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What’s a Loose-Neck?

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“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.

Saturday Soccer Fun

If you want to be entertained, go to the YMCA soccer field Saturday morning. It’s entertaining watching happy children run on the grassy field and kick a ball.

My first game was about two years ago while visiting our Grands and their parents who live across country. Daniel, then 5, competes to win, and he was in the middle of the cluster of his teammates and opponents chasing the ball. The objective is to get the ball in the opposing team’s goal to score a point. But a kick that sends the ball downfield warrants cheers, and not just from the parents and grandparents of the kicker, everyone cheers a good play.

Celebrating Daniel’s success when he scored a goal was worth the airplane ride to visit him. Because the ending score is usually low, maybe 1 to 3, a goal is cause for high fives. Daniel ran along the sideline of the field to slap outstretched hands.

Recently, on a cool misty morning, Husband and I donned our raincoats and carried umbrellas to watch Lucy, almost 7, play. Twelve players, a referee, and two coaches standing took the field. We fans, the players’ parents, siblings, and grandparents, stood along the sideline. Seasoned fans sat in their folding chairs.

Lucy had told me how she kicked the ball in the goal the week before when I was out of town. “I scored!” she said. “Gran, you gotta’ come watch.” She and the other players took the field wearing their short sleeve uniform shirts, shorts, shin guards, knee-high socks, and shoes with cleats. No team, professional or collegiate, looked more ready to play.

Just like in Daniel’s game, a team member, the goalie, stood in front of the goal to stop the ball. Lucy and four teammates ran the field, seemingly oblivious to the cool rain shower. We and other spectators raised umbrellas and rain jacket hoods. The players seated on the sidelines huddled under plastic covers that parents held.

I’m learning soccer rules. Players cannot kick, trip, tackle, hold, push, strike, jump on, or spit on an opponent. Seems like school playground rules to me. And except for the goalie, players aren’t allowed to touch the ball with their hands. When a penalty kick was awarded to Lucy’s opposing team, she and her teammates stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the goal while the rain came down more steadily.

During the second period, Lucy took a rest and I watched her team’s goalie, a little guy who moved fast. When the ball was on the other end of the field, he jumped and kicked for no apparent reason. Then the players were hit with wind swept, hard rain. The goalie stopped, looked up, and opened his mouth wide. He caught raindrops, but not the ball that whizzed past him and into the goal.

I might be hooked. Even if my Grands aren’t playing, I’ll take in little kids’ soccer games. They are that fun.




When I Wear Something I Shouldn’t

I’ve asked my friends to help me. When I wear something I shouldn’t, now or in the future, I want them to take charge. Take me home and leave me there or find something that’s appropriate in my closet. Or take me shopping and buy new clothes using my charge card and keep whatever I shouldn’t have worn.

I explained that I really don’t want to wear clothes with stains or rips. Things I couldn’t or didn’t see. And I may reach a point that my clothing choices aren’t good so please don’t let me wear a flowery blue and yellow blouse with a red and green plaid skirt or dresses that are too big or small. Or shoes of different colors and styles. (Wearing similar styles and the same color is an honest mistake.) Or pants that are entirely too short or have holes in the knees.

Holes in the knees. That made us laugh. Some of us remember when a pair of jeans with holes in the knees was not worn in public. We wore them playing outside at home or our pants were mended. Mom kept a supply of iron-on patches in her sewing kit, but she never thought the sticky backing kept the patches on well so she stitched them too. It wasn’t unusual to wear blue jeans with patched knees, but if there were holes anywhere else those pants were officially worn out.

With my old-fashion attitude, I wonder why anyone would pay good money for ripped pants. Online, one previously trusted retailer offers jeans with slits and holes, described as shredded & destroyed down the front & back of the legs, for $69.99. The seller states, “The beauty is in the breakdown.” This pair of jeans shows more leg than they cover. Others are available with busted knees for $78 and are exactly like the ones that Mom ironed patches on. I haven’t brought myself to wear jeans with busted knees or that have been shredded and destroyed.

And I’m still holding out on wearing leggings and jeggings. Leggings look like those heavy dark tights, but without feet, that we wore for warmth under skirts forty years ago. On young women and girls, I love the look of leggings with long loose mid-thigh tops so I tried on a pair. But I’d only feel good wearing such pants on my six-foot tall, past-retirement-age body if I wore a top than came to my knees.

Next I tried jeggings, tight-fitting stretch pants, styled to resemble a pair of denim jeans and pulled on like panty hose. A pair was advertised as comfortable as panty hose, which seems like one reason not to wear them. Another reason is on my body they looked exactly like leggings.

So I’m adding to my clothing list that friends shouldn’t let me wear: leggings and jeggings. And if I show up somewhere wearing ripped warrior leggings, take me home and leave me there, but please come visit.


Part 2: The Real Value of a Pump Organ

What is the value of a musical instrument if it can’t be played? If it takes up space and means something only to me? I wrestled with these questions about my huge pump organ. When the canvas binding connecting a pedal to the bellows broke and the organ wouldn’t play, it was time to do some soul searching, with a pinch of practicality.

My maternal grandfather and his siblings purchased the organ over a century ago. I played “Rock of Ages” on it for Papa as he sat beside me. Papa left it to his three daughters in his will with instructions, “One old organ that shall be kept in the family if possible and if it’s sold out of the family, the proceeds are to be divided equally among all my grandchildren.” It was moved from Papa and Grandma’s house to our home in 1985.

After Husband and I determined we couldn’t repair the broken binding, I researched the organ’s value and the cost of getting it repaired. It was made by the Estey Company, founded in 1850 and located in Brattleboro, Vermont. Something this old must be valuable, right? Not really. I found one on eBay priced $399. The only person who advertised online to repair pump organs didn’t service Tennessee and one contact who might look at it charged a minimum of $2500 to overhaul the complete instrument. That was too much.

But I wanted it repaired. Maybe because I have a picture of Mom and her two sisters when they were children standing beside the organ or maybe because I played it for Papa or maybe because Papa wanted it to stay in the family and mostly because I’m sentimental and believe that if family heirlooms are used, they are treasured.

A friend, known to his family as Builder Bob, offered to look at the organ. After he’d replaced the broken binding, I pumped the pedals and pressed the keyboard keys and nothing happened. Both of us were disappointed. Another day Bob took the back off the organ and although he knows nothing about keyboard instruments, he’s a self-taught carpenter and worked on the hydraulic machinery on nuclear submarines in the early 1960s and he likes a challenge.

Making this organ play would be a challenge. The brass reeds were black. The bellows cracked. The stops stuck. Dust, insect droppings, dead bugs filled the organ cavity. Bob and I agreed on a price and he hauled all the organ’s workings to his home workshop.

Last week, Bob put the shiny reeds, new leather bellows, heavy cotton dampening, and all the many parts of the organ in place. After he worked for two days making adjustments, I pumped the pedals and pressed the keys and played “Rock of Ages.” How I wished Papa had been beside me.

But even more I wished he’d heard my Grands say, “Can I play the organ next?” “It’s really hard to pump those pedal things!” “Listen, it sounds like the piano, but different.”


Post Script:  Thank you Builder Bob for your work!