Monday, March 31, 2014

"A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down."  ~ Robert Benchley


I just read an article that admonished women against marrying any man who doesn't like children or dogs. Sounds about right to me. Of course, if you're a woman who doesn't like children or dogs, go right ahead... knock yourself out! 

I, on the other hand, LOVE dogs. I'm a sucker for all Old English Sheepdogs... and any other haired variety. In fact, my next-door neighbor just gave me the best compliment last week. She said I was the "Morningview Drive Dog Whisperer!" 

Now, Clancy, our second Old English was the smartest dog we ever raised. He was big and beautiful and was a natural-born herder. In fact, he seemed to think that all the kids in our neighborhood were sheep! The boys across the street would come over and knock on our door every day in summer, saying, "Can Clancy come out to play?" Of course, we'd both come out to the front yard so Clancy could roust them into a running circle of laughing, screaming kidlets. 

When Clancy and the kids were finally laying on the lawn, laughing hysterically in their perfect circle, one boy would always say, "Does Clancy have eyes?"

"Yes, he does... I showed you them yesterday!"

"Show us again, pullleeezzz..." And I'd lift up that big old head with its long pink tongue hanging down to the ground, and I'd lift back that mop of white hair so they could see HIS laughing brown eyes.

One day, when I was taking Clancy on his morning walk around the big strawberry field near our house, I felt eyes on me... Weird... There was no one staring at us. There was just Clancy, me, and the strawberry pickers hustling to carry those large, heavy crates to the back of the truck. I looked up at the telephone pole we were walking toward, and there HE was! A golden eagle... perched on the pole's crossbar, staring... just staring down hard at us both from on high.

I'd just finished reading my umpteenth book about Kenya the day before (LOVE reading about that mystic, magical place... the highlands of Kenya, especially), and it had talked about people who hunted lions with EAGLES! I'd only ever seen one bald eagle in person, and they were big, but NOT like this Golden Eagle staring down on us.

He was huge, aristocratic and regal... and, did I say HUUUUGE! He looked right through my eyes into the back of my head, crinckled his eyebrows, and then, with the utmost look of boredom I've ever seen on any face, he looked away towards the field. We were beneath his contempt... thank God!

Clancy, like all dogs, never saw him at all. Dogs seem to always look straight ahead or downwards or around behind. But upwards is usually just not of much interest to them, it seems to me. That eagle, though, could have taken him out... me, too, for that matter. But he was just too lordly for a morning tussle, I guess.

When I was young, we had a wonderful dog named Copper. He was mostly a boxer, but he must have had a tinge of Great Dane or something in him, because his black muzzle was squared, not mashed into his face like the usual boxer dog. He was a love, like all boxers. His family was everything to him, and he was so eager to please us.

I'm ashamed to admit that I trained him, lickety-split, to hold a dog treat on top of his nose and not eat it until I said, "OK." There's nothing wrong with that, of course. But I wondered how long he would wait, holding it on his nose until I said the magic words... It never occurred to me that this was cruel. But it WAS! Our Copper held that treat on his nose one time for over 10 minutes. I know, because I'd just received a watch for my birthday. The slobber on the ground was proof, too.

Copper stayed in the backyard every day until my brother and I came home from school. Then he'd be in for the night with us. In the evenings down in the den Dad would relax in his Laz-Boy Lounger (even though my father looked an awful lot like Don Draper, and Don Draper would never have lounged in a Laz-Boy!), my brother and I would be spread out on the couch, and my Mom would be sitting in her rocking chair, as we all watched TV.

When Copper came to live with us, he found his place in the family den, too. He jumped up on my Mom's lap and sat straight up on his haunches and watched TV as she rocked. So what, you say... There was only ONE person in that room who was afraid of dogs, and, you guessed it... It was Mom! Why did Copper choose Mom? When Mom was upstairs fixing dinner, and Jack and I were downstairs fighting over the TV, I'd get into the rocker and put Copper on MY lap. He'd promply jump off my lap to sit on the floor, straight up in front of the TV so he wouldn't miss a thing. That dog loved TV as much as we did!

Now my Dad, an early riser, always opened the kitchen door in the morning to let Copper out to do his "business," as Dad called it. We didn't have a fenced yard. We lived in Connecticut! In those days, at least, it was the law there that when a house was going to be built, only 1/3 of the trees could be removed from the lot. Our backyard was grassy, but, at its edge, it was actually a forest covered with pines and rocks, gently rolling down the hill to the neighbor's backyard below. I loved that foresty place.

But that meant that Copper would have free-range to roam all over the neighborhood until he decided to come home. I never liked that, but I wasn't in charge. Dad was. When Copper would return, he'd just scratch at the door until someone opened it for him. Usually, that "someone" was me! Sometimes, I did wonder where he went, but it was his secret, and he was always so happy that I knew it must have been all gooood!

Until one day... Copper was out that morning for longer than usual. I was in the kitchen stewing about something or other, and suddenly I heard ferocious barking... and I didn't recognize any of those barks! Then something was thrown against the kitchen door, it seemed. Then there was Copper's bark. It said, "LET ME IN! THEY'RE GONNA KILL ME!"

I ran to the kitchen door's window, and there was Copper, cowering against that door! A pack of at least 6 dogs wanted at him, seemingly to bite his head off! But, standing sideways, between Copper and that gang of dogs, I saw Mike! Mike was a huge, long-haired white dog, a Great Pyrenesse, who lived in the neighborhood. He was never playful like Copper. He was stately, quiet, but firm in his ways. In fact, if Mike had been a human, he would have played right guard for the Packers. No talk, no lip, just "I'm gonna take you OUT! Count on it!"

Mike was shielding Copper from what would have been a terrible dog fight with my sweet Copper, the loser!

Of course, I yanked the door open for him to run in, and then slammed that door shut. I think that if he could have, Copper would have jumped right up into my arms!

It was Mike who was the hero of that episode. I've never seen that before or since. With Copper safely inside the house, I kept peeking out the window to watch Mike as he guarded our kitchen door for another half an hour before he ambled on homeward.

