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Remember Time with Dad

 Father’s Day brings memories. As his only daughter, Dad always let me know that I was his best and most-loved daughter. He told me and hugged me and kissed my cheeks and rubbed my back and spent time with me. The quiet times we shared are some of my happiest memories with him.

When I was growing up, there was a big wooden rocking chair with a red padded seat and back in our living room. It sat next to a window and across the room from the front picture window. A coveted seat. Dad often sat there to read the daily newspaper or study his Sunday school lesson or read a book.

Many times I sat in Dad’s lap while he sat in that red rocker and he often read aloud to me. I really liked when he read the Sunday comics and he’d share some newspaper articles.   And we’d take turns reading aloud whatever book I was reading at the time, usually a biography or fiction book from the school library. After we read, Dad asked questions. What was that chapter about? What do you like about this book? Now, what do you think will happen? Looking back, I realize he was teaching, which was his profession for many years, but as a child, I liked the comfort and security I felt sitting in Dad’s lap.

Another memory is sitting between Mom and Dad during Sunday church service.   We always sat in the same pew, about eight rows back on the right side. The sanctuary was small and most Sunday’s church attendance was about 100.

Mom put her hand on my thigh and if I wiggled too much her soft gentle caress became a firm squeeze. We didn’t have a church bulletin and I never had paper to draw or scribble on, but Dad knew how to keep me still and quiet. He handed me his blue ballpoint pen that was clipped in his shirt pocket and laid his hand, palm up, on my lap. I rarely wrote with a pen so I clicked the pen’s top several times.

Then I drew lines along every crease that crisscrossed Dad’s palm. And I drew pictures using those lines. Silly faces. Trees. Unusual shapes. Dad sat perfectly still and so did I, intent on my drawing, and sometimes he closed his eyes. Then Mom eased her arm across the pew behind me and nudged Dad’s shoulder. He jerked his head, opened his eyes, and he and Mom exchanged glances, and I kept drawing.

Dad taught me to ride a bike and drive a car. He encouraged me to climb trees and ride horses. He ate the practice biscuits I made for 4-H baking contests and he clapped loud when I bowed after playing my piano recital pieces. But I most remember the quiet times. Sitting in the red rocking chair. Drawing on his hand during church. Now, decades later, I still feel Dad’s love.


Touch the Whole Elephant

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.57.44 AMSix years ago, while five-year-old Elsie and I ate breakfast, I flipped the pages of my new poetry book, Great Poems for Grandchildren. I read a few nursery rhymes aloud and then happened upon The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe. Little did I know this poem would become one of all my Grands’ favorites and little do they know that it was written in the 1800s.

Last week, Elsie’s sister Lucy, age 7, asked, “Gran, will you read poems?” It’s become a tradition: breakfast and poetry. Lucy looked thru a stack of books close to the kitchen table. “Where’s the book with the blind men and elephant?”

“It was six men of Hindostan to learning much inclined,

Who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind);

That each by observation might satisfy his mind.

“Gran, stop,” Lucy said. “What does that satis word mean?”

“Satisfy?” I asked. Lucy nodded. “Well, when you eat pancakes you satisfy your stomach and aren’t hungry. They wanted to learn about an elephant and satisfy their minds. They were learning.”

Lucy nodded and said, “Keep going.”  She leaned toward me and waited for the last word on the next stanza.

“The first approached the elephant and happening to fall

Against his broad and study side, at once began to bawl,

‘Bless me, it seems the elephant is very like a ….”

“WALL!” Lucy shouted and laughed. She knew the last word of the next five stanzas.

The second blind man felt the elephant’s tusk and declared the wonder of an elephant is very like a SPEAR.

The third happened to take the squirming trunk and said the elephant very like a SNAKE.

The fourth’s hand felt the knee and said the mighty beast is very like a TREE.

The fifth chanced to touch the ear and marveled that an elephant is very like a FAN.

The sixth groped the swinging tail that fell within his scope and said the elephant is very like a ROPE.

“And so these men of Hindostan disputed loud and long

Each of his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”

Lucy shook her head. “Why didn’t they touch the whole elephant?” Lucy has heard this poem many times, but until now she hasn’t ask questions. “I don’t know,” I said.

