Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"If you want total security, go to prison. There you're fed, clothed, given medical care, and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom."  ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

My face is a battlefield.  Yes, it is… YES, it IS! And a lot of the blame sits right on your shoulders, Arthur Conan Doyle! Yes, YOURS! If it hadn't been for you and your creative mind and your unique way of telling a story, I wouldn't be having this war on my face! Why did you have to write so many stories that the publisher had to produce two volumes to fit them all in?

And don't you smirk at me, Laguna Beach, you silent siren of the sea. I blame you, too! You, with that long, slim, sandy-white beach, and Bird Rock, and the best little restaurant in Orange County …and those cliffs that I can climb around when it's low tide to take some perfect pictures with my old Canon Rebel. It's your fault, too!

I never liked sitting in the sun. It was just too darn hot! In fact, if the temperature is over 75 degrees, I'm too darn hot. (I do LOVE Ella's perfect singing of that song… who wouldn't?) But, until I was 13 1/2 years old, we lived in So California, and going to the beach was what we always did. My Mom and Dad loved Santa Monica Beach and had lived close to it from the time they both met, and then got married, and then had two children. I still have pictures of Mom and Dad and Jack and I sitting there on a beach blanket, wet hair and all, squinting into the sun. No one ever said that the sun was bad for you then. In fact, doctors told us that we got vitamin D from the sun, and since I didn't like milk,  spending hours and hours sitting in the sun, getting tanned and sometimes sunburned, was the most healthful thing I could do, it was thought…

I spent hours in the sun because a light tan seemed to cover some of my horrible acne scars, I thought. Acne, a thing I was plagued with since I was 13 years old. I was always a shy, quiet kind of kid, but the more those lumps multiplied on my face, the shyer and quieter I grew. When I was young, acne was just a part of being a teenager, I was told. But Bunny, a beautiful girl in our 6th grade class, didn't have a mark on her face, except the pretty pink lipstick she wore. And Bobbie, one of my three best friends, had the cutest freckles on her cheeks. She hated them, but at night I used to wish that my acne would turn into freckles in the morning light… never happened, though.

And, of course, my other best friend, Linda, an only child who always got anything and everything she ever wanted, never had acne. A pimple wouldn't dare to pop up on her spoiled face! On the weekends when I got to ride with Linda on the back of her horse behind the saddle, it didn't matter. It was just so much fun to ride wherever Linda decided to go on her obliging horse, Cholla. And when I'd get home, and jump into the bathtub to scrub off the dust, and then look into the mirror, a new pimple or two had popped up to go for that ride, too…  sheesh!

One day, Mom finally took me to a dermatologist. He told us, "It's just one of those teenage things that happen.  It'll go away," and he gave Mom a hefty bill for that "thorough examination."

Later, when I was married, Richard and I bought a little house with a small swimming pool in the tiny backyard. It was heaven all those summers in between each of my 10 months of teaching high school. Most days, I'd lounge on the plastic raft, floating for a couple hours in that pool... just me and a really good book… like both of your collections of Sherlock Holmes tales, Arthur C. D.

Time passed… lots of time passed… and then lots and lots more time passed…

I looked in the mirror about 6 months ago, and I thought to myself, Terry, you look pretty good for an old woman. In fact, your skin looks so soft and kind of smooth.  And I didn't even think, if only it'd been like that when you were young. I was just happy.

Well, all except for that little dry skin above my upper lip… So I went to the dematolagist. She gave me a prescription for a little tube of white cream, and she said to apply it to the dot above my lips, and it wouldn't hurt to apply it to the reddish places on my nose and my cheeks, too. It would eat up the "pre-cancer cells" and leave the healthy flesh alone. "Pre-CANCER!" That's the second scariest thing that doctor could have told me.

And then a full-out war burst into flames! My face blazed red, bright red. Parts of it even turned a sort of bluish-red. The fight was on! All over the sun-scorched parts of my face lay a thin smear of white cream… cell-munching cream that is very picky.

It's been 3 or 4 weeks now, and today I think the "cease fire" is getting close. The red has turned to pink , and now it's beginning to itch. I'll see the doctor soon, and she'll tell me what's what.

But now, when I read, it's always in the comfort of my favorite chair inside of our house… Lesson learned!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."                           ~ Albert Einstein


I was called to jury duty last week.  It's my duty as an American citizen to go to the court house on that day and join a thousand other people who have things they'd rather do. So I drove to the city where the Superior Court is located. 

The city was so inviting to us jurors! There were signs with huge arrows along the maze of streets surrounding the court house, all of them guiding the jurors to the 4th and 5th floor of a large 7-story parking lot... So I obeyed. I parked my car on the 4th floor, climbed down the stairs to the sidewalk, and I walked spritely down the street… and then down another street… and then along side an entire high school… and then past its entire football field… I finally crawled across the next street and saw the courthouse… in the distance...

Now this was the third time I'd been called to jury duty, and I knew the drill, I thought. But when I opened the door and walked through, I was at the airport! Well, not really, but I had to grab the same sort of airport-type tray that you put your purse or your attache case inside of to be X-rayed by alert policemen. And then I was directed to walk into an X-ray booth so I could be inspected for any other things that might be hidden in my clothes. At least, I could keep my shoes on, though. It was cold in that building!

I was good to go, so I walked into the official prospective jurors' waiting room. Nearly every available seat was filled. No matter, because I needed to stand in line to get my official juror's name badge. A lovely lady came out to explain the day's procedures to us, and for the next 8 hours my official court name was "175." 

I sat in one of the chairs in that huge room that was nearly full of all sorts of citizens. I figured, from previous experience, that they would excuse many of us, and possibly even all of us at about lunch time… but I was wrong… soooo wrong.

Luckily, I was sitting in between two of the nicest people. One was a girl who, because of jury duty, had to take this day off of work, and she was not going to be paid. The lovely lady who was explaining our day to us announced that if any of us had to take the day off of work (It was Thursday! Everyone, except retirees like me, would be absent from their job!), each person who was absent from work without pay would be paid $15 per day, but that excluded this first day of jury duty! The girl next to me started to cry. 

On the other side of me was a young guy who had nearly completed all the credits he needed for his master's degree from university. His problem was that it was final exam time for one of his classes, but he was here for his jury duty. Before I could ask him whether he would be able to take his exam later, I was told to go to a courtroom on the 4th floor.

When I climbed the last stair, I was directed to a long, long hall where the individual courtrooms were located. The room I was assigned to was, of course, at the farthest end of the corridor lined with benches. Nearly every bench was occupied, and most of the walls were being slouched against, too. I had room enough to perch one half of my bottom on the last edge of a bench, and while I tried to keep my balance, I started to think…

Could I be objective about a case? Could I wait until all the evidence was in before deciding? Could I read a person as they spoke? 

ARE YOU KIDDING? Of course, I could! I wasn't a high school teacher for 43 years for nothing! That's what I did for a living! Just please, Lord, don't let it be a child molestation case. I'd been an advocate for kids all my working life. I'd seen a lot… I'd heard a lot... That was one thing I couldn't be detached about. But, no matter.  I couldn't be that unlucky. 

