I have many, many memories of trips to grandma’s house for the holidays. I was privileged to know both of my grandmothers and two of my great-grandmothers. And even though we lived in California for most of my childhood we usually made the long trip to Oklahoma at least every other year. Most times we traveled in the summer, but I have photos and memories of a few winter trips.
I was amused to hear someone speak last week about their impending trip to Colorado and the fact that the children traveling with them will at least be occupied by their DVD players. My brothers and I were occupied by arguing with each other, counting cars, recording license plates, singing, looking for animals, and playing my father’s favorite game- “name that car”. He challenged us to look at the oncoming traffic and name as many car makes and models as possible. If we also knew the year we got a bonus point. Believe it or not, I was pretty good at that game. Of course we also played our favorite game- “are we almost there?” You need to understand that we drove from California to Oklahoma, through the desert, at 45-55mph!!! There were many stretches of highway where it was perfectly legal to drive faster, but we seldom had a vehicle capable of doing so. And I only recall us having one car that ever had “air conditioning”. It actually had a little “car cooler”, which was an evaporative cooler that attached to the outside of the side window.
Other aspects of travel were quite different from what we would do today. Rather than stay in a motel we often pulled over to the side of the road for a few hours in the evening and simply slept in the car. Dad would wake up around 2am and continue on while it was relatively cool. I was a light sleeper in those days and usually woke up and talked to him until dawn. I loved to see the stars at night!
We also bought most of our food at grocery stores and ate at rest areas. Sometimes we alternated with meals at pancake houses because the food was cheap and filling. Mom packed things like homemade cookies and oranges picked from our trees for snacks. We never thought of asking for snacks from the gas station. Besides, the guys who ran out to fill the tank, wash the windows, and check the tire pressure seldom kept much more than a few sodas and candy bars for sale.
I looked forward to three things when we finally arrived at mother’s childhood home. Mama Della’s home in the country had lots of animals, lots of food, and a super comfy bed. She had one of those sofas that opened out flat. It didn’t have a bed inside that pulled out; the sofa just unlocked and the back of it dropped down. She placed a big feather mattress on top of that and piled on the quilts. It always seemed so cozy and comforting. There was always something fresh and warm to eat at Della’s. And if it wasn’t in the house we went out and picked it! I couldn’t believe at first that she made her own butter, until I watched her do it. Trips to Della’s always included laughter and stories, wagon rides, and walks to the pond. I have so many fond memories of those visits!
Big Mama, my Grandma Bea’s mother, had a tidy little house in town on Russell Street. I was fascinated by the fake parrot that hung on her porch! Her furniture had colorful slip covers and she changed them with the seasons. Her house had the subtle fragrance of the snuff she discreetly dipped all of her life. And she made the best pies I ever tasted! My favorites were pecan and peach, but I also liked the mincemeat pie she always made. Even Bea’s pies never quite rivaled her mother’s. Another odd thing that stayed in my memory was the black walnut tree in her back yard. That tree and its fruit were so much trouble that I was totally baffled by her affection for it. I thought the walnuts tasted bitter, but I suppose she used them because she had them.
Granny Simmons, my Granddad Lee’s mother, lived just down the street from Big Mama, next to Mrs. Craighead. Her house had the lowest ceilings I had ever seen, and her 6-foot height made them seem even lower. She kept rows and rows and rows of canned vegetables and fruits in every nook and cranny of her house. She had Grandma Moses prints on her living room wall that I fell in love with the first time I saw them. And she had the most intimidating demeanor you can imagine. I wasn’t afraid of her, but I was certainly polite and respectful in her house! She loved her roses and her chickens, but I wasn’t always sure she loved noisy little children.
My grandmother Beatrice is a part of many more memories than I can count because she lived in California near us and also traveled to Oklahoma nearly every year to see her mother. So she was usually at our table, her table, or Big Mama’s table to celebrate holidays with us. She cooked as though fifty people were expected, and every dish was worth a second helping. I remember her cornbread dressing so vividly I promise you I can smell it right now! She also made wonderful “yeast rolls” that she packed into bags for us to take home. After the big meal there was always a game of Aggravation and a late afternoon slice of pumpkin pie…and of course a cup of coffee. If you ever went to Gran’s house and the coffee pot was not on, it was probably broken.
As another holiday rolls around I hope you are making memories with your children and grandchildren. Though mine are far away I know they have other family members who will fill their plates with good food and their minds with happy memories!
I did not want to write this today. I balked and whined a bit when the title first came to me. I was still a bit sleepy and filling the coffee pot. My instant reaction was not today! But God gave me an extra nudge, so here I am, telling you something painful, but apparently necessary for someone else’s benefit. My calling for today.