You'd think that this story would end with Copper and Mike being best friends, but that's not what happened. Mike stayed as aloof as he'd always been with everyone, dogs included. Copper still went out in the mornings to do his "business." But no dogs ever chased him home again. My question still is, though, what in the world did our sweet boxer do to get himself in that kind of a jam... It must have been about a girl... don't you think...? 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you are."                               ~ e e cummings


Oldest sisters are put on Earth for one reason, and one reason ONLY ~ to toughen up you younger ones for the vicisitudes of Life! Without an older sister brow-beating you or playing school in the backyard (she being the teacher and YOU being the dunce), you'd never be able to withstand all the things that you, dear reader, have had to endure in "real life." It's not a coincidence that about 85% of all teachers are the first-born in their families, you know! And there are still more females in teaching than males... 

The only real problem I ever had with my little brother Jack is that he, like most all younger brothers, finally started his "growth spurt." That spurt doesn't usually stop until the "little brother" towers over you when you're standing side-by-side. Jack finally ended up at a healthy 6'4"... lots taller than me!

It was more fun when he and I were young... especially when Mom would go to the market or somewhere and leave us home. Jack ALWAYS started it! He'd get this look in his eye and that sly grin... and then he run over and hit me! Then I'd get an angry grin on my face, hit him back, and the chase was on! We both loved those wild chases, especially because we lived in a "split-level" house. The bedrooms and bathroom were at the top of a short staircase of about 8 steps. You'd go down that staircase to reach the living room and the large kitchen/dining room. Then you'd go down a loooong staircase to the "den" next to the washer/dryer room and the door to the garage. 

But don't think of that description as a house-plan... think of it as a race course! It was also a race that would stop the minute we heard Mom's car coming back into the driveway. So our attacks had to be swift and cunning. I've always thought that it was these wild chases that kept me so skinny that my nickname in Junior High was "Boney Maroney," to my chagrin.

That first sneak attack called for bodily harm to be inflicted, at all costs... When it got too intense, there was always my escape route up the 8 steps, a quick right turn into my bedroom, and a swift slam of my door behind me! Jack's escape route was 5 steps further than mine to his bedroom, but he didn't have to make that right turn. It was to his advantage that his room was straight ahead up those steps. 

Oops, the sound of Mom's car... the yelling would stop in the middle of a "HA, HA!" We'd both hustle to the living room, each of us plopping down on different chairs. I, being the oldest, even thought to place a book I was reading nearby, so I could grab it when the race was over and look like I'd been reading the whole time Mom was gone. Of couse, when she'd walk in, she'd notice that we both were gasping, breathless... 

"What were you kids doing while I was gone?"

"Nuthin,' Mom."

"Well, c'mon and help bring the groceries in."

"OK, Mom," answered the two little angels at the same time.

"Terry, how did you get that bruise on your arm?"

"Dunno, Mom."

All this savage fun had to come to an end, though. It was inevitable...

Jack and I were in the middle of an especially wild battle one day while Mom was gone. I'd run into my room, slamming the door, and Jack was right behind me pounding on that door. Of course, I was safe, and Jack knew it. So he would play is infamous "gotcha" game. He'd "walk away," stamping out the first couple of steps, and then faking the rest of his steps so they would be quieter and quieter until it sounded like he was way down in the den. I'd wait, listening intently at my door. When you are young, though, "listening intently" can get awfully boring in about a second-and-a-half.

I slowly opened my bedroom door, only to find he was waiting right beside that door, and he pounced! That slug made me stop for a nano-second, but I hit him back, and then the chase was back on! I sailed past him down the 8 steps, through the kitchen, around to the closed door that would open to the loooong staircase.

I threw the door open, stepped down onto the 2nd step, swung around to slam the door behind me before Jack could reach me, and BANG! I pulled the door closed with all my might, mashing my thumb in the door! Oh, the pain... INTENSE pain... too much pain to even yell...

Jack swung the door open, saw me there, close enough to land a good smack! I still remember the triumph in his eyes. He even seemed to pause, enjoying whatever it was that he was planning to do... 

My thumb hurt so much that I started to feel light-headed...dizzy... ready to faint, even...

"Jack! My thumb! My thumb! I'm going to faint!"

Guess what he did... my brother?

"Terry! Are you OK?"

"Noooooo... Jack, I'm going to faint... Help me down the stairs..."

... and he DID!

My little brother actually put his arm around me, and helped me down that long dark stairwell, and told me to sit down on the couch!  MY LITTLE BROTHER! 

When Mom walked through the door from the garage to the den, she saw me sitting on the couch with my head between my legs, trying desperately not to faint. She saw Jack sitting right beside me saying, "It's OK, Terry. Mom's home now..."

"Mom, Terry smashed her thumb in the door, and it's bleeding..."

I'm pretty sure that we never had even one more of those wild races through the house again. We were friends now, not just brother and sister... friends! 

It was either the fact that Jack had helped me and not thrashed me... or it was the fact that over that summer he started growing so fast that my Mom said, if you watched closely enough, you could actually SEE him grow right before your very eyes!       

P.S.  After I read this over again, it does look awfully violent... but it really wasn't! It seems to me that it was a lot like when you watch young horses playing in a field. One will nip the other one, and then they will both dance away, chasing each other in a sort of playful race. When I talked to my brother about it, he sort of saw it the same way... BUT, he said, HE ALWAYS WON! I'm afraid I don't see it EXACTLY that way, though...  :} 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, as those move easiest who have learn'd to dance."  ~ Alexander Pope


"Gervase Phinn? Gervase Phinn? Who in the world is THAT?" she asked. 

"Well, let me tell you..." I said. And now I'll tell YOU, readers...

I don't know what your situation in life is like right now, but I DO know that if you'd like to read some books that will make your heart all warm and glowy, and make your lips curve into smile upon smile, and truly make you laugh out loud... If that's what's been missing in your life lately, Gervase will cure you in just about 5-minutes-worth of reading... I PROMISE!

This lovely man was a "children's school inspector" in Yorkshire, England, and his rare talent and warmth wash over all of his adventures as he traveled over the Dales to examine each school. The children are honest, soooo honest... well, see for yourselves. You don't have to have been a teacher to appreciate these stories... you don't even have to have children. It would be nice, though, if you could find yourself a comfy chair to curl up in and maybe a "cuppa" to enjoy as you read. The hectic world of this school inspector makes turning the pages and rereading the funny parts pure joy. 

