Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Love a Map.

Since David and I are about to travel by car to my niece’s wedding in Pittsburgh, I have been thinking about maps.

Blog readers: Maps? Who needs a map?

Well, David and I do since we don’t have a GPS in my 1998 Volvo or that capacity on my twenty dollar cellular “Go Phone” I got from Target; we need a map.

I have already mapped out our trip to Pittsburgh, and I admit I enjoyed unfolding and laying it out on the dining room table to look at possible routes. I loved determining the best route and then marking it with my handy-dandy yellow highlighter.

Blog readers: How archaic.... *yawns*

Oh, shut-up, I love a map. I love to unfold it, read it, and then confidently, and with alacrity, back to its bi-fold shape. That’s a skill, you know? To fold a map back.... I have seen many a lesser human fumble with it, huffing and puffing, and finally succumb to leaving it mussed and crumpled to be fussed over by a veteran map folder -- perhaps myself.

Growing up, my parents raised us to read all kinds of maps. We looked at Atlases and we looked at maps in encyclopedias -- we looked at topical maps -- we followed longitudes and latitudes. We knew the oceans. We knew continents. We knew where we lived and where Machu Picchi was. We knew maps, and we were nerdy enough to love them.


BTW: I like Mapquest and Google maps, but sometimes, those people are just guessing. I test it all the time to places of which I already know the quickest route, and almost every time those Internet maps will take me by a road that I know will lead me quicker and shorter. There is also something a little eerie and creepy in those Google maps ---- that anyone can type in your address in that little window -- and then, there is your home -- weeds, needing paint, and all -- on the Internet.

So, give me a map.

In fact, my whole family loved maps, all kinds, but especially road maps. We fought on our car trips as to who got to look at the map as we traveled.. who could add up the numbers the quickest -- who could tell how many miles we were from Concord or Greenville or St. Augustine.

We could only play those road trip games for so long --- billboard alphabet or who could spot a a state license plate from the state the further est away --- a great game since license plates changed yearly, sometimes sporting a different look than the year before...

I remember a friend of mine's father hung them in his garage where they spanned the walls, six or eight rows high and going back to the mid 1930s.

Do I remember that at one point the license tag actually told something about the car? Or did I make that up? It’s weight? It’s size? It’s county of origin?

BTW: Who thought of those vanity license plates? I have to admit that I had to look at the occupant of a car recently who had “Goddess12” on her license tag. I sped up to make sure that it wasn’t Hera or Aphrodite -- and wondering about the other 11.


I always worried about those fellow teachers who gave the state of Georgia another thirty bucks to have “Educator” on their license tags. I would worry that this would be just enough information for the ex-psycho student with "issues" to feel like keying.

On those car trips, we stopped at “filling stations” or “rest areas” where maps were for the taking. We excitedly gathered them -- more than we needed, of course, so that we could have our own to hold, fold, and unfold and refold. We could map out imaginary trips, great entertainment for long car rides with fidgety and competitive children.

A road map is a fount of information --- it’s a spatial look at geography on paper. It has legends, keys, colors, arrow directions, and little symbols. A map has information. It has interstates, state roads, mountains, lakes and rivers, and sometimes, points of interest.

I love information. I love just having it and not having to do anything with it. Information exercises the mind.

I remember the elementary school classroom with those huge, wonderful roll down maps that a teacher would pop over to when a particularly unschooled geography-challenged student would ask, “where is Iowa“ or “Egypt"?

Some were glossy, others kind of matty, and smooth and colorful and big -- they smelled of a kind of vinyl or rubber -- sort of like linoleum or whatever that substantial, sturdy material was -- and they fascinated me as a student. I loved to place my finger on a place and then drag it across the map to another place -- move my index finger from Atlanta to somewhere exotic like Acapulco.

Elvis movies had to be good for something. *tee hee*

Depending on what class you were in, depended on the map the teacher would have in her class. There were world maps, USA wall maps or regional maps, or maps just of the state of Georgia.

Since I was myopic in my early grades, I remember how I couldn’t see the map from my classroom seat and would sneak a close look on my way to recess. Its smooth surface a pleasure to touch, its colors vibrant, and its information much.

I always wanted to be the student who was asked to either pull the map down from its mount or even cooler, to be the one who got to jerk on the cord at the bottom just enough to send the map flying upwards …. the snapping sound, satisfying and victorious..... as it retreated neatly into its roller. It took a very practiced flip of the wrist.

No kidding.

Nothing could send a class of elementary school age children or even high school-ers into fits and giggles quite like the student who couldn’t get the right “tug” to flip the spring on the roller into action, but instead pulled on the map until it was stretched to the floor, Florida so far south it was in South America or South America so far south it couldn’t be seen.

