Saturday, April 26, 2014

"If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun." ~ Katharine Hepburn

In Culver City, California when I was young, Saturdays meant going to the movies. You'd think that the movie theater would be sitting in the shadow of MGM Studios, wouldn't you... but it wasn't. Nope! We went to the Palms Theater in the neighboring town. Mom would pile my brother, Jackie, and his buddies into the backseat, which meant that my friends and I would have to sit on each others' laps in the front seat. Then, off we'd go.

At The Palms Theater there would be a long line of cars on Saturday mornings, full of Moms dumping their kids onto the sidewalk with quarters clutched in their hands. Mom would hand me my 2 quarters, and then stuff 2 quarters into my brother's back pocket so he wouldn't lose them. We'd all tumble out of the car and run to stand in line with the other kids.

The movies cost 25 cents if you were 12 or under. But here is a shocker for you reading this today: "The Movies" consisted of 5-6 "Loonie Tunes" cartoons, a newsreel of the world's happenings, a 15-minute serialized Western ("to be continued..." it always said, just as the hero fell off the cliff...), and THEN came the movie!

But there was even more! After the feature movie came the intermission. Of course, no one had any money left to buy anything edible, but it was a busy time, just the same. The boys needed to go to the lobby to get more handfuls of straws. The girls would be streaming into the bathroom, just because they were girls and had to primp and do some more talking! 

Then the lights would go out in the theater, and then, the coming attractions. After that, came a second movie... the "B" movie. Yes, we kids would be in that theater on Saturdays from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Now you understand how popular the Saturday movies were with the Moms and Dads. Nearly every single Saturday parents had a carefree, kid-free afternoon!

When you'd finally reach the ticket window, you'd hand the lady-in-the-window a quarter, and she'd shove a ticket at you, through the slit at the bottom of her glass. That was your ticket to the lobby! That's where you'd get your Coke for a nickel, a big container of popcorn for a dime, and you'd get to pick out 2 of your most favorite, enormous candy bars, at a nickel a piece. You were broke, then... penniless, but very, very happy!

Inside the theater there was a strict regimental seating policy. I'm not sure the management knew about this policy, but we kids never broke that order. The front 10 or 12 rows were for the boys. That way they could reach the movie-screen when they blew the paper off their straws. Only THEN could they dunk their naked straws into their large cups and squirt Coke at each other!

The middle rows were for the girls of all ages, chattering with their friends above the roar of the boys' laughter and yelling in the front. Sometimes, a boy would turn around, aim his straw at one of the girls, and, if he had good aim, the straw paper would hit the girl right in the cheek. It was The Palms Theater's "Saturday language of love," and all the kids over 10 years of age knew it!

The last rows of The Palms were specially reserved for the 13 - 15 year-olds. If a boy in that age group was "in love," he'd plan to meet her in one of those rows so they could "make-out." Yes, it's true! Love did bloom in that raucuous, paper-straw-filled, popcorn-smelling, sticky-floored movie theater. There was another rule that we all knew... if we had to run back up the aisle to the bathroom in the lobby, we were NOT supposed to look at anyone in those back rows! But if we couldn't resist, we were supposed to peek discretely at the lovers' knots that had formed back there.

The Palms Theater had a few rules of its own, too. Every Saturday the manager would make his apearance before the movies started. Straight-backed, determined but forelorn, he would march down the aisle, dodging paper straws and sprays of Coke or root beer or 7-Up. There, in front of the dark movie screen, he would make the same announcement every Saturday: "Please, ladies and gentlemen! PLEASE! Be quiet! PLEASE BE QUIET!" Of course, no one would. In fact, I always wondered why he thought that about 2 or 3 hundred kids would stop having such fun and listen to a grown-up who wasn't even their teacher or their Dad...

He would doggedly keep on going with his request, though. "Please pick up your straw papers! Please don't blow those papers all over this theater. It makes such a mess! Please be quiet and consider that your neighbor might want to actually hear the movie...  PLEEEEEZE..." And then he would trudge up the other aisle and go back where he came from. No one would bother us again until the lights inside the theater went back on at about 5:00PM. By then, havoc was wreaked... we all had tummy-aches, headaches, sore throats from yelling over the rest of the 200 or 300 kids, and our Dads were waiting in their cars to take us back home.