Tuesday marks the anniversary of my mother’s death. 1999…can it really be that long ago and still bring tears to my eyes? All of you who have lost a loved one, especially a parent, know the answer. We are forever children at heart and feel an instant kinship with all orphans, regardless of how long we were blessed to enjoy the care and love of our parent. But there seems to be an extra sense of loss attached when that parent dies during the holidays. I remember well the pain and despair at the sight of Mom’s empty chair at that first Thanksgiving dinner without her. Yes, we gathered together in her honor, but I could not take my eyes off that chair, nor the funeral plants that graced the side table behind it.
I know that many of you will have a similar experience this week and again as Christmas is celebrated. I can tell you that the pain lessens over time and there is still much for which to be thankful. You will find joy again…but I would also encourage you to appreciate everyone at your table while they are still occupying their chairs.
I’ve said before that I seldom know what I’m going to write about on any given morning. At least once a week I try to write something that is inspiring and encouraging. Other times I write about what is going on in my little world. And sometimes I feel compelled to write about something that I just think is interesting. I hope that all of my posts combine to fulfill my original intent of sharing my “musings and memories”.
This morning my mind is focused on our language and how it has changed, and how many words have disappeared from our shared vocabulary. As a reader of old newspapers I constantly encounter words such as aver and millinery that are no longer understood by the general public. As a kindergarten teacher I find myself explaining the meaning of words like apron and record because the items are no longer in common use. But I also find that children are not familiar with other terms such as ill, least, younger, and succeed.
I had two coincidental experiences this week related to language. At our monthly staff meeting we were told that one of the things we need to emphasize in our lessons is new vocabulary because students simply do not have the words they need to improve their reading and writing skills.
During a conversation with my daughter she complained that many of the parents of her hearing-impaired students simply do not talk to their children enough because of the implied limitations of their disability, even though more conversation is exactly what they need the most!
I assured her that her parents are not the only ones keeping quiet. I find that many parents do not engage their children in meaningful conversations. Some have a tendency to “dumb down” anything they say to their offspring because of the mistaken belief that children do not have the capacity to understand more than the most simplistic terms. Others do not engage their children in discussions because of the social and cultural changes that have taken place in the last decade. Children are often occupied with devices such as televisions, video games, and phones. Parents and children do not sit down to the table to eat and talk. Schedules of some parents and children seldom even coincide! One is working while the other is at ball practice or sleeping. When they do get together the conversations are often quick and involve questions or instructions about the next day’s activities.
One of the most damaging changes to our shared vocabulary has been the loss of our written language. Conversational language has always been less formal and structured, and far less complex and enriched than written language. Our best use of language has always been the written word. Our best poetry, stories, and speeches are those that are written down because we have taken the time to think and edit and choose our words carefully. When I’m writing I am often unhappy with the “first word that pops out of my head” so I search for something more succinct or descriptive. I’m afraid that practice is lost on a generation that texts and tweets and converses by email! “Let Siri do it” seems to be the common mantra of too many people.
My own vocabulary has become inadequate over the years. We tend to use the words of our environment, local culture, career, etc. to the exclusion of words once needed for other situations. I no longer use many of the terms I found useful in college or in my previous work in advertising. Too often I find that the word brought to my email by “Word a Day” is unfamiliar, but should be here in my head somewhere.
As a teacher I am deeply concerned that knowing “UR2G2BT” is not going to enable our young people to succeed in their chosen careers. But perhaps I am again just being old-fashioned, and in the future I will be the one who is unable to carry on a conversation or communicate through the written word.
This has been a less –than-wonderful week in many respects, and I won’t bore you with the details. I’m sure you have your own challenges to worry about and I know that many of you are facing much more serious problems than mine. However, I am reminded once again that it is NOT the disappointments and difficulties we encounter in life that “make or break” us, but rather our reaction to them.
My first reaction to a couple of challenges I encountered this week were not good. I’ll be the first to admit that my “fight or flight” instinct often leans decidedly toward the latter. As some of you know my earlier years included a lot of physical and emotional abuse that my brain still vividly recalls and naturally avoids. But I know from experience that if I let those few moments of panic pass I can find the peace and resolve needed to see my problem from several angles and work out a plan for solving it. Of course that plan may take several days and lots of prayer and consultation with friends and some internet research….but I eventually find my way to the right path.
There are those among us who are not so blessed. Many people turn to drugs or alcohol or other self-destructive practices in hopes of solving their problems. Some flounder in despair until it seems to them that there is no way out. Disappointment can lead to serious problems that affect everyone around them. I hope you will join me in praying for those who are disappointed this week and in need of encouragement.
