Tuesday, December 29, 2015
"Dad's too mean, and you're too scary," he said.
"Too scary? Did you mean too scared?" I asked. "I'm not scared."
"I didn't mean scared. You're too scary," he explained. "The entire time I'm driving, you remind me of how the car can be a deadly weapon. Last time you said, 'Watch out at the intersection. Even though you stopped on time, another car could run the light and T-bone you.' I don't need that kind of encouragement, Mom."
Jack prefers to drive with Otis, one of the local driving school instructors. Otis shows up in his dented car (not kidding), climbs out of the driver's seat, hands Jack the keys, and says, "You ready to burn it up, boy?"
Otis taught Jack how to parallel park and promised to take him over the road test course prior to his test date. Jack says Otis is neither mean nor scary. Otis says Jack is a great driver. Jack says Otis gives just enough instruction, more than my husband (who waits tight-lipped for Jack to goof up, all the while white-knuckling the door handle) and less than I give (a steady litany of all the horrible things that could happen if he is not 100 percent attentive 100 percent of the time). Otis just goes along for the ride.
I'm a teacher. I have been a teacher for 22 years. My husband is principal of an elementary school. Teaching is what we do. We should have been able to teach our own son how to drive a car. Instead, we turned to good-natured Otis, a different kind of teacher. Otis is a man whose patience has been road tested by hundreds of teenagers over the years...each one presenting a different sort of challenge...too timid, lead foot, overly confident, slow to react, not attentive enough, uninformed, or just plain frightened. Despite the various needs of his students, Otis approaches each student driver with the understanding that he or she will eventually learn to drive. He or she will eventually pass that test. For some, it may take several tries; others might be natural-born drivers. Regardless, Otis is a passenger on their journey, a smiling, encouraging, patient, optimistic passenger who reminds them to use their mirrors and their turn signals and instructs them on proper etiquette at a four-way stop.
Otis is a master teacher; and I'm thankful that my son, my husband, and I have had a chance to learn from him.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Jack burned his tongue on his first sip; and Will was much too interested in the little bag of Halloween trinkets the neighbor had dropped into his bucket to even give his hot cocoa a taste.
The tradition didn't take.
The next year, I tried a different tactic...the "Make Yourself Sick Milkshake." I bought a gallon of vanilla ice cream, set up the blender, and invited the boys to toss in whatever candy they wanted for a one-of-a-kind Halloween taste sensation!
Jack chose cookies and cream Hershey bars and a Reese's cup. Will tossed in Butterfingers and a couple of Gummy Bears. Both boys were thrilled at the idea of making themselves sick on their original milkshake flavors. A tradition was born.
Word spread fast. The next year, Jack's friend, Zach, joined in. Each year since, additional friends have enjoyed our unusual tradition. Not only do my sons invent new and more disgustingly delicious milkshake combinations each Halloween, but more and more of their friends have started stopping by after Trick or Treat to toss a handful of candy into my blender.
Last year, six teenaged boys crowded around my kitchen, gulping down various ice cream and candy concoctions.
To date, no one has actually made himself sick; but they certainly have put forth their best effort...Snickers and York Peppermint Patties; candy corn, Hershey's kisses, and caramels; Skittles and Sour Patch Kids. It might not be the Hallmark Halloween moment I had in mind when I laboriously melted chocolate in a saucer on my stovetop all those years ago; but our annual "Make Yourself Sick Milkshakes" have done exactly what traditions should do...provided us with something to look forward to and something to remember.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
My husband's grandmother passed away late last week. She was 89. A retired cook for the Ingram Barge Company, G.G. lived for many years near the Mississippi River before retiring to her home state of Texas. At some point, she and her husband, Chester, bought burial plots in the little farming community of Tyronza. Chester has been buried there since 1973. Yesterday, the funeral director from Donnelly's Colonial Funeral Home in Irving, Texas, drove G.G. to Tyronza.
We met him there. Under a blue tent and a bluer sky, we said good bye to G.G.
Each of my sons took a pink rose from the spray on the casket so we could press the flowers in our family Bible. I gathered up a tuft of raw cotton that had blown over from the cotton fields across the road.
It was a solemn occasion, commemorating a woman who loved to laugh.
Afterward, we went to the only restaurant in town, Tyboogie's Café. We called ahead to make sure they could accommodate a party of 18. They said, "Come on over."
We all sat together at three long wooden tables. Mismatched vinyl tablecloths made it seem like a picnic. Tyboogie's was not just a café; it was an antique store, featuring a pair of size 72 men's blue jeans pinned to the wall...a warning of what might happen if one ate too often at Tyboogie's. We had to laugh.
My husband's cousin, Jana, bought a porcelain figurine holding a delicately-painted, tiny, porcelain umbrella. Her mother, Judy, bought a geode, its glittering crystal exposed, the whole thing mounted on a chunk of Styrofoam. My boys bought Tyboogie's t-shirts.
While we waited for our lunch, we admired a caricature of Willie Nelson, a cardboard box filled with pieces of petrified wood, a collection of German beer steins, pink and white Christmas ornaments, a display case holding bullets from the Civil War, an old player piano (all the way from Chicago, Illinois!), and a collection of antique baby dolls.
We ate fried catfish, homemade hushpuppies, country-fried chicken covered in white gravy, cheeseburgers piled high with slices of red onion.
We didn't even have room for dessert.
We needed Tyboogie's yesterday...the atmosphere, the comfort food, the laughter. We ate in the middle of an unfamiliar room, surrounded by family. We took in (and took home) reminders of past times and other lives, reminders that we are all just passing through...passing through the little town of Tyronza, passing through this big life. It comforted us to realize we were all leaving behind bits of ourselves, some as soft as tufts of cotton, others as surprising as crystals hidden in a stone; some as fragile as a porcelain umbrella, others as solid as a piece of wood turned to rock.
G.G. would have loved Tyboogie's.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
under the picnic shelter
beside the football field.
rain slices through the gray day.
Drops ping on the pavilion roof.
In the distance,
seventh graders slosh across the sidewalk...
trudging, skipping, stomping toward electives.
We unwrap foil-covered tortillas
filled with spicy chicken,
thick with cheese.
We lift our plastic water bottles...
a toast to Tuesdays
and rain-soaked leaves.
We make a second toast
to our newly retired math teacher
who looks ten years younger...
and who misses us enough
to bring us tacos
even on a rainy day.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Last season, I went to the mall to buy a new pair. Some of mine were ragged around the hem and worn thin in spots. I was pleasantly surprised to find several stores with various styles and colors on display. As I sorted through the stacks of pants, looking for my size, the teen-aged sales girl said, "Corduroys are coming back in style again."
"That's wonderful!" I exclaimed. My cheeks were doubly pink, equal parts enthusiasm and embarrassment. I never realized they went out of style.
I have loved corduroy for as long as I can remember. My great grandmother stitched a corduroy crazy quilt, pieced lovingly from fragments of overalls and jackets and winter jumpers...all worn by her 12 children and some grandkids, too, I'm sure. Though she made the blanket long before I was born, I spent many nights curled under it on Granny's couch. Its weight meant good dreams, a warm sleep on a cold night, wrapped up in memories.
When I was 12, I convinced my mother to buy me a full-length, burgundy corduroy skirt. I wore it to our family's typically informal Thanksgiving dinner. I loved it.
It was so long, it dragged the ground.
Papaw said, "Why are you all dressed up, girl? Are you going somewhere after?"
"No, Papaw," I explained. "It's brand new. It was in the window at Watson's. It's corduroy."
"I hope you're comfortable in that get-up," Papaw said doubtfully.
I was. The brand new skirt was stiff, and I had to pick off a few dried leaves that had stuck to the hem on my way in; but I still felt pretty, in an old-fashioned way.
And now Fall is here, and the night breeze whispers promises of bonfires and sweaters and pumpkins...and corduroy. How could the fabric of hard work and family and teddy bears and crazy quilts ever go out of style?
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Randy sat beside me.
He sang in falsetto, batting his eyelashes, "I love the mountains. I love the rolling hills. I love the flowers. I love the daffodils. I love the fireside...when all the lights are low."
Randy played the melody on the higher notes.
"Boom de yada, boom de yada, boom de yada, boom," I made my voice an octave lower.
We played and sang in rounds for a few more minutes.
