Category Archives: kids

Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 5

Mike and Blueberry Come Knocking

The next morning was a Monday morning in Summer.  No school to worry about, and the beans were not tall enough yet that the boys had to worry about walking them yet.  Walking beans was a summer project whereby farm kids walked up and down the rows of every family-owned beanfield with gloves and hoes and hats, to protect against sunburn, looking for evil, intolerable, low-down filthy weeds to chop or pull out by the roots.

You had to be on your toes all the time to truly combat evil.  That’s why Horatio T. Dogg was always thinking about the crimes he had to solve.  And that’s why Bobby was also always thinking about Horatio thinking about the crimes he had to solve.  Like the murder of Little Bob the stupidest turken by the evil Professor Rattiarty.

Horatio and Bobby were both sitting on the porch as two of his classmates from Belle City Middle School came walking hand and hand down the gravel road to the Niland farm.

“Hey, Mike, I haven’t seen you since school got out,” Bobby said.

“I needed to beat somebody up today.  I haven’t slugged anyone since that last day in Loomis’s class,” said Mike with a grin.

“I can smell that he’s not telling the truth,” said Horatio with a snort.

“Oh, I know.  Mike is my friend.  He’s only joking,” said Bobby.

“Oh, you can talk to the dog?” asked Blueberry.  She was a cherub-faced girl that Bobby secretly adored, but was definitely afraid of for various reasons.

“Well, yeah.  Horatio is a very special dog.  Can you hear him when he talks?”

“No.  But I will be trying to learn to hear him,” she answered.  “There is nothing that would make me happier than having a talking dog for a friend.”

She blinked her big brown eyes at Bobby in a way that seemed to melt his knees   Not enough to make him fall down, but enough to make him wobble.

“Blue, dogs don’t talk in real life,” Mike said matter-of-factly.  “That’s just a weirdo Bobby-thing.”

“Oh, I know.  But Bobby has a beautiful imagination.  And that’s what I like about him most.”

“I like her,” said Horatio.

Bobby didn’t comment, because Blueberry would hear and that would be embarrassing.

“But that’s what made the two of you think you turned the music teacher into a swan by magic, and then turned yourselves into swans to rescue her.  How dumb a thing was that?”

“But that was real.  We both became swans,” insisted Blueberry.

“I remember that,” said Horatio.  “You didn’t really change.  I would’ve smelled the difference.”

“I know,” said Bobby.

“You are both screwy,” said Mike.

“Tell him why you came to talk to him,” said Blueberry.

“The reason we walked all the way out here from town was to ask you about walking beans.  We’re putting together a crew.  Danny has promised to drive us to and from the fields.”

“So, you want me to walk with your crew?  Or you just came to ask my dad to work in our fields?”

“Both,” said Blueberry.

“We’re only charging three dollars an hour,” said Mike.

“Well, that’ll get you hired by Dad anyway. That’s less than I asked him to pay me and Shane.  But if you get the job, and I’m working with you, he won’t pay me what we first agreed on.”

“Sorry.  But we need the job.  And you don’t want me to beat you up for real, do you?”

“No, of course not.”  Bobby knew he would have to make the sacrifice.  Dad wouldn’t hire Mike and the gang at the price he was originally going to pay Bobby and Shane to do it by themselves.  And the cheaper price for more workers meant it would get done faster and would be cheaper over-all.  It was a sacrifice that Bobby had to make to help both the family farm and Mike and the gang.  Besides, there would be more money to make with Mike’s crew on other farms.

“You shouldn’t be so mean to him,” insisted Blueberry.  She was a very thin, small, and perky girl who was never afraid to say what she thought.  “If we are going to have him on our team and we’re going to work for his dad, you should be nice to him.”

“Aw, Bobby knows I don’t mean it when I say I’m gonna beat him up.  You know that I’m only joking, right?”

“Actually, you beat up Steven Shanks for picking on me.  And Frosty Anderson is only nice to me because you make him.”

It was true.  Mike was like a protector for Bobby.  Of course, that was partly because Bobby was a Norwall Pirate and Mike protected all the Pirates.  The Pirates were the town’s 4-H softball team, and also the local liars’ club.