God has pointed me in the right direction once again. I pray that you are also on the path to peace.
I hesitate to argue with David McCullough this early in the morning, but he started it. On 60 Minutes this past Sunday he made some comments that I disagreed with and was fully prepared to overlook…until they started appearing as quotes on FB and people were flocking to his side like migrating lemmings.
So in defense of teachers everywhere I have to say that Mr. McCullough is right and so very wrong.
First of all let’s talk about his statement that we are historically illiterate. True. But I would also make the claim that Mr. McCullough is bound to be historically illiterate in some area. I don’t think it is possible to be otherwise. I hope he does not claim to have all of the world’s history from creation to present tucked into that little brain of his, marvelous though it may be. And what would he have us learn more about -American history, political history, state history, world history, Native American history, European history, Biblical history, art history…..? He says that if people would return to the dinner table with their children they could “discuss history” and pass it on. Would that be community history, family history? War stories? Totally biased and undocumented political history? My grandmother’s favorite dinner discussion was the depression. Would that suffice for a history lesson? Our neighbor was in a concentration camp. Those were depressing stories that gave me nightmares!
I grew up in California so I was taught American history, geography, and California history. When I moved to Oklahoma in high school I had to also take a class in Oklahoma history and learn about Native Americans. I doubt that many of my classmates knew much about California history, nor did our counterparts in Vermont or Virginia! There is a limit to what can be taught to any single group at any particular time in their education. We cannot all be “historians”. I know a lot of basic history, but as for names and facts, many of those are lost to me. Nor can I now recall to you the many, many dates we were required to learn!!
Mr. McCullough also speaks of those with a “passion” for what they know. My eighth grade social studies teacher had a passion for the Civil War; so much so that we learned far more about those years and battles than necessary, and to the exclusion of other things that were included in the curriculum of other schools!
Yes, our students should have an understanding of the “basics” of American history that we all agree are culturally beneficial to well-rounded citizens. With the recent implementation of Common Core adopted by 48 states perhaps we will achieve that, but there will always be a certain number of children who do not listen to, care about, or understand what is taught in class. That is a fact of life we all need to quit ignoring.
Mr. McCullough also thinks that teachers should major in a subject, not education.
David McCullough: Well we need to revamp, seriously revamp, the teaching of the teachers. I don't feel that any professional teacher should major in education. They should major in a subject, know something. The best teachers are those who have a gift and the energy and enthusiasm to convey their love for science or history or Shakespeare or whatever it is. "Show them what you love" is the old adage. And we've all had them, where they can change your life. They can electrify the morning when you come into the classroom.
I had a professor like that in college! He loved his subject- science! He could expound on biology for hours. Only problem seemed to be that he HATED students. He electrified the morning all right! I nearly worried myself into an ulcer over his class. He locked his door at 8am sharp and didn’t care if anyone had a reason to be late. NO ONE was allowed to interfere with his scheduled lecture. Be there on time or go home! He talked and talked and talked and if you didn’t “get it”, well too bad for you.
I also had a professor who loved people. She taught sociology to people. And she was so passionate about her students that she had more students in her class each day than were actually registered. Young people often sat on the floor in the aisles to listen to her speak. Her lectures led to warnings from the fire marshal!
On a more personal note, my “Civil War expert” eighth grade social studies teacher moved in the spring and was replaced by a man who recognized and encouraged my ability to write. While my English teacher continued to scold me about my sentence structures and make me diagram them ad nauseam, he arranged for me to attend an “author’s tea” at the library and meet a real writer. That changed my life! It did not matter what he had been trained to teach, what mattered to him was what I needed to know!
Perhaps Mr. McCullough does not understand that as an elementary teacher my education requires a basic knowledge of a variety of subjects including how to teach children. I must be ready to teach them everything from how to tie their shoes to how to construct a Venn diagram. Perhaps Mr. McCullough does not understand that many of the children in our classrooms are tired, hungry, abused, neglected, discouraged, worried, disabled, homeless, and disturbed. A person who is simply passionate about a subject cannot hope to reach and teach every student. An elementary teacher has to be passionate about those children!
And Mr. McCullough probably doesn’t realize that as teachers we don’t get to decide what to teach our students. The state, the district, the school board, and the administration are all ahead of us in decision making. We have goals and expectations that must be met. We have tests that must be given and our students must pass them. I have a job to do. I don’t have the luxury of just demonstrating my superior knowledge in my favorite subject!
