Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Favorite Teacher

Sometimes when I’m stuck for something to write about, I’ll Google “memoir topics”, and long, long lists appear to rattle my memories. I did that today, and the one that rattled the loudest (#10) was to write about my favorite teacher in school.

The school I attended, Harrington High School, was in one of those old brick buildings, a two-story with white pillars at the main entrance and classes that always seemed to be on the other floor. It had that old school smell, if there is such a thing, dust, sweat, mildew, and a faint smoky, kerosene aroma in the wintertime. Although Harrington was, and is, a small town, around 3,000 souls, the school always seemed crowded, especially at class changes and lunchtime. When I think back, I was always in a hurry to get somewhere, shouldering my way through crowded hallways, impatiently waiting in line for the bathroom, pushing my tray on the cafeteria rails, or running for my bus after the last bell, hurriedly grabbing necessary books from my locker then slamming it closed. I don’t remember using any kind of lock. I do remember a jumble of books, papers, and a smelly blue gym suit thrown in helter-skelter making that last duty of the day frenzied. It was a long walk home if I missed the bus.

Mrs. Pollitt was my tenth grade English teacher and also my homeroom teacher for that year. She was a formidable lady with short curly white hair, well-dressed, and a little snobby-looking to my less than snobby eyes. She did not put up with any foolishness, and if I did not do my best, I felt I had let her down rather than letting myself down.

Mrs. Pollitt is 2nd from right.

When I think of her, I see her back, straight and tall, right arm extended and writing furiously on the blackboard, diagramming a sentence. She was all business. When she turned around to ask a question, my stomach would do a flip-flop. I was not only in awe of her intelligence but afraid of her disapproval. Her intense eyes seemed to drill right through me when they hovered on mine and I trembled inside when called upon.

I sat in the farthest row over from the door near the windows, but I dared not look outside. There was no day-dreaming allowed in Mrs. Pollitt's class. Oral book reports were one of my biggest dreads, and I remember doing one on Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Books were assigned, and we had no choice in the matter. Tess was a racy book for a small town tenth grader. It contained almost every emotional situation known to man including rape and murder. I got the normal "speak up" command as my shy, red-faced self stumbled through my written summary. How I ever got A's in her class, I cannot imagine. She never gave the impression of being satisfied, never smiled, and yet I knew I had to do my best.

I have always thought of her as my favorite and most knowledgeable teacher because somehow she made me dig down deep inside myself so that I never got to the point of being satisfied with learning. Although she rarely gave any encouragement, I think her expectation of her students to continually strive to do and be better is what made her an outstanding teacher.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jim's Chair

Jim, my husband, who died in 2012, had a favorite chair as most men do. His was a Stratolounger, red and gold plaid, bought in the 70s and used by him daily until his death. I tried to persuade him to let me replace it with a new one many times, but it never worked out. His chair was “broken in” like a old pair of shoes. It sank in all the right places and fit like a glove. A new one was out of the question. “Why would I need a new one?” he asked.

At least he let me move it to a new location in the family room once in a while, and a bi-yearly cleaning kept it looking presentable for a long time, until Mopsy came to stay. Mopsy is my cat who appeared at our front door in 2003. Mopsy has claws and claws are to be sharpened on anything handy which included Jim’s chair. Eventually a few frayed threads developed along the edges which I tried to keep trimmed away but finally gave up on.

During his last ten years every afternoon Jim would nap in his chair covered up with a plaid wool blanket even in summertime. The AC made him cold and the heat was never warm enough. He watched television, read the newspaper, and visited with friends, all while relaxing in his chair. Sometimes I saw him there when he wasn’t because I was so used to seeing him in it.

So you can imagine the impact the chair had on me after he died. I saw it, and I saw Jim. It was comforting, like a friend, but when I had real company, I saw how terrible it looked and kept thinking that I would have to do something with that chair, get a new one, get it reupholstered, something. I procrastinated with those thoughts for several months, never daring to sit in the chair because it seemed like Jim was sitting there. I could sniff the tweed cloth, and it smelled just like him with a hint of his cologne.