The doors opened, and the bailiff told us where we were to sit, so I sat. I could see a lady prosecutor, and a lady defense attorney, and a man who sat in the defendant's chair with headphones on. As soon as I was comfortable, the bailiff said, "All rise!" so I did, and in walked the judge. It was a lady-judge. Interesting… it was a triple play!

Then the judge spoke… 

The man at the table was accused of child molestation. The judge read the contents of each count… more than a dozen counts… and for each count there were details, details that were nauseating. The girls had each been 6 years old at the time of the crimes.

I couldn't do it! Who could listen to 8 days of that? Who could sit in the jury box and listen to it? ... for 8 days over a period of 2 or 3 weeks….? It surely was an open-and-shut case. They girls were 16 now, and they'd brought suit against this man. Of course he was guilty! I thought I ought to be able to see it on his face. But, no. His face, at least from the side that I could see, was completely calm. There were no emotions on his face at all that I could read. His eyes were on the judge and never wavered from her face.

The judge spoke, and spoke, and spoke some more… And then the judge spoke some more after that. We were to have a lunch break at noon, but the judge kept going over what she'd already said… and over it again… and then again… And finally, the court broke for lunch at 12:15.

When we returned from lunch, the judge began to speak again. "Understand that the defense counsel does NOT have to speak at all during the duration of this trial. The entire trial rests on the prosecutor's shoulders to PROVE that this defendant is guilty. That means that if there are, let's say, 6 things that must be proved, and the prosecutor absolutely proves, in your mind, 5 of the 6 points… but the 6th point is not completely proved, then the accused MUST be found innocent."

Yes, I understood that. But he was an adult and they were only 6 years old at the time… It was obvious that he was guilty! What girl would make up something like this, and then actually want to go to a public forum and sit in the witness box and talk about it and answer questions about it? Impossible!

The prosecutor was young and kept referring to her notes, and every time the judge restated that the defense didn't have to present anything at all, the young prosecutor seemed to tremble. She outlined the case without looking anyone in the eye. I was sitting only 3 rows from her with no one in between us. I could see her very clearly.

Next, the defense attorney rose, and she looked at all of us for a long minute. She didn't have notes in her hand. A notebook full of papers lay on the desk behind her. Then she said, firmly, but not loudly, "Is it possible that a 16-year-old-girl might lie? Is that possible?"

That question shook me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes!

The answer was, "Yes." 

Yes, a 16-year-old girl could lie. I had lied at 16. It was nothing big, no court trial, not even anything I can remember now. But, YES! I had lied when I was 16… not often… in fact, it was a rare thing for me to do. But YES! A 16-year-old girl might lie. 

And I saw what I was… I saw the smug surety inside of me. I saw that I wasn't the fair, thoughtful, rational person I thought I was. I was shallow! I had prejudged before I'd heard any evidence at all! I had just assumed that the man at the table was obviously guilty! I was disgusted with what I saw inside my own self...

After another two hours and so many, many questions from the lawyers and the judge, a jury was chosen. I wasn't called up at all to be questioned as a prospective juror.  At 5PM, when court was adjourned, I drove home. My "jury duty" was over.

Witnesses will be called, lawyers will question and argue, and the results will be in the papers in about 2 more weeks. And I had nothing to do with any of it at all. But I had been on trial, too, that day in the courtroom. And I was guilty. What I learned about myself that day will haunt me for a long, long time.

Monday, September 7, 2015

"If you don't make mistakes, you aren't really trying."  ~  Coleman Hawkins

My Nana is another story, and a much different story than that of my Grandfather-I-never-knew.

Nana always prided herself on looking "just like the Duchess of Windsor." I've only ever seen photographs of that American lady who tempted the Duke of Windsor into abdicating his throne as King Edward VIII and going back to being Prince Edward, instead. You know, my Nana actually DID look a lot like her! Every time I've seen a photo of Wallis Simpson, though, I've always been glad that I don't look a thing like her… such cold eyes. Of course, I never told Nana that.

Now, Nana wasn't fond of people under the age of 21. She told me that when I reached the age of 21 myself, so it's an actual statement from her very mouth! Maybe Mrs. Simpson didn't like kids, either… dunno… But Nana sent Jack and I Christmas presents every year, and birthday presents, too. Once in a while we even went to her house in the Pacific Palisades years after her one-of-a-kind, manly-man, John Rogge had already drown in the Caribbean Sea. I have pictures of myself as a 2-or 3-year-old standing in front of that house with my Mom holding on to me while my Dad snapped the picture. The house was the home of Nana and her newest husband whose name I don't remember… or maybe never knew. I was only a baby, after all.

Nana never had trouble finding other husbands, but she could never, ever find a John Rogge, again. So, one day, with the backing of her new husband Roy, she opened a radio and TV repair shop on Wilshire Boulevard, right on the block now known as Los Angeles' " Miracle Mile." Why she chose that is a mystery to me. I just remember visiting there when I was very little and when TV's were a new invention. TV screens were about as big as iPad screens in those days, and only wealthy people owned them. Most folks had radios, not TV's, and they couldn't live without their radios. If something happened to them, they wanted them fixed as soon as possible. What a great business to have! If Nana had kept that shop long enough on "The Miracle Mile," that property would have been worth an absolute fortune...

I remember as a tiny girl sitting in her huge living room full of over-stuffed, comfortable sofas and chairs. Then she'd turn off all the lights in the room, and she'd turn on the television set. After a while, a blazing white light would shine from that 8-inch screen.  Images would finally appear on it and would flicker, roll around, rise up-and-down, then flicker diagonally, impossible to really see.

When a fuzzy picture would finally appear, Nana would say, "It's snowing! Just a minute and I'll fix it." She'd disappear behind that large set with the tiny screen, and fidget with "tubes" or something while the box buzzed with electricity. Several minutes later an actual picture would appear. It was usually a black-and-white drawing of an American Indian's profile. There was no movement. It was a drawing made of black-and-white-and-light! Everyone in the living room would hunch up closer to the box and stare at that Native American's profile as though they'd never seen a drawing before. Who knows… maybe that's what made me grow up, determined to be an artist… dunno… Sometimes there would be a picture of the earth revolving in its circle with some kind of an airplane flying around and behind and in front of the earth. It was mesmerizing to me!

Nana owned that business because her latest husband, Roy, had bought the little repair shop for her. She learned the business, and all was well for a while. Nana was truly a business woman! If she'd have kept that shop longer, instead of getting married some more times, she would have been as rich as the Duchess of Windsor, too! It was on "The Miracle Mile," for heavens sake!

The radio-and-TV repair shop was situated on a large lot with a grassy yard behind it. A little, tiny house was perched on the back edge of the grassy yard with a disconnected wooden garage behind it. A year or so after Nana had settled into being a radio-and-TV repair shop owner, my aunt and her two daughters moved into that house. It wasn't fancy, but Susan and Pam, my cousins, had an actual television set! That was something that I wouldn't see for several more years in our house. Now that I think of it, that TV of theirs never worked most of the time. Their radio always did. But, as far as the TV was concerned, it was even worth looking at the blank screen. After all, we had no idea how it operated, and I could only climb the small tree in their yard so many times before my legs were bleeding or I'd step barefooted on a rock in the grass. And who knew… that magic box called a TV might decide to make pictures appear all at once! Well, that's what my aunt told us. It even kept my little brother quiet most of the time!