“You should tell Mike about Professor Rattiarty and the recent murders.  He might be a good boy and help you defeat him,” Horatio said with a dog grin.

“I will definitely ask Dad to let us walk his beans.  He’ll hire your crew,” Bobby finally said.  “But I also want to talk to you about barn rats.”

“Barn rats?”

“Yeah, they been killing Mom’s favorite turkens.”

“Those silly-looking things with no feathers on their chicken necks?”

“Yeah.  Let’s go in the barn with Horatio’s nose to help us and talk about the evil Professor Rattiarty.”

“Uggh!  Imagination again!  Too many darned Pirates have too much imagination for their own good,” said Mike.

“Now, you don’t say bad things about imagination, Michael.  You know I wouldn’t be your girlfriend if it weren’t for the power of our imaginations.”  Blueberry often got hot about the topic of too much imagination. She was in favor.

“Yeah.  I know.  But you and he wouldn’t have gotten turned into swans, and flew all the way to Belle City in the snow, or saw each other naked if you didn’t have too big of a imagination,” growled Mike.  Yeah, jealousy was probably part of it.  But Bobby never actually saw Blue naked, and you can’t exactly turn back into a boy from being a swan all covered in feathers without being naked at some point.

“Do you want to see the Professor’s evil lair, or not?”

“We certainly do want to see,” insisted Blue.

“Okay.  We go into the damn barn.”

“You shouldn’t say damned, Mike,” scolded Blue. And so, they went into the brick-walled, white barn to look for clues with the detective, Horatio T. Dogg.

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Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 4

Talking to the Stone

Grandpa Butch pulled the pickup over on the side of the road.  Bobby and Shane quickly piled out.  Horatio jumped down out of the pickup bed where he had ridden to the cemetery.

Grandpa had two roses with him, just like always.

The little Norwall cemetery was a rectangular space of well-tended grass surrounded by stately pine trees just off the south side of State Highway Three. Numerous marble grave markers and family monuments were fairly tightly packed there.  Across the gravel road to the East was a newer rectangle of grass surrounded by recently planted white pines that were supposed to be the new addition to the cemetery.

“Grandpa, your folks are buried up there in the old cemetery, right?” Shane asked.

“Yep.  The Niland family monument up there contains three generations of our family.”

Bobby nodded at the monument on the hill.  He had been taught reverence for the place by both Grandpa Butch and Dad.

That wasn’t, of course, where they were headed.

“I brought you your flower,” Grandpa said to the headstone in the new addition.  He kissed one of the roses and put it in the brass vase.  The other rose was stretched out to the first, pressed against it as if the blossoms were giving each other a kiss, and then hooked the stem around the left suspender of his overalls.

“Why do you always take one of the roses home with you again?” Bobby asked.

“She knows I brought it here to her, and she sends a little bit of her bright spirit home with me to watch over us for another week.”

“Grandma’s an angel now, isn’t she?” asked Shane.  The goof asked that same question every time he came along to the cemetery.  And every time it made a tear come to Grandpa Butch’s eye.”

“Of course.  She’s right here with her wings spread wide, standing guard over us.”

“Does she ever answer you when you talk to her?” Bobby asked.

 “Of course, she does.  Don’t you, old woman?”

“So, you inherited the ability to hear voices who aren’t really there,” said Horatio to Bobby.  No one but Bobby could hear him, though, so Bobby didn’t say a word in response.

“What you gonna tell her this week?” Shane asked.  He often asked that same question too.

“Sassy, ain’t he?” remarked Grandpa Butch.  He was talking to Grandma.  “You know they can talk to dogs now, your grandsons?”

“What does she say back?” Shane asked.

“She says it’s only Bobby that does.  And not to worry about it.  It’s natural for Niland boys to have that ability.  It’s a sign of smartness and a good imagination.”

“Does that mean that I’m not smart like Bobby is?”  Shane’s eyes were open a little wider than usual.

