Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sun Goddess

Molly called the other day to ask me when I was having my face taken off. What she was referring to was the small basal cell carcinoma I’ll have removed from the side of my face next Tuesday afternoon. For women my age, this has become the new norm, the out-patient surgery we are so grateful to have since it means we've managed to miss (so far) the "bad" form of skin cancer.

We grew up in the era of sunbathing without any kind of protection. We'd never heard of global warming at that point, and probably wouldn't have cared anyway. Beauty and a certain indication of wealth were based on a tan, even if the tan was of the backyard variety and not because of a trip to St. Tropez. I remember “laying out” in my backyard as a teenager, oiling myself up like a chicken on the grill, making sure to turn myself for all-over crispiness. 

I also remember, as a young mother, watching my little ones in the grass-encrusted, hose-fed kiddie pool, still slathering myself with baby oil as I reclined in my lounge chair, one eye on the kids, the other on my tan line. Still worse, when I was newly divorced and old enough to know better, there was the tanning bed, which allowed not only for an odd orangeness in winter, but also for an increased chance to schedule an appointment or two or eleven with the dermatologist in my later years.

So here I sit, old and wrinkled, soon to be sliced and stitched, so glad my daughters eschew (mostly) the notion of the perfect tan. The sun is shining through my window, warming me as I type. I'm grateful for many things, including not having he slightest interest in taking my beach towel down to the outdoor space I share with my other condo-ites and unfurling it in order to "lay out" in my granny bathing suit.  I'm pretty sure my neighbors are grateful too.


Getting the Itch

to write a blog posting or two.  Let's see if it stays or goes away.  I know you are all waiting breathlessly.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Good Golly Repost for Molly's 27th Birthday


Molly had said I wouldn't be writing when her birthday rolled around and she was correct.  So, here's a re-post of something I'd written a while back.  Molly, I love you and am glad you are still around to keep the rest of your family on their toes.  Happy 27th birthday!

Miss Molly

What a week this has been for you. After making the ridiculous decision to take four teacher-certification tests in one day, having had a total of eight weeks of education courses, you managed to pass all of them, getting your results a few days ago. And then there was the going to class and finding out you are now highly qualified (a No Child Left Behind leftover term) to teach either Special Ed or English or some kind of crazy combination of both.

But let’s go back about 25 years.

You were my late-in-life baby, a surprise but never a mistake. On the day you were born, as I put you to my shoulder to smell your sweetness, you patted me on my close-to -middle-aged back with your little hand, as if to say everything would be all right.

There were times during your teenage years when I questioned your commitment to that promise.

Although we had picked out Emily for you, you were a Molly from the first time I saw you. Whenever you complained about being named after a Little Richard song, your daddy told you to be grateful it wasn’t Tutti Frutti.

You didn’t have an easy childhood with your father and me divorcing when you were six, with your anxiety causing you to throw-up into Barbara’s kitty litter box each morning on your way to school, and with your sorry eyesight requiring your little pink glasses.

Barbara’s house was your safe haven while I traveled with work and other things. She did your hair, bought your clothes, packed your lunch, and was generally your mother while I climbed my ladder and followed my bliss. You were so good at school and so worried about it that I promised you a party if you’d just get into some kind of trouble.

That was a mistake. You later got into all kinds trouble and had your own parties. When you were in Middle School, I remember you drawing body parts in class and then proudly wearing the shameful orange vest with the other “misunderstood” miscreants.

And then there was high school and your first love, which could and probably should have done you in, but didn’t. I’ll never forget that day in July of 2004 when you told me you wished we could look ahead a few years so you could surprise me with how you would turn things around. Well, almost six years later, you’ve gotten your wish. However, even though I’ve been amazed by your intelligence, commitment, and stamina, and delighted with your success, I’m no longer surprised by the adult you’ve become.

The rest of that tough summer, you and I spent a lot of time together, getting to know each other all over again, reading good books and watching bad television. You began to make new friends while holding on to the old ones, who, like you, decided it was time to grow up.

I knew you were going to be fine when you got to college and started actually liking your professors, and when you changed your major from practical Computer Sciences to totally impractical English "because you loved it". At that point, those bits and pieces of earlier hard times managed to make you strong enough to take on the world, while also helping you to understand and accept the frailties of others, characteristics that will make you a wonderful teacher.

And so, my youngest child, friend to brilliant odd balls, old souls, and facile survivors, I predict you will continue to find your own way in this crazy world on whatever paths you decide to follow. In addition, it seems you have managed to keep that very first promise you made to me when you were just a few hours old. Everything is, indeed, all right.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Three A.M. Phone Call

It happened Sunday morning, August 7. The caller was Josh, Molly’s boyfriend. There’d been a fall. A fall? Not a wreck? Just a fall. How bad could a fall be? Did she fall out of a chair? Did she slip on a wet floor?


“She fell ten feet – into a cement ravine.”


“What? How?”


“She was coming back from her apartment pool and somehow she fell into this ravine.”


“I’m coming. I’m on my way.”


I hung up and thought: On my way to where? I called back with the questions I should have asked before.


“Is she conscious? Is she able to move her arms and legs? Where is she now?”


Two “yeses” and “the ambulance” later, I decided to stay put until I knew more, since I live one hundred miles away. I even laid myself back down in my bed, head to pillow, eyes wide open. Optimist that I am, I thought they would patch her up at the emergency room and send her home.


Not long after, the phone rang again.


“They’re sending her to Macon or Atlanta. In another ambulance. She has a skull fracture." Josh was shaky, his voice belying the litany of information.


Oh dear God, a skull fracture. Sending her to a larger hospital. On my way to put on my clothes and brush my teeth, I stopped by Google. “For most skull fractures, the person is sent home with instructions to watch for certain things." She was supposed to be sent home, not to another hospital!


Josh called again to tell me she was en route to Macon. Better for Molly, farther for me. I was in my car, on my way.