*giggles at memory*

Even funnier ----- when it was the teacher doing the tuggin’ and losin’ the battle, only to give it over to the student or leave it up there, its elongated self a sign of defeat, where students would sometimes walk on it as they traversed the room.

Another classroom funny was the student who jerked on the map and sent it speeding so quickly into the roller that it banged against the wall so hard, it knocked off plaques or pictures that were propped on the frame of the board or brought the teacher from the classroom next door over to check for survivors.

One time in 4th grade in Mrs. Gibson’s class --- Jack Millirons, a particularly slow kid but of great girth, pulled and tugged on a map of the US with the state capitals so hard that the whole shebangy came flying down and barely missed decapitating the bust of Abraham Lincoln, sitting on Mrs. Gibson’s desk.

It was scary funny.

I loved that map --- its pink, purple, yellow, green and blue states with the little stars beside the capitals. When the map was rehung by the custodian, it never was the same. Jack’s brutal tug made it forever hesitant to return to its roller --- it had to be coddled and begged to return. Most days it hung crookedly out of its frame like a juvenile delinquent with his shirt tail out.

Well, I started off at one place and ended up another -- kind of like looking at a map, huh?


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In Celebration of Friendship

A month ago I met two friends of mine from my early days of teaching at Douglas County HS-- both of them out of education since the mid 80s -- one to become a mom, the other because of illness. Here we were almost thirty-five years later, sitting in an Italian restaurant and laughing heartily with each other about the “old days” and “do you remember” as well as listening to the heart-ache, disappointments, and losses of our lives. Our three hour lunch flew by, and we walked away promising to see each other “soon” as opposed to later. So much more time behind us than ahead, we vowed to have regular lunches together to reminisce and share our lives more often than every three years.

Today, I met a more recent colleague, a young teacher with just ten years of teaching under his belt and with a lot more time ahead of him than behind him. Just like the friends from thirty-five years ago, he and I laughed, talked about the students that he was currently teaching that I had also taught (this year’s graduating class will be the last of my former students), and fretted and harped about the frustrations of the job, including the impossible task it is sometimes to deal with the classroom.

Amazing how the working relationship in a teaching environment lends itself to such ties and bonds. It’s a good thing.

Friendships are such a precious commodity that when I find those good ones, I know I need to feed and water them. I want to grow old with them. I want to talk to them on a regular basis -- be in touch with them. I have tried over the years to stay in touch with friends, to nurture them, but sometimes, friendships that seem so tight, so secure, can float away.

My first best friend was Marcie. Marcie lived next door, and she was the oldest of four. I was the youngest of four, and my oldest brother was just eleven years younger than Marcie’s mother. In fact, my mother was old enough to be Marcie’s mother, so in some ways, it was like Marcie was my mother’s grandchild, but not. I just know that my parents always felt like parents to Marcie’s parents if that makes any sense, but they befriended them as neighbors -- talking over the fence, feeding their dog while they were on vacation, and borrowing that famous “cup of sugar” that made neighbors care about one another.

Marcie and I were thick as thieves -- and every morning as soon as Marcie could, or her mother would let her, she headed over, knocked on our front door, and came in to hang out with “Harriett Sue,” the childhood name I went by to distinguish me from my aunt who had the same first name.

Marcie and I walked to school together, played together, put our hair up in ponytails on the same day, and shared toys and a love of Elvis, introduced to Marcie by her young mother and then to me. My own mother thought Elvis was a “ne'er-do-well." {must have been his performance on Ed Sullivan, which by the way, I didn't see}. LOL

If Marcie stayed over too long, my mother used to send Marcie home, or if I were at Marcie’s, she would call over there and tell Pat, Marcie’s’ mother, that it was time for me to come home. We were inseparable. We were happy. We were best friends. I truly loved Marcie.

When one of Marcie’s younger brothers was struck and killed by a car in our neighborhood, Marcie’s grieving family and extended family gathered at her grandmother’s house. In her tears, Marcie asked for me, and her grief stricken father called my father, who rushed me over, and I was brought into that sad house. Never before have I or again have I felt such sadness, such loss -- it was incomprehensible.

I was in the eighth grade, and even though I had been to and attended both my grandparents’ funerals, I had no idea of how to deal with the pain that I saw the night of Marcie‘s brother‘s death. Stony faced, I sat with Marcie and watched her mom and dad cry as they irrationally blamed themselves and each other somehow for the death of their son.