 Below is the list of his first 4 books. Be sure to read them in order, even though I especially like when he meets his own true love! Gervase was on British radio with these stories, and the rights have been bought by televison for a series, too. I think I can honestly promise that you will LOVE these books as much as I do. (I'm calling him "Gervase" as if I know him! Of course, I don't! But after reading even one book, you'll feel like you're old friends!) 

The Other Side of the Dale
Over Hill and Dale
Head Over Heels in the Dale
Up and Down in the Dales

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart."  ~ Maya Angelou


I love to read... always have... I was just wondering if you, who are reading my blog, would be interested in knowing about some writers I love, but you may not be aware of. If you're not interested, you're excused... If you are, though, here are a few of my very favorite books. Oh, and I'd LOVE to hear what you think of them.

If I were stranded on a deserted island... well, I'd die of heat stroke! Anything over 75 degrees, and I'm roasting... But if I were stranded on a 75 degree deserted island and could have only ONE book, it would be West with the Night by Beryl Markham. 

You needn't take my word for it, though. Here's what Ernest Hemingway said of her one and only book when he wrote to Maxwell Perkins: "Did you read Beryl Markham's book, West with the Night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could write and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer's log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But (she) can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard other people's stories, are absolutely true... I wish you would get it and read it because it is a bloody wonderful book." Hemingway never said that about another writer...

Beryl Markham moved to Kenya with her father when she was 4 years old, and she lived there the rest of her life, mostly. It's named West with the Night because she was the first pilot ever to fly across the Atlantic from England to the American continent, against the wind all the way. Lindbergh, remember, flew across the Atlantic first, but that was WITH the wind, not in the face of it the entire flight like Ms Markham did! 

This book is autobiographical and her life is the most amazing conglomeration of events you can imagine. However, each chapter can stand fully by itself as a perfect short story! I began teaching the chapter "Praise God for the Blood of the Bull" to my high school classes a full year before it became a part of the UCLA curriculum. It recounts Ms Markham's childhood hunting adventure with a group of neighboring Maasai warriors, and it's "bloody wonderful!" Another fascinating chapter/short story is "He Was a Good Lion." There is not one superfluous word in any of her writing. You are simply there with her until you close the book... and you're still there for a little while after that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On that deserted 75 degree island I hope never to be stranded on... somehow, I would have smuggled a second "first choice" book in my back pocket. It's named I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell. Of course, I would also have teased my hair so frizzy and tall that inside it I could have smuggled Fred Chappell's companion book Brighten the Corner Where You Are.

Could there be a more different book from Beryl Markham's book? Nope! Fred Chapell is a "Southern writer," and I just don't think that there is another writer anywhere, ever, who writes like he does. The book is magical, sooo funny, so sincere, so unpredictable... I Am One of You Forever is about a few days in the life of a young boy who lives in the mountains of North Carolina. It's successor, Brighten the Corner Where You Are, is one day in the life of this same main character who is now a school teacher.

I'm simply not a good enough writer to tell you about this book, but there are national book reviewers who can. So I'll show you their words, instead.

"I am honestly convinced that Fred Chappell is one of the finest writers of this time, one of the rare and precious few who are truly 'major.'" ~ George Garrett

"Chappell... creates a sort of magical realism set to fiddles - now funny, now sad. and full of turns and surprises throughout. Chappell combines an almost numinous gift for describing nature with a series of interwoven rustic tall tales such as Twain (or Faulkner) might have told."  - George Lyons (Newsweek)

"It is a novel to read and reread for its tales, its lovely cast of characters, and its poetry. It is also a novel to put on the shelf with Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty." - George Core (Washington Post)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"People see God every day, they just don't recognize Him."  ~  Pearl Bailey


I couldn't have been luckier! The phone rang one night, and it was the renown English professor at the University of Vermont saying that he had chosen me as one of the 15 National Endowment for the Humanities' Fellows to study "Chaucer and the Medieval Illuminated Manuscript" at the University of Vermont AND the University of London, England for 6 weeks that summer...  ME! I had submitted all my information for that amazing opportunity several weeks before this phone call, and it was suddenly a reality! Out of several hundred applications from teachers all across the country, I was chosen!

I'm ashamed to tell you what I said to Bill, but, after all this time, it is kind of funny... "Well, I'm so thankful that you've chosen me, Professor, but I'll have to call you back tomorrow to give you my answer..." 

What a FOOL, you're thinking... at least you SHOULD be thinking that! But, all at once, I had become sooooo scared! I'd be away from my husband, my home, my friends, for 6 whole weeks, traipsing all over Vermont and England with 14 people I'd never met before... and I was still very, very shy in those days...

"Uh... Uh... Well, I guess you can call me back tomorrow.... but I need to know because there are many, many other people who want to go.......... OK, I guess.... but, PLEASE call me back as quickly as you can tomorrow...... Uh, good bye... (CLICK)..." answered the nationally-famous expert on Dante and Chaucer.  

Now, the University of Vermont is the 3rd oldest university in the United States, and it sits at the very top of a hill that overlooks the city of Burlington which overlooks Lake Champlain... gorgeous! EverythIng about this place was perfection in my eyes! This diverse group of 14 teachers and 2 professors were going to be my travel companions and fellow students for the next 6 weeks, and, as I looked them over, I was in awe, scared, excited, and homesick - all at the same time! By the way, cell phones had not yet been invented... no texting, either... no iPads... The dial telephone was all we had... that and letters and post cards!

My roommate from the Midwest was wonderful, but I became really close friends with an amazing woman from Tennessee and a funny, canny "girl" from New York who visited Vermont every single summer and at Christmas, too, because her parents had a summer home there. Ellen plopped us into her newish VW convertible and became our guide as we drove over all the backroads of Vermont, stopping at every tiny town that would appear around some bend in the road. At each place, around every corner, it looked like a tranquil painting that some dreamer had made up.

We Fellows studied every day, except Sundays, for 3 weeks, learning to read Middle English, and, because of our professor, Bill, we could finally read Chaucer in the original language. The "F-bomb" word was used in Chaucer's time, too, but it was an entirely different word. Ellen decided, one day, that we ought to go to the tee-shirt shop in town and have tee-shirts made for the 3 of us with that word in Middle English printed upside-down on the front! Mary Lou was all for it, but I told them that we were flying to LONDON! Surely, there would be people on the streets of London who would KNOW what we had plastered across our chests, so the idea was scrapped! Whew...