Those were the days... I'm off, now, to the movies with my husband. It's not nearly as fun, though, being quiet and grown-up. But, if Richard buys me a Coke tonight, and if he turns his head, I'll blow the paper off my straw just for you!  :} 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!"  ~ Robert Browning

I love to get up early... always have. In the morning on my drive to Orange High School, I'd stop at the donut shop along the way and get a really fresh, really sugary, frosted donut. As I waited in line that day, a very tall, very handsome, very young firefighter came in to the shop and got in line right behind me. Then, suddenly, he tapped me on the shoulder.

"You're Mrs. Waldron!"

"Yes, I am," I said, trying to search through the years' loooong list of students who I'd taught, but coming up blank. Who was this darling guy? ALL the high school girls in my classes would have been swooning... 

"I'm Bill... Billy Young... remember? I was in your 8th grade English class at McPherson Junior High. Don't you remember me? You were my favorite teacher!"

I looked really hard at him, trying to dig out some hint to his identity... and there it was, at last. His eyes... The eyes never failed my remembering. He'd been a great honors student and a nice one, even though he'd had a kind of whiny high-pitched voice in those days. Now he risked his life fighting fires! He was a full-grown, deep-voiced, quiet, strong Man!  

"Billy!!!  It's YOU? You were a little tiny guy back then... You're a firefighter! That's so dangerous! You're a full-grown man! Wow! I'm sooo proud of you!"

The next morning, as I was driving to school again, I thought of Billy and so many of the other students I'd taught... My profession was a very special, very important one... one that a teacher must not just talk about, but one she must live, too. Do the right thing! I was proud and humbled by it, all at same time, as I turned into the post office parking lot on the way to school.

What a great day it was! It was so early that I'd have plenty of time to set up my lesson for the first couple classes...  Boy, life was goood!  I plunked my mail into the box, stopped at the "No Left Turn" sign, looked both ways... and... there wasn't a car anywhere to be seen... nowhere... so I turned LEFT, anyway!

But there WAS someone... a motorcycle cop. I never knew that motorcycle policemen had flashing red lights on their "bikes." They DO! It was me he was flashing them at... the only other person on the road for blocks. I'd never been pulled over before. I didn't know how far I should drive or where I should stop. The parking lot in front of a bunch of unopened shops seemed good, so I pulled in with the officer close behind me.

He took his time climbing off his Harley, and then he strode over to my window, not acknowledging my "Hello, Officer, Sir."

"Do you know what you just did?" he asked, as he glanced into the back seat of my car where my Bible was resting.

"Yes... I turned left, instead of right, out of the post office parking lot, didn't I?"

"I see your Bible in the back seat. You're a Christian, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am!"

"Well so am I, and that's why I'm going to give you this ticket. It's not good enough to just READ the Bible. Ya gotta live it, too!" and he handed me my first ever traffic ticket. Before he climbed back on his motorcycle, he said, "God bless you." Then, off he went.

Well, my pristine driving record was sullied! "Now what? " I asked a friend at school. "My inusrance will go up, and my husband will be ticked... and ..."

"All you do is sign up for Traffic School! Then they erase it so your driving record will be OK. No problem... it's easy! I've done it myself," he said.

So there I was, early Saturday morning, walking into the "bad drivers' class" with at least 300 other jerks! The "teacher" was a retired Highway Patrol Officer, and we were there for the entire day. As I looked for a place to sit, I realized that there were nearly no other women in "class." There were lots of "tough guys," though. You know, guys with bandanas down over their eyebrows and tied behind their heads, looking out through half-closed, surly eyes, their jeans just barely covering their "behinds." 

I did see one guy who was sitting alone, quivering, and I figured he'd be a good seat-mate, so I plopped my quivering self down right beside him. He looked as scared as I was, and then the class offically began.

"OK, OK, SHUT UP!" is how the "teacher" introduced himself to the class. "How many of youse are here for speeding? Raise your hands..."

At least half of the hands went up. As I dared to sneak a peek at many of the owners of those hands, I saw that they were the "cool" guys with the bandanas, tats, and sneers.

"How many of youse are here for drunk driving?"

The other half of the hands that went up belonged to guys with their eyes closed, their mouths open, their heads resting on the backs of their chairs, or slung forward onto their chests as though they didn't have the strength to hold their heads upright.

And then our "teacher" looked over at me... "What're YOU here for, if it isn't for speeding or drunk driving???"

