Saturday, April 23, 2011

Remembering Teachers Part II

Please read Remembering Teachers Part I first.


By fifth grade I loved school, my friends, school supplies and the comely Miss Hayes who was my teacher. Young, slender, with dark hair and eyes, she made coming to school pure joy. Miss Hayes was prim and proper, but there was not a boy in my class who didn’t have a crush on her. She wore pencil thin skirts with sleeveless blouses, and her high energy contrasted with the “old” school teachers we had before.

What Miss Hayes loved more than anything was performance and projects and what she loved more than a project was social studies. On one assignment, I was given the country of Spain to present in three ways: oral, written, and visual.

BTW: My dad was critical of her much later --- he felt like she was a slacker in teaching math and focused on what she loved best. He felt like my last few years in elementary school were pivotal in my struggling with math in high school. He did not voice this criticism until I was out of college and a teacher myself.

For my project on Spain, I proudly made some kind of village or fort out of cardboard, dirt, and water and surrounded it with pine needles and pipe cleaner people with fabric scraps from my mom’s sewing basket. For some reason, our fifth grade class set up these “art” projects in the school auditorium, and I remember standing behind it as various adults, some of them parents I knew, paraded by to see our contributions. I knew a lot about Spain then, but in retrospect, I’m thinking my Spain looked more like Mexico.

That summer after fifth grade, my friend Lynn and I attended Miss Hayes’s wedding -- I don’t know if other students came as well, but she and I cracked up when the groomsman who escorted her to the “bride’s side” was so tall that Lynn had to tiptoe down the aisle and her arm hooked through his made her elbow look as if it were coming out of her ear. We snickered and snorted over that incident for years afterward.

In sixth grade, I became a student in Mrs. Brooks' fifth and sixth combination. Surprise, surprise -- Mrs. Brooks was Miss Hayes’s new name. I was thrilled, and once again, we did the projects.

The project I remember best was a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party, complete with sound effects, boxes of fake tea, and boys. The most thrilling aspect of that assignment is that in preparation for the project -- we had to meet at someone’s house to work out some of the finer details, and this involved hanging out with boys on a school night. Wow. Sixth grade -- -Mrs. Brooks, married, projects that went beyond playing in the dirt, and boys.

In making our presentation project authentic, we spent time with a tape recorder making splashing noises by throwing stuff in Mike B’s family full bath tub and cracking ourselves up with Indian war whoops. When we presented our project in front of the class, we were so good, the class applauded, and we then had to do the whole thing again in front of the PTA meeting which made me wanna barf I was so nervous.

In our classroom was also an old piano that Mrs. Brooks loved to play. She taught us songs and made up hand motions that went along with them. We were such a talented bunch that we took our show again to perform in front of an audience in the school auditorium. That song from the late 1940s, I can still hear the tune in my head and sing some of the words:

I'm looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before

One leaf is sunshine, the second is rain

Third is the roses that grow in the lane
No need explaining, the one remaining

Is somebody I adore
I'm looking over a four-leaf clover

That I overlooked before

For the performance, Mrs. Brooks turned out the lights and shone a black light on us as we all wore bleached out white gloves and did hand motions to the lyrics.
What was that about? I have no idea, but that performance in front of that audience too made me wanna throw up.

In a time when women dominated the profession, note my adjustment to the fact that my seventh grade teacher was a male. His name was Mr. McLemore, and we treated him as the anomaly he was -- a man -- in a position of which we only knew women.

The principal at Perkerson and a terror of a woman, rail thin Mrs. Phillips ran the school with an iron fist. Rather be whipped than visit the confines of her office, students told stories about her that bordered on myth as she supposedly filed her witch like nails as she doled out after school punishments that ranged from scraping gum from the bottom of desks in every classroom to writing “I will not be a fool ” three thousand times on a blackboard.

Mr. McLemore was not scary at all. He was a first year teacher who didn’t quite know what to do with a classroom full of seventh graders who knew each other too well, and knew that Mr., McLemore was new to the profession. We knew that he didn’t have a drawer full of the ashes of former students.

We knew he was raw and ripe for the taking.
He had none of the cachet of a veteran and all the quirks and bad choices of a rookie. We took advantage of him, and I am sure we made him miserable.

Mr. McLemore wore bow ties and vests and had the physical bearing of an athlete -- the only thing that made him seem not so were the thick horned rimmed glasses that he wore which only added to the drawing of caricatures of him more entertaining.
Mr. McLemore had trouble with classroom management. Like trying to keep a bunch of corks underwater at the same time, Mr. McLemore brought out the bad behavior in all of us.

Perhaps his “green” showed too easily, or perhaps we were just randy juveniles sick of “baby” school and itching to get to high school, but we tested his patience, and I remember later talking to others of my classmates and knowing that we ran him out of the teaching profession.