I stood rigid at the visitation at the funeral home, too afraid to look at the small coffin and his waxy figure, but somehow did it to be by Marcie’s side. At the equally traumatic, yet moving funeral, I sat with the family and held Marcie’s hand, too shocked myself to shed a tear. My own parents hovered near by concerned about the reciprocal effects of my sharing vicariously in such a tragedy. Later, my mother would tell me how proud she and Daddy were of me “during that” that I was able to be so “strong “ and to “be Marcie’s friend.” I confessed to her that I felt like I was in some kind of movie, none of it real to me, and that she was wrong -- "I wasn’t “strong at all.” That was when I cried for Marcie and for Marcie’s brother.

Unable to live so close to the accident scene, Marcie and her family moved -- just far enough away for us to go in different high schools --- but not far enough for her not to ask me to be a bridesmaid ten years later in her wedding. Then we drifted apart as I finished college and took up a career as a teacher.

I still think about Marcie and her family --- our childhood friendship -- and wonder if tragedy had not shaken that young family to its core to send them fleeing away from its reminders -- if we would still be friends. I think we would. There was something in that friendship with Marcie. Are the firsts always the best? Maybe. Maybe not.

In high school, I luckily accrued many friends --- I had Linda, a girl from my church, whose father and I shared a passion for books, and Gloria, whose family lived close to the high school. Each morning, my brother and I rode the city bus to school and passed Gloria’s house. My brother walked the two blocks to the school by himself, but I crossed the street to Gloria‘s. There I hung out with Gloria as she got ready so that we could walk together to school. A bonus for me was that her mother always fed me a second breakfast, usually bacon and eggs, which tasted divine after my breakfast of cereal or lumpy oatmeal, and she talked to me about her favorite soap opera, Days of Our Lives. Her mother also had a dog named Bitzy who ate small bites of bacon from her hand. I loved that they had an inside dog, a thing that my parents would never have allowed since they were children of farmers and to them .... animals belonged in the barn. LOL

There was also Jonathan, a gifted and creative artist, who lived with his aunt and uncle around the corner from me. His parents were missionaries and wished for him to finish his last two years of high school in the states. He and I took many evening walks, no matter the weather, and sat n the swings at the elementary school and talked about everything from my huge crush on Pete Maravich to his growing up as the son of missionaries.

These three friendships have been life long. What makes them so? How is it that I have been blessed to have people in my life that remember me that young, or even more special to me, knew my parents? I was always saddened that my husband only shared seven years of a relationship with my parents before they passed away. …. Seven years is just not enough. *le sigh*

Then, there is my college friend Catherine, a girl with whom I set up a household after college as we moved to Atlanta to be “city girls” and “trawl for a husband.” She and I were roommates for eight years, and when she married, I felt like I had gone through a divorce.

As our lives have been on different paths, she the mother of three who moved to Florida, and me childless and a career teacher in Atlanta, we still manage to make those weekly, then monthly, and now quarterly phone calls and the occasional visit to see each other. No matter where we are in our lives, we just pick up our friendship where it left off.

That is a blessed friendship, isn’t it?

Then there is Laura, a friend I met while working part-time to supplement my lowly teacher‘s salary, whose life has been a part of mine off and on for almost thirty years. Since she moved away, we are closer than we were when we lived in the same city. She too lives in Florida, but our two or three times a year visits and our daily phone calls or emails have kept us loving and caring about each others’ lives. I know that I can call her anytime and say, “This right now in my life really Hoovers,” and she’ll say, “Tell me about it.”

Then there is Edie, my colleague and fellow field tripper. Margaret, my team teacher. Marilyn, the car pooler and resident comedian. Nan, the librarian.

To that list I can add -- my virtual friends -- the like-minded people I have met online through a former, passion for a soap couple on General Hospital. In fact, I could write all day about all of these “friends” that have been in and are still in my life.

Of course, I can write all day about birds too.


Last, there is the most unexpected friendships of all -- those of former students. How can that be? To move from teacher and student to friend to friend? In those, I have been so blessed as well. Out of the blue, a student will email me and say, “do you have time for coffee or lunch? and I will go and revel in their grown upness like a big sister who just wants to hear about how awesome their life is as they have become lawyers, grant writers, thespians, nutritionists, engineers, doctors, writers, fireman, members of the military, or even, my goodness, parents.

Relationships are Biblical, created by God for us. He doesn’t wish for us to go through life lonely, isolated, burrowed into our caves in the dark like troglobites.

Live in the light -- celebrate friendships and relationships. :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In the Land of Second Chances

Wilma Porter owns The Come Again Bed and Breakfast in Ebb, Nebraska, and there is little that happens in that small town that she's not privy to, but when traveling salesman Vernon L. Moore rents a room from her and tells he that he sells “hope” and “games of chance,” she is one of many who will roll her eyes and scoff at his optimism.

In the Land of Second Chances by George Shaffner is a sweet, little novel, and once bitten by its humor and quirky, yet realistic characters, it would be very difficult not to follow to its end.

