Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

THE PARIS CAPER; AN ADVENTURE

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

In my  lifetime, I have been very fortunate to spend some time in quite a few exotic places: Paris France, Florence Italy, Schaffhausen Switzerland, and Decatur Illinois (my birthplace).  Culture and geography fascinate me.  My favorite place to be for excitement, is Paris.   Every one asks me to tell why Paris has such appeal.  My answer is that Paris feels extraordinary; it is the history of Paris, the art in Paris, the people in Paris, the sights, the sounds, and yes, the smell.  Once you have been there, you understand why great artists throughout modern history have been inspired to create their best work there and the why simply doesn’t seem important.  What can I say?

Now, it would be wrong to describe me as being old; it would be proper and correct to say that I have lived a lot of years.  For me, age has always been relative, death inevitable from birth, and I never give much thought to either; life is exciting and enjoyable.

However, you do reach a point in life where you need to do something extraordinary to rejuvenate interests and excitement in your life.  For me, spending some time living in Paris immediately came to mind.

About this same time the Swiss love of my life, Marlisa, retired from her lifelong career of teaching and was also looking for some new excitement in her life; it was fate.  We rented an Apartment in Paris together for six weeks, arriving in Paris on the first of September to begin our new adventure.

Our apartment was rented, sight unseen; from the description provided for by a property managing company and it sounded great but from our previous similar experiences, we withheld our judgment.

From San Diego, I flew to Switzerland to meet Marlisa and we took the train from Zurich to Paris and arrived at the Gare de l’Est train station four and a half hours later.   You know immediately that you are in Paris when you disembark from the train; you hear it, see it, and smell it.  It electrifies the soul.

Our apartment is a short taxi ride from the Gare de l’Est.

Our Paris apartment proved to have the  basic essentials required.  However, Marlisa and I both tend to surround ourselves with what we consider tasteful creative décor, rather than expensive furnishings.  Our Paris apartment décor can be best described as Early WalMart Crap, décor, typical in rentals.

On the dining table, for example, was an exquisite floral arrangement of artificial flowers resembling Dixie cups stuck unceremoniously on a stick, entwined with curly-cue wood shavings; the living room walls were adorned with pictures of a black and red unidentifiable and nondescript flower losing a petal falling toward the floor, a picture of blue-gray splashing water, and a photo of a dozen or so pails of various colored powdery substance that probably-looks-like curry powder in various of shades of brown, red, and yellow.  I am totally at a loss to determine the symbolism involved in any of our décor; it defies even Forrest Gump and “Life is like a box of chocolates, . . . “

But then in Paris, how much time do you spend in an apartment except to sleep; our beds were comfortable and in the dark of night while sleeping it is easy to ignore the décor.

On our first day in Paris, we had to get settled in, of course; we needed food and a Metro and bus  pass for getting around the city at the least expense.   Grocery shopping in Paris doesn’t take long: bread, cheese, and wine.  Getting a Paris Metro Pass was more difficult.

As usual, when I a in Europe I take extra passport pictures because they are required for the passes used for reduced costs to use public transportation; unfortunately, this time I absent-mindedly left the damn pictures of myself in Switzerland with some other things I thought I would not need in Paris.

Consequently, I was required to obtain pictures from a booth that provided automated head-shot photos of the customer in various sizes, for any purported purpose.  The price of the picture is five Euros (about $7.00).

So, I sat in this booth with a drawn curtain blocking out Marlisa, staring into a blank pane of reflecting glass and then fed a five Euro bill into the automated photographer; I was immediately instructed by voice in French which I do not understand, to push various buttons.  I panicked and screamed for help from Marlisa who is fluent in French.  She jumped in and out of the booth with me, fearing we would get a picture of the back of her head; she couldn’t understand the mystery French photographer either, so I just pushed a series of buttons for a few minutes; finally a dumfounded image of myself appeared on the glass, I pushed another button, and the machine pooped out 5”x7” a photo of me staring into space with a bewildered look on my face, obviously muttering, “What in the . . .”

One thing was certain, a 5X7 photo does not fit tidy onto a 2X3 inch Paris Metro Pass.

After another five euros, another fifteen minute, and much giggling from Marlisa, I emerged from the booth with more pictures of myself with a blank stare, than I ever wanted, but they fit on the Metro pass.  Then, after standing in a long line for another twenty minutes, we had a monthly pass for the Paris Metro, the bus, and the local RER trains for sixty-seven more euros (about $90.00); that sounds like a lot until you compare it to my monthly gasoline  bill in the USA (ninety bucks is about two tanks of gas,  the last time I filled up).

Of course the reason Paris is so expensive for Americans today (in 2011), is that the US dollar, has very little value compared to every other currency; most Americans are not aware of that.  America deliberately tried to lower the value of the dollar during the Bush Administration to encourage other countries to import American manufacturers’ products; good for American manufacturers but bad for American travelers on a limited income pension.