We jumped on his back on the playground, talked too much in class, hid the chalk, told lies about school rules, and generally terrorized him. On one day when he was totally flustered by one of the many class clowns in my class, a boy named Mike R., who had braces on his legs, crippled by polio, and perhaps compensated for his disability by being hilarious, Mr. McLemore bet Mike a dollar that he couldn’t stay quiet for a whole day. McLemore, thinking that Mike would surely lose, seemed taken down a notch when Mike R. won the bet and held that victory over Mr..McLemore the rest of the year.

I have no idea why we were so mean, but I know that I wished that I could have apologized to him when I gained some maturity. Not surprising, our shenanigans impacted the academics of that year and much was lost in math especially when all of us were about to face Algebra 1 the following year in high school. Amazing how we reaped what we sowed., so Biblical, so right.

I adored Mr. McLemore. I had a huge crush on him, but under the peer pressure, I know that my suppressed sense of humor became outward, and the next year, I would use those same skills on an eighth grade teacher named Mr. Elder.

But as I like to note -- that too is for another blog.


BTW: Going through Perkerson, a school who averaged about 40 children per grade level, I had four classmates whose first name was Mike.

Mike R. would die young, a victim of a drug overdose in the mid 1970s. He was, by far, one of the funniest people I have ever known.

Remembering Teachers Part I

Perkerson Elementary School in southwest Atlanta honed my early academic skills in the multiplication tables, state capitals, and the Revolutionary War. Other aspects of my elementary education elude me as I can’t quite put my finger on any other knowledge in particular, unless it was kick ball, how to jump out of swings at their apex, or play baseball, the things of my favorite subject: recess.

My oldest brother believes the school was built after World War I as he remembers examining a cornerstone and thinking it was 1919. My best friend Marcie’s mother and grandmother had been students in that school -- and her grandmother was in her mid-forties in the 1950s.

Regardless, Perkerson had been around for a long time. Its white brick edifice faced Perkerson Road and looked like something out of a novel with its wide front marble steps and small columns. In the spring, dogwoods and azaleas bloomed on the wooded front property and the access road from Brewer Boulevard to the school was gravel.

At the back of the school was a playground, unrivaled in size by the two other elementary schools that fed into my high school; Sylvan Elementary and Capitol View Elementary’s grounds were by far 1/3 the size of Perkerson’s recreational fields -- which included four sets of swings, two slides, monkey bars, a pair of see-saws, a basketball court, and enough area for two baseball games to be played simultaneously.

If I think about it, I remember the L-shaped design of its floor plan, complete with basement area that housed kindergarten and the cafeteria, but what I don’t have to think too much about for clear memories is the teachers who taught me there.

As I discussed this with my brothers and sisters, they remember more about what the school looked like than what teachers they had.

BTW: I used to tell my students that if they sat under my tutelage for a whole year, and then didn’t remember my name, then I had failed them as a teacher. No pun intended. As a teacher, I planned to make my students remember me for better or for worse.


I entered Perkerson Elementary in the fall of 1959, and headed into the waiting arms of Mrs. Smith, the largest woman I had ever seen. Of indeterminable age then to me, and now, I don’t know whether she was fifty or seventy [teachers had incredible stamina back then -- a simpler time, but I digress], but I knew she was a legend at that school, having taught parents of current students as well as their parents.

Aside: When that happened to me in the lasts years in my career as a teacher, I denied ever knowing their parent or said, “I don‘t think so. I‘m too young.”

*holds up sign of the cross*

Mrs. Smith resided in a huge basement room where she doled out discipline and love on kindergartners in one of those ways that only someone who gives a life time to their craft can do. We sat around tables in that room, took naps, use blunt edged scissors for cutting paper, and spent a lot of time coloring. If we did any thing other than that, it escapes me. Never did a student come out of that kindergarten classroom without knowing how to behave in school -- nor did they come out not being able to mimic Mrs. Smith’s rumped up walk. She had one of those physiques that looked like the back was pushing the front as her age had stooped over her ample bosom and let the back lead.

I still can mimic her walk today.


Now that's a memorable teacher!!!

First grade brought on the formidable Mrs. Yomans, whose discipline of first graders involved grabbing the culprit by both ears and turning his head from side to side in some kind of desperate “behave or I‘ll do this till you do“ modification. The class clown and biggest crush I had then was Paul Culbreth, and I remember Mrs. Yomans doing that to him a time or two: it was scary funny if you know what I mean.

I laugh now about her physical handling of students because it seemed to work-- by the time I was a teacher myself, it was pretty much hands off.

The most significant thing I remember about my second grade teacher, Mrs. Simpson, was that she was a tiny woman who wore neatly pressed shirt-waist dresses and her purse, which was a different one for each day of the week, always matched her shoes. Half way through the school year her husband died, and she left for what seemed like months. It was the same year my grandmother died, and I tried to relate her grief with mine -- a feeling of loss that I tried to see as being like hers, but it simply wasn't. The supply teacher[see previous blog] who came in for her was loathed by us students because we adored the pretty Mrs. Simpson. When she came back, she was different and sad, and that year ended with us being extra kind to her and with her not returning to teach there the next year.