"Well, I turned left instead of right when I was driving out of the post office parking lot, Sir."

That was good for loud, grunting laughter from the "cool" speeders. The drunk drivers, on the other hand, just wanted everyone to shut up because their heads hurt from their hangovers...

"You did WHAT?" said our teacher. So I had to repeat it again... and this time, even the drunk drivers were awake enough to laugh! "Humiliated" doesn't cover what I felt. For two hours I had the "should-a, would-a, could-a's." Why hadn't I said that I was driving the get-away car for some guys who robbed a bank... or my hopped-up Mustang just couldn't go as slow as the stupid speed limit sign said... or....

When I finally got my head back into what our highly exerienced teacher was talking about, boy, was I surprised. He was telling us ways to "beat the wrap!" There was soooo much I didn't know about the exact wording of the laws and, what he was telling us was really interesting... in a kind of perverse way. I learned a lot!

Well, I walked out of the courthouse that day with a clean record... and lots of new information. I had still got guffaws during the lunch time break out at the "roach coach," but I was used to it by then.

Time passed, and I obeyed all of the traffic laws, thwarting those cars that careened around me on the highways and byways. No more tickets or "driving school" for this teacher-lady! There was one more problem, though...

Down in Costa Mesa on my way to church one day, a motorcycle policeman was sitting on his "bike" with a radar gun pointed at the cars that drove past him. One of those cars was mine!

His red lights went on! He rev-ed his motorcycle and took off to pull ME over!  ME!!! 

I knew the drill... I pulled off the main road onto a side street, rolled down my window with my driver's license clutched in my hand.

"You were speeding! I'm givin' you a ticket!"

"Officer, I wasn't speeding! I was looking at my speedometer, and I was right on the button."

"YOU WERE SPEEDING! My radar gun PROVES it!" He wrote out the ticket and told me to sign it.

I read the ticket first... both sides of it! I signed it. But, as I gave it back to him, I said, "I signed the place where it says that I contest this ticket, and we're both going to court about this, because I WASN'T SPEEDING!"


"The motorcycle you were sitting on was idling, wasn't it?" I said in my best "teacher-voice."

"Yeah, so what?"

"The law says that if the policeman is on a motorcycle whose engine is running, the hand-held radar gun cannot be used to prove that a car was speeding! We're going to go to court! And both of us are going to tell the judge about this. Let's see what HE says."

I went to court, but the policeman didn't appear. The judge excused my ticket, and I was free and clear.

The moral of this event: Reformed-criminal teachers like me LOVE learning, and lots of that learning sticks with them. 

Another moral of this story: I REALLY WASN'T SPEEDING IN COSTA MESA! Cross my heart and hope to die.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"You have to accept whatever comes, and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give."              ~ Eleanor Rooseveldt

On my way home today, I drove past my old junior high school, the first school I taught at when we moved here to California. What wonderful years I spent there teaching the loads of students who came through my door! We read great authors' works, we wrote together, we talked and discussed, and we learned... me along with those amazing young teenagers.  Happy times, every day of them... well, except one day... 

My classroom was the last one in the building as you walked down that open corridor past the office. My room had two doors, one on either side of the large bulletin board that was between them. I loved designing that board with displays of the original writing my English students were doing. My classroom was beautiful!

I had made sure that all the desks were turned away from those doors so that the students would be facing the front of the classroom with the blackboards right in front of them. That way the students would have no outside distractions. I always left those doors open, though, so I could see the beautiful bushes that lined "my" outside corridor. Sometimes those tall bushes would even delight me with flowers that were in perfect keeping with my colorful bulletin boards. I was an English teacher, yes, but I also had an art degree, so in this room the two sides of me could meet. It truly was a heavenly place for me to be... (sigh). The kids were the best ever, and the room was perfect... just perfect. Such luck! 

We were studying the short story, "Flight," by John Steinbeck that day. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize, largely for his enormous classic novel "The Grapes of Wrath." But I loved his short stories, and "Flight" was set here in California "up the road" from us about 300 miles or so, give or take a mile or two. I'd given the kids drawing paper and crayons to draw the last 2 or 3 paragraphs of that story, and they were hard at it. It was a sort of test for them to show me what they "saw" in their "mind's eye" when they read Steinbeck's final words.