When we arrived in London and were all moved into our quarters in Canterbury Hall, we found out that the daily routine would be lots different than it was in Vermont. Bill and the art history professor told us that our studies would be Monday - Thursdays from 9AM - noon. We'd be taking trips thoughout London during the afternoons, and we'd be having outings through the Chaucerian countryside on the weekends. Could it be any better than that? 

I've always been an early-riser, and my mornings were heavenly... I'd start with a two-block walk to the green-grocer, who called everyone "Luv," to buy a basket of "freshly-picked-that-morning" raspberries for 45 pence... DELICIOUS... I'd savor every one of them on my way back to the Hall. Then, I'd walk across the narrow street to the tennis courts and play doubles with Bill, the art professor, and another of the Fellows. Afterwards, we 4 would go into the Hall, grab a tray, and get into line at the student cafeteria for an English breakfast of bangers and eggs and tomatoes.

On the second week there, a large contingent of German students arrived for summer graduate studies. That meant more people vying for a place in the breakfast line. On their first morning at Canterbury Hall, a tall, "Arnold Swartzeneger"-type man was in line behind me, and, as I slid my tray along the counter, he kept bumping his tray into mine. He wasn't happy unless my tray was touching the person's in front of me. Well, "it takes all kinds," as my Mom would say. 

The third morning of this was enough, though! About the third time he WHAMMED my tray, I took mine and shoved it backwards into his... Well, he shoved back, again! So I shoved mine backwards harder, and he looked at me, smiled broadly, and shoved mine even harder into the next person's tray! 

My "Irish came up," as they say, and this time I gave my tray a mighty sling backwards (using my very BEST tennis back-hand), and his tray went flying past his nose, clattering onto the floor! Folks turned to look at what had happened, as folks will do... The tall, German-version of Arnold Swartzeneger" bent down, picked up the tray, and gave me the biggest smile I've ever seen! From then on, if we'd arrive in the caferteria at the same time, he'd give me a little bow, back up the entire line of waiting people, and offer me the place ahead of him! In some mysterious Germanic way, I'd passed muster with that scholar! I've always wondered if he knew that I'm also 1/4 German... Hmmmm...   

There are dozens of things I could tell you about that wonderful 6-week experience, but there is one that has puzzled me ever since... one I will never, ever forget...

There was only one day, while we were in London, that I had an afternoon all to myself, and I had a plan. I'd SHOP! The "tube stop" was a lovely walk away from "The Crescent" where Canterbury Hall was, and I'd ride the "tube" to Harrod's and have a day of it.

When I arrived at my stop, we were deeply underground. There are escalators down under London that carry you out of the "Tube" bowels of the earth up to the daylight when you climb off the car. But the stop I was at had the longest escalator of any tube-stop! When you stepped onto this escalator, it flowed up at least 3-stories before you could step off at the ground-level exit. It's a marvel!

That morning, for some reason, I'd decided not to carry my heavy purse with me. Instead, I just shoved some pound notes into my trench-coat pockets, along with a lipstick, and off I went. And, now, as I got on that hellaciously long escalator, I was glad not to be weighted down with that purse. The day was mine! Yay!

Strangely, there were very few people on that escalator that morning. I loved that because I'd been using those escalators for exercise. Instead of standing still on them, or walking up them as they flowed, I'd RUN up the escalator. It was fun! 

This time, I'd run up about 1/3 of the way before I ran out of breath completely. As I was hanging onto the the railing, gasping, I saw two guys in their early 20's hurrying towards me, taking two steps at a time. When they reached me, instead of going on past, one shoved me into the side-railing, and the other stood behind me, pressing his whole body against me. They were speaking to each other in Cockney. I could only understand one word in ten that they spoke... but what I could understand wasn't good. They were going to rob me, but they didn't see a purse over my shoulder. They were talking about me like I wasn't there... like I was a thing, instead of a real live human being...

I love words, and I love writing, but I don't have any words to tell you how scared I was... The only people on the escalator were a story-and-a half above us! There was NO ONE behind us, either. I could see all the way to the floor where I'd first got on this thing! Whatever these two had in mind could NOT be stopped...

I looked back up the escalator to see where the end was, but we still had a long ride to go. I was desperate! I was going to be hurt... there was no way out and nothing I could think of to do... I couldn't scream... I had no voice... I was terrified...

I turned to look back down the escalator, and suddenly, there was a man, a FEROCIOUS man, only 10 steps down from us, climbing towards those men and me! It was IMPOSSIBLE! No one could have climbed that far that fast! There couldn't be a man there, but there WAS!

He stopped on the step behind the guy pressing against me.. The two guys, seeing my face, turned around to see what I was looking at, and they froze, too. That man was beefy-large, dark-haired, with angry black eyes, and a huge jutting brow. I will never, ever forget that man!   

The two guys said something in Cockney, then stumbled and ran up the stairs of the escalator. The ferocious man stood right behind me until the escalator reached the large ground-floor exit room filled with people. I glanced down to get off the escalator without falling, and quickly turned to thank the man who had actually "saved" me, but he was GONE! He'd DISAPPEARED!

Now, that couldn't be! That huge ferocious-looking man could NOT have passed by me from behind and disappeared in the time it took me to glance down at my feet as I stepped onto the level ground. And a man that huge and that scary-looking would have stood out in any crowd.  He could NOT have vanished! But he did. He did!

Call it whatever you like, but I do believe that "man" was my "guardian angel," and I will believe it until the day I die! There is no other explanation for it. I've never had anything like that happen again in my life... or ever, before that happened, for that matter. It defies my understanding. You decide. But, "There are more things in heaven and in earth, Horatio, than..." Well, you know the rest of Shakespeare's line...
  

Friday, March 14, 2014

"You might think that after thousands of years of coming up too soon and getting frozen, the crocus family would have had a little sense knocked into it."  ~ Robert Benchley


There is a second part to the adventures in "On the Road with Linda, Maggie, and Terry." If you remember... in our last episode we three were hurriedly escaping from the entire state of Mississippi... and my sobs were finally trickling down to mere sniffles and annoying hiccups.