I didn't cry.  I was resolute, cursing the darkness and my old eyes, a prayer in the middle of my heart.  I made it to the hospital in a little over an hour and found my baby within minutes.


The tears arrived when I heard Molly's voice through the door and I thanked God and Jesus and my lucky stars and her strong constitution.


Ten days, an ICU stay, and a tough recovery later, Molly is at home and mending.  Aside from her skull fracture, she had a concussion, and a brain bleed.

Now an urban legend in her small home town, Molly is left with an inability to smell, which the doctors say may remain.


I'm left with a brimming over of gratitude.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Old Synapses ~ New Connections

We all know that as we get older we become set in our ways. That’s certainly been true for me, although as I continue to learn about myself, I see that I’ve always been routine oriented. I remember as a child making up a schedule for my summer days: art at 9, snack at 10, TV at 11.

One of the many aspects I’ve loved about going back to teaching these past five years has been the routine: Math at 9, snack at 10, Reading at 11, so when my principal asked me to become Interim Program Administrator for our Primary School (primarily), the change in routine was at the top of my list of concerns.

For five years, I drove to work at the same time and drove home at the same time. Although I had different students, they were the same age and the curriculum was pretty much the same. Although my team members changed some, others stayed the same. I was happy, productive, and relatively successful.

Then came change and Holy Terwillikers has it been stressful! I no longer have a work home as I’m functioning out of two offices and a cloth bag. I’ve lost my tool box and haven’t created a new one. I don’t know how to use the office phones, which doesn’t really matter as I don’t know whom to call for what anyway. in addition, I don’t know how to put out the fires or even where they are or what caused them to begin with.

I have to admit that I took the position mostly for the money, not only for now but because it will add significantly to my retirement. In spite of that, I want to do a good job. I want to be helpful and add to the good of the cause. But other than those two very important reasons, I couldn’t think of any other justification for taking this new job.  I'm no longer climbing the ladder to success.  The rungs are too old and rusty (or perhaps the problem is that they are too slick and new) and I'm afraid of heights.  And so, I wondered if I'd made a big mistake.

But then I remembered synapses. Not long ago I read somewhere (not surprisingly I can’t recall where) that one reason older people lose mental functioning is because they become so set in their ways, so routine oriented, they are no longer making new synapse connections.

This past week, I’ve screwed up and told people wrong and looked stupid and said I don’t know. I’ve gotten lost and said I’m sorry and made mistakes and wondered once again about the Peter Principle, especially apropos to my situation as my very popular predecessor’s name is Pete.

But the good news is that I’m feeling a few synapses begin to wake up from their well-deserved five-year-nap, stretching and scratching their sleepy heads. They’re a little pissy and put out, needing a caffeine boost, but last I heard, they’re in their tiny cerebral Corolla, careening to the firing range, after stopping for a 12 pack of Diet Cokes.

I’ll let you know how they do.  That's if I can remember.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Job

Overwhelmed and discombobulated.  I'll be back on the blogosphere as soon as I settle in.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

High Tea in a Beer Wagon

About a week ago, I was finally able to meet Ronni Bennett, the Grande Dame of Elder Blogging. We’d tried to get together a couple of times previously, but the stars hadn't aligned correctly. Finally, they came together and it happened.

Ronni lives in Lake Oswego, a tony suburb of Portland, OR, while I spend my summers in a small condo in St. Johns, an indubitably untony village just over the St. Johns Bridge in what is known at NOPO or North Portland. Whereas Lake Oswego has bird calls that tell you it’s time to cross the street, St. Johns has its resident schizophrenic who will run you over with his grocery cart if you don’t move fast enough when deciding which way to go at an intersection.

So you might imagine that I was a little nervous meeting The Ronni Bennett, especially when she suggested High Tea for lunch. People who know me well understand that I’m more a Chicken McNuggets kind of girl than one who sips any kind of tea, much less one made of High. 

And then there was the beer wagon. I was able to transport myself from St Johns to Lake Oswego by virtue of the fact that my daughter and her family were on vacation that week, traveling in her mother-mobile and leaving her husband’s car for me to use. Since Trevor works as a rep for a beer distributor, his car carries lots of samples, all rolling around in the back.

But my nervousness disappeared as soon as I heard Ronni laugh.  It was a gritty streets of New York City kind of laugh, a "you ain't showing me anything I haven't seen or smelled before" kind of laugh.  I immediately fell in love.

We did go to High Tea at a place called Lady Di's Tea Shoppe, a sobriquet Ronni made fun of right after she complained about Lake Oswego being just "too damned clean."  We began talking over our little sandwiches and kept on for five straight hours. We talked about the world and politics and aging and death and cats.  Ronni's life could be the basis for at least several pages in a Who's Who of Culture and Counterculture of the Second Half of the 20th Century, and she remembers it all.  I was absolutely enthralled and edified.

And to top it all off, she gave me a pastry blender!  Not because she thought it would save me from Chicken McNuggets, but  because she had promised me her extra one should I ever come to see her.  I'm assuming she already suspected I wasn't much of a cook as she also gave me a packaged Apple Crisp mix.  All I have to do is "add fresh apples and butter."

My new pastry blender (and Apple Crisp mix)

I wonder if I will need to cut up the apples.  I'll ask Ronni the next time I see her.



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Waiting for Dinner

I’m glad my daughter, Melissa, married her husband, Trevor, for quite a few reasons. First and foremost, he's taken her off my hands and generally puts up with her. Second and secondmost, he’s a great father to Miles and Georgia, who, by the way, look alarmingly like him.

But another important reason I’m happy to have Trevor as a son-in-law is that, of everyone in our immediate family, he is the only one, and I do mean only one, who can cook.

The Big Kat, my ex and the father of my children, has vegetable soup as his signature dish. Said soup is made by pouring canned vegetables in a pot with one chicken bouillon cube and boiling it.

Although my son, Billy, purports to excel in All Things Poultry (i.e. an egg or a boneless breast of chicken) using the melting-butter-and-then-putting-the-poultry-item-in-a-pan-and-covering-it method, the only recipe of his I’ve personally experienced is his Flaming Fart Dip. No need to say any more about that.

