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


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


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?


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?


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.


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?


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!

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