The side of his left hand nudged the side of my right hand. He bumped his left hip into my right hip on the polished piano bench. We laughed.
It was fun...singing with Randy, goofing around at the piano (vivace-lively). Randy was my across-the-street-neighbor, sometimes babysitter. Conscientious and kind, he carried the world on his shoulders; so when I was with him, I never had to worry. I just had to play the notes; and Randy could carry the tune.
"Let's all sing some carols," she suggested. "LoLo can play for us!"
I sat at the piano, the raggedy hymnbook opened to "Joy to the World."
It had a few too many sharps. I hated sharps; but I knew nobody would mind if I stumbled over some notes. Aunt Betty led the carols. I played along, holding some notes a little too long. Aunt Betty slowed down to accommodate.
We all sang too loud (fortissimo-very loud). We were all off key. Our timing was bad; but it was Christmas, and I was the only one who knew how to read the music. I played; and we sang our way haltingly through "Silent Night," and "Hark the Herald Angels," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."
I just had to play, and everyone sang, and it was Christmas Eve; and even though I was concentrating on the notes on the page and the position of my fingers, I was smiling.
Recitals were agonizing. I practiced for hours, red blotches blooming over my chest and up my neck as I imagined the silence of the dark auditorium...the only light shining on me...the unfamiliar piano, the flimsy sheet music that could drift off the piano with the slightest puff of air...leaving me wondering what note to play next. For years, I dreaded recitals with the angst I usually reserved for trips to the dentist. Twice a year, once in fall and once in spring, my piano teacher selected a song that I would play for the recital. I labored over the notes when I would much rather have been reading a novel instead of reading sheet music. I practiced until my fingers were sore.
The recital date loomed ahead, as ominous as a dark cloud. On the day of the recital, I was frantic. My heart was a metronome on the fastest tempo setting (prestissimo-quickly). The beat was fast and loud in my ears; but the day dragged (grave-slowly). My dress was too stiff, the venue too quiet. Someone coughed when I sat down at the bench. My skirt was stiff and uncomfortable. The bottom of my patent leather dress shoe felt slick against the pedals. I went through the motions, cringing when my foot slipped awkwardly, flinching when my tangled fingers thumped out a sour note.
"You did great!" my mother exclaimed from her spot offstage, just behind the velvet curtain. Her own cheeks were flushed. "It's over now. You can relax."
But I couldn't. I couldn't relax because another recital would be in the works almost as soon as this one had ended...and then another...and another.
After eight years and 16 recitals, we sold the piano. I missed "Boom De Yada" and "Joy to the World;" but I relished the huge relief I felt when the moving men rolled the piano out the door.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
The entire long weekend had been a struggle, capped off by a laborious Labor Day. The first part of the weekend was monopolized by an out-of-town soccer tournament. On the way home from the tournament, my housekeeper called and canceled; and I found out we would be having unexpected company. The house was a disaster, we were totally out of food, and I needed to buy a semi-formal dress for an upcoming charity event. I had set aside the whole day Monday as a shopping day. The best laid plans...I fell into bed after midnight Sunday night, fretting over my lengthy to do list. Labor Day dawned.
After making a quick trip to the grocery, fixing a big breakfast for the boys after morning soccer practice, cleaning the kitchen, throwing dinner in the crockpot, taking my older son shopping for a new necktie, and walking the dog, I peeled my greasy hair back in a ponytail, instructed my husband to pick up his mom at the airport in an hour, and I raced to Macy's.
I tried on at least 40 dresses.
I was stuck.
Nothing looked right. Everything was too tight or too saggy, too revealing or too matronly. I was beginning to feel panicked.
On dress 41, I noticed that the zipper on the back was only about 12 inches long. I checked out the seams on both sides of the dress, looking for a hidden zipper. There was no hidden zipper. The dress was my size, theoretically; but it certainly looked awfully narrow. It was a black sheath dress. It was already slim; so I reasoned that it should be slimming.
I forced it over my head. I tugged it past my chest and stomach and hips, stopping every inch to tug on the silky liner of the dress. It felt bunched up somehow. I sucked in. The determination I'd felt all weekend kicked into high gear. I was going to get this dress on or die trying. I tugged and smoothed and tugged and smoothed, finally stretching up onto my tip toes and patting out the last stubborn wrinkle. I turned to face the mirror. I was sheathed, alright. I was encased. Every bite I had eaten for the past several days was clearly visible. I had to get that dress off.
I tugged it back up over my hips and then to the middle of my chest. The fabric was bunched in my fists. My arms were crossed at the elbows, with my right hand grabbing the left side of the dress and my left hand grabbing the right. I needed to pull this thing off with force. I tugged until my neck was red with nervous effort. I could not get the dress off. It was stuck in a lumpy bulge around my breasts. I tried again and again. I was breathing hard with the effort and keenly aware of the other shoppers in the stalls beside me. Would I have to call out for help?
My bra had been forced up and was trapped inside the bunched up dress. I was standing in my underwear, shockingly exposed, a too-tight dress wrapped around my upper torso like a boa constrictor.
With some effort, I got the dress tugged back down over my body. I stood with my back to the mirror, biting my lip, weighing my options. I checked the time on my phone. My husband and mother-in-law would be back at the house by now, wondering what to do with the stuff in the crockpot.
I thought about calling my husband. It was a 20 minute drive from our house to the mall.
I saved that plan as a last resort.
I thought about putting my shoes on and walking out of the dressing room with the dress on. I could go to the checkout and act as if I loved the dress so much, I wanted to wear it home. I could ask them to scan the tags while the dress was on my body. I dismissed that idea as crazy.
I thought about ripping the dress, buying it, and then taking it to a tailor to repair the damage. The dress cost $79 on sale. What if the tailor still could not make the dress fit? My self-confidence could not handle a blow like that.
I labored over my choices, systematically rolling the dress up as far as it would go, then smoothing it back down again. I tugged as hard as I could, stopping short of ripping the seams. Tears had begun to pool in the corners of my eyes. I regretted ever eating anything.
I wriggled and squirmed. I watched my progress in the mirror and then turned away dramatically. I spun in circles. I unlatched and relatched the dressing room lock. I was traumatized.
I dug my fingers up under the ill-fitting bulge of the dress and groped around, trying to find the sticking point. Finally, after about 15 minutes of struggling, I found a loose hook on my bra trapped in a thread of the dress. I felt triumphant. With my hand turned at an awkward angle, I spent five more minutes freeing the thread. By now, my upper arms were sore and weak from the effort. I was winded; and my face and neck were mottled.
With one last, great yank, I jerked the awful dress over my head. Free at last, I thought about flinging the dress onto the floor; but instead, with trembling fingers, I put it carefully back on its hanger. Then I humbly exited the dressing room, the store, and the mall. I climbed in my car, gave a shuddering breath and headed home without a dress. I'd try later in the week, when the embarrassment had faded from bright red to pale pink.
It was a Labor Day to forget...with too much labor to enjoy the day.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
To say I was a little distressed about the team-building activities would be an understatement. I am not an athletic person; nor am I an extrovert. My idea of "getting to know"other adults is sharing favorite authors or discussing timeless classics over a cup of coffee.
In a room filled with 12-year-olds, I love movement breaks and funny games. In a room filled with grown-ups, I'm the quiet one whose neck is covered with nervous blotches.
We all gathered in the gym after lunch; and I buddied up with one of my fellow language arts teachers. Like a good sport, I faced the first few activities with a nervous grin pasted on my face. It wasn't as bad as I had feared. For the first few games, we were able to choose our own partners. I felt safe in my comfort zone. Just as I was beginning to loosen up, we were instructed to find a new partner...someone we did not work with on a regular basis.
I moved frantically around the gym floor, scrambling to find a somewhat familiar face so I didn't end up the odd one out. Fortunately, Lora W., a sixth grade science teacher was jostled to the outside of the milling crowd about the same time I was. She and I high-fived (per direction from the leader) and waited silently, and awkwardly, for further instruction.
The leader pointed out two sets of cones set about four yards apart. He then began tossing all manner of objects on the floor between the cones...dog toys, foam pool noodles, various sized rubber balls, and a few items I couldn't even recognize. Next, he handed each team of two a blindfold and told us to decide who would walk through the minefield he'd just created and who would provide directions.
