Monday, November 12, 2012

Dominique, the LOLs, and Me

I've always loved the old folks around me. One of the things I miss most being here in France is the contact between different generations. Of course families have it, but you can't just walk up to someone here and start even a conversation, much less a relationship, the way you can in the US. Folks in the Paris region are suspicious of anyone who is overly friendly.

Most of my contact with the elderly here is at the salon where I get my hair cut. Dominique's place is always full of little old ladies (LOLs) having their hair permed or curled, or getting the occasional cut. Dominique is a man who's about my age. He lost his beloved wife and business partner to cancer two years ago, and now that his adult sons have fallen in love, his work seems to be his life. The LOLs come in, and they commiserate with him, tease him, and just generally have a great time being pampered and solving the problems of the world. But in return, they step over to the market on Thursday or Sunday morning to pick up his fruits and veggies, or go to the bakery and bring him his baguettes for the day, or to the tabac for his cigarettes . . . When a customer's hair has finished drying, she's bound to have another customer to take the curlers out for her. After Dominique finishes a cut and moves on to the next client, invariably someone else grabs a broom and sweeps up the hair. And the bottom of his mirrored wall is lined with postcards from his clients/friends, showing that they were thinking of him while they were gone.

When I first visited Dominique's place in need of a haircut, I had only been here about a month. I could express myself a little in French, but the really difficult thing was understanding when other people spoke French to me. Gabbing with the clientele at his shop has helped my comprehension a lot (though I still don't understand everything); of course some of that comes with having been in France for three years now. But Dominique is almost as proud of my progress as if he himself had been my sole teacher. When I was in there last weekend, he was once again bragging on my progress.

It's a special service he performs, even though he doesn't realize it. He's making his own stand against the giant corporations of the world, running his own little business and doing so on his own terms. In addition to that, he's created his own little community there of people who might otherwise never even say hello to each other. He promotes goodwill among all people, and for the time that a client is visiting Dominique's, she (or he) can forget about the mad rush of the world outside. He accepts walk-in customers and they accept his version of musical chairs as he directs his LOLs to and from the chairs at the dryers, those at the sinks or the mirror, or even on very busy days the stool behind his desk. They also accept that if they go in at 10:00, it may well be 12:00 before they come out . . . because he does things at his own pace and in his own way. You might think people would get fed up and stay away - but that's not how it is at Dominique's. We keep coming back for more, because it's a great place to be, and there's always good company.


These veggies are about to become part of a pork pie. 

The Old and The "New"

Flowering Quince AKA Chaenomeles
September 03, 2006 - 6:57 AM

As I mentioned early in my blog, I grew up in a small house in the country without all the modern conveniences like running water and plumbing in the house. We had an outdoor toilet and an outdoor shower, both built by my father. We did have running water on the back porch and in the shower, and a spigot just outside the shower as well. We brought water in and heated it to wash dishes and to bathe in, in winter. They were tough times for my folks, and they did the best they could with what they had. I'm very proud of what they accomplished.

 In 1969, my dad hired someone to build an addition to the house. What had been two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen before became four bedrooms. The small "bathroom" and the "heating hall" where the kerosene heater had been located became just a larger hallway. We added running water and plumbing, of course, a large living room, a large kitchen-dining area separated only by a double-sinked counter, two bathrooms, a small hall, and four closets. I was thirteen that year, and that's also the year that we got our first telephone.

But with all these things that were added, there were some things taken away, as well. The window in the old bathroom became just a doorway. I used to sit on top of my mother's closed sewing machine cabinet to look out that window and see my dad arrive home from work. He was there every day just at 5:30. Also from that window, we could sometimes see the movie playing at the local drive-in movie theater, before the pines grew so tall they blocked the view, and before the movie screen fell to pieces once the modern cinemas came to town.

And on a few occasions, when I was very young, my father woke me up and held me up to that window to look outside and see the snow that very rarely fell. "Marthie... want to see some snow?" Now when we have snow here in France where the winters are colder, I look out our kitchen window, checking every few minutes to see if it's snowing yet... and though my dad died in 2000, I still hear, "Marthie? Want to see some snow?"

The back porch was torn off, the old back door filled in, and what we referred to as "the mud hole" was filled in as well. There was an old Firestone sign that my father had rigged to keep the drainage from the back porch sink from splashing up onto the porch and rotting it. The resulting run-off went down its own little path toward the roots of an oak tree my parents had planted there. In the wet earth, there was a stand of yellow-orange-red canna lilies. The tree stayed, but the cannas were cleaned out, and there would be no more digging for earthworms for fishbait at the wetter end of the mud hole.

Also disappearing just in that area, actually where the "new" part of the house stands even now, there was a flowering quince that we always referred to as a "crabtree." It was forgotten for at least twenty-five years, until I opened a Southern Living magazine containing photos of "your grandmother's flowers." I kept looking at those pictures and feeling this emotional reaction that I couldn't understand, until somehow I finally dug it from deep in the back of my mind... it was the same sort of bush we'd had all those years before, before the new part of the house was built. Now every year I look at those flowers that are among spring's first and feel joy that the plants are once again awakening, but also a nostalgia that will always be with me. be continued...

The Back Porch

Looking to the bottom (west) end of the garden.
It's been a busy week. Now where was I? Oh yes . . . things that changed with the new addition to the house.

The back porch was torn down, as I mentioned in Part 1. On the back porch was the washing machine... the old-fashioned kind with a wringer to put the clothes through to remove the excess water. No spin cycle, and no hot water. And on the post nearest the steps, Mama kept her clothespin bag for hanging up the clothes - though sometimes it was magically transformed into a nest for a mama wren with her new family.

As I said in an earlier entry, the back door was locked with a padlock when we weren't at home, and the key was kept hanging on a nail just next to the window. (The front door was locked by a hook and eye holding the screen door closed.) I do remember sitting there on the edge of the back porch, with my legs dangling over the side, eating huge slices of watermelon or double-dipped cones of ice cream to celebrate the Fourth of July. Also on the back porch, just above the steps, was a rifle, kept there for easy access so Mama could come to the rescue in case any of us barefoot children came across poisonous snakes or any other vicious creatures.

Once after supper, my brother and I thought we could get away with playing in the mud in the garden. The earth was rich and moist, and when it rained, the bottom end of the garden was a wonderful place to sink our toes. We'd work our feet into the ground until we were up to our knees in rich black mud. Mama didn't think it was a good idea to do that because of the danger of ringworm (not actually a worm, but a fungus), but we were hard-headed and thought we could get cleaned up before she noticed. The plan was that he would wash off first while I hid. Then when he gave the signal, I'd come out and wash off, and our parents would be none the wiser.

So to wait, I ducked under a big white rose bush that wasn't too close to the house. I looked down to see just how muddy** I was, and lo and behold! right about a foot away there was a copperhead lying there in a heap. I froze in fear. We'd all been taught from a very young age to watch out for copperheads and to recognize the cocoa brown hourglass pattern. I knew I was looking at a poisonous snake that was close enough to bite me if it wanted to. I stood there paralyzed for what seemed like ages, then finally mustered my courage and leapt away and ran like the dickens, shouting for Mama. She heard me yelling and came with the rifle, ridding the place of one more threat to her babies.

 I can't remember whether I was punished for playing in the mud, but I can imagine that Mama was so relieved that I wasn't snakebitten that she just let it go.

 **Ever wonder where the name "Muddy" came from? :D

The Front Porch

*When the new part was added to the house in 1969, the front porch also had to go. What had been under the porch became part of the front yard. On the porch itself, we didn't have a lot of things. Coming out the front door, there was the window to the living room on the right and the window to the bedroom on the left. The television antenna was on the end nearest the driveway, and just beside the antenna there was a cedar tree that had been put there as a Christmas tree and then continued to grow. The steps were directly in front of the door, and I remember always carefully watching overhead for wasps. There were sometimes dirt daubers building nests, but we didn't worry so much about them, because they aren't as aggressive as the red wasps who built their paper nests in the corners. At the other end of the porch was a beautiful deep pink camellia, which is still there on the corner and is covered with blossoms every year. It's a lot bigger now, too. Of course, after more than 35 years, that's not surprising.