When the Euro first went into circulation, about 2003, I paid $ .87 in US dollars for a Euro; Today a Euro costs $1.50 each and the price keeps going up.  In 2000, I paid $ .60 in US dollars for one Swiss franc and today a Swiss franc costs me $ 1.20 in US dollars.  Fortunately, the cheese, bread, and wine in Europe are comparatively inexpensive.

Well, we then had to try out our brand new Paris Metro passes and we used them to make the trip to the Seine River, the Notre Dame, Place St. Michel, and my favorite sidewalk bar at Place St. Michel for a drink and people watching.  We had and excellent dinner at a restaurant nearby and headed home to retire on our first  happy day in Paris.  It was lovely and soothing for the soul!

SUNNY; MY FURTHER EXPLOITS

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Sunny here; just so you know, I am ok now but on Thursday I spent all day at the Vet’s and for a considerable time I was anesthetized. I had nine teeth pulled and those that were left were cleaned. It’s not easy being old. My Veterinarian gave me a clean bill of health and that is good news, but I’m pretty much having to gum some of my food now. Hey, for a 91-year-old Dog, I really can’t complain.

Our new house is working out well for my whole family, as far as I can tell. Erin spent most of this last week cleaning up the garden and making a mess on the patio. She also had some problems with the fishes pond. Those fish can be a lot of work and they are really not a lot of fun to play with. They are pretty austere. Personally, I just pretty much ignore them.

This is an interesting weekend. Erin is gone for the weekend visiting her brother and half-sister and Jessica and Clint are at the River playing. Guess what? I am stuck here with Grandpa.

So far, it has been alright. I finally get fed but I have to nag, nag, nag.

Grandpa tries, bless his heart. He had to give me pills in the morning and night, after my visit to the Vet. Grandpa thought I was dumb enough to eat those pills stuck in my food but I wasn’t born yesterday; instead I just left the food with the pills in it, in my dish and of course, I never leave that good canned food without eating it all of it, ever.

My food tasted terrible with those bitter pills in it. I finally convinced Grandpa to quit trying to mess with my head about the pills. Today is the second day and instead of sticking the pills in my food, he gave them to me in some Elderberry jelly on a spoon.

Well, the jelly was an improvement; it was at least sweet enough to kill the taste of the pills. The stupid pills fell out of the jelly, but I humored Grandpa and just stuffed them down me, cold turkey. They weren’t that bad with the taste of the jelly.

It surely is quiet around here with everyone gone. I was beginning to think Grandpa would never go for a walk with me, like Jessica and Erin do. But yesterday he finally got away from his doggone computer for a while and we went for a walk. I got real excited when Grandpa finally decided to so something with me to break up the monotony. I slipped right into my restraining chain all by my self and off we went.

The Vet lost my regular leash and all we had was a short one, so I was kind cramped during our walk.

I took my daily constitutional and Grandpa praised me like I had just won some sort of sporting event; he picked up my poop in a plastic bag are carried it with him like it was some kind of trophy. Boy, it sure doesn’t take much to please him.

We didn’t walk far yesterday because it was dark. We went to the park a couple of blocks away but Grandpa had trouble walking on the lawn in the dark because it was uneven; I didn’t want to push him too hard even though he really does need the exercise.

Today, Grandpa was up early and we had the jelly and pills episode. I think he is missing the family today so I tried to stay close and cheer him up. He wanted to go for a walk today and that was all right with me. Like I said, Grandpa really needs the exercise.

This time we walked clear to the end of the park, and he proudly carried my poop all the way; what a guy. When we got to the end of the park, there was a school there and a locked gate with a sign that said no smoking, no alcohol, and no Dogs; I thought that was quite offensive to be considered in the same category with alcohol and smoking. Some people just have no class whatsoever, even public school administrators.

It was a nice sunshiny day and we had a good walk.

Grandpa always stops and waits for me, when I happen to sniff something interesting.

There is a fantastic fire hydrant at the front of the park that had me sniffing for a long time. Grandpa followed my lead and was sniffing too but I don’t really think he knew what he was sniffing for. As for me, I thought I caught the scent of an old boy friend but that couldn’t be. That was so long ago; can you imagine at my age?

Grandpa and I had a good time today and it was later tonight, but I thought he needed another walk. I feel like I have to keep him moving. I went to him and indicated it was time for him to get off his chair and do something physical. He was a little reluctant, but I got him off his but and out on the sidewalk.

We took a different route on our walk tonight; it was an area that I had never smelled before so that made it interesting. I didn’t find anything exciting but it was different and I enjoyed it. We did hear some dogs growling in the background that sounded rather mean. I noticed that Grandpa kept me close to him. He needn’t worry, I would protect him.
When we got home, I indicated that I was hungry again. He made a big show of giving me some of that good canned food I like, just like Erin does. I barked, jumped, and danced around so he would know that I was appreciative. You just have to humor him, you know?

It’s lonely without the rest of the family here, of course, but it is an opportunity for Grandpa and I to spend some quality time together. I think he really appreciates it and actually, I admit that I do too.

SUNNY; HER STORY

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Sunny is my name; this is my story.