Eventually, we saw a sign that said we'd just crossed the state line into Missouri, and we gave a rousing Cornhusker cheer and individual sighs of relief. Karen said that we ought to stop in Kansas City for the night, and then we could drive into Lincoln the next day... home, at last. Sounded like a plan... a good plan. Of course, when we took the rest of our money out of our purses and added it up, we realized that we wouldn't be spending the night at the Missouri Ritz. But it WAS a good plan...

If it wasn't for a sudden thump, a crash, and a loud scraping of metal against road pavement, I'm sure we'd have done just that, I promise you! But the car had decided to slow itself down, even though Karen pushed down on the accelerator as hard as she could. We saw a gas station up ahead, and the car seemed to run out of energy, or gas, just before we reached the pumps. When we got out of the car and looked underneath, there was some sort of metal thing leaning on the road. "Gee, that doesn't look right..." said Maggie. I couldn't see very clearly because my old water-works were at it again! "Something under the car broke!" Karen wisely surmised. Yes sir-ree, Karen was definitely the smart one of this group!

Inside the gas station's "office" sat a huge lout of a guy and a smaller peewee-sized other guy. We told them that there was something wrong with our car. They both seemed awfully disappointed when they found out we didn't want any gas. Instead we wanted a huge band-aid for the dragging metal thing so we could get back to Nebraska in time for classes on Monday morning.

Imagine our surprise when the large ruffian said, "Are you NUTS!" He told us that it was a broken U-joint, or T-square, or something technical like that. Karen, our always rational leader, said, "Well, can you fix it for us, please. We have to get back to school tomorrow." It was a perfectly reasonable request... sort of like when my Dad would go to the gas station and say, "Fill 'er up, please."

The burly, bull-necked gas station guy began to laugh! It was a kind of a "bad-guy" laugh. "We're closin' in hour, an' we need a new part for this car an' I'd have to drive into St. Joe to get it."

Karen said, "Well, do it!"

Big Burly said, "Well, I don't want to go alone! You girls have ta go with me!"

Karen and Maggie said, in unison, "We're NOT going with you into town! YOU do it!"

The enormous lout looked kind of insulted. And all at once I felt for Big Burly. He was rejected! I knew how that felt. I'd felt that hurt before. "I'll come with you!" I whispered.

"Jump in!" said Big Burley. So I jumped into the front seat of a big old rusty truck, and off we drove to Saint Joseph, Missouri to get a T-square... or something... It only took about a mile before it occured to me that I didn't know this person at all... Something might happen to me... something bad... something awful...

Then Big Burley cheerfully announced, "I just got outta the pen!" 

I'd noticed some tattoos on him, and, that was in the days BEFORE tattoos were our national pass-time. They were poor ink drawings, sort of gouged into his arms, this future art teacher was thinking. Whoever the "artist" was, he desperately needed a few drawing lessons!

"What pen did you go to?" I asked. He twisted his head around to look at me... really look at me, and then he shook his head.

"Do you know what a pen is?"

"Well... not really.  Were you working on a farm somewhere?"

"In a way," he laughed. Then he explained to me what the "pen" was...

"Boy, I'm sure that you won't ever do whatever you did again! You probably feel really bad about doing it, too. But it's really not fair that you had to go to that place! What was it like? ...you don't have to tell me if you don't want to... it's none of my business... I know that..."

He turned and looked at me again, and his voice got softer and kinder! "Do you really want to hear about it... really?"

And without waiting for an answer, he began to tell me about what he'd done to get there, and what he'd had to endure in those couple years. My heart went out to that man... I felt so sorry for him... sort of the way you'd feel for a little kid who'd had cruel, cruel parents...

Well, we got to St. Joe, and at some warehouse place he jumped out of the truck to get the car part while I waited. When he climbed back into the rusty old truck, he said, "You're nice!" Then he added, "I know this little bar... wanna go get a beer or two? C'mon..."

"That's so nice of you to ask," I said as I quietly scooted so close to the truck's door that I was crouching on the arm-rest. "I can't, though. My friends are waiting, and you've got to fix our car, 'member?"

As soon as we got back to the garage, I jumped out of the truck, and, from the truck window, Big Burley announced that his work day was over... He'd be back in the morning to fix our car, and off he drove, probably to have a brewski or two.

What to do? We had no car... no room to stay in... and the skinny gas station guy said he had to lock the station's doors, and go home, too! "Go next door to the cafe or something..." he yelled over his shoulder as he jumped into his car. "See ya tomorrow!" and off he went!

"Terry, stop crying!" Karen yelled. "We'll figure something out at the diner."

We didn't figure anything out, but our waitress was a real "go-getter." She knew what to do... she called the Highway Patrol!

When the policeman arrived, he said that there was a place that the police took vagrants and people like that... like us, I guess... He kept apologizing for it on the way there, and when we arrived, I thought he ought to be begging our forgiveness, but then I was in no position to become haughty, was I? The only good part was that the proprietor wouldn't charge us for the room, as a favor to the police department. Now, I'm not going to go into what I think that room was normally used for... Let's just say that Mother Jones, our sorority house-mother, would have tried to wash my mouth out with soap if I'd said it!

The policeman said he would send a day policeman back in the morning to pick us up and take us back to the gas station.

He did, and Maggie and I spend the better part of the morning and lunch-time in the cafe, trying to make a Diet Coke and a donut last until Big Burley announced the car could limp its way back home to Nebraska. Meanwhile, the trusty policeman had taken Karen back to St. Joseph call her parents and beg them to "Western Union" enough money to ransom the car back from the gas station.

Well, we made it home to Lincoln in time to miss all of our Monday classes, and just in time to have Mother Jones squeal at us about the etiquette of calling a housemother if we were intending to come back later than she expected. And, just in time to get all polished up for Monday night's dinner. Monday nights were when the new pledges came over for dinner, and we MUST look presentable at table, mustn't we?  

Oh, rats, Mother Jones... Oh, rats... 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Perhaps one has to be very old before one learns to be amused rather than shocked."  ~ Robert Browning


Even though you think you know it ALL when you're young, you don't! And even when you've grown up on both coasts and you've visited New York City so many times that you know the center of Manhattan like the palm of your hand, you don't know NOTHIN'. Not til you've had to stand before the judge in New Augusta, Mississippi! And that's a FACT!