In time, the thoughts of replacing it or getting it reupholstered vanished, and I grew into the idea of keeping the chair…forever. I began to wonder what was so special about it. Why did Jim like it so much? And that is how I came to try out the chair. Now, I’m the one who takes naps in it, reads in it, and relaxes in it. It still looks terrible, but I don’t care. It makes me feel safe and secure exactly like Jim made me feel. Why would I need a new one?

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Bad Apple

About once a month I buy a bag of apples. I don’t pay much attention to what kind they are because I tend to jump around depending on price. I’m always amazed at how many new varieties of apples appear in the store. There are actually over 2500 of them, I looked it up. I don’t think I’ve ever bought Honeycrisps or Cameos. Honeycrisps should be graham crackers and Cameos, well, they’re the things you pin on your blouse. Anyway, the first one I ate out of the last bag I bought had absolutely no taste at all so there they sat in my fridge day after day. I expect an apple to be a sweet, slightly tart and crunchy fruit. I finally got tired of looking at them, especially since the skin on a couple were puckering letting me know they were drying out. I wondered what I could do besides eat them raw. I'm one of those people who hates to throw away food, and I’m not a lover of sweets so pie was out of the question.

I went to Google for an easy recipe for 
an apple bread and found this one:

Apple Loaf

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup apple, peeled cored and shredded (I grated it)

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease one 9 X 5 loaf pan. Mix together, flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and nuts. In a large bowl, beat margarine, sugar, and 1 egg until smooth. Beat in 2nd egg and stir in vanilla. Stir in shredded apples. Pour flour mixture into batter, stir just until moistened. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Place on a rack to cool.

I didn't have any nuts of any kind but it turned out great without them. The only problem was I had 6 apples and the bread recipe only needed 2 to make a cup so I grated the rest, added sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla and cooked them in my microwave for 6 minutes. They were delicious on top of a slice of the apple loaf. It was a hearty meal warmed in the mornings for breakfast with my first cup of coffee for the day, and it was even good for dessert with a dollop of whipped cream. I ended up freezing half of the loaf and when a slice was warmed up in the microwave, it tasted as fresh as just-baked.

So the moral to this story is that a bad apple may turn out not to be bad at all. It depends on what you do with it, and I think that could apply to the fruit or the person.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Color Blue

Unless you’re a hermit, you’ve heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, that titillating novel by E.L. James. In this instance Grey is not a color but a person’s name. I’d like to talk about a real color, not grey (or gray) but blue and the many shades of blue.

If someone were to ask what my personal favorite color is, I would say blue, all shades of blue and there are many. When I think blue, the first thing to pop into my head is water, the ocean, and that’s why I consider it my color. I’ve always loved the water, being in it, near it, watching its movement. I grew up in Delaware near the eastern shore of the Delaware Bay, which is riddled with beaches and wildlife preserves. From Memorial Day until Labor Day, weekends meant going to the beach, not the shore as they say in Jersey, although I did love to ride the ferry between Lewes and Cape May.

Blue is a primary color which means you cannot make it by mixing any other colors together. It’s the color of the sky and the sea, and probably the color you see the most of, although you may not realize it. It’s a symbol of trust and loyalty, think true blue, and it produces a calming effect even to the point of slowing metabolism. Lie on your back and look at the sky and feel the calmness wash over you. Or lie on the ocean, watch the clouds, roll and drift on the waves. It also represents the color of heaven mentioned many times in the Bible and in song, my blue heaven. Blue has positive effects on the mind and body.

Generally thought of as a cool color, blue is represented in many crystals and stones, lapis lazuli, sapphire, blue topaz, azurite, turquoise, and many others. In art it gives a feeling of distance to a painting and shows perspective. It allows you to look beyond. Wearing blue will help you communicate with others and help you  remember a speech or other information, and so it’s good test attire. Maybe that’s why all those lines on lined pages are blue.

But in art, there are warm and cool blues although today there is some dissension about which is what. Ultramarine tends to recede and is thought to be cool while cerulean brings objects forward and so is thought to be warm. Pthalo blue was always thought to be warm but most recently it has made a switch to cool. It all depends on the color next to it. If you have some paints or sample cards, try it and see what you think. On the color wheel, blue sits in between red and yellow, both warm colors which to me makes blue look very cool. Cobalt is thought to be the most pure blue.