“Well, if they had or just talked to each other, they’d know what an elephant looks like,” my young Grand said, the same conclusion that her sister and two other older Grands have made.

Saxe’s last stanza isn’t included in my poetry book for children.

“So, oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween, tread on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean, and prate about the elephant, not one of them has seen!”

My Grands and I have laughed about this poem. Those silly blind men. An elephant with a snake trunk. A rope tail. And each has asked the question: “Why didn’t they touch the whole elephant?” Yes, why?

You Will Arrive

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 8.00.02 AMTwo friends, Husband, and I recently traveled to Italy, and it’s the people I most remember. Especially those who shared their calm Italian demeanor.

We booked train tickets from Vincenza to Florence with an 11-minute transfer in Padova. Four people, four rolling suitcases, four shoulder bags to get off and on trains. European trains run on time and doors stay open very few minutes for passengers to deboard and board. The worse that could happen was we’d miss our train and catch one later, but we were determined to make this connection.

When I boarded in Vincenza I spotted a train attendant, who could’ve been Captain Kangaroo, fifty pounds lighter. Wearing a blue uniform, like a college band uniform, he walked toward me. Although I knew the seats closest to the door weren’t ours, I sat down. When Mr. Attendant came near, I said, “Please stay here. We need help.”

Mr. Attendant smiled and watched husband and our friend lift heavy suitcases onto overhead storage shelves. As we four travelers settled into seats facing each other (like a restaurant booth), Mr. Attendant stood silent.

“We’re going to Florence and change trains in Padova and we only have 11 minutes and we need help,” I said. Mr. Attendant ducked his chin and raised his hands, a calming gesture.

He saw my train ticket and said, “You’ll be fine. Now, stay here, but on the next train it will be crowded so locate your ticketed seats.” We nodded.

“Can you tell us which platform we’ll arrive on in Padova? Which platform we’ll leave on? How to get from one to the other?” Our questions flowed, and Mr. Attendant simply smiled.

After we leaned back in our seats, he said, “At Padova, you arrive on platform 1. It is quite simple to get to platform 5 to board for Florence.” Simple if you know where you’re going, I thought, but like Husband and our friends I sat quietly.

Mr. Attendant continued, “Get off this train and go this way.” He extended his arm and pointed. “Walk to the lift and it’ll get you where you need to be in two minutes. Go down to first floor. Only one floor.” He stopped and looked at each of us.

“Off the lift, walk briskly one minute, this direction.” He pointed. Looking at us two women seated side-by-side, he said, “Seated as you are, walk left.” Looking at the men, “Your right, as you sit.”

“Now, on the lift. Up one floor to platform 5. You have time.” I exhaled. “Next train, you are in car 6. Take your assigned seats. Relax. First stop is Bologna. Second is Florence. You will arrive.”

We did a quick review. Arrive platform 1. One floor down. Walk this way (we all pointed.) One floor up, Platform 5. Car 6. Mr. Attendant nodded, smiled, and said, “You will arrive.”

And we did. We arrived on platform 5 and waited three minutes for our train. I still tell myself stay calm and relax like Mr. Attendant.


What’s a Loose-Neck?

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 6.58.26 AM

“Look what I found. My little kids will love them,” my friend said. Five college girlfriends and I were eating lunch and sharing our shopping finds at The Sponge Docks near Tarpon Springs, Florida. Jo set six little wooden-like critters on our table. Each would fit in the palm of a toddler’s hand and no two were the same animal.

All had long twig like necks that wobbled side to side from hollow bodies and black dot eyes and brightly colored bodies with designs. We blew gently to make their necks and heads rock. These happy looking little creatures made us laugh.

“What are these? Where did you get them?” I asked. These were the perfect gifts to take my little kids, my Grands.

I was surprised to see more than a thousand Loose-Necks displayed in a small souvenir shop. Wobbly-necked little animals set on shelves everywhere. Turtles. Giraffes. Penquins. Snails. Fish. Dinosaurs. Aardvarks. Pigs. And more and more turtles, which were the original and are the most common design. None exactly the same. Folded notecards on shelves told how they were created.