In third grade, I had Mrs. Brown who beat the multiplication tables into us like a drill sergeant. Mrs. Brown, like Mrs. Smith, large and of mythic reputation, was a legacy at Perkerson. In order to prepare me for Mrs. Brown’s class, my dad and older siblings would sit at the dinner table and randomly say, “5 x 6? 8 x 4? 3 x 9?” until I chanted them like a mad child. I did not wish to go to class and not be prepared for Mrs. Brown to ask/demand/tell me to stand by my desk as she randomly mixed up the numbers tables. She scared the heck out of me, and the stories that surrounded the survivors of third grade told about students “wetting their pants” during this drill.

Good times! Good times!

In fourth grade, I had Mrs. Gibson, a tall, dark haired, bespectacled woman who tended to wear polyester dresses with bold flower prints. For some reason, it was her task to have us memorize the state capitals, a feat we did without question, and like Mrs. Brown ,when we were ready to show that we knew them, we would stand by our desks and she would randomly call out “New Jersey” or “Ohio” and we would sing song it back with confidence. I think I knew my state capitals for a long time, and I would proudly show off that expertise from time to time.

Now, not so much.



*tee hee*

The other memory I have of fourth grade is that this was the first time I realized that other students could be slow and grouped together for better instruction. For that reason, Mrs. Gibson divided the class into advanced, middle, and low. Thankfully, I was in the advanced class [pats self on back for learning those darn state capitals, multiplication tables, and reading well]; Mrs. Gibson arranged the classroom in three sets of twelve --- advanced on the right, middle in the center, and low on the left. I don’t know if this was one of those educational trends, but I do know that as a student that year I was suddenly very aware of the distinction between student abilities.

I used to cringe sometimes for a childhood friend named Jack, whose father owned the local car repair garage, who simply could not read well.

In Mrs. Yomans second grade class, she assigned me the seat behind Jack. When Mrs. Yomans called on us to read aloud, a pretty normal teaching practice then, I loved it because I was a good reader, but Jack struggled. When he stumbled or hesitated, I would whisper the words for him both out of impatience and compassion -- kind of weird combination of feelings, but I don’t think that I knew he was “slow.”

Dang. Was that a better way?

In fourth grade, Jack and others like him sat in the "low" group, and Mrs. Gibson did more intense work with them, while we others did "independent" work at our desks, passed notes, and tried not to get in trouble.

I know that Jack went on to high school with me, but I don’t’ remember if he graduated. I have fond memories of him and his family -- -as his family’s lucrative car repair business was on a prominent corner in the area I grew up. At the back of the property, which sat on as much as six acres, loomed his huge brick house and at Christmas displayed the best Christmas lights[which were so big a job they were left up year round]. They outlined the house with red, green, and white lights, and on top of the house by the chimney was a lighted Santa, sleigh, and eight reindeer [one with a red nose] pointed toward the sky that when lighted looked as if it were moving. The family had a bunch of children, and when I quizzed my mother one time as to why his family had so many kids, she said, “they were Catholic."

There's the answer of a tired mother. LOL

Gosh, I love memory -- so faint but yet so clear.

Later -- fifth grade through seventh.


School photos -- Fall 1959.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Terry Kay

Once again, my good friends, Marilyn and Celia, and I went to the Book Exchange for the author meet and greet. This time the author was Terry Kay, and frankly, he disappointed.

Could have been that I had high expectations, but regardless, IMHO, he just didn’t bring his A game.

Marilyn: I remember him as being much better the last time I saw him.

As a fairly well-known Southern writer [Georgia Writer's Hall of Fame] who spent time as a journalist for the Atlanta papers, he could have spent some time talking about his varied experiences.

Instead, he talked for about ten minutes about his new book Bogmeadow’s Wish, read two pages without much context, and then asked for questions.

I looked at Marilyn. What?

Thank goodness, the four or five questions asked by the audience led to his elaborating on a few things, but it seemed to me, he was in a hurry to sign his books and point his car back home to Athens.

Here are some tidbits from the notes I took:

1. Book of Marie was the most important book he wrote.

Don’t know why.

2. He hates Atlanta traffic.

I hate Canton Road traffic.

3a. Three of his novels have been made into TV movies -- most popular one and most critically acclaimed was Dance with The White Dog, which he said “wasn’t his book when it was done.”

Hollywood can mess up a story.

3b. He was given the screen play to look over [filmed in Americus with a local helping with authenticity], not that they wanted or cared about his input, but he told them that language should be North Georgia not South Georgia, and “there is a difference.”

You got that right. Anyone ever been to Cairo? Ochlocknee? "[Th]em's different all rightee."

4. Kay can't consider himself a true, Southern writer since he didn’t come from a dysfunctional family.

He’s old school -- I liked that. When we grew up, we didn't know that word. We just called our families crazy and thought it was normal.

