Sunday, December 4, 2016

THE 1979 CHRISTMAS NIGHTMARE

Another true story by our writing class' best humorist! And you thought the holidays were stressful! Thank you for sharing Valerie!


  THE 1979 CHRISTMAS NIGHTMARE


The story you are about to hear is true! The names have not been changed to protect the innocent. The actual events, which are about to unfold, all transpired in the god forsaken town baptized Palestine, Texas. This abyss is located 120 miles southeast of Dallas and 150 miles northwest of Houston. One might say that it is the Texas rendering of the Bermuda Triangle. What could possibly bring a person to such a place you ask? I blame my wedding vows for this predicament:” for better or worse, in sickness and health, till death do us part.” Apparently, this encompasses your spouse’s transfers for his company to unimaginable black holes of civilization. Let the nightmare begin!

The joy of the holiday spirit had permeated the house throughout and it had been transformed into a magical Christmas Disney wonderland. That year the entire Mickey and Minnie Mouse posse of characters enthralled my two little elves ages 5 and 20 months. The tree was bedecked with miniature plush replicas of: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, Huey, Louie, Dewy, and of course the two little culprits Chip and Dale. Underneath the tree, the Disneyland Express could be seen and heard chugging its way around the perimeter.

The children cuddled against me as we sat on the couch in front of the crackling roaring fire for our traditional Christmas Eve reading of Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. The little ones then hung their stockings with care in hopes that Santa would soon be there. The customary cookies and milk were lovingly placed on the hearth and the little angels were now nestled down in their beds while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.

There were still Santa duties to be done. The presents were strategically placed under the tree and the stockings were filled to the brim as the children would soon see. Mama in her kerchief attempted to retire for a long winter’s nap, when all of a sudden there arose such a clatter, my scared son flew into my bed to ask what was the matter. I told him it was Santa out by the tree and that he needed to be quiet so he crawled into bed with me. When the child was finally asleep, I slipped out of the room to investigate the source of the commotion and what to my wondering eyes did I see, but my drunken husband passed out on top of our new fallen Christmas tree! Obviously, he had overindulged in Christmas spirits at the office party. After a quick recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, I made a grisly discovery. There were dismembered Disney character body parts strewn everywhere – arms, legs, heads, torsos, and tails. The scene resembled a horror movie. Perhaps my inebriated husband had suffered an insatiable attack of the munchies. Then there he was standing in the corner with part of Pluto hanging from his mouth. The mass murderer had been caught in the act. The dog did it! Explaining this catastrophe to the kids was my biggest concern at that moment in time.

Securing a body bag, the epic bulk extrication began. With all evidence removed from the scene of the crime, the next phase was mass cremation. The lovely town of Palestine did not have garbage service, so at 2:00 a.m. I was in the backyard at the burn barrel committing what surely must qualify as some sort of sacrilegious act. Somehow, I had the strange feeling that I had just been inducted into the Manson Family.

Returning to the living room to recreate some semblance of Christmas, the husband was removed from the tree and placed not so gently in bed. With the tree returned to its original vertical stance, the presents were rearranged and wrappings and dents repaired. Suddenly the unquestionable sound of a retching dog resounded in my ears. Now what? Undigested pieces of Santa cookies were spewing from his mouth along with some Pluto’s legs and Mickey’s head. Is this Christmas ever going to end? Another round of cleanup had to be launched. 

At 5:30 Christmas morning, mama had not yet been to bed. The stirrings of excited children were heard throughout the house. My son bounded into the living room and stared in utter disbelief at our now barren tree. “Where are all my Disney friends?” he demanded. This was going to have to be the performance of a lifetime! Then baby sister added to the festivities by uncontrollably crying over her defunct tree. With both tykes nuzzled in my lap, I told them about other children in the world that didn’t have any ornaments for their tree and how sad that made them. Santa wanted all children to be happy. The story continued with all little ears hanging on every word. I continued. “Santa woke me up last night and told me how proud he was of both of you and how special you were. He asked me if he could take the ornaments from our tree to hang on the trees of children who didn’t have any. They would wake up Christmas morning and be so surprised. It would be a present from the two of you delivered by Santa.” My beaming son gave me his high five of approval and the children simultaneously sprang from my lap rambunctiously ripping open their presents. That started the family tradition of donating ornaments and toys to less fortunate children.

At 6:30 a.m. the 24-pound turkey was placed in the oven. We were sharing our holiday dinner preparations with friends and the turkey and pumpkin pies fell into my domain of responsibility. The children remained in the living room gleefully entertained by their new toys. Suddenly my son started to scream. I rushed into the living room to see what was the matter. In the middle of all the presents stood the dog, bent over emitting unpleasant substances from both ends. The kids were crying so I explained that the dog must have eaten something that upset his stomach. If only they knew! This never-ending Christmas nightmare was getting old fast!