The name of ‘Sunny’ was given to me a long time ago and I had nothing to do with it; there are some in my family who say it fits my disposition but I don’t even want to get into that.

Oh yes I am a female, I am a Dog, and Dog is God spelled backwards, so keep that in mind. Certainly, I do not consider myself a God but the word Dog is a personal noun and worthy of capitalization; I thought that I should make everyone aware of that.

Now, I am elderly by Dog years, 91 on my last birthday. My life has been a good one and I have no regrets. All the members of my family are good people and we have always taken good care of each other and protected each other; in turn, we all love each other. We are a close family.

Recently, the family experienced a quite dramatic change in our lives. We moved into a different house and in another neighborhood; believe me that takes some adjusting.

We all got together one evening to consider whether or not to make the move and basically we all agreed that we individually and collectively would benefit from moving. The new place is more spacious and comfortable and we would all have even more privacy than before.

However, there was one factor essential to the move that we would have to give a lot of consideration; we would be required to share the new home with the patriarch of the family who would be moving in with us, the grandfather, Erin’s dad.

Grandpa, as we call him, is not necessarily bad per se; he actually has redeeming qualities. However, he is crazy as a loon and an embarrassment at times because of his craziness. Though personally, I am rather partial to him because that man has a knack for scratching you behind your ears that is absolutely divine.

We concluded that we still wanted the move because Grandpa would be Grandpa regardless of whether we moved or not but now he would just be there with us everyday.

Grandpa wanted it made clear, that he was not required to have to live with someone else; he was simply sharing expenses with us for our mutual benefit. For the record, Grandpa made a deal with Erin, our matriarch who runs the show. Grandpa said that he would tell people he was moving in to take care of us and Erin should tell people that he was moving in so we could take care of him. Whatever, but I must say my ears have never felt so good!

Actually, this moving and Grandpa moving in was all Erin’s idea; she had always wanted a big house and yard and never had the opportunity and Grandpa was living alone and getting depressed. So, she is the one who found this house for sale and approached Grandpa about it.

This turned out to be good for all of us. Let me tell you, it makes me feel good all over just to see Erin enjoy working in her yard, soaking up the sun, and tending to the fish pond.

Oh yes, the new place has a small fish pond full of gold fish. Erin has always loved all kinds of living creature and her daughter Jessica is just like her. Jessica is in her third year of college and she works part time too; we girls in the family are very industrious.

Jessica’s husband, Clint, is also part of the family living here. They moved back with us because he is temporarily out of work, as are nine percent of the other working men in America and it is exceedingly difficult to find work today.

Jessica has taken on the duty of feeding the fish every day because she likes doing it. Would you believe it, Jessica has named all the fish; she really likes having fish here at our new home.

“How do you like the fish, Grandpa,” Jessica asked Grandpa the other day.

“Fried,” he said and Jessica made a sad-lookihnt face.

Of course Jessica knew Grandpa was joking, I think.

Actually, I too find it a little difficult to warm up to fish in the family; the cold reality is that who wants a fish scratching you behind the ears.

Erin also has two sons. The oldest, Daniel works in Hollywood and live in L.A., a hundred miles north of here. He often visits on the weekend and now we have a guest room which is convenient for him. Erin’s youngest son, Michael, has been living at home with us until he took a job in Yellow Rock National Park for the Summer; he just left to spend the Summer working there. I really miss Michael a lot; we all do!

Before Michael left, we always took long walks several times a day; he has always been so good to me and I depended on him a lot. He likes to tease me but its obvious that he loves me vey much.

When we moved into our new place, Michael was running around doing everything for everybody.

Of course, Michael had to set up everyone’s computer for them; he’s really smart and he studied computer science at the university. I know Grandpa misses Michael a lot too, because Grandpa was always asking Michael to fix something or other on his computer for him; Grandpa is totally helpless when it comes to computers.

As it has worked out since our move, I am the one who has to put up with Grandpa for most of the day. Everyone else is gone to work, or school, or looking for work. So it is pretty much Grandpa and I together all day long.

But, I really don’t mind. If it weren’t for Grandpa, I would be all alone so I guess you could say that Grandpa moving in is somewhat of a blessing. We’re both old as the hills and tired, so we do have something in common. Of course, Grandpa talks a lot; talk, talk, talk, all day long, usually telling me tall tales about when he was young. What can I say? We are company for one another and like I said before, that man does have a gift when it comes to scratching you behind your ears!

KIM IS MY GREATEST HERO IN HISTORY

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

There is a wide divergence of opinion when Americans are asked, “Who is your greatest hero in history”; common answers are Thomas Jefferson, Jesus, Alexander the Great, John Birch, Albert Schweitzer, or Bill Gates. This is a controversy that I find quite intriguing.

The answer, of course, comes down to who and what the individual is who is being asked the question. In my own case, frankly there are times when I myself wonder just who or what I am? When I look to my reputation, I have discovered that some people don’t care who I am, some choose not to discuss it, and there are a few who are quite explicit but I would rather not reveal their conclusions.

