Friday, May 30, 2014

"Fair and softly goes far."  ~ Miguel de Cerantes


"TERRY!  SHOULDERS!!!"

I had been minding my own business, standing first on one leg, and then the other, in the looong super market line, trying so hard to be patient until my turn would come to check out. Then that BOOMING voice! 

It was Betty Jean, my adult ballet instructor! Instantly, I tried my best to force my shoulders down towards my toes, to force my chin up as high as my neck would allow, and, lastly, I tried forcing my shoulder blades to touch behind my back... but alas... they wouldn't meet. I knew the drill: Betty Jean would stomp over to me, grab my shoulders and force them downwards and together. Ouch! Done...

None of the people in front of me in that line turned around. They were too scared! Could have been the grudging groaning that I did when my shoulder blades crashed into each other... Could have been that they were all former students... dunno... Notice that I called Betty Jean my "instructor." She was NEVER my "teacher." There is a difference between the two...

When I started my teaching career, I was an art teacher in a nearly brand-new school. My dream had come true! Right across the hall from my art room was a huge bulletin board encased in sliding-glass doors. I rubbed my hands together and nearly said aloud, "MINE! MINE! ALL MINE!" I would create gorgeous bulletin boards inside that space. I'd fashion them out of my high school students' amazing art work. I'd change it out each time they learned new techniques or used new media. Heaven! And they paid me, too... a pittance, yes, but I was now a professional art teacher!

One day the nurse came to me and asked if I'd do a bulletin board about epilepsy for her. I said, "Sure, but what exactly is it?"

Now that was back in the day when every school in the country had a real live, official registered Nurse. With nearly 2,500 kids in that building, a certified nurse is as essential as certified teachers after all. So the nurse said, "Terry, you're a teacher. Study it yourself! Here's some books..." So I did, and my bulletin board actually caused people to stop and find out as much as I understood about epilepsy.

... and then we moved to Southern California, my husband and I.

I had a job in a wonderful junior high school fairly close to home, and the principal had slipped me into a slightly... well, pretty well "used" classroom. I was teaching English, my other major, and I was loving it. I'd been teachng 9th grade, and then they threw in a couple of 8th grade classes, just to see if I was paying attention. It was great, actually!

The next school year arrived, and they added a 7th grade class to my 8th and 9th grade classes! Now, 7th graders had just come out of elementary school in those days, and they cry a lot and... well... OK, if I have to... "We'll give  you the 7th grade Honors class, Terry, just to break you in..." I was told. Sheesh...

That day the kids were quietly reading a short story that I had done a really great job of introducing to them, if I do say so myself. All the kids were reading, and I was at my desk in the back of the room, reading some of their essays from the day before. Just then the tiniest girl in the class tip-toed up to my desk, and asked for help. So I helped her, and she tip-toed back to her seat. Then I tip-toed over to her desk to whisper to her that she didn't really have to tip-toe to my desk, and then I tip-toed back to my desk.

Then she came back to ask me another question, and I helped her, and then she came again and I helpd, but the fourth time was one too many!

"Please go back to your desk and see if you can answer your own question this time by reading the story to the end," I said without looking up from the essay I was grading.

"But I don't feel good..." she whimpered.

"What's wrong?" I looked up and I felt her forehead with the back of my hand like my Mom used to do with my brother and me. No fever...  "How do you feel?"

"I don't know... I just don't feeeelll well."

"Do you feel urpy? You know, like you might throw up or something?"

"Noooooooo.  I just don't fee..." and she fell over backwards in a dead faint! First she was standing, and then she fell... just like a tiny tree, she fell to the floor!

I ran to her and put her head on my lap, and she began to shake and quiver and make sounds. The kids had turned around and were scared. It was silent in that room! 

"David, turn the lights off," I said quietly. 

"Class, she is having an epileptic seizure. There's nothing to be scared about, but you have to be completely quiet. She's going to be awfully scared when she wakes up. David, go to the office and tell the nurse what's happening." 

"Now, class, she needs to stay warm because the floor is so cold. If you have a sweater or a jacket, could you please toss it over to me?"

"Thank you, class," I muttered as I dug myself out of the mountain of clothing that had been tossed silently from nearly every student.