The husband finally showed his mug around 11:00 a.m. He was a sight to behold with tree burn all over his face. He complained about having a headache. There may have been some sarcastic retort on my part about wishing reindeer had pranced on his head. Due to my age and failing memory at this writing, I am unclear on that precise point. Pies were completed and placed on the table waiting for the turkey to be done. At 12:30, it was time to remove the bird. Upon opening the oven door, I was surprised to find an unheated oven and a stone cold turkey. The oven element had failed. Dealing with a bad cold, my sense of smell was nonexistent that day. Standing there holding a foil pan housing a 24-pound turkey an unforeseen development took place. The bottom of the pan gave way and Tom turkey fell to the floor. Stunned, I found myself looking through now bottomless pan at the spectacle of my dog greedily licking his new found best friend.

The dog was immediately banished to the garage for his own safety, and the chaos continued. Realizing the uncooked pies were now MIA (missing in action) from the table, a full investigation ensued. At that moment, there was the sound of uncontrollable giggling wafting from the dining room. There they were my two little angels from heaven finger painting on the pristine white walls with uncooked pumpkin puree. Is Christmas over yet? HELP!!!!!!!

What else could possibly happen? As though on cue my husband entered and with great concern for only himself asked, “When is dinner? I’m hungry.” The till death do us part segment of my wedding vows rushed through my head as I started to step toward him. Concerned for his safety, I joined the dog in the garage.

Finally, I thought there might be an infinitesimal shred of hope that this miserable day might end. Guess again!  My son’s bellows quickly shattered that dream. “Mom the toilet won’t flush, and it’s throwing up poop all over the floor.” The concept of sewers was foreign to the inhabitants of Palestine. This would not be a simple plunger fix. This was a dirty job, but it had to be done. Armed with a shovel and a special unclogging tool, I made my way outside to the sceptic field of dreams. I was fashionably decked out in all things rubber: gloves, boots, poncho, and mask. Thus began the archaic dig to uncover buried treasure. After two hours, the dastardly deed had been triumphantly accomplished. Then the most unbelievable Christmas magic unfolded right before my eyes.

I was covered in poop from my head to my toe

I found myself wishing for some new fallen snow

It had been one hell of a day, I want you to know

When up in the sky there appeared such a sight

It was a shooting star with a very bright light

 I made my wish and decided to call it a night

As I disappeared into the house you could hear me exclaim


Merry Christmas to all and by this time next year, I hope to be SANE!

--Valerie S.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

THE JOYS OF GETTING OLD

       Another wonderful slice of life from a member of my writing class.  Many of us can relate to this one, and if not, put it in your pocket as someday it will all ring true to you!  Enjoy!

   THE JOYS OF GETTING OLD


Last week my son-in-law was lamenting the decline of his aging Honda Pilot. Its speedometer had logged over 100,000 miles. The tires needed to be replaced for the third time. The air conditioner was sporadically blowing a fuse. The transmission was in need of a $2,500 plus service overhaul. Over the years, it had been a dependable and trustworthy family member. It had reliably transported the clan on their copious outings and adventures. It had safely delivered both their daughters home from the hospital. This automobile was an essential member of the household. Now the car was getting up there in years and beginning to exhibit signs of wear and tear requiring more service visits and more money. My son-in-law’s conclusion, “We need a new car!”

I could totally identify with this vehicle and its physical and cosmetic decline. Hell, I am this vehicle! Unfortunately, trading myself in for a new and improved version is not an option open to me.  Since the list for the joys of getting old can be correlated to the movie titled “The NeverEnding Story,” I will stick to the highlights as I see them.

I fondly remember the good old days when I could hold my liquor. College consisted of boundless keg parties and for those of us with palates that were more sophisticated, Ripple and Mad Dog were our poisons of choice. Recently, I was shopping in Safeway and stopped to taste Champagne samples offered by a vendor. There were three varieties available with one being a $100 Parisian brand and the other two, progressively cheaper. I started with $100 kind. I was given a sample in a diminutive plastic cup and smugly chugged the few drops. Instantaneously it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was well on my way to being inebriated. I declined the offer of more tasters and spent the next 30 minutes in the store trying to clear my foggy brain so I could drive home.” How pathetic,” I thought to myself.

Speaking of not being able to hold my alcohol anymore, heck I can’t hold my water either! My most pressing thoughts anytime I leave home are bathroom locations. Let us not forget the recurrent nightly bathroom excursions! Too bad you can’t earn frequent flyer miles for this malady and at least be looking for bathrooms in tropical exotic locals!

Another drawback of aging is shrinkage! It reminds me of back in the 80’s when my children placed a large colored flexible sheet replica of an object or character in a heated oven and it would reduce to a small hard form. They were aptly baptized Shrinky Dinks. The same phenomenon has happened to me sans the heat as a catalyst. My three-plus inch loss in stature has earned me the nickname “Shorty” from my, now taller than me, grandchildren. Reaching higher than the second shelf in my kitchen cabinets has now become a futile mission without the aid of a step stool. My once powerful, well-toned body has lost most of its muscle mass leaving me to live in a squishy sack of osteoporosis-ravaged bones. My five-year-old granddaughter finds it very entertaining to make my spongy skin wiggle and jiggle like jello. Are we having fun yet, Shorty? 

I remember as a kid that one of my favorite cereals was Rice Krispies: Fill the bowl, pour the milk, and listen to the magic cereal snap, crackle and pop! Now days, to get the same sound effects all I have to do is walk!