I ended up with the blindfold. I would be walking through the minefield. I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time.
I wondered if I should let Lora know that I would not be easy to direct. I wondered if I should tell her how clumsy I am. I wondered if we would be the last team to make it through all the obstacles.
Lora suggested that we walk around the perimeter of the minefield and get a good look at all the obstacles. Then it was time to line up at the starting cones.
I secured my blindfold, resisting the urge to leave a little space to peek out the bottom.
Lora began to guide me. She sounded calm and confident.
"Take three steps forward," she said. I took tiny, shuffling baby steps.
"Take three more," Lora encouraged.
"Wait a minute," Lora warned. "Someone just moved an obstacle."
"Okay, move forward two steps. Now lift your right leg about knee-high and take a big step forward."
Worried that I might fall flat on my face, I swallowed my fear and stepped tall.
"Excellent!" Lora exclaimed. "You are so agile!"
Agile? I felt my cheeks turning pink beneath the bottom edge of the blindfold. Me? Agile?
"Turn 90 degrees to your right," Lora prompted. Her voice was loud and clear from the outside of the minefield. She wasn't allowed to enter the area between the cones.
I shuffled around.
"Perfect!" Lora hollered. I tuned out the other guides who were also instructing their blindfolded partners.
"Take four small steps forward. Now, you'll need to take another big step...just like last time. You can do it!"
I stepped with confidence. I was agile!
"Awesome!" Lora cheered. "We're almost through the minefield!"
I continued to follow her directions, making it to the end cones without one single misstep. I felt like an American Ninja Warrior.
I removed the blindfold, and Lora and I high-fived again.
"You did great!" she said.
"So did you," I told her. "I can't remember the last time I felt so encouraged."
It was nice to be told I was doing a good job, to receive an unexpected compliment, to make it through a series of obstacles unscathed, to have my own personal coach and cheerleader all rolled up in one.
I though to myself, "I need to REMEMBER (my one little word this year) this experience."
Sometimes I get to enjoy my comfort zone. Sometimes I need to get jostled outside my circle. Sometimes I need to coach and cheer; but sometimes I need to step into the minefield myself...so I don't forget what it feels like to try to be agile and social and confident even when I feel clumsy and quiet and insecure.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
"The water's on the rise when the debris floats down the middle," Great Granny said. She called it 'deb-riss,' pronouncing the "s."
We were quiet as we watched the garish parade of flotsam rolling dead center down the North Fork.
The river never flooded Galley Street, though it climbed the banks and menaced us, jerking saplings off the side of the hill below Great Granny's house, leaving Papaw's garden covered in a layer of sludge.
"I learned how to swim in the river," Great Granny told me. "My brother threw me in and said, 'Swim or drown.' Right away, I began to drown."
"What happened, Granny?" I asked.
"Same brother who threw me in reached out a fist and grabbed my braid." She stopped and tugged my braided pigtails.
"He dragged me by the hair back to the river bank. He nearly killed me, but he saved my life. I'd be dead if not for this head of hair." She patted the thick coil of snow white hair pinned in a low bun at the nape of her neck.
I imagined the river, pulling at Great Granny's legs while her brother pulled her ponytail...a game of tug o' war, with Great Granny as the prize.
The river was our moody neighbor, lazy and handsome one day, ugly and fierce the next. He was not to be trusted, wielding the power to baptize or drown.
We watched him that day, spitting white caps. We were half disgusted and half awestruck. He churned the debris madly, yet methodically, revealing an empty milk jug, a kitchen chair with two legs missing. He waved what looked like a plastic red-checked tablecloth. He was a bullfighter, tempting us to charge.
We watched silently as our neighbor the river rolled past, showing off the trash that had become his treasure.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Sometimes, the river or the road brought unexpected travelers to Galley Street. Missy was my favorite. She arrived one summer morning. Papaw and I had just finished eating scrambled eggs, and Granny was stacking our plates in a sink of soapy water.
I ran outside to check the weather. Missy was standing just outside the front door, as if she were waiting for someone to let her in.
I swallowed a squeal. Granny did not like dogs; and Missy was the most pitiful dog I'd ever seen. Her hair was mangy at best; and Granny later said we could have grown taters in her huge pointy ears. They were just that dirty.
As weak and small as she was, she managed to wag her tail. My heart broke in a million pieces.
Granny came to check on me.
I'm not sure whose eyes looked sadder, mine or Missy's.
"Who's this?" Granny asked.
"She was just standing here when I opened the door. We have to do something Granny. She needs help."
Granny looked skeptical. "She looks beyond help," she said, "but if you plan to help her, you'd better put on some gloves."
Granny went back into the kitchen and came out with some yellow rubber gloves. Missy and Granny watched as I slipped them on. They covered me from fingertips to elbows.
Missy didn't seem to mind. While I knelt beside her and petted her, Granny went in the house and brought out a biscuit left over from breakfast. Missy gobbled up the crumbs as fast as Granny could crumble.
Granny's resolve not to have a dog crumbled along with the biscuit. She decided that if the vet could help her, Missy could stay...for a while at least. On the car ride to the vet, Missy sat on a towel folded in my lap.
We came home that day with some worming medicine and a tube of cream to rub on Missy's bald patches. The vet said he thought Missy was a Welsh Corgi.
"The queen has those kinds of dogs, Granny!" I exclaimed. "She's a dog fit for a queen."
Granny liked that. Papaw named her Missy.
It took a while, but Missy grew into her ears. Her fur filled in; and her sad, soulful eyes brightened. Missy never strayed far from the yard. She played with me and the cousins, walked with Granny to and from the mailbox everyday, and guarded the kingdom of Galley Street for close to 15 years.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
at the slightest
change in tone
a whispered secret
or the tiniest of truths
a turn of phrase
turned inside out
the conversation of strangers
snatched in passing
to the static
to center stage
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
"Are you getting pictures of this?" they would ask. "Those boys are just adorable. Make sure you get pictures of them making that snowman..." or "playing in the sprinkler," or "riding their tricycles in the driveway..." I never needed to worry about the boys. Several gentle, keen, old eyes were always watching. Their own children and grandchildren lived far away or were simply too old to need oversight. My boys were freckle-faced reminders. They were funnier than afternoon TV, and they were more entertaining than a good book.
When the boys were 10 and 12, we moved to a larger town, into a neighborhood thick with adolescents. It seemed nearly everyone on the street had boys exactly my boys' ages. We needed more eyes to watch them all. Boys were everywhere, running through the unfenced backyards (armed with Nerf guns), wading in the creek (wearing my rain boots), riding their bikes to nowhere and everywhere (helmets dangling from their handlebars instead of on their heads). The boys made it through those years, thanks to an unnamed collective of watchful moms, dads, and neighbors, all eyes on duty.
Today, it is storming outside; and my boys, 14 and 16, have friends over. A dozen teenaged boys are slouched on the old sofas in the downstairs den, taking turns with the Xbox controls. A few are playing cards. Someone's playlist, accompanied by rumbling thunder and drumming raindrops, is the soundtrack of the day. So far, they have eaten their way through several bowls of homemade salsa, two bags of tortilla chips, several dozen Chips Ahoy cookies, a teetering mountain of barbecue sandwiches, and a crockpot full of chili con queso. My trips to the basement, bearing snacks, give me ample opportunity to make sure all is well. I take in the scene as subtly as I can, keeping an eye out for trouble, or danger, or spilled drinks on the carpet.
I think of all the watchful eyes that have looked out for my sons over the years, and I am grateful. I imagine all those eyes, peering from beneath gardening hats, looking through bay windows, watching from back porches and patios, covertly taking it all in as they gather up empty bags of chips and restock the mini fridge with cans of soda. I imagine how the eyes of so many mothers and fathers and teachers and neighbors have tracked my sons' growth and progress, cheered for their accomplishments, monitored their safety, reported their transgressions, overlooked their shortcomings, and silently applauded their good manners.
I remember our neighbors, years ago, watching my boys be boys. "Are you getting pictures of this? Those boys are just adorable." I realize now that their childhoods have played out on a stage much larger than I'd ever imagined, their fan base spanning two neighborhoods, two towns, three schools, and three churches. Their activities, antics, and accidents becoming anecdotes for all the eyes that have watched over them over the years.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
on the news at noon,
says, "It's a day
I watch from the porch.