Later, after two more husbands, one who loved to dance, and one who she married for only 2 weeks before she filed for divorce or whatever it's called after a mere two weeks of matrimony, Nana finally moved to the "high desert" of California. I was married and had moved to California with my husband, and I got to visit her there and bring her down to our house to stay with us periodically.

Nana lived to be 96 years old. But before she left California for North Carolina to live near my Mom and Dad in her last years, she gave me her best treasure. No, not the Amazon bow-and-arrows. And not the Russian artist's painting of Boa Vista. Not even the cigar box of precious stones from Brazil that she'd collected. She gave me all those, and other things, too. But there was one thing that was the dearest thing to her in all of life.

"Terry, here… this is for you." There were tears in her eyes! My Nana wasn't the type of person to cry… Those tears were real, though… sadly, sadly real. "This is for you!"

She handed me the 4-inch thick photograph album of the Henry Ford rubber plantation, the one composed of 8" X 12" individual photographs of all phases of its progression. From the original Amazon jungle, to the cleared land, to the planted seedlings, to 6-7 foot high rubber trees, it was all there. But scattered through the album are photos here and there of John Rogge, my grandfather, and the only man Nana ever loved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"The world isn't a sad place, it's just big."  ~  Jean-Luc Godard

I never met my grandfather. He drown in the Caribbean Sea when my Mom was 10 years old. I have pictures of him, though. I know I got my eyebrows from him. They look just the same as his… not all styled and tapered, just thick, "Rogge" eyebrows. I would have liked him, I'm sure of it.

My Nana liked him, right off the bat, sort of... Nana and her step-mother lived in Flint, Michigan. She was about 18-years-old on this normal, old, Flint-Michigan-sort-of-day. Nana wasn't fond of her step-mother, but that lady had sent her to the grocer's for something she needed, and so Nana went, walking past the local hotel there somewhere on Flint's main street a long time ago. 

Nana told me that a man, a stranger to her, was sitting in a chair on the hotel porch with his feet propped up on the railing, his chair balanced on its two back legs. He had a hat pulled down to shade his eyes and a toothpick in his mouth. When Nana would tell me the story about how she met my grandfather, she'd never leave those two things out. Each time she'd tell me this, I could see him sitting there, too. In fact, even now, as I write this, I can see him, this man I never met.

Nana had nearly passed by him when she heard a low whistle… a wolf-whistle! She walked faster towards the grocer's and didn't look back.

On her way back home, the stranger was still sitting there, hat on head, toothpick in mouth. As she passed by, that man whistled again! My Nana was never very shy, I think, and so she turned and gave him a glare, and he laughed, gave her a wink, and doffed his hat to her. In a huff, Nana strode home. She said she was insulted, but maybe not... 

The stranger was a lumberman, a young foreman of some lumber-cutting project there in the forest somewhere in Michigan near Flint, back in those very olden days.

This sounds like every single John Wayne movie that Hollywood ever made, I know, but Nana never veered from this story, and, anyway, it was before the John Wayne movies. And, according to my Nana, my grandfather was far better than old John Wayne ever could be!

They were married fairly quickly after that, and it was good. He would shower her with presents for the rest of their life together, and for a young woman who'd gone without for a long time, it was thrilling. And then, after a while, she came to expect all the fuss and love. Nana told me that my grandfather loved April Fool's Day best of all, and he'd always play tricks on her on that day. His favorite was to fill the sugar-bowl with salt, and the salt shaker with sugar, and then watch what would happen at breakfast on that April 1st morning. 

But Nana said that by the time 365 days had passed, she'd always forget exactly when April Fool's Day rolled around, but Granddad never did. He would plan schemes for weeks before, sometimes very grandly foolish pranks. And Nana, who never had much of a sense of humor, would laugh and pretend that she was amused. She adored that man!

They had two children, my aunt, and then my Mom. All was well in the Rogge household in Michigan, and everyone was as happy as I suppose most American families were in those days.

But Henry Ford had an idea! Why let rubber companies sell their rubber to make tires for his famous automobiles? Why not send some men to the Amazon River in Brazil to start a rubber plantation there, one that he, Henry Ford, would own? How Henry Ford knew my grandfather, I'll never know, but my grandfather was sent up the Amazon River in Brazil to forge a rubber plantation out of the jungle in a place called Boa Vista.

When the jungle was cleared and the trees were planted and houses were erected, and Granddad's house was built, he sent for his wife and children to come from Flint, Michigan to live with him in Brazil on the banks of the Amazon River. This was before jet planes. It was a long trip to a place that nearly all Americans had only seen on a spinning globe of the world. 

Once in a while people would venture up the Amazon to stay with the family for a while. The one that I'm so glad for was a Russian artist who stayed with them for several weeks and painted. One day he painted that lovely vista across that wide Amazon River as a gift for the family. Nana gave it to me a long time ago before she died. It's my own treasure now.

Nana said that she would have her ironing lady press 3 white linen suits for my grandfather every single day. The jungle heat and humidity would quickly dampen and wrinkle that linen, so my grandfather would start each day wearing a cleaned, pressed suit in the morning, then change into another perfectly ironed suit after lunch, and, after peeling off that second suit, he'd put on a third freshy-ironed suit before dinner.

My Mom told me that she had a little pet deer that she loved. Since their house was built on stilts, they kept the deer in the open space under the house.  One morning when my Mom ran down the stairs to pet her little deer, she found a large boa constrictor with the deer half-in and half-out of his mouth. That snake's skin is rolled up and sitting on a shelf in our hall closet today!

Next to it is the bow and the arrows that my grandfather received from some of the native people. Nana, and my Mom, too, always, always warned Jack and I never to touch those arrows because the people who used them put curare on the tips when they hunted. The bow is large and heavy and strung. Often times my brother and I would try to pull that bowstring, but we could only ever get it back a few inches. Mom hid the arrows from us, of course, but she didn't need to. We were both fully afraid of those tips.

One day there on the Amazon, my granddad decided that he wanted to see if what he'd heard about piranah was actually true. Over my Nana's protests, he took a boat out onto the River along with a large, dead pig, and some helpers. They lowered the pig into the River, and he timed how long it would take the piranah to decimate the carcass. He wrote in his diary that it took a little under 3 minutes for the carcass to become just bones.   

After nearly 3 years of Amazon plantation life, someone somewhere invented synthetic rubber, and that worked very well for automobile tires. My granddad was told to close up the plantation and come back to Flint, Michigan. So Nana and my Granddad made a plan. Nana and my Mom and my aunt would fly to New Orleans and stay there for a short time until my grandfather could tie up the loose ends, and then they would all go back to their home in Flint, Michigan. 

Nana told me many times that they flew to New Orleans in a Ford Tri-motor airplane. And because she was the first woman to ever fly in one, the pilot asked if she'd like to sit in the cockpit for a bit. Well, of course she wanted to! And she recounted that long flight with all the stops in between. I forget how long it took, but remember, there were no jets then. That big bulk of a plane had 3 motors and a huge interior for that time. I know because when my husband had a little plane, and I went out to the field with him one day, there was an ancient Ford Tri-motor sitting at the Chino Airport! The owner let me look inside, and I could almost see Nana and her two little girls sitting there… almost.