“Oh, no, of course not.  You’re both smart. Just in different ways.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I can vouch for the fact that I talked to voices that weren’t really there back in the 40’s when I was a boy.  And your dad used to imagine werewolves and monsters he could talk to when he was a boy back in the 70’s. Bobby has the same kind of smartness we had.”

“And how is my smartness different?” Shane asked.

“Your Grandma tells me she was a very perceptive girl when she was your age.  She was very aware of how everybody around her was feeling.  And she would referee fights and arguments, always the peacemaker… always trying to make other people happy.  And she also tells me all the times you’ve done the same exact thing for Bobby and some of his friends.  You have a loving intelligence that works more with what you know is real than what you can dream up.”

“Is that a good kind of smart?”

“In some ways it is the best kind of smart.  A kind of smartness the rest of us need to rely on.”

“So, Shane is better than me?” Bobby asked, feeling a sad spot in the depths of his stomach.

“No, no…  Your Grandma just thinks it’s a different kind of smart.  And you are both brave and handsome and good-natured.  That’s what it means to be a Niland.  You are near to the land, and you can make it blossom and grow.”

“What if I don’t wanna be a farmer?” asked Shane.

“That can be a good thing too.  You could be like your Uncle Nat.  He felt like that too, so he went to college at ISU and became an engineer.  Now he’s a civil engineer in Des Moines, figuring out how to make city things work better and helping people get along with one another better.”

“Can you see her, Grandpa?” Bobby asked, looking at Horatio.

“Your Grandma?  Of course, I can.  She’s right here by her memorial, in the place that I’ll be one day too.”

“I can see her,” said Horatio.

“Dogs can see ghosts?” Bobby asked before thinking.

“I don’t know about ghosts,” Grandpa Butch said.  “But I’ll bet they can see angels.  Dogs see with their heart more than with their eyes.  That’s why I see her here, and any place I put the second rose in the house.”  Grandpa Butch’s eyes were wet.  He didn’t say anything more.  Neither did the two boys, both of them trying hard to see their grandmother too.

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Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 3

The Evil Professor Rattiarty

A short while later Bobby went out through the back door to find and torment his little brother Shane.  He was definitely thinking of the word “torment” rather than “torture” because of that last lesson about how to treat your little brother better that Grandpa Butch gave him.

Horatio, in hat and smoking his pipe, followed close behind on his heels.  Horatio only rarely let Bobby leave the house without him, especially when it wasn’t a school day.

“You have to remember that Shane is a very good boy,” Horatio said.  “Being mean to him on purpose doesn’t hurt him as much as it does you.”

“Are you trying to be my conscience or something?” Bobby asked.

“Actually, I prefer to think of myself as the detective.  And you are my Dr. Wadlow.”

“I think you mean Dr. Watson.  Wadlow was that eight-foot-tall guy we were reading about in the school library.”

“Bobby, you know you were in the library by yourself, right?  I only said Wadlow because you were thinking it.”

“Sure, I know.  Imagining stuff is one of the few things I am good at.  And remembering weird stuff is another.  Robert Pershing Wadlow was 8 feet and 11 inches tall when he died at age 22.  He was the tallest human guy that ever lived.”

Shane, Bobby’s 11-year-old brother, was swinging on the tire swing that was tied up to a horizontal branch in the old walnut tree near the north grove.

“Hey, Little Dick, wanna see the drowned Turken?”

“Sure.”  Shane was a quiet child who rarely teased or picked on anybody.  That’s why he had taken to calling him “Little Dick” at about the same time that Mom had named the stupidest turken, “Little Bob.”  Shane had merely asked why he was being called a nickname for “Richard” instead of his own name.  Bobby never explained anything to Shane.

The boy with the mouse-brown hair and blue shorts hopped off the old car tire that was used as a swing and hustled after Bobby on the way to the horse tank where Bobby had left the body wrapped and ready for burial..

When they got there, the waterlogged and potentially bloated-by-now corpse of Little Bob was missing, except for a couple of soaked turken feathers and the torn cloth.

“Where is it?” asked Shane.

“I swear, when I left it was right here.”

“Well, it’s not here now.  Just feathers.”

Horatio snuffled the entire area with his hyper-powered sense of smell.