It was my junior year at university and Spring Break was nearly here. I didn't have the money to fly home to Stamford, Connecticut and back, but I did have enough to go to Panama City, Florida on the train with my roommate and another close friend, so that's where I was headed.

Linda's Dad had promised her a car for her birthday, and all Linda and Maggie and I had to do was take the train down South to meet her Mom and Dad and drive Linda's birthday present back to campus. It's a strange thing to climb onto the train in snow-torn Nebraska, chug-chug our way down South, and then climb off the train amidst flowering trees and thick humidity in one loooong day's train ride.

After a couple days of fun in the sun, we were on our way back to campus in Linda's "new" car - an older, sort of beat-up car with Linda at the wheel. But, oh, the freedom we felt! We zipped along the highway, counting our pennies, knowing we'd have to get a room for one-night's stay somewhere along the way, AND have enough money left for gas. But, other than that, we had no cares! Hungry, YES, but worried, NO... not one care in the world! Before we'd left Linda's folks, we'd put a "There Is No Place Like Nebraska" university bumper sticker on the little car's rear. After all, we'd beaten Alabama at the Cotton Bowl that year, and we Cornhuskers were invincible!

Suddenly, a speeding car came up along side of us loaded with cute college-aged guys who were hanging half-way out of the car's windows yelling something at the three of us. Linda rolled down the window, and we heard, "NEBRASKA SUCKS! 'BAMA IS BETTER! HAH, HAH, HAH!!!" And that 'Bama car sped away.

Those were fightin' words, and Linda yelled, "They're not getting away with THAT! I'm gonna catch 'em!" and off we sped after them. It seemed fitting to me!

The problem is that Linda's car was making asthmatic wheezing noises the whole way, and we couldn't catch up with them, even though Maggie and I were shouting encouraging words in Linda's ear as she loudly vowed to catch up with them or know the reason why...  
Suddenly, I knew the WHY of it... A motorcycle cop sped up along side of us and motioned for Linda to pull over. We tried our best to explain to the uniformed officer with the huge dark glasses that it was those darn 'Bama guys' fault, but all he said was, "I'm writin' you a ticket!" and "We're goin' to the court house!" and "Follow ME!" 

So we did... off the highway, down a narrow gravel road between trees and bushes with undergrowth lots taller than our little, sort of beat-up car. I was scared! Who would know what happened to us? We were definitely guilty... Would we have to go to jail? I COULDN'T! I was going to be a school teacher! I was pretty sure that no one would ever hire a teacher with a prison record... would I be beaten up by crazed women's prison thugs who would never understand that I needed to graduate from university INTACT??? I NEEDED MY ARMS AND LEGS AND EYES TO BE AN ARTIST... (OK, OK, I know that I'm being dramatic here, but all artists are a little dramatic, aren't they?)

We arrived in front of a large, old 2-story white house with an old, old car in the driveway. The motorcycle cop climbed off his Harley and led us up the path, through the door, and into the "court house." 

I will never, ever forget that "court house." It was the judge's dining room table! The judge couldn't hear what the policeman was saying to him, even though that cop had a voice that could deafen a junior high classroom!

"Wilma! Wilma! Come 'ere! NOW! I need ma HORN!" he shouted gruffly.

"Willard! I'm fixin' your dinner! Now, HESH UP!"

"Wilma, I neeeed my ear horn! I don't know where I put it! Ya gotta git it fer me!"

I could see one of those old-time "ear trumpets" in the corner of the dining ro... Oops, I mean the "court house," but I was crying and I didn't dare move. I'd seen a thing like that in ancient reruns of "Ma and Pa Kettle" movies. I thought ear trumpets were a comic joke, but this whole thing was NO joke.

Wilma shuffled into the dinning room, grabbed the "ear trumpet," slammed it on the table, and then shuffled back into the adjoining kitchen. By the way, judging from the smells in the kitchen, Wilma was not the best of Southern cooks... I'm jus' sayin'...

The judge put it up to his ear and asked the policeman what had happened. The policeman told them of our speeding incident, succinctly. The judge looked over at us, and back at the policeman, and then back at us again...

"What do you three have to say for yourselves?"

Linda, a college senior, and the Second Vice President AND Pledge Traineer for our sorority, not to mention the driver of the car, stepped up to bat first. Linda expained about the "Bama boys" and their taunt, and how they sped past us so fast that we couldn't catch up with them...

"Well," drawled the hard-of-hearing 99-year-old judge, "If they're from Alabama, they must be telling the truth! Where're you three from, anyway?"

"Well, Judge..."

"It's "Your Honor," not "JUDGE!" You address me in the right way, or you'll be in more trouble than ya are now."

Linda was not a dumb lady, and she knew that she'd lost the first round with this magistrate, so she looked over at me, her roommate, as a possible second attorney for the Defense, but I'd been crying since we'd set foot onto the porch of the "court house."

"Your Honor, Sir, we're just college girls...( sob, sob)... from Nebraska... puleez, puleez don't put us in PRISON! PULEEZ..." My blubbering would probably result in life imprisonment for all three of us. I was out!

Now, just before we'd left on our odyssey, Maggie had been crowned the "Dairy Princess" by a nearly unanimous vote of the entire Ag campus at U of Nebraska! She was pretty, lady-like, even-tempered, and from Maryland. She was our only chance...

She explained our side of the event, throwing in a shy gaze and a simpering smile, to boot, but I think the 99-year-old judge was blind! 

"THAT DON'T MAKE NO DIFFERENCE! YOU DIDN'T OBEY THE LAW, AND THAT'S THAT! IT'S GONNA COST YOU! " He must have forgotten that we three could hear very well, without ear horns. Yikes!

It was back to Linda. "How much will the ticket cost, Your Honor, Sir?"

"IT'LL BE $75! AND I WANT IT RIGHT NOW! MY WIFE'S GOT TO CLEAN OFF THIS TABLE TO GET IT SET FOR DINNER!"

"Your Honor, Sir, we are just college girls driving back to Nebraska. We don't have that much money!"

"WELL, THEN, YOU'LL HAVE TO GO TO JAIL! THAT'S ALL THERE IS TO IT!"