As she came to, it was just like the books I'd read said it would be. She was disoriented, clammy, and didn't understand why she was on the floor with her head on my lap covered with sweaters and jackets. But the school nurse had just arrived with a wheelchair. As we picked the little one up and put her in the chair, I saw a sweaty portrait of her entire body remaining on that cold, hard floor.

The nurse called her parents and they rushed her to the hospital. It was her first epileptic episode. Thank you, thank you, Nurse, for asking me to create that high school bulletin board back in Omaha, Nebraska, after asking me to read all that information!

A few years passed, and that used room was still mine, but I was now the English Department Chair! I had mostly 9th grade classes to teach with a couple 8th grade classes for variety's sake. It was now MY job to set up the English department's schedule. But before the first day of school, I was called into the principal's office, along with 6 other teachers. We all would be having an epileptic student in class, and his parents did not believe in doctors or medicines of any kind. The student's medical history indicated that his epilepsy was severe.

Put yourself in his place, Terry, I thought. OK, I will. 

Now, teaching on the first day of the school year is soooo easy that anyone off the street could do it, without a teaching degree! Kids behave beautifully that day... because that's the day that students examine all the teachers... up, down, side-ways, forwards, and backwards... checking out what they have to put up with for a whole, entire, loooong school year. They are also figuring out how to handle each teacher. That quiet first day is very deceiving... but it is quiet!

I asked Michael if he would mind staying in my room after class during the 15-minute morning break, and he said, "OK."

Michael was miserable. Michael hated school, hated it! Michael wouldn't look anyone in the eye, and certainly not ME! Michael had even worse acne than I did! But, Michael stayed in his desk after class so I could talk to  him. Michael was brave... brave and miserable... just as miserable as I would have been.

"Michael, I know that you have epilepsy. You have grand mal epilepsy, right?"

"Yeah..."

"Do you, by any chance, get an aura before it happens?"

He perked up a tiny bit. "Yeah, I do."

"How long does it last before the seizure comes on?"

"How do YOU know about this!" he nearly yelled. "Do YOU have it, too?" he whispered.

"Nope, I have asthma, though... since I was 7 months old. It scares me when I start to wheeze..."

"What's "wheeze'?" he asked.

"Don't want to talk about it... I'm afraid that it will start up. It means I can't breathe... How long do you have between the aura and the actual seizure?"

"I don't know... about 2 or 3 minutes, I guess."

"Here's what we're gonna do... If you feel an aura is coming on, no matter what I'm doing or what's going on in class, I want you to catch my eye and give me a hand signal, and then you walk right out of the door and straight to the nurse's office. Do you have that?"

"Yeah... but what if..."

"Listen to  me! I will get a big guy in class to go outside and walk with you to the nurse's office, just in case the seizure should come on quicker than usual. I will tell him that you might pass out, and that's why I'm asking him to go with you. Got it?"

"Yeah." His eyes opened sooo wide and his face nearly smiled! "Yeah, that might work," he said to me. "I don't have to say nuthin' to you... just look at you and give a you a hand signal? Really? Well, what's the signal going to be?"

"Michael, I don't know any hand-signals. But I went to the University of Nebraska, and once I dated a football player there, and he said that the team had hand-signals, but he'd never show me one. Signals are always secret! You figure one out, and show me after class. No one else will know it... just you and I." And we shook on it!

Michael did have some seizures in school that year, very bad ones, too. But you know what? He never had even an aura in my class. We were completely prepared for it, so, it never came. Michael was relaxed in my class, and he even raised his hand a time or two, and answered a question here and there. Wonder if there is any relationship between epilepsy and asthma, because I never had asthma in my classes, either...

Oh, and Betty Jean.. I take it all back, that stuff about her being an "instructor," not a "teacher." She must have been a teacher because to this very day, every time I'm waiting in any line anywhere, I practice my releve's! Annoying though it must be to people behind me, I make sure my back line is straight from the top of my head to my toes, and then I raise up on my feet until I am balanced on just the frontal pads of my two feet. Then I raise and lower myself all the time I'm waiting. It's fun, but I must annoy the heck out of those poor folks standing behind me... "CLASS! RELEVE!!!"