And just next to the bedroom window was the porch swing. Like so many things around the place, my dad made it. We spent countless hours in that swing, alone, together, resting, you name it. While my oldest sister was in the house helping my mother prepare meals, my second sister used to sit in the middle of the swing with me on one side and my youngest brother on the other and sing to us. The song that always comes to mind when I think of the swing is "Dark Moon." And what a wonderful place to be during a summer rainstorm! We went inside (and often under a quilt) if there were thunder and lightning, but if it was just rain, we sat there swinging and watching the rain. It was also a great place for telling ghost stories after dark, if the mosquitoes weren't too bad. Bullet, our German shepherd, was usually there, nudging us for a few caresses.

We got Bullet when I was a very little girl, and he was more trustworthy than most humans when it came to protecting me. My dad used to tell people that if they could take me without hurting the dog, they could have me. Bullet walked me down the lane to meet the school bus every morning, and he was there waiting for me every afternoon when the bus dropped me off. If I went to a neighbor's house, he went with me and waited politely and patiently outside until I came back out. Often on Sundays, one of us kids would go home with a cousin, and Bullet would circle the car repeatedly trying to find the missing person. He didn't rest easy until that child was home again.  He could appear out of nowhere if someone came into the yard. They were all right as long as they stayed in front, but he *would not* allow anyone to walk around the corner of the house unless we told him it was all right. And even then he stayed between the child (usually me) and the stranger.

Often in addition to Bullet, Sam the cat was on the porch, too. After much pleading from me and a little persuasion from my Dad's cousin (who needed to get rid of some kittens), we brought Sam home when I was five. Bullet promptly chased him up a tree for the first and only time. We explained to him that Sam was now part of the family and he'd have to get used to it. Before long, the two were playing together. Fairly often when we children were playing on the porch, Bullet would lie down to sleep, Sam would crawl up on his back, and the two would take a nap together. If only I'd had my digital camera then! And if only I had a front porch with a swing now. Those were the days!

Briarberry Pudding

Briarberries, Blackberries, Mûres ~ Delicious by any name!
We used to go picking briarberries* in summer dressed in long pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect us against the briars and mosquitos. We also wore rubber boots (some would call them Wellingtons or wellies) to protect us against snakes such as copperheads or cottonmouths.  We collected the berries in galvanized buckets, eating as many as we wanted and still leaving plenty for mama to make some Briarberry Pudding (recipe below) - and still enough to put some in the freezer too, for later.

I remember one particular time when my brother and I went briarberry picking next to a garden that a neighbor was kind enough to let us use. We had to walk through a field then through the woods to get there. We called it "the other garden." As we were on our way there, when we came out of the woods, we saw that the grass next to the old tobacco barn was really high. One of us commented, "This'd be a good place for a snake!" Sure enough, just a few steps later, we encountered a black snake. No problem, because he wasn't a poisonous one. But there's always that instant of chills running through the blood before the brain kicks in with the information that there's no danger. I suppose we should count ourselves pretty fortunate that we never got bitten by snakes, the way we ran barefoot almost everywhere.

*I didn't learn for years that briarberries were otherwise known as blackberries.  I think briarberries is a much better name for them.

Mama's Briarberry Pudding
2 cups sifted self-rising flour
a good forkful of shortening (1/3 cup)
Enough buttermilk to wet the flour [If you can't find buttermilk, you can use regular milk with a bit of lemon juice or vinegar added - just enough to make it curdle]
1 quart briarberries

Cut shortening into flour. Mix in buttermilk. Fold in blackberries; don't overmix. urn batter into a greased 9x14 baking dish. Bake at 450° F (approx. 235° C) for 30 minutes or until nicely browned.
Serve with butter sauce to taste.

Butter Sauce

1/4 pound butter or margarine
1/2 cup sugar (or 2/3 if you like it a little sweeter)
1/3 cup water

Mix ingredients; melt together over medium heat and bring to a boil before serving as desired over briarberry pudding.

 Eat it while it's hot!

Putting In Tobacco

Tobacco barns are seldom seen today, having been replaced by more modern technology.

From the year when I was 11-going-on-12 to the year when I turned 16, I spent part of each summer at my cousin's house, and we worked "putting in tobacco," also known as "barning tobacco."

The first summer, we worked for a distant cousin we called "Uncle" and his partner TJ. Their wives took turns preparing our lunch - always a spread worthy of royalty, and always accompanied by all the sweet iced tea we could drink. Our employer or one of our co-workers collected us and dropped us off each day. We rode in the back of a pick-up truck... imagine a truckload of teenagers in grubby clothes laughing and having the time of their lives as they rode to or from adult labor that was part of the economic base of the place where we lived. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, I was paid $1.00 an hour. One summer I remember being given $300 when it was all over. I think that was the year I bought my first record player - but most of the money went for school supplies and clothes.

The first summer (1968), I started out as the tractor driver, but graduated to stringer on the right wing, a position that had me touching hands with my cropper Milton Smith, a magnificent pianist who used to play for us during our lunch breaks. He was later hired as pianist for Elvis Presley - unfortunately his first concert playing with Elvis was to be the one scheduled for Fayetteville, North Carolina, in late August 1977.

After that summer, another cousin was our boss; he and a partner farmed 100 acres of the stuff. They ran two harvester teams, five days a week. We worked from about 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a Pepsi/Mountain Dew break (also with the cheese-and-peanut-butter crackers we called "Nabs") in the morning and afternoon, and a lunch break.

Wikipedia gives some good information about the process of harvesting and curing tobacco. The information below which explains my experience comes from that site, and I've omitted the parts that aren't relevant to the years I worked in tobacco. Additional info from me personally is in [brackets]. If you want to know more about it, please visit Wikipedia.

In the nineteenth century, tobacco began to be harvested by pulling individual leaves off the stalk as they ripened. The leaves ripen from the ground upwards, so a field of tobacco may go through several "pullings" before the tobacco is entirely harvested, and the stalks may be turned into the soil. "Cropping" or "pulling" are terms for pulling leaves off tobacco. Leaves are cropped as they ripen, from the bottom of the stalk up. The first crop at the very bottom of the stalks are called "sand lugs", as they are often against the ground and are coated with dirt splashed up when it rains. Sand lugs weigh the most, and are most difficult to work with.

Originally workers cropped the tobacco and placed it on mule-pulled sleds. [We called them "drags," and they were pulled by tractors when I was a child.] Some farmers use "tobacco harvesters" - basically a trailer pulled behind a tractor. The harvester is a wheeled sled or trailer that has seats for the croppers to sit on and seats just in front of these for the "stringers" to sit on. The croppers pull the leaves off in handfuls, and pass these to the "stringer", who loops twine around the handfuls of tobacco and hangs them on a long wooden square pole. Traditionally, the croppers, down in the dark and wet, with their faces getting slapped by the huge tobacco leaves, were men, and the stringers seated on the higher elevated seats were women.

The harvester has places for 4 teams of workers: 8 people cropping and stringing, plus a packer who takes the heavy strung poles of wet green tobacco from the stringers and packs them onto the pallet section of the harvester, plus a tractor driver, making the total crew of each harvester 10 people. Interestingly, the outer seats are suspended from the harvester - slung out over to fit into the aisles of tobacco.

 [Here's how it works for the stringers on the "wings" - or how it worked then: The stringer takes a stick from the bin overhead and loops some twine securely around the end of the stick, then puts it into a holder which is suspended on a slide mechanism. The cropper picks two or three leaves from each stalk of tobacco and hands it up to his stringer, supposedly in manageable bundles. The stringer puts several loops around the first bunch. Then she works in a figure eight motion, stringing the bundles of tobacco to alternating sides of the stick, making sure to keep the string taut. As the stick gets more and more tobacco on it, she pushes the stick away from her for better access to the part where the tobacco is being added. When the stick is full, she wraps the string around the end of the stick several times and breaks the twine. She then yells "Stick!" to get the pallet man's attention, and as the harvester keeps moving, she lifts the heavy stick over the row of tobacco and passes it to him. I sometimes had to lift sticks of tobacco that weighed more than I did. Then the process begins all over again.