Although, I'd been crying the whole time as quietly as I could, I managed to gurgle, "Where is the jail, Your Honor, Sir? I've never been in jail before... My Mom and Dad will be be sooo..." ...but I was overcome with more fears and lots and lots more crying. 

"IT'S UPSTAIRS IN OUR SPARE BEDROOM!" he shouted.

I'd seen "Psycho," the movie, and that was all I needed.............. It was all I could do not to run out of the room, but I figured the motorcycle guy would shoot me in the back! (Terry, you've watched entirely TOO MANY movies in your short life! That was not at all good for the likes of YOU!)

Thank Heavens for Linda! She said, "The only way we can do that, Your Honor, Sir, is if you would let us go back to the university and mail the $75 to you after we get it from our parents. Would that be OK, sir? We promise to send it... really we do!"

That's when Wilma shuffled into the room, grabbed the "ear trumpet" out of her husband's ear, threw it into the corner, pushed his ledger book off onto the floor, shoved a plate in front of him, and said, "Time for dinner, Willard! Get 'em outta here!"

"OK, YOU THREE, BUT YOU SEND ME THAT MONEY, YOU HEAR ME???!!??"

"Yes sir," we said over and over again as we backed out of the room, bowing towards him. When we hit the porch, we flew over the walk way, dove into the car, and inched away at 10 miles per hour until we hit the main highway. I think I stopped crying right around the Missouri border...

And that's why I've NEVER, EVER driven through Mississippi again in my whole life. I do think I might still be on a wanted poster somewhere around New Augusta...  It's possible, you know, because we never did send that money to Willard, the Hard-Hearted Judge... never!   

Monday, March 10, 2014

"Everything comes gradually and at its appointed hour." ~ Ovid

I had to be in Santa Monica for a special meeting, but I wasn't in a huge hurry. I was, though, facing the dreaded 405 freeway! That's the ONLY way into Santa Monica from down here in Orange County, and it's ALWAYS clogged. I'm a pretty patient person... and I was sure going to need lots of patience that day!

About 5 blocks from my house, I was waiting behind an older, faded Mercedes Benz for the light to turn red so I could make my way to the 91 and then drive sedately towards the dreaded 405. The light turned green, the lady in front of me began her turn... I began my turn... and then she STOPPED... suddenly, fervently, she stomped on her brakes and STOPPED!

I was going slightly slower than 3 miles an hour, and I stopped, too, just touching her back bumper. She pulled over to the curb, so I pulled over to the curb. I got out of my car to check for any damage, but there wasn't even a mark on my front license plate! I looked at her rear bumper - nothing... nowhere! Not a scratch... Whew!

I walked up to her driver's door and knocked on the window, but she was sitting there... just sitting there. She didn't turn to look at me. She didn't roll down the window. She just sat there for a couple minutes as I spoke to the closed window. "Lady! Lady! Are you alright? Lady..."

She rolled her window down, finally, turned to me, sucked in some air, and yelled, "MY NECK! MY NECK! MY NECK! YOU'VE HURT MY NECK!"

"Lady, I didn't even tap you! We just touched bumpers! I just examined your car and mine, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with either one. Come look..."

"MY NECK! MY NECK! MY NECK! WHIP-LASH! WHIP-LASH! WHIP-LASH!"

"Lady! Your neck could NOT have been hurt! Come out of your car and look at your back bumper. There's NO MARK on it! You're fine!" Now, remember, I'd taught high school and junior high school, too, for many years, and I'd seen lots of people claiming illness, but I had never missed a fake one!

Suddenly, her neck must have magically healed, because she swiveled her head towards me and called me........ well, words that I can't write here! Once again, nothing that I hadn't heard before, though. "YOU B-----! YOU B-----! YOU HIT ME!"

"Lady, I'm not going to stand here in the street and be called names! Now, let me see your license and I will show you mine!"

"NO! I WON'T! YOU HURT ME!"

"Well, I'm going to call the police now, and they can straighten this out. You can tell THEM your complaint... By the way, you MUST show me your license and your insurance information, though. It's the law!"

"NO POLICE!" she announced! Hmmmmm... a clue...... 

I walked back to my car, got my driver's license out, and my insurance, too, so we could exchange information. As I walked to the curb-side of her car, she jumped out of the other door, ran around the car to the curb, and called me a few, even more colorful names... This lady had a real vocabulary! She also had on really HIGH heels, and she was waggling her neck as she screamed at me! Hmmmmmm...... I wasn't a paramedic, but I was sure she was NOT hurt! I wasn't scared of her, though... I'm Irish, and a TEACHER, and we just don't scare that easily.

"Where's your license?" I asked.

"Here!"

"It's expired!"

"I'm getting a new one soon..."

"Where's your car insurance?"

"Here!"

"It expired two years ago... Lady, I'm leaving. I'll call my insurance company when I get home. Nothing happened here, except my car touched your car. That's it."

As I drove away, she was still standing on the sidewalk, both fists in the air, screaming even more interesting  words at me. Still, she didn't scare me. Even some of my junior high school kids could have put her to shame with the words they knew...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I got home later that afternoon, I called my insurance company. I'd only ever had one accident in my life, and that was 15 years before this. I nervously explained what had happened. "I really, really didn't hurt her car! We weren't even going over 3 miles an hour! I gave her my license and my..." But my insurance lady was laughing, almost hysterically... LAUGHING!

"Terry, we KNOW her! She does this ALL THE TIME! Everyone in Orange County knows this "babe!" Nothing to worry about at all. She called us already, and we told her that we were "on to her" and she'd get nothing out of us because we knew she was lying!"

"Well, really and truly, nothing happened... "

"You're fine, Terry. We'll send our insurance adjuster over to your house to check your car, though, just for the paper work. Does tomorrow work for you?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning, right on time, the insurance adjuster came to our door. I took him into the garage, showed him my car, and he said, "This car is perfect! Nothing wrong here." 

And then, while he was filling in all the paperwork that the insurance company required, we began to talk. (I did tell you that I'm Irish, didn't I? Well, most of us like to talk!) He said that he loved art... it was his passion. He was even a "Sunday painter!" he said.