Over the years, I have answered to a variety of salutations, such as, Richard, Dick, You-S.O.B., Sir, Jackass, and Doctor. When I was young I consider Dick to be endearing when I was called that by my mother; later, I discovered that some classmates called me that comparing me with a body part in a negative reference and decided I preferred to be addressed as Richard or even Hey-You.

Actually, I have a negative reaction to being called Sir and I am not sure why; probably this goes back to my military service days when I was required to address some soldiers as, Sir, when I considered them to be of little relevance. Now, when someone addresses me as, sir, I wonder what the hell I did wrong.

Now about the title, Doctor; it is somewhat of an embarrassment to me. Actually, I earned an academic degree, Doctor of Education. This was accomplished for the expressed purpose of getting some respect from other people in my profession that I felt the need to impress. It is only embarrassing for me to be addressed as Doctor when the person addressing me is a friend, student, or acquaintance that I invariably call by their first name rather than title and surname; formality tends to inhibit a close and valuable relationship. Also, I get disturbed when strangers want me to tell them how to cure their arthritic knee or some hideous disease.

Admittedly, in my lifetime, I have often been referenced as a Jackass or You-S.O.B, always by someone that disagrees and loathes me. I enjoy being called those names immensely in that context; it means that I won. This is an attitude that I developed early in adult life when I discovered that to be a real success in your profession or in life itself, it becomes necessary to develop a few enemies along the way (but only for good reason and only a result of careful diplomatic choice).

Therefore, I am at a loss when it comes to determining who or what I really am and when it comes to deciding who I would consider the greatest hero in the world, I would have to decide by crass gut feeling.

So when I feel good, it is usually when I am commuting with nature, eating, or thinking about sex; when I feel distressed it is when someone rejects my friendship, the refrigerator is empty, or the damn horse-shoe-shaped idiot light won’t go out on the dashboard of my car.

The conclusion is that based on my own opinion of myself, I am partial to nature, overweight, horny, gregarious, and am in conflict with the American Automobile Oriented Society. That about sums me up.

Never have I ever been an automobile aficionado. It always appeared macho to be able to identify cars and horsepower and though I would like to be macho, I still don’t know what the hell a horsepower is even though my car might have 200 of the damn things.

In Sociological research, I learned that America is an Automobile Oriented Society; half the current population is presumed to have been conceived in an automobile. In spite of the research, I cannot warm up to my own automobile; all I require is that it get me to where I want to go and home again.

Personally, I have a relatively new, functional car with less than ten thousand miles on it. I thought that my car and I had developed a mutually cordial relationship; I even learned where the hood release is, though I don’t really know what is under the hood of my Silver Car. (Silver Car is what I tell people when they ask, “What kind of car do you have?”)

Then recently, my Silver Car, began sporting an additional light on the dashboard; it was a light shaped like a horseshoe which led me to believe it had something to do with one of my car’s many “horse powers”. To further enlighten myself, I turned to my Silver Car manual, which has remained undisturbed in the glove compartment (which also has never had a glove in it) since I owned my Silver Car.

I looked up “horseshoe shaped light” and sure enough, it had something to do with one of Silver Car’s horse powers; when the horseshoe shaped light comes on, it means there is something wrong with the air in the tires. Modern technology is truly wonderful; I cannot possibly imagine how the horseshoe shaped light knows when something is wrong with the air in the tires.

It appeared easy enough to fix though and there was no evil intent by the Silver Car in flashing me the horseshoe shaped light. I had the tires checked and was informed that the air in them conformed to the requirements of the tire.

The freaking horseshoe shaped light still came on, however; I refuse to argue with a car, though, and considered buying a new one!

Instead, I took it to the dealer’s mechanic and complained, noting that there was still a warranty on the Silver Car. The mechanic, Kim, is a genius; he replaced the Right Tire Sensor Horsepower and the damn light went out.

Therefore, I concluded that Kim is my greatest hero in history!

THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY SISTER, MEG

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Ever since I can remember, there has been my sister, Meg. Marion, which was Meg’s real name, was the baby-of-the-family and the youngest of my 3 siblings, when I was born; suddenly Meg lost her baby-of-the-family status to me, and I became the adored one in the family, catered to, and spoiled rotten. She was seven years old when I was born and instead of resenting me, she nurtured me like a mother. Meg was like that even then, she always loved babies and animals; personally, sometimes I thought she preferred animals to babies and she considered me to be her pet, rather than her brother.

As she grew older, I became a deterrent to her social life; Meg was my permanent baby sister and had to drag me around with her and she complained about me being a pain-in-the-rear and always responsible for keeping her from doing things. Once I remember her friend, Betty Branson, calling me a pain-in-the-rear and Meg gave her hell for saying it; Betty told her, “Well that’s what you say.”

“Yeah, but that’s different,” Meg replied.

I never knew Meg to ignore and not to help any person or any animal that needed help; to me, that is the finest thing that you can say about any person and that is why Meg was such a beautiful woman. Everyone loved Meg; I never heard of anyone that did not love her. And, there was the other side of her too; hell hath no fury like Meg scorned. All my life, I tried very hard not to make her mad; so did everyone else.