My granddad closed the plantation down as quickly as he could, and then, when he got to Mexico, he hopped a boat to take him across the Caribbean to New Orleans. There was a bad storm, the boat sank, and my grandfather drowned. 

Somehow, his body washed ashore and was found. His corpse was put into a box and put on a train to Minatitlan.  Nana waited on that train platform in Minatitlan in the state of Vera Cruz, and claimed his body. My grandfather, John Rogge, who I never knew is buried there in that city in Mexico where I've never been.   

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Do you know who "Moone Boy" is?  Well, if you don't you should, even if you're not Irish, ya know. He's 12 years old and has an invisible best friend and a sister named Fidelma. 

Now, if Martin Moone'd been my little brother, and my name was Fidelma, he'd have shortened it to "Fido," he would… and I would've chased him all over the house for doin' it, upstairs and down, as soon as my parents left for even a minute.

Chris O'Dowd is my favorite actor, and he's a perfect invisible friend. In fact, if I'd have had an invisible friend when I was 12, I would have chosen Chris O'Dowd, for sure. And the little boy who plays Martin is just right. Just real enough. It's the closest show I've ever seen that lets kids be like they really are, or at least how I remember we were in my life. I bet my little brother Jack thought I was as ugly and cruel as Fidelma seems to Martin. Oh, well...

If you don't get KCET, channel 28 on our TV, then you may never have seen this show from Ireland. Poor you… Of course, you could buy the book, like I just did. Its name is "Moone Boy: The Blunder Years." It's printed on lined student notebook paper, just like you used to buy to fill your 3-ring notebook for school. Of course, now, no one does such a thing. A computer or an i-Phone will do as well… I guess…  Can you doodle on an iPhone, though? Doodling in my drab history classes was what compelled me to make art my major at university. Lucky for me that computers weren't a common thing when I was 12. They probably weren't even invented then, I dunno

Now, I'm going to copy the back of the book for you… I mean the real BACK of the book's cover. It'll give you a taste of the Moone boy.






Now, if that doesn't hook you, then I'll give it one last try because it makes me laugh out-loud.

"If your answer is D, then good for you! You're my kind of reader. I'm glad we got rid of that other bunch of idiots who picked A, B, and C. And may I say, you're in for a treat. If you like shenanigans, you've come to the right book. These pages are riddled with ridicule, peppered with pranks, and seasoned with spelling mistakes. So if you're looking for a tale that deals with the perils and hazards of imaginary friendship, you should find Moone Boy: The Blunder Years completely satisfactory.

"So let's get on with it, my tea's getting cold. And stop picking your nose. You think I can't see you, but I can. And it's disgusting."

What are you waiting for???????  Go buy the book! I get nothing out of it myself, mind you!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"The creative adult is the child who has survived."  ~  Ursula Le Guin

There was a deep summer night when my head swam with hauntings. All that lazy Southern day we had played "Tarzan of the Apes," and Superman, and Daniel Boone in the backyard of our newly-bought house, but now it was night. The shadows had deepened, whispering, challenging our courage. So we told ghost stories, laughing at each other's fright while the clouds crept up behind us, looming bigger and blacker over our heads just out of sight.

Then the chorus came. The mother-voices began to call, and we all left at once.

                                                          *   *   *
As I crawled into bed that night of my haunting, I looked up for the thousandth time at the window beside my bed. It was long and tall, and I felt tiny and exposed beneath it. A gust of wind rattled the shade against the glass. Mom shut the window to keep out the rain she knew would come, but a sputter of wind still managed to nudge that shade. So Mom raised it a foot and its movement stopped, but the window's eye was open.

Mom kissed me, said good night, and walked up the two steps to the door. She left the door ajar and the hall light on. And I was asleep.

                                                         *    *   *

I was asleep when I heard the knocking. It was loud and insistent and right above my bed. It knocked on the pane of glass right in the midst of the storm. It knocked three, four times and waited for me. It knocked three, four, five times and watched me. The storm fought and thrashed, and then I froze.

I was awake now, but I still heard the knocking. Surely it was a tree whose branch rapped at my window, but in my mind I searched the backyard and there was no tree so near. It knocked again, but my eyes were sealed. Nothing could have made me open them. Three, four, five times… My brother was only a few leaps away through the door. My voice could carry through that door, through the wall that separated us, but I couldn't call out, because IT was closer to me than anyone else… just on the other side of that thin glass plate. I sank deeper into the mattress, and then it stopped. Only the storm was left, howling loudly, insistently.

                                                        *   *   *

Then it was morning, one of those bright Southern mornings full of birds and katydids and frogs. My window showed a shiny blue sky behind the golden window-shade diffused with sunlight. I ran to Dad and told him of the knocking, and after a while he believed me. We found footprints in the mud right outside my window… big footprints, impatient and deeply embedded.

Much later we found the clue. It was on the back fence next to the two slats that were not nailed down properly. They were the slats that Cheetah could climb through, but Tarzan had to climb over. They were the very slats that our Superman had peeked through to discover the amazing planet, Krypton, the one he had taken Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to see… the ones where I'd always had to play the part of Lois Lane because I was the only girl in the neighborhood. 

There on the outside of that slat was a mark engraved in that wood, a sign that we thought a child had made. It was a stick-man and a house drawn in simple geometric shapes. But it wasn't a child's drawing meanderings at all. This was a hobo sign-board.

Before we came to live in this house, this stick-man and the house-shape engraved on our back-fence had been a legacy for all the hobos from the railroad tracks down the way. That was their written entitlement to find food at that backdoor for anyone who decided to crawl through those slats. It had entitled all these "kings of the road" to find a hand-out in the midst of the storms, until the day my Dad and I discovered it and painted the fence over. I think my Dad painted it over because that "will" did not entitle them to scare his little girl.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

"Come to the edge."

"We can't. We're afraid."

"Come to the edge."

"We can't. We will fall."

"Come to the edge."

And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew.   ~ Guillaume Apollinaire

Somehow, I'd been named "Teacher of the Year" for the entire Orange Unified School District. So I'd had my picture taken in front of my classroom door, and I'd been given an award at the School Board's general meeting, and my own school had given a luncheon to celebrate. There was nothing I had to do, except find a frame for my award and sit it on the railing behind my desk. It was a huge honor, but walking into my classroom every day, and closing the door, and teaching was what I loved most. And, as long as I didn't have to give a speech to the School Board, or do much of anything but be very happy and and very grateful, it was wonderfully amazing.

It was "wonderfully amazing" until I got into the act, that is! It was this brochure that had come through the school mail about the National Endowment to the Humanities' Summer Fellowships. There were scads of them… maybe 50 or more. The subjects were varied, offered by different professors at different universities in many places in the country. Then I saw the second pageful. These were international venues for the selected Fellows. 

And there it was! Two professors from the University of Vermont were offering a six-week study trip, "Chaucer and the Illuminated Manuscript." It would mean 3 weeks at the U. of V. in Burlington, Vermont, and then 3 more weeks at the U. of London in London, ENGLAND! And I dreamed…

I had majored in art and had taught high school art. I had been placed in the Honors English program at university, and that meant that I got to skip over the undergraduate English classes so I could enroll in the English graduate classes during my sophomore, junior and senior years. I was currently teaching high school English to sophomores and seniors. And I was "Teacher of the Year," to boot. Yup, they were callin' my name…

That's when the difference between a scholarship and a fellowship became much clearer to me. A scholarship means that all or a portion of your tuition is paid. A fellowship means that you are given a small bunch of money, besides the free tuition. That money would have to pay for the transportation, in this case flying from California to Vermont, and then flying to London, and then flying back from London to California. But, ME… LONDON… ENGLAND… ME… studying in ENGLAND… ME…!