As you age, memory starts to fade. I constantly find myself searching for some misplaced item. I ransack my house only to find the missing culprit right in front of me in plain sight or, as in the case of my cell phone last week, in the recycle bin! Don’t ask! It gets worse as your diligently seek the lost item and then suddenly can’t remember what it is you are looking for—a double whammy! Now what was I saying? I forgot—never mind!

My social life has definitely changed because of my advancing years. I find myself spending more time going to doctor appointments than I do having lunch with my friends. What is even more distressing is that some weeks I use my medical card more than my debit card. I actually think I have more doctors than I do friends on Facebook! Now that is depressing! It is sobering life moment when you have to accept the fact that your new BFF’s name (best friends forever) is fiber! How do I love thee—let me count the ways!

Another big change for me in my twilight years revolves around my sense of style. My fashion credo simply stated:  If it’s not the big C (comfortable) then it’s not for me! My old age idea of a sexy negligée are sweats at least one size too big! Evening wear attire consists of jeans, sneakers, and a clean sweatshirt. Well ironed clothes—gone! My thinking on this is:  If I don’t iron my clothes then people will think that my crinkly attire and wrinkled skin are all part of my effort to put together a fabulous matching ensemble. Besides, ironing my face would be painful!

Physical changes abound, and every day it seems like you have to adjust to a new normal for your body. Your aging teeth are clinging to life, and the dentist has banned you from eating anything sticky, chewy, hard, or sugary. Your once dazzling white smile has a grayish yellowish tinge. Glasses are your new best friend when you can find them. The phrase “What did you say?” becomes a daily part of your life as you struggle to adjust to hearing loss. What you hear and what is said is not always the same thing. Someone says, “Do you want to go to dinner?” Your reply,” You really think I am looking thinner?” Hearing loss can be difficult in social settings even with a hearing aid; background noise can totally isolate you from the social interaction. Your once unblemished skin is now host to a variety of alien growths and age spots. When your five-year-old granddaughter asks if you are part leopard you have no other choice but to smile sweetly and growl!  I often find myself relating stories about some old folk that I encountered or observed. Then reality sets in and I feel obliged to fess up and explain to the listener that these oldsters were my age. Then I feel better until the next time when I end up doing the same thing all over again!

I took out my driver’s license the other day and realized that I now actually look like the worst picture of me ever taken. I must need new glasses because that just can’t be! That woman is old! Say it can’t be true!

As my grandparents and parents aged, they fell into rigid routines of doing everything at the same time every day. I found it amusing and monotonous as a younger person! Well, guess what. I have become them! I eat my meals exactly at the same time every day. I go to bed 11 p.m. sharp and rise at 6:30 a.m.  I go for daily walks at a designated time. They would get upset if something disrupted their schedule, and I have become the same way. I have lost a lot of my spontaneity. I addictively crave the comforts and safety of my routines and my home. I must add that I have lived alone for the last 20 years and am sure that has been a major influence on my lack of spirit of adventure. Stepping out of my comfort zone gets harder and harder for me with each advancing year. When I was younger, I promised myself that becoming old and boring would not be an option. I was so wrong!

“Would you like some cheese with your whine Shorty?

I could go on and on about this subject, but I won’t. This last leg of our life journey is often referred to as the “Golden Years.” Frankly, on some days they feel more like the “Rusty Years.” They are golden from the standpoint that at this juncture you get to sit back and witness the fruits of your labor. You watch your adult children with pride and love as they follow and fulfill their own dreams.  Then a lightning bolt moment strikes, and they grace you with the greatest gift of all–grandchildren.  An Irish saying puts it all into perspective, “Children are the rainbow of life. Grandchildren are the Pot of Gold.” Therefore, I can honestly say that yes for sure these are my golden years!
And by the way, Squishy Shortsuff prefers chocolate with her whine!



-- Valerie S.
Nov. 15, 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016

REMEMBERING JEANNE RIVERS

The following is one of my writing class members remembering another classmate for her coming memorial.  Jeanne died of cancer earlier this month. 

A building in Portland (Oregon) was named after her for the work she did for others. It is unusual for a a person to be living and have an ediface named in their honor.  She was very modest about it, and after another class member and I spotted her name emblazed upon the multi-story building, we pressed her for the story behind the naming. She complied and admited that she was indeed the same Jeanne Rivers.

It is unusal for me to post this type of writing, but she was very special to our community and to our class. Anne has captured a wonderful view of this grand lady.  Thank you Anne.