“Professor Rattiarty!” Horatio declared.

“Of course, it was!” declared Bobby.

“Of course, what was?” asked Shane.

“Horatio says that the body was stolen by Professor Rattiarty.”

“No, it can’t be him again.  Didn’t Horatio eat him in that caper three months ago?  When he tried to break into the house and get my toys out of my toybox?”

“Rattiarty always manages to survive somehow.  It’s miraculous… evilly miraculous.”

“You do know that Horatio doesn’t actually talk, don’t you?  I think it all comes out of your evil imagination.”

“If Horatio doesn’t talk, then how did he solve the case of your missing Science report?”

“It was a report on giraffes.  I think it was probably you who moved it from the G encyclopedia to the C encyclopedia.  I didn’t make that mistake myself.  And how can a dog smell a piece of notebook paper stuck in a closed book?”

“Elementary, my dear Little Dick.”  Bobby was never going to explain the other meaning of “Little Dick.”  “He was detecting your scent with his superior nose.  He is actually… ta, ta, ta, TAAAH!  Horatio T. Dogg, Super-Sleuth!”

“Sure, he is.”

“I can smell where the body was dragged off to.  Do we pursue?” asked Horatio.

“No, no… another time.  Right now, I need to pound on Little Dick’s shoulder some more.” So, Bobby beat on his brother again, though only with softened blows.   You see, Bobby was bullied a lot in school and around other children in general.  Taking things out on Shane was sometimes the only thing he could do.  Well, that was because Shane was the only person in the whole world that Bobby could beat up.  And then, he suspected, only because Shane let him do it.

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How Your Kids Turn You Evil Over Time

It is actually a good thing I am atheist enough not to believe in the existence of Hell. If I believed in eternal punishment for saying bad words and having evil thoughts, I would surely find myself in the char-broiled section of Satan’s kitchen of charcoal justice. The reason for this thought that might rile both Catholics and Muslims is that I am a father of three grown children and a survivor of a collective twenty-one years’ worth of dealing with a teenager.

Yes, I have argued about when it is necessary to sleep, when it necessary to get up, why you have to go to school, why you shouldn’t sleep during school, why math is simple and worth knowing how to do, what causes zits on the end of your nose on very day of the big date, what condoms are for, what condoms are not for, why you should not say, “**** you” to your parents in the Willow Creek Mall, why you should not yell, “**** you” at your teachers during parent’s night at Newman Smith High School, why the stereo was not yours to sell at the pawn shop, why you can’t sell your brother at the pawn shop and shouldn’t even be trying, and why you can’t swim naked after midnight in other people’s backyard pools.

It does cause insanity. It does convince you that you are wrong about everything. And it condemns your immortal soul to the Hell I don’t believe in.

It is bad enough that I had to talk in a form of English that teenagers can comprehend for the thirty-one years of teaching middle-school and high-school, but I had to talk in simple sentences with no profanity, cussing, god-damning, or sacrilege for twenty-four hours a day during the entirety of my three kids’ teenagerhood. Gradually I lost control of my tongue. Now, as an aged and teenager-misbehavior-forged grumpy old coot, I can’t help but use profanity constantly. I have used the magic F-word and the magic S-word repeatedly on the family dog who grins her dog-grin and wags her dog tail supportively in response. I swear and use profanity as a necessity for relieving stress. And as a former parent of teenagers, I am permanently scarred and stressed for the rest of my life.

So, I contend that, since I survived those fateful years of being a parent of teenagers without actually killing anybody (that can be proven in court at any rate) I am not guilty of becoming evil. I take no personal responsibility for my use of foul language or my commission of evil acts. It is all somebody else’s fault. This is the lesson being a parent of teenagers has taught me.

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The Art-Day Art of Responsibility

We, each one, have a certain RESPONSIBILITY if we are born alive into human life.

The root of the word is RESPOND. And that means we have developed a complexity of mind and beo havior that allows us to RESPOND to situations and problems that you haven’t encountered before.