So, after a week of assembling all the paperwork, recommendations and all the rest, I submitted my application. It was in. It was done. I waited…

One night I got home from teaching and was settled on the couch in the living room with a stack of essay tests waiting for me to read. The phone rang.


"Is this Terry Waldron?"

"Yes, it is."

"This is William Mallory. I'm a professor at the University of Vermont, and I'm calling about the NEH application you sent for the Chaucer fellowship. I've got good news for you. The other professor and I have the list of teachers we have accepted for this NEH trip, and you are one of the teachers we selected."


"Yes, YOU, Terry Waldron. This IS Terry Waldron, isn't it? This is the phone number that's on the application…"

Loooong pause… "Yes, this is Terry Waldron…. I'll have to call you back tomorrow…"

"Call me back? You want me to call you back…?" Loooooooong silence…

"Well, I can't tell you tonight. Could you call me back tomorrow, please…" Loooong pause…

"Well…. 'Call me back tomorrow?'… well, I guess so… But we had 350 app
lications and we could only choose 15 teachers, and you are one of the 15…"

"I have to think it over…"

"Well… OK. I'll call you back tomorrow… But we have a list of alternates and we need to have your answer as soon as possible… 

"Call me back tomorrow."

"Huh… Well, OK…. Good night, Terry." He was dumfounded, but so polite. 

I was just dumb… and very, very scared! 

I've told people I was shy for years and years, and every person thought they knew what "shy" meant. But I don't think they did, really. No one knows unless they are shy, too. "Shy" is the polite word for "SCARED." Notice, I wrote "SCARED" in CAPITAL LETTERS, because that's what lurks behind that three-letter word. FEAR in all its faces!

That phone call made the whole experience REAL… Me, flying to Vermont, ALONE, meeting 14 other people I'd never seen before in my life, ALONE, and living with them for 6 weeks, ALONE, away from my husband… a world away from my husband… in a another country, to boot!

Richard was sitting there reading the newspaper. "Terry? What was that all about?" 

And I told him. "Richard, I can't go all the way to England without you! I'd be all alone…!  I can't go… I'm scared…" In fact, I was sick to my stomach… I was shaking… What had I been thinking? … going to England… in a pig's eye!

Richard had flown all over the world on business trips ever since we were married. I was the one who was home, teaching school, walking our Old English Sheepdog twice a day, waiting by the phone every night for his call.

"Terry, this is a once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity!  You better think hard about this before tomorrow night. You'll never get to do this again." And I did think about it for the next 24 hours. I didn't sleep a wink that I know of.

When Professor Mallory called the next night, I said, "Yes, I accept the fellowship and I thank you very, very much for choosing me," and it was settled. And then I didn't sleep for the next 6 weeks before my flight.

Well, then, what changed your mind, you silly twit? you must be thinking… What changed my mind was that I have the most wonderful husband in the world.

I'd made the flight reservations and figured out how I was to get from the airport to the university. And later I'd gotten scared again… stupidly, unreasonably, scared all over again. I couldn't go…

Richard found that the plane I'd be on was full, so he made reservations for himself on another flight. It turned out to be a sort of nightmare trip for him… including hopping a train for part of the way, and then taking a bus in the middle of the night to Burlington, Vermont… Oh, and it included a night-time hike through the campus to our 3-bedroom dorm, too.  All this from the Boston airport where he'd landed in the first place. You'd have to talk to him about that 3-day nightmare round-trip mission of mercy… Well, maybe, if you see Richard, it's best you don't bring it up… ever. 

When Richard finally found our room that night, we celebrated. One of my new roommates had brought two bottles of champagne and put them into the dorm frig before I arrived.  She said that we ought to celebrate Richard's arrival! She took both bottles of champagne, expertly popped their tops, and we all toasted Richard for being the best husband in the world! Then my new 6-week-roommate, with good taste in champagne, emptied the second bottle all by 
herself that night. When that was gone, she fished around in her purse, found a bottle of peppermint schnapps, and "chased" the bottle of champagne. It would be an interesting 6 more weeks…

Richard flew back to California three days later, and I began to learn Middle English, the better to read "The Canterbury Tales" in Chaucer's own words. And this, dear reader, is my "Waldron Tale" written in modern English, and it is a kinder story than any one of Geoffrey's tales. 

 What a wonderful, wonderful man I married!           

Friday, June 19, 2015

"Each one sees what he carries in his heart."  ~  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The phone rang, and Mom answered it.

"Yes… OK, I'll be there tomorrow. 9AM… OK.  Thank you.  Goodbye…"


"Yes, Mom…"

"That was your school counselor on the phone. She wants to see me tomorrow morning… about YOU! Terry, what have you done?"

"My counselor… I don't have a counselor… which one is it?" I whispered.

What had I done? I didn't even know any of the Stamford High School counselors by name. Why would the shyest kid in the whole junior class of over 600 students know a counselor unless she was in trouble…BIG TROUBLE?

The next day at school was torturous for me. My actual MOTHER was summoned to school about ME! I never saw Mom come into school or go out of it that day, but when I got home and crept in the front door, I sure didn't let it slam shut.


"What, Mom?"

"Sit down… I have something to tell you. I saw your school counselor today, and she told me that your grades and your tests have made you eligible for the honors English class..."

WOW! I thought, silently. Me! Honors! WOW…

"But, you are not going to be placed in the honors English class, Terry. The teacher and the counselor decided that you were just too shy and quiet to be a part of that class. She said that honors students discuss and talk and argue, and they were afraid that you would just sit there in class and never say a word. They said that it was a large class, and you would just be lost in it."

…and I thought to myself, Well, at least I was smart enough to be considered for honors English…

And then I thought some more… The cutest boy in school in my eyes sat right next to me in my English class, and that was a gooood thing. He never talked to me, but I could sneak peeks at him during class when I got bored… so all was well.

My junior year passed, and then, in my senior year of high school, it was time to take the college entrance tests, and so I did.  I sat all morning taking those exams… just me and 1/2 of our senior class of 687 students. Then I sat some more in the afternoon taking the writing tests for entrance to the university. The writing tests were optional, but I loved to write, and who knew… it might be just the thing that would catch the eye of some college or university chooser-person. I wasn't scared of the writing test, I was just very tired that afternoon…

It took a long time to get the results of those entrance tests, and I hadn't heard a thing. But somehow, my English teacher, Miss Favroe, had found them out. I was scuttling down the hall, on my way to some class, and there was Miss Favroe.

"Terry, come walk with me." So I did. "Your scores on the College Boards are high, Terry. You can be accepted to Smith, my college, with those scores. I hope you will think about it." And she clomped away in those heavy black shoes she wore, wearing that long black dress that reached nearly to the tops of those shoes, her hair pinned up in an unruly bun on top of her head, and her black mustache intact.