5. When a Southerner says, “He’s something else,” that can mean anything.


6. He doesn’t base his characters on people he knows -- the people he knows are “boring.”

I know I am.

7. Beach Read is a genre: he labeled it "light, transparent, predictable, and silly."

No wonder I don't read it.

8. His wife’s favorite show is Desperate Housewives.

Never seen it. I get all of that reality television mixed up. It is reality tv, isn't it? Wait. Maybe that is Real Housewives of Canton Highway? Real? Desperate? Same thing?

9. The best tool a fiction writer has is for his character to keep a journal.

I keep a blog. I keep a journal. I have tools.

10. He has written about 20 books, but only 13 have been published. The seven not published he calls his “Posthumous Writing.”

Billy Budd, anyone?

I actually thought that was the funniest thing he said all night.

Now, after I typed that up, it sounds so much better than it was…

Eh? Must be my comments.

What I wanted from Terry Kay was an opportunity to hear him talk about writing as a craft, about the memorable characters in his novels, or maybe, just maybe, tell more about himself.

I guess I expected too much, and Kay expected to do what he did.


BTW: Before Kay talked to the crowd, he sat in a chair right by my friend Marilyn. She chatted him up, but said afterward that "it was odd." She didn't elaborate, but she comes from a dysfunctional old, Virginia family.


Marilyn and I sat in two turquoise vinyl [leather?] broken down chairs at the front but on the side. Celia got a cold, brown, metal folding chair that we pulled up beside us. That's what happens when you get there last.

After the last author chat we attended [and we're old pros], Marilyn and I decided that sitting on the side gave us a better view, not only of the writer, but of the crowd. We looked like press -- all camera, note pad, and attitude. All I needed was a cigarette and a fedora. After all, I'm known around the Book Exchange as "the blogger."

Better than being known as a "polo player."

*snickers at own inside joke*

Blog readers: Well, that was a waste of time.

ICYI: Polo player reference -- in the Great Gatsby, Gatsby introduced Tom to his friends as the "polo player." Not sure there is correct etiquette for that, you know, when Gatsby was "like" having a fling with Tom's wife and all.

I love the term "and all." So left up to the imagination.

That's all I got.

Slow Love

Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on my Pajamas, and Found Happiness

Dominique Browning’s memoir, Slow Love, recounts the year that she lost her job as editor-in-chief of House and Garden magazine and takes charge, with some pitfalls along the way, of what was to be the next chapter of her life.

Charming and witty, Browning’s narrative is tightly structured [must be the editor in her] by each season [like Henry David Thoreau’s Walden] and moves with Browning through these seasons as she navigates, submerges, drowns, recovers, and eventually surfaces to claim ownership of her life, post work.

I love reading books about how “real” people meet challenges and overcome them. Fortuitously, for Browning, she came from a lucrative job, and even though she lost her job on a downturn in the economy, she had been savvy enough to save and invest money so that she didn’t have to sling burgers at the local truck stop to live. Instead, she had a year to recover, gain her bearings, and then submerge herself into new writing projects which will bring her new income. All of us, of course, are not that lucky.


Browning's not the first person to understand and write about the pleasure of slowing down, but her succinct style and observations about herself and situations around her are quite enjoyable:

“Baseball is the most interesting game of all, because as in life, anything is possible at any moment, but unlike life, baseball isn’t played against time.”

“Nothing to do is its own state of grace, difficult to find deliberately, nearly impossible to recognize.”

“Slow living sets a gentle healing pace.”

And I love this comment about how so many of our jobs keep us contained inside buildings: “There is something unsavory about being cut off from the natural world.”

Good book. Browning has a blog if you’d like to check it out.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Is What I Call Home

in the back of the kitchen on Oana Street, July, 1957

As I slept soundly last week, I dreamed of the first place I remember as a child. It was my childhood bedroom, the one I shared with my sister and my two brothers.

My father’s Aunt Josie, a widow from Fulton, Missouri, who help raise my father after his mother died when he was 14, lived with us for several years in the late 1950s and into the early 1960s. My mother, overwhelmed with four children under the age of five, welcomed the help that Aunt Josie gave her as Josie helped with laundry, cleaning, and some light cooking.

Aunt Josie, May 1955, in front of the house on Oana Street

The house I grew up in was small. Located on the south side of Atlanta in an area known as Sylvan Hills, the neighborhood built up around a main thoroughfare into Atlanta known as Stewart Avenue, and the spec houses that sprung up along that road were bought up quickly by the post World War II families. I assume that my parents were the second owner, as the first owner had added to the back an expansion that extended the kitchen to allow for the 1950s a must, a den, and made what was a small bedroom into a larger one.

That large bedroom, located in the center of the house, was the one I shared with my siblings, when we were all young enough for it not to matter that we were different sexes.

Other houses on that street, that I became familiar with as I played Foxes and Hounds or Red Rover with the other children or I was actually invited to birthday parties that took place inside, had the same floor plan without the extension.