Because we can RESPOND, we must RESPOND. That is how we come to acquire RESPONSIBILITY.f

When I got out of Iowa State University, I had to RESPOND to the situation where I was educated and legally an adult, and I had to somehow support myself in life. I suppose I could have chosen to live in my parents’ basement and done nothing with my life but draw and paint and eventually get fat. That is a way to RESPOND to that situation. And I had a RESPONSIBILITY to RESPOND.

But, choosing between a job doing artwork for the print shop in Belmond, or going to Grad School at the University of Iowa to get a teaching certificate, I took note of the fact that I liked younger kids a lot and got along with them quite well. So, I decided to RESPOND with a bit of teachering.

It turns out that this was a much wiser course of action in that, by the time I got out of the University of Iowa with a Master’s Degree in Education, my parents had to move to Texas in order to fulfill my father’s RESPONSIBILITY to the Lords of Accountancy and continue to wrestle with the evils of business numbers for the good of all mankind.

I would not have been able to continue to live in my parents’ basement, and being homeless in Iowa in the winter is a rather cold and lonely situation.

I had a RESPONSIBILITY to choose a life path.

I was fortunate enough to choose a good one. One that fit nicely into where my talents lay, and what I was able to do well.

I became RESPONSIBLE for lives, well-being, and intellectual development of kids (young human beings, not goats.)

I turns out that, with practice, I was eventually quite good at teachering. I got through to a lot of kids (even some of whom really were goats underneath it all.)

I feel like, in the long run, I artfully handled my RESPONSIBILITY to life, the universe, and everything. But now that I am teachering no more, I am RESPONSIBLE for doing something further with my life. This blog post is part of the becoming an artist and a writer RESPONCE.

The younger me with a favorite student expressing his deep respect for me with the War on Ignorance going on all around us.

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An Ordinary Mike

Along about 1965, Bobby and me skinny-dipping in Avery’s Creek.

Yes, it is just not possible to write an exemplary daily essay every single day. Some days you just have to be ordinary. Today is probably gonna be one of those days.

You see, in my head I have always been Michael. My parents, grandparents, and siblings always called me that.

When I was drawing and telling stories, well, that part of me I always knew was Mickey. I was the only one who ever called me that.

But my Uncles and cousins and classmates and teachers, usually called me Mike. And that was confusing because when I first started school, there were three Mikes in my class of nine kids. Mike S. and Mike M. and I was Mike B. And when I was nine, there was another Mike B. in the grade right ahead of me (he was ten when I was nine.) But Mike S. and Mike M. had moved to other schools in the county then. So I was Mike in the classroom, and he was “the Other Mike.” Miss M had both third and fourth grade in the same small-town school so she had to manage two Mikes in one room. But both of us were Ordinary Mikes.

An Ordinary Mike in the 1960s went skinny-dipping at least three times in their early childhood. (Well, that was me. I only actually saw the Other Mike naked at the Iowa River once, though his little brother Barry said they went to the river a few times.)

And an Ordinary Mike was shy around girls. Even tomboy girls who would say yes if you asked them to go skinny dipping because they felt they were just one of the guys. An Ordinary Mike never dared to ask that, though Joel and Randy said that Lulu Baerinfeld went skinny-dipping with them one time. But Ordinary Mikes were always just wise enough to realize they were lying.

Ordinary Mikes sometimes got a “C” on their report card in Math, not because they were dumb and didn’t get it, but because they didn’t do some of the homework because they didn’t want their dumb friends to think they were too Brainiac- smart (Brainiac was a villain in Superman comics.)

But both Ordinary Mikes, me and the Other Mike, were good at Science, getting “A’s” on their report cards. We both vowed to each other that one day we would both become astronauts and walk on the Moon, or maybe Mars. But, as far as I know, neither of us managed to make that dream come true.

So, a writer like me can’t always be extraordinary. In fact, I am often quite ordinary. As I have basically proven, I was and am… Ordinary Mike.

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Why My Kids Are Always Embarrassed

Yes, I admit it. I am a goofy old coot and an embarrassment to my children.

That’s my role in life now. Eye rolls abound when I am around.