The sky is bone white
and eerily still,
a clean sheet,
Ducks on the creek bank
tuck their beaks
under their wings.
A crow flies over,
silent for a change.
In the distance,
a lawnmower hums, then stops.
Someone thought better of it.
Leaves on the trees wave,
barely revealing their silver undersides.
The hot air closes like a fist,
as summer teeters
from June to July.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
"Why didn't I think of that?" I ask myself when I see people cleverly covering mason jars with inverted cupcake wrappers. They claim it keeps bugs out of the sweet tea, and it looks adorable! I have only ever used those little cupcake papers for cupcakes. For Heaven's sakes, who comes up with these fantastic ideas? How do they do it?
For as long as I can remember, I have longed to create something unique that others will want to purchase from me. Growing up on Pear Street, I spent my summers manning lemonade stands; but those long afternoons of squeezing lemons and sloshing the sweet and tangy beverage into Dixie cups did not satisfy my entrepreneurial spirit.
After trying a soft pretzel, drizzled with spicy mustard, at an amusement park, I went straight home and grabbed a bag of crispy Rold Gold pretzel twists out of the cupboard and a plastic squirt bottle of French's mustard out of the fridge. I dragged out the card table and the rusted lawn chair and set up my pretzel and mustard stand. I tried to sell each tiny twist, covered neatly in mustard, for a nickel a pretzel; but no one seemed interested. I ended up sharing the mustard-covered pretzels with my best friend who had agreed to keep me company at the pretzel stand instead of riding bikes. She was a good friend.
Burned by the food business, I ventured into art. My teachers always complimented my drawing, and I took special care to make sure all my projects were neat and creative. Perhaps I could make my fortune drawing those funny caricatures that I had seen artists creating on the spot at little booths in Gatlinburg.
I set up my card table and lawn chair and brought out a tablet of white drawing paper, a nice ink pen, and a Christmas cookie tin filled with crayons and colored pencils.
My first customer was a girl who lived down the street. She agreed to pay a quarter for a caricature of her older brother. I knew her brother well; but I suggested that she go and get him to sit for the portrait anyway. I was nervous and suddenly couldn't remember exactly what he looked like. She said he didn't want to sit still that long; so she brought me his most recent school picture instead. I worked hard on the drawing, biting my lower lip in concentration. The neighbor girl looked over my shoulder the whole time. When I handed the completed caricature to her, she shook her head and held onto her quarter.
"My brother's head is not that big," she complained. I guess she'd never been to Gatlinburg.
"It's supposed to look like that," I told her.
"You made him look like he's got a giant's head and a little body. He's not going to like it."
"Sorry," I said.
I felt defeated; but I did not let my failed caricature stand keep me down for long.
Over the years, I kept trying. In high school, I sketched out hand-lettered birthday banners. I ended up making them for free, though. I felt bad charging anyone who was nice enough to surprise a friend for his or her birthday.
In graduate school, I spent a summer sewing adult rompers from an old pattern I'd found. Even though the adult romper was not really in style, I modeled my creations that summer and actually sold one for $15 to my mother's friend.
One autumn, when my husband and I had been married for only a couple years, I actually convinced him to join me in my craftiness. The two of us repurposed logs as Stumpkins! My husband used the power saw to slice one end of the logs at an angle. We stood the logs on their flat ends, and I painted friendly scarecrow faces on their angled tops. We wrapped flannel scarves under their painted faces and topped the Stumpkins with straw hats. We set the Stumpkins next to our porch stoop and added hand-lettered welcome signs that we painted on wooden slats and wrapped around the Stumpkins with a length of wire. We sold several, stashing away our proceeds to use as extra Christmas money. It was a lot of work, and we eventually ran out of logs.The Stumpkin business was short-lived; but I still remember it as the most successful of my mostly unsuccessful crafting projects.
Oh, Etsy! Where were you when I was a kid trying to make my mark as a caricature artist? Where were you when I tried to single-handedly popularize the hand-sewn, adult jumpsuit? Where were you when I was cranking out those crazy Stumpkins? I was a fan of crafting before crafting had a fan base. When I retire, perhaps I will go back to the drawing board. Maybe then one of my crafty ideas will find its way to Etsy; but until then, I will continue to be amazed by all those crafty geniuses.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
On a February night in 1978, I stood at attention on the far sideline of the elementary school gymnasium. I was waiting for the captain to call out a cheer. I could clearly see the action unfolding in front of me...the referee's striped shirt, the boys' gray jerseys with navy numbers, their high-topped Converse.
I glanced across the gym, toward the bleachers, and I realized that I could not find my parents. I knew they were there, watching the game, waiting for our half-time pom-pom routine; but I couldn't see them. I squinted. I couldn't see anyone. All the faces in the stands were like flesh-colored smudges...like eyeless, feature-less, skin-toned ovals floating above our school colors. I suddenly felt scared. Did the fans look the same to the other cheerleaders? I missed the captain's "Ready? Okay!" and hurried to catch up to the other girls.
After the game, my heart thudding in my ears, I told my mother. The next day, we went to see Dr. Wooten, the ancient, kind optometrist who shuffled around his office in his house slippers. His receptionist, Mallie, went to our church. She was probably only in her 30s; but with her tight perm, huge glasses' frames, and silk blouse with a bow at the collar, she looked permanently middle-aged. She giggled nervously at the end of every sentence; and she had to look over the tops of her own large glasses in order to slip the different frames on my face.
I wanted to cry. None of the glasses looked good. None of them would match my cheer uniform. I would never be able to master the back-handspring now. My glasses would go flying right off my face. None of the other girls had glasses.
My mother explained to me that I should wear the glasses most of the time. She said I could probably take them off when I was reading, since I was nearsighted. She explained that nearsighted meant I could clearly see things close up; but I had difficulty seeing things that were far away...like the faces in the stands. Who needed to see those faces, I wondered. I was happy to see only those things closest to me. I hated glasses.
At school, I put them on only to look at the chalkboard. Otherwise, I kept them stuffed in the little quilted glasses' case that I hid just inside the open cubby in my desk. At night, I prayed I would not go blind from failing to wear my glasses as often as I should.
I squinted my way through the next five years, until I was thirteen; and my mother and Dr. Wooten decided I was old enough to wear contact lenses. The world finally came into focus.
"I'll never forget when I got my first pair of glasses," he said. He said that he, too, had been eight-years-old when he realized his vision was not 20/20.
"Until that day," he said, remembering, "I never realized that trees had individual leaves. I mean, I knew the trees in my yard had leaves; but the trees we passed on the side of the road always looked like big green blobs to me. I never knew that each tree had hundreds, or even thousands, of leaves. It was amazing to me. I was sitting in the backseat, looking out the window, just fascinated by all those leaves. I kept sliding the glasses down my nose. There were the old, familiar, green, tree blobs. Then I would push the glasses back in place; and there were those beautiful leaves. I never wanted to take the glasses off. I never wanted to miss seeing those leaves again."
His story made me smile. I imagined how happy he had been to see each of those lovely, shimmering leaves. I still remember his story, and how I was embarrassed to admit how vain I'd been...how devastated I was by my own glasses. I wished we had been friends when we were eight-years-old...two little friends who were finally seeing the world for the first time. I could have used a friend like him, a friend who could see things clearly, someone who marveled at the uniqueness of every single leaf.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
It's a messy business,
like a disorganized
A hodgepodge of loose buttons,
A thimble from Gatlinburg,
A needle packet,
One lonely needle still stuck in place
His more adventurous brethren
scattered across the bottom of the basket,
fraternizing with straight pins.
A scrap of Velcro, hook-side only
matted with loose threads...
If only I could straighten it all,
make sense of it,
for Heaven's sake!
Instead, I sort through it,
frantically looking for
something that makes sense:
a new spool,
a carefully-rolled measuring tape,
a sharp pair of scissors...
hoping beyond hope
that a pattern will emerge.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
We have only 12 days remaining in the school year, state assessment testing begins tomorrow, spring sports are in full bloom (practices, games, tournaments), academic clubs are wrapping up with end-of-the-year parties, and my 16-year-old is knee deep in scrap lumber, power tools, spray paint, and bird seed.
With 12 school days remaining, his environmental science teacher assigned a project that requires my son and his teacher-assigned partner (who does not live in our neighborhood and whom I have yet to meet) to gather materials and work for several hours after school. The project also requires parent oversight and the use of an electric jigsaw.