Well, no, I wasn't going to go to that legendary all-women's college. I chose the University of Nebraska where my Dad had worked at the Cornhusker Hotel dining room to make enough money to attend UNL for one year. My father's family all lived in Nebraska, and I was glad of that. Home for me would be about 1300 miles away, and it would be nice to have some family nearby for some of those university holidays when I couldn't afford to be flying all that way back to Stamford, Connecticut.

But one day that senior summer they sent me my schedule of freshman classes, and there it was: Honors English! And so I went off to University, "scared spitless," as my Mom used to say.

The first day that I walked into that freshman honors English class and sat down in the second row, I found that only about 18 or 20 students made up the entire class, and that included me. The professor wandered in, nearly on time, looked us over one-by-one, and that was my beginning. I didn't speak out or anything, but I read… and I read and I read and I read. I listened, too, and smiled and reacted, but I was very quiet. I was the mouse of the class.

And then came Geoffrey Chaucer and his tales. That meant that we'd read The Wife of Bath's tale, among others. And the Wife of Bath was the one that the professor decided to spend time with in our honors class that day. By this time I had actually moved to the front row of seats in our classroom. In fact, I had even added a comment or two in the weeks before this "Wife of Bath" day.

"She was quite an old woman!" said the Prof. "She got around… Know what I mean…" And he chuckled in a way that guys do when they talk about things that women weren't supposed to hear.

"She was gap-toothed!" he grinned. "You know what that means…"

What HE didn't know is that my two front teeth had a major gap between them. I'd practiced and practiced my tight, timid smile so that no one would see that awful gap. I never ate apples in public unless I was with good friends. What if a chunk got caught in that gap? How could I possibly gouge that out in public?

"… It means that she was… hmmmmm… let's see… attractive to men! Get it...?"

Did he mean that boys found a gap-toothed smile pretty? I wondered…

I didn't hear the rest of the prof's lecture-discussion, though, the part when he began to explain just who this old bag of a woman was, and what her gap-toothiness really meant. I was lost in thought… pleasant thoughts… gap-toothed thoughts.

All at once our tiny English Honors class was laughing at something the prof said that I hadn't heard… something about Chaucer's use of double entendres… or whatever. I smiled, though, a mouth-opened smile. And then I laughed and laughed and laughed, my gap-teeth exposed publicly for the first time since I'd turned 13 years old!

Of course, later I didn't do well on that essay test question about The Wife of Bath. But on Saturday night I had a date with the only good-looking guy in our honors class. And later that Saturday night I had to set him straight about the fact that the Middle Ages' ideas about gap-teeth women were NOT the same as the 20th century's facts about gap-toothed girls… yes, I did!

Friday, June 5, 2015

"Endure and persist; this pain will turn to good by and by."  ~ Ovid

All this can be found in an immaculate rectangular room with one floor-to-ceiling mirrored wall. I know this because that's where I have my physical therapy sessions three times a week for my poor old neck. It's such an innocent-looking room, filled with huge plastic balls and weights and these 3- or 4-foot-long, styroform cylinders that you throw on the floor and then lay on top of. It has long, thick, bright blue straps that you stand on with one foot and drape the rest of it over your shoulder. There are wooden steps and slanted footstands and all sorts of things that make it seem so interesting and full of fun. But it's NOT! 

I have 18 sessions prescribed by my doctor, and when I arrive for each session, I check in with the receptionist who has the biggest, tallest, roundest bowl filled right up to the brim with candy waiting for us all. She is the sweetest lady, and she has exceptional taste in her candy selections.  

Now, many of you candy aficionados understand that Smiley's are smallish, powdery, colorful wafers, with about 12 of them wrapped in a clear plastic roll. I always grab 2 of them (3, if the sweet receptionist is not watching me), stuff them into my jean's pocket, and sit down quietly until my trainer comes to get me. (I explained about the Smiley's so that if you happen to need physical therapy and choose this wonderful place that I go to, you will understand that you are free to grab any candy you like, EXCEPT those Smiley's. They are MINE! ALL MINE! STAY AWAY FROM THEM! STAY VERY, VERY FAR AWAY FROM THE SMILEY'S!)

You see, my neck hurts! And I'm not there to lose that Smiley-fat that's gathering around my waist since I started my therapy. That will come after my 18th visit. Then I will have to find a gym with a lovely receptionist who doles out just one Smiley to the Smiley-addicts like me who are trying to lose the weight and the Smiley's-craving. Wonder how many sessions my doctor will prescribe for that therapy?       

But in this immaculate room are always about a dozen people, along with at least 3 trainers and 3-4 experienced doctors who work with each patient all day, 5 days a week. Every patient is doing something different from me, it seems. Some are lying on the lovely big bed-like tables that can be raised and lowered at will… not my will, but the doctor's will. Some are facing the mirror-wall doing all sorts of thoughtful moves or standing still in awkward positions, but still, nevertheless. It is quiet in that room, except for some nearly silent music, soft and lilting songs by soothing singers. No groans from the patients, no loud voices from the trainers.

As I stand there with my neck twisted upwards and sideways for one whole minute of pain, I can see out of the corner of my eye that there is a lady standing on the slanted box while she holds onto the bar hooked to the wall. It looks fun and easy, and I want to do that one.

"Can I do that exercise next?" I ask my handler.

"No," she says nicely.

Then I do my next exercise, the one where I wish no one could see me because it's soooo dorky. I hold my hands straight out in front of me and make "OK" signs with my fingers. Then I bring the "OK" circle of my fingers up-side-down to my eyes like up-side-down spectacles. See… DORKY-looking! I do it 10 times twice-over. I've never seen anyone else have to do this but me. Sheesh! 

While I'm looking at myself in the mirror, I can see a lovely girl lying on the lovely bed-like table doing lovely leg-risings, or something to that effect. I want to do THAT! It looks sort of ballet-ish, even though in ballet you are standing on an actual floor.

"Can I do that exercise over there?" I point to the lovely girl doing leg-lifts.

"No, you can't," says my nicest trainer. 

As I change my movements to one where I stretch my hands in front of me and behind, as I turn them up and down, I can feel the pain in that stretch from my little finger all the way up to my neck. Ouch! But I must do that twice, 10 times each. The pain burns. But that's what it's supposed to do.

Meanwhile, in that blasted mirror wall, I see a sweet-looking older lady laying on another bed-like table, and she's lifting her knee and folding it over her other leg as she gracefully turns only from her waist down. Now, I've done that before, and it's fun… no pain, no burn.

"Don't you think that exercise would help me?" I snivel.

"No, Terry, it wouldn't."

If I were my trainer, by now I'd ask the P.T. overseer if I could change patients because that one named Terry is a pain in the …  Oops..

But she doesn't do that! She just looks at her clipboard and hands me a hard styrofoam cylinder. So I lay it on the floor, and I balance my body on top of it so I can bend my knees and stretch my arms out and down on the floor. I will lay that way 2 times each for 60 seconds. It may sound silly to you, but it burns all the way across my chest from shoulder to shoulder.