Molly, my youngest, is a master at Hamburger Helper and frozen dinners. However, during a recent foray into better eating, she called to ask about fresh vegetables. When I inquired as to if she knew how to peel a carrot, she said in a somewhat sad and tremulous, not to mention a tad accusatory, voice that she didn’t know how to peel anything.

Melissa, who doesn’t cook much at all since she snagged Trevor with her womanly charms, still likes to call my Coca Cola ham recipe her own, although she has to phone me on the Wednesday before every Thanksgiving, asking me what the ingredients are. Since there are only four: ham, brown sugar, honey mustard, and yes, a can of Coca Cola, I’m able to help her no matter where I am or what I’m doing. The only problem with my rendition of Coca Cola ham is that its ultimate level of success depends on how long I sleep the night before, as it is meant to be cooked all night. If I undersleep, it’s underdone. If I oversleep, well, you get it.

So, we are left to Trevor and he with us.

Trevor is a very good cook, a gourmet cook.  He loves good food, fine wines, and craft beers (whatever they are).  He actually flips his dough while making the best pizzas in the world. The bad news for Trevor is that we, his adopted family, are, at best, an inadequate group of appreciators.   Remember, we are the Hamburger Helper, Flaming Fart people.

However, a dearth of understanding of the culinary arts and a lack of palate don't stop us from sitting around and waiting for dinner to come to us.  In the summer, we gather in the back yard, eyeing the grill.  In the winter, we decorate the couch, sniffing the air for food-like aromas. At Christmas, we sit under the tree like a biggie-sized nativity scene, looking like we are expecting our entree to arrive with Baby Jesus.

Waiting for dinner, that's what we do.  That's all we contribute.  And, overall, we are pretty good at waiting.  In fact, it seems we will wait forever.

And that's because Trevor, being the artiste he is, can't be hurried.  Dinner, for him, is a journey, not a destination.  Off to Salmon Dan's house across the street for fish so fresh it's straight from Dan's beer cooler still in the back of Dan's boat sitting in Dan's driveway.  Then down the block to Sharon's coop for eggs so new the hens are still checking under their feathered asses. Finally, he comes through the front door as our mouths begin their serious optimistic waterings, but no, out the back door he goes to the garden for salad greens, reds, and yellows.

Back in the kitchen, he opens a bottle of wine, letting it breathe, and then mixes up an exquisite dressing for the salad.  We, on the other hand, share the couch and a mint from the bottom of my purse.

When dinner finally arrives, it's to die for and we are spent, all of our work done.

Trevor thinks one day he'd like to open a small restaurant, a breakfast or lunch place, farm to table, only the freshest ingredients.

But, in case his patrons get tired of waiting for fresh, good, and real food, or if they run out of bottom-of-the-bag mints, maybe he'll want to offer Billy's dip as an appetizer to keep them entertained while they wait.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Birth Control at Table Four

When I’m in Portland for the summer, my kids and I like to take part in excursions with the grandkids. Wait. Like may be too strong a word. With Melissa having two children, Miles being four and Georgia almost two,  and with Billy’s little one, Cami, being right smack in the middle, age-wise, at almost three, they are definitely stair-step children and corralling them for anything big or extended is quite a feat.


But, because we are optimists and also because we don’t have good sense, we soldier on. We take them to parks and museums and kickball games. We’ve dragged them to the beach, to the zoo, to a giant waterfall, to concerts at Sauvie Island, and on the Odell Excursion Train at Mount Hood.


And on some occasions, when it seems that we have a communal death wish, we take them to restaurants.  Escorting one or two young children to a restaurant is doable as long as there is at least a one to one ratio.  Billy and I have taken Cami out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  She does fine until the orange juice sets in, but, between the two of us, we are able to run interference when she starts ricocheting.


Melissa and I have taken Miles and Georgia out to eat from time to time, carefully choosing the place for it's willingness to put up with chaos and ketchup.  A play area filled with toys that don't look like they carry the H1N1 virus is helpful but not absolutely necessary.  A table away from others almost always happens if the hostess is savvy at all. The promise of a big tip early on also seems to help.


But all three together, hoo boy! It's like they are more than the sum of their parts.  They can tag team us, what with the "having to go to the bathroom" from the ones who are potty trained or working on it, to the one who isn't and does number two in her diaper.  Then there's the ordering.  What they ordered, they no longer want.  Instead, they want what we have, leaving us to eat the mac and cheese and the peanut-butter quesadilla.  Then there's the salt and pepper just begging to be turned up-side-down and the ketchup bottle that could use a good squirting.  Oh yeah, I forgot the standing backwards in the booth and putting crackers in the hair of the lady behind us.


Last summer, as we were traveling to catch the Odell Excursion Train, we stopped for lunch at what looked like a family-friendly restaurant.  It was.  It was so friendly, in fact, they gave us our own room, complete with toys and swinging bar doors.  Billy remembers eating his entire meal standing at those swinging doors, making sure no one escaped.  He wasn't so worried about losing a kid.  He wanted to make sure neither Melissa nor I went to the bathroom, never to return.



And just this past Saturday, as we were heading to the beach and after we'd scared the sea lions back into the Pacific at the Gearhart Pier (renamed the pee-er after Miles christened it), we once again tried to have lunch, this time at the St. George Brewery.  The hostess took one look at us and seated us at Table Four.  Although it wasn't in a separate room, it was at least a booth with backs high enough to protect the people on either side.  

Since Georgia had arrived with a prepackaged load in her britches, Melissa took her to the bathroom for a change, leaving Billy and me to deal not only with Cami and Miles, but also with what seemed to be a surly waiter, someone not all that thrilled to be dealing with a group who would most likely soon be throwing food and spitting milk.  However, when Melissa and I each ordered a glass of wine, he cheered up some, thinking that we just might get wasted enough to mistakenly leave him a big tip.