My brother Walt and Meg were close in age and also close as siblings. In elementary school, where fights to and from school are a daily occurrence, Meg protected Walt from other aggressive boys who wanted to fight him, by hitting them over the head with her legendary umbrella. Many years later, Meg was introduced to an older man at a social function, and the old guy said, “I remember you from Roach Elementary School; you were the little girl who hit kids over the head with your umbrella.”

My brother and I were never fighters and Meg fought battles for both of us. Once when I was about eight years old, I was knocked down by three kids and being pummeled by all three. It happened across the street from home, and suddenly the kids holding me down were flying in all directions; it was my sister, Meg, kicking ass.

We have not always agreed, but we have always been there for each other.

Now I am seventy-nine years old and my sister Meg has been taken from me; I feel lonely.

Marion Jane Blankenburg Crow died December 19, 2009 at the age of 86.

FIRST GRADE SURVIVAL

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

by Richard Blankenburg

This is basically a wonderful true story of my daughter’s experience, fictionalized, about a teacher, Mrs. Reddick, and 25 impressionable first graders. In today’s accountability craze, Mrs. Reddick would not fare well, evaluated under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama’s measure of teaching excellence because Mrs. Reddick’s students will probably not score well on Standardized Achievement Tests, which is the Federal Government’s standard of teaching excellence. Students of Mrs. Reddick disagree; they obviously judge Mrs. Reddick to be the greatest! Read the story then make your own decision. This story can be reprinted, without compensation, the author approves.

Along with Christmas and other holidays each year, Mrs. Reddick, first grade teacher at Cumberland Elementary School number 119, always looks forward to the first day of school. Exhausted at the end of the previous school year, she is revitalized over the summer months and each year anxiously awaits the arrival of her twenty-five brand new first-graders.

On this first day of school, September 2, 1997, they enter the classroom door one by one. It is the usual variety. There is Alice the sage, Diedre the lost, Cheyenne the orator, Anthony the aggressor, Barry the challenger, Victor the nervous, and so on. Mrs. Reddick greets and introduces herself to each one individually as they enter, taking their name.

Every possible color and ethnic culture is represented. Sitting quiet and glassy eyed today, each is wondering how in the world they ever managed to get incarcerated in this room full of other six-year-olds, condemned to first grade. Each one stares into the eyes of Mrs. Reddick, ready to jump and run at the first false move.

“Good morning,” she begins, “I am Mrs. Reddick, your first grade teacher. Let’s talk about what we are going to do here today and the rest of the school year.”

“Among other things we are going to have fun,” she assures them, “and learn to read and write and a lot of other good things.”

They do not look convinced but the warmth of Mrs. Reddick’s voice and her sincerity takes a little of the edge off of the nervousness. After an hour of engaging in some student activities and making an effort to set their mind at ease, the children began taking turns asking the same question.

“Is it time to home now, teacher?”

To them, today is the longest day of their life.

The first few days she is evaluating ‘where they are’. She sighs a lot at the end of the day but she always seems to rise on the next day to the challenge of changing the lives of these human beings entrusted to her care.

Get them to read! Get them to read! Get them to read! This thought keeps pounding in Mrs. Reddick brain from the very first day. It is an obsession with her. Her excitement is conveyed to students by every move she makes. They are caught up in it, and they are not even sure what reading means! She explains the various phonic sounds of the letter ‘a’, then ‘b’, and so on.

“Sometimes,” she explains, “the letter ‘s’ sounds like ‘ssss’, like in the word ‘say’, and sometimes it sounds like ‘zzzz’, like in the word ‘as’.

“Now class,” she questions them, “can anyone tell me what this word is?” She holds up a card with the word ‘as’ on it.

“I know that one,” Anthony blurts out, “it is ass, like ‘get your ass out of the house!’”

Mrs. Reddick, with some difficulty, manages to inform Anthony that he is close but in error.

“The correct answer is ‘as’, Alice informs the class.

Public school students are representative of the total population. Diedre represented the very lowest intellectual end of students enrolled in ordinary public school classes. Students below Diedre’s level are placed in special classes for those not able to benefit from normal classroom teaching.

Unfortunately, Diedre’s intellectual deficiency is evident even in her physical appearance. In her demeanor, her movements, and even her physical appearance, she is easily recognized as ‘different’ not only by Mrs. Reddick but by her classmates as well. To her teacher, she is just as important as her other twenty-four students.

One day in an art class, Mrs. Reddick held up two pictures of classical paintings, one by Picasso and one by Van Gough. The subject matter was the same in both paintings; a mother supported a young child learning to walk by holding the child’s hands. The students were to describe and distinguish between the two painters’ interpretation of the subject.

“The picture on the left does not look like real people,” Alice responded, exhibiting her maturity and referring to the Picasso, “No one really looks like that!”

“Diedre does,” Anthony suggests in all seriousness.

Amazed, Mrs. Reddick, who understands Anthony’s astute observation, was obligated to give Alice credit for making the distinction between the two paintings and to downplay Anthony’s cogent remark. She reminded herself she must give Diedre some attention before the day was over to help her to feel she is important and build her confidence. It is an important aspect of teaching twenty-five students at one time.