I was wandering around the classroom, looking at the students drawings, and, once in a while, staring outside the door at the flaming red flowers, mindful of what a lucky lady I was to be teaching here in California... pure bliss! Then, all at once, two men strode into the doorway of my classroom... two grungy  men I'd never seen before, ever. They looked like they were in their early 20's, and before I could blink, they both began to fiddle with their belts and zippers, then turned around, bent over, and dropped their drawers! Yes!  I was being "mooned!" In my lovely classroom I was standing there looking at the bare rear-ends of two men I'd never seen before in my life! No words were spoken... I just heard the swish of jeans dropping to the ground around their feet and saw two sets of wriggling "cheeks" dancing before my very eyes!

One or two of the students looked up and saw their wide-eyed teacher with her jaw dropped down to her chin! 

"What's the matter, Mrs. Waldron???? What happened?" they asked, turning to look over their shoulders at the place where I was  staring. But no one was there! Those guys had yanked up their pants, zipped them, and started their run back down the corridor, past the office, towards the parking lot to their car. 

Within 30 seconds, I was running after them! "Stop! Stop right this minute! I said STOP!" I yelled uselessly. But what exactly did I think I would do if they DID stop? Who did I think I was... the police?

When I trudged back into my room, the kids were in a mild uproar.

"Mrs. Waldron!" 
"What happened?"
"Why did you run out of the room, Mrs. Waldron?"

"Didn't you see those two guys at the door? Didn't you see what they did? They were right there..." I mumbled, still in shock!

"What guys, Mrs. Waldron?"
"Who was at the door?"
"Which door, Mrs. W?"
"I didn't see anyone!"

"Those two guys just "mooned" us!  You MUST have seen them..." I gasped, weakly.

"Mooned? What's that, Mrs. Waldron?" asked the densest boy in the class... which started an excited, but very educational, give-and-take among all 36 students about the new nation-wide "mooning" phenomenon.

I just barely had time to gather the students' literary drawing-tests before the bell rang and class was dismissed. That was the easy part... The hard part was seeing the variety of strange looks that all 36 students gave me as they exited my lovely classroom with the stunning bulletin boards, and that also contained their crazy teacher who had vowed that two strangers had dropped their drawers in the doorway of this very classroom... 

It happened just as I wrote it, though... really... really it DID! You do believe me, don't you... It DID!  REALLY TRULY!!!    

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Now, isn't imagination a precious thing? It peoples the earth with all manner of wonders."  ~ Mark Twain

When my family first moved to Stamford, Connecticut, all the way from Culver City, California, they broke up my first love, my first steady, my first real kiss, even... Ooops, I already whined about that...  Sorry...  I will start again...

When my family first moved to Stamford, Connecticut, all way from Culver City, California that summer, it seemed like we'd moved to a different country! None of us had ever been in the Northeast before. The hills were covered with trees growing right down to the Long Island Sound that lapped against the slight bit of "sand" at Stamford's shoreline... It was right out of a movie! ... simply magical!

That summer Mom and Dad decided that we ought to drive up the coast of Connecticut, that compact little state, because the Mayfower II had just sailed over the Atlantic, and we HAD to see that! It was an exact replica of the origiinal Mayflower that had brought the first settlers to America. OK, OK, you history wizards... Jamestown was the first settlement, but they all died... These Mayflower folks were sturdier, I guess... or something like that... should have listened more closely to our guide... or my history teachers. 

When we got there, I learned one thing about those Pilgrims that wasn't in my history book... They were SHORT little guys! Oh, my, were they short! We wandered around the entire ship's deck, and I really thought that it would have been lots bigger than it was. But it was when we went "below," that I was stunned. After clunking my head on the beam above the stairs, I realized that I had to bow my head all the way down to the innerds of the ship! When I entered the cabin below, the ceiling was still too low for me to stand straight. Now, I was 5'7" tall, and the placard on the wall said that the tallest Pilgrim man was 5'4" and the tallest lady was 4'8"...  I suppose the trip was so long and boring that they had to find something to do... measuring each other was at least a respite, I guess. 