When I arrived home from the Student Council pizza party and end-of-the-year PTSA meeting yesterday at 8:30 PM, I was stunned to find my husband and son working in the backyard in the glow of the porch light. A long extension cord connected the table saw to the outlet, sawdust was flying, and my husband was measuring plywood while my son consulted the detailed blueprint that he and his (apparently) invisible partner created during class that day.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"We're building a bird fraternity house," my husband explained.
"It's an assignment and a contest," my son said enthusiastically. "The winners get to choose a surprise for the whole class, and the teacher is going to buy it. We're trying to decide between pizza and donuts."
"I have an idea," I suggested. "Let's just go ahead and buy pizza and donuts for the whole class and scale this project down a little."
"No way!" my son said. "We've researched colors that attract birds, and we're making a two-story bird fraternity house. Do you know the Greek letters for BRD?"
"Beta, Rho, Delta?"
"I'll double check," he said.
"Maybe your partner could double check," I suggested.
"He's doing other work," my son assured me. I could not imagine what other work the partner could possibly be doing. Were the partner's parents involved in any way? Were they at home assembling tiny bird-sized furniture? I doubted it.
My son handed me the blueprint...a two story bird mansion, with tiny American flags depicted in the drawing, a roof-top garden for the birds' enjoyment, and a replaceable birdseed ring hanging from a dowel rod.
"Impressive," I said...and hours away from completion, I thought.
"It's gonna win...hands down," my son exclaimed. "Some other team brought in a plastic bottle with a string wrapped around it, and birdseed stuck all over it. Can you believe that?"
I couldn't help wondering if those kids had parents who, like me, were also teachers...teachers who did not assign a large-scale group project when summer break was practically around the corner...teachers who had to drive two different carpools three nights a week and finalize grades and organize academic awards and invite parents to end-of-year conferences and take inventory of classroom materials. Was it wrong of me to wish, for just a fraction of a second, that my self-motivated, over-achieving son would settle for turning in a plastic bottle covered with birdseed?
With a little sigh, I banished the thought.
We would help my son complete the ultimate end-of-the-year bird mansion/fraternity house. We'd accomplished similar feats before...the end-of-the-year eighth grade music video (which required green screen technology), the end-of-the-year food truck marketing project (which included 200 homemade meatballs), and the end-of-the-year social studies soundtrack (which featured songs about desertification).
"The winning birdhouse is going to go out back, behind the high school," my son said, still trying to convince me of the validity of the project.
"Well, in that case," I said, "keep up the good work!" Party on, birds, party on.
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
No doubt he was complaining about the cloudy water and the slick blobs of green algae splattered around the sides of the under-filled pool. He must not realize that the pool won't be ready for swimmers for three more weeks. We have a great deal of work to do.
Our pool has been in our neighborhood for many years; and while we don't have a swim-up tiki bar, a tube-shaped slide, or a lazy river, we have hours of memorable moments grilling hot dogs under the circus-striped awning and watching everyone's kids learn how to dog paddle.
My husband is assistant maintenance director for the volunteer coordinator of our neighborhood pool. It's a fancy way of saying he spends a great deal of time weed-eating outside the fence around the baby pool and replacing loose boards on the old, weathered, sunbathing deck. He carries a key to the gate and makes sure the brimming trash cans are pulled to the curb on pick-up days. As he chats with friends on the upper deck, he takes pride in the pool's tidy appearance...the little pots of flowers, the pressure-washed chairs, the carefully patched concrete.
My younger son tries to be the first one in the pool on Memorial Day and the last one out of the pool on Labor Day. He definitely logs the most hours there, his skin (in spite of layers of sunscreen) gradually deepens to a toasty brown. He has a group of friends, three boys and a couple of girls, who have made the pool their hangout for the past four summers. They run barefoot on the blistering surface of the adjoining tennis court and play wall ball, following a complicated set of ever-changing rules. They spread their towels on the deck and gather their allowance in order to have Jet's Pizza delivered poolside. Summer stretches ahead of them like a slow motion highlight reel.
Despite his busy schedule, my older son still finds time for the pool. He naps under the shade of a beach umbrella after varsity soccer two-a-days. Sometimes he sits on the edge of the pool with his long legs dangling in the water. He throws a spongy ball again and again to the little kids as they jump off the diving board. He throws the ball right into their hands so they can catch it triumphantly before making a splash.
As for me, I mark the summer hours by page numbers, reading novel after novel through my cheap sunglasses. I arrive early so I can claim my favorite chair. In one hand, I carry a vinyl book bag filled with library books and magazines; and in the other hand, I carry a Tervis tumbler filled with crushed ice and Diet Snapple. For eight weeks, I leave the worrying to the teenaged lifeguards; and I lie on the reclining deck chair with my eyes closed, tapping my flip flops to the background music of the ice cream truck.
"I can't wait for our pool to open," I thought this morning as I stood on the sidewalk, watching the gander shake his long neck in disdain. As the dog and I watched, the grouchy bird lifted off, still squawking his disapproval. I guess our little pool is not good enough for the gander, but it's good enough for us; and in my memories, it's better than good enough. It's perfect.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
of my parents' friends;
so we were thrown together
and summer vacations at the lake.
Her dad's RV
had an aluminum door
that shocked my fingers
and made my elbow tingle.
I always had to knock.
She didn't like me.
I'm not sure why;
but I'd do in a pinch.
When no one else was around,
we linked arms and jumped off the pontoon.
She didn't like to read or draw;
and she wore halter tops
and white shorts.
We were both ten.
I looked it; she didn't.
We played cards and water-skied.
Our favorite song
was Sunshine on My Shoulders.
We played it over and over,
singing along to the scratchy 45.
Back at school,
she held her hand to her mouth
and whispered something.
The other girls laughed
and looked my way.
Her eyes darted in my direction
and lingered there,
just long enough
to let me know
the joke was on me.
But I knew a secret.
Somewhere behind her blue eyelids
and mean girl glances
lived a girl who knew all the lyrics
to John Denver's songs...
a girl who cried sometimes
when she sang the verse about wishes.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
It's a wonderful schedule, really; but to keep us humble, we must cover car circle duty. We have more than 1,300 children in our school; and while many of our students are bus riders, and others carpool, and some have siblings in the building, it often seems that we have at least 1,300 cars inching their way around the pick-up circle.
On rainy days, we stand there, water puddling around our sensible shoes, rain dripping from the ribs of our umbrellas, our hair frizzing, our patience thinning.
"Hurry to your cars," we chant. "Look for your car, and be ready to get in."
We are thinking, "Please go home children. Please let us get out of the rain."
On cold days, we shiver in our hats and gloves and the mismatched layers we threw on before the final bell.
"Where's your ride? Do you need to call home?" we ask, through chattering teeth.
"Zip your jacket. Stand close together. Did you say you needed to call home?"
This year, even on snowy, rainy, and windy days, I have, surprisingly, looked forward to car circle. Somehow, in the drizzly, windy, flurrying course of the year, I have met two kindred spirits, one sixth grader (Sami) and one eighth grader (Zoe), who seek me out faithfully. While we weather the elements, waiting for their rides, we talk about books and friends; and we practice Pig Latin.
We have debated the benefits of hooded jackets over toboggans, philosophized over the beauty of dandelions, and taken a personality quiz. Sami read the questions, and Zoe and I supplied the answers.
For art class, Sami needed a piece of obsidian for the heart of her clay dragon; I managed to find a smooth black rock that suited her purposes to a tee. Zoe sometimes brings out Laffy Taffy for us to share. If one of us is absent, we know we are missed.
During school, Sami and Zoe have no classes together...and neither of them is in my class; but, for 20 minutes each afternoon, the car circle is a gathering spot for three kindred spirits.
The next time my turn for car circle duty rolls around, Sami and Zoe will both be in high school. Maybe the car circle will work its magic again, and I will meet two more students who share my love of stories and who don't mind speaking in a funny British accent some days just for the heck of it. Maybe not...but for the next 28 days, I will look forward to car circle duty, regardless of the weather.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
He was a bump on a log, shaved off at the sawmill on the camp grounds when they were preparing wood to repair one of the boys' cabins. Now, he is a bump on a desk, keeping guard over extra pencils and bathroom passes. He is one of a kind, the only bump on a log allowed in my classroom.
