Child In A Strange land

 

 

It must have been like dropping onto a new planet. He had been in America for a little over four months and he is German.  In a small Texas town of just over 16,000 people, where the largest employers are two brick plants and the public school district, he was  in fourth grade.

As he steps to my classroom doorway, I extend my hand and say hello, my name is Mrs. Strandberg, I’m your art teacher. I immediately notice his clear blue eyes and straw blond hair framing a hopeful face. He has a medium athletic build, even for a ten-year old, like a miniature rugby player and an inquisitive, engaging curiosity that beamed out from his ruddy face. His eyes light up at the Scandinavian origin of my name. I can see he thinks he’s found a European kinsman. “Are you Swedish?”, he asks in heavily accented, but perfect English. “No.” I say and register the small disappointment in his eyes. “My husband’s ancestors are from Sweden.” ” Oh.” he says, then continues, “Well you should visit there, but it is not as pretty as Denmark.” He says this without malice, to him it was simply a fact. I turn to introduce him to a room of open-mouthed fourth graders.

This was my introduction to Nikolaus (not his real name), a remarkable student whose real name was almost unpronounceable for me. “Just call me Nik.” he finally told me with an exasperated smile. Nik was born in Germany, had lived there and in Denmark and had journeyed here with his mother after she divorced. “I still have brothers and my father in Germany.” he told me matter-of-factly, “But my step-dad is great. ”

I began to look forward to his arrival each day, bursting into the room like a large and nosy puppy, full of talk. “How did you learn such good English in such a short time?”, I ask. “My mother taught me. She speaks eight languages. Don’t you speak any other languages?”, he responded, clearly feeling a little sorry for my lack. I’m reminded once again of the European custom of teaching their children different languages early in life as a necessity of living in a modern world. I wish we were that smart.  “I’m learning Japanese right now.”, he continued. ” When I grow up I want to go to Tokyo and start a business.” Nik’s curiosity is a palpable thing. He curious about the pencil sharpener, what kind of car I have, how my desk chair works with a pneumatic cylinder to raise and lower the height. His curiosity is insatiable.

I met his mother at open house that year, a slender, confident woman with a penetrating look. She spoke to Nik as if he were thirty instead of ten, clearly proud of her clever son and determined to give him the best.

But the thing that impressed me most was Nik’s ability to let criticism of his newness to the Texas culture bounce off of him.  He had a built-in confidence that was not overbearing. He knew who he was and what he was about. The other kids loved to hear him talk. He accepted the gentle teasing of his classmates about his accent with such a good-natured charm that before you knew it he was giving German lessons to the entire class and he was laughing at their Texas-twanged attempts.

Nik was a dedicated art student, but almost to a fault, critiquing his work in a running monologue, peppered with questions. “What was pastel made out of anyway? Did it come from the ground or the lab? Where could he get these in America?” This phrasing was perfect, not just Texas, mind you, it seemed all of America was open to him. In the midst of a papier-mâché dragon whose wings kept drooping he announced that his dragon was a sea serpent, and needed no wings. And why did papier-mâché smell so funny anyway?  “My sea serpent has bad-breath.”, he says.

And then, one day, just like that, he was gone. Whisked away with his mom, for a job opportunity up north. I felt a real sense of loss and kept one of his artworks pinned by my desk, a precisely drawn geometric pastel with an oriental look to it. I know that whereever he is, he is facing his world head-on, and asking questions, always questions. It makes me smile.

I hope I get to visit Tokyo one day. I have no doubt that Nik will be there, running an international conglomerate with immense enthusiasm.

Advertisements

Crawdads and Roses

Mom's Roses
Mom’s Roses

My parent’s house was on the south side of Fort Worth, Texas, a city of about almost 800,000 today, but back in 1969, when I was 13, it was about half that. Point was, Fort Worth didn’t seem like a big city then; the neighbors we had were friendly and their kids wandered the small streets without fear. Not so much today.

I remember mom telling me that they bought the small L-shaped ranch-style house because of its location right next to Kellis park, which touched the west side of the house. “You kids needed space to play.” The small back yard was chain-link fenced. The front had split-rail fencing that was covered in mounds of climbing roses. A long concrete driveway ran up the front of the house ending in the attached two car garage. The driveway was framed on the left by the same split-rail fencing sunk in a flowerbed, with the same sprawling rose bushes. My mother loved roses. My dad didn’t want anyone using the driveway or front yard as a bicycle ramp into the park so the rose fence was beautiful and to my practical, retired air force master-sergeant father, served a good purpose. Secretly, I believe he loved the roses as much as mom.

The house was big enough for three kids, but not spacious. Four bedrooms, one used to be a den at the front of the house; a large living room with a white brick fireplace and a large kitchen on the back with a door that connected to the garage. My brother had a basketball goal mounted on a pole just at the corner of the garage and practiced incessantly when he wasn’t hitting tennis balls against the garage doors.