Loose-necks are made from the pits of limoncillo fruits. Farmers in southern Mexico harvest the fruit in late summer, usually August. After removing or eating the sweet, jelly-like fruit, they lay the limocillo pits out to dry. Then the surface of each pit is sanded to make it smooth and the bottom flatten. A pick and tiny scoop are used to clean the core of the hard pits.

The Loose-Necks’ small heads and necks are carved from real wood and each head is painted with a black pinpoint eyes. Legs and a tail are attached to the pit. The entire body is then coated with a protective seal and when it dries, the real artwork begins.

Each little animal is hand painted bright colors and decorated with intricate designs. Flowers. Dots. Lines. Circles. Abstract drawings. None exactly the same.

I was taken back to think how much time and effort went into making one little animal. The gathering, drying, sanding. Cutting out the heads, legs, and tail from wood. Attaching the head with a tiny rubber band so that it wobbled. And then painting.

“Are these really only one dollar?” I asked the sales clerk. My friend had told me the price and I saw a price sign, but I was stunned that something that required so much hands-on labor would be this cheap.

The clerk nodded. “Or six for five dollars,” she said.

This was supposed to be a five-minute and on-the-way-out-of-town stop, but I sauntered around the store to choose twelve Loose-Necks. “Choose another. You get 13 for $10,” the clerk said.

Now I have Loose-Necks all around our house. When my Grands visit, they blow to make the Loose-Necks’ heads wobble and we laugh. I’m pretty sure I like these little critters more than they do. I love that something so simple brings smiles and giggles.


Congratulations of Class of 2018

I feel a bit sad that the Class of 2018 is graduating. My last kids are leaving high school. The third grade students who were in the class I taught before I retired will walk across stages and receive diplomas this week. As long as they were in school, I held a connection to children playing on ball teams, performing in plays, singing in youth choirs, and those listed on honor rolls.

During my teaching career, I taught students ages 8-12 years old. Grades 3 – 6. Those elementary years when children begin to show strong personalities and form habits and determine likes and dislikes. I watched them blossom and grow. I know it’s selfish, but I think that every child that was my student is just a little bit mine. Just a tiny, tiny part. And I take my share of blame for their failures, as well credit for successes.

Children don’t know that we teachers follow them. How we remember them and say, “He had a beautiful singing voice when he was 9 and in my class. Yes, I heard him sing a solo at church and he is very talented.” “I’d expect her to be on the honor roll. When she was in my class, she completed her homework every day and she always asked questions during class.” “He organized the playground football game when he was 12. He had all the skills to be the quarterback even then.” “The stories she wrote as a 6th grader were beyond her years. I’m not surprised she’s published a book and I’m proud of her.”

As I write this, I’m looking at my last kids as pictured in the 2008-2009 Capshaw Elementary yearbook. Smiling 8 and 9 year olds. Eager to learn. Eager to please. Well-behaved, most the time. I congratulate Josh, Alyssa, Lain, Chloe, Erica, Aozora, Michael, Parker, Matthew, Jacob, Chris, Sarah, Lupito, Katelyn, Madeline, Georgia, Hunter, Abigail, Rochelle, Michael and Andrew.

I hope these graduates take time to reflect on the past thirteen years. About the experiences that were happy and not so happy. About things that were easy and not so easy. About the Best Citizen Award received in third grade. About the being picked first, or last, for the playground ball team. About reaching a goal of 100 Accelerated Reader points. About a class trip to the zoo. About the fear of standing in front of classmates to give an oral report.   Those experiences that happened while we teachers were watching and now remember.

And as high school graduates open the next chapter of their lives, they should know they have a host of supporters. Not just their parents, their grandparents, but also their teachers. And I’d be remiss not to include sport coaches, dance teachers, Sunday school teachers and youth leaders, choir directors, even babysitters.

Graduation is a time to celebrate. Not just for the graduates, but for everyone. Their successes are ours.

Nobody Loves us like our Mothers

Recently, a friend shared her grief while mourning her 90-year-old mother’s death. “After all,” she said, “I knew this was going to happen and I visited her every time I could. So why do I feel so lost and upset?”

“Nobody loves us like our mothers. Nobody,” I said. When our #1 cheerleader isn’t here to encourage and praise and help us keep our rudders straight, it takes time learn to live without her. Even when our own children are adults and we are over fifty years old, we miss Mom.

