter who would make good use of all that effort and discipline and go on to become yearbook editor, a registered nurse, a mother who home-schooled two wonderful kids, yada yada yada, and the elder lackluster one who would graduate number eleven in her class (falling out of the top-ten in her last semester of high school), become a teacher’s aide in her former elementary school, then a mother of four who took education seriously, prodding and assisting kids with their assignments – her kids, anybody’s kids. Reviewing books like Great Expectations, which in truth she never actually got around to reading, she just watched the movie and let it go at that. Sorry Charles Dickens. I couldn’t. Maybe I could. But I didn’t. Maybe I will…someday.

Oh, and that name, Pip? It found its way back to her when she had a kid, a studious one it turns out who would grow up to become a teacher; a kid she named Piper–and nicknamed, yes, of all things, Pip.

About this writer

  • Doreen FrickDoreen Frick is always ready for an adventure, she is now 62 and thinking about where she’ll take off next. She began to write in her twenties while raising four kids in a little bus in Washington State with her husband and a lot of faith. She wrote that story too, in her book Hodgepodge Logic: One Woman’s Journey Through Marriage, Moves, and Motherhood.

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2 Responses to “Pip”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    I enjoyed reading your story. What a dad, lugging those books all over.

  2. Leanne says:

    ❤️❤️❤️

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