It was true that the best feature about that house for us the was the park. My sister was three years older and my brother nine years younger than me, and we all loved the park for different reasons. It had a ramshackle tennis court and playground equipment (swings, teeter-totters) and a city swimming pool! We all learned to swim there, in chlorine-laced water that brought us home disinfected, pruney and red-eyed in the summer.

The park had another attraction, a sort of combo creek and city rainwater drainage system. Now being a country girl from Jacksboro, Texas, my mother told us that there were probably crawdads in the creek and told us how to catch them. We would steal bacon fat from the refrigerator and armed with a safety-pin and string, would regularly yank the ONE lone crawdad that we managed to find under the rocks at the edge of the creek. He was a big sucker with ancient blue claws that could pinch a blood blister anywhere he latched on to.  That poor crawdad got hauled out of the creek over and over while we laughed and watched him furiously try to seek his revenge before we tossed him back in.  There were even a few spotted sun perch and tons of minnows in the creek that my small brown terrier Ginger would try to catch; blowing bubbles through her nose while in hot pursuit of a fishy snack. The back yard had a sand box built primarily for my brother Billy. Many a fort and imaginary off-road track were built in that sand box, while he wasn’t burying our dogs up to there noses in the cool sand. The dogs loved it during the hot Texas summers.

We also waded through the pond by the child-sized concrete drainage pipe to get golf balls out of the water for my father. He would pay us for all we dredged up. I actually think it was ransom to get us out of the house for a while. My father did not play golf. It makes me shudder now to think of it, but I regularly used to crawl through the drainage pipe under the Trail Lake intersection to the other side of the park. It was a time in childhood where you know nothing bad could ever happen and you would be home by dark for supper.

Great memories live in that house. My parents are dead now and my brother, but the house is still there. I have only driven by the outside one time. Hopefully the family that lives there has children who laugh as much as we did there.  And I hope the grandchildren of that poor crawdad are still putting up a good fight.

Footnote

legoIt’s cold here in Mineral Wells, Texas today and we had indoor recess at my elementary school. Part of my recess gear is a tub of Legos, which includes windows, doors, propellers for making planes, wheels, basically any kind of gizmo to fill a child’s imagination.

I’m at my desk listening and watching the kids play, when I overhear one child say, ” See I made a Doctor’s office.” Uh oh. My ears perked up for a possible intervention, but I did not say anything right away. She went on describing how the patient would be lowered through a window onto a slide that deposited them neatly onto the examining table. I’m thinking, ” That would be better than sitting in a germ-laden waiting room.” “This is the doctor. He’s just finished my mom’s examination. ” Now I’m up out of my seat moving in for a full-fledged intervention before any more details emerge, when she says ” Yes Mam, your foot fungus is cured!”

Sorry mom, there are no secrets in the elementary classroom. But it made my day.

Waters

fall-foliage-2942443_1920Today, my heart hurts for a young life cut short.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

 

Dad

Miss you……….Happy Birthday Dad.

In My Mind's Eye

My Dad and Mom on their Wedding Day My Dad and Mom on their Wedding Day

My Dad, who died in 2010 was the master of gentle and undeniable advice. Words delivered with a killer combination of decisiveness and humor. He retired from the Air Force as a Senior Master Sergeant and had spent some of his best years molding the young airmen that worked in his radio shop for the B52 bomber. That time in the service defined him. Not the kind to mince words, he got to the point. I loved that about him.

Vintage Dad:

When I was complaining about not being appreciated at whatever job I had (a.k.a. whining): “Take your hand out of a bucket of sand and see what kind of impression you leave.” Ok. Enough said there.

He would also give me invaluable advice about working with difficult people who outranked you. “Respect the position, not the person.”While at the same time explaining the risky but satisfying…

View original post 695 more words

Drive Time

sunset picture#mwisdthankful

I was thankful today for Delmar Day.  I remember he was in charge of Human Resources when I was hired. He knew I lived in Weatherford and told me during my interview, “You’ll have the sun at your back when you drive to work and the sun at your back when you drive home.” I also remember something else about Delmar. He never forgot your name once he met you. What a gift. It made me feel pretty special when he called me by name whenever I saw him.

Simple

#mwisdthankful

clip art

Today I am thankful for the simple things that can make a teacher’s day.

  • My husband packed my lunch for me.
  • I actually used the right key to my classroom door instead of trying to open it with my car key like I did yesterday.
  • The copier was working and had toner and paper in it when I got there.
  • There are Oreos in the snack machine in the teacher’s lounge.
  • It didn’t rain today so there was no indoor recess, in fact it was beautiful out there today at the bus circle.

Life is good.