REMEMBERING JEANNE RIVERS


            I didn’t know Jeanne well, but I remember chatting with her briefly as we pulled out our car keys after Emily Aulicino’s writing class at the Woodstock Community Center. When she mentioned having worked on Skid Row we discovered an acquaintance in common. Jeanne had been on the Hooper Detox team scooping up the inebriated who were out of control or comatose on the streets of Portland’s inner city. Sister Kate St. Martin had practiced her nursing skills among the hotel dwellers around West Burnside. Among that idiosyncratic community their paths often crossed. Jeanne offered to lend me her copy of the book* that Kate and Ron Talarico collaborated to write about Kate’s Burnside encounters. I appreciated the insight it gave me into a unique ministry that was Kate’s, but also Jeanne’s.
            Jeanne wrote with the same ironic and clear-eyed wit that characterized her conversation. Her tangible descriptions allowed her listeners to accompany her in walking back into her memories. Two of her childhood stories stand out in my recollection. In one she recreated her family’s camping out in the hop fields around Mt. Angel, Oregon as they brought in the harvest as migrant laborers. As a little girl she tagged along wherever her family could find work. The second chronicle was of her wading into the swampy waters of Lake Oswego on a hot summer day (that just happened to be the day World War II ended) under the indiscriminate supervision of her older sister. Only the inner tubes to which three of them clung had any experience with floating or swimming.
            I have already missed Jeanne’s vibrant presence amidst our writing group. She has left a bright legacy of relationships behind her.

                                                                                    --Anne C.



*Fire in the Dark: Making a Difference in the World by Ron Talarico

Thursday, October 6, 2016

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL-WORKING IN A MAXIMUM SECURITY CLASSROOM

Most everyone supports the premise that teaching is one of noblest and most important professions. At the age of 21, I embarked on my chosen career path as a high school Spanish and English teacher in the small town of Brasher Falls in upstate NY. During this interval, I added a Master’s Degree and an administrative certificate to my resume. Years later on the opposite side of the country in Wenatchee, Washington, I found myself endowed with the dubious title of “correctional educator.” This change required an additional endorsement -- special education. For 20 years, I would practice the art of teaching at the Chelan County Juvenile Justice Center, a maximum-security facility.

It didn’t take me long to discover that this new direction came with its own set of specialized demands, challenges and mandates set forth by the Department of Corrections. My traditional classroom management style of the past would not be effective in this environment. It was like entering another world -- a subculture of society. I felt like I had become the Cinderella of the educational biosphere, “Cinderella do this, Cinderella do that.” People often asked me if I was an authentic teacher, and my fellow colleagues in the “real” schools did not show me the respect I deserved. At times, I felt professionally ostracized and devalued just like Cinderella.

Most teachers enter their building through the main entrance. Not me! Every morning I had to stand outside a secure metal-monitored door and push a buzzer. I would be asked to identify myself and required to hold up my county issued ID for the camera. After this routine, the door would stridently buzz and unlock. The beastly gate required all my upper body strength to tug it ajar.  It would then magically slam shut behind me with a deafening and chilling clanking clamor. I had to repeat this procedure at two more doors before I was in the actual bowels of the edifice. A short hallway brought me to my first destination -- the control room or as it was fondly known: the command center. Inside this room were the switches to every door and camera in the building. Its strategic placement and elevated stature gave it a panoramic view of all zones. The darkened one-way glass contributed to its ominous appearance. I then pushed a buzzer and a metal drawer would slide out delivering my keys and the daily roster.

My keys did not give me access to my classroom. Once again, I had to push a buzzer and have the door opened for me. I was virtually locked in my room and needed to buzz to exit, too. The unlocking instruments were strictly for my desk, cupboards, closet, and the interior office area. Everything had to remain locked at all times. My room was crafted from ceiling to floor with bulletproof glass windows on two sides and drab institutional yellowish cinder blocks on the others. It was like working in a fishbowl-on display at all times. The room was outfitted with multiple cameras scrutinizing your every action.  The space was also wired for sound meaning that someone heard every word uttered. Four bright red buttons tactically placed added a much-needed pop of color to this bland background. They were smartly embossed in bright white letters that said PANIC providing yet another possibly lifesaving resource if needed. Next order of the day was to retrieve my two-way radio from the inner office. I was required to have it on my person every minute that I was in juvenile -- another lifeline.

Mundane items that most teachers take for granted like pencils, paper, staples, paperclips, pens, etc. now had new monikers -- deadly weapons and instruments of destruction. Writing utensils were used in several stabbings of inmates and staff during my resident stay. To minimize the risk, I was required to personally hand out and retrieve individual pencils. If they needed sharpening, I did it. If the lead went missing at any point then the student was obligated to crawl around on the charcoal color carpet to find it. If that did not happen, the students were removed one at a time from class and searched. Being caught with the evidence resulted in a three-day confinement to their room. Pencil lead can be used to stick in veins and tag cells. During art class, the kids were handed a clear plastic container of assorted supplies. An inventory of the contents was prominently displayed on the front. I had to regulate this constantly and recount every item in the box upon its return. It was very time consuming. If anything came up missing, the kids knew the drill. Gang Graffiti antics was always a concern.

I previously mentioned the evils of staples, paperclips and paper. Staples and paperclips could be used to pierce veins or other body parts such as eyes or ears or used as a last resort to keep holes open for tongue and nose rings etc. They could also be adeptly fashioned into makeshift tattoo devices and therefore not allowed in the classroom.  Paper was my archenemy. We had to have it to do our work, but it was the catalyst for my biggest source of classroom disciplinary infractions. Tagging or defacing a paper in any way resulted in a time out and loss of school points for the day. Consequently, that affected their overall program score in detention and resulted in the loss of certain privileges. Missing corners or other torn off pieces meant a classroom lock-down and staff search. These could be used to exchange phone numbers, make threats or plot heinous crimes within the facility.