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"When you step on the brakes, your life is in your foot's hands."              ~ George Carlin


"Skiing? Me?"

"Yeah. Let's drive over to Steamboat Springs, and you can finally learn to ski, Terry. Let's DO it!" said my husband, who'd already learned how to ski when he was working in Montana. He'd learned "the Montana way" to ski, and it had worked for him!

Richard hated the cold, but he bought a pair of skis and drove up and over and into those western Montana mountains. The first thing he did when he jumped out of the car was to look for a ski instructor. Turned out that there wasn't a ski instructor. Nope, there were just those huge, snowy Rocky Mountains and more snow...  and a few skiers. Someone said, "You don't need an instructor. This is Montana!  Here's what you do... Lash those skis onto your boots, jump on that lift over there, jump off, and come down the mountain. That's Montana skiing, friend!" So Richard did that...

When he came home to Omaha for his monthly weekend visit, he could barely walk. He'd pulled something inside his knee during that ski trip, and, mostly, the poor guy groaned all weekend.

But he got good, really good, and I was excited because the ski outfits were darling. So, off we went.

When we checked in, Richard led me over to sign up for my beginner's class, and I was so ready. He walked me to the class site, and then he went off to ski the intermediate runs at that Western-feeling, totally beautiful skier's haven.

First, I sized up the other students. They all looked like Moms-on-skis. I, on the other hand, had been told by all my friends that I was so athletic that I would be a "natural." How hard could it be! The ski outfits saleslady had even told me I "looked like a skiier." What more did I need... one thing... Terry, MODESTY! Above all, don't call any attention to yourself. This is going to be soooo easy, and you sure don't want to make those Moms feel badly. No showing off...!

The ski instructor came over and led us to the tiniest hill... No, I can't call it a "hill." It was a barely discernable rise in the ground. When he told us to make a line, and watch him, I, of course, took the last place in line out of courtesy. He showed us what to do, and he said to do that same thing, one at a time. "Just point your skis down that bump, I mean hill, and you're good to go." 

The first Mom nailed it. (No fear, Terry. You'll do that, too!) Then the next lady went down the bump, and the next and the next... They all nailed it, and now it was my turn. 

Down I went... NO!  DOWN I went! I had bumped my skis on the flat snow! "Try it again, Terry!" the ski instructor announced to the world. "You can do it!" Darn those stupid giant-sized name tags, anyway!

During that entire lesson, I fell every single time. The Mom's, being true Mom's, had been so kind with their whispered encouragementss to me. None of them wanted me to fail like that, and they sure didn't want to embarrass me. They truly were the darnest, nicest ladies I'd ever met in my darned life... darn it!

I'm NOT even going to try to explain what happened when he was teaching us how to ride the T-bar, except to say that if you fall on the T-bar, EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THE ROPE-LINE, skis over you! There is no way to avoid it, except to try to roll off the tiny up-hill path with hundreds of beginners clutching the rope for dear life, perfectly willing to ski right over you if it means that they won't be the "fall-guy!" 

Now, listen here! I had a reason for being a mess on the T-bar! I had looked longing up at the mountains, thinking that I'd much rather paint them than ski them, and who should be sitting there watching everything? Yup! Richard waved to me from his sitting position, and he was trying really, really hard not to make any noise as he laughed himself silly.

A few ski trips later I did learn to ski. I called myself an "advanced beginner," and I was happy and proud to be at that level. I even ski-jumped repeatedly over a 6-inch "mogal!" We were visiting our friends who lived right near A-Basin, and it had been a lovely 3-days so far. I'd ski by myself, even skiing off the chair-lifts without falling. Every once in a while, Richard would come by to see how I was doing. He'd make a graceful curving turn, covering me with snow, before he stopped. 

Then he said it! "Terry, you're ready for the intermediate runs. C'mon, let's go down this one."

"No, Richard, I like being an advanced beginner! Don't worry about me. I'm really loving this, seeing all the trees and mountains and stuff. I'm fine."

"Aw, c'mon..." So I c'mon-ed.

I wish you could have seen that hill. There was a bottom to it, but it was really, really far away down there. And it was narrow! I could ony traverse in one direction, so I probably wasn't truly an "advanced beginner." In fact, I never heard anyone ever use that term, "advanced beginner." I think I'd made it up all by myself! But Richard was so sure I was going to be goood. And I did have on darling ski-togs!