And, just for the record, 60 seconds is a loooooong time when something hurts because you're doing it! Now I realize that if you touch fire, your reflex to get away from it must be counted in nano-seconds! It's all I can do to stay in that hurful position for a minute at a time. Who would have thought…

"The doctor will be with you in just a couple minutes," says this angel-trainer. She is the sweetest girl who is looking after more patients that just me, and she seems to enjoy us all! Yup, she's an angel of mercy. But I hurt!

And, while I wait, in the mirror-wall I can see a man lying on his stomach, not moving at all. I look at his back to see if there is any breathing motions, but there's not a flutter! No snores… no gasping… no moaning. Now that seems to me a great way to help my neck… but, of course, no one there will offer me that sort of healing. 

Then my doctor bids me to come over to the comfy bed-table, and I do. He begins his treatment, and it hurts, all of it, everytime he touches some place in my neck. But the shock is when he presses a place where my jaw and my neck collide, I mean meet… That pain is like no other pain I've ever felt in my life. It's the most intense and, to me, the most completely unbearable pain I've ever felt. But that's not enough…

"OK, Terry, make a double chin," he says in his soothing voice. 

That means racheting up that intense pain to double what I'm feeling. Me hurting ME even more… I can't! I CAN'T!

"Relax, Terry, and make a double chin," he says again as he presses harder on that place. 

Afterwards, I tell him that it hurts so much that I can't do it… I can't make that double chin and hurt myself even more… I can't…

"Yes you can, Terry," he says knowingly. "Just for a second… make a double chin…"

When I pass out from the pain (only in my dreams do I pass out…), he stops and says, "Your neck is really getting better. Next time it isn't going to hurt as much."

And, he's almost right! None of it hurts like it did the first time I went into my physical therapy. But it still hurts… a LOT! 

But as I drive home from my P.T., I realize that my neck goes up and down easier than I can ever remember. When I shake my head "no," I don't hear the crackling like I used to. And the weirdest thing is that my head sits straighter and a little higher on my neck. And it took me that long to realize that every patient in that physical therapy room was hurting as much or much worst than I was, I'm ashamed to admit. Even the lady who stood on that slant-board was in pain as she stood there... 

My doctor is a miracle-worker! I have 5 more sessions to go, and I will celebrate when I'm through. But, when it is all over, I will thank these people for the rest of my life, even though they won't know it. Now, I'm off to change into my therapy garb of jeans and a sweatshirt. I'll drive over to the office, grab my allotment of Smiley's, wait for my trainer to finesse me into hurting myself for several minutes while the doctor finishes with his current patient before moving on to me.

"Relax, Terry… Let me do the work on your neck."

"I can't relax here. This is the best I can do. But, Mark, it really, really doesn't hurt like it did. Thank you."

"Terry, what I'm doing now is making your neck better than it's ever been in your life! Now, make a double chin for me while I press this spot…"

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"Do tears not yet spilled wait in small lakes?"  ~ Pablo Neruda

On Wednesday two men I've never met died. One of them is known by most of the English-writing world. The other one was, I think, known by only one or two, and, maybe by no one at all.

William Zinsser wrote "On Writing Well," a book that is mandatory reading by anyone thinking about writing… even writing a good letter. He said things like:

       "Clutter is the disease of American writing."

       "We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon." 

        "Simplify, simplify!"

        "Few people realize how badly they write."

        "Clear thinking becomes clear writing. One can't exist without the other."

I read in his obituary that he "played show tunes on the piano while a friend played the sax." I'm not surprised. To be as good a writer as he was, he had to have a "wonderful ear - for music, for writing, and for life," as he was described in the newspaper obit. He was a soldier in World War II, a newspaper journalist, a member of the English faculty at Yale University, and, lately, he even authored a blog.

His book, "On Writing Well," has sold over 1,000,000 copies, and one of those is sitting in one of my bookcases right now. I think I have his book, "Writing to Learn," as well, but I'm sure I don't have another of his books, "Writing With a Word Processor." I'm using a MacBook, and I don't have to know much of anything to use this "machine!"

Your influence on writing in the English language is priceless, clear, and critically important, Mr. Zinsser. (Oops, I used an adverb!) I inferred from his writing, and taught my students, that if you pick the best noun, you don't need adjectives. If you pick the best verb, you need no adverb. Adjectives and adverbs are just sentence props because the author didn't choose potent nouns and verbs.

Thank you, Mr. Zinsser, for influencing so many 20th and 20-first century writers with your ideas, sir.

The other man who died on the same day was known by nearly no one, I think. He sat in a wheelchair staring at the traffic racing along a busy Southern California 6-lane street that travels the length of the snake-narrow city of Anaheim for nearly 12 miles. He had a dirty-white bandage around the top of his head. Part of it was always loose and snaked down his forehead, nearly to his nose.

He was always there, this tall, empty-eyed man in the wheelchair who spent his days watching the traffic go by. I saw him every week when I drove down there to meet a close friend for lunch. That is, until last Wednesday.

The traffic was frenzied and busier than usual. The red light was longer than usual, and I stopped behind two cars in front of me at that light on that street with the man in the wheelchair, waiting for the green. 

The wheelchair was there, but the man was doubled over. His full, uncombed, shaggy hair on the very top of his head was snarled in the grass on the ground by his feet. His forearms and hands were splayed on that ground on either side of his head. There was no sign that those hands had tried to break his fall. His limp fingers were so relaxed and still. 

I knew he was dead. I looked at his side to see if there was any movement, any sign of him breathing. There was none. The red light stubbornly refused to turn green.

How long had he been there, dead? Hundreds of cars passed him by, but there he lay. Wonder how long he'd been like that…  just a foot from the sidewalk, half of him still in his chair. 

Two cars behind me was a police car. They would see him and check on him and call for back-up, I supposed. They must have, because two hours later, when I drove back home from lunch, he was gone... no trace that he'd ever been there… no trace that he'd ever lived on this earth, this man I saw nearly every Wednesday for two years.

I remember him, and I will for a little while, but then I'll forget. And it makes me very sad that a person can be present, right there in front of me, but left out, even when he's dead.

Friday, May 8, 2015

"Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing."  ~  Benjamin Franklin

"Read to your belly!" she said.

Read to your belly? Read to your BELLY! What in the world was that nut-case blithering about, I wondered. 

In fact, I more than "wondered." This was an experienced teacher talking, one whom I highly respected, and here she was, talking to one of our senior girls who was pregnant. I didn't know the girl, but the school board had just passed a new regulation that pregnant students would be allowed to stay in their high schools, instead of automatically being transferred to the district office's "unwed mothers program" placement. But what in the world did that statement have to do with "the price of eggs in China," as my Mom used to say when I made a remark that had no relation at all to the subject I was supposed to be speaking about.

In those times there was a daily 20-minute "Nutrition Break" in all the schools. Students could bring items from home to munch on outside in the school "plaza," or they could buy something from the "snack bar" window serviced by the cafeteria ladies. Students, and faculty, too, could buy apples or bananas or fruit juices or donuts. It wasn't a perfect idea because the lines at the 6 windows were always miles long, and many slow-walking kids would make it to the window just as the 5-minute "warning bell" rang. Kids had to watch their fingers because the windows were slammed shut on the dot. After all, the cafeteria ladies had only a short time to get all the lunches ready for the noon-hour. Yes, "hour!" In those days schools devoted a whole hour for teachers and students to have lunch.