The lesson I learned on that tiny ship was that history is AMAZING, when you actually get to roam around in it! Sort of like in 5th grade when our history book said that whoever we were studying in that chapter had lived in "grass" huts. I thought it said grass SKIRTS! (Too many Hollywood movies for you, Terry!) Our imaginative, top-flight 5th grade teacher announced that we were going to build a grass hut right beside our classroom there at Betsy Ross Elementary school. The thing is that WE DID! We gathered palm fronds from the trees in front of school, thanks to the gardeners who'd recently trimmed the dead fronds off of them, and we built our own hut. The boys particularly loved this task, and I still remember sitting inside that hut during recess. What a terrific teacher Mrs. Durocher was!

Well, I got to LIVE history many more times, but the best was when I won that NEH Fellowship on "Chaucer and the Medieval Illuminated Manuscript." On one of our brilliant "outings" during those 6 weeks, the 15 of us and our 2 professors took the train from London, where we were living, to St. Albans. The cathedral that the Venerable Bede wrote about was a longish walk from the train station, and our professor wasn't quite sure that we were on the right path. A lady happened by the 17 of us trudging along, and, as she passed, Bill asked her if we were going the right way to the cathedral. The busy lady said, " You're not quite right. Follow me!" So we did, and she lead us there, all the way! Then she said that she had to run to the green-grocer's or she'd give us a tour of the place herself!

But our guide was waiting for us, and we had an amazing tour of this elegant cathedral given to us by an elderly man who was a wonder of information and kindess, too. When our tour was over, Bill announced that after a bite of lunch at the ancient old pub nearby, the class was going to visit the Roman ruins. Mr. Rice, our guide looked very sad then. He said that he was all set to give us a "cook's tour" of the innerds of that mystical place after lunch... toooo bad....

Mary Jo whispered to Ellen and I, "We can see Roman ruins at Bath. Let's come back here instead and see what else Mr. Rice wants to show us." Well, Mary Jo didn't say this as quietly as she thought, though... Bill came over and whispered, "If I didn't have to take everybody else to the Roman ruins, I'd come back with you... DARN!"

The pub was great, but I found out where those little Pilgrams must have come from... The ceiling of that 14th or 15th century pub was as low as those on the Mayflower II... yes, it was! By the way, we had a "plowman's lunch." A plowman should have been so lucky!

Well, after that lunch we three had a private tour of St. Alban's, courtesy of Mr. Rice. First, we went through a nearly invisible wooden door in the apse and up a circlular stone stairway to the "attic" of this storybook cathedral. Each of these steps were worn into curves by the sandaled feet of monks over many hundreds of years. After fighting the cobwebs in that beautifully engineered building, we came back down again to the apse. Those monks who climbed up and down those steps were even shorter than the Pilgrams... and much more narrow! 

Behind the apse, we crawled up into a tiny wooden room that overlooked the place where pilgims would lay down their special offerings to the church. In this secret room, only large enough for one monk to crouch behind a slit in that wooden wall, he would be on watch so that no one stole any of those precious gifts. 

That "after-tour" was something so special, given to us by such a lovely man who simply loved that cathedral and took so much pride in it. But we had to hurry back to St.Albans to meet the rest of the class and the professors so we could all make the train back to London.  Mr. Rice said that it was impossible to walk all the way back to town before the train pulled out. He would drive us there, himself! We protested, but he would have none of it!

We 4 rushed out of the church, and Mr. Rice packed us into his Mini Cooper. Now, Mini Coopers, then, were not the cool little, fast little cars that we know now. Nope! They were made from tin, not heavy metal... I think top speed was about 22 miles per hour... if that. His was the smallest car that I'd ever been inside of. It was like a Smart Car with a backseat! But the kindness of that man! As we squeezed into his car, the Bishop of Saint Alban's walked past us, nodded his head at Mr. Rice, and got into his car parked across the narrow road from Mr. Rice's. They both waved to each other, and we all smiled.

Doors all shut... everybody in. So Mr. Rice arm-wrestled his car into backwards-mode, stamped on the gas, and we did go backwards. The thing is, so did the Bishop! Both cars crashed in the middle of the road...  KERPLUNK! It was a Monty Python's sequence! We'd crashed into the Bishop's back end! The Bishop's car had only a small dent. Mr. Rice's car, on the other hand... Well, it wasn't a pretty sight...

Mr. Rice soldiered on, though, and said that he'd worry about that later, that he MUST get us to the station because the next train to London wasn't til the next day! It's very possible that Mr. Rice had about all he could take of being a knight-in-shining-armor to three silly teachers from the U.S.A.!  