Down he went, and then I followed straight down that mountainous hill. Why didn't I traverse? Who knows! As I flew past a group of little boys and their ski instructor, all I could think of was just get me to the bottom of this hill, and I'll never, ever ski again. PROMISE! 

But it didn't happen that way. Suddenly, for no reason I could see, one of my skis dug into the snow and wouldn't let go! My whole body twisted as I fell, but that stuck ski wouldn't give. Everything twisted, in fact, but my calf, and so my knee took it on the chin... actually it took it in the ligament, which tore.

My head was pointing down the hill, my one leg was sticking up with the ski stuck in the snow, and the rest of me felt like I was going to be sick. I saw Richard at the bottom of that beastly hill, and he was helpless. You can't ski UP-hill, after all!

Then a face floated over mine. It was a handsome face, a Scandinavian-sort of blue-eyed face. It was an angel! 

The angel said, "Are you hurt?"

I said, "Uh huh."

The angel said, "Don't worry. I'll get the Ski Patrol," and he took my skis off and put them in the international criss-cross-crisis sign behind my head.

And then his heavenly baby ski angels came over and surrounded me. I thought it was possible that I might get sick, but you can't do that in front of baby angels. The baby angels suddenly began to sing to me! I will never forget those heavenly lyrics...

"Shoot her! Shoot her! Put her out of her misey! Shoot her!" Those little rats couldn't be angels, the little devils! They chanted that unholy chorus over and over and over as they stood in that hellish circle around me until the REAL angels came. Lucky for them, I was hurt!

The Ski Patrol arrived. They all made graceful turning curves to stop, covering me once again with 4 times the snow that Richard could turn out. 

"It's my knee..." I whimpered.

"Does it hurt?" said the man with the orange ski hat.

"Nooooo..." 

"That's bad!"

Then I was lifted onto a stretcher by the four Ski Patrolers and we went down the hill... straight down the hill... at top speed all the way down to the flatland, no turns, no traversing, and no problems. These guys were professionals. 

At the bottom, or somewhere, we drew up to a little wooden cabin with double doors. I was carefully set down in the only space left on the cold wooden floor, right between a little girl with a broken wrist that someone had skied over, crushing some of her wrist bones, and a groaning person lying there with a very weird-looking shoulder problem. When the entire room was about three-people-deep, an ambulance came. The little girl and I were in the first load that they dumped off at the hospital. The rest is boring... A torn knee ligament takes soooo long to heal...

As you've probably figured out, I never skied again... I still love the mountains, but in my mind, they're nothing to be played with. They are to be admired from afar.           

Monday, May 19, 2014

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.  ~ W.C. Fields


Just a few days ago I got to meet an artist who I admire very much, and he was telling me that his wife is a dancer... a DANCER! That was fourth on my list of what I wanted to be.  

 MY LIST:

1.  a TIE - No, I mean I wanted to be an art teacher, 
     so art and teaching tied for the top spot.
2.  a singer (I do sing, but only in the car while I'm driving,
     and I'm really good when driving in a place filled with
     trees!  Well, at least they nod at me as I pass by.)
3.  writer - Thanks so much, Holly Knott, and Blogger, too!
4.  ballet dancer - I studied ballet both when I was young
     and when I was grown... It's NOT easy!  In fact, watch
     OUT because that's what I'm going to complain...
     I mean, write about now...

Being the tallest person in the entire Betsy Ross Elementary School's 6th grade, except for one boy who was obnoxious, wasn't the easiest position to hold. And begging my Mom to buy me a bra was embarrassing, too.

"Terry, you don't need a bra, yet!" she giggled.

"But Mom, everyone else has one except ME," I whined.

"Terry, why do you want a bra right now? You'll be wearing them for the rest of your life, after all. We'll get you one as soon as you need it," Mom assured me.

"But, Mom, at recess all the boys snap the girls' bras, and I'm the only one who doesn't have one..." I sobbed.

"WHAT?"

"Well, the boys run around at recess and come behind the girls and pull the back of the bra and it snaps back, and I don't have anything to snap... I just have skin!"