Stringers working immediately behind the tractor have it easier because they don't get dragged between two rows of tobacco. They only catch it from one side. Their bin of sticks is between the two of them. Sometimes, someone runs into a problem, such as thread that becomes knotted up or is breaking too easily, a row that may not have been cropped properly the previous week and is therefore heavier than the other rows, or even a snake in the tobacco row. In cases like these, we'd yell, "Whoa!" and the tractor would come to a halt. Once the problem was taken care of, the command was "Go ahead!" Often at the end of the season when all that was left were a few leaves at the tops of the plants, we'd virtually fly through the fields, and sometimes the croppers and stringers would trade places. Kind of like the idea of a powder-puff football game!]

 As these seats are suspended it is important to balance the weight of the 2 outside teams (similar to a playground see-saw). Having too heavy or light a person in an unbalanced combination often results in the harvester tipping over especially when turning around at the end of a lane. [Except in places where the ends of the fields had a lot of open space, I always had to turn the tractor over to someone bigger and stronger than me to make the narrow turns at the ends of the rows. Fortunately, we never had a harvester turn over during my years in the tobacco field.]

 Cropped leaves are immediately transferred to tobacco barns, where they will be cured. Curing methods varies with the type of tobacco grown, and tobacco barn design varies accordingly. Flue-cured tobacco was originally strung onto tobacco sticks, which were hung from tier-poles in curing barns. These barns have flues which run from externally-fed fire boxes, heat-curing the tobacco without exposing it to smoke. Traditional curing barns in the U.S. are falling into disuse, as the trend toward more efficient prefabricated metal "bulk barns", allows greater efficiency. {End of Wikipedia info.}

I learned a lot from my days in the tobacco field. It was there that I learned to be a little less shy - as it was I spent most days blushing beet red because of off-color comments from some of the teenaged boys I worked with. (One of their favorite things to do during breaks was to catch tobacco hornworms and put them down the backs of the older girls. Since I mentioned Milton by name earlier, let me state categorically that he was always a perfect gentleman.) I learned just a little bit about holding my own in discussions, though I'm still learning that almost 40 years later. All in all, even though it was hard, dirty work, I look back on those summers with a smile.

Life Must Go On. No Matter What.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may...
[This was originally written and posted on October 11, 2006.]

Tomorrow is a significant anniversary for me. I've dropped hints here and there to various ones of you that my life has been deeply affected by certain experiences. This is one of them. It's so much a part of me now that trying to pull it out in logical bits really wasn't easy, but I've done my best. It's long, and it's not a happy story. I won't think any less of you if you decide not to finish, or to skip it entirely. I've changed the names to protect people's privacy.

It was on tomorrow's date in 1995 - Thursday, October 12 - that one of the students in the high school where I worked as library media specialist was supposed to come back to school with his mother. The day before, I had been in the conference room next to the principal's office taking down a television set after a meeting. I saw Mr. Smith and the student (I'll call him Pete) go into Mr. Smith's office. Pete's bus driver had brought him back to the school after a parent stopped the school bus complaining that Pete was making obscene gestures at her, or, as we say, "shooting her the bird."

I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but I heard a fair amount of Mr. Smith's side of the conversation: Mr. Smith: Pete, what were you thinking? You knew you were on probation. You knew you could get into a lot of trouble! Pete: [mumbled response] Mr. Smith: Okay, Pete. Come back in here tomorrow morning with your mother, and let's see what we can work out. Okay? Pete: [mumbled response] Mr. Smith and Pete left the office, and I thought nothing more about it.

The following morning, I went to work with a headache. Things were often quiet in the media center after the initial buzz before the start of the school day. Sometimes during first period, I'd go up to the front of the building to the teacher workroom in the office area to get a soft drink to wash down my headache medicine. But that day, I had some Mello Yello left in my little fridge from the previous day. Otherwise, I would've headed up to the school office right about 8:15.

While I was up in my own little office washing down my ibuprofen, I heard Mr. Smith's voice come over the intercom in a tone I'd never heard before: "Teachers, keep all students in the classroom. DO NOT LET STUDENTS LEAVE THE CLASSROOM FOR ANY REASON." There was more, but I didn't really hear the rest. I'm afraid that between the headache and the fact that I was upstairs in my office with the door closed, I missed the last part. I later learned that it was "Lock your doors and stay in the classroom!"

Now, I had two students in the media center at that particular time. Because in the school's emergency management plan, the male teachers were asked to report to the office, I took the two students and went next door to the auditorium where Coach H's students were listening to a guest speaker, Mrs. Fast. I asked Coach H if he was going to the office (he hadn't looked at the plan, apparently) and told him I'd stay with his students. Mrs. Fast and I did our best to keep the students seated and calm, but there were strange noises coming from the intercom, which hadn't been turned off after Mr. Smith's urgent announcement.

There was something about someone having been shot. Each time the students asked me what was going on, I had to say (honestly) that I didn't know. Eventually, one of the coaches came around and told me that a teacher had been shot, that another teacher (Mrs. Simpson) had had a fatal heart attack, and that Pete had been shot dead. Refusing to believe that people had been killed in my school until I heard it from Mr. Smith, I wasn't about to pass on this information to the students.

But they were getting pretty restless. We could see from the window in the door of the auditorium that law enforcement and other emergency vehicles were gathering in front of the school. After a while, the decision was made to send the students home, and someone was sent door-to-door letting the teachers know, but apparently they forgot about us in the auditorium. At last someone came around and we were out of there, trying to find out what was going on.

I found some other teachers wandering around at the back of the gym. I told them that I'd heard Mrs. Simpson and Pete were dead. Another teacher told me that Mr. Smith had confirmed it to her. With that info, I was forced to accept that this nightmare was real. By this time, most of the students had taken a bus, been picked up by concerned parents who were getting frantic phone calls or hearing things over the police scanner, or set off on foot, as so many of our students walked to school.

Teachers were asked to stay on campus for a discussion session before going home. Those were agonizing moments, waiting for that meeting. They said we'd be meeting in my library media center, so I headed in that direction. As I was walking, I heard the sound of an approaching helicopter. My first thought was that it was the media - vultures swooping in to take advantage of the chaos that had broken loose in our little corner of the world. I was incredibly angry. My first impulse on reaching the library was to start sweeping books off the shelves - you can't know what a great desire I had to do that! - but my rational side reminded me that if I did it, there'd be no one but me to pick them up and reorganize them. So I resisted the temptation.  At some point I went into the library office and called my (now ex-)husband to tell him that I was all right. (Later I learned that someone had called a colleague's husband and told him that a teacher had been killed, but didn't tell him who. He was frantic, but he was lucky - it wasn't his wife.)

Eventually the rest of the faculty joined me in the library. It was a totally surreal experience, because in addition to this situation that only happens somewhere else to other people, it was our Homecoming Spirit Week, when students and any faculty who cared to participate dressed for the daily theme; Thursday had been designated "Tacky Day." The students enjoyed seeing teachers lighten up a bit, and it was fun, so I participated when I could find something appropriate to wear - and Tacky Day was easy. When this day and its reverberations were over, I threw away the clothes I had worn that day. I never could bring myself to put them on again. And while I eventually participated in Spirit Week in later years, I could never again bring myself to dress up for Tacky Day.

In the meeting, our principal Mr. Smith did his best to explain what had happened. Pete shot a teacher in the face, and that teacher was still alive. Mrs. Simpson opened the door to the teacher workroom, stepped in, saying, "He's got a gun. I've been shot." Then she collapsed and died. (At the time, we were told she'd had a heart attack. Later we learned that Pete had shot her as well. The entry wound hadn't been found at first because it was under her arm and the bullet apparently cauterized the wound - so there was no blood.)  Then Pete shot and killed himself.  Also in the meeting, we were asked not to talk with the press. School would be closed the following day, but teachers were asked to come for counseling sessions and to offer support to any students who wanted or needed it.