It felt good for Mrs. Reddick to see the interest that the fine arts generated in the class of six-year-olds. Culture is important in the education of children . . . and teachers too.

Very shortly after Labor Day and the start of school, the first grade class makes its annual pilgrimage to the Pumpkin Patch, a farm dedicated to growing jack-o-lanterns. Many children have never been on a farm. At the farm they will see a few animals, pet some of them, see a lot of pumpkins, and select an appropriate pumpkin to decorate the classroom for the upcoming Halloween. It’s necessary to take a bus and in this situation each child must have a partner, be responsible to their partner, hold the partner’s hand, and sit in a seat with the partner on the bus ride.

Because there is one student left without a partner, Mrs. Reddick has the privilege of being Cheyenne’s partner. He is an attractive native American boy, his mother is unable to care for him and his brother, and consequently he and his brother live with their aunt.

“Once, I rode a bus to Tucson,” Cheyenne began telling her as the bus pulled away and they were sitting there together. “We saw a lot of things like animals, cactus, and mountains,” he continued.

“My aunt, the one my brother and I live with, is going to adopt us,” he announces still talking ten minutes into the ride. “I don’t know how that’s going to be. My brother and I really miss my mom a lot. I wish we could live with her.”

Fifteen minutes later, Cheyenne is still talking and telling Mrs. Reddick, “A kid that lives in my block has this big black dog that is always fighting! My brother always fought this kid . . .”

Twenty-five minutes later and seven minutes from the Pumpkin Farm, without stopping talking, Cheyenne is ending his latest narrative about his aunt’s (his foster mother) broken leg.

“ . . . and when she finally got rid of that cast thing, my uncle had fixed the kitchen sink,” he finished.

“I think I’ll give my mouth a rest,” he sighed, turning to Mrs. Reddick.

“Thank you Cheyenne,” she said graciously. It was the first words she had uttered since the bus left the school.

The field trip is a huge success. With the exception of a skinned knee, a torn shirt, and an arm nibbled by goat, there were no real tragedies and a group of happy, laughing children found something else to like about going to school.

One day Mrs. Reddick was reading a story to the class about a pig who was on vacation and writing a letter to his mother. It was really a dumb story, the teacher thought, but the children seem to enjoy it. When she finished reading the story, the children were discussing it.

“I don’t understand the story,” Victor said. “If the pig was on vacation, why was he writing a letter to his mother. Why wasn’t his mother with him?”

“Well,” Cheyenne volunteered, “ His mother couldn’t take care of him and he had to live with his aunt and go on vacation with her.”

Cheyenne was certain he had logically answered the question for Victor and his head was nodding stoically. Mrs. Reddick eyes filled.

One day in November, Mrs. Elsinor, the principal called all kindergarten, first, second, and third grade students to the auditorium for an assembly about discipline. The teachers were not apprised of the assembly before it was called. After they had gathered in the auditorium, Mrs. Elsinor began in a very serious voice to ‘preach’ to the children about what was considered ‘bad’ behavior and it was important that students ‘not do that’.

The teachers in the audience were aghast at the tirade. Mrs. Elsinor had long been suspected of not really caring for children; some thought she had become principal to avoid having to be with them all day. She spent most of her time in her office and the secretary dealt with student contacts. She did not understand young children’s behavior, to say the least.

When she had finished her talk she turned to the children assembled there.

“Are there any questions?” she queried in the nicest voice she could muster. They had been wide-eyed during her speech, hanging on each word. Every student in the assembly raised their hand. The teachers there, inhaled deeply in unison.

“You,” she called on a kindergarten boy, “the boy in the blue shirt.”

“Don’t throw rocks!” the boy in the blue shirt offered in a deeply serious tone.

“Yes,” Mrs. Elsinor said, appearing somewhat perturbed. “That is right, but that is not a question. Does someone have a question?”

The teachers were biting their tongues and trying to think of the saddest thing that had ever happened to them to prevent them from giggling. It was difficult. Some covered their mouths like they were in deep thought.

“What question do you have?” Mrs. Elsinor continued and pointed to another kindergartner, “The little girl with the yellow jumper.”

“Don’t call other children bad names!” yellow jumper offered proudly.

“Yes,” Mrs. Elsinor told her, “but that is not a question. There was a light tinge of disapproval in the principal’s voice now. Teachers were now squirming in their place, staring at the floor, and some turned their heads around entirely to ‘check the exits’.

“Now, are there any questions?” the administrator pleaded. This time she chose Anthony of Mrs. Reddick’s first graders, perhaps because he waved his hand so energetically and appeared bursting with intelligence.

“Don’t push the other kids in line,” he contributed, “someone could fall and skin their knee!” Anthony’s contribution was given out of experience.

“That is still not a question,” Mrs. Elsinor told them in her most serious ‘I am getting upset’ voice.

“Perhaps the teachers need to teach you children what a question is,” she said obviously irritated, and not a moment too soon she announced, “You are dismissed!”