I found it almost amusing to hear someone say recently that they were “shocked” by the revelation that CIA Director David Petraeus had an affair. Seriously? Have they been living under a rock? Haven’t we “been there, heard that” at least a dozen times before? Haven’t we been previously dismayed, disappointed, and disillusioned by business leaders, presidents, politicians, preachers, movie stars, and sports idols- all of whom have done the same thing? I would probably be more shocked by a list of those in Washington who have NOT had an affair. It seems to my memory that the most important roles in government have quite often been held by men of questionable personal judgment.
What I find interesting are the comments about what a great job Mr. Petraeus has done as the CIA Director. I’m not sure why we should be surprised by that. The man can obviously keep secrets! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.) Why do we assume that liars, cheaters, gamblers, drug addicts, and alcoholics can’t do their jobs? The fact that we parade President Clinton around like the role model of the western world and continue to applaud the skills of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong would prove otherwise. We have demonstrated in the past that we are willing to overlook the personal sins of most of our leaders if they are doing a good job and are repentant. If we like them or they are doing something that directly affects us we’ll even pray for them. So let’s not be hypocrites about the whole thing.
Please don’t infer that I condone this behavior- by our leaders or anyone else. What occurred to me yesterday, on a deeply personal level, is that perhaps we spend far too much time teaching our children “college and career” skills while neglecting the moral and character skills that will allow them to KEEP their prominent positions and fancy titles. We push them to succeed, but don’t equip them with the values to manage that success. Sex is not the only temptation they will face. Strong personal principles are needed at every turn in their journey through life.
I have several kindergarten students, five-year-olds, who have already cheated on their work and lied to me this year. It is a natural self-protective instinct at this age, but it is also my responsibility to convey to them that it is NOT acceptable behavior in our society. I hope I am successful, but if they watch very many of the other adults around them they may ignore me.
There have been a dozen or more ducks on the pond the past couple of weeks. I’ve enjoyed watching them with my binoculars, but I was anxious to photograph them this week using the tele-converter that Gary recently purchased for me. Couldn’t try it out any evening this week because of a combination of circumstances and lack of daylight, so I was excited about getting outside Saturday morning. However…
For those of you unfamiliar with this little gadget, it is a secondary lens mounted between the camera and the existing lens. So I have mine attached to a 70-200mm lens. The converter enlarges the image and since mine is a 2x it “doubles” the image. Don’t get excited yet! It also decreases the amount of light reaching the camera, so unless it is used in bright light the autofocus feature will not work. So that means manually focusing the lens. The converter also increases the length and weight of the whole unit so it makes it unsteady, thus requiring a mono- or tri-pod support.
Well, of course it was overcast all morning AND the wind was blowing about 30mph!! Not a great day to try managing an unwieldy camera-lens combo!! Plus there is a learning curve for anything new and I am the WORST about learning new technology. Freaks me out at first! I have anxiety attacks about breaking anything new. I must have been a destructive child or something. I don’t recall breaking very many things, but I do remember getting into trouble for losing stuff. So…I have to ease slowly into these things. (I once made the statement that I would NEVER learn to use the new camera.) Be patient and at some time during the Thanksgiving break there will be photos of the ducks on the pond. And I think the converter will be great at Hagerman!
Of course you can correctly assume that thinking so much about the ducks this week brought back some childhood memories! There have always been ducks in my life. Dad hunted ducks and we also raised them, ate them, and ate their eggs. I learned to clean a duck when I was still small enough to stand on a chair to do so. Can’t say that I was ever fond of eating duck but I never liked squirrel or rabbit either. We ate what Mom put on the table!
My grandparents often took me to the park to feed the ducks and geese, and of course we always did the same with our own children. Ducks were cheap entertainment. For the cost of a loaf of bread we could spend an hour throwing little bits into the water and watching the ducks swoop and splash and dive.
I never want to eat another duck. I really don’t have any desire to feed them either. I’m more interested now in identifying, observing, and photographing them. Most don’t stay long at the pond. I like to think about how far they may have journeyed to get here and where they are going for the winter.
I’m old. It doesn’t take much more than a few ducks on the pond to entertain me!
People are posting on FB their reasons to be grateful each day of this month. I enjoy reading them, but I’m not really a “follower” by nature so I haven’t joined in often. I also don’t “cut and paste” a lot of other very worthy status updates or play games. I’m just naturally reluctant to do such things. (My father says I’m stubborn and too independent.) But I do feel the need to offer thanks for something every day, 365 days a year, because my life is so great compared to what it might have been. Some of the changes are between me and God. Others are known only to a handful of people. But some I will gladly share with you:
I could go on and on. If any of us look around we can clearly see that someone else has far less or is in a situation that we do not have to face each day. My grandmother was fond of saying, “There but for the grace of God go I…” I also like to recall Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. I fell in love with it in high school and it sustained me through some tough times. I often quote the last verse to myself.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.