On Friday, we met first at the school. Everyone waited for others and walked in in groups of three or more, because no one was quite ready to go walking through those halls alone. Then we were bused to the community center, where we met with the entire school district - only three schools. I felt rather lost, because Mrs. Simpson was one of the people I usually sat with, and went to lunch with, on days when we didn't have students. And though I was so terribly sad, I couldn't cry. My headache from the previous morning had never gone away, my heart was breaking, and I couldn't cry.

I remember a little about that day of meetings and debriefings, nothing of the weekend, and not much clearly for a long time after the shooting. But here's one thing I remember very well: On Monday after the shooting on Thursday, the students came back. We all agreed that it was best to get them back to a "normal" routine as much as possible, as soon as possible. My library was being used as a counseling center. I just sort of ran errands and did anything I could to help. At lunchtime, I went to the cafeteria. I saw that we had a choice of puddings for dessert... chocolate, and what I thought was vanilla. I was in a very vanilla mood, so I took the yellowish pudding. After eating the rest of my meal, I took a bite of the pudding. It wasn't vanilla; it was banana.

And that's when the dam burst. I started to cry, after all this trauma, over being given banana pudding which I had thought was vanilla. And I couldn't stop. I left the cafeteria and went into my little office and I must've cried for more than an hour. That was the only time for months, maybe even years after the shooting, that I was able to have a normal cry. On the wall in my bedroom I still have a souvenir of those days after the shooting. It's a framed greeting card from a guidance counselor by the name of DT (I remember because he has the same name as the Wendy's guy) who used my library as his center of operations. And he sent this card to say "Thank you" to ME! He may never know just how much it meant to me, how much it still means to me.

Those days were so hard. I got to a point where I didn't want to go to any conferences or any other extracurricular activities, because every time I mentioned where I was from, people wanted to talk about the shooting, and I just couldn't deal with it. But I learned something from all this. I learned, whether it's the right lesson or not, that we can do everything right, the best we can, and one day we still won't come home, for whatever reason. A plane could fall out of the sky, a bomb could go off... there are a gazillion things that could happen. And so, because anything can happen to anybody at any time, it's useless to sit locked into a little room somewhere waiting for it to happen - if we do that, we might as well be dead already. We MUST NOT allow ourselves to be controlled by fear. We have to LIVE our lives while we have the chance.

So much has happened since that day in 1995. For as long as I could, I took roses to Mrs. Simpson's grave on the anniversary of her death. For a while, I was clinically depressed. but I've recovered; I got a divorce and later remarried, and now I live a great distance away from where it all happened. Our district superintendent retired at the end of that year. Mr. Smith, the principal, moved into the superintendent's position, then died in 1997 of a massive heart attack. His successor died of a massive stroke, after less than a year in the position. A series of deaths of our students (five died in automobile accidents or due to injuries sustained in such accidents) and faculty (an exemplary teacher died of cancer) followed.

Since then, there have also been numerous school shooting incidents in the USA, three of them in the last couple of weeks. It makes me incredibly sad that apparently we've still learned nothing. Deranged people still have easy access to guns. We still send our young men and women off to kill other mothers' children and to come home whole if they're lucky, in body bags if they're not. We still have a long way to go.

Ghost Stories

Ghost sitting next to a little girl in costume, Vaux-le-Vicomte
When I was in college, I lived in a dorm with a kitchen and a bathroom in the basement. From my first day there, I heard all sorts of ghost stories, but I never put much stock in what people told me. No such thing as ghosts, right?

My junior year, I used to spend a lot of time with my friend J. She and I sometimes shared cans of soup or batches of popcorn, but this one particular day, we decided to whip up a Chef Boy-ar-dee pizza from a kit. We took everything we needed all the way down the hall to the opposite end of the dorm, then down two flights of stairs to the basement. As usual, I left my door open. I had nothing worth stealing, and it made it easier for me.

Once we got there and started looking at the things we needed to do, I realized I'd forgotten my can opener. I went back up to my room to get it... and found the door to my room not only shut, but locked. Now it would be easy enough to say that the door had simply closed because of a draft and locked when it shut... but no. These doors had deadbolts that could only be locked with a key... or from inside, by hand. There were transom windows over the doors which made it fairly easy to play pranks on our friends... but mine had been painted shut and was still very stuck.

I spent quite some time searching for our "Resident Assistant" who had the right to borrow the passkey from the housemother. But she wasn't around anywhere. Then I tried to find the housemother, who was gone for the day. After much impatient waiting, she came back and I asked her to let me into my room. She chided me for losing my key. I assured her that if she opened my door, I'd show her exactly where my key was... I always kept it in the drawer in my desk. She was pretty surprised to see that my key was exactly where I'd promised it would be.

Now I didn't have a roommate to pull jokes on me... and the passkey had been safely in the purse of the housemother, in her possession, all day. But my door was locked... either with a key... or from the inside. I never found a solution to how my door was locked that day...

But there were three nights in a row, when, at precisely 3 a.m., I was awakened by a very ceremonious knock on my door. And each time, I went to the door and opened it to find no one there. I checked the vacant rooms and listened at doors for telltale giggles, but never found any explanation for that either. After the third night, I spent the night in my friend J's room. At 8 a.m., I heard a knock at the door and saw her get up and go to the door and listened to her speaking at length with someone. Of course, later, when I asked her who'd stopped by, she told me she hadn't been up.

A friend of mine, C., my best buddy since we were 7 years old, rented a house from DT, a mutual friend of ours. It was old. She told me about awakening one night when someone grabbed her around her waist. She was terrified, but came up with her elbow flying back to inflict maximum damage. There was no one there.

 This was the same house where I went to stay with her for a couple of weeks. On a Sunday afternoon, I was waiting for my boyfriend. I fell asleep in the middle of the floor waiting for him. It was hot, and so I had the screen latched and the wooden door was left open. I awoke to a gentle, loving tug on my shoulder. Groggily I wondered how my boyfriend had managed to get inside... but once again, as you can imagine, there was no one there.

 Another time, when my friend had her boyfriend over, I slept on the screened-in balcony in a hammock. Sometime in the middle of the night, I "awoke" to know that one of them had come out for air, or to go the toilet, or something, and was standing there watching me sleep. I felt safe and secure and didn't worry at all. I was sure it was my friend C. Again, in the morning, they both denied having left the room.

 Also in this house, I brought my little garden of potted plants. I placed them all around the porch facing the south and watered them faithfully. One day, while C. was in the kitchen doing dishes, she heard a horrible cacophany of breaking glass. Her first thought was for my precious plants. She went dashing out to see the damage the wind had done... but everything was fine. Not a leaf out of place. When I came home, we searched the sidewalk and the street, we searched the vacant first floor of the house... and we found not the first bit of broken glass, anywhere.

 Funny how all her experiences were aggressive or hostile, and all mine were sort of curious and/or friendly. All of that can be explained away if someone really wants to, I'm sure. But it still gives me chills to think about it.

 Even worse, though, was when my friend J. got married and moved into an old house in our hometown. Apparently the owner/architect (by the time she rented it, deceased) had been terribly proud of this house built to withstand hurricanes. And it had been remodeled before she rented it, also from DT. Before her baby was born, she and her husband spent a great deal of time preparing the nursery. She had no A/C in the house, but she said that when she went into the nursery, it was like ice, though the temperature outside was a hot and humid 95° F (35°C). Their dog slept every night just outside on the porch under the bedroom window. One night, her husband woke to strange sounds and saw a strange face looking in at him through that window... right where the dog slept. Of course when he stepped out to investigate, the dog was there, sleeping soundly.