A while later, after schmoozing with the waiter, asking where he was from, etc. and after I had, indeed, tipped him well in spite of being way too sober, he actually told us that he'd enjoyed serving us and then he relayed a little secret.


And the secret was that, after the hostess had seated us, she'd announced a new party in his section with this bad news:  

"Birth Control at Table Four."


Oh well, there's a good chance that the waitstaff at the St. George Brewery will have their own kids one day, and they too will know how to get a raisin out of a child's nose without calling an ambulance. 

And they'll think it's all worth it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Naked Bike Riding

How many things are wrong with that?

Whereas Atlanta has its Purple Dress Run, Portland has The Naked Bike Ride. The Purple Dress Run is an annual event sponsored by the Atlanta Bucks Rugby Football Club. It’s actually a pub crawl, and their website touts it this way:

“Put the Atlanta Bucks in purple dresses and run them from bar to bar, and it’s no prim-and-proper Southern cotillion. The burly Bucks and their supporters don their gay apparel Saturday for one of the rugby team’s two biggest fundraisers of the year.”
 
Photo taken from my Sun Room Window in Atlanta

So you get it. Burly gay guys dressed in purple dresses and careening from pub to pub to raise money for AIDS awareness, etc. Although often in sequins and boas and size 14 stilettos, they are clothed, at least mostly.

Then on to Portland's Naked Bike Ride. Here’s some info about the latest one:

"The World Naked Bike Ride took to the streets of Portland Saturday night, exposing the city to a reported 13,000 cyclists who in turn were exposing themselves to the city. In spite of a cool evening, cyclists rode with little or no clothing, staying warm with exertion and camaraderie."

Still lots of alcohol involved and a good cause, this one to protest against society's reliance on automobiles and Big Oil.

I can see myself taking part in the Purple Dress Run (as long as I didn’t have to run). I’d actually be one of the better looking participants, trust me. But as to the Naked Bike Ride, please see below for just some of the ways this is wrong:
  • It was only 50 degrees the evening described in the article I cited.
  • At my age, there's no telling what body part might get stuck in the spokes.
  • I can't ride a bike sober so .............
  • You know the adage about being the lead dog in a sled race and how if you aren't the lead dog, the view never changes.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be the lead dog in this race, and, if I remember correctly, don't people stand up from their bike seats when they accelerate or start up a hill?
  • Speaking of the bike seat, who's in charge of cleaning that after the race?
  • Do the participants go naked into the bars too?
  • Can you imagine where the scrapes might be if you fall off?
  • What about chafing?
  • Where do you keep your credit card and phone? How about your identification for when they find you naked, drunk, and dead in the gutter?
But what I find most wrong about Portland's Naked Bike Ride is the point they are trying to make, that of protesting our over-reliance on automobiles and Big Oil.  Nothing makes me want to climb into my big old gas guzzling car fully clothed more than considering the alternative of Riding a Bicycle with my Sixty-One-Year-Old Completely Nekked Body on a Cold Spring Evening in Portland, Oregon.  Or any place else, for that matter.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Schooled: The Culture of Teaching

The other afternoon, I was walking to the grocery store in the village-like area of St. Johns, where I live in Portland during the summer. My small condo is across the street from James John Elementary School.  As I was walking, I remembered that schools in Portland break for summer several weeks after we do in Atlanta and also that it was the last day of classes for Portland children.   Noting the jubilant looks on the teachers’ faces as they made for their cars, I knew this was a big day for them too. I offered those Portland teachers a covert salute as I know the feeling well.

In spite of renewed interest in year-round schools, most teaching is seasonal work, kind of like picking peaches. There’s a definite rhythm to it: the beginning anew each fall and the finishing up each spring. We get to start over every new school year, something that doesn’t happen in many professions.

But because K-12 teaching involves working with children and adolescents for much of the day, time with other adults is limited. When I was younger,  I yearned for a “grown-up” job with adult interaction that included an office and a lunch hour, so I stepped up the ladder to positions like curriculum coordinator, principal, college professor, and state department manager. But now that I'm older and perhaps in my second childhood, I like the limited time with adults.

But not having much time to interact with grown-ups doesn't seem to inhibit work friendships.  In fact, it may actually promote them in that we don't have enough time together to get on each other's nerves.  The seasonal work with children and the separation from other adults make for relationships created by stolen moments during bathroom breaks, planning time, and 3 PM Happy Hours.  If you happen to happen by a bar in mid afternoon on a Friday and it's filled with raucous people dressed in t-shirts that say I Survived Field Day 2009, you know you're in the midst of a gaggle of teachers.  

And, in the elementary grades, there's recess.  Recess is held sacred not only by kids but also by teachers, and inclement weather is as disappointing to us as it is to the children.  While keeping an eagle eye on the antics of our students, we are catching up with the antics of the grown-ups.  Our joke is that we always have recess unless there's a funnel cloud in evidence.

When I decided to return to teaching in an elementary school setting at age 56, one of my primary concerns was that there would be no one else as ancient or decrepit as I, but I was wrong.  There are people my age (and older) at my school; they just don't happen to be on my grade level team so I don't see them very often.  But that hasn't mattered one bit.  The ages of the people on my team run from mid 20's to early 40's with good old me as the elder teach-person.  Although we don't often hang out on weekends, (how could we when I go to bed at eight?) my young colleagues seem to like me well enough as far as work friendships go. 

My work friends often use me as their surrogate mother, which is fine with me as I use them as my stand-in kids.  They bring their problems to me so that I can give them my best advice, advice they ignore just like my own children.  Because of this relationship, I get to be on the in-the-know cutting edge when it comes to first dates, break-ups, engagements, weddings, babies, and future babies.

One of the things I enjoy most about working in a school is the turmoil.  Every place I've ever been employed had some drama, but since an elementary school is heavy on females, we fairly foment in the fray.  There's always something exciting and titillating going on, enough to make it worth getting up each morning and facing the day.

