Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Agility Course

This year, we have added several new teachers to our staff. As a result, our administration decided we should devote some time to team-building activities. Our school is the largest middle school in the area; and, consequently, we don't get many opportunities to interact with anyone other than those teachers who teach on our teams or those teachers who teach the same grade level.
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."
I waited.
"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

Debris in the Middle

Great Granny and I stood on the raised walkway that connected the back porch to the car port. We watched as the brown water juggled sticks and whole limbs, their wooden fingers still clutching clumps of leaves. Occasionally, a pair of odd hubcaps clanged to the surface. Once, an old plastic Halloween bucket sloshed out of the frothy waves, its painted jack-o-lantern face grinning like a fool.
"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

A Dog Fit for a Queen

Galley Street ran between the river and the road. Down the hill, the north fork of the Kentucky River snaked its way past Granny's kitchen window. Up the hill, Highway 15 curled like a ribbon around the base of the mountains.
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

Authors' Ears

Authors' ears
are sensitive
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
Tuning in
to the static
of cicadas
background noise
to center stage