There are so many things we associate with the color blue, Bluetooth, blue baby, blueberries, blue jeans, blue suits, bluebells, blue eyes, bluebirds, blue jays, robin’s egg blue, sky blue, blue moon, bluegrass, navy blue, even my test books in college were called blue books, and I’ll bet you can think of lots more.

But blue can mean other things, things not really colors. To get the blues or be in a blue mood is not a happy thing, just the opposite. It’s said to be in a blue mood is to be in a dark place. Some remain blue so long it becomes depression. Friends always attempt to lift you out of the blues but many times it can be constructive, giving you time to think or make decisions or even heal from a loss. To Emily Dickinson it meant a fixed melancholy, not something I’d want. Every working person has encountered blue Monday, that beginning of the work week after a weekend of fun and celebration. To most people the blues is a passing mood making happiness, in contrast, so much happier.

And then there’s the music, soulful blues we have no problem recognizing whenever we hear it and whoever we are. Although the blues gained a reputation for misery and oppression, it can also be humorous and at the least will turn the corners of our mouths up and put a twinkle in our eyes. The twelve bar blues is one of the first things taught by piano teachers, easy to play and rhythmic and repetitive in 4/4 time. We’ve all heard the big band blues, Count Basie and Glenn Miller. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings borrowed a lot of their country music from the blues. Blue is a big part of us like it or not.

And so I ask about your favorite color, there are so many to choose from. Is there one that you feel fits your personality or temperament? You can find lots of tests on the web to determine the answer for you. I didn’t need a test to know my color. I have always been true blue.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Have Children's Books Changed?

I’ve been thinking about the books I read as a kid and, on the surface, I don’t think they have much in common with what kids today are reading. When I Google to see popular kid’s lit, things like Charlotte’s Web, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Where the Wild Things Are pop up. These books seem light-hearted in comparison to what I remember.

As a small child the books I read over and over were Aesop’s Fables, Mother Goose Rhymes, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The first taught me morals, the second was for fun, and the last showed me fantasy worlds, grim though they were. They all seem a little dark as I look back and remember.

Although Aesop only insinuated good and bad, it was easy to see the difference and to determine that the reward for good behavior was preferable to the punishment for bad behavior. Aesop also taught me to be wary, to look beneath the surface and see that things are not always as they may seem. There are over six hundred of these fables written by a man believed to have been a slave in ancient Greece. That might explain some things. All of his little stories were told through the eyes of animals, and I think that is what pulled me into the book as a child.

My favorite Aesop tale was The Lion and The Mouse, where the lion had the option of eating the mouse or listening to the mouse’s plea that he might prove useful later, which he did by chewing a rope in two when the lion was caught in a trap. This taught me that kindness was preferable to snap emotional decisions, to not measure a person’s value by appearance, and to think of the future, a thing a small child rarely thinks of. Even now, when certain situations come up, one of the old Aesop’s Fables pops into my head, slows me down a little and makes me think before acting.

Mother Goose was my introduction to poetry, and I continue to think of poetry as rhymes, though there are many many different kinds. Remember Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon, Jack be nimble Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick, and I even learned my months with Thirty days has September, April, June and November. Many of the Mother Goose poems were so endearing they became songs like Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool, Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full, and Hush Little Baby don’t say a word, Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. This last one has been recorded by Carly Simon and James Taylor, changed up just a little but still the same idea.

The Mother Goose Rhymes are attributed to many different origins some dating back to seventeenth century France and beyond, but the first publication was by Charles Perrault in 1697, published in French and later transcribed to English in 1729 by Robert Samber. So I guess Mother Goose was neither a mother nor a goose, although I do have that picture embedded in my brain.

And then somehow I was introduced to Grimm’s Fairy Tales with immediate favorites of The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Cinderella. Fear seems to be the common thread through all these dark stories. I don’t remember how I got this book but I do remember having my own copy and considering it a huge treasure. I can even remember dreaming about Hansel and Gretel. Now, as an adult, it’s doesn’t seem quite as child-friendly. In fact, I bought a copy awhile back intending to read some of the stories to my then small grandchildren. I changed my mind and tucked it away in the bookcase.