In those days, children played outside --- as close as we were to our neighbors or as well as we knew the other children, we simply did not go inside their houses that often.

Mother and Daddy must have hit a kind of jackpot with the bonus room when they bought that house in 1955, for 10,000 dollars, and made a mortgage payment of 99 dollars a month for the twenty-four years they lived there.

The house was on Oana Street, and its design laid out in a rectangle, which was simple as well as cheap to build as its clapboard siding and wooden windows with glass panes did not weather well and had to be painted frequently.

Across the front and facing the street was a large living area on the left, complete with a place to set up a dining area if wanted, and on the right, with a window over the screened front porch, was one of three bedrooms. On the back left was a small kitchen with the extension to the den. The extension allowed us to put in a table for six as well as a couch and several chairs and at some point a small black and white television. A large part of the back wall sported a "picture" window which must have been a selling point in those days since our house had two of them, a second one in the living room.

Between the kitchen and the large bedroom was a pantry, which we called the utility room because it housed not only shelving for "staples" as my mother called them but also a hot water heater and [much] later a clothes dryer; a door beside the utility room door from the kitchen led to the large bedroom. On the opposite side of the large bedroom was a door to the hallway, and all three bedrooms and the bath door opened to a cross shaped hallway whose central focus was an in-the-floor gas furnace, where on cold mornings, with its billowing hot, strong breath like something out of Hades [my sister remembers that it was enough to blow her dresses up over her head], we all gathered around in pajamas and bath robes and stayed warm as we waited our turn to use the bathroom. All of us at one time or other fell on that furnace and had the burned grid marks to prove it --- sometimes, lol, we could have been pushed.

The hardwood floors in those days were cold and wreaked of "poverty" as we longed for the wall to wall carpeting that houses on Brewer Boulevard featured, a neighboring street we considered to be "wealthy," since they were brick and some even had two bathrooms.

How did we manage -- a family of six plus an aunt to live in such primitive conditions?

When I dream of home, I dream of that house and that room. As far back as my memory goes, it seems that the first ones are of that room that I shared with my siblings. I remember the dark wooden crib I slept in and the framed cross-stitched saying that hung over it with that eerie childhood prayer :“Now I lay me down to sleep/I pray the Lord my soul to keep/ If I should die before I wake/I pray the Lord, my soul to take.”

on front steps, June 1955, Oana

That big bedroom, or it seemed so big to me, was also rectangular in shape. My crib backed up to the utility room and beside the crib was a very small closet, which I insisted had to be closed before I could fall asleep as I imagine what kinds of things might exit it in the night.

My sister slept on a junior bed on the wall opposite and next to the hall and bathroom, and my brothers shared what we called then as a "full" bed and located at the other end of the room -- girls on one side, boys on the other. At their feet was a window that faced the neighbor’s to the north, on the far side and to their left, a window that was over the back porch and faced the east.

The room had mismatched furniture -- an old chest with drawers that stuck and never pulled out smoothly, a lady’s dressing table without the chair or mirror, and a toy box full of broken toys and home made stuffed animals passed down from one child to the other, the wear showing with their missing eyes and random holes with stuffing falling out. There was also a rickety book case jammed with well-used children’s books, drawing paper, a cigar box full of crayons and broken pencils as well as a four cedar chests, about the size of a shoe box, given to each of us by our aunts. We hoarded items in those cedar chests, our private space. We howled and alerted the parents if we caught one of our siblings with their paws on it or near it.

We must have been quite a crew to settle down in that room -- four small children altogether like that --- I’m pretty sure that we had staggered bed times, not that I remember them, but my mother was so organized and scheduled that it must have been how it was done.

I remember many a time standing in that crib awaiting my turn with my mother, and I remember the comfort of the light that shown under the door to the kitchen where late into the night she stood at an ironing board pressing Sunday clothes, napkins, tablecloths, Daddy's shirts, and pillow cases. How she did all she did --- I’ll never understand; she told me one time that she “just did what I had to.” When she went back to work when I went to kindergarten, she had a little money to hire someone to do all that tedious ironing --- but that’s a story for another blog.

front of kitchen, Oana, January, 1955
Mother is holding me... *sigh*

My parents slept in the front bedroom that overlooked the screened porch, but when we had family in from Virginia, they moved to the den where the “hide-a-bed” sofa became their bedroom or the living room where we also had a sleeper sofa.

BTW: I know that one of the last sofas my parents bought was a hide a bed --- we just laughed at that habit that they had left over all those years. By this time, they lived in a bigger house in Roswell, Georgia, with two guest rooms and two baths. When they moved there in the late 1970s, they grinned at the thought of two baths!!!!

My Aunt Josie occupied the best bedroom in the house -- the one on the back right side that had windows with cross ventilation and a view of the back yard with its twenty or so pines that kept the room cool in the summer. Outside her window to the north bloomed a huge hydrangea, visually fantastic, with blue mop head flowers the size of basketballs. I remember when the hydrangea died in the early 1970s, my mother mourned.

