I went to elementary school in the 1960’s, the “Hey! Let’s Try Anything!” era of education. One of Christ King School’s earliest experiments was Flexible Friday. We had classes in things like Math, History, English, Spelling and Religion on Monday through Thursday, but then on Friday we were allowed to sign up for a variety of “different” classes, taught by the same teachers as the rest of the week but about different subjects. Mr. Del Bello’s Current Events class, where we spent an hour reading the daily newspaper with him, was one of the best. There were some awful classes; I remember that one class was Black History, taught by our very white Math teacher to a very white class of thirty boys and girls. I have mercifully blotted out most of my memories of this class, but I do remember that Gone With The Wind was discussed favorably.
One of the Flexible Friday classes I was eager to take was Newspaper. The idea was that we, the seventh and eighth graders, would spend an hour on Fridays planning, writing out, and making copies of a school newspaper. In theory, this sounded wonderful to me, and right up my alley. In practice, however, I was the only girl who signed up and the boys wanted to write only about sports. After several failed attempts to propose stories about other things, I finally proposed a sort of “how-to” column about how to make cool stuff. “Like what?” one of the boys asked skeptically. I racked my brain and remembered seeing an article in one of my teen girl magazines about making a candle that looked like a glass of beer. I hadn’t read the article, knowing that my mother would never let me make a beer candle even if I wanted to, which I didn’t. Thinking (correctly) that this was a “how-to” project that boys might like, I proposed it. The boys immediately agreed that I should write an article about how to make a beer candle.
The problem, of course, was that I hadn’t actually read the “how-to” piece; in fact, I didn’t even know exactly which magazine I had seen it in; I couldn’t find it at home, and surmised that I had seen it in a magazine I had thumbed through at the doctor’s or dentist’s office. In any event, I didn’t have it now. This was a very long time before the age of the internet; there was no “looking up” how to do something like make a beer can candle. I was going to have to wing it.
That is what I did. I imagined how it might go, and wrote that down. My “how-to” column told my readers to obtain a couple of regular candles, one yellow and one white. Then, I instructed them, find a beer stein to hold the Beer Candle.
Melt each candle in separate saucepans, I counseled, and when the wax is completely liquefied, pour the amber wax into the beer stein. Take the white liquefied wax and beat it to a froth with your mother’s electric mixer, I counseled. Once it’s nice and foamy, pour that into the beer stein and insert a wick. Voila! Frothy Beer Candle in Stein!” It certainly sounded plausible enough to me, and it easily passed muster with the rest of my Crack News Team. I thought no more about it until about six days later, when one of the quieter, nicer boys in my class called me on the telephone. I couldn’t imagine why he would call me, but I soon found out. “Um, hello? So, I’m making the Beer Candle you wrote about in the Christ King Kingly News, and I think I did something wrong, because it’s all kind of a mess and I can’t get the wax out of my mother’s electric mixer.” My stomach plummeted. It had simply never occurred to me that someone would actually take something that I had written seriously. I had not envisioned the possibility that anyone would actually try to make this candle. I felt awful. I couldn’t tell him at that point, his mother’s mixer encased in wax and God knows what mess in his kitchen, that I had made the entire thing up. I took the only open path I saw open to me: I faked it. I told him some gibberish about the process and got off the phone as quickly as I could. I felt terrible. I have never forgotten that young man, and I had learned a powerful lesson in the Responsibility of the Press.