Nothing left the classroom with the kids. At first, I naively let them borrow books but soon found out that they would be desecrated with graffiti, sexual slurs or even ripped apart and used to back up the toilets and flood their cells. I learned that lesson the hard way. One thing I did not have to fret over was inappropriate dress. Inmates were required to wear a hospital scrub like uniform. The boy’s was a dark drab army green while the girls donned a dowdy khaki tan. Everyone wore a short sleeve white cotton tee shirt under their top and white socks sheltered their feet. Shoes were deemed potential weapons and banned. During the winter months, the building remained quite cool and the kids sat in class shivering while trying to do their schoolwork. I always felt guilty wrapped cozily in a warm sweater.  When I first started the journey, the students were allowed to wear sweatshirts but after using them to clog toilets, choke staff and other inmates and for self-harming purposes they took on the nomenclature of dangerous liability and the privilege of warmth relegated to the past. 
Something as simple as taking my class to the computer lab always turned into a big, involved production. I had to make a request and wait until staff was available to escort us the 10 feet. It required being buzzed in and out of both rooms. The computer lab was similar in design to my classroom with the bulletproof glass and cinder-block walls, mirroring the same color scheme. I jokingly asked one time if a gun had ever made it into the secure area and was surprised by the response. “Yes! Several times.”  Eventually they were recovered during a cell search. Many knives and other contraband occasionally circumvent the intake process too. “The staff member glibly added, “You may not be as safe as you think back here.”

Custodial staff uniforms consisted of jeans, blue-collared polo shirts imprinted with the justice center logo and sneakers. They also donned the required utility belt housing mandated items. They were issued embossed navy blue sweatshirts. Although I was employed by Wenatchee School District, I was operating on the county owned property of the Justice Center and the inter-agency agreement between the two entities required me to comply with all rules, regulations and mandates set forth by Juvenile. Therefore, I was given a dress code which was similar to staff, but it allowed me the flexibility of not wearing the exact same thing every day. It made it easy to get ready for work, and I loved the causal and comfortable attire.

The innards of the detention edifice were windowless. It was like working underground. There was no natural light to brighten your day just the oppressive glare of fluorescent. The minute you set foot in the building, you felt cut off from the outside world, isolated -- quarantined. There was no stepping out for a breath of fresh air or the touch of the sun to warm your soul. The fortress seemed impenetrable. The classroom itself was an anomaly in comparison to its stark surroundings. It was like an unexpected oasis. It was typical of what you would see in a “regular” school setting. There were the standard student desks, overflowing bookshelves, student artwork plastering the walls and motivational posters purposefully placed. It was bright, cheery, warm, cozy, colorful and most importantly welcoming and comfortable a direct contrast to the rest of the monotonous institution decor. The students loved classroom #2. Every one of them, in some way, had contributed to the ambiance and with ownership came pride.

There is also the teaching component that needs to be addressed. My coed charges ranged in age from 8-18. Most of them were academically-behaviorally challenged requiring serious remedial intervention. Those that still actively enrolled in school were provided their own work. This last group was the minority. For the majority I was required to design individualized curriculum based on their performance levels derived from a battery of tests. Many of my students were in special education and I was responsible for revising their IEPs (Individualized Education Program) while they resided in my program. Trying to get parents down to the juvenile facility for IEP meetings was a nightmare. The average class size was around 14, but fluctuated on a daily basis. The faces changed constantly. Some kids were there for two hours before going to court and being released and others remained for months on end. It was like a revolving door -- round and round, in-and-out, in-and-out. There are also many interruptions to deal with during school time. Staff is constantly calling for kids to go to court, or to meet with lawyers and probation officers. More of the in-and-out, in-and-out syndrome. It is very disruptive and impedes the already questionable focus of others. All communication is done via the two-way radios. This frequent chatter is another problematic concertation buster that you learn to endure.

Upon departing at night, my morning routine is reversed. I enter the inner office and secure my two-way radio. I check to make sure my desk, closet, cupboards, and office door are locked. I then buzz my door, approach the control room, deposit my keys, and school points sheet in the waiting drawer. I retrace my footsteps and buzz through three doors, and each time the aftermath of the banging metal clamor resonates through my body. Finally, out on the street I take a deep breath of fresh air and remind myself how lucky and thankful that at the end of the day I am able to regain my freedom and go home to my family. My students are not as blessed.

The working environment of a correctional educator is definitely unique. You are constantly juggling your teaching duties with the safety and security demands dictated by another agency. It is an extreme sport, of sorts, with danger lurking around every twist and turn. There is never a dull moment and no two days are ever the same. It is addicting. How many people can say that after 20 years on a job? In the end, all I can say is that yes, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I do not regret one moment of that amazing experience. I loved that job, and it made me a better human being. I was blessed.

A special thanks to all my students. I will never forget you!  
     
Valerie S.
August 14, 2016

Thank you Valerie for sharing a very interesting and unique teaching position.  It surely makes my teaching experience a cake-walk!