Ebb, Nebraska, sports the usual suspects who need something to change in their lives, and Vernon Moore seems the man to sell them that change. Even though the handsome Moore flirts with the town’s unusual amount of divorcees, he gives the most time to those suffering in some type of life crisis. He patiently listens to their stories of hardship and despair and somehow asks them just the right kind of questions to help them consider options that would alter the direction in which their lives are headed. Among these hopeless are the father of a dying child and a widow, whose failed attempt at a long happy marriage causes her to become reclusive.

What is Moore really selling? Will anyone buy it? Is Moore of this world?

With clever little chapter titles like The Last Paradox, Empathy for God, or The Last Oasis of Nice, Shaffner keeps the pages turning in this modern fable of forgiveness, redemption, and hope.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Travels with Edie 2: When are we gonna eat that hot dog?

I have heard many baseball, sport announcers say, “what a beautiful day for baseball,” and Wednesday was such a day. The clear blue sky, light breeze, and blaring sun seem the perfect setting for outside, and outside at the ball park it was for Edie and me.

We met on Barrett Parkway for the drive to the stadium. Since she drove down from Ellijay, I volunteered to drive to Turner Field for our afternoon of Braves’ baseball.

Before we left, Edie checked to make sure that she had the tickets and parking pass (she checked more than once -- I love that about her -- as if the tickets she had carefully placed in her bag would disappear between her house and my car), and we packed her little squishy cooler with Nabs, peanuts, Tootsie Pops, Diet Coke, and water.

Before we left that day, Edie and I had discussed what we needed for the day game: “It’s gonna be hot, and we’re gonna want water. You know that the price of a bottle of water will be outrageous, and we would have trouble paying that. We’re gonna want water."

Me: I like that about Edie. Not only is she a planner, but she’s a thinker. I tried to remember the last game I had attended and if they allowed coolers. Meanwhile, Edie had already been online and looked up the “rules.” She's always two steps ahead of me.

As retired teachers with time on our hands, we have decided to do things we couldn't do when we taught school. With no papers to grade, no students to corral, no bell sounding controlling our destiny, we are free -- free to attend a Braves’ game on a Wednesday afternoon in September.

"Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, [we're] free at last!!!"

I breathed in the air of leisure, a divine smell.

We were early to the ball park and made our way to our outfield seats. Of course, we saw that our tickets for section 150 was straight ahead at one point, but we still asked the friendly usher if we were headed in the right direction.

We were four rows back from the outfield wall, and decided pretty soon that it was “Too hot “ to sit there for an hour before the game. Plus, I was having a little bit of the “vapors” and needed cool air.

We picked up our stuff and move to the shade where we discussed the most important of the afternoon events.

When were we gonna eat that hot dog? LOL

As I recovered from the vapors, we discussed the fact that our seats were in the blasting sun.

Edie: I have trouble sitting for three hours at a time anyway. How are we gonna sit for three hours in the sun even if we did bring sun bonnets?

She actually said "hats," but I like the sound of bonnets.

Since this was a day game, I didn’t’ expect a big crowd, and even though the Braves are in a pennant race, or were in pennant race, darn them!, I knew that probably we could sit in some of the seats in the empty sections that were shaded. We headed up to the first section we saw -- and sure nuff --- the place was empty. We were still in the outfield but under the awning.

We comfortably hung our feet on the back of the chairs in front of us, embraced the breeze, and stood for the National Anthem. Now, this was the place to be.

We watched an inning or two, or I should say they went by cause we were too busy talking and being distracted by all the stimulus at the park: the guy banging the big drum, Homer the mascot, the Jumbotron (which we could only see the bottom half of from that position), the number of fathers there with their daughters, the hundreds of elementary and middle school age children in matching t-shirts sitting in the upper-est deck -- all in white, or red, or yellow and jumping up and down and vying for the honor of being caught on camera for a huge view on the Jumbotron (and thankful that we were not the teachers chaperoning that nightmare), the guy with the camera who kept wanting to take our picture for, and the two guys sitting below us with parasols.

Turner Field is not for people with A.D.D.

Just sayin'.

After the top of the second inning and the other team’s grand slam,

Edie: I didn’t know there were men on base.
Me: I just now noticed we were playing the Nationals. They're terrible.

we went to get the hot dog that we had thought about since making our plans. The Braves were down four already.

Hot dogs at a ball game really are the best fare. Grilled on both sides and coming in sizes like Jumbo and Extra Jumbo or Ridiculous Jumbo, I spent $5.50 on mine and Edie got the $6.50 one, and we moseyed to yet another set of seats in the shade -- this time along the left field line. In fact, we sat right behind a foul pole. Not that we cared -- we had hot dogs. Steamy and slathered in ketchup and mustard, I had mine eaten before one guy had batted. Edie, since she had the Ridiculously Jumbo, ate hers in the time it took for three batters. I think. I wasn’t really paying that much attention to her hot dog.

