First Saturday

holding handsI’m sitting here at the kitchen table the first Saturday after school started this week. We had the students Thursday and Friday. What was old in May is new again in August. It is my nineteenth year of teaching elementary art in a small rural Texas school and my first days of school were good.

In the hallway the first day I saw a mom come in with her fifth grader. Mom had on what we used to call “a house dress”, big wire curlers and fuzzy house shoes. The daughter was holding her hand and grinning from ear to ear. The Granddad was carrying two bags of school supplies. They stopped and the Granddad said to me,”She said her mom couldn’t embarrass her the first day of school.” The girl laughed and posed with her mom for a selfie. As they separated and the girl walked on to the gym the mom looked like tears were close. But she also looked happy. And so did her child.

Harry Wong’s words ring in my ears. “The first days of school are so important.” As I welcomed my students this year I remember again that the first two things in their heads are, ” Am I in the right place?” and “Does she know my name?”

On the first day of school, your name is the only thing that really belongs to you. Everything else, your time, your brain, even when you eat and go to the bathroom becomes part of “the schedule”.  So to a kid, ” my name”, “my seat” and “my chair” become a big identity thing. After a couple of months of summer freedom that comes as a shock to the system.

Lots of good things happen. Like a student that brought me a cookie at Meet the Teacher night. It said something like”May your days be great and your coffee be strong.” I can’t remember exactly because I ate that sucker the first day of school. It helped.

I get to see big brothers and big sisters walk their siblings around my room and say ” I used to sit here.” And “This room looks so small, I thought it was bigger!” I even had a former student bring their child to meet me because they were going to be in my class this year. I’m getting old.

Even the challenges are somehow familiar and endearing. “No you can’t say fart.” “No, you should not make a fart noise even if you are not farting.” There is nothing in the world funnier to a fifth grader than a fart.

I had a small sixth grade class practice safety drills. As we practiced the lock down drill the mood turned quiet. They were sitting on the floor, away from windows with their backs against cabinets. I turned off the lights to show them how the room would look, “See, we can still see each other with the light coming through the cracks in the blinds.” I told them how my number one job is to keep them safe, even before teaching art. And you could see the concern in their eyes. I hate that our world has put that concern there. The one student said, “It’s ok, I’m a black belt.” Everyone laughed and came back to their seat. But I got hugs as they left the class.

And so I realize once again how precious these children are and what a privilege it is to be with them each day. It was a good start.

 

 

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Norman and the Waterfall

Norman
We think this is Norman, from yesterday.

I usually wake early, so I was up first this morning watching television when I heard my husband George open the front door and go out into the yard. When he opened the door to the garden room where I was, I knew as soon as I saw his face it was bad. He said, “The fawn is in the pond.” The “pond” is a waterfall with a fish pond that we built each other for our 25th wedding anniversary. We live in rural Texas, behind pipe and cable fencing. You can’t even see there is a pond or waterfall unless you look at it from our house.

waterfall
waterfall pond before the fawn

It holds a thousand gallons of water and when my husband stands in the pond, which we only do to clean it, it hits him about hip high. In the fifteen years we’ve had the pond, countless animals have drunk from it, deer, squirrels, birds, raccoons, dogs, cats and God knows what else. Nothing has ever drown in that pond.

My heart sank. “Has it drown?”, I asked. We’d only seen this fawn for the first time yesterday when his mother brought him up to our donkey trough. “No, but we’ll have to get him out, the sides are too steep and he’s not strong enough to drag himself out.” Of course I didn’t take time to get my camera, but when I walked out I roughly saw the scene in City Slickers when the calf  named Norman starts to drown in the river and Billy Crystal saves him.

My husband was talking softly to the little guy as I came out of the house; George said he had swum right over to him when he got there. He had his head up on the ledge of the pond, looking at him as if to say, “Can you please get me out of here?” The fawn was obviously exhausted; no telling how long he had been in there struggling. George put one leg in the pond and looked at me. “I’m going to hand him out to you. You think you can hold him and put him in the grass?” Adrenalin is an amazing thing. My first thought was how lucky I was to be married to this man who was about to grab this thrashing little deer in the middle of a thousand gallons of water to save it. “Yes!”, I said. I think I could have thrown a refrigerator at that point. By the way, to add to the drama of this scene, the mother doe was across the driveway in another pasture, frantically pacing back and forth, but too scared to come any closer.

In one swift motion, he lifted the struggling fawn to me and I scurried over to the nearest tree and set it gently down in the grass. I will never forget the sound it made as George handed it to me. If you’ve heard any baby cry for its mom, it’s pretty darn close. Surprisingly enough the fawn could stand. I let him go and he stood there shivering. Now mom was nowhere to be seen.