The Great Depression and World War II

As history is constantly moving us forward, and often too quickly, it is wonderful to know some who have experienced eras in the past that most people only know from history books.  For someone to have experienced major events first hand, it is rewarding to read of their personal view.  I'm honored to share with you Jeanne's childhood memories of this time in Oregon. Jeanne wrote this while a member of my writing class.

The Great Depression and World War II


For the past week I’ve been watching “The Roosevelts” on TV, Ken Burns’ latest serial about American life.  I was born in December of 1934, and FDR was the president throughout my childhood.  The events portrayed were happening as I grew up.
            Until I was seven we lived in Northeast Portland.  The Great Depression was apparent everywhere around us.  Fortunately, my dad always had a good job; we lived in a nice house and had plenty to eat.  That wasn’t true for some of our extended family.  I remember my mom making food boxes for my dad to deliver to aunts and cousins who had no work.  There were abandoned houses in our neighborhood because families had to move out due to the lack of employment.  Almost every day single men would knock on our door and ask my mother if they could work for food.  Sometimes she had no work for them but fed them anyway.  They would sit on our front steps, balancing a plate on their knees and silently eat whatever she served them. I was four or five years old and very curious about these people, but I don’t remember them acknowledging me in any way.  It seemed to me they were slightly embarrassed by their circumstances.
            One time when I was riding in the car with my dad we stopped at a light and there on the corner was an older woman, sitting on a couch with all her belongings piled around her.  I had never seen such a thing.  When I inquired about it my dad said she had been evicted by the sheriff because she didn’t pay her rent.  I asked my dad where she would go.  He didn’t seem too concerned or interested, but I was very upset by it.  When I was older, I realized he must have seen similar circumstances all the time as he drove around Portland.
            In April of ’42 my parents bought a house in the country.  We sat on a hill overlooking Tigard, Bull Mountain and the Coast Range mountains.  At that time we were really out in the country; all the growth in that area occurred after the war.  I think my parents moved there because people believed there was a real threat of the Japanese invading the west coast or at least bombing the cities.  No one knew what might happen, and people and the government became very irrational as witnessed by the interment of the innocent Japanese-American citizens.
            In school we learned what to do in a bombing raid (get under the desk; stay away from windows) and were paired with another student who lived very close to school so we could go to their house with them if there was time.  I decided right away that I would run the mile to my house rather than be with strangers.
            Every residential area was assigned a Fire Marshall for their district.  This was a neighbor who came around periodically to make sure you had a bucket of sand, a shovel and a fire extinguisher in case of an incendiary bomb attack.  No outside lights were allowed at night and windows were covered with blackout shades so no light was visible from the outside.  Car travel at night was restricted, and cars that must be out had special headlight shades installed.
            All kinds of good were rationed and some weren’t available at all.  Meat, sugar, butter, and coffee all required ration stamps to purchase as did shoes, tires and gasoline.  Many people had Victory Gardens.
            We observed more signs of war as time went on: convoys of hundreds of Army trucks and jeeps going form Camp Adair near Corvallis to Fort Lewis, squadrons of bombers coming and going from who knows where.  Everything was “Top Secret”. “Loose Lips Sink Ships” was the motto of the day. 
One day my four-year-old brother was playing outside by himself.  He came tearing into the house, his eyes huge.  He pulled on my mother’s clothes, “Mama, mama, look! There’s ……..somethin’!? The “somethin’” was a huge blimp form the Tillamook Naval Air Station handing right over the house so low my mother said you could clearly see the people inside.
            It was an interesting and scary time.  Then we entered another scary time when school kids once again had to practice for attacks. It was called “The Cold War.”
Jeanne R.
1 Oct 2014
             


Enjoy,
Emily

Saturday, September 3, 2016

I AM FROM ST. JOHNS

I asked my writing class a few years ago to do a poem about themselves.  Although the poem is called an I Am Poem, it is not the same as you often find on the internet.

Sharon H. has submitted her poem to the blog, but what is even more wonderful is that a copy of her poem was posted on five windows of a building in front of a bus stop in her neighborhood. What an honor and what a statement about this wonderful neighborhood in times past.

Several members of the writing class met her for lunch and to view the poem.  Below is a photo of Sharon and the store front rendition.  Below is the full poem.  I hope you enjoy it as much as the class did.


I AM FROM ST. JOHNS

I am from the wrong side of the cut.
The place where two powerful rivers meet
beneath the majestic bridge that frames St. Johns
The same bridge my mother threatens to jump from
when I misbehave.
The same polluted rivers that tempt me
on hot summer days.

I am from the working man's end of town
where the drums of the Salvation Army Band on the corner
drown out the western music blaring from the beer joints
I am from the smoke of the mills,
of ship's horns blowing in the quiet of night
to signal the bridge tender
A place where men carry lunch boxes
and women wear house dresses.

I am form World War 2, March of Dimes,
paper drives, rations, and 3 Roses whiskey.
I am Pug, the skinny girl with freckles and braids
named for her twin in the funny papers.
I am the first grandchild backward, awkward and mismatched.
Entertained and spoiled by bachelor uncles who smoke
Camel cigarettes and shoot craps at family gatherings.