Just want you to know that the next day back in London, the 3 of us went straight to Fortnum and Mason, and we sent Mr. Rice the most expensive box of candy that they had in that luxurious store. We knew that he needed a mechanic more than he wanted candy, but a mechanic wouldn't fit into a mailing box...                 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"Writing is like giving birth to a piano sideways. Anyone who perseveres is either talented or nuts. ~ Flannery O'Connor

I'm livid! I just read the dumbest thing... and I'm fighting back. After all, I spent my entire life, since I was 4 1/2 years old, studying to prove that drivel is just that - the babblings of an idiot! Oh, I forgot to tell you the stupid statement, didn't I...

"There are two things that can't be taught - painting and writing," announced a mediocre painter (at best) and a worse writer! Don't ask me who it was, because I might slip and TELL you!

No, I'm not going to quote Ernest Hemingway's famous line about writing, "All you do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein..." ...or something close to that. There are the essentials to learn, the principles of art and those of writing. That's why people like me study and earn degrees in both of these arts! Then we study afterwards and then study some more... But we do something special every single day, whether we know we're doing it or not...

We LOOK! We take in all the things around us through all of our senses, and we do it all the time (period!). We have thoughts about those things we've seen and heard and sensed, too. And then, in that thoughtfully vegetative state, a magical thing happens. There comes a whispery, silent rush of an idea, something I never tire of... that I look forward to... and that I never worry I've lost! Much like coaxing a shy dog to take food from your hand, you must be patient, very patient. It WILL come, but not exactly when YOU say it must come. The magic is forming itself inside your head... don't scare it away. And then it comes to you, oftentimes even wagging its tail!

Just today, I was at the German meat market close to home, waiting for my number to be called. I watched the lady in front of me asking the butcher for a little bit of head cheese, some blood sausage, and slices of several other delicacies with complicated German names. Lastly, she said, "Oh, and a pair of frankfurters, please." I LOVE that! Shoes come in pairs, twins come in pairs, but that was the first time I'd heard that frankfurters can come that way, too! That word, used just that way, will find its way into my writing one of these days, I betcha!

I'm going to give you a short writing lesson here... so, if you're not interested, you might want to turn me off and turn on the TV, instead, now. But, if you''re still here, go get something to write WITH and something to write ON. (Got 'em? Good. Glad you're back with me.)

Now, I'd like you to write a descripton of the nicest person you know... in ONE sentence. That's right, just ONE sentence. Got it? Are you sure you've really described this person well? OK... now for this teacher's interference, or teaching, as we like to call it!

Delete every single adjective (the words that describe the noun)! Now delete every adverb (the words that describe your verb)! What kind of description do you have left? Is it an accurate description of that person now? Probably not... Does it show the uniqueness of that person you chose, her individuality, or is it now just a boring sentence describing most all the people you know?

Well, I can help you to improve this description... It's all in the VERB you chose, as opposed to the VERB that you could have chosen. The verb is the ACTION, the COLOR in your sentence. If you used the verb "is," what does that word "is" even mean? Just about nothing... "Is" just is!

If you had written that the person you chose "strode across the room," I would already know lots about her without your using any adjectives or adverbs. Anyone who "strode across a room" must be confident, determined, not at all lazy, maybe even angry. That one verb contains all those adjectives inside itself! Go ahead and use adjectives and adverbs, but use them scantily. Using too many is like giving your work to some 3rd rate assistants to finish your thoughts for you!

Writing calls for a large vocabulary! Did you know that the English language is the most complete language on the Earth, so far? When the scientists of the world met to decide what the best language would be to explain scientific thought, they decided on English. It was NOT because English is beautiful or perfect or even a finished thing like Latin. Not at all! 

It was because English is just like America! People from all over this world have emigrated to the United States from its beginnings, moving into this land that already contained so many different Native American languages. These immigrants added their words to the "English" that they found here, and so English grew and grew, and it's still growing, encompassing words from nearly every language on this earth! All the better to express a writer's exact thoughts.

Now for the last, and most important, thing for a writer to learn... Cut out every single word that doesn't shove the thinking forward... every single one! Say it right, say it quick, and say it gooooood! "Papa" Hemingway always edited his work by slashing it with a machete. He once said that it took more time for eliminating than it did for creating! 