Occasionally, students will pat him absently as they grab a tissue or borrow a clipboard. Some students have suggested names for him...Stumpy, Bob, Oscar. Otherwise, he doesn't get too much attention. He's happy, I guess, to go unnoticed...not really contributing to the class's progress, but always there...on the outskirts, taking it all in.
I can't help but wonder if he has spring fever. The students are infected with it; they are wiggly and restless and practically smell of sunshine.
Last week, I gave them a homework assignment: Bring a beach towel.
"We are going to think outside; no box required!" I told them. I saw the slogan on a t-shirt.
We carried our towels and books and journals outside and spread the towels out on the damp lacrosse field. Students sat in clusters or stretched out on their backs, holding their books up high to block the weak rays of the spring sun. Although the grass seemed dry, the ground was saturated, and the towels got damp. We were too enthusiastic to care. At the end of the day, I draped all the beach towels over the backs of the classroom chairs. Our bump on a log watched. The room smelled like earth and dew and April. I thought he seemed depressed.
If it stops raining, we will go out again this week. If it doesn't stop raining, maybe their homework assignment will be: Bring rubber boots and an umbrella. This time, we will take our bump on a log with us. We will all think outside, no box required, only one bump on a log allowed.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
My husband, an elementary principal, is poring over Spencer Kagan's Win-Win Discipline in preparation for an upcoming interview for an administrative position in the district where we live (no more commuting = no more big chunk of the budget going toward gas!). The book is paperback, but it is as large as a textbook and dense reading despite the cartoonish illustrations. My husband is taking notes in his tidy block printing.
My 13-year-old fell asleep last night reading Lacrosse, North America's Game. It's a huge, hardback, coffee-table style photo-illustrated book about the history of the sport he plays. He lugged it into my classroom yesterday after school.
"Did you check that out from the library?" I asked.
"No. Mr. O. gave it to me." Mr. O. is his social studies teacher.
"He saw it at a yard sale for 50 cents."
This morning, before we left for school, Will flipped through the glossy pages to show me his favorite part so far.
It's an excerpt from a Native American origin story about the game.
My son pointed it out enthusiastically.
"This part is really good," he said.
"Stunned and rejected but not giving up on the game, the rodent took to the trees, climbing until he stood on the highest limbs with the eagles and hawks. The birds did not want to shun the little creature, but how could he join the team without any wings? Thinking quickly, the birds cut pieces from the skin on their ceremonial drum and fashioned wings for the rodent....That, is how the bat came to be."
I can tell that my son, small for his age but quick on his feet, thinks Mr. O's 50 cents was well spent.
My 16-year-old is reading Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. After noticing someone reading it on the airplane on his recent trip to New York, Jack was convinced that he, too, wanted to win friends ("Not just make them," he said, "WIN them...") and exert some influence.
"It's been in print for more than 75 years!" he exclaimed. He walked through the house, carrying the small paperback in his hands.
"It says right here that you shouldn't criticize people." Was he directing that toward me? Had I said something critical? I looked around. I guessed he was just speaking in general.
"If you want honey, you don't kick the beehive. That's what Dale Carnegie says." Jack looked at me, his eyebrows raised.
"I'll take that to heart," I told him. He wandered off, his eyes fixed on timeless words of wisdom...penned in 1931.
I am reading Denise Jaden's Fast Fiction, advice for anyone trying to write the first draft of a novel in 30 days' time. Through the Slice of Life Story Challenge last month, I learned about Camp NaNoWriMo and decided it was time for me to get serious about the novel I'd been "working" on for years. Last week, I filled out my NaNoWriMo information page...book title, synopsis. I began writing. I was struggling.
On Sunday, two days ago, I woke up with a whole new idea...an idea I can't stop thinking about. I dreamed about it last night and woke up with a new conflict for my main character. The story is unfolding so fast, and the character is living and breathing on the page and in my dreams. I am more excited about my writing than I've ever been. I AM WRITING A NOVEL...and reading nonfiction that's cheering me on. All the while, I am thinking about a little bat with drum-skin wings and wondering if there is a type of discipline where we all win; and in the midst of it all, I am trying so hard not to kick the beehive.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
and I collected them like shells, or stones, or feathers.
I kept them safe
until I was ready to share them
with the world.
Thanks to all of you who have visited Galley Street this month! If not for the Slice of Life Writing Challenge, I may not have taken the time to remember what a magical place Galley Street was for me as a child and is for me, now, as a writer. If not for Two Writing Teachers, I know I would not have had the opportunity to visit all the wonderful places in this neighborhood of readers and writers. I have learned so much, and I have had so much fun! Stop by Galley Street any time. You're always welcome.
Monday, March 30, 2015
My younger son and I took my older son to the airport today. Their grandmother, a retired flight attendant, is treating him to a belated birthday trip...four days in New York City. Jack has never flown alone before, and I was a little worried. Without boarding passes, we couldn't walk with him to the gate; so we had to say our good-byes at security.
Will and I waited and watched as Jack put his suitcase and backpack on the conveyor belt, walked through the scanner, and gathered his stuff up again.
"Did you see him put his wallet back in his pocket?" I asked.
Will said he did.
Jack turned and waved to us once more before climbing on the escalator. We watched until the escalator lifted him slowly out of our line of sight.
Jack likes to be on the go.
Jack will be fine. He was excited.
Will and I will be fine; but we were sad.
We turned around and headed for the exit. My shoulders slumped a little. This will be the first spring break ever that we all haven't been together...whether at home or on vacation. While that fact alone makes me sad, it makes me sadder to think that in only two years we'll be sending Jack off to college.
Will put his arm around my shoulders.
I put my sunglasses on.
"Are you crying a little?" he asked. I wasn't, but I was thinking about it.
Will, who normally hates to shop, suggested that the two of us go to the mall. He said he needed new shoes. It was a good distraction.
We spent the afternoon trying on tennis shoes, eating soft pretzels, and browsing through the lacrosse section at the sporting goods store.
I bought a few things on sale; but Will couldn't find the shoes he wanted.
We made our way to the car.
"I'm leaving here feeling a little incomplete," he said. I wasn't sure if he was just talking about the shoes.
"We'll order a pair for you," I told him.
"I'd also kind of like a fondue fountain," he said. I wasn't sure if he really had a sudden urge for free-flowing chocolate, or if he was just trying to think of something to keep my spirits up.
Either way, he made me smile.
Sunday, March 29, 2015
I decided on a big state university in a medium-sized city and, though I moved to another state for a year after graduation, I eventually settled in the same city where I'd earned my bachelor's and graduate degrees. I love the city where we live. It's big enough to get lost in; but small enough to have favorite places and shortcuts and run into people you know...on occasion.
Every once in a while, though, I get an urge to be a "regular" someplace...to go somewhere where they know me and how I like my coffee and exactly what I like on my sandwich, without me having to remind them. I want to be like Norm or Cliff from Cheers and trade fun-spirited, spunky remarks with a kind-hearted Coach and a snarky, but loveable, Carla. I guess this desire harkens back to the days when I sat at the big bench seat in Don's Restaurant and always had a grilled cheese sandwich with pickles on the side. Maybe it's a lingering memory of the dozens of times I walked up to the snack bar at Rexall's, and the lady behind the counter always knew I'd take either an Orangeade or a Lemon Sour.
Sometimes I just want to be recognized and understood and predictable and appreciated and known.
A couple years ago, my husband and sons and I discovered a barbecue place that we all loved. I announced that I'd like to become a regular there. Actually, I think I said that I was going to become a regular there. I decided, in order to do this, I would order the same thing, fixed the same way, every time I visited. I always ordered the baked potato topped with pulled pork...every time.
Every time, I was disappointed when I went to pick up the to-go order and someone different was at the counter. This was never going to work if I had to introduce myself to someone new every visit. Why did they have so many employees? Still, I kept at it. I placed my order and explained that I wanted the sour cream on the side...again.
They always asked how to pronounce my last name. I never became a regular.
After several visits, I gave up. My older son was with me when we went to pick up our call-in order for the last time.
I felt ridiculously sad.
"I just really wanted them to know me...you know...like a regular...like, even if they didn't know my actual name, they could at least call me by the name of my usual order when I walked in the door..."