And finally, there's the gallows humor.   We complain about our working conditions and all the wrongs that have been put upon us, but this is typical of all work places.  With teaching, however, we also get to complain and laugh about our students, but please keep in mind that we are quite proprietary about those complaints and that humor.  Nobody else better be messing with one of our kids.  We're like mother birds, squawking out our grievances while pecking at intruders.

So, there are difficulties being an adult who spends her days with children, but the friendships we make with other teachers are a lot of fun, perhaps made better by the limited amount of time we can spend together during a typical workday.  Fred, that annoying co-worker, has to get back to his class before he can get on too many people's nerves.

And there's always recess (unless a funnel cloud has been sighted).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Geezer Chic: The Ultimate Alternative Lifestyle

We oldsters deserve some respect. And I don’t mean because of our wisdom or accumulated good works or the sacrifices we’ve made for our families. No, we deserve respect because of how cool and edgy we are. Think about it. Many of the things that make young people cool, we also have. For example:
  • They mark their bodies. Ours are already marked. With age spots, stretch marks and moles now all converging on my left breast, it’s starting to look like I have a tattoo of a phoenix, or maybe it's a buzzard.
  • They expand their ear holes for large posts. Ours are already expanded. I one time wore both of my earrings in the same hole for an entire day and nobody noticed.
  • They ride around on odd cycles. So do we.
  • They often don’t remember what they did last night. We don’t remember what we did this morning.
  • Pink and purple hair? We’ve got that covered!
  •  They like their music out of the mainstream, as do we. When my mother gave my daughter, Molly, her car when Molly turned 16, there was a tape stuck in the tape player. The tape was polka music. I am not kidding here.
  • They don't make much sense.  Neither do we.
  • They sleep late. We sleep early.
  • They go to vintage stores to buy old clothes. We don’t need to.
  • They’re wired. So are we – to our pacemakers and CPAP machines
  • They imagine a better world. We had it. It ended in 1970.
So, you see, if we can corner the market on cool, we can have the same advantages as young people.  Advantages like getting reservations for dinner at the newest trendy restaurants (as long as they open by five and have doggie bags) and starring in our own reality shows.  However, instead of The Bachelor, ours could be The Widower.  We could bake pies and drop them by his house. 

If I only knew how to bake a pie.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Living with a Little Indian Boy

No, I’m not cohabiting with a child from India. I’m trying to put myself in the moccasins of a little Creek boy who lived in 1785 and yes, I do know that Indian in this context isn’t politically or even historically correct.

Being just a tad self-absorbed, I usually write only about myself:  my memories, my experiences, my opinions. Even when I wrote my three mysteries, which were fictional, everyone knew that the main character was guess who.

So, when I began to think about writing a fictional children’s book about six kids who all lived in the same place but at different times, I wasn’t sure I would have the imagination to dream up their lives or their story. My writer friend, Leslie, told me to let my characters tell their own stories and I believe that's good advice. But, before my character can tell me his story, I need to get to know him and to perhaps gain his trust.  So here I sit in the red Georgia clay in a Creek Village in 1785, and I must say it’s pretty hot and my deerskin chaps are itching me. However, that squash soup his mother is cooking over the open hearth smells pretty darned good. I do keep wondering, though, where my cell phone is and I'm yearning for a Diet Coke.

The idea for the book began five years ago, my first year teaching second-graders in Atlanta. We were studying Georgia History and we traveled to the Atlanta History Center for a field trip. We were wandering around with a docent who had managed to garner the attention of the adults much better than that of the little ones. The kids were too busy pushing buttons and each other to focus. However, when our guide mentioned that the Battle of Peachtree Creek (the first of three Civil War battles fought in the Atlanta area) occurred where the Bobby Jones Golf Course is now situated, several stopped their shenanigans and perked up their little ears.

“I live on Bobby Jones!” said one. “I live right behind it,” said another.

I’m not sure they got it but I did. My students live right smack on top of history and so do I! I needed to figure out a way to help them to feel the connection.

We went back to school and created timelines and we talked about the history of Atlanta back before it was Atlanta, but I still didn’t think they were understanding. To them (and to me to a certain extent), time is linear. We think of time as being from a different place. So, I thought about telling a story about different children who lived at different times but in the same place.

I ultimately decided on six different stories, one for each child: Tuck, a Creek boy in 1785; Susannah, the daughter of a white general store owner in 1825; James, an escaped slave at the Battle of Peachtree Creek in 1864; Rosie, a mill worker in 1910; Carl, a black kid in the midst of the civil rights movement in 1961; and finally, Jessie, a child who could have been my student in 2010.  I knew I needed to write about the history and social context for each of those times, but, because kids are kids, I also needed to make it interesting with some humor - a big job I began contemplating five years ago and one I'm still not quite sure I'm up for.

I am most fearful of writing about the earlier kids, especially Tuck, since his life seems most foreign to me and there are so many stupid ways I could misrepresent or diminish his culture, but I've decided to write it chronologically, attempting to be brave. Get it, brave? Indian brave? Okay, I guess I'm hoping that by saying everything ridiculous and embarrassing I can think of here on this blog, maybe it won't show up in the stories.

I'll of course let you know how it goes. But I must stop now as I think the soup's ready. I just don't know what I'm going to drink with it. 

Creek water? Are you kidding me?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wild Ride with Tommy Jr.

I have a new boyfriend and his name is Tommy Jr. He’s a younger relative of the Tom I took with me on my Spring Break adventure. My son, Billy, introduced me to Tommy Jr. when he gave me a brand new Tom Tom GPS for Mother’s Day and I must say that I’m pretty excited.

Since I like the notion of a boyfriend better than putting up with the real thing, I think Tommy Jr. may just be what I need at this point in my life. A couple of years ago, my friend, Allison, and I decided to make up some boyfriends we could brag about in social situations. We came up with Lars and Sven, whom we said we met at the Steamhouse Lounge in Midtown Atlanta. They were Scandinavian sportswear salesmen in town for a convention. I don’t know if it was their names or their occupation or our meeting them at a bar prior to our five o’clock early bird dinner, but nobody seemed to believe us.