Music to my ears... "I'm a artist, myself!" I told him, and I explained my fiber art pieces to him. He seemed intrigued. In fact, he wanted to see them!

Richard was at the golf course, and I didn't know this man, so I asked him to wait outside on the porch, and I'd bring out some pieces that I'd just finished. He loved them... 

"How much is this piece?" he asked.

I told him the work's 4-figured price, and he said, "I want it! Will you take a check?"

"Well, I guess so..."

"Now, listen..." he said as he wrote out the check. "I want you to take this check to the bank today and cash it. Then I'll come back tomorrow to pick up this piece. Will that work for you?"

"Well, yeahhhhh..."

"That way you'll know that I'm on the up-and-up," he assured me.

And you know what? I cashed the check, and he came back on Saturday to take my work home with him, and I still marvel at the whole crazy event... That lady was out to make some money, but I sold my work to an art lover, instead! Wow! Sometimes, the BAD GUY actually loses! But, wherever I drive, I still give older, faded Mercedes a lot more room between us than any other car on the road... just in case...

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Happiness is having a scratch for every itch." ~ Ogden Nash


When I got my first teaching job, I also got my first apartment. Boy, was it little! My apartment was located in the corner of an upside-down-U-shaped, 2-story building. It was all I could afford. My tiny abode had one window in the living-room/dining-room/kitchen, looking out over the alley. The bedroom window looked out on someone's grassless backyard where an old dog paced back-and-forth. I'd found a dark red fishing net for a dollar-and-a-half, and I'd stretched it "artfully" on the wall... That was my tiny apartment's only decoration!

One day the apartment manager knocked on my door. I'd just returned home from a weekend trip to see my grandparents. It was early Sunday evening, and early the next morning I would get up to go teach art to 240 high school students, all in one day!

"Terry, I just moved one in right next-door to you! He's perfect for YOU!"

"Dog? Cat? Human? Whaddaya talking about, Al?"

"He's a lawyer for a corporation! He's right next-door, ya dope!" ... and he ran back upstairs to his apartment.

Now, remember... I was very, very shy. The only place I wasn't shy was when I was in my classroom teaching my 240 students. But I've always been a sort of curious person... I wondered what he looked like... wondered if he was nice... wondered...  Hmmmmm.... 

I hadn't checked my mailbox yet, and I'd have to walk right by "his" apartment to get to it. Good!

His curtains were wide open, and I peeked in as I ambled by. There was NO furniture inside the tiny apartment except for an Army cot in the corner with a sleeping bag on top of it. Across the room in the kitchen area there was a square red metal kitchen table with four red plastic-covered chairs. A blonde-haired man was sitting on the floor in a well-tailored gray suit reading the Sunday newspapers. Hmmmmmm....

On the way back to my apartment, clutching my mail in one hand, I suddenly knocked on his door with the other! How I got the nerve, I will never, ever know.

"Hi! I'm looking for Al, the manager. Have you seen him, by any chance?" I lied when he opened the door.

"No, I haven't..." and we chatted. 

"Have you had dinner yet?" he finally asked.

"No."

"Would you like to go to the Elks Club with me for dinner tonight?"

Now, you have to know that this happened the week before I would get my monthly paycheck from the school district. I made $350 a month. My furnished apartment cost $150 a month, and after paying what few bills I had and buying necessities, every fourth week all I had left was gas-money. I'd eat the free lunch they gave teachers every school day, and pretty much live on popcorn every night until pay day.

"Why, I'd love to," I said, trying to hide the hungry growling of my stomach.

*****************************

"The special tonight is barbecued spareribs with baked potatos and green salad," said the bored, tired waitress.

My eyes, on the other hand, lit up like fireflies! My favorite food in the entire world, besides artichokes, were barbecued spareribs. My lucky day! I think I let her finish announcing the special before I said, "Yes, OH YES! I'll have the barbecued spareribs! Yes, yes, oh YES!"

And then she brought THEM, with all the trimmings. The salad was good, I think, but what did I know? I'd lived on school cafeteria food since I'd started teaching school! You know... "mystery meat" and canned vegetables and jello... every school day.

Then, when I'd finished my over-flowing plate, that darling angel of a waitress said these words to me, "Would you like more? Tonight it's "All You Can Eat."

All I could eat? ALL I COULD EAT??? My Mom always said that I had a great appetite, and she was right. I can tell you that in all the world there are only about 5 things I don't like to eat, one of them being mushrooms, if you're curious. This waitress hadn't seen anything yet... 

Richard and I talked, I'm sure... well, Richard talked. I think it's very possible that I just nodded my head a lot and kept saying, "Pass me the rolls, thank you... oh, and the butter, please."

Suddenly, I noticed that Richard was looking past me and not saying a thing. Just staring... past me! He had a dazed look on his face. I didn't have time to turn around to see who he was looking at because the waitress was bringing another full plate of barbecued spareribs to OUR table! Yum! Richard had stopped eating, though. Ah, well... more for me!

He doesn't like me, I decided. This is our first and last date, I thought. "Ma'am, are there any more rolls? Oh, and can I have another baked potato, please? Lots of butter, too" is what I said, though.

************************

After the feast, we drove back to the apartment building, Richard said good night to me, and I closed the door. I wondered how uncomfortable it was going to be, living right next-door to someone who took me on a date, and then decided that he didn't like me at all. But I only wondered for about a minute and a half. By then I was sound asleep with a FULL tummy to keep me warm!

Funny, though... Richard asked me for a date for the next Friday night. Then it was for the following Saturday, and then we started seeing each other regularly.

On one of those dates Richard asked me a strange question, "Do you remember our first date?"

"Of course! We had barbecued spareribs, 'member?"

"Did you know what was happening right behind you that night?" Richard asked. "You never even turned around!"

"What? What was happening?" I asked him.

"A man began to choke on his food, and then he fell out of his chair onto the floor! Someone, probably a doctor, came over to him, and checked his heart, and they carried him out of the restaurant on a stretcher! I think he had a heart attack!"

"They did? He did? Really?"

"Yeah, and you never even turned around! You never seemed to know that anything was going on. And it was happening right behind you! Everyone in the whole restaurant was watching it, except you!"

... It wasn't until we were married for several months that I finally told him the background story of "The All You Can Eat Night at the Omaha Elks Club!"