Want proof? Read Hemingway's short story "Indian Camp." It's sparse, spare, and it only takes a few minutes to read, but it will stay with you a loooong time. And that's just one of the things we can learn about how to write... Imagine all that there is to learn about making art! 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"The world is getting to be such a dangerous place, a man is lucky to get out of it alive. ~ W.C. Fields

Today, like most every Suday, I was speeding along on the FasTrak through the California back country coming back from taking one of my most favorite people to Sunday dinner. I always look for hawks along that route, just because hawks are my favorite birds. The Cooper's hawks and the Redtails sit on top of the light poles along the way as though they are on kings' thrones. I love them! I've found out recently, though, that as a 1/64th Blackfeet relative, I really ought to like the eagles better... but I don't! Those hawks really fascinate me.

Today, instead of hawks, I saw 3 vultures circling a bit of land below them, and that means a nearly-dead something-or-other down below. Sad... Wonder if there would have been vultures over me in San Antonio, Texas when I was a little, little girl playing in the Officers' Club swimming pool... 

My brother was nearly 2 years old, and my Mom and Dad and I were at the Air Force base's Officers' Club swimming pool, with my brother Jack, of course, that afternoon in San Antonio, Texas, a looong time ago. At the ripe old age of 5, I was bored sitting there listening to the adults talk and my little brother whine. The pool was a much better option, especially because Mom and Dad had given me a plastic blow-up swimming "donut" to have fun with in the pool and to keep me safe from drowning.

There are only so many things a five-year-old can do with an inflatable "swim-donut." You can sit on it and float... You can lie, face down, on it and float... Or you can grab it and kick your feet while holding it out in front of you. That's about it. If there'd been other kids in that great big pool, I could have played with them, but I was the only one in the pool at all.

Although I was shy then, I wasn't dumb. In fact, I was quite an imaginative child. And that day I was quite bored. I stuck my arms through the donut hole and pretended I was a seal floating on an iceberg. It was fun for a minute or two, flapping my hands together underwater like they were flippers, but then that was boring, too.

What else can a little girl do with it? It was obvious! Put your hands behind your back and shove them, up to your arm pits, through the donut hole. Then, lay on top of it and float with your arms locked beneath you in the donut hole. Very original thinking, Terrible Terry Annie, as Grandad used to call me!

NOW, DON'T YOU DO IT! PROMISE ME THAT! Guess what happens? Since YOU are heavier than the silly inflatable donut, your own weight turns you over in the water so that the donut floats on top of YOU!

That was actually fun for 30 seconds. I'd never opened my eyes underwater before, and it was so pretty. However, unlike the fish I might imagine swimming there, I had no gills... and now I had no hands! They were completely stuck, locked behind me in that donut hole that was supposed to save my life. The more I wrestled with trying to pull my arms out of the insanely small opening, the more they wanted to stay there!

I had no earth-shaking thoughts or visions of a future life or any of the things I've heard people retell when they were facing death. I still can see the underneath of that pool, though. I suppose it's etched forever in my brain. I tried to yell, but all that came out was, "M-m-m-O-O-O," and then I realized I was filling up with chlorinated water.

At the last possible moment, obviously, my arms came free and I clawed my way to the air and breathed. I mean, I'm writing this, aren't I? I breathed actual air and I lived to tell the tale...

I also jumped out of that pool, and I've never really liked swimming pools since! When we were leaving, Mom said, "Terry, don't forget to bring your swim-toy with you." I answered a defiant "No!" So Dad fished it out of the pool before we left. Mom had her hands full with Jack, and I was always the "well-behaved child," you know.

Parents, do you know where your kids are????? Mom and Dad had called to check on me all the while that I was swimming in the pool, but I overturned in the space of 10 seconds, and then floated underwater for about 45 more seconds. The moral of this story is that being a parent is a tough, tough responisbility and can be scary. In fact, maybe it's best that you don't know all that your kids are doing every minute of every day... I don't know, though... I'm not a parent...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"The dog was created especially for children. He is the god of frolic."        ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Our Oliver was "somethin' else"! He was the quintessencial Old English Sheepdog... big, jolly, curious, and friendly... Oh so friendly! We live on a secret cul-de-sac that no one but we neighbors seem to know about, and we all like it this way. We have nearly no traffic, so our dogs can come out to play with us and each other on the narrow street between our houses... it's amost like we live in a dog park.  And do we have dogs!  Big ones, little ones, leaping gazelle-like dogs, fluffy feather boa dogs, and even a dog that reminds you of what a Mafioso must be like... 