But I think Tommy is doable (figuratively, not sexually). He already goes with me everywhere, tucked nicely into my glove compartment when I don’t need him. When I do require his assistance, his sweet face and assertive voice get me where I need to go. And at no point, so far, has he told me he doesn’t like my hair or that I could stand to lose a few pounds.

In fact, I’m so enamored with Tommy Jr. I'm wondering if I could unearth my trusty old Singer sewing machine and whip him up a body out of muslin and fiberfill batting, kind of like a rag Tommy Jr., only with his beautiful GPS screen instead of eyes.  That way, he could sit in my passenger seat and help me gain access to the HOV lane and maybe I could take him dancing.  Remember those life-sized dancing dolls we used to have as kids that had elastic attached to the bottom of their feet so that they stepped where and when we stepped?

Now I'm thinking of other ways a stuffed Tommy Jr. could come in handy.  They include:
  • dining out.  No longer will I have to bring along a book to pretend to read.  I can just pretend to have a conversation with my boyfriend, Tommy Jr. instead.
  • at a movie.  I can tuck his arm around my shoulder during a romantic comedy.
  • in a dark alley or on the subway.  Everyone would be afraid to bother me.
  • at the grocery store.  He can push the cart and  reach the macaroni and cheese on the top shelf.
  • at the gas station.  He can hold the pump.
I do have to say that I'm not sure I'll want to sleep with Tommy Jr.  I've slept alone since my cat died and I've gotten used to it.  Plus, Tommy Jr. isn't real.  He's a GPS with a rag-doll body, so that would just be creepy.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Time

A message to the parents of my students this year:

Each morning as the sun first peeks into my classroom window and I prepare for the day, I stand at the board and write the date with an orange marker. I began this school year with Monday, August 9, 2010, and soon I’ll write Tuesday, May 24, 2011.

And that will be it.

Just as I’ll never again write those specific dates on that board in an orange marker on those particular days, neither will I ever again greet your child as my own as he or she arrives, wet-combed hair or bed head, lunch in hand or sorrowfully left in the back seat of the car, eagerly or reluctantly facing the morning, a story to tell, something to share.

We talk of good news and bad, new pets or those who’ve left us, family trips in our future or in our past, ballgames won or lost, times of trouble and times of bliss. We spar with jokes and insults; we forgive and sometimes forget; we argue and then offer ourselves for comfort.

Living with twenty or so children seven hours a day, five days a week, ten months a year is an experience much greater than a curriculum map or an attendance sheet or test scores or discipline plan. We become a family and what happens between the four walls of our classroom is as complicated and tender as what can be found in any home. We share our laughter and tears and pain and wonderment with each other a hundred times a day. We have a common language and agreed-upon jokes; specific memories that no one else on earth will ever have.

My second-graders will move on and love their third-grade teacher in spite of what they promise me now. They will never remember me as I remember them - they with their gappy teeth and shorts in winter and fake tattoos and fledgling understandings of who they are and what they’ll become.

Time is such a trickster. It hides itself in routine, in menial jobs to be done, in minor irritations that keep us from realizing we’re in the midst of something amazing. We become mired in the details and often lose track of the gift. I wish I could tie up this year in a ribbon and give it to myself when I need a lift, or to be reminded of what’s important; when I need a good laugh or an even better cry.

I’ll want to remember and to tuck it all away because this year has been as no other year. No other class was like this class and no other children were like these children. We were Mayo’s class and it will never be the same.

 
Many thanks to Nance at Mature Landscaping for this award

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shut Up, Katie!

A few evenings ago, I attended a cookout hosted by a good friend. As we were finishing our meal, my friend's two darling daughters were amiably chatting with us all when Katie suddenly made fun of something Emily had said. Emily, who is three years younger than Katie, then retorted with a heated, vehement, and seemingly long-withheld “Shut up, Katie!!”

Now, this type of thing isn’t that uncommon. Siblings do bicker and bash at each other as they traverse the family terrain, trying to find a place for themselves. What makes this incidence a bit more unusual (and a lot funnier) is that Katie is 34 and a married mother of one, and Emily is 31 and in graduate school.

I wasn’t surprised though, as similar flare-ups happen any time my family is together, and my own kids are 36, 34, and 26. Although I continually assure each of them that I love them best and remind them not to tell the others, they still act like, well, like children, when we are all together. They tell me they are fine with neither their father nor I in the room, so it’s obviously the parents and not the kids who are the problem.

I remember my mother telling me that the optimal age difference in siblings is three years. That's probably because that's the rate at which she birthed my brother and me. According to my mother's rule, Melissa and Billy, my first two, were born too close together and poor Molly was so far behind, some people forget that there ever was a third Talbert kid.

There's been all sorts of research on siblings and birth order, but I have my own theory. I believe if everyone were first born, we would certainly accomplish a lot, but we'd also have an exponential increase in wars, along with a veritable pandemic of hostile buyouts and acquisitions. The problem with birthing only first borns might explain the issues the rest of the world has with China, situations solely caused by its one-child policy.

If the world were made up of only last borns, nothing would ever get done, other than an increased proliferation of stand-up comedy, minimalist art, and blogging. Last borns tend to be sidewinders who would perfect the notion of doing their own thing if it wasn't just too much trouble. I am a good example of a last born.

Middle children? These peacemakers just might save us all if they could possibly extricate themselves from the center of their own family's issues.

I guess it's a good thing that accidents happen to all families (except in China) and that we can't always predict which offspring will arrive when. As science gets closer and closer to allowing people to perfectly engineer the genetic make up of their children, I hope we remember this.

But then again, maybe it's the learning to deal with a sibling, or a cousin or perhaps a second-grade classmate, even if the little pain in the ass was created from carefully-selected egg and sperm donors, that prepares us all to have the skills, wherewithal, and stamina to survive in the adult world.

