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I had a kind of a mentor like Frank: My 7th grade English teacher in Leavenworth, Kansas, Mr. Lockhart. He was a gay man who lived alone in a little converted garage behind an old woman's house downtown. Although at age 12-13, I didn't know he was gay...I didn't know what gay was...but it didn't take me long after I got a little older to come to that conclusion. Lockhart taught me everything I know about writing the English language. From day 1 in the 7th grade he gave us an assignment every day: after learning to diagram the sentence we studied that day -- he began with simple declarative, of course -- we had to write 20 sentences of that kind and turn them in the next morning. Twenty sentences. Every day. For an entire year. That alone pretty much turned me into a writer, the daily-ness of it. During the first 10 minutes of the next class, he would return our pages from the day before yesterday, after he had graded them overnight, marked with a grade A through F. The grades counted. We were allowed to examine the pages for a moment, and if we thought we deserved a better grade because he had marked one or more of our sentences wrongly, we were allowed to stand up and defend the sentence. There was a hitch. If you were right, you got an automatic A. If you we incorrect - again - you got an F. Lockhart would reach into a side drawer of his desk and withdraw one of those tiny gym towels, wad it up, and throw it, hitting you in the chest. He never missed. And he would cry out, "The crying towel for you, Mr. Truscott," in a voice he allowed to be as close to a "gay voice" as any he used. I, of course, got into it with him regularly, winning about as much as I lost. Later in the year, we would be writing the kind of sentences I write now -- properly constructed and punctuated, of course. We never had to learn those words like "subjunctive pluperfect" or whatever the hell they were. We just had to write the sentences properly.

Years later in the 70's when I was working for the Voice and for magazines, I was driving through Kansas going from one assignment to another, I saw Leavenworth on the map just north of Kansas City, and decided to stop by and thank Mr. Lockhart. It took me a whole day of detective work to find him in yet another converted garage behind another old woman's house. As I knocked on his screen door, I could dimly make out his figure reclining on a couch, stroking a cat that was lying on his stomach. "Who's there?' he called, hearing my knock. "It's Lucian Truscott, Mr. Lockhart. I've dome to thank you for making me a writer." Without even sitting up, he said, "Well, it's about goddamned time," and he invited me in. It turned out that he subscribed to the Voice and had read most of the magazine pieces I had written. He was sill teaching 7th grade English, albeit as a substitute teacher after 40 years teaching full time. The kids were just as impossible as we had been, he complained. I asked if I could take him to dinner, and he said as much as he would like to, he didn't think that was a very good idea. "With your appearance," he said of my long hair and leather fringed jacket and jeans, "if you're seen with me, people will think you're gay." I told him I didn't care. Being though of as gay because I was with Mr. Lockhart would be an honor. He started crying, just sobbing. I sat there and comforted him on the couch, my arm around his shoulders, as his cat walked back and forth at our feet, rubbing its long fur against the two of us. I quite literally owe my life to Mr. Lockhart.

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My god i am standing on sidewalk on a side street off Haussmann in Paris with tears steaming down my face. Thank you. I now know wrote this so you could write that about mr. Lockhart

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I wrote it for you, Kevin. I've written about Mr. Lockhart and becoming a writer in my Substack column. I wanted you and your readers to know how much a lot of this stuff of being a human being is simply universal. We share so much, as different as we are, as similar as we are.

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Apr 17, 2023Liked by Kevin Sessums

Kevin...once again your words astonish me. “I say his name this morning: Frank Hains. I spell it. He is part of the language of me.”

Perfection.

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Apr 17, 2023Liked by Kevin Sessums

Thank you so much for this tribute. I grew up in High Point and then Raleigh NC and this allowed me to look back and remember those openly gay men who held the light of culture in conservative southern society.

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Apr 17, 2023Liked by Kevin Sessums

Love this

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“I am not spelling. I am language.”

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