However, this flat-chested predicament is perfect if you want to take ballet. My tall, stringy, bra-less frame evidentally was perfect, according to my ballet teacher.  I loved her... She was so pretty and thin, with a lovely voice. You could tell that she was always trying to make her voice sound stern, but she couldn't ever hide the sweetness in it. She held a tall thick pole and tapped the floor with it as we did our exercises at the barre. That first time I entered the studio, I thought that pole was for beating us if we messed up, but it wasn't. It kept the tempo as we practiced to Tchaikovsky.

First, though, you had to master the five foot positions of ballet. Fifth position, the most difficult, consists of turning each foot out at a 90-degree angle from where it naturally faces, and then sliding each foot in front of the other in this intense turned-out angle. It's as hard to describe as it is to make happen!

I'd go home and practice all week after school so that I wouldn't be ashamed when ballet class started again. In our tiny, tiny house on Berryman Avenue, the best place to practice those positions was to stand on the brick lip jutting out of the bottom of our fireplace. That way I could hold on to the narrow wooden mantle, sort of like it was the barre. My brother, Jackie, would stand there and mock me and laugh, and then, being an all-around athlete even at his young age, he couldn't help himself... he had to try to mimic those five positions, too.

Now THAT was funny! Yes, Jackie could get into 5th position, and yes, he could hold that foot position, but to make that happen he had to stick his buttocks out as far as possible with his arms spread out like a dementend eagle's wings imitation, and I would laugh so hard... So hard that he would get mad and try to push me off my brick ledge... Yes, ballet practice for Terry Kingston at home was a curse for her poor Mother who'd have to run over to stop the chaos on a daily basis. Poor, poor Mom.

I really liked the French that our ballet teacher threw at us every week: arabesque, jete, plie, grande plie, changement. She said it so much that we all started to recognize what she wanted us to do. Between the French words, the romantic Russian music, and our lovely teacher telling me that I was perfect for ballet, well... I was in heaven. Then we moved to Connecticut, and ballet was gone from my life.

That is until I married, and Richard and I moved to our first home in Omaha, Nebraksa. Our very small brick Tudor house was perfect in my eyes. And our next-door neighbors became very close friends. Sheila and I were sitting on the porch step one day, talking, and I was telling her how much I had loved ballet when I was young. Sheila wasted no time in finding a ballet studio close to our neighborhood, and the next thing I knew, Sheila and I were buying leotards, tights, and ballet shoes for our first adult ballet class the next week!

Walt dropped us off at the ballet studio that evening, and in Sheila walked with me right behind her, fairly confident and greatly excited. And there SHE was... Betty Jean! She wasn't a copy of my first ballet teacher by a long, stony mile!

"Who ARE you!" she screamed at me! "Where is your BRAAAAAAAAA? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!"

"My bra....?" When I had gotten dressed for our new ballet class before we left, I'd been a little perplexed about that, myself. To bra, or not to bra... Yup, that WAS the question... But to me, having bra straps hanging outside of those thin spaghetti straps on my leotards was tacky! And besides, even though I was a grown woman, I wasn't even a quarter as well-endowed as Sheila. Of course, Sheila MUST wear one, that lucky lady! But me????? There would only be women in the class, I surmised, so what's the dif? Big HUGE "dif" I found out. Sheila was welcomed into the class whole-heartedly. I was yelled at and sent back to the dressing room to "cover" myself.  Big problem there... Who tucks a spare bra into her purse, I'd like to know?

"I don't have one with me," I whispered.

"Don't you EVER come here again without a bra on, EVER!"

Humiliated, I oozed into the studio, sidled over to the rear of the barre as close to the very end of it as I could get, and looked into the floor-length mirror. I was so embarrassed that I'd turned red from my checks to the end of my fingers. Thankfully, the tights hid the rest of that red tinge.

The weeks passed, and I had bought some skin-colored bras to satisfy me and, most of all, Betty Jean. That seemed to soothe her, and that ought to have been good, right?

Unfortunately, Betty Jean thought I had good hand positions. My hands are not pretty... never have been. They work well, and that's all I ever wanted of them. Both of them have even been taught to throw mashed-up empty lunch bags into gargabe pails from a good distance away without missing, even when I use my off-hand. (I've mentioned this before, but I am still very proud to make the basket with my left hand, everytime!)