There are several reasons why, which I intend to list here in detail in order to embarrass my children further. But it basically boils down to the fact that I am a writer, and though I write mostly fiction, another way of saying I lie a lot, a real writer tends to reveal more of the naked truth about himself than a child can stand.

Who wants to see their father naked? Especially when he is old… wrinkled, spotty, and mostly fish-belly white.

Speaking of nakedness, one of the things that my children are most embarrassed about is the fact that I know a lot about nudists and naturists, in fact, I know many real nudists, and I have been nude in at least one social situation with other naked nudists. And, even worse, I admit it in writing where my children and their friends can see it. Of course, none of them read this blog anymore for that reason.

I have written novels where there are nudist characters based on some of the real nudists I have known. The novels with nudist characters in them so far are, Recipes for Gingerbread Children, The Baby Werewolf, Superchicken, The Boy… Forever, and A Field Guide to Fauns. And these novels might not embarrass them so much if they read them to discover that the novels have something to say that really isn’t about their father being a crazy naked coot. But they won’t read them because I am embarrassing to them.

And there is the verified fact that I am something of a conspiracy theorist. I firmly believe that the actor/theater owner William Shakespeare only offered his name to the real writer of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward DeVere. There is actual evidence that is so, though it was a secret that DeVere took to his pauper’s grave after spending away his entire family estates and fortune. A pauper’s grave that no interested scholar can find the location of to this very day, although maybe he’s buried in the same place of honor as the actor/theater owner, as there are cryptic clues to that as well.

I also believe that Dwight Eisenhower met with alien civilizations in the 1950s and the Roswell Incident was a real crash of more than one spacecraft from other star systems. There exist real deathbed confessions that confirm those details, and the government has been covering up the facts for decades.

The conspiracy-theory skills I have as a crazy, embarrassing coot have resulted in books like Catch a Falling Star, Stardusters and Space Lizards, and the Bicycle-Wheel Genius.

And lastly, I was a school teacher in middle schools and high schools for thirty-one years, which means I can create kid-characters in fiction that are very realistic and have a good-but-comic qualities that make readers generally like my stories.

So, my children are probably right to be seriously embarrassed by my very existence. Of course, I, like all old coots registered with the Crazy, Embarrassing Coots of America, the CECA, am totally immune to being embarrassed by the embarrassment of my children.

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Classroom Clownery (Not to be confused with Sean Clownery… He’s James Blond)

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See Dick?

See Jane?

See Sally?

See Dick run?

See Jane run?

See Sally…?   Wait a minute!  Why don’t I remember Sally?

Did Dick forget to feed Spot and Spot was forced to kill and eat Sally?

No…  I had Dick and Jane books in Kiddy-garter and they did have Sally in them.  And Spot never killed anyone.  But with all the running she did, Sally did not do anything memorable.  If my teacher, Miss Ketchum, had told the Spot eats Sally story, I’m sure I would’ve remembered Sally better and learned to read faster.

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But I actually did learn to read faster because there was a Cat in the Hat, and a Yertle the Turtle, and because Horton the elephant heard a Who, and a Grinch stole Christmas.  Yes, humor is what always did it for me in the classroom.  Dr. Seuss taught me to read.  Miss Mennenga taught me to read out loud.  And in seventh grade, Mr. Hickman taught me to appreciate really really terrible jokes.    And those are the people who twisted my arm… er, actually my brain… enough to make me be a teacher who taught by making things funny.  There were kids who really loved me, and principals who really hated me.  But I had students come back to me years later and say… “I don’t remember anything at all from my classes in junior high except when you read The Outsiders out loud and did all those voices, and played the Greek myth game where we had to kill the giants with magic arrows, and the stupid jokes you told.”  High praise indeed!

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I think that teaching kids to laugh in the classroom was a big part of teaching them how to use the language and how to think critically.    You find what’s funny in what you learn, and you have accidentally examined it carefully… and probably etched it on the stone part of your brain more memorably than any other way you could do it.  And once it’s etched in stone, you’re not getting that out again any time soon.