My son glanced behind us at the overhead menu board and then at the bag of Styrofoam carry-out containers in my arms. He knew my usual...the loaded potato with the pulled pork on top. I got it every time.
"You know, Mom," he said, with wisdom beyond his years. "I don't think you would have liked it if you walked in the door and they called you 'Phat Spud.' That is the name of what you get, you know."
I'd never thought about that.
We had a good laugh. Maybe I was recognized and understood and predictable and appreciated and known after all. I definitely did not want to be called Phat Spud, even if it meant I was a regular.
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Barbie, Ken, Skipper, Midge, PJ (an updated version of Midge), and Scott (Skipper's friend) suited my purposes to a tee. I played with them every day...always immersing them in one drama or another. My parents and grandparents fed my addiction, branching out from Barbie and friends to buy other Barbie-sized dolls for me...Dolly Parton, The Captain and Tenille, Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie Osmond. My characters had grown into an ensemble cast.
I could entertain myself for hours.
My sister, who was four years younger, was not aware of the intricate plot twists I had prepared for each Barbie session. She was more interested in dressing the dolls up and "coming to visit." While my Barbies were embroiled in the heat of an argument or the throes of despair, my sister would walk her doll over to my area of the playroom and make her give an awkward stiff-armed knock on the invisible door that separated my area from hers.
Irritated by this interruption, my Barbie whipped the invisible door open and stood there expectantly.
"Yes?!?" I made my doll say.
"Can I borrow some bread?" my sister's doll asked. Seriously. That was her only line.
While I am not ashamed of playing with Barbies, I am ashamed to say that my doll usually shouted, "I'm out of bread!" or "Buy your own bread!" or something equally harsh, turned on her little plastic heels, and slammed the invisible door on my sister's doll, barely missing her tiny chewed-up plastic fingers.
My sister would retreat to the other side of the playroom and watch as I acted out the scene where my one-armed Skipper brought everyone to tears with her brave gymnastics routine.
Then, one day, tragedy struck. I was playing outside in the fenced-in front yard. It was a sunny day, and my Barbies were spread out on the lawn, the front porch stoop, and the concrete walkway. I had multiple story lines playing out in my head, maneuvering from one scene to the next when I realized I needed to take a quick break to go inside and use the bathroom. I was only gone for a few minutes, thinking the whole time about the next chapter in one of the many ongoing sagas my dolls were acting out for me. I hurried back out to play some more only to find that my favorite doll, Dorothy, was missing. I knew exactly where I'd left her, and she wasn't there. I was stumped. I walked, then crawled, from one pile of dolls to the next, raking my hands through the short grass. Where was she? I found her tiny yellow woven basket with the little gray Toto still inside; but Dorothy was gone. I retraced my steps, looking carefully in the bathroom just in case I had carried her in with me...no sign of her. She was missing. No one in my family seemed to know anything about her disappearance. I gathered up my other dolls and put them away for the day. Dorothy was gone. The next few afternoons, my Barbie stories were devoted to mourning her loss. Barbie and friends moved on; but I always wondered what in the world had happened to Dorothy.
A few years ago, my sister and I were talking about toys we'd had as kids and how we wished we'd kept them in mint condition and wouldn't we make a fortune on eBay, and then I wistfully mentioned the day that Dorothy went missing. My sister was uncharacteristically quiet.
I stared at her.
"Do you know what happened to Dorothy?" I asked.
She looked a little sheepish.
"I thought you knew," she said.
"Knew what?" I asked.
"I thought you knew that I took Dorothy that day and hid her in the basement in a hole in that cinderblock wall."
I couldn't believe it. After all those years, I had discovered Dorothy's fate; and it was just as horrific as I'd imagined.
"Well you should go right back there and get her...at least see if she's still there!" I said.
"We haven't lived in that house in 29 years!" my sister exclaimed. "Those people will think I'm crazy if I ask to go into their basement and look for a doll I hid there three decades ago."
"I can't believe you did that," I said, my voice brimming with indignation. Then I remembered all the times I'd ignored her while my Barbies and I acted out one adventure after another. I knew, in my heart, that Dorothy's abduction had been partly my fault. My little sister had just wanted to play. I should have given her all that imaginary bread she'd asked to borrow and maybe Dorothy would have been spared. At least I finally knew what had happened to my favorite doll.
That Christmas, following my sister's confession, she seemed especially excited for me to open my gift from her. I unwrapped the box to find Dorothy, circa 1974, mint condition, the little woven basket with Toto included. Granted, it wasn't my Dorothy; but it was the thought that counted. Come to think of it, I should have given my sister a loaf of bread.
Friday, March 27, 2015
3 weeks of planning
1 purchase order
98 permission slips
3 multiple receipt forms
2 bus orders
1 money bag
1, 568 dollars
5 dollars in change
1 box of band-aids
1 parent volunteer
2 bus drivers
30 minutes on the road
45 degree weather
8 challenge guides
2 get-to-know-you games
1 scraped shin
98 sack lunches
100 Hershey bars
600 graham crackers
25 roasting sticks
980 sticky fingers
98 sticky faces
1 final challenge
196 muddy tennis shoes
30 minutes on the road
5 thank you hugs
15 "Best field trip ever"s
98 smiling faces
S'more than enough for
1 tired teacher
Thursday, March 26, 2015
When I was growing up, the librarian at our elementary school trusted me implicitly. Her name was Ms. H., and she had the tiniest little pair of round, frameless glasses that she actually peered over and around in order to look at us. She loved to read scary stories aloud, and actually read stories that were so scary that some parents complained to the principal. It didn't seem to faze Ms. H. When she wasn't reading us horror stories, she sat at her big oak desk and read books to herself while whole classes of little kids roamed around her library unsupervised. The teachers, assuming Ms. H. was in charge, always took a break during our library hour. Sometimes we had to say Ms. H.'s name a couple of times to get her attention. Even so, I thought she was wonderful.
Right away, she realized how much I loved books. When new boxes of books were delivered to school, she would let me carry the boxes from the office to the library where she entrusted me with a box cutter (still can't believe this) and left me to unpack the new books while she read. I was in heaven. I can still remember carefully slicing through the packing tape, worried lest I scratch up a book inside...never mind about slicing off my fingers. I would peel open the box lid and run my hands over the colorful covers. Then I would select a book, lift it out, and always, always open it and smell the pages. I still love the smell of a book...new, old, musty, hardcover, paperback.
No one who knew me then would have believed that I, mini assistant librarian at the age of 10, would ever...EVER, be in bad standing at any library; but I am.
Several years ago, I checked out a huge stack of folk tale collections to share with my class. When I returned the books to the library, in the same plastic milk crate I had carried them out in when I checked them out, the thin little book of Jack tales was gone. I traipsed back out to my car and searched under the seats and in the trunk as if I thought perhaps the book itself was as big a trickster as its main character. Of course, the book was not in the car. I promised the librarian I would check my classroom; and I did. I asked students to check their lockers and their backpacks. I emailed all the parents and asked them to look around their houses. We never found the book. I had to buy it...from the library. It was expensive; and, since the book had disappeared, I had nothing to show for my money. I consoled myself with the fact that at least my borrowing privileges were reinstated.
I took it on the chin and continued checking out.
Then, a couple of years ago, another book in my possession met an unfortunate end. Books are always traveling around in the car with me...tucked in the glove box, in the center console, in the side compartment of the driver's side door, in the stretchy pocket on the back of the passenger seat. Somehow, one of these special passengers ended up in the backseat floorboard...right next to the leaky water jug my son takes to soccer practice. It didn't turn out well. I had to buy the book...from the library. Apparently, water damage is the unpardonable sin. This time, I got to keep the book which was still completely legible, just a little wavy across the top. I put it on my shelf at school.
My borrowing privileges were reinstated; and I carried on...a little more cautiously then before.
Now, it has happened again. During our recent snowy winter, I checked out many, many books. I left them stacked neatly on the bench beneath my kitchen window. That window has never leaked...never. It was a very safe and responsible place to stack my books.
The window leaked.
A book got wet. I know the drill. I will now have to buy the book...from the library. The librarian does not know, nor would she ever believe, that I once was the MOST privileged little person in our elementary library...that I was the FIRST to welcome books into our school and unpack them and shelve them. I used the box cutter for heaven's sake and never had a single incident! Nothing bad happened to any book on my watch.