It was a race to see how fast the teachers could vacate the auditorium. By this time, the teachers’ faces were totally contorted and they were literally shooing their students ahead of them seeking refuge outside the auditorium.

Few children come to first grade already knowing how to read. Sometimes they are taught by parents because the children beg to be taught and sometimes to satisfy overzealous parents. Preschool children are sometimes taught to read by older siblings who want to show their younger brother or sister how bright they are. Very few of Mrs. Reddick’s students are ever reading before they come to her class. It comes with the territory.

At a certain time of the year, ‘the moment of truth’ arrives for Mrs. Reddick; one by one the children uncover the mystery of the written word.

“I’m reading!” Cheyenne shouted in amazement ,one day when Mrs. Reddick was working with him. These words always managed to send a chill through the teacher’s body. She had to restrain herself from jumping and shouting with Cheyenne.

Eventually, almost everyone is able to read. They have grown from their first ‘reading experience’, when they can tell you the words on the page because those are familiar words that have been memorized, to being able to make sounds like the letters and decipher words in print that are entirely new to them.

There are only a few left now, who lack the ability to put the sounds of letters together and comprehend words they represent. They are children who come from homes where there is little intellectual stimulation or children who simply lack the innate ability to comprehend much of anything.

This year’s challenge for Mrs. Reddick is Diedre. The teacher has quietly and slowly been building up Diedre’s confidence and looking into her way of thinking so that the teacher will know those things familiar to her that can be used to build new concepts in the child’s mind. These new concepts will open the door to the miracle of reading the written word.

“That’s good, Diedre. You’re doing very well,” Mrs. Reddick assures her over and over.

Diedre can learn to read. The teacher believes it and Diedre must believe. Mrs. Reddick has to work hard and try, try, try. Even more important, Diedre has to work hard and try, try, try. When a child has experienced as much failure as Diedre, teaching of reading begins with giving her self confidence and convincing her she can succeed by trying, trying hard, very hard. This is teaching.

Then the day arrives and Diedre breaks into a huge grin.

“I just read that,” she tells her teacher quietly, hardly able to believe it herself.

She has just deciphered groups of meaningless members of the alphabet to mean something comprehensible. Mrs. Reddick breaks down and cries for joy.

Something happens between school children and their teacher between September and June. They have experienced life together. It is not all good. Everyone is not always successful. But it is a unique experience for students and teacher alike. At the end of the school year it becomes only a memory.

The last day of school, like the first, is special. First graders look forward to this thing called vacation when they will be set free to do something they want to do, anything, as long as it is not something they are required to do. Summer seems like a lifetime, looking at it from the last school day. They have never experienced a last day before; they don’t realize that school will never again be like it was this year. There may be better years or worse, but there will never be another like this one.

Mrs. Reddick knows. This time of year, her mind dances with visions of students past and those experiences that she will never know again.

“I would like all of you to know that I have enjoyed being your teacher this year” Mrs. Reddick tells them. “I hope you will work just as hard for the teacher you have next year as you have for me and I hope you will be as nice to her as you have been to me. Hopefully, you will continue to learn more all the time and enjoy learning from the new teacher you will have next year in the second grade.”

“I’ll miss you Ms. Reddick,” Alice says, her eyes welling up in tears..

“Well, I will still see you sometimes in the hall or on the playground,” Mrs. Reddick told her. “You will be in a different classroom next year but you can come and see me after school. I will have a new class of first graders next year, of course.”

“Another bunch of first graders!” Anthony exclaimed.

“Yes, I’ll have new students coming to first grade for the first time, just like all of you did at the beginning of this year,” Mrs. Reddick told him.

“You mean you have to do all of this all over again!” Anthony said in disbelief.

“Yes,” she replied smiling, “I’ll have to do it all over again.”

“I couldn’t do that,” Anthony declared shaking his head, “Boy, I don’t ever want to be a teacher!”

END

‘Pumping Iron’ in the Golden Years

Monday, March 30th, 2009

     The projected life span of the American male is seventy-seven years; by those standards, people like me that are seventy-nine and going to be eighty, probably should not buy green bananas.  However, age is relative and when it became evident to me that my physical and mental problems, like high blood sugar, high cholesterol, obesity, and clinical depression were the result of an absence of exercise, the decision was made for me to join a ‘fitness center’ (a gym); I was determined that when I died, I would die a very healthy person.

     A week later, it became evident to me that simply ‘belonging’ to a gym was not enough and I would actually have to go to the gym and do ‘something’ for it to be beneficial; I acquired a trainer.  When asked if I had a preference for a male or female trainer, I responded by quickly saying, “Female!”

     I had visions of a macho male trainer, instructing me to pick up a treadmill machine and press it over my head, whereas a compassionate and motherly female jock would take pity upon me at my advanced age and allow me to tread ever so lightly smelling the roses along the way.  Then, I met my trainer, Chis!