So, a "Shut up, Katie!!" from a 31-year-old little sister probably isn't such a bad thing after all.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stuck!

Those of us who live in modern times all know the feeling. There we are, moving along nicely on an interstate highway, listening to All Things Considered on NPR and thinking about how much gas we’re burning, when we suddenly see that dreaded brake-light illumination that adorns the horizon like Christmas twinklers in a slasher movie. It’s what’s euphemistically known as traffic congestion. Sometimes, it’s just a police car parked on the side of the road simply to piss people off; sometimes it’s something more serious like a wreck. But more often that not, it’s that worst of worst-case scenarios: the road repaving project. 

The most annoying thing about a road repaving project is that you can’t even spend any of the many hours sitting idly, while your speedometer never rises above zero, feeling sorry for the poor people whose bad luck caused it all.  As my son, Billy says, if he's stuck in traffic for an inordinate amount of time, he'd better at least see a car on fire.

That’s what happened to me the other night. The the stuck in traffic, not the car on fire.

I was driving back to Atlanta after attending my daughter Molly's Master's graduation in Milledgeville, which is about 100 miles away.  From the onset, I need to say that I no longer have any business driving after dark, especially on roads I don't know.  The first part of my journey had been pretty perilous, with me white knuckling an erratic 55 on a two-lane road while everyone else wanted to drive 70, headlights and tail lights blinding my poor old eyes. So, when I finally merged onto I-20, I was relieved.  The lighting was better and there were lanes for everyone to pass me by with fewer histrionics and birds being shot.

Speaking of driving after dark, I very seldom do it as I usually go to bed before the sun goes down, at least in all months other than December, January, and February.  People who know me well know this about me and have learned not to call me after 7:30 pm.  So, there I was that night, not only driving after dark, but also awake after dark.  You know, it's really dark out there after dark.

Back to I-20 West heading into Atlanta.  It was about 10 PM, two hours after my bedtime, but I was tooling along, making good time, listening to a riveting Rodgers and Hammerstein retrospective and lip-synching to Some Enchanted Evening, just twenty miles from home.  That's when I noticed a couple of tail lights, nothing to worry about, probably just a geezer like me driving in the left lane.  In fact, I liked the slowdown so I could smirk in the dark at all of the whippersnappers who had so rudely passed me miles back.

Two hours later, I was no longer smirking and boy did I have to pee. There I was in my little Corolla, inching forward one or two wheel rotations every couple of minutes,  totally surrounded by huge semis, absolutely imprisoned in a jungle of asphalt, fenders, and fumes.


It's interesting that these "traffic congestions" happen all the time these days and the highway hostages pretty much comport themselves with patience and grace, to the point of letting all those fools who think they can get ahead by driving on the shoulder ultimately merge in at that last stupid minute, nobody shooting each other or even honking. It's as if everyone is too miserable to dream up anything dastardly.  

And so, after almost two hours, it was twelve o'clock, a time of dark I haven't seen in years, and we finally arrived at and passed by those midnight warriors, people who work in the midst of the fumes and misery and dirty looks, and no escape themselves, to keep our roads pot-hole free and drivable for everyone, including slow drivers with bad night vision like me.

I finally made it home safe and somewhat sound, thanks to well-paved roads and people who are willing to stay up late and work in the dark.  I guess that's as good a reason for traffic congestion as a car on fire.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Looking for Junanto: Shipping Out

If you saw my earlier introduction,* you know that my mother had decided to join the Army and was headed to Texas, not Michigan or Washington, for her physical therapy training.  I believe it was some time in the  summer of 1942.  As you read this, you'll notice a common theme to my mother's experiences during that time, the summer she turned 25, and that theme was "men."  

She was young, pretty, unencumbered, and looking for adventure.
Part of my mother's Army training, apparently.
Mama is in the front with the cowboy

So you went to Texas. Was that San Antonio?

Yes, Fort Sam Houston

And how long were you there?

A little over a year.

Was the training hard?

It was interesting.

What was life like there? Did you have fun?

Fun.

Were there a lot of soldiers?

Yeah. Of course, we weren't supposed to date anybody but officers. But we did.

Were you commissioned immediately?

No, we had to complete the program. We finished in late August and the next day, we signed up for the army and got our commissions.

Where did you live during your training?

On the base. They were wooden barracks. We left within a couple of weeks of our completion of the course. We sat around in San Francisco for a couple of weeks, getting clothing. They gave us cold weather clothing and told us we were going to Alaska. 


And so, my mother thought her grand adventure would be in Alaska.  I have no idea why Army troops were being sent to Alaska, but, no matter, because Alaska is not where she ended up.


When we finally left and got on our ship with our stuff, we were the first ship that ever went over without an accompanying gunboat. We went down past the tip of South America and then turned west and came up at the bottom of New Zealand and then up the Australian coast.

When did you know you were going to Australia?

When we got there.

You really didn't know where you were?

No.

Didn't that drive you crazy?

No. I was a lark! Everyday something different, and somebody different.

So, how many women were on this ship and how many men?

Probably about 100 women and 1000 men.

You were probably sorry when you got there!

By then, I was dating the merchant marine man that was head of, let's see what his job was on the ship. Head of all the mechanics.

How did you date on the ship?

Just like any place else. There was one place where we got together every night. The fellow that I ended up dating could really play the piano and we sang with the piano.

Could you drink?

If you had it, you could.

Did you stop in a port ever?

No, not until we hit Brisbane.

How did you take on fuel?

I guess we carried enough. I can't remember how many people it was supposed to carry.

I remember that you had 4 times as many people as you were supposed to. Did you all just have a tiny little space?

We had cabins, 3 tier bunks, 3 of them, 9 girls to a room. And you couldn't get down and get dressed except one at a time, so you sat on your bunk and you pulled on your under clothes and then you took your turn to come down. We did have a bathroom, a pretty good size one. But it had salt water in it, no fresh water.