The brothers who wrote these tales, Jacob and Wilhelm, originally penned much more gruesome scenes which today might be considered R or X rated. They were not written to entertain children, but somehow children became their main audience, and in future publications the adult content was cleaned up, and cleaned up even more in our time by Walt Disney and others.

The Grimm brothers were German librarians whose intents were to hand down German folklore and in contrast to later publications, the originals did not always have happy endings. Snow White was not wakened by the Prince’s kiss but by a good jarring of her glass coffin, and the wicked witch who was really Snow White’s mother is forced to dance herself to death in a pair of red-hot iron shoes. Ouch! And in Cinderella, her step-sisters actually cut off parts of their feet trying to fit them into the glass slipper. Yuck, sure glad I didn’t have that version; it could mar you for life.

Kids today read about moral improvement, emotional challenges, and diversity but the writing styles are very different from my era, what I would call a little dumbed-down and a lot of happy-upped. Many kids only read graphic novels (we called them comic books) which leave little to a child’s imagination. Everything is right there on the page, no mind visualization necessary. I think this is sad especially when stories help us so much to make sense of ourselves, sometimes even shaping our future selves.

I’m glad I have my little kid reading memories and even though I don’t have the tangible books, those synapses from yesteryear continue popping through my brain, keeping me on the straight and narrow.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Christmases Past

Christmas has always been a happy time for me, and now, without Jim, I have many memories of happiness for comfort. I remember three Christmases in particular as I think about the holidays of the past.

One is an image of teens, boys in white shirts and dark trousers, and girls in white blouses and dark skirts. The year was 1960 and I was among this group as we progressed, two-by-two, up the center aisle of my high school auditorium. Each of us held a lighted candle in our right hand with little paper drip pans pushed up through the bottoms. All the girls wore corsages of sprigs of holly tied with a red bow, which we had helped to pin on each other as we waited in the library. We sang the words to “O Come All Ye Faithful” as we slowly walked to the front of the auditorium, and we glowed in the admiration of the onlookers, our parents and friends filling every seat. 

We filed into the rows of our designated seating and blew out our candles, wisps of white smoke floating upward. We heard the special music of soloists, one I remember in particular.. She was a tiny little girl with long black curly hair, but her voice was anything but tiny. I don’t remember her name. She was younger and in a lower grade than I was, but when she began to sing “Oh Holy Night”, I got goose bumps all over. She was magnificent and captured the complete attention of the entire audience. I’m thankful for this special Christmas memory of my junior year in the glee club.

Another Christmas I remember well was my first with Jim as his wife. He was an Airman Second Class at Dover Air Force Base, and, of course, we were poor. I think his monthly allotment was something like $125. Credit cards were still in the future and our rented living quarters were tiny. We managed to get a small tree and a few decorations and lights from my Mom. I can see myself sitting on the sofa in the dark, watching them blink on and off as I waited for Jim to come home on Christmas Eve.

The only presents under the little tree were from our relatives, and we agreed presents were not important between the two of us. We were happy just to be together. But when Jim came home, he was carrying a huge heavy gift-wrapped box. I couldn’t imagine what it could be, and I knew whatever it was, we had no money for it.

He wanted me to unwrap it right away and I was eager enough. There would be time for questions later. It turned out to be a portable stereo record player and in another package there was an album of our favorite songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary. We played that album until we knew the words of every song and the order in which they would come up. Jim’s favorite, Old Stewball and mine, Blowin in the Wind, were played over and over that night and for many weeks afterwards. Nothing could have made me happier

Even later when I found out the way the present came into being, my enthusiasm remained high. It seems Sears and Roebuck had discovered a way for everyone to spend money in their store for Christmas. It was called a revolving charge account. I won’t tell how much that stereo ended up costing. But it was worth every penny.

The third Christmas I think of is a sad one, but has ended up being a wonderfully happy memory for many people. In the summer of 1986, Jack, Jim’s older brother, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Surgery revealed the cancer had already spread, and he was given less than a year to live. As Christmas neared, his family decided to make it a very special one since it might be his last. All Jack’s friends and relatives were invited to a huge Christmas party in his honor. People brought every food imaginable, games were played, the kids, and even some grownups, put on hilarious skits and went out of their comfort zones for laughter and memories.