We sat there a while with a view of the Nationals’ bull pen, and we watched some balls hit on the ground our way. We chuckled, pointed, and watched the Jumbotron --since from these seats, we had a better view. Even though we were tempted, except not, to dance in between innings for the dance cam, we restrained ourselves and thought about what we might eat next.

After the bottom of the sixth, we took yet another stroll for ice cream. We found what we wanted at the Mayfield ice cream stand, but the prices were that of a small piece of land in Brooklyn.

Me: Three dollars for that itty, bitty cup of ice cream?
Ice Cream Vendor Lady: Uh huh. Here’s the large size.
Me: Six dollars?
Ice Cream Vendor: Uh huh.
Me: Small.
She started to fill up this cup -- the size of ½ of a Dixie cup --

Me: Never mind. Give me a large. I’d feel silly carrying that little thing around.
Edie: We gotta live large today.

We took our ice-cream to a picnic table, right inside one of the exits. We savored our ice cream while we tried to identify the 1971 Braves on a huge poster hanging right next to our table.

Me: I found Hank Aaron.
Edie: Like that was hard.
Me: Who are those people?
Edie: They are now old people.
Me: I think I remember Clete Boyer.

We finished our treat, and I was able to eat all mine, and we made our way to our fourth set of seats and the best we had. We found some vacant ones on the third base side behind the dugout. Here the breeze floated around us and grown men scampered after foul balls, most unsuccessfully, like children. We finished the last two innings, hoping that the Braves would come back from a two run deficit.

They didn’t. They lost to the Nationals, 4 to 2.

But these two fans considered the day to be a success.

Edie and Me: Four.
Food: Nothing.

Sunrise in Athens

From Athens, Ga, a lovely sunrise sent to me by Caitlyn, a 2007 graduate of Gillham Academy.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Oh what a beautiful morning..."

I can't compete with the sunrise that my friend Laura had on Tuesday morning from New Smyrna Beach --

cause I don't have a beach, but I can show the beautiful sky I had this morning at 7:25 am when I went outside to "water the birds."

Man. God is good.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Some Song is Gonna Jump Me"

In a blog comment by Rob Sheffield titled “Living with Music,” he makes the following statement: “Music follows human beings around, and it keeps wanting more from us -- more passion, more sweat, more memories. Every moment of my life is a soundtrack, so I never know when some song is going jump me by surprise and bring the memory alive.”

The last part of that statement made me laugh,but also pause for the simple truth it tells. I am in all kinds of places that play music in the background, and there is no doubt that occasionally, I will hear a song that "brings the memory alive."

A couple of months ago, I blogged about the song “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is” by Chicago, and how listening to it took me back to my childhood living room, my dad’s hi-fi, and reel to reel tapes.

After reading Rob Sheffield’s comment, I too have thought again about the association of songs with certain memories. So I took a walk down memory lane ...

David and I attend a non-denominational church, and somewhere in the last two decades, the old hymns of my childhood have been replaced by Christian rock and easy melodies. Gone are the hymns like “Victory in Jesus” or “My Hope is Built, “ and they have been replaced by “My God is an Awesome God” or "My Hope is In You, Lord."

Not that there is anything wrong with those songs, it’s just that I miss the old hymns. Recently, out of the blue my church sang, “It is Well With My Soul,” and my eyes welled because it was my father’s favorite hymn.

In the old country church in Fulton, Mo, where my father grew up, his Aunt Alice was a renown soloist . “It is Well With My Soul“ was a frequently requested hymn for her to sing at funerals, and since his aunt had a beautiful voice, she traveled about Callaway County and sang that hymn in many churches. He, as an only child, was never permitted to stay alone on his parents’ farm. His mother was an invalid, and if his father was too busy to watch him, his Aunt Alice dragged him to the funerals, not that there were so many, but his memory of that song and her was quite vivid. At these small, country churches, she sang it with her melodious soprano, without amplification, and sometimes but not always with the accompaniment of a piano. When I hear that hymn, I think of my dad and his Aunt Alice. He chose that song for his own funeral. It’s a bittersweet memory. Do you know the words?

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.

Look up the story of Horatio G. Spafford, who wrote those lines -- see, if it doesn't move you.


When I hear the Beatles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” my childhood bedroom that I shared with my sister swims into memory. One Saturday in 1963, as we did our house cleaning chores, we heard that song for the first time on the radio --- and we stopped what we were doing to listen. I can’t hear it without thinking about the sensation that the Beatles would cause that year in this country. That song and the one on the flip side (known as the B side) of the 45 “This Boy” makes me smile with the innocence of the sentiment that the early Beatles conveyed at the time. It was before the Beatles discovered and experimented with drugs.