I am from Saturday matinees with
Filipino babies impaled on Japanese bayonets and
Sunday drives with Japanese children playing
behind barbed wire.
I am from double Bubble gum, penny licorice, roller skates with keys and
handball played off the bricks of James John grade school.
I am from skinny legs with skinned knees
barefoot in the dry summer grass
barefoot in the warm summer rain.
Of robins and earthworms in the newly spaded garden
The quiet hum of honey bees in the sun and
angry roaring bumble bees in glass coffee jars

I am from the delicate Trillium growing on the dense forest floor
on Dixie mountain.
I am from the cold clear water from grandma's witched-well there.
I am from sweet goats milk I drink to fatten me up and
bitter tea made from Oregon Grape root to keep me healthy
I am from milk toast and Ovaltine, served with
cod liver oil and iodine.
I am from white bucks, kick pleats and horseshoe bangs.

I am from Western swing playing on the polished Philco console
on Saturday afternoons while supper cooked.
Playing again on Saturday nights with grownups
dancing on the faded linoleum floor.
Songs and guitar music flowing as fast as the alcohol
All seen from behind the cracked bedroom door.

I am from summers spent in saltwater and sand
with tide pools of starfish and sea anemone which close
at the touch of my toe.
I am looking for agates and swimming in the surf.
I am fishing for shiners from the mooring basin and
waiting for the changing tide.
I know the changes -- low tide, slack tide, high tide.
I see rust and corrosion, fog and mist, South and North jetties.
I hear diesel engines thumping as they pass the buoys
tossing and clanging in the chop.
I see Fishermen watching and waiting at the Yaquina Bay bar.
I hear Sea gulls squawking, fighting for fish scraps on their return.

I am from the canneries on the waterfront that
spew their waste into the bay
their smell defining the small fishing town of Newport
I am from shucked crab, clams and hotcakes for breakfast
thick white slabs of halibut, and salmon every day
fried, pickled, creamed, poached, and smoked
gorging all the while "the little children in China starve"

I am from "set up straight", "it's snowing down south", "slick as snot"
and "hotter than a sheriff's pistol".
I am from unions, solidarity and equal rights
An injury to one is an injury to all
I am form fair and square.
I am form St. Johns

Sharon H.
Feb 2011
James John Grade School 1942-1950
Roosevelt High School 1950-1954
ILWU Local 8 1980-1999



Thank you Sharon for a look at the past in your neighbor.
Emily
3 Sept 2016



Thursday, August 4, 2016

THE BAD DAY AT WORK


We’ve all had our bad days. When you are having a difficult time, just reread the following story submitted by Valerie, a member of my writing class.  AND…can you imagine the job she jumped into after this one!


THE BAD DAY AT WORK


                      Wenatchee, Washington 1991

Having a bad day at work goes with the territory; ask anyone. There is one particular day that I will never forget. It was beyond bad! It was a nightmare and unfortunately, I was wide-awake for the entire ordeal. At the time, I was employed by EPIC, an early childhood agency that provided daycare programs for low-income migrant families in the Wenatchee area. I served in a dual capacity…facility director and preschool teacher… at the Applewood location. As director, I was required to be on site from opening until close which was from 5:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. I was also in charge of supervising the staff of eight. There were seven daycare providers and one cook who also filled in wherever needed. The children ranged in age from one month to five years, and our enrollment this particular month was 45 little angels. Let’s just say for better or worse, everything and everybody depended on me!

My alarm went off at my least favorite time of day 3:00 a.m. I peeked out the window to discover that we were under attack by a torrential downpour that appeared to have taken up permanent residence. I hoped that this was not an omen for how the rest of the day would go.

By 3:45 a.m., I was in the Applewood parking lot and realized that I had forgotten my umbrella. I got drenched! My key would not cooperate, and I couldn’t unlock the door to the building. I stood in the driving rain for five minutes trying to finagle the stupid mechanism. Finally, success! 

I dripped and squished my way down the hall to my office and was promptly greeted by the blinking red light of the message machine. Two of my staff had called in sick, and the cook was going to be an hour late which meant hungry, cranky kids to start the day. Was this day over yet? I felt the start of a headache coming on, and I was shivering and cold from being wet.

Over the next hour, the rest of the staff meandered in and grumpily protested as I informed them of the need to combine rooms due to the staffing shortage. I almost had a full-blown mutiny on my hands when I explained that breakfast would be an hour late.

At 5:00 a.m. the sleepy eyed children began to congregate. They usually arrived and were greeted by a nutritious hot breakfast, but not on this day. Within ten minutes, the building exploded with bawling and tantrums coming from every nook and cranny. Was 5:15 a.m. too early to drink, I wondered?

I scurried from room to room trying to put out the fires before the flames engulfed us all. Two of my staff threatened to leave. I started to sneeze and could feel the beginnings of a cold coursing through my body. My head felt like it was about to split open. Thoughts of fleeing surged through my mind. I reminded myself that according to maritime tradition the captain goes down with his sinking ship if all else fails, and we were sinking fast.