     Chris is an adorable woman in her twenties and happily married to a burly U.S. Marine.  She has a perfectly proportioned body and I discovered, while watching her demonstrate how to use an exercise machine, that she is muscular and feminine and decidedly not soft and feminine.

     “You have beautiful triceps,” I complimented her, without thinking how utterly ridiculous that sounded.  It was simply an astounding observation of mine.

     “Thank you,” she responded without missing a beat or laughing out loud.

     During these first few sessions that I have had with Chris, she definitely impressed me; she is all business and is exceedingly knowledgeable and efficient.  At our first session, ‘we’ evaluated my potential and my goals.  I don’t think that this was supposed to be as hilarious as I found it to be; in addition to almost being an octogenarian, I have prosthesis knee replacements in both knees, I am obese by medical standards, and I am missing a very important muscle in my left thigh.  Other than that, I am a very healthy specimen with spectacles and hearing aids and take no medication other than a vitamin a day and an occasional glass of wine, ‘for medicinal purposes’.

     As for my goal, I told her that I hoped to lose weight, lose my big stomach, maintain low cholesterol and blood sugar, and not have any fits of depression.

     “You can do that,” she said.

     “Can I get rid of this pot-belly,” I asked again.

     “Yes,” she said with much more confidence than I was feeling.

     Then, I answered all the medical questions on an evaluation sheet and swore that I would not sue the gym if I dropped dead in the process of trying to make myself look like Governor Schwarzenegger. 

     Chris measured my ‘body fat’ by pinching the abundant fat all over my body using a plastic device specifically made for the purpose.  Then she measured other parts of me with a tape measure, including my ample girth and triceps flab; there was obviously too much to measure and no place for me to hide.  I closed my eyes and imagined being in the third pew from the front in the National Cathedral.

     My first exercise took place in the specified exercise area in the middle of the gym and in front of a thousand ‘sweaty’, grimacing faces; so be it.

     “Can you lie down on the floor?” Chris asked and she was serious.

      “Yes,” I answered quietly, noting that she hadn’t inquired about my ability to get up off of the floor; getting down was easy.

     She then advised me to put various muscles of my body on a plastic cylinder about ten inches in diameter and three feet long; I was directed to roll a specific muscle on the cylinder to mash and soften it.  It was surprisingly easy to do, however I had visions of myself looking much like a beached Beluga whale thrashing around on the floor.  When I finished, Chris offered to help me up and I had to advise her that it would be very dangerous for her to do so and that I had my own method.  Actually, I am very agile at getting up off the floor, rising like the Phoenix from ashes, yet, perhaps without a lot of grace and style, with legs and arms flailing the air like mad.

     After writhing on the floor with the plastic cylinder, I next became involved in a few exercises in which I had an intimate relationship with a huge plastic ball over two foot in diameter, doing a variety of exercises, some of which could possibly be misinterpreted as obscene.  However, I have a rather bizarre attitude about such things, I did not become emotionally involved, and I suffered no embarrassment whatsoever.

     For my next act, I had to do some exercises requiring balance on one foot; I do not do well when it comes to balance and actually I am fortunate if I can remain vertical utilizing both feet.  Chris assured me that my balance would improve with practice.  I was not convinced; I am still over six feet tall and as a matter of physics, I have a very high center of gravity.  As a young man, I had good balance and stability for a tall person but now, age has taken a toll; it is more a problem of balance in the head than on the feet.  There is always a potential danger that I could fall on somebody and injure them.

     The remainder of the workout involved pushing or pulling weights and I thought that I excelled at it for a person of my age.  Of course I warned Chris that I felt I shouldn’t try to handle too much weight and she honored my suggestion (it was actually a plea complete with tears in the eyes).  So, I pulled and pushed weights all over the place and rather enjoyed it at the time; I felt great accomplishment and worked off my aggression.

     “Do you feel this exercise in the muscles of the abdomen and legs?” Chris asked.

     “Oh yes,” I replied.  However I was really thinking that I felt it more in the hernia and hemorrhoids.

     All in all, the exercise session gave me a feeling of euphoria and I had feeling in every muscle in my body; it felt good just to have feeling, for a change. 

     About six in the evening that first day of working out, I felt very tired and thought that I would take a short nap before dinner.  I lay down, went to sleep, and awoke at five-thirty the next morning, eleven hours later.  I was not in pain, but every part of me did not want to bend the way it ordinarily does.  Originally, I had thought that I would try to work out in the gym every day, but wisely I decided that I would take a day off after that first workout.

     Chris is so knowledgeable about fitness; she suggested that I workout for thirty minutes twice a week and do thirty minutes on the treadmill three times a week.  That allows a recovery day for each workout.

     It gives me a real sense of pride, the way that I mastered the treadmill; I know how to walk.  I walk with head high at a lively gait and do not pay any attention to the teen–age girl jogging at twice my speed, showing off on the treadmill next to me; to each his or her own.

     After only a couple of weeks I have already felt the benefit of physical fitness; I no longer feel depressed because I am too damned tired.  As fate would have it, I am still obese and I am still old.  However, I am convinced that I am obese, old, and healthier.  Now if I can just keep convincing myself!