When my Aunt Josie stomped out of our home after an apparent irreconcilable disagreement with my mother, she took a train back to Missouri and left all her belongings, except clothing, in our house in Atlanta. From then on, we called the room she slept in “Aunt Josie’s” and the furniture she left behind “Josie’s furniture.” When my parents died in 1995 and we cleaned out their house, my sister took "Josie’s furniture" into her own home. When my brother and his family come to visit during the holidays, the guest room features her bed, her night stands, and her chest of drawers. We still call it “Aunt Josie’s furniture.”

Aunt Josie with my sister and two brothers in front of our first house in Atlanta's West End

I never knew what took place between Aunt Josie and my mother. I know that whatever it was, my father and his aunt were never the same, and when Aunt Josie died in the late 1960s, my father, because of his job situation was not allowed "paid leave" to go to the funeral of an aunt, a mother yes, but not an aunt, so he stayed home, a hard decision for someone who was never able to heal the wound between them.

Family disagreements can be like that --- and the hardest ones can be when there is a tug-of-war or war of wills between two strong woman whose up-bringings were very different -- my mother from a hardscrabble farm family, while my father’s Aunt Josie came from “town.”

After Josie left, my sister and I moved into the front bedroom where we shared a bed {and I have some stories about her “ridiculous rules and regulations” for co-habitation with me}, my brothers moved into Josie’s room, and Mother and Daddy moved into that middle bedroom that had been the one of my youngest days.

Mother’s dresser with her mirror, her jewelry box, dresser scarf, and pocketbook occupied the wall on which my crib stood, and the Child’s Prayer gone --- never to be seen again by my eyes. On the floor by their double bed, which was in the same place as my brothers’ had been, were stacks of books checked out by my dad from the library and my mother's box of Kleenex with wads of used tissues as she suffered mercilessly from what she called "hay fever."

I don’t know how long I slept in that crib -- or if the sides were removed, and it became just a twin, but I do remember that room --- with the sounds that came from the kitchen or the comforting light that shone from the bottom of the door where I knew my mother was on the other side --- but I know that the sense of security I felt as I slept there, loved and surrounded by my siblings and parents, is what I call home, the one that Thomas Wolfe noted that "we can't go home [to] again."


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"To Look at Things in Bloom"

Loveliest of trees, the [dogwood] now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my [two] score years and ten [and six more],
Twenty will not come again,
And take from [fifty] springs a score,
It only leaves me [twenty or thirty] more.

And since to look at things in bloom
[Twenty or thirty] springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the [dogwood] hung with snow.

A.E. Housman, with HG edit.

*tee hee*

the above photos were taken from my deck on April 9, 2011, 7:53 pm

and these photos were taken at 6:48 am. April 13, 2011

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lucy Dog: Case of the Missing Collers

My friend Jules sent me her daughter’s manuscript for her first book titled “Lucy Dog case of the missing collers.” A six paged story, brightly colored with dogs and “collers,“ this precious home made book is beyond adorable and wonderful. On the back cover, Erica encourages her readers to "join Lucy and help find the missing collers!"

Since I am a former English teacher, Jules knew I would be interested in the story that her eight year old daughter not only wrote but illustrated herself. When it arrived in the mail, I giggled and read it over and over.

Erica weaves a compelling mystery about how Lucy’s friend Stink awoke from his nap, and as he tells Lucy: “[His] coller is gone.“ As the neighborhood dog gumshoe, Lucy assures Stink that she “will get this under conchrolli and see if other dogs have their’s.“ Lucy sets out to solve the mystery by interrogating and interviewing all the possible suspects including Jake, the husky, and Polly, the black lab, only to discover that their “collers“ were missing too.

I can’t give away the details, since this book could be a best-seller and I would hate to give away the surprise ending, but in the future, dear blog readers, you will need to look for the 21st century newest promising writer and illustrator of her own work, Erica, age 8, of Maryland.

She can spin a tale or two, and she draws great “collers.”


Friday, April 8, 2011

Stolen Lives

The title of Malika Oufkir's account of her twenty years as a political prisoner, Stolen Lives, is no understatement.

After her father's arrest and execution for attempting to assassinate the King of Morocco, the king rounded up Malika, her mother, and her five siblings, the youngest a boy of three, and imprisoned them. Their hardships, as well as their stories of unfathomable courage and resilience, finally begins to end when they manage to escape. Unfortunately, even with the press alerted to the obvious human rights infraction, the Oufkirs are not quite free even then.

Using the French writer Michele Fitousssi to assist her in the writing of her story, Malika's tale of going from a pampered play-mate of the king's daughter to a prisoner-in-exile seems like more of a Hollywood screen play than a true story taking place in the 20th century.

Compelling and disturbing, how the Oufkir family managed to survive kept me reading Malika's story and cheering her and her family as they truly beat the odds and a powerful political system.