 But the worst was after the baby came. They had an 11x14 photo of him hanging in the hall. One day they came home from church to find the photo on the floor... which one could understand... things do fall, sometimes. But not only was the frame splintered and the glass shattered; the photo itself was ripped apart into hundreds of tiny pieces. They moved out, immediately.

 Explain it away... but you'll never persuade me that it was all "nothing." Happy Halloween!
November 05, 2006 - Gone, But Not Forgotten Nov 5, '06 6:49 AM for everyone Yesterday was my dad's birthday. Had he managed to get through life without emphysema or asthma, maybe he would've been 89 yesterday. But he never wanted to be dependent on others. He wanted to take care of himself as much as he could. And that he did... to the extent that it was possible. Even with the limitations placed on him by his illness (including being on oxygen), he still got up and got dressed every day, even if only in pajamas. He came to the table for his meals rather than asking my mother to bring them to him in bed, or even in the recliner. In 1996, he was tentatively and preliminarily diagnosed with lung cancer. He wasn't expected to live more than three months, and many people were not betting on three weeks. But he refused the possibility of chemotherapy and radiation; indeed, he refused the biopsy. He filed a "do not resuscitate" order with his doctors and was sent home to die. Hospice came in and provided as much as possible to make him comfortable... and he proceeded to surpass everyone's expectations by living four more years. A few months after hospice told him he'd lived too long and they could no longer treat him, he became ill with double pneumonia, and he died on March 21, 2000. My father was born in 1917. He grew up hard on a farm and was a child when the Great Depression came along. When Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, my dad was there. He served in the US Army Air Corps through the end of the war, and he and my mother were married in June 1946. He was a hard-working man whose education came first from high school (back then they only had 11 years of public schooling), and then the School of Life took over. He had been a machinist in the military, and he continued to work at that in civilian life. His days were spent at the machine shop, and his evenings and weekends from March to November were spent working in the garden. We never had a lot in the way of material things, but we always had something to eat, even if it might not have been just what we wanted. We never had to go to bed hungry. My father was also very economical. He never threw anything away if there was a ghost of a chance it could be used for something else down the line. When the environmental movement came along chanting, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle", they didn't have to work hard at all to enlist the cooperation of my siblings and me. It was already a way of life for us. Above you can see bits and pieces of odds and ends that my dad collected over the years... and you'd be surprised at how often all those little things came in handy when making a repair or building something! And one of the things he built, long ago (I can't remember when it wasn't there) was the packhouse. I wrote about it some time ago, but I mention it again because it's where the vegetables he and my mother grew (with some assistance from us kids) were stored in the freezer for the winter. It was also a place for keeping lots of other things... but I've already written about that. Sometimes I think about how lost most people would be if they had to be even half as self-sufficient as my dad was. Myself included. This is just to say that I have a great deal of admiration for the man who gave me life. He's gone now, but he'll never be forgotten.

Happy birthday, Mama (December 2006)

One of Mama's discoveries at the beach last week.

Childhood toys

As a child growing up the youngest of a family of five kids, I didn't have a lot of toys. The oldest one I can remember was a bedraggled stuffed dog named Fluffy. He was white with black ears. Even in my earliest memories, his name no longer suited him, because he fit perfectly under my arm and I carried him around with me everywhere - all the fluff was long gone from constant doses of hugging and snuggling. I can vaguely remember when he still had one brown plastic eye. And then there were Marcie and Ellen (pictured above - I've had her for more than 45 years now). My baby dolls didn't come in a box that said, "Drinks, Wets, Walks, Talks!" - but they could do anything I wanted them to, thanks to my imagination. Of course, in those days, all good little girls grew up to be nurses, teachers, secretaries, or mommies - or a combination of a couple of those titles - or maybe all of those rolled into one. I played house in an area drawn in the dirt with a stick. Or on those wonderful occasions when I could find string, I made walls by tying the string to nearby bushes, sticks pounded into the ground, nails that were working their way loose from the packhouse, or lawn mower handles. Marcie and Ellen were my children, and they sat quietly and obediently while I made spaghetti from the little "flowers" from the pine tree, or their favorite - chocolate mud pies. On weekends, sometimes my cousin (and best friend) would come home with me from church, and of course I shared my dolls with her. One particular Sunday, she had the nerve to spank MY doll. I can't remember why... just that I chased her all over the yard. Don't remember whether I caught her, and if I did, what I did next. I remember only that I was tremendously upset that she had punished my child. My brothers had different toys, of course - no dolls for them! Bro #2 had a toy rifle. In fact I think we all had cap guns and water pistols, and we often played cowboys-and-Indians or cops-and-robbers. There were lots of places to hide, lots of trees and bushes and outbuildings. Once I remember Bro #2 chasing me around the house with his rifle. Round and round we ran... and as I was making my way around the back of the house for the second or third time, with Bro #2 in hot pursuit, someone yelled that our aunt had arrived. I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around to go back, and when I did, Bro #2 slammed into my face with that toy rifle. My left eyebrow still has the scar. In those days, life was so different. We didn't have much in the way of material things, but, oh, the things we could imagine! These days, I have my computer to "play" with. It gives me freecell, spider solitaire, and lots of other ways to waste time. I generally choose the computer over television - here we have five channels; no cable or satellite reception. And my computer links me to the world - including 360. What kinds of toys did you play with as a child?

School Days

Littlefield High School, Lumberton, NC

Beachcombing ~ a poem


Shadows, July 2000

To sleep, perchance to dream...


One more injured toe.  I have a collection.

When I was a child, I wore shoes as little as possible. I went barefoot in the house, in the yard, in the woods, and anywhere else anyone would let me. I loved the feel of the cool grass beneath my feet, or the mud squishing between my toes in the lower end of the garden after a summer rain.

My mother preferred that I wear shoes, but if I put them on, generally they didn't stay on long if I was at home. Even in winter. Once I remember I was walking around the house with no shoes, and Mama said, "Get something on your feet!" I went and found my brother's old swim fins and came flapping into the kitchen. She finally noticed after I sat down on the step-stool by the stove. Fortunately she laughed about it... she still does.

I asked her one time why I had to wear shoes, and she told me that it was too early in the year to go barefoot. So, Little Miss Curious that I was, I asked what time of year was the right time to put the shoes aside. I think she wanted to give me a noncommittal answer when she told me, "You can go barefoot after you see the first bumblebee." Well, of course I never forgot it, and every year I was on the alert for bumblebees - which we generally associate with flowers and springtime, right?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I got off the bus one day last week wearing my teal-and-plum parka, as it was windy and rainy and somewhat cold (it is, after all, January in the northern hemisphere)... and what should I see but a big roly-poly bumblebee buzzing around me a couple of times checking to see whether I was a flower! I've already told my colleagues that if I should come to work one day minus the shoes, they'll have to talk to my mother about it. That bumblebee might have been lost, but he was right there practically in my face, and I just can't ignore the things my mother told me, can I?

Note: There've been a few times I really should've had my shoes on... like in 3rd grade when I jumped rope at school with no shoes and drove a roofing tack all the way to its head into my foot. Or one Sunday morning when I was playing in the "new ground" my dad was clearing and gouged the side of my foot with a freshly-cut root. Or when I broke my little toe running down the hall and into the living room, banging it into the corner of an old tabletop (minus the legs) we used to use for checkers, puzzles, dominoes, etc.