But big old Ollie was the Marshal Dillon of the block! The "guys" would be playing in the street with all of us standing around watching them and talking, and Ollie would be bouncing around like the drover dog that he was born to be. But, if he thought one of the "guys" was getting out of line a little, he'd wander over to the "ruffian" and rest his huge fluffy front paw on that dog's back... just rest it there for a moment. The dog would calm down right away, and then, off they'd all go, running toward the hill at the end of the street. I swear the dogs were laughing all the way there and all the way back, too! If Ollie had a vest to wear, I would have found a badge for my fuzzy Marshal Dillon!  

Ollie had a special friend among the "guys." Yoda was a light-tan pug, and he couldn't have been cuter or lazier. It was never too warm for Yoda. In fact, his favorite place to nap in the summer was in front of Helen's house right on top of a black-tar repair in the street! There's a raised island of grass with 3 bushes there on our dead-end street by Helen's house, and it always looked like a perfect dog-snooze area to me. But Yoda preferred the tar! Go figure... 

Ollie (his full name was Oliver Hardy) had his favorite dog-snooze area, too.  It was moveable, though... I'd sit down on the carpet in the living room with my legs crossed, just the way I like to watch TV. Oliver would step across across my legs. That was my cue to straighten out my legs for him, so he could fall in a huge, fluffy heap across my lap. He'd turn and look straight into my eyes only inches away from his, slurp up one side of my face and then down the other, give a big Sheepdog-sized sigh, and that was my cue... I was supposed to pet him all night-long. Talking was permitted by Ollie, as long as it was to tell him what a wonderful dog he was and how we just couldn't live without him... you know, stuff like that. Richard would be sitting in his comfortable easy-chair after a hard day's work, looking for a little peace and quiet. But he didn't dare move too much, or a large shaggy beast, we both knew and loved, would decide to crawl up on his lap and kiss him to pieces! That was our Oliver! 

There was another dog who lived on our street, but we never saw him in the light of day... at least I never had. He was a mini-pin, a smallish black and brown version of a doberman. His owner worked long hours and would take him for his walk later in the evening when it was dark, usually while I was sitting upstairs on the bed grading endless English papers. Now, I love fresh air, and I always have the windows open, at least a little bit.  Fresh air feels bracing to me, especially with the piney smell wafting in from the tree outside... a typical weekday evening at the Waldron's.

One night, all at once and without a sound, Ollie jumped off the bed and attacked the upstairs bedroom window screen with a sort of violence I'd never seen before in him! He growled! He barked, savagely! He wanted to jump through that screen!

I went to the window to see what was out there... Could be a coyote...  we have them here in these hills... Could be a bobcat... Could even be a cougar... PLEASE don't let it be a skunk, again... 

Nope, it was the mini-pin trotting past on his leash with his owner coming along behind! Our Ollie was dead-set on doing harm to that little dog below! He wanted to jump out of that second story window and savage that nervous, quiet little dog prancing by our house... OUR OLIVER!

He didn't stop his growling bark until the mini-pin had walked out of our little street! Then Ollie jumped up on the bed with me and sat, smack-dab, on top of a stack of freshly-graded essays, like always. Oliver was back, and Mad Dog Hardy was gone...

About 20 minutes later, Oliver, in full battle-mode, jumped off the bed and hit the window in one lunge, growling, barking, maddened by the mini-pin daring to walk past our window again on his way back home! Oliver was schitzo... what else could it be?

Richard solved the mystery of our pet Dr. Jeckell/Mr. Hyde. I seems that the little mini-pin had actually seen the light of day on his walk the day before Ollie's freakish behavior! In fact, his owner had let him off the leash early that afternoon when he saw Yoda lying there on the tar, sleeping. The owner had expected to see the two little guys play, but I guess the mini-pin expected to have dinner with Yoda...  of Yoda... well, something... He had attacked the sleeping Yoda and taken a couple of chunks out of him before his owner had pried him off! 

Now loyalty was aways our Oliver's strong suit. He and Yoda played together in our yard, in his yard, and on our street. I guess he decided that no one was going to mess with his buddy... no one. This time he wasn't just going to put his paw on this up-start's back... he was going to take him to jail! Remember, Oliver was the dog version of Marshal Dillon, after all.