ETA: As I went online to look for a book jacket image, I see that it was made into a movie. Eh. I'll pass on that and keep the real story instead.

Another Visit to Smith-Gilbert

Last year, I blogged about Debbie and my trip to Smith-Gilbert gardens right here in Kennesaw.


It's all there -- the history, my first visit, and shout outs to the crew of volunteers who devote their time and energy to preserve this precious green space for us to enjoy.

Today, Debbie, Becky, and I went to see the gardens again, but this was Becky's first visit.

Both Debbie and Becky work their own type of wonders in their residential yards, and frankly, I knew they were gonna be pointing at stuff and calling it by their real names. Unlike I, who squeals and says, "I love that purple stuff," they call it what it is --- something with fourteen thousand consonants or by its Linnaean binomial system of nomenclature.


I decided to don my camera like Ansel Adams without the tripod and take pictures instead of pretending to note what that "purple stuff" is and can I spell it or pronounce it without channeling Augustus?

When we got there, we were greeted enthusiastically by Suzanne, an adorable petite thing in kicky green skirt, pink sweater, and flip-flops, who was out directing traffic and telling us that "today is a busy day -- we have a group of school teachers coming and a group of children, but they are not together."

*holds up sign of the cross*

She laughed and said, "Park right here. We're out of space. Is this your first visit?"

After we told her that we had been here last year and I told her that I had blogged about it, she thanked me and added, "Oh, that blog was so funny. I need to get Doug [the handsome man of the first blog on Smith-Gilbert] and let him know you are here. Right now he's reading a story to the children."

*holds up sign of the cross, again*

Me: Is he still in his khakis?
She: Of course.
Me: Diggin' in the dirt today?
She: No, but he will be.
Me: I love a woman who knows how to direct a man.
She: Will you help me give him a hard time?
Me: Just point him out to me.

I loved this woman. She treated us like celebrities and introduced us to all of the volunteers. She was one of those people who never met a stranger, or, in my case, a professional blogger.

*tee hee*

She called Doug over to meet us and reminded him that I was "the blogger who wrote about him."

He blushed slightly as he shook our hands and graciously welcomed us back. We thanked them for the warm welcome and set off down the evergreen path --- where, as I suspected, Debbie and Becky threw out scientific names and I took photos of mostly green things.

Enjoy the photos.

You should visit Smith-Gilbert. Tell Suzanne and Doug that I sent ya.


BTW: My favorite photo is the last one -- which one is your favorite?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

House of Prayer No.2

Subtitled “A Writer’s Journey Home,” Mark Richard’s memoir, House of Prayer No. 2, tells of his “special child” young life and then his bohemian and indigent adolescence which spiraled into his adulthood, and the whole recollection by him pin balls between unbelievable sadness, then laughter, and then questions [from me] “does this guy ever have a day off from adventure?”

Man, what a life he has lived ... and his memoir covers it in a unique way ... in such a way that I could not put the work down.

My friend Marilyn loaned me this book because Mark grew up near her in a small town in Virginia, and he and she knew some of the same people; actually, she knew some of them really well, but this blog is not about Marilyn and her "wild" friends.

After I completed the memoir, I called her and told her that “I loved the book, but really, Marilyn, can that many things happen to one person?”

Marilyn replied, “I dunno, but I do remember him fairly well from Nags Head; let's just say, he was a pretty wild man.”

Operative word here: Wild. Beyond wild.

Calling Richard a “wild” man is quite the understatement. He lived the boisterous boyhood reminiscent of the late 1950s and early 1960s in a town where there was little to do other than get in trouble. He came to manhood in the free-wheeling seventies, where drug use and alcohol consumption became a rite of passage for him.

What grabbed me about his memoir is Richard’s narrative approach. Not only were there these brilliant images overlapping one another, but he also manages to do that with his memories. The words, images, personal scraps and fragments of his memory, and his reminiscences stack up on top of one another -- and propels the reader forward down the same track as Richard.

As I read about him and his "infirmity" and his escapades with his friends, I couldn’t catch my breath before some other event, circumstance, catastrophe or turn of fate takes me somewhere else in his life. Reading this work was like being spun from one place to another without ever hitting stop... and it's not like I ever wanted Richard to stop. Pause, maybe, but stop? No.

In the modern memoir, and fiction as well, writers seem to have forgotten the use of the quotation mark; Richard adds his own twist by inserting “you” into the rightful place of “I.” That approach , interesting enough, makes the book somehow more personal, as if that makes sense.

In this, for example, Richards recalls his best friend’s father that he called “The Preacher’ and how “ his wife Janet, are like your other parents, you being the fifth brother to the four sons they already have. The Preacher never holds it against any of you for being boys prone to mischief. When you and David pin some children down in a garage, shooting them in their butts with David’s new BB gun, The Preacher comes home to where you and David are sitting on the porch and quietly asks to see the rifle that he calmly wraps around a tree in the yard before going in to dinner. The Preacher says he did not believe in the concept of Original Sin until he had children.”