We looked at each other. “Now what?” We decided quickly to leave him alone and go in the house to see if the mother would get him. It was hard to leave him there. Several phone calls to our sweet neighbors whose son works at a deer reserve to see if we were doing the right thing. “Yes, leave it alone, don’t touch it, the mom will come back.” The fawn lay down under the tree and started cleaning itself.

The morning progressed with us peeking through the closed blinds for over an hour, to see if the fawn was still there. Finally, about an hour and a half later, he was gone. The lilies in the fish pond look like they’ve been in a veg-o-matic.

shredded lilies
post-fawn waterfall pond

But no matter. The goldfish are swimming around through the shredded vegetation thinking…”What just happened?”

Later that morning….after I’d taken my blood pressure medicine and we were sitting on the front porch drinking tea my husband said, ” I hope we see Norman again.” “Me too.” He’s named him. Good sign for that little guy, I bet he’s got one whopper of a story to tell his friends.

Mom in Germany

Dear Mom,

One of the best legacies a mother can leave are stories. Even though I lost you physically in 2006 I can hear your voice today. You left a record in the albums you made for us. I wonder if you know how much that means to us now?

One of my favorite stories was of your trip to Germany in April of 1962. You flew to Germany to attend the North Atlantic Girl Scout Conference as one of the Girl Scout Leaders. You had encouraged us to be in Girl Scouts and as always was you were very involved in everything we did.

I love the story of this trip because it tells me so much about you as a person, not just as my mom. You visited Berchtesgaden…the photo (Mom is in the center with the sweater) shows you holding hands with the other Girl Scout Leaders there. Mom looks calm and dignified. The lady behind her, Lord who knows what’s going on there.

Mom in center I know now that you stayed at the Hotel General Walker, which as I understand it was originally a hotel built to house Nazi dignitaries and after being heavily damaged during WWII was rebuilt as one of Europe’s finest luxury hotels, with a breathtaking view of the Bavarian countryside and the Alps. I have the menu of your lunches there and your itinerary.

180512_0001But your words tell the story best. Talking about the crystal clear alpine streams in the villages you said…..

“In this stream I saw my first black completely round pebbles so smooth they were almost like marbles. This was the first time I had seen mountains and by the end of the day I had a crick in my neck trying not to miss any of them. It was in this village that we (her roomie) bought a bottle of German Beer, a loaf of black bread and a roll of German sausage. We set the beer in the snow on our window sill to cool and when the meeting was over we came back and had a midnight snack; with the windows open, snow on the ground and the moon lighting the mountains and the sounds of cowbells echoing from high on the mountain.”

You were 30 years old. I love the idea of you drinking German beer and watching the moon on the mountains. The poetry in your words reminds me how much you loved to travel and see new places, which is great since you were an Air Force wife. This must have been an exciting trip for a Texas girl from the small town of Jacksboro because you went by yourself. I wonder now how you talked Dad into that. My sister and I, nine and six years old respectively, stayed back in Texas with my Dad. I remember you saying that we told you,” We always got dessert when Dad cooked dinner when you were gone.” I’m sure Dad was just trying to bribe good behavior out of us.

You brought us back a box of the different salts mined in Berchtesgaden, which the pamphlet describes as their most important industry. You told us how you had donned miner’s clothes and sat on wooden rails and slid down through the mine. When you ran your fingers on the walls you could taste the salt. I remember the box of salts, different colored one-inch cubes. I secretly licked each one when you were not looking to see if they tasted differently.

I wish I had been with you as an adult on that trip. I smile every time I think of you whistling through the salt mine licking the salt off your fingertips. I bet you yodeled at the mountains too.

Thank you for telling us the story. It also explains why you loved the movie Heidi so much.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom.

p.s.  After I posted this my very intelligent sister told me that 1962 was one of the three years we were stationed in England, which of course makes much more sense that my mom got to go to Germany because she was so close. Well my bad. Math is not my strong suit. 🙂

 

 

 

Dear Doctor

071714_assistant-physicians-doctor

We are visiting our family doctor for the last time today. He is retiring at the end of this month and gosh we will miss him. Dr. James Newton has been our family doctor for years.

