Of the people in the school picture from Rowan Rural School #4 (a one-room schoolhouse from Midwestern history and lore) all the ones who survive are octogenarians. Three of the survivors were at our family reunion for Great Grandma Hinckley’s descendants. My mother and uncle were there. Their cousin was also there. The school house stood on the Aldrich corner, near the house where my Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived, the farm house of a farm that’s been in the family for over a hundred years. My mother and Uncle Don and Uncle Larry could easily walk there. The rest came from country miles around by horse-drawn wagon.
Uncle Larry is now gone, but they have survived from the time of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the time of Criminal President Doofenschmertz Jehosephat Trumpennoodle. Things have changed. The house I now sit in was, back then, a place with a windmill and hand-pump for water, an outhouse for bathroom chores, and a radio for entertainment.
If they hadn’t endured through World War Two, and Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare, and the assassination of JFK, we wouldn’t even be here. We are the children of hardship, endurance, and conviction of the rightness of life on Earth.
We saw progress through the creation of Disneyland, landing the first man on the surface of the moon, Bugs Bunny cartoons, Scooby Doo, and the Pink Panther… Nixon and his Watergate break-in, Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk, Laugh-in… President Ford falling down stairs, Saturday Night Live, the Peanut-farmer President, Reaganomics… the Iranian hostage crisis… Saved by the Bell, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones… The invasion of Panama… Operation Desert Storm… the second war in Iraq… the downfall of Saddam Hussein… Thundercats, Jerry Seinfeld, Friends, the Wonder Years…
I am especially impressed that they lived through all those Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethons. And Leisure Suits… Aagh!
And their time is not completely up. Mother and Dad and Uncle Don still move on and go to reunions and bury loved ones… and tend to the needs of grandkids and great-grandkids… And pass on the good things to the next generation… and the next. So it goes, towards times not yet dreamed of.
My daughter forgot her pencil case in school over the weekend. Now, for normal students, this is no really big deal. But for the Princess, like it is for me as an amateur artist, the pencil case, with her colored pencils and pens in it, is one of the most necessary things for life.
Of course, we did not have an opportunity to go back to school for her pencils and pens. So, panicky, she texted her teacher whereupon the pencil case in question was found and put aside for her until early this morning. She then stole my pens and pencils for the weekend, depriving me and causing me to be the one with the anxiety disorder and heart palpitations.
Of course, pens and pencils were always a critical issue when I was a teacher for 31 years, plus two years as a substitute teacher. Unlike the Princess, students in an English classroom NEVER have a pen or a pencil to write with. I swear, I have seen them gnaw pencils to pieces like a hungry beaver or termite. And they chew on pens to the point that there is a sudden squishy noise in their mouth and they become members of the Black Teeth Club. (Or Blue Teeth Club for the more choosy sort of student.)
Having students in your class who actually have pencils and pens to learn with is a career-long battle. I tried providing pens for a quarter. I would by cheap bags of pens, ten for two dollars, and sell them to panicky writers and test takers with a quarter (and secretly free to some who really don’t have a quarter). I only used the pen money to buy more cheap pens. But that ran afoul of principals and school rules. A teacher can’t sell things in class without the district accountant giving approval and keeping sales tax records. Yes, the pencil pushers force teachers to give pens, pencils, and paper away for free. I finally settled -on a be-penning process of picking up leftover un-popped pens, half-eaten pencils, and the rare untouched writing instrument apparently lost the very instant the student sat down in his or her desk. These I would issue to moaning pencil-free students until the supply ran out (which it rarely ever did) at no cost to myself.
I also tried telling them repeatedly that they had to have a writing instrument, or they needed to beg, borrow, or steal one. And if they couldn’t do that, I’d tell them, “Well, you could always prick your finger and write in blood.” That was a joke I totally stopped using the instant a student did exactly what I said. A literalist, that one. And it turns out you can’t read an essay that a student writes in actual blood.
But, anyway… My daughter is safely in school now and no longer panicking because she has her precious pencil case back in her possession. And she probably will not ever make that same mistake again. (And she will probably not return my pens and pencils either.)