BTW: I guffawed at his Original Sin comment.

Richard begins the memoir with the memories of his childhood affliction, of which I am not quite sure what is was, some problem with his hips, that got him labeled “special.” This disability gets him sent to the Crippled Children’s Hospital where his vivid recollections of treatments and therapy, some of which seemingly border on abuse in the modern sense -- in his day and age -- perhaps experimental?

At one point, Richard tells of a patient there who “you see all the years of scars up and down his legs and you begin to realize that [he] will never go home, that this is his home, he lives at Crippled Children’s Hospital.”

Interesting enough, there is no “why me?’ from Richard -- he just presents his childhood as his and moves on to the continuing colorful narrative of his misspent youth and adulthood where he relays story after story of how “no one will lead you down a slippery path faster than your best friends.”

And then the book becomes adventure after adventure, opportunity after opportunity, and where he meets men and women who will later be influential in his becoming a writer. The real surprise of his narrative will be how the title of his memoir comes into play in his life… a surprise as well as one of those “yes” moments.

The memoir is a great read for those of us who grew up in the same time as he did -- I’m not sure how the generation who raised us would feel about it or even the generation we parented would feel about it either.

Richard, so far, has had a pretty, full life --- I will be curious to see of where he goes from here.

He readily admits toward the end of this work that “The problem for you is that, like your favorite writer, Flannery O’Connor, you believe the biggest threat to your soul is you.”


Mark Richard brings new meaning to "write what you know." This guy knows some stuff.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Truth is Stranger than Fiction...

but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.

Mark Twain made this comment over a hundred years ago, and last night it was the title used to lure my good friend Marilyn and me to another author meet and greet at the Book Exchange.

Again, I was not disappointed as these three ranged from an attorney from Macon, Georgia, to a former felon from Oxford, Mississippi. I can't possibly capture all that they said, but I did a lot of laughing and a little "hush, your mouth, that totally didn't happen" comments to myself.

Based on true stories, Richard Jay Hutto's A Peculiar Tribe of People, Genie Helderman's As the Sycamore Grows, and Neal White's In the Sanctuary of Outcasts revolve around true incidents in history.

Hutto and Helderman listen as White reads from "In the Sanctuary of the Outcasts."

Hutto, an attorney from Macon, Georgia, spoke first about the convoluted and tawdry history of the Dunlap family, who at one time were the richest family in Georgia. As he noted, the story itself is "bizarre," but the people are real and the historical anecdotes and side stories he tells apparently as fascinating as the murder mystery that the book features. As Hutto talked about his work, his articulate nature and ability to spin a tale made me want to buy A Peculiar Tribe of People. I didn't; I'm too cheap, but I did add it to my list of books to read later. :)

Helderman, a diminutive woman with bright eyes, stood up next to champion her book about poverty in Alabama and the main character who spurred Helderman to write this true story. Her central character, Ginger, escaped not only poverty but spousal abuse by the husband she married when she was 21. Helderman had full access to Ginger's story as well as Mike's, the abusive husband, who wished to have his say. As Helderman informed the audience, As the Sycamore Grows is not about "abuse but about loss and alienation and the courage and resiliency of the human spirit."

The last writer was the hilarious Neil White, a man who went to prison for eighteen months for bank fraud. The catch -- the prison where he was incarcerated in Carville, Louisiana --- was the last operational leper colony in the United States in the 20th century.

Say what?

Yep, according to White, when he was imprisoned in 1992, all the "outcasts" of the federal prison system were put behind bars here. He told of the disfigured, the overweight, as well as the last of the lepers who had no where else to go, who made up this camp of people with whom he spent 18 months. He thought he was going to "gad about like George Plimpton and take notes and be consumed with his own image, but
[he] soon discovered that with all of these characters dropped in his lap, [he] was only [going] to screw it up." He abandoned the idea, but once out of the prison system and back at work, as he said, "not handling any money that was not his," {LOL} he ran into an literary agent who heard of his time there and encouraged him to tell the story which became In the Sanctuary of the Outcasts.

White read two pages from his work that had the whole audience giggling and snorting.

At the Questions and Answers session at the end of their talks, there wasn't anyone too feisty or too aggressive -- since we had some serious guide [guard] dogs [see below] --- but one lady cracked me up when she said, "I"m originally from Cincinnati, and I have to say that in the South, you can't turn a corner without running into a screwball."

The whole audience laughed, but White said, "Do I need to channel Flannery O'Connor here who noted that
--- 'Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.'"

I don't know how the lady from Cinacinnati responded, but we Southerners applauded and laughed and appreciated that O'Connor [and White] set that Yankee straight.


Ally and Austin, dogs in training to be guide dogs :)
Austin's trainer told Marilyn and me that she "knew Austin is a good Methodist cause he always falls asleep in church."

*snicker, snicker*

Austin poses for me.

Coming up on April 19 -- Terry Kay