Just sayin’.

I can’t hear Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” without thinking about high school art class, where as a junior I was chosen to join an eclectic group of students to be in charge of all high school decorating needs -- not only for the high school play but for dances, holidays, and bulletin boards in the hallways throughout the school. As we worked on different projects, our art teacher Mrs. Cooper, fresh from the colleges of the late 1960s, allowed us to listen to the radio. She pushed the envelope, in a way, I guess, as music in the classroom was probably considered inappropriate. We loved her for allowing us to listen --it made her “hip.” She apparently ignored the rules as she must have believed it allowed us to be more creative. Every day during that third period class, that song played on the A.M. channel we must have agreed on -- WQXI “Quixie“-- I think it was the most over-played song evah. LOL -- I actually hate that song, but when it comes on the oldies station for the first ten seconds I grin, then for the rest of the time, I cringe. I actually loved Three Dog Night as a teenager, but not that song!!!!

“Jeremiah was a bull frog/Was a good friend of mine/ I never understood a single word he said/But he always had some mighty fine wine.”


The Eagles’ 1972 album brings back memories of my high school boyfriend who introduced me to them. We used to sneak phone calls to each other after midnight during the school week --- our parents already asleep -- I would pull the extension that resided in the hall into my room, stretching the cord as far as it would go, and he would assume the same position at his home with the phone pulled taut into his mother’s pantry. There we would whisper for hours and talk about everything from our youth group at church to books we read to new music to our plans for the future. How furtive yet innocent those calls were -- sometimes lasting into the wee hours of the morning or till our bodies were numbed by the uncomfortable positions we assumed. Many a next morning, I got up bleary eyed to go to school, never realizing those late night future plans that included each other would never come to fruition.

*le sigh*

“Brandy” by Looking Glass was selection G4 on the jukebox in the student center of the small Southern college in LaGrange Georgia, that I attended. The lead singer’s distinctive voice and its easy chorus bellowed and echoed from the walls of the center as the young coed who I was crossed the student center to the book store, or my mailbox, or the snack bar in between classes. An easy tune to sing, I can’t hear that song without smiling about the halcyon days of college and remembering the catchy lyrics of -- “Brandy, you’re a fine girl/What a good wife you’d be”….and surprised myself for how easily the words return to me after not hearing that song for thirty years. I grin when I think of how lame of a tune it was….

Then, when I was out of college and in to my first teaching job, I used a clock radio for an alarm to rouse me at the early hour needed to meet the car pool to share the ride with a fellow teacher to our job at Douglas County High School in a neighboring county . Many a morning Bob Seeger’s "Night Moves" seemed to be the song that played when the alarm woke me -- much more desirable that the jarring “1999” by Prince that woke me in the early 1980s. Today, in the car I listened to “Night Moves” on my I-Pod, and Bob Seger crooned, “Ain’t it funny how the night moves?” That’s a song that I never tire of listening to-- perhaps because that line always struck me as both poetic and prophetic.

I can’t help but think of how “the night” has moved for me….no longer that young teacher getting up early to go to her job … no longer that high school girl, that child in her bedroom, or hearing the story told to me by my father of a hymn that took him back to his childhood.

The emotions in hearing songs from the past range from wistful, to joyful, to sad, to nostalgic, to cringing…but, regardless, I know that music stirs me.

Like Sheffield, I too have noticed that we live in a world full of music -- whether I am in Publix shopping for broccoli where I might hear Jackson Browne’s "Here Come those Tears Again” to sitting in a Longhorn where Garth Brook sings about “The Dance,” music surprises us when out of the blue it can remove us from where we are and take us to the past…

As Sheffield noted, “I’ll never know when some song is gonna jump me by surprise and bring the memory alive.”

What song takes you somewhere? Please share.

You Are Not A Stranger Here

Since I read most of my short fiction in The New Yorker, I rarely check out library books that are short story collections. Recently, however, as I always look to my book list for suggested reading, Adam Haslett’s collection You are Not a Stranger Here was on it and available at my library.

Haslett’s nine stories ran the gamut --- I read all of them except for one titled “My Father‘s Business,” which from the onset took a track I wasn’t interested in following. The rest of them, modern, mildly violent in parts, and some with shocking events, were good reads even if occasionally profane in language (sometimes, I’m like “really -- is that necessary?”).

The themes of the stories in You are Not A Stranger Here do not break new ground --- the mostly male narrators tell of heartbreak, grief, disappointment, betrayal, jealously, and missed opportunities. As usual for me, it’s the prose that holds the most interest and sometimes keeps me reading an unpleasant story. Haslett has a clean, precise style that effectively lays out with detail the settings as well as sets up the emotions where his characters dwell.