One of Jack’s daughters took rolls of pictures and had copies made for all the relatives. I still have my set and always pull it out near Christmas time each year. Everyone looks so happy, doing their very best to make Jack’s Christmas special. I always get a warm feeling as I see the faces of love in those pictures.

I have many other happy Christmas memories, but these three are way up there at the top of the list, and it makes me feel good just by sharing them.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Can't Live Without That Morning Joe

I don’t know about you but the first thing I think of in the morning when I get up is coffee. I must have a cup of that hot steaming black liquid in my hand as an impetus to the balance of the day. It gets me going, helps me think, and in the recent freezing weather, yes, freezing to me, it warms me up. I’ve tried cocoa and tea, but somehow neither one measures up to hot black coffee. I keep it healthy by having only one cup per day.

Last Tuesday morning was no different. Although Mopsy’s breakfast comes first because of the constant meowing, that cup of black coffee is number one priority. I have a small French Press which lets me make it in record time. I don’t need to wait for perking or the drip drip drip through the coffee maker. All I need is one spoonful of grounds and one cup of hot water and presto, three to four minutes later I have the perfect brew.

So Tuesday morning as usual the first thing I do is heat the water which I accomplish in the microwave. I fill my glass measuring cup with the required one cup measure, place it in the microwave, and hit the beverage button. The light comes on, the countdown from 2 minutes and 30 seconds begins, and I hear the thump thump drum of whatever that gadget inside is as it completes its intended job.

Meanwhile, I dump the spoonful of grounds into the glass press and get my prepared overnight oats and yogurt from the fridge. Two spoonfuls of yogurt and a quick mix, and my breakfast is almost ready. At just about this second in my morning activity, the microwave sounds off its three beeps telling me my coffee water is hot. I open the door and as my hand nears the glass measuring cup, I feel like there is something wrong. I touch it and it’s barely warm. Oh no, my ancient microwave has finally died. I’m not only devastated at not having hot water for my coffee, I feel like I have lost one of my best friends because it’s been my loyal hard-working companion for such a long time.  Well, I can’t complain. It’s been how many years? So long I can’t remember.

Realizing the microwave is not going to do it for me this morning, I grab the tea kettle, pour in the one cup of lukewarm water and turn on the stove burner, the smallest one so it will heat the quickest, but still minutes slower than the microwave. Sometime later, with coffee made and oats in hand, I progress to my breakfast station in front of the computer. I’m thinking, jeez, I can’t wait this long for hot water, I’ll have to find a new microwave today. So as soon as I’m finished eating and drinking, I’m web surfing to find a new one, Amazon, Home Depot, K-Mart, Walmart, Target, the list goes on.

With the coffee finally waking up my brain, I begin to wonder why the water was lukewarm if the microwave is dead. Does a microwave work a little bit as it dies, putting its all into that one last effort? Do those invisible waves bounce around a little slower and only do some of their job? That doesn’t sound right. Maybe I need to find the instruction booklet and see what it says about that. Searching for instructions for a microwave that is who knows how old takes some time, but as a person who never throws away important papers, eventually I have it in hand. I skim over the ‘if something goes wrong’ pages but see nothing that might apply to my problem of lukewarm water so I go back to the beginning of the booklet.
Operating Instructions, changing power levels. I read on and find that Power Level Hi is for boiling liquids. I don’t ever remember changing power levels and the booklet says Hi is the factory setting unless manually changed. Hmmmm. I prepare another cup of water, place it in the microwave, follow the instructions for setting the power level to Hi and press Beverage. And guess what, my water comes out coffee ready. And to think I was already picturing how I was going to heave my poor old microwave into the trash container.

As I continue to use old faithful for all my microwave needs, it hasn’t let me down. I don’t have to set the power level, “it” knows all on its own. I can only guess a power surge or some other blip in the electricity confused its brain, but between a cup of coffee and my human brain, my microwave’s life has been renewed and it continues serving me in its familiar spot on my kitchen counter.