Mothers generally do know best, really.
Comparing life in rural Carolina to life in my Wrinkle-in-the-Outskirts of Paris is like comparingwatermelons and lemons. If you search hard enough, you can find some similarities, but there are many differences. Growing up in the Carolinas, when we passed someone on the road, we greeted them with a wave or a nod and a smile, even if it was someone we didn't know. It's just the way it was. We said hello to the people we met, and we complimented people on their children, their gardens, and anything else we felt moved to recognize. Here, that sort of thing is seen as eccentric at best when talking to people we don't know. I pass by one woman's house every day on my way to the bus stop and other times when I go to the bakery, hairdresser's, pharmacy, or the fruit and vegetable market. She has a wall around her yard, but she also has openings in it where we can see through into the yard. Often the gate is open, and sometimes I've seen her standing out there talking to other little old ladies as I've walked by. One day when she was outside and didn't seem to be terribly busy, I stopped and told her what beautiful flowers I had seen growing in her "garden." In the Carolinas, it would've been well-received with a smile and a thank-you, but this lady's only reaction was a somewhat ferocious, "Where do you live?!?" I pointed to the end of the street and told her, "There." ... but she said not another word. Lemon. I haven't given up yet, though. I think many people are simply afraid. I try not to overdo it with eye contact and smiles, though old habits die hard. One day this week coming home from the other bus stop, I saw a man outside a house where I've often noticed a tree that seems unique to me. I decided to give it a shot - I asked the man if he knew the name of it and told him how unusual and pretty I thought the tree was. I was very pleased that he didn't snap at me at all; instead we had a pleasant if brief conversation in which he explained a little about the tree - araucaria, commonly known to the French as "monkey's despair" because the leaves are razor sharp and monkeys can't climb this one (or to the English as "monkey puzzle", as I later found out) - and complimented me on my French. He didn't know the origin of the trees, but said that they're common in Bretagne (Brittany). I came home and looked up the French name, "déséspoir des singes", on the internet and found that they're native to Chile. Watermelon. Another kind gentleman, when I told him how beautiful his flowering quince was and how it reminded me of my childhood, not only agreed to let me take pictures of it, but also offered to give me some cuttings to root. I thanked him profusely but declined because our apartment really isn't a good place for growing a big bush like that. The south terrace is far too hot and sunny in summer, and the north terrace doesn't get enough sun. Ah well... his kindness was as sweet as any bouquet could've been! Watermelon. Don't get me wrong. Lemons have their uses and their place, and the world is better for their existence. But isn't it refreshing to find watermelons from time to time as well?
As those of you who've been reading me for a long time already know, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the South Pacific theatre of operations during World War II. At Midway, he was on a plane that got one of its engines shot out. With half a tank of gas, they headed for Hawaii to get it fixed. They heard an air raid siren and calculated there might be just enough fuel to get there. As they started taxiing out, a piece of shrapnel went through the "tail tire." The plane took off with the three engines operating. As they came off the runway, the tail of the plane went into the ocean and picked up 25 feet of phone line from Midway. Fortunately for me and my four brothers and sisters, he lived to tell the tale. He died in March of 2000, carrying most of his war stories with him to the grave. He never glorified his role in the war - I didn't even know anything about it until I was 15 years old. And even then he didn't talk about it much. The folks who've been there know that there's no glory in war - it's just a lot of regular guys trying to do the best they can under horrific circumstances. I can count on one hand the times I saw my father cry in the 43 years that I knew him. Only one time was it not associated with reminders of the war (that time was related to my grandmother). The most wrenching moment was when my ex-husband gave him a model of a B-17 or B-27 bomber - I'm afraid I can't remember which. It brought back so many memories for him, as he was a machinist's mate and his job was to keep the planes in working order. I know that a lot of today's volunteers join up for a chance to escape from poverty - I saw it so many times as the recruiters visited the high school where I worked in SC for 25 years. Others buy the line about seeing the world, learning a skill. Some do it for the promise of money for education. And yes, there are still a lot who feel that it's their patriotic duty to save their country from The Bad Guys. But I firmly believe that most of them haven't the slightest idea what they're signing up for. If they knew The Truth, the numbers would be a lot lower.

Charlie's Angels to the Rescue! April 26, 2007

Sapeurs-Pompiers de France:  Firemen and First Responders
May 13, 2007 - Happy Mother's Day, Mama! May 13, '07 6:05 AM for everyone The following is an essay I wrote as an assignment for a teacher recertification course I took a few years ago (while I was still living in the US and working as a teacher) - the topic I chose from among several possibilities was "My Best Teacher". The sentiments expressed haven't changed a bit. My Best Teacher As an individual who has always possessed boundless curiosity, I've been fortunate enough to encounter many diverse teachers over the course of my life. I've had the opportunity to learn from some skillful career educators, and I've also learned from others who flew by the seat of their pants. But the best teacher I ever had was not even in the profession, and her education only took her as far as high school graduation. She was (and is) my mother, and I'm so thankful for the many things I've learned from her. My mother grew up in the Depression years, a child whose father had died when she was a toddler. Her family moved around quite a bit, and at the age of eleven she went to live with her sister when her mother remarried; nevertheless, she earned a solid high school education complete with the core courses plus home economics, music, French, and other electives. But so much of what she learned and consequently taught me did not come from her textbooks. The most important things I learned from her were a love of learning, a love of nature, and a love of my fellow man. Both my parents were firm believers in the power of the printed word. My father often said, "If you can read, you can educate yourself." But it was Mama who sat down with us children every night and read to us from the big red Bible Story Book. She brought the characters to life, and even in my earliest years I was overcome with emotion when she read the story of Solomon threatening to cut a baby in half so that he could learn the identity of the true mother. It was my mother who spent every day and night answering the countless questions of my siblings and myself, many of them starting with "How come...?" And it was my mother who sat with us on cold or rainy days showing us the pictures in the old set of encyclopedias our aunt had given us, and waiting patiently while we flipped pages and searched out the answers to the questions that arose as we read and observed. Living just outside the city limits, we had plenty of opportunities to learn about nature firsthand. I remember first of all my mother's love of flowers. We would walk down to the ditchbank where we would see hundreds, perhaps thousands, of violets growing wild. Mama encouraged us to enjoy their beauty but to let them grow so others could enjoy them too. At night, she would take us outside and show us the glory of the heavens, pointing out the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and other constellations. She taught us to respect the birds and other wildlife around us, even going so far as to forbid us to harm nonpoisonous snakes. I'll never forget her remorse when a neighbor with a garden nearby persuaded her that she should kill a black snake. She brought out the rifle and managed to wound the snake's jaw when she hit the frog it had in its mouth. For years she worried that she had made the poor thing starve to death. My mother also taught me about love for other people. She was shy and reserved, but never hesitated to do what she believed to be the right thing. She often prepared meals for her in-laws; my grandfather had been an invalid since suffering a heat stroke before I was born, and his wife stayed by his side except to go to church or to the doctor. Mama worked hard in the garden but never hesitated a second to share whatever she and my father had grown with kinfolk and neighbors. And when we children had friends over near mealtime, as it often happened, she would tirelessly fry cake after cake of cornbread and let them get their fill before ever piling up the plate for our dinner. But the lesson in love that I found the most moving was when I told her about a classmate of mine who never had any lunch money, nor anything to eat from home. Mama gave me the money each week to take to our fifth-grade teacher, and insisted that no one should know about it, so that little girl could eat each day without giving up any of her pride. She didn't do it for recognition, or for reward--she did it out of love for a child she didn't even know. (And she took a pretty good risk that if my father ever found out he'd have raised the roof.) Yes, my students seem to think I'm pretty smart--full of all sorts of information, some useful, some not so useful. But they know, or should, as often as I remind them, that by no means do I know everything. Still, they know that I will go to great lengths to try to help them find what they need, whether from books or through our school's computer network. But I owe all the credit to my first and best teacher, my mother, who taught me to love the world I live in, to love learning about it, and most of all to love the other people who share it with me. Thanks, Mama. ====== p.s. I sent a copy of this to my mother. Her reply? > I always knew that I was saved for something, after running in front of a > car, being knocked out and into a ditch with several inches of water in > it, suffering a broken leg,being unconscious for a week, and goodness > only knows what else. Thank YOU!