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Humor makes you look at things from another point of view, if for no other reason, then simply because you are trying to make somebody laugh.  For instance, do you wonder like I do why the Cat in the Hat is trying to pluck the wig off of Yelling Yolanda who is perched on the back of yellow yawning yak?  I bet you can’t look at those two pictures positioned like that and not see what I am talking about.  Of course, I am not betting money on it.  I am simply talking Iowegian… a totally different post.

But the point is, humor and learning go hand in hand.  It takes intelligence to get the joke.  Joking makes you smarter.  And that is why the class clowns in the past… the good and funny ones… not the stupid and clueless ones… were always my favorite students.

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Requiem for 2020

The year in which I lost my father has been a truly ghastly ghoul of a year. I could spend time listing all the things that went wrong for me personally, but that would be a very long list for no real gain in wisdom. I need to take some time just now to reflect on some very hard lessons we have been given by this year to deal with in a way that we might potentially learn from.

There is a chance I may live out the rest of this year and reach 2021. But it is not guaranteed. The pandemic virus, Covid 19, is an insidious destroyer of organs, attacking lungs, heart, and brain, causing blood clots and complications long after the initial infection has passed. The way it strikes people, randomly cruel to one, and presenting no symptoms to the next, has guaranteed it would be almost impossible to control, if we were even trying to control it. And we are dually blessed with an incompetent and corrupt presidential administration that couldn’t care any less if I lived even if they stood to make money off my demise. Like the Bubonic Plague, the Black Death of the Middle Ages, this virus is restructuring our economy and changing our world in ways no one has as yet accurately foreseen.

Firing the salute at the graveside memorial for my father, a Korean Conflict Navy Veteran.

I have not, as yet, survived this pandemic. I have multiple risk factors that make it dangerously likely that at some point I will have to discover the hard way whether I can survive an infection or not. My middle child of the three came home infected in August from his job as a jailor for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. I managed to avoid infection then until he tested negative again, unless I had it as a symptomless carrier during our summer quarantine. Only time will tell. I have not had an antibody test. I haven’t suffered any Covid aftereffects either.

My father did not die of Covid. Parkinson’s Disease like Michael J. Fox and Mohammed Ali had was ultimately what robbed him of memories, the ability to talk, and eventually the abilities to eat and breathe. The “good news” is, I have Parkinson’s symptoms myself, and am merely waiting for a safer time to see the doctor to get it diagnosed. There is more than merely one way that my life could end before 2021 arrives.

But my father led a good life. And he passed a good life on to me. He taught me self-reliance and a respect for hard work in a way only a former farm boy and Navy Seaman could. He taught me to lay shingles as we re-roofed both our house in Rowan and our stable-turned-car-garage also in our little Iowan farm town. He taught me love classical music, especially Beethoven and Mozart, as well as Ravel, Chopin, Vivaldi, and… he always argued… John Philip Sousa. And he started his own Great American Novel. I had to sneak into his closet when I was eleven to read it. It was only about the first third of a novel written all in pencil and kept in a gray binder under the winter clothes in the box on the floor at the back of his walk-in closet. It was called Prairie Moon. It was about a very stubborn and self-reliant pioneer named Ed Adems who built himself a sod hut in the Iowa grasslands of the 1870s. So, I guess, he also taught me to be a self-published novelist. I have at this point published eighteen novels and books, with numbers nineteen and twenty already at least halfway finished.

My three kids when they were small and had goblin grins for the camera.

I hope you listened to the Mozart Requiem while you read this post. I listened to it while I wrote it. A requiem is a Mass for the repose of the dead. We honor them and remember their goodness and light while we commit them to their eternal sleep, even if we are atheists. Because there is a next life for them, no matter what you believe. They live it through us. My father lives in me. And as my hold on life gets weaker and more tenuous, I will live in my children. I have tried to teach them as my father taught me.

And as we put to rest the terrible year of 2020, hopefully there was some good in it too to carry on into 2021 and beyond. And, Dad, you kept all your promises. If you ever failed me, I do not remember it. And I pray that, having kept most of my promises to my children too… at least so far… I will pass on the light for generations yet to be born. You are a part of that too. God bless you, I love you, Amen.