There are a lot of kids out there in the world who are gifted with musical talent. I find that searching them out and listening to them on YouTube is a valid way to cure… or at least curtail depression.
Wow. Energy, creativity, charm… cuteness! Kids possess a magic power to never understand when something is impossible. Harnessing that power can take you all the way to the moon and back.
If you think I turned to this subject because I was feeling down and depressed this morning, well, you’d be right. But am I still depressed after filling up on this sort of kid music?
Not a chance. The world is a better place now because of their sweet music.
Canto Five – Everyone
is Naked Under Their Clothes
The night was typical.
Six nasty old hens pecked Valerie’s hands as she searched under them for
eggs. The last one of those took a
girl-fist to the side of the head. That,
of course, didn’t faze the stupid hen.
Chickens apparently have their brains hidden safely in their butts. But chores always came to an end. Mom was always sympathetic about
chicken-stupidity-caused peck marks, and rubbed salve on them, visible wound or
not. Then it was time to finish any
homework needed, and up to bed. And Val
always slept naked under the quilts and comforters. She slept well because… well, because naked
was good when you were asleep.
Morning came, as mornings do, with a stupid rooster crowing
the sun up. Of course, if hens are
stupid, roosters, having the additional mental handicap of being male, were
stupid times ten. No, stupid times
twenty. Beau the rooster always got it
wrong. The sun was never actually up
until at least a half hour after the stupid rooster claimed it was up. Chicken pot pie. As Valerie pried her eyes open, she imagined
chicken pot pie cooking on Mom’s stove.
Beau-flavored chicken pot pie.
When she got to the bathroom, Daddy Kyle was already in
there shaving. No problem. Once again Valerie marched in naked as the
day she was born, though with considerably more hair on her head. She went straight to the shower, grabbed the
shampoo off the shelf, and twisted the water on to just the right level of warm
she always used. Warm, soapy water all
over your body… piles of foamy shampoo in your longish hair… it was a little
like Eden must have felt to Eve. And Eve
liked being naked too… at least, until the mistake with the snake. Of course, Eden had to end when the water
began to grow cold. Even in the
summertime the well could put out near freezing levels of cold once the water
heater was drained.
Kyle looked at her when she stepped out and grabbed a towel.
“No hot water left for me again, huh, Princess?”
“Sorry, Daddy. I need
a good hot shower in the mornings.”
“Shouldn’t you put on a robe or something, dearest? You come in here every morning completely
naked. You are getting too old for
“Old? Too old for what?”
“When a girl reaches a certain age, she starts to
change. When that happens, well…”
“But, Daddy, you are used to seeing me naked. You changed my diapers while Mommy and I were
still in the hospital after I was born.”
“I know… I know… And
it isn’t that there is anything wrong happening. It’s just…”
“You can’t be getting shy.
I’ve seen you naked too… a lot.”
Kyle’s face reddened.
He was apparently trying hard to stutter on.
“When a girl reaches a certain age… well, she…”
“Yeah, she changes. I
know Dad. Mom told me what to
expect. But honestly, I don’t even
really have boob bumps yet. I look like
a little boy when I’m naked… except I don’t have one of those water hoses to
She was standing with the towel in her hand, looking at him
while she was completely bare and being mildly amused by his extreme
discomfort. He finally sat down on the
closed cover of the commode, completely defeated. She decided to push things a little. She dropped the towel and went to sit on his
knee even though she was a little damp around the edges and quite sincerely
“I love you too, Daddy.”
“No… I mean, yes, I love you… but this is not a good thing
for a big girl to be doing. I worry you
are getting so used to being naked around a man like me… even though I’m your
Daddy… and one day… when boys, um… get curious… the way boys are… and, well…”
“If that’s what worries you, Daddy, no boy besides you has
ever seen me naked. And I won’t let a
yucky thing like that happen… until the time is right.”
“Okay, but promise me the time is not right until you are
“Daaaad! You know
everyone is actually naked under their clothes.
Everyone has a body… so no one should be ashamed of it.” Surely he recognized that bit of wisdom. After all, it is what he’d said to her on the
subject more than once.
“Okay. I trust you
and believe in you. But develop a little
modesty maybe? Put on a robe when you come in here. Or wait till I’m done.”