A Visit to England

June 28, 2007 - Home Again Jun 28, '07 6:07 AM for everyone On Tuesday night at midnight Digi and I arrived back home after a week's stay in England. It was lovely visiting with his family for the first time in three years. Last time, Brian and Irene had met us at the Liverpool airport. This time we flew into Liverpool and then went by bus to the Broad Green train station (well, most of the way; we walked a bit, too). From there, the rest of the journey was by train with a couple of changes. Someone had vandalized some switching equipment, which caused at least two trains to be canceled, but the man at the ticket window said there wouldn't be any problem with our tickets if we changed our itinerary a bit. Fortunately for us, he was right. Upon leaving Broad Green a little early, we hoped that we might be able to reach our destination in Cumbria early as well, but that was not to be, as we had almost an hour's wait at the station in Lancaster. Upon arrival at our final stop, we were warmly greeted and treated to a traditional meal from a local fish'n'chips shop. Landlubber that I am, I had a chicken pie with my chips. After a brief visit, our most generous chauffeur (Brian) deposited us at Jean and Ken's place, a house built in 1672 (no typo... it's *16*72 - see the photo of the stone below), where we spent the week when we weren't out gallivanting. Jean (Digi's cousin) and Ken were away for a few days, but they came back on Friday, and so we were able to visit with them, too. And late on Saturday night, Jax arrived as well. It had only been a year (!already!) since we'd seen her, but we were nevertheless very happy to see her again! View from the back garden: Some of the things we did this time included celebrating Digi's birthday at the Stagger Inn, having lunch in Hawkshead (where the church above is located), ambling throught the lovely garden center in Ambleside (next to Lake Windermere), strolling the country lanes near the villages, making chutney with Irene (recipe to follow tomorrow), and finally experiencing a formal afternoon tea (below) at a posh hotel in Ambleside. There was also a fair amount of communing with nature, as this was such a beautiful rural setting. Before Tea: and After: We left earlier than we really needed to for our homeward journey on Tuesday, because when we were buying tickets we knew absolutely nothing about how much time it took for anything. Waving goodbye to Jax, Irene, and Brian, we got on the train at about 12:40 local time (1:40 p.m. French time). We took the train to Lime Street Station on the way back, and found it much simpler that way. Much less lugging of the suitcases. We were at the Liverpool John Lennon Airport by 4 p.m. with about three hours to kill. Digi smoked a few cigarettes and I took a few pictures. We did some browsing in the shops and ate our first commercial hamburgers in quite some time. After a blissfully uneventful flight, we were back in Paris. The hitch was that we had to wait quite a while at the Gare du Nord to catch a train back to our little Wrinkle-in-the-Outskirts. We arrived at our station around 11:30 p.m., and finally made it home at midnight with the help of Pat and Charlie*, who had already been pooped when we left the station. It was good to spend time with everyone. They are so open and accepting. The downside is that it makes me a bit homesick for my own family in the US when we see Digi's family - and for both families when we come back to France. I guess the best solution is to arrange so that it won't be so long between visits - not easy when everyone lives so far apart. And when we plan our next trip, we have to remember what we learned this time to ensure the least possible lugging of the suitcases. * For the uninitiated, Pat and Charlie are how we referred to our feet as transportation (at least, we did in NC when I was growing up).
I love tacos. I think the first time I had them was when I was about 10 or 11 years old, at my aunt's house. They seemed absolutely heavenly to me. In high school, my best friends and I used to get together and make them ourselves, but at that time, as far as we knew, the ready-made spice mix for the sauce wasn't available. So we did our best to come up with our own. We tried ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, garlic, chili powder, salt and pepper, and anything else that came to mind that might be what we needed. But there was always just a little "oomph" that was missing. It wasn't until I was on my own and making my first batch of chili con carne that I discovered what it was. The instant I opened the spice box, I knew that cumin was the ingredient we had sought in vain. (Of course, by that time, Old El Paso was selling the seasoning and sauce, as well as the taco shells, in our NC grocery stores. Now there's a much wider range of products, available even in France where most people aren't crazy about spicy foods.) The first time I had tacos with sour cream was in 1977 when I spent the summer in Carson City, Nevada. Wonderful! Of course, in my book, for a taco to be The Real Deal, it has to have the meat cooked in spices, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and sauce. Sour cream is nice, but not mandatory. And the last thing I discovered for revving up my tacos was guacamole. I don't remember just when or where I found it, but I love it... with tacos or fajitas, or even just with tortilla chips (plain, please... the nacho cheese flavor overpowers or clashes with the dip). (Now, fajitas are another story, with their pico de gallo... but that's for a different day.)

Thoughts on War and Peace (September 11, 2007)

This is a reprint of last year's September 11 blog. I think it's still absolutely valid, perhaps even more so, with the threat of war with Iran looming on the horizon. Somehow as nations make war against what they decry as evil, evil seems to thrive (on both sides of the conflict) while so many innocents are killed or horrendously maimed for life. Young men who are just beginning to find their place in the world are taken from their families - and far too many never return. September 11, 2006: In my request to September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows for permission to use the following statement, I wrote: "I am troubled by our president's empire-building... but I'm even more troubled by the people whose comments I read advocating bombing Middle Eastern countries back into the Stone Age. The brother-in-law of my matron of honor (at my wedding in 2000) was one who lost his life at the Pentagon in 2001. I continue to grieve for all of those who died and were injured, physically, mentally, and spiritually, as well as for those who lost loved ones. But I don't believe that more violence against innocents will solve the problem." I've just received permission: "Absolutely, spread it far and wide." So here it is, the point of view expressed by many families who are at the heart of the matter. My sincerest wish is for peace in our time. September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows 9/11/06 Statement On September 11th, 2001, members of our families became civilian casualties of terrorism. And while we grieved their loss, we were seized by the urgent desire to spare other families, in any part of the world, the suffering that we were experiencing. In expressing these desires, we heard from others who saw us as kindred spirits. They were from places like Israel and Palestine, Japan, Northern Ireland and South Africa. Each had suffered a similar loss - ”from the terrorism of war and atomic weapons, to the terrorism of state-sponsored violence. Hearing from them, we learned that we were not alone. We also learned that the deaths of our family members, although unique in circumstance, were far from unique in human history. The means were different, but the results were still the same: innocent people dying, families torn apart, traditions and histories cut short. We came to see our losses as happening in a bigger context, one that cut across national boundaries and the confines of time. From those who reached out to us after 9/11, we developed a sense of responsibility to all those who suffered as the result of 9/11: immigrants and other people perceived to be terrorists, targeted by hate crimes and hateful legislation; those who suffered in terrorist attacks from Bali to Beslan; those killed in the train bombings in Madrid and London; and those in Afghanistan and Iraq who continue to suffer under occupation and the terror of war. Today, five years after September 11th, 2001, we see clearly that civilian casualties overwhelmingly have been the common denominator in all that has taken place. We see that the path we have taken has created a world that is less safe, less humane, and less likely to survive. Where we saw children in mortal danger from unexploded cluster bombs in Afghanistan, we now see children in mortal danger from cluster bombs in Lebanon. Where we saw the brutality and inhumanity of Saddam Hussein, we now see the same brutality and inhumanity occurring under U.S. occupation, in Fallujah, in Haditha, in Abu Ghraib. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.... The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation." We have seen those words become a sad reality. In the days immediately following September 11th, 2001, the world came together with a sense of mutual humanity and mutual purpose. Five years later, we are in a death spiral of increasing violence, increasing terrorism, and increasing civilian casualties. In the days immediately following September 11th, Iranians risked negative consequences by holding spontaneous candlelight vigils for those who had died in America. Five years later, Iran is in the crosshairs of America's next war. In the days immediately following September 11th, the United States could have asked the world to do anything for us. The U.S. government has instead generated anger, fear, death, and profound grief. On the fifth anniversary of September 11th, 2001, we believe it is time for America to end the cycle of violence. It is time for the United States to become a positive force in world affairs. The hope we felt from those who reached out to us - ”those who had, like us, been touched by terrorism, violence and war, continues to resonate. These people, who have been so deeply affected by loss, have a wisdom from which we continue to benefit. It is their wisdom, their strength, and their stories that have kept us going. And it is their wisdom, their strength, and their stories that we hope to share with people across the United States. This year, we have brought to the U.S. 30 people from around the world who have been personally affected by terrorism, violence and war and have chosen to break the cycle of violence. All of us have chosen acts of peace rather than acts of violent revenge. Together, we will create an international network that will share ideas, initiatives and actions. This network will become one of many new efforts to do what the United States could have, and should have, done five years ago: join in common purpose with the rest of the world to end the scourge of civilian casualties - ”the lost children, broken families and futures that have always been the unacknowledged byproducts of violence and war. As we did five years ago, and as we do today, we stand in solidarity with those ordinary people whose lives have been permanently transformed by violence. We pledge to continue that journey of transformation from pain to promise, from fear to fellowship. Martin Luther King, Jr. identified the choice as being chaos or community. Five years after September 11th, we have seen enough of chaos. It is time for each of us to create community with our counterparts from around the globe, and to create a safer and more peaceful world for everyone. September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows used by permission

You stay in your corner...

