Tuesday, July 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

                                                         *    *   *

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

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

                                                        *   *   *

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 5, 2015

"Come to the edge."

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

"Come to the edge."

"We can't. We will fall."

"Come to the edge."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"Is this Terry Waldron?"

"Yes, it is."

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


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

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

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

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

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

"I have to think it over…"

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

"Call me back tomorrow."

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

I was just dumb… and very, very scared! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What a wonderful, wonderful man I married!