Finding a new family doctor is a gradual and delicate process. Sort of like having your mom pull your loose tooth as a child. You know you can handle it, but you know it’s going to hurt. When our last doctor moved away, we had been to three new doctors trying to find a good fit. So when a teaching  friend recommended Dr. Newton I went in with high hopes and a cautious nature. I knew he was probably for us the first time I saw his waiting rooms. He has a fish-themed examination room, a children’s examination room and a hunting-themed examination room. That might sound a little strange, but have you ever had to sit waiting for the doctor in a sterile, picture-less examination room? Or worse, one full of those medical charts, most of which made me believe immediately that I definitely have one or more of the dreaded diseases shown in glorious detail. In Dr. Newton’s office I could look at stuffed fish or birds or hunting cartoons given to him by patients. Or if I was in the children’s room, I could gaze at a large hand-painted mural of trees and small forest creatures. In most rooms in his office there were pictures of our doctor with various large fish or animals, family and friends, smiling and happy.  Whatever your opinions about fishing and hunting I liked seeing my doctor happy. It kept my blood pressure down.

But entertaining examination rooms is not what made him a good doctor. Dr. Newton  listened to us. He listened. He did not lecture, he talked to us. He knew us as people. He talked music with my band director husband, Dr. Newton’s father-in-law being a great music director at Texas Tech University. Who else knows that your doctor has a broken drum stick from Ed Shaughnessy?  He recommended a great nursing home when my mother-in-law needed  one. In-between those talks he kept track of our common ailments with a sense of humor, a soft-spoken and direct bedside manner and the common sense not to prescribe a pill for every ache and pain. As he said , “Sometimes, a pill is not what is needed. Let your body do it’s work.” He had patience for our opinions about the cost of medicine and the deplorable state of the medical insurance industry in this country. And it is that last sad fact that has forced a new search for a family doctor upon us again.

But now, for Dr. Newton, we wish him a rewarding retirement, free from computer work  and strangling bureaucratic regulations and happy in the knowledge that he served his patients well.  And as our Doctor and our friend told us yesterday, “We’ll see you around town!”

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.

Conversations

#mwisdthankful

freedom-from-fear-1943Our Superintendent challenged us to share reasons we are thankful for our school district, coworkers and community for seven days. I missed yesterday, so this post is for Thursday, November 9th.

I’m thankful for the great conversations my job allows me to have with my students. Thursday, our warm-up activity was to define the main idea behind an artwork. I chose Norman Rockwell’s famous Freedom from Fear, one of a four painting series that Rockwell did in 1943. I chose it because the next day was our Veteran’s Day Celebration and this painting illustrates how our armed forces keeps this nation free from fear.

What always surprises me is the children’s gut reaction to this tender scene of a mother and father tucking their children into bed at night. The room gets quiet as they take in the moment. Their responses were all connected to parents. “Maybe the children are sick and the mom is taking care of them.” Seeing the newspaper in the father’s hand, one student said, ” The Dad has been reading them a bedtime story.”  I wondered how many of my children have these moments in their homes. But they all sense somehow that is right that children should be safe. Rockwell is a master of visualizing what is good about people.

It was only after we dug deeper into the history and timing of the paintings that they understood the message of how our Armed Services defend our right to be free from fear. We talked about honoring those brave men and women on Veteran’s Day. A powerful message during these uncertain times.

So today I am thankful to be able to pass on the traditions and history of our great country in conversations with my students.

Image: By Goku iroshima – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16925982

 

 

Internal Flight

blue 1

In my dreams, I don’t have to fight gravity, I only have to flex some hidden internal muscle to lift off from the ground. I don’t even stretch out my arms (thank God, that would look so silly!), and just float effortlessly up to the heights over the trees where I can see the earth below me. There is no sensation of movement or speed, just a presence over the earth. I guess I would describe it most like rising up to the surface and floating in water, but upside down, where you can see everything under you. Thrilling. Don’t start with me about Freudian interpretations, I think Freud had way bigger problems than I do.

Strangely enough, my awake-self is afraid of heights. I have a recurring nightmare of falling off a bridge. Riding in the car with my parents, looking out the window at the concrete barrier posts of the bridge flashing by, my father inexplicably pulls off to the side of the bridge and stops. I get out, climb the railing (who knows why) and teeter on the edge for some sweat-soaking, scream-inspiring moments before  falling towards the water below. Waking up before I hit, I’m still alive to redream that terror again and again. Hitchcock made Vertigo for a reason.

I’ve made an intense hobby of watching the wing-flap position in every phase of flight to ease my horror in commercial aircraft. My father, an Air Force Senior Master-Sergeant taught me the correct positions to calm me down. Like there would be anything I could do if they were not in the right position. Not that I have avoided heights or flying, I simply recognize my fear and plan for it. On planes,  mostly with wine.

I did however, almost brain an pimply-faced teenager over the Swiss glacier “Les Diablerets”, when  he announced it might be funny if we all bounced up and down in the Volkswagen-sized gondola to …” see what would happen”. I tell you what happened, I froze him in his tracks with one look and he trailed off to contemplate how many times he might bounce if I threw him out the window of the gondola.

He did not know I could fly in my dreams.