I exited the meeting for new teachers with the words of the dictatorial principal, Mr. Bailey, ringing in my ears: “Remember no gum, no slacks, no mini-skirts. Never be late for recess or lunch duty. And I will check your lesson plans every Friday for their adherence to your grade-level curriculum.”
The Christmas homes of my childhood and adolescence were never the glossy homes of Christmas advertising: imposing structures lit by evenly-spaced lights filled with artistically decorated rooms inhabited by smiling families with color-coordinated clothing and perfect teeth.
My mother sometimes asked her children to express gratitude for something meaningful before they indulged their Thanksgiving appetites. If I had mentioned my gratitude for the raisins she put in her homemade cinnamon rolls, she would have looked at me with disapproval. But, to me, a cinnamon roll without raisins wasn’t worth chewing. I know many folks disagree, but I’ve never met a raisin I didn’t like, and I’m grateful for them.
Growing up in a rural area in the years following World War II, my friends and I quickly absorbed the behaviors deemed appropriate for boys and girls; behaviors we learned from picture books, movies, parents, peers and siblings.
Last summer, during one of my Sunday morning walks, a power outage undid my husband, Joel. When I arrived home, I found him in the alley, looking beleaguered and whacking a hedge. With waving shears, he beckoned me near and then began a tale of woe: “You won’t believe what happened. When I started to fix my breakfast, the power went out, so no bacon and eggs. Then my coffee was cold, so I thought I’d reheat it. Nope. No microwave. I couldn’t even defrost blueberries to eat with cereal.”
When I hear about the latest, greatest, sure-fire innovation to increase student learning, I feel weary.
Like most newly hatched garage-sale addicts, after a summer spent buying second-hand goods on Saturday and questioning my sanity on Sunday, I decided to have a garage sale of my own. I convinced a group of friends to co-host a sale in my back yard; the ladies who nurtured my garage-sale mania, Shirley and Eileen, agreed to lend their wisdom to our cause.
On May 30, small flags will be planted; and those who remember will quietly gather in cemeteries across our land. Taps will soar, echo and fade. The names of men and women who died serving our country during times of war will be read, and crowds either large and small, but always attentive, will listen with gratitude to the roll call of our honored dead.
When I think of my mother, as I did on Mother’s Day, I see her in her mid-60s. She sits in her favorite rocking chair in a circle of lamplight that softens her wrinkles and highlights her brown hair. As she sews a button on one of Dad’s shirts, her wedding band, thinned by 50 years of wear, flashes in the lamp’s glow.
Mrs. Huff was noted for her monumental bosom and the hiccupping soprano. She used to teach my third-grade class the song “Far Away Places.” Singing lyrics about the alluring glamour of lands across the sea shaped my desire to visit “places with strange sounding names,” and motivated my collection of unusual words that describe travelers’ experiences or emotions. Some of my favorites follow.