Of course, teachers were allowed to butt into those "Nutrition" lines at any time, so I always had my daily donut just about 2 1/2 minutes after the bell began to ring. I know… I know… as a teacher I ought to have been buying fruit to make a silent stand as a health statement to all the kids, but I always had plenty of fresh fruit sitting in a pretty bowl at home. I could get that anytime, but fresh donuts? Setting a good example flew out the window for me every time that "nutrition" bell rang. 

So, donut in hand, I wandered over to the colleague who told a pregnant senior to "read to her belly."

"What did you mean when you told that girl to 'read to her belly'? Never heard that before…"

"Terry, babies can hear from inside their mothers. Didn't you know that?"

"Wait! Babies INSIDE OF THEIR MOMS can HEAR the outside world? You're kiddin' me!"

"No, I'm not. Terry, sit down…"

This esteemed teacher, this lady who was the sort of teacher I hoped I could be someday, began to explain her own experience…

"While I was pregnant, I read this research about babies being able to hear while they were still in the womb. In fact, because I loved Shakespeare, I read several of Shakespeare's plays out loud to my stomach." 

"You're kiddin'," I stammered.

"C'mon, Terry… I had several months to wait for her to be born. I didn't know how to knit booties, so what else could I do while I waited? By the way, did I ever tell you that I wanted to be an actress when I was younger? So, I even read each of the parts in a different voice," she laughed.

"Well, Terry, I had a daughter, and the terrible thing for me was that she never liked school! I mean, I'm a teacher, and my first and only child didn't like school! She loved playing with the kids in school, she loved P.E., but she only did her homework because I nagged her every single night."

This teacher told me that her daughter did graduate from high school, and then she went to college only because she needed a college degree to go into the field she did like which was math. There she had to take the required college English classes, and she had passed each one, but only by the skin of her skin-less teeth.

"But, Terry, the summer before her junior year of college, MY DAUGHTER signed up for a class in SHAKESPEARE! MY DAUGHTER!"

"Why would she do that? We're talking heavy-duty English class here. That was weird!" I muttered.

"That's exactly what I said to her, right after I got up off of the floor where I'd fallen over backwards! She said, and I quote, 'I dunno, Mom… I dunno………..' And off she went back to college to take all sorts of higher math classes where she was getting A's and to take the 'Shakespeare's Dramas' class, too."

"She jumped in head first, didn't she!" I was stunned.

"That's not the amazing part, Terry. Be quiet!  There's more…" said the English teacher with the treasonous daughter. "She came home at the semester break and showed me her grades, and there it was - an A in that Shakespeare class. AN A!"

Her daughter, a girl who hated English classes and didn't like to read any literature at all, had aced a first semester class in Shakespeare! She told her Mom that she'd already signed up for the second semester classes. The  one class she could hardly wait to take was called "Shakespear's Comedies!"

"Mom," she had said. "I don't understand it! I KNEW those plays. I DID! I KNEW those plays… it was like magic or something. I'm not saying that that was an easy class, or anything, Mom. In fact, it was hard for everyone else, but it was easy for ME! Mom, it is soooo weird!"

"Now, Terry, I had NEVER told my daughter that I'd read to my stomach! Never!"

Now, Dear Reader, that was "back in the day" when I was a new teacher, teaching art at my first place of employment after I graduated from university. But, just this morning I was reading the newspaper, and there was an article explaining that expectant Moms ought to read aloud to their unborn babies. The article said that research absolutely verifies that the child you bear with that pre-birth experience will do better in school than those children who were not read to. 

Of course, it's never too late. If Moms haven't read to their bellies, they can certainly read to their babies. But, I'm just sayin'… and it doesn't have to be William Shakespeare, you know.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf."  ~  American Indian proverb

"O.K. guys, take out your English books and turn to page 216." (Groans all around…)

"What page, again, Mrs. W?"

"Page 216.  You know, the part about how to punctuate dialogue…" 

More groans, and louder ones.  And the loudest ones of all were coming from ME! I'd given the same directions 5 times that day already. 

Blast it, I thought. Now I need to give my students another test to see if they understand how to use quotation marks correctly, and that means reading 220 papers consisting of identical boring, boring sentences like: "Hello, Jane," said Tony. "Hello, Tony. How are you today?" "I'm just fine, Jane." You know the kind of sentences that live only in the standard English textbooks…  Who wrote these English textbooks anyway? Robots who never actually heard REAL LIVE PEOPLE TALK? I wondered.  Sheesh!  

But it was part of my job, and I did love teaching these kids. But these textbook sentences were soooo lame.

Well, there's a time to talk, and there's a time to not. 

"OK, class! Close those books, right NOW!"


"Girls, leave your purses under your desks! ALL of you, grab your notebooks and your pens and follow me!"

"What's wrong, Mrs. W? Where're we going?" 

"Grab your pens and notebooks, and line up at the door. We're going on "location!"


"Yeah, location! I told you that I used to live in Culver City where they used to make movies. Well, there's only so much of a movie that they can shoot on a sound stage. For the best outdoor scenes they send the crew and the actors out to the real world, and they shoot scenes there. We're going out to the REAL WORLD to hear REAL dialogue!"

"We are?"

"Yup! Now, listen to me… We are going to spy on real people saying real things, so you MUST be sneaky quiet. We are going to sneak up to a classroom with open doors, making sure that neither the teacher or the class realizes we are there. You must write down every single word you hear and identify whether it's a teacher or a student talking, and whether it's a girl or a guy. Is that clear?"

"Really? You mean REAL people talking?" asked one of the guys.

"Exactly! Now, if you hear a student whispering to someone, that counts in your dialogue, OK? Write down every single thing you hear, and when we get back to our room, you can divide up the dialogue into paragraphs, and you can put in the correct punctuation, especially quotation marks, when we get back. Oh, and you MUST be sneaky! We want to get the real way that REAL people really speak. Got it?"

I'd like to say that I thought up this way of teaching dialogue paragraphing and punctuation all by myself, but I didn't! I'd been reading a terrific book by a famous mystery writer who actually lived about 20 miles south of Anaheim, California. He'd also written an article about writing dialogue that intrigued me. He said that he would go to a MacDonald's close to a high school, buy a Coke, and settle himself into a booth just before school was out. MacDonald's would be filled with chattering high school students about 10 minutes after he'd arrived. Perfect! He would take out a notepad and copy all the conversations around him for the next hour. He said that it was the best way in the world to capture the current "buzz-words," the incomplete sentences, and the true music of live human dialogue.

Well, we could do it, too, minus MacDonald's. 

"Mrs. Waldron, do you think that writer's ever been at OUR MacDonald's across the street after OUR school was out?" asked one of the girls. 

"Well, if he was, raise your hand if YOU've ever gone to MacDonald's after school," I asked. Several, no, ALL of the hands went up. "Well, YOU might have made it into one of his books!" I told the class. A teacher uses every trick she can figure out to get her students to read, you see.

That evening I settled in to read as many of their "secret conversations" papers as I could, and they were GREAT! So true to the rhythm of the language, so true to the words that real people use when they converse. Wow! Great assignment, Terry Waldron! You ROCK, lady! I thought to myself.


And then I read the rest of the sentence, "…UNTIL YOU ARE QUIET!" yelled Mrs. Waldron…