Where did you store your stuff?

In the hold of the ship. We were allowed to keep a musette bag, that you hung over your shoulders, but your bedrolls and your foot lockers were in the hold.

Food.

Two meals a day. And I was one of the few women that ever went to eat. The rest of them were so seasick. I've never been seasick.

The food was ok.

Yep. It was good. It was hearty.

You all didn't have any work to do on that ship. Wasn't there anything they wanted you to do?

No, 23 days. It was getting kind of boring toward the end. We played cards.

The men, did they have stuff to do or were they just being transported?

They made up stuff for them to do. They assigned them things to check on this, check on that. But see, we didn't have anybody to lead us. We could do whatever we pleased. We had dietitians, physical therapists, and nurses.

Did you just have physical therapists rooming with you?


We had some dietitians and maybe a couple of nurses.

So, you got off in Brisbane?

Yes

I bet you were excited.

We wanted to see what was next. And we arrived Christmas Eve day. 
Note:  I looked up Alaska during WWII and found these resources from Amazon:
You can, of course, just google it for free.
*Thanks to my friend, Cile, for the idea of linking my intro here.  Duh!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Clapping: Old People’s Answer to Gettin’ Down

A couple of Christmases ago, the second grade classes at my school went to see an abridged adaptation of the Nutcracker at the Fox Theater in downtown Atlanta. Before the ballet began, a rather peppy man played rousing Christmas tunes on the big old pipe organ there and I clapped along to the music, having myself a merry olde tyme. Eventually, I noticed that I was just about the only person clapping.

My students certainly weren’t clapping. They were too busy checking the bottoms of the seats for old chewing gum and pretending to have to go to the bathroom. My young colleagues weren’t clapping either. They were checking Facebook for status updates on their new-fangled phones.

That’s when I realized that I was officially and certifiably old.

Since then, I’ve begun clapping to all kinds of music in all kinds of places, but the place I like to clap best is all by myself in my easy chair as I watch TV. I clap when I hear the theme music on Friends re-runs, but, then again, who doesn’t clap to that?  Even the Friends themselves clap at one point in the song.  My current favorite clapping tune, however, is the theme from Property Virgins on HGTV.  It requires a kind of syncopated clapping, or what I like to call Advanced Elderly Clapping.  Whippersnappers are not equipped to perform AEC; they just don't have enough life experience.  Nor do they have the necessary gnarled digits.

Since I live in a small condo with a shared outside entry, I do wonder what my young neighbor thinks when he arrives home from work, with plans for his evening in his Blackberry, a twelve pack under his arm, and me happily clapping on the other side of my door.

But before my neighbor or any of my young friends or family members snicker derisively about  how pitiful (yet rhythmically gifted) I am, I need to inform them that the good news for me (and for them too at some future point) is that I am, at my advanced age, just as happy, and in some cases, even happier than I was back in the day when I was chasing the perfect tan, the good-enough man,  the cutest shoes, the newest diet, and the American Dream.

Nowadays, what I have is pretty much what I want and I no longer feel the need to make my mark on the world.  All I'm chasing these days are my current interests, what I'm going to eat for my Early Bird Dinner, and that new Kraft Philly Cheese commercial with the perfect beat for a spirited clapping session.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Introduction to Looking for Junanto

 
 Mama in Arizona, Summer of 1941

Looking for Junanto is the story my mother’s life from December 7, 1941, the day Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, to February 12, 1946, the day she married my father. I’m going to tell it in parts, so as not to overwhelm you with too much to read at one time, or me with too much to think about and organize. Some of it will be in her words, from a taped interview I did with her on New Year's Day, 2000.   The rest will be my interpretation of what her life was like, based on family lore and photographs I’ve inherited. The title comes from the word Junanto, which was written on the back of several of the more interesting photographs. It's a word my mother never used in describing that time and it's a word for which Google was of no help.

Below is from Mama directly:

Well, Pearl Harbor happened. Like everybody, I was shocked to death. I was in Jerome (living at home with her parents in Arizona) and teaching school. We heard it early Sunday morning on the radio. I think I was sewing. And, of course, I had no idea of anything that I was going to do. I was anxious to do something, anything, besides live at home.  Going back to Jerome had probably been s stupid thing to do.

Some time in the early spring, they began talking about training people for different things, and one of them was Physical Therapy. You see, I was teaching physical education and the requirement to take the physical therapy program was that you had a degree in physical education or you were a degree nurse. I read about it first in my professional magazine, and so I think I wired, you didn't telephone then. I sent a telegram asking for further information. They told me I could go to a school in Michigan, Ann Arbor. It wasn't the University. It was a school that was run by Sister Kenny; she was a physical therapist who went from England to Australia, and then she came to the United States. She was the originator of physical therapy in the United States. She had a training program. Anyway, I considered going there, and about that time I heard about the Army program, which was free. And we were to be paid - a pittance - while we were in training. 

The first time that I applied, they told me that I couldn't see well enough, and with almost return mail, they sent me a wire and said that it didn't matter whether I could see or not. They told me to report to Washington, DC, a hospital there, almost immediately. Then the next telegram said that they were starting a school in Texas and for me to go to Texas, so I did. But I didn't go until about the middle of the summer. That's when I ended up in Texas at Fort Sam Houston. There were five of us; we were the first class.

So, it seems that my mother joined the Army and began a journey that took her to places I've certainly never been because she was living at home after college and was bored. That, in turn, led to the life she lived for the next five years and ultimately to her marriage to my father and the births of my brother and me.

What if my mother had loved living with her parents after college?  What if she'd done her training in Washington instead of Texas?  What if her eyesight had, in fact, been her undoing when it came to joining the Army?

Our very existence, it seems, is based so precariously on some things falling apart and other things coming together. 

And most likely, in many cases, boredom.

The Curious Lament of a Former Second Grade Teacher

  The timing was perfect.   I was 56 and looking toward retirement but not yet ready, either physically, emotionally, or moneta...