By 6:45 a.m. breakfast was being served, and the morning’s mayhem seemed to be subsiding…or so I thought. At my post in the preschool room, I noticed that several of the kids’ oatmeal bowls had blue specs in them. Upon closer observation it became evident that something that should not be there was in their cereal. I quickly grabbed the affected bowls despite the irate objections of the children.

OMG!  It was blue gravel from our aquarium. I knew exactly who did it. “LEE,” I bellowed. “”FRONT AND CENTER-NOW!

Lee was the class scoundrel and 9 out of 10 times the instigator of all classroom disasters. Lee appeared with two empty milk cartons in hand. “Where is the milk Lee?” I impatiently inquired. He pointed to the fish tank, which was now a murky white color. By the time I made it to the tank the other students were gathered around crying that their “fishies” were going to die. Grabbing the net, I blindly stabbed into the milky waters hoping against all odds to snare a fish. No such luck. We put a stopper in the sink and cup by cup, we emptied the tank and eventually recovered all six of the missing “Nemos” to the delight of the kids.

We then moved the fish into a large clear bowl until we could properly clean the aquarium for their return. If any of the fish were lactose intolerant they would soon be dead for sure. Crisis averted for now!

Next, I faced the task of cajoling the irritated cook into remaking oatmeal for the preschoolers. Was this day ever going to end? Is it time to go home yet? The clock read 7:30 a.m. You have to be kidding! My pity party was interrupted when a small voice inquired, “Teacher, where did the fish go?

”Fish? What?” I looked at the bowl, and it was empty. “LEE.”
“Yes teacher” he brazenly replied.
Where are the fish?” I demanded.
“In the ocean,” he retorted.
What ocean, Lee?” 
“In there, “and he pointed to the bathroom.

Realizing that their beloved pets had been flushed down the toilet, the reaction was instantaneous. First one child burst into tears, and that led to a spontaneous combustion of sobbing grieving little ones with one exception. Lee was writhing on the floor convulsed by a fit of laughter. My headache now blossomed into a Category 5 tropical storm.

Finally, placated from their fish disaster, we settled onto the rug for story time. Teacher’s helper for the day has to select the story. I consulted the chart and today of all people it was Lee. Wonderful! Lee made a beeline to the shelf and returned grinning like a Cheshire cat with book in hand. I had a bad feeling about this. He had selected “A Fish out of Water.” I nonchalantly took the book and began reading. Lee enjoyed every word…the rest of the class not so much. For the others it was the catalyst for another round of waterworks.

Snack time did little to lift the dampened spirits of the miniature mourners. It was naptime, and with any luck that would give me a few moments to try to regain my now quickly dissolving sanity. The snivelers went down without a fight, exhausted by their harrowing morning.

As the angels peacefully slumbered away, I made a disturbing observation. Several of them were scratching their heads as they slept. A feeling of dread washed over me. “Please, not today,” I lamented. “I don’t know how much more I can take.” After the kids awoke, my helper and I donned our latex gloves. Armed with tongue depressors we did a lice check on everyone in the room. We had a full-fledged lice-a-thon in progress. A lice check in the other rooms confirmed my suspicions that our infestation had taken on global proportions. My skin began to feel creepy crawly, and I began scratching and itching everywhere.

Being a provider for the low-income migrant families, we could not send the children home, but were required to treat them on site. We had no medication available. We needed 40 boxes. I retreated to my office and started calling establishments in search of the needed number of cartons. My third call paid off, and I found a store that had the number needed in inventory.

Driving to my savior’s destination, I itched and scratched all the way. Upon arrival, I made my way back to the pharmacy, and there they had a shopping cart full of the treatment waiting for me. As I wheeled the lice-mobile to the front of the store, people stared at the contents and stepped back from my cart, providing them with a comfortable buffer zone. I felt like shouting “Lice can jump 10 feet you know,” even though I knew it wasn’t true! I wanted them to suffer too!

As I unloaded the 40 boxes of RID onto the conveyor belt the lady in front of me gasped in disbelief and got as far away from me as possible. The people behind me went to another line. When it was my turn, the cashier stopped to put on rubber gloves. It was downright embarrassing and humiliating, and I was sure that Lee was responsible! It was a lousy situation for sure.

Back at the center, we spent the rest of the day washing heads and using the nit combs. Next, we sanitized the mats and thoroughly vacuumed and laundered all the blankets. My staff were not happy campers and threatened to quit every 10 minutes. I shared their pain and wanted to abscond just as much as they did…maybe even more! By 6 p.m. all the kiddos had been picked up, and I spent another four hours cleaning and disinfecting. I had arrived in the darkness of morning and fittingly left in the blackness of the night. It had been a day of gloom and doom from beginning to end, and in five hours, I would get to do it all over again.

It was a day from which nightmares are born, and one I never want to repeat. I fell into bed and dreamed of super-sized lice taking over the world, dead fish, and yelling “LEE!” The only positive out of the entire escapade was that I did not get lice. Two weeks later, I quit when Wenatchee School District offered me a teaching position at the juvenile center. Writing this memoir is making me itchy!
August 1, 2016

Valerie S.

Enjoy!
Emily