“Don’t you like me like this?”
“I love you. But you
are getting to an age where you being naked like this around me… well… begins
to get… um, uncomfortable. And your
little wet behind is making my pants wet.
I have work to do today, and now my pants have a wet spot shaped like
“Oh, Daddy!” She
leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.
He put an arm around her shoulders and gave a squeeze.
“I hope we can start getting some better habits going,
Princess. We don’t want to get your mom
mad or anything.”
hopped off his damp lap and padded over to retrieve the towel. She wrapped it around herself and then gave
him one more grin before she barefooted it out of the bathroom and toward her
waiting school clothes. You never knew
anything for certain. Maybe one day she
would just have to go to school naked… to show Daddy that… well, okay… maybe
not to school.
Yesterday I posted another maudlin doomsday post. I probably gave you the opinion that all I do with my time is mope around and think about death. And maybe write a little creepy black Gothic poetry. But that’s not me. I am a lover of the humor in stories by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Kurt Vonnegut. I am a former teacher that managed to teach the entire zoological range of possible middle school and high school students in Texas and did it without being convinced to hate them rather than love them. Yes, my heart is full of mirth and love and memories of weird kids and troubled kids and kids that could melt the meanest of hearts.
My passion is writing fictional stories about the kids I have taught, including my own three, and setting it in a fictionalized version of my little town, the place in Iowa where I grew up. And I put them in plots of impossible fantasy and science fiction in a way that can only be explained as surrealism.
Nobody reads my books. So far, at any rate.
But that isn’t the important thing. The important thing is that, despite my illness and deteriorating quality of life, my books now actually exist. I put off being a full-time writer for 33 years as I finished my teaching career. A writer has to have something to write about. So, teaching came first.
Writing novels was always the ultimate goal, however. I am a story-teller. The story itself is in the very center of my heart.
When you walk to the front of the classroom and take up the big pencil in front of a group of young teens and twelve-year-olds, there is a strong pressure to learn how to sing and dance. That, of course, is a metaphor. I was always too arthritic and clunky in my movements to literally dance. But I looked out over a sea of bored and malevolence-filled eyes, slack and sometimes drooling mouths attached to hormone-fueled and creatively evil minds. And I was being paid to put ideas in their heads. Specifically boring and difficult ideas that none of them really wanted in their own personal heads. So I felt the need to learn to dance, to teach in ways that were engaging like good dance tunes, and entertaining in ways that made them want to take action, to metaphorically get up and dance along with me.
I wanted them to enjoy learning the way I did.
But the music of the teacher is not always compatible with the dance style of the individual learner. The secret behind that is, there is absolutely no way to prompt them to dance along with you until you learn about the music already playing in their stupid little heads. (And you can’t, of course ever use the word “stupid” out loud, no matter how funny or true the word is,) You have to get to know a kid before you can teach them anything.
The discordant melodies and bizarre tunes you encounter when you talk to them is like dancing in a minefield blindfolded. Some don’t have enough to eat at home and have to survive off of the nutrition-less food they get in the school cafeteria’s free-and-reduced lunch program. Some of them have never heard a single positive thing from the adults at home, enduring only endless criticism, insults, and sometimes fists. Some of them fall in love you. Some due to hormones. Some due to the fact that you treat them like a real human being. Some because they just stupidly assume that everyone dances to the same tunes they hear in their own personal head.
Some of them automatically hate you because they know that if you hear their own secret music in their own self-loathing heads, you will never accept it. They hate you because you are a teacher and teachers always hate them. Some of them, deep down, are as loathsome as they think they are.
But, if you find the right music, you can get any of them, even all of them, to dance. It might be hard to find. It might be a nearly impossible task to learn to play that music once you find it. But it can be done.
And if you get them to dance to your music, to dance along with you, I can’t think of anything more rewarding, anything more life-fulfilling. Have you ever tried it for yourself? If you are not a teacher, how about with your own children or the children related to you? Everybody should learn to dance this dance I am talking about in metaphors. At least once in your life. It is addictive. You will want to dance more. So the next time the music starts and you get the chance… I hope you’ll dance!