.. or you die. That's what I explained to this poor little innocent spider who had the misfortune to build his (her? Let me think... hmmm... female spiders are usually bigger... okay, her) house in my classroom at the company where I worked today. Luckily enough for her, she very sensibly stayed in that same spot all day. She was still there, alive and well, at 6:30 p.m. when I left for home. More about spiders: (from the Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet) Preventing spider bites Shake out clothing and shoes before getting dressed. Inspect bedding and towels before use. Wear gloves when handling firewood, lumber, and rocks (be sure to inspect the gloves for spiders before putting them on). Remove bedskirts. Move the bed away from the wall. Don't store boxes and other items underneath beds. Exercise care when handling cardboard boxes (some spiders may inhabit the space under folded cardboard flaps). Exclusion Install tight-fitting screens on windows and doors; also install weather stripping and door sweeps. Seal or caulk cracks and crevices where spiders can enter the house. Equip vents in soffits, foundations, and roof gables with tight-fitting screens. Install yellow or sodium vapor light bulbs outdoors since these attract fewer insects for spiders to feed upon. Many web-making spiders set up residence near lights that remain on at night. Locate such lights away from the house or turn them off when not needed. Tape the edges of cardboard boxes to prevent spider entry. Use plastic bags (sealed) to store loose items in the garage, basement, and attic. Sanitation Remove trash, old boxes, old clothing, wood piles, rock piles, and other unwanted items. Eliminate clutter in closets, basements, attics, garages, and outbuildings. Store items off the floor and away from walls in basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages, and outbuildings in order to reduce spider harborage sites. Eliminate household pests (prey) such as flies, ants, and cockroaches that attract spiders. Do not stack wood against the house. Remove heavy vegetation and leaf litter around the foundation. Wash spider webs off the outside of the house using a high-pressure hose. Non-chemical control Capture the spider and release it outdoors. An effective technique for capturing hunting spiders is to place a cup over the spider and then slide a piece of paper underneath to entrap it. Dust and vacuum thoroughly to remove spiders, webs, and egg sacs (dispose of the vacuum bag in a container outdoors). Outdoors, use a water hose or broom to regularly destroy any webs that are constructed on or around the house. Spiders often move elsewhere when their webs are regularly destroyed. Use a rolled up newspaper or fly swatter to kill individual spiders. Use sticky traps or glueboards to entangle spiders.

A View from the Window ~ Reposted from Dec. 16, 2006

When I was a child, our house consisted of four rooms with a closet between the two bedrooms, a sort of "heating hall" in the center of the house with nothing in it but a big kerosene heater, and a "bathroom" with no plumbing. Our shower and toilet facilities were built by my dad by hand, and they were outside. In the bathroom, we had a medicine cabinet built into the wall with a mirrored door. It had one of those little razor blade disposals where you just slide the old blade in sideways and one day you dump the lot of them. There was also an old table given to my sister by our next-door neighbor, Miss Hattie. In it, we kept scissors and a hairbrush and comb, any make-up any of us had, band-aids, and I remember in particular a little white jar of some type of greasy ointment that we children called "black doctor-doctor." I have no idea now what it might have been, but we used it on all manner of scratches, scrapes, and insect bites. Also in the bathroom was a sewing machine, and just above the sewing machine was a window. Mama kept the sewing machine closed when it wasn't in use, and many times we sat on it. We'd climb up to look out the window to wait for Daddy to come home (like clockwork, every day at 5:30), or to try to see if it was snowing yet when we thought the weather conditions were right for it. And sometimes, we could look out the window and see the big screen at the drive-in movie theater. In those days, the movies they showed were innocent enough. We couldn't hear the soundtrack, but being able to see the picture was fascinating for us, as we never went to the drive-in, close as it was to our house. Tall pines have long since grown up and obstructed the view, and the big screen is long gone, which is just as well, as there was a while when it became a place to show XXX movies. But by that time it was already a pretty seedy-looking joint. By 1969, the trees had already grown tall. That was the summer my parents added on to the house - two bathrooms with plumbing, a kitchen/dining area divided by a counter with a big double sink, a living room, and several closets. Where the window used to be, there's now a door joining the "old" part of the house with the "new." What used to be the kitchen and living room became bedrooms. Now they're full of relics of 57 years of life for a family of seven. The photo above shows the view from that bathroom window as it would be today, if the window were still there. So much has changed... but life goes on.

November 4, 2007 ~ A Poem for My Father

Originally posted on November 4, 2007.
Today is the 90th anniversary of my father's birth. I'm guessing that this photo was taken somewhere around 1920. After a 4+-year battle with emphysema and asthma, he died in 2000 at the age of 82. The night before he died, I wrote this poem about him. Those of you who've been with me for a long time may have seen it before. Four Years and Change They 'gave' you three months; With characteristic stubbornness, You held out-- First hours, then days, then weeks at a time... until three months was a memory, and there you were, quietly, stoically, celebrating your 50th anniversary with the woman who so long ago devoted her life to your happiness. On your 50-foot oxygen 'leash,' you walked outside to sit in the sun, providing handfuls of birdseed for the cardinals, the doves, especially that one who came close and ate from your hand. Before the cataracts made your sight grow so very dim, you gazed out to the greenery of the garden where you could no longer offer guided tours, pointing out each new plant, each new flower, each new vegetable-- the garden that once was your monumental task your refuge our daily bread Didn't, couldn't, go much further-- Entrusting your breath to the portable tank only long enough to see George the Barber, who now pays house calls. You move about the best you can. Once strong and sure, now you shuffle with baby steps through your little corner of a world becoming ever quieter ever dimmer Coughs wrack your body Every breath an effort. No more the easy laughter with buddies on the riverbank bringing home fish for the family, extras for Sam the Cat. No more the glistening of sweat after a hard day's labor followed by another day's work in the garden. No more bragging to family and friends about the best cook in the world being your personal chef... nothing tastes good any more. No more. Three months parlayed into four years and change... No more. Muddy 3/20/00

Child of the Information Age

Even though I'm way too old to be a child, I'm a child of the Information Age. I bought my first computer around 1983 - a TI 99-4A. I used it to write my own *very* BASIC program for averaging my students' grades. Since then, I've taken a few computer courses, some associated with my library science degree, some offered by the local school district where I worked, and some offered by the consortium our district belonged to or by the SC Department of Education. I've also learned a lot just by using the computer and by interacting with other users, some local and some I've never known except by Internet. Also since my first computer purchase, I've moved first to the Apple IIc, then to the Compaq Presario, and eventually to a Microsoft-based operating system in a generic, non-propietary case, put together by friends or local dealers. Like many users, my computers have experienced viruses, freezes, zaps by lightning, and much more. One particular machine which I won't name had to have everything replaced, as every time I started it up, it crashed. I think the customer service reps must've come to my Shoebox-in-the-Field six times before they decided to replace the motherboard, the memory, the processor, and whatever else goes into the guts of the box. Then it worked. But leading up to that...Quelle frustration! These days, most people and most businesses feel that computers are an absolute necessity. I personally don't know what I'd do without mine. I use it as a creative outlet, as a means of communication, as a shopping center, and as a printing office... and when I'm doing none of the above, I use it to play games or to learn about all sorts of things.