In one of the stories, “War‘s End, “ Paul fights the despair and despondency that accompanies depression as he travels with his wife Ellen to Scotland where she plans to use the library at the university. Using the last of her grant money, their trip seems a desperate attempt to break Paul’s latest episodes of living a life “of empty days.” Paul’s been out of work for a year and has come to the conclusion that his wife’s life would be easier if he were gone. Each day, he rises and thinks about his death. As Ellen researches in the library, Paul saunters about the streets of the small, Scottish town where even the sight of a crumpled flyer “gains on him in malignancy.” When Paul accidentally makes eye-contact with an elderly woman in a restaurant, he, for some reason, follows her home and begins a strange relationship with her and her terminally-ill grandson. As Haslett tells the story, the reader becomes propelled with Paul toward the surprising and unusual ending, not quite in the manner of Roald Dahl, but equally chilling.

In yet another story, “Volunteer,” Ted, a high school misfit with disturbing fantasies, volunteers at a nearby “institution “ where he befriends the psychotic Elizabeth. Lonely but fascinated by Ted‘s interest in her, Elizabeth decides to quit taking her medication. As the effects of not being on medication began, she first feels invigorated, but then the old hallucinations return including Elizabeth's seeing visions of “Hester,“ a bitter Puritan from the seventeenth century, who hangs by her side and controls many of her bizarre actions. Ted, unknowingly, asks for and gets permission to take Elizabeth from the facility for a short trip. Of course, I love The Scarlet Letter reference -- (ha), but the events of Elizabeth’s past, having nothing to do with that story, and Ted’s present collide with a less than predictable end.

Haslett’s ability to pull you in -- as each story’s character is new and different, and perhaps slightly twisted,--- shows he’s a master of short fiction. Even though he writes for the modern audience, he does the reader the favor of giving a kind of resolution, whether you find it satisfying or not -- at least, it's there for the taking.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dreams Are a Gift from God

I'm a big dreamer. Not in the goal setting kind -- but in the night kind.

I mean, I have set goals before -- once or twice -- I don't want you to think I'm a total loser.

My friends and family are always in awe of my not only remembering the dreams but being able to recall the details ---- my students especially loving it when they appeared or when I shared the most bizarre ones with them.

When I taught school, I had the most vivid dreams about teaching. Some of them were downright frightening as I would dream of showing up in my pajamas, naked, or perhaps late or unable to find my classroom... or my students would pop in and out of them doing things that I don't associate with them --- sitting in my kitchen, riding in a car with me, or one time performing as one of the Supremes.

One time I dreamed that Nick Nolte had a box cutter and was helping me pack up my classroom. (see blog from last year)

No kidding.

I also dreamed of standing in front of a classroom full of unruly students, not only misbehaving or out of control, but one time, I dreamed they were smoking cigarettes. I was in a tizzy as I ran around the room not only grabbing the cigarettes from their hands as they laughed in my face, but for some reason, opening the windows.

Well, it sort of make sense -- but it seemed the least of the problems, don't ya think?

I also had those where I couldn't present the lesson that I had prepared because it was the wrong one or I was teaching math or science.

*runs and hides*

Math. Eek. That just gives me the shivers.

I once had a dream where my classroom was in a store front, folks casually passing by and noting my superior teaching style at the time, only for one student to suddenly exclaim as he looked out the store doors, "Look, it's the end of the world" to which my team teacher at the time, Wingate, quipped, "Quick, let's make sandwiches."

You cant' make this kind of stuff up. Just sayin'.

Most teachers will tell you of the sleepless nights before the first day of school and dreaming about every possible awful thing that could go wrong.

I still dream about the classroom -- and I'm retired! Rarely are the classroom dreams one of success. LOL

My dad had an incredible memory, and he once told me that he felt like the brain was a video camera that recorded everything he experienced and then stored the memories in a type of filing cabinet.... where as he aged became more packed and packed with files -- all crammed in that cabinet in no particular order.

He said that as the file cabinet grew, the files became thicker and thicker and harder and harder from which to retrieve information or memory. Thus, why when he was in his later years, he had a little more difficulty accessing people's names, places, or books he'd read. His retrieval problems based on the number of files that had to be gone through to find the correct one.

I have always loved that analogy and have shared it often with others who complain about how they can't remember anything any more.

I believe that since my brain is such a cabinet that when I dream, the brain picks random files and juxtaposes them in all kinds of ways and creates my dreams.

It's just a theory -- but don't you think it's a good one?

Thus why, a childhood friend I haven't thought about in years will appear in my dream or perhaps I'll be in a house that sort of looks like the one I grew up in except that it will have an extra room or a set of stairs that didn't exist.