I can barely stand the thought of going in to the library to admit that I have damaged yet another book. In order to avoid the inevitable shame, I have let the fine add up for a couple of weeks. This weekend, it will all come to a head. I will have to build up the nerve to face the raised eyebrows and knowing glances of the librarian. Where is Ms. H. now...when I need her most? Where is that blissfully oblivious librarian who trusted me completely?
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
My students and I have had so much fun this year with Myra Cohn Livingston's book I Am Writing A Poem About...A Game of Poetry. In the book, Livingston explains how she challenged the students in her master poetry class and how they rose to the challenge. Livingston initiated the Game of Poetry by requiring her students to write a poem that included the word "rabbit." After the poems were written and shared, she amped it up a notch and asked each student to submit some words for the next round. This time, students were required to write a poem containing three seemingly unrelated words: ring, drum, and blanket. Spurred on by the success of their poetry, the students continued until they had six words to puzzle into poetry.
My students were fascinated by the poems featured in Livingston's book; and we discussed, at great length, the images and themes that emerged from the juxtaposition of the words. They marveled at how different the poems were and were impressed that the poetry students had not sacrificed meaning for rhyme. We investigated the various poetry forms: free verse, haiku, limerick... My students wanted to give it a try; so we did.
I carried around my little red bucket, and students tossed in nouns they'd scribbled on scraps of paper. I closed my eyes and chose a word, wrote it on the whiteboard, and we began. Their enthusiasm was infectious. We couldn't stop. Two weeks and four rounds later, I found myself faced with the words flamingo, turtle, marshmallows, and seahorse. These kids couldn't be serious! I was stumped. I worried and worked the words around in my head like marbles in a wooden maze. Finally, I came up with the following poem...about retirement. These children were making my brain hurt. After sharing my poem with the class and taking a quick bow at their polite applause, I couldn't help but wonder how in the world I could even think about retiring when I was having so much fun.
where I will read books
in a yellow and white striped lawn chair,
with a faded pink flamingo
reading over my shoulder.
and track sand in again.
on the wall behind the couch
and worry over a nest of turtle eggs,
protected by a makeshift fence.
I will wake up early enough
to find unbroken shells washed ashore;
but I will collect the broken ones anyway.
on a driftwood fire,
and marvel at the dancing rainbow flames.
corralled on the refrigerator door;
I will call a beach house...
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
The problem with laundry is that it never, really, gets done. At no point in time will I be able to completely check laundry off my to do list. I have thought about this often while doing the laundry and also while doing anything else to avoid doing the laundry. Even if I had every stitch of clothes, towels, sheets, and blankets washed, dried, folded, and put away, I could not check laundry off my list because I, my husband, and my sons would be wearing more laundry that would need washing the moment we removed it from our bodies. Laundry will be with us always.
When my boys were about 4 and 6 years old, they invited a few other boys over to play. It was a rainy day; so they asked if they could play downstairs. At that time, we were living in a little Cape Cod with an unfinished basement. The boys kept some toys down there, scattered out on an old throw rug. We had several storage boxes lined around the walls, and my washer and dryer were hidden away down there as well. This setup came in handy more times than I care to remember. Unexpected company coming over? We all knew the drill.
"Everyone, quick! Grab an armful of dirty laundry from the bedroom/bathroom/hallway floor and throw it down the basement steps!"
Who cared where it landed?!? It was out of sight, and I could sort and pile it later. All the while, our unexpected, unsuspecting guests would assume we were a tidy family...our only dirty clothes - the ones we were wearing.
On that play date, 10 years ago, I knew I had quite a bit of laundry downstairs; but surely those little guests would pay no attention.
Before giving the go-ahead, I absently checked to make sure I didn't have a bra dangling from the side of the open staircase. Nope, I had recently gathered our scattered clothes from the last unexpected visit and had everything sorted into mountainous piles.
"Sure," I said. "You can play down there."
Several minutes later, I was drawn to the open basement door by the sound of excited laughter and the slap, slap of little bare feet running across the concrete floor. I crept down the stairs, expecting to find them playing a game of tag, but no. One of my boys had his hands over his eyes counting to 10 while his brother and their guests hid in, and behind, my giant piles of laundry.
My piles of laundry were big enough to conceal an entire child...in some cases, two whole children. They would burrow under and bounce out at each other like groundhogs or moles. I was embarrassed; but I decided I should play it off as intentional...as if I meant to leave huge piles of dirty clothes for the children's enjoyment.
I promised myself that day that I would get my laundry under control. I would get it done! I would DO the laundry. Children would never be able to hide in my laundry again!
Ten years later, I have broken that promise more times than I care to remember.
As I write, a pair of shorts, an odd sock, and two pairs of khakis are lounging on the leather recliner. A quilt that I washed, folded, and left on the loveseat until I had time to put it away has been unfolded and wallowed on by the dog.
The laundry is not done, but my post for today is...
At least I can check something off that to do list.
Monday, March 23, 2015
"Allergies," I was quick to diagnose, although he usually doesn't struggle with allergies.
My prescription: "Hop in the shower, and you might feel better." He nodded and wandered into his bathroom, squinting through his poor, puffy eyes.
Hoping for the best, I scurried back and forth from my room to the kitchen, checking on the canned biscuits I'd popped in the oven, transferring the boys' sandwiches from the fridge to their lunch bags, filling the dog's bowl. While hobbling through the hall, looking for a missing shoe the dog had carried off, I ran into Will, age 13. He had already showered and dressed; but his cheeks looked unnaturally pink, and when he spoke, his voice was scratchy.
"I don't feel so good," he said. I felt his forehead. No temp.
"Hmmm..." My diagnosis: "Could be drainage." My prescription: "Get a cold drink and move around a little. You might feel better."
By the time I had dried my hair, applied my makeup, and walked the dog, Jack (now showered and dressed) was clearly not feeling any better. He had fallen sound asleep on the couch.
Will was still upright, but he was fading fast.
He had followed my advice; but the cold drink hadn't cleared his throat at all. He had stopped moving around and was sitting at the kitchen table.
"My ears hurt, too," he said.
Dr. Mom was going to have to call for a consult.
I phoned a sub and headed out to school to set out lesson plans. On my way back home, I called our family doctor and made appointments for later this afternoon.
Now we are home...sick. Will is curled up on the loveseat, under the monster blanket he's had since he was much younger. He has control of the remote. Jack is asleep on the couch again, still wearing the red hoodie he'd picked out to wear to school today. I put a TV tray between them so they could have easy access to their ice-filled cups of Sierra Mist.
The dog is wound around Jack's feet, enjoying this unexpected turn of events.
Today, I will be Dr. Mom; and although my diagnoses are not always accurate and my prescriptions are rarely effective, I work hard to perfect my bedside manner. After all, I love my patients and realize it won't be too many years before they're out on their own...and Dr. Mom won't have the chance to help them feel better.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Grandma and I sat in the back on a bench seat. This was in the 1970s, so we didn't worry about seatbelts. I usually sat in Grandma's lap. Vicey, another lunch lady, sat in the front passenger seat; and Mollie's two grown daughters, Glenda and Linda, sat in the back with Grandma and me. They also worked in the cafeteria.
We arrived at school before most of the other teachers and children were awake. Mollie parked the car, and we all piled out. Mollie had a key to the back kitchen entrance. It was quiet except for the hum of the overhead lights. Mollie and Vicey and Glenda and Linda and Grandma got to work. They put on their smocks and hairnets; and Grandma made biscuits, rolling out the dough and cutting it with the little round biscuit cutter. She set the biscuits on the huge metal baking pans and fed the pans into the gaping mouth of the industrial-sized oven. Glenda and Linda set out the little milk cartons, red and white for whole milk, brown and white for chocolate, and sometimes pink and white for strawberry. Vicey sprayed out the sink with a faucet attached to a long winding hose while Mollie scrubbed and peeled potatoes.
I know it must have been noisy in that big school kitchen with pots and pans banging about and water bubbling to a boil and Grandma and Mollie chatting and Glenda and Linda laughing and Vicey commenting every once in a while. I know it must have been noisy; but I only remember the hum of the overhead lights and the faint squeak of their sensible soft-soled shoes as they bustled about making breakfast.