My friend and I agreed we are fortunate to have been raised by mothers who loved us and we will never forget them. My mom passed away in 1991, and rarely does a day go by that I don’t think of her.

It’s a comfort to use Mom’s things. Like a metal measuring cup. It sits on my cabinet shelf beside a shiny, newer measuring cup, but Mom’s has indentions that are easy to see for measuring ¼ and ½ and ¾ cup. And I often wonder how many twenty-five-pound bags of Martha White self-rising flour Mom measured to make biscuits.

I learned to make cornbread with Mom standing beside me. To this day, I never consider cornbread making finished then until the mixing bowl is washed, dried, and put back in the cabinet. Mom said if the cornbread batter is left in a bowl, it quickly becomes stiff and sticks to the bowl, but it slides right off when the bowl is immediately washed.

As I child, I grumbled about setting the table. My family ate almost all meals at home and I had to set the table with placemats, plates, knives, forks, spoons, and a paper napkin. Many years later, I lived with Mom and Dad for two months before Husband’s and my wedding, and Mom told me, “Set the table and your family knows a meal will be served.” The food could be leftovers, a sandwich, or a home cooked meat-and-three meal. No matter, set the table. I still think of Mom when I put plates and silverware on our dining table.

And Mom unknowingly gave me advice for raising teen-agers. I was an 18-year old college student when I did something dangerously stupid and later told Mom how scared I had been. I’d made a mistake and probably felt confessing would ease my guilt. After a discussion about what I had learned, Mom told me, “If you know I’m not going to like it and it’s already happened and you’re safe, don’t tell me.” She stressed I should still talk to her and tell her about experiences., just don’t tell her things that had already happened and she’d worry about. I learned mothers don’t need to know everything.

Mother’s Day, a day children appreciate their mothers’ unique love and the lessons mothers taught us. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers.

Teachers Tell Some Stories

Teachers must tell the best stories because the four headline storytellers for Storyfest in Dogwood Park on Saturday, May 5 are teachers, some retired. We teachers gather stories and some we can tell.

            I started my teaching career at East Sparta City School with thirty-nine fourth graders. Yes, 39.  Just days before the first day of school Mrs. White, a teacher assistant, helped me find teacher manuals and a grade book. She had worked for many years and she was my mentor. She arranged the students’ desks in straight lines and showed me the storeroom where I found student textbooks and classroom supplies, a box of yellow chalk and chalkboard erasers.

During the first week of school, my students led me through the school hallways to the outside playground and told me the playground rules. They showed me our assigned cafeteria tables and told me which cook would most likely give an extra yeast roll. I am forever indebted to those well-behaved and kind children whose teacher fumbled thru 180 days that school year.

To celebrate the end of the school year, I planned a piñata party. Husband hung a huge multicolored donkey from a tree branch on the playground. The children had never seen a piñata, and they squealed and clapped when I told them it was filled with small toys and candy and they could hit it until it broke open and the treats would fall out. I tied a blindfold over one of the boy’s eyes, handed him a wooden baseball bat, and told him to hit the piñata as hard as he could.

He swung that bat wildly. From side to side and not close to the piñata. The children scattered, barely avoiding being clobbered. “Stop!” I screamed several times and finally he held the bat over his head. I moved toward him and talked calmly as if taming a wild horse. I lay a hand on his shoulder, grabbed the bat, and took his blindfold off.

Then we discussed where others should stand while one person hit the piñata. Some swung hard. I envisioned the bat flying through the air and cracking someone’s head open. Others barely tapped the donkey. The piñata remained intact and the students began to lose interest and I wanted that donkey split open.

Husband’s look said, “What were you thinking?” He took a turn with the bat, without the blindfold, and after several hard hits, the donkey burst. Waxed paper wrapped candies and tiny plastic cars fell out. My students cheered and shoved each other to get the treats. The candy was so hard that it couldn’t be flattened between two rocks and no one wanted flimsy toy cars.

But the party was a success because these children liked red Kool-Aid and store bought cookies, and they got to play all afternoon. I was glad was hurt and I never, ever had another piñata party.

Oh, the stories teachers can tell. Maybe we’ll hear a school story or two at Storyfest. I hope so.