The best dreams are the ones in which I am still young -- I love those. I love the weight class I was in....


What I do love about dreams is that in them, I occasionally get the blessing of seeing and hearing my parents, who both died in 1995. What a pleasure it is, though bittersweet, to be able to see them like that -- that has to be a gift from God.

When I taught at Harrison High School , a fellow English teacher friend of mine lost her mother to cancer. Both of my parents had died the year before.

As I was around the same age as her mother, who was in her mid-forties, her untimely death seemed especially cruel as my colleague was newly married and expecting her first child ---- and her grandmother and great-grandmother still alive... longevity in the women in that family seemed guaranteed.

At the visitation for my friend's mother, she pulled me aside and kind of pleaded with me about this:

"Harriett, you are a vivid dreamer -- promise me that I will see my mother in my dreams."

I told her that not only did I see my parents (who had died the year before) in my dreams but that I got to hear their voices. I said, "It is a blessing from God. I hope it is one you receive."

She nodded and seemed comforted for the moment.

As fellow English teachers, we reminisced about Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, who wished his dead love Catherine to "haunt" him in his dreams. As nutso as the character of Heathcliff was, we could understand his longing for that haunting.

My parents do not haunt me in my dreams, but I do love it when they show up.

The last two nights I have dreamed of them.

Last night, I dreamed of my childhood church and my baptism. My parents beamed at me from the congregation, Mother in a big hat that obscured her face, Daddy in his signature suit proudly beside her, and when I saw them, I felt this pride that they belonged to me.

As I walked down the aisle toward them, the light from the stained glass windows blinded me, and I fretted as I searched for them. The aisle seemed long, and I felt old -- and wondered as I walked toward them if they would recognize me. I heard my mother say, "Here we are. We're proud of you" her voice so soft and soothing in that assurance.

I felt her arms around me, hugging me to her -- even though I never quite saw her face. I knew it was she, but I also knew she was really dead but thankfully how she didn't know and how it didn't matter because here she was!

As she hugged me, the dream changed directions. I tried to will it back but failed.

The night before that I dreamed of a college class that I needed to pass to graduate. As I sat for the final exam, I realized that I knew none of the material, did not have the proper exam booklet, and I couldn't find a pen anywhere. As the huge clock in the front of the classroom clicked the hour away allotted for the exam, I searched frantically and futilely for that pen in my purse, my coat pocket, and around the floor.

Everyone around me finished the exam and left and looked back at me as they exited the room including a former student who smugly smiled seeming to enjoy my discomfort.

LOL -- I guess, that's a type of payback. (I won't repeat my former student's name {BLAKE} in case he's reading my blog.)

I not only didn't pass the class, but I didn't take the exam. As the dream continued, I crossed the familiar courtyard of my college and felt sick and dejected. When I got to the my dorm room, my parents were there -- along with my roommate who was packing her collection of Pez containers -- LOL --- and they greeted me with open arms and told me that "everything was gonna be okay. They loved me so."

I had this wonderful feeling of such peace in their presence.

Don't you think that is a gift from God?

I don't always remember my dreams. Some of them are not worth remembering -- some of them are. But, the dreams about my parents are the ones I cherish, the ones I like to think about... the ones I get up in the night to jot notes on -- because I do feel blessed to see them -- even in my dreams.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Ann Hood's memoir Comfort, about the death of her five-year old daughter Grace from strep, resonates with pain, anguish, and loss.

As Hood confesses early in the work, after the death of Grace, she just simply couldn't -- couldn't write, couldn't find words, and couldn't do anything except think of Grace.

Hood's "journey through grief" begins when she takes up knitting, which somehow eventually enables her to take up reading and writing once again.

Even though Comfort is raw, Hood's solemn, yet controlled, prose elicits just the right level of emotion -- as she searches for the words to explain the "weight of sadness" and to show "there is no sense in loss."

What she does convey about grief is "it isn't something you get over. You live with it. You go on with it lodged in you."

The beauty of the memoir is in the telling -- her story both a tribute to the child she lost and a nod to the future that she will have to live without her.

At the end, you will cheer Hood as she and her husband and surviving child find a way to "swim to the other side."


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Who is Cory Doctorow?

Damn Dan Brown | English Muse

I love this blogger -- she's all kinds of fun. Go to this website and check out who you write like -- it's hilarious.

I plugged into this analysis of my writing ... it said that I wrote like Cory Doctorow? Who? I Googled him, of course; it was not much help.


You should try it -- maybe you'll find out you write like Hemingway or Faulkner or Proust. Heaven forbid, no pun intended, that you write like Dan Brown.


You think if Cory plugs in -- it will tell him that he writes like me?