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Future Writers of America 

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There's a great line, to me anyway, in The Fantastic Mr. Fox. You see, Mr. Fox — "Foxy" to his friends and family — writes a newspaper column. Charming! But, like me, he asks his wife, "Does anybody actually read my column?"

Now I'm happy to report that Mrs. Maher and her third grade class at Roosevelt Elementary have answered in the affirmative. When I wrote in October that maybe all this Inlander stuff really started when I dreamed up fantastic stories as a third grader at Roosevelt, they, in fact, read it and invited me into their classroom. Earlier this week, there I was up in front of the little writers-in-the-making. I did the math, and asked, "So how many years ago do you think I was sitting right there where you are?"

"Five." "Ten."

"Higher," I said. "A lot higher."

"Twenty."

"OK, try 40."

"Aaagghhh!!" The classroom erupted in a primal cry somewhere between sympathy and shock. But it's true, it was exactly 40 years ago that I sat in Mr. Hoerner's third grade class — in the old Roosevelt, of course, before they replaced it.

I read them parts of a story I once wrote about how Spokanites Keith and Dorothy Stoffel survived the Mt. St. Helens eruption as they photographed it from a Cessna — trying to explain how you can wring drama even from true stories, aka "journalism" and "history." They loved the part about how kids got a week off from school after the eruption.

Then they carefully read their prepared questions — and others that just popped into their heads. Did I ever read The Hobbit? Why don't I write a book? When I mentioned that I make the Inlander with my brother Jer, one kid asked if we still fight a lot; another just announced it's better to be the big brother. I couldn't disagree, but that unleashed a chorus of grievances along the lines of, "My big brother is so annoying... "

At that moment, a little girl — put upon in the way only an 8-year-old girl can be — stormed in and huffed, "We're WAITING for you guys in MUSIC!"

The class lined up, and I high-fived the kids as they wandered off to the next memory-making moment. With their imaginations bursting and teachers feeding that fire to learn, it was just how I remembered it — the same place where grown-ups encouraged little Ted to dream and imagine.

The last kid in line gave me a high-five, then down low, and — yep — I was too slow. Now that kid's going to write a column people will read. ♦

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