This hand position part of the ballet was new to me, and I found it to be the easiest thing to practice in all of ballet. All you do is turn on TV to something good, lay comfortably on the bed, stick both arms up in the air, and practice. I could do it for hours, and I liked what I saw! I could do that all night, too, because I was teaching high school art, and all my grading was done before I'd leave school at 4:30 or so. Perfect! The great thing about ballet hands, too, is that no one sees them close up!

Well, Terry, what's "unfortunate" about that? It brought Betty Jean's attention my way, that's what's unfortunate about that, thanks for askin'!

"ARABESQUE!" Betty Jean shouted to the class in her less than soothing voice. Well, I arabesqued. I could do it because I still remembered my early lessons. I was still the tallest in the class, and my limbs were longer than the rest, I guess. My hand postions were good, too. It must have been something like that because Betty Jean called the class to look at my arabesque.

Then she raced over to me and grabbed my ankle in her meaty hand, yanking my entire leg up higher than it was ever intended to go... and then, a scosh higher than that. "This makes it even BETTER," Betty Jean announced. "TADA! See, Terry!"

I saw nothing but stars, but I felt the pain! Man, I FELT it! Betty Jean with a triumphant smile had nearly been able to dislocate my entire leg out of its own socket. I couldn't scream, because Betty Jean would have hit me with HER tempo pole, probably. When she let go, that leg wouldn't come down. For a quick moment I thought, how'm I gonna get outta here. Sheila'll have to help me hop, but my leg won't fit through that door in its present position...

"Now THAT'S an ARABESQUE!" shrieked the triumphant ballet teacher.

I, on the other hand, gave up my place at the barre, and, if I remember correctly, that night when Walt picked Sheila and I up, we went to the "local" to find a seat for a peaceful glass of wine. At that bar, there was no shrieking permitted!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?"  ~ E. M. Forster


The "Santa Ana's" are blasting through the Hills! I can't stand them! These winds have been roaring for 2 days now. There is a slight possibility that they might slow down tomorrow... NOT SOON ENOUGH! They scream like banshees... For those of you who're not Irish, they sound like screetching barn owls... Never lived on a farm, you say... Hmmm... All I can say, then, is that these winds gusted up to 75 mph today HERE at our house! They are so cagey that they whipped their way between our house and my prettiest 4-foot tall planter, knocking it to the ground. It's shattered!

Now our house is joining in with "Santa Ana's," adding creaking and sighing to the "music!" Come on now, house! Be quiet!!! You're supposed to be on OUR side!

Well, at least the stars are quiet... just floating up there, glittering. "Star light, Star bright, First Star I see tonight, Wish I may, Wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight..." is what I said when I was little. I loved looking up at those stars, but I learned later that I had never really seen the stars in the sky at all!

It was when Richard's company sent him to Montana to help oversee a large government project near Conrad that I really saw stars! Richard and I had only been married about 7 years when he had to go. Every night when I got home from school there in Omaha, Nebraska, the phone would ring, and it'd be Richard, telling me about his day. He came home one weekend a month during that long 9 months period. 

One day in January I went to our mailbox and there was a letter from Richard with a photo of him standing under the temperature sign on the corner in Conrad, Montana. My husband, a man who thinks if it is 75 degrees outside, he needs to put on his heaviest sweater, was standing in a snow-mobile suit under the temperature sign on the bank building.  It read -45 degrees!!! 

When Spring finally melted the snow and stopped the "black ice" from forming on the highways, the company brought in trailers so the wives could come to Montana. So, I flew to Great Falls and saw Montana for the first time in my life.

Richard and I got into the car to drive down that dark, dark highway to Conrad and our new "home." When I got out of the car and looked up, someone had salted the entire sky! Of course, I knew that there were more stars in the sky than could be counted, but I'd never seen it before like this! Just that piece of sky over Conrad made me understand why Montana's called "The Big Sky" state.  I'd always known that I was less than a gritty grain of sand on the beach when you consider all the people who've lived on this place called Earth. But when I looked up there... I wasn't even one measly atom!