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Filed under family, inspiration, kids

Sugar-Free Johnny

He was one of my all-time favorite students. I know I say that about an awful lot of kids. I can’t help it. Once you get to know them well enough to teach them anything, you tend to be hooked for life. They are your kid. You are their teacher. And that means almost as much as if they were born to you.

I first got to know Johnny on one frightful morning in September of 1984. He was a tiny, frail little seventh-grade boy sitting in the second seat of the second row. And as I was trying to get them to read a short story in the literature book, he kept nodding off, falling asleep. Sleeping is not an effective reading strategy. Three times I tried to wake him up and get him on task. He could have told me then, but he was painfully shy, and the only word I had heard from him was, “Here,” spoken during roll call. So, the fourth time I took him outside the classroom door to ask him what was wrong. He was deathly pale.

“What’s wrong? What do we need to do to make it better?”

He looked towards the boys’ restroom. “I gotta go…”

I told him to go, then followed him down to the restroom because I knew it was something serious. Serious enough to leave my class unattended. But they were deathly quiet, because unlike me, they knew what was wrong. I found him throwing up in the trash can. He told me he was sick in a barely audible voice.

Immediately I went to the office and told the secretary that he was ill.

“They have juice for him in the refrigerator in the ESL room,” Ms. Lawler said. “I’m sorry we haven’t gotten the nurse’s list out to teachers yet. He’s got juvenile diabetes.”

Whoa! I didn’t know much about diabetes then, but I did know it was too deadly of a thing to allow myself not to know everything I needed to know. At the time the school nurse had to take care of all four campuses in the school district, and she was only at the Junior High on Thursdays.

Thankfully, over time, not only did I learn more about handling that disease, but medical science did too. When I would later develop adult-onset diabetes in 2000, treatment for diabetics would become much more effective, rendering the disease far less destructive.

As for Johnny himself, he became a part of the small group of housing-project kids who would come to my apartment on Saturdays, and sometimes after school to hang out, use my computer, and play table-top role-playing games. I made a special effort to engage Johnny in conversations about a little of everything. He was a very bright boy when he felt well. I got to know his seriously diabetic mother too. And his older sister would later become a nurse at the local doctor’s office, so I got to know her as well. Johnny didn’t have a father at the time, which also applied to each of the other boys from the project, except for the Camacho brothers whose father was a seriously depressed Vietnam veteran. I suppose that’s why Johnny became like a son to me, one of five boys who at the time treated me like a second father. I taught him. I entertained him. And occasionally I cooked for him.

One of my two girlfriends at the time that I was mentoring Johnny liked to give him sugar-free candy. She got so accustomed to always having some available at her place that she actually got hooked on it herself.

In school Johnny opened up the way a cactus flower blooms when it gets a little rain. He began to talk to other kids a lot. He made himself into a group leader, and he even went out for high school football. Truthfully, I was amazed by him on the football field. He played defensive back. And he played like a star. I watched him intercept the ball about three times and run it back the other way. The coaches soon felt about him the same way I did. He was part of their family too.

And it turns out that being physically fit practically cures juvenile diabetes.

He got stronger and healthier with each season. He gave me the football portrait not because I had anything to do with his success, but because he loved me. I have hugged that boy three times in my lifetime, and each time is a cherished memory that I hope to carry with me to Xibalba, the Mayan Land of the Dead.

When I developed diabetes myself, Johnny’s older sister kept track of my wellness charts herself. Johnny’s family was experienced with handling diabetes, and they looked after me like a member of their family.

The last time I saw Johnny it was in the hallway at school. It was only a year before I left Cotulla for good. He had come especially to see me. I didn’t even recognize him at first because I hadn’t seen him for a decade. I wanted to talk to him and catch up. But I had to pick up my eldest son that day from second grade as he had been ill. I was not feeling well myself. So, I asked for a rain check. He still had that beautiful smile. And he didn’t tell me that that was the only chance he had to see me before leaving town again. It broke my heart when they told me that later.

But I see him again now as I tell you the story of Sugar-Free Johnny. He was probably the sweetest kid I ever taught. He will always be a part of my story. And apparently I am part of his story too.

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Filed under autobiography, education, humor, kids, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life