Archives For August 2013

In 1960 my parents bought a lot on the outskirts of Indianapolis and had a little brick house built. They did much of the finish work themselves and I enjoyed playing at the new house while they put up drywall, installed fixtures, hung doors or laid hardwood floors. I loved the fact that the lot was surrounded by undeveloped land which by contrast made the yard surrounding our duplex in the city seem tiny.

It wasn’t long before the house was finished. We moved in, and I entered third grade. This was the first time I was the new kid in the class and I didn’t like being the object of so much scrutiny. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I made a few friends, one of whom lived a short distance from our new house. In fact, our school bus stop was right in front of her house, on the main road.

My parents had their hands full attending to and keeping track of what was by now a family of four. One Sunday afternoon their focus must have been fixed on one of my siblings because I couldn’t seem to get their attention despite earnest (and perhaps petulant) pleas. My recollection suggests the actual issue centered on some particular injustice in my world. I felt it demanded redressing, and I just couldn’t get an audience with the powers that be. Impatience would spawn an impulse.

I’ll show them… I’ll just leave. A radical act of such magnitude will surely impress upon them the preeminence of my needs. I was not one to trifle with.

Being careful not to tip my hand, I nonchalantly walked out the door empty-handed, as if heading out to play. No little suitcase for me, no siree, I was traveling light. I glanced over my shoulder several times to make sure no one was watching, and at the end of the driveway made a right turn and continued past several corn fields. Walking down the gravel road, my pulse quickened. Here I was: a woman of world, striking out on my own, prepared to make my mark. In another few minutes I found myself at the main road, standing in front of my new friend’s house. I paused to gather my wits before knocking, anticipating questions as to my purpose for being there. Secretly, I hoped they would magically see the desperate actions of a wronged child and offer sanctuary, because I was loath to spell it out.

My friend’s father greeted me. “Come in. My daughter isn’t home yet, but you can have a seat and wait for her if you want.” Hmmm. He had assumed I was merely there to play. Couldn’t he see the urgency of my situation? Suddenly I wasn’t sure this whole thing was going to play out as I’d planned. An Andy Williams special was on the television and I took a seat. I pasted myself against the arm of the sofa, trying to take up as little space as possible. If they considered me a presumptuous little guest I could get turned out onto the streets at nightfall.

I sat there for what seemed like a long time. My friend’s mother entered the kitchen making comments about needing to get dinner on the table and that I was welcome to stay. Then she stepped out the back door, and apparently grabbed a chicken and whacked off its head on a tree stump. She came back into the house and, to my horror, actually asked if I’d like to come watch the chicken running around the yard without its head!. I meekly and somewhat nauseously declined, realizing that any hope for sanctuary had just evaporated. I just couldn’t reside with chicken slayers.

I rose from the sofa and stated that I probably should be going now and that I could always come back later to see if my friend had returned. And without further ado, I exited the only place I knew of to go. I passed the same cornfields on my return home, and feverishly scrambled to come up with an explanation for my unannounced absence. I was hoping to have been missing long enough for them to be quite worried about me, and command the attention of the entire family. But the premature aborting of the original plan had most likely cancelled that prospect. ‘What were you thinking, young lady?!’ was more likely to trip off their lips. I braced myself and opened the door.

What happened next completely took the wind out of my sails. They neither fawned over me nor scolded. It was worse. When I walked in the front door they were still engrossed in whatever had gripped their attention when I left. My absence hadn’t even been noticed. I was crestfallen. What did a girl have to do to place herself in the center of everyone’s attention, anyway?! Sheesh. I decided not to say a word. To do so might have incurred consequences that, at this point, appeared to not be coming my way. Better to leave well enough alone, so I slunk off to my bedroom and laid low.

Did I learn a lesson? Perhaps. I think I began to realize that, 1) I wasn’t the center of the universe and that, 2) as one of four children, I could do myself a favor by waiting more patiently for my turn to receive parental attention, and that 3) I never wanted to accept a dinner invitation from my friend if fried chicken was on the menu.

Poor birds.

Ramona Drive

Fifty years ago today, I wasn’t quite old enough to understand the significance of the massive gathering taking place on the mall in Washington, D.C. Nor was I old enough to understand the magnitude of the sweeping movement kindled by the refusal of a solitary Birmingham woman to yield her seat on the bus. However, a couple years later, I was old enough to figure out what I needed do in an awkward situation.

A new kid had joined our seventh grade class. It wouldn’t have been all that unusual, given that every fall the new homeroom teacher would introduce a new kid or two, but, this new kid was the “Ruby Bridges” of Rose Fanning Elementary School in St. Louis. In 1965, the same year as the Selma-to-Birmingham voting rights march, K.R. single-handedly desegregated our all-white school. I haven’t a clue what the teacher or any of the other students thought about his arrival because no one ever mentioned it. I do know that I was fascinated by it.

I had heard enough racist comments through media and from adults in my world to understand the negative stereotypes. Yet within the first month or so, this young man managed to bash all of them with his dignified demeanor, superb elocution, academic prowess, razor sharp wit and, my personal favorite, probably the finest penmanship in our class. To top it off, K.R. was warm and engaging and made friends easily.

Every school year the P.E. staff taught a six-week unit of square dancing sandwiched in between units of tumbling and basketball, etc. It was the only co-ed unit. I always enjoyed learning the square dance calls and mastering the new dances, so I was really looking forward to it. We entered the gym that first day and the teachers instructed the girls to line up on one wall and the boys on another, and then each boy was to ask a girl to be his partner for the duration of the class period.

Now, you’d think that the big people — in this case, the teachers — would have had the foresight to coach us as to how to handle the very next scene in the script: K.R. was the only African American in the class and if he was going to participate in the unit, he was going to have to select a white girl to be his partner — there was no other option. Maybe the awkwardness of this situation hadn’t occurred to the teachers beforehand, because it surely hadn’t occurred to me, but one sort of expects the big people to be a little more on the ball. The instant I saw him walking in a straight line toward me, I realized I had a dilemma.

Using arguments that sound dreadfully absurd nowadays, the church my family attended had a “separate-but-equal” position on civil rights. This meant that if I accepted K.R.’s invitation to dance with him I would do so in defiance of the church’s teaching. There might even be repercussions for my parents, should I be found out. To make matters worse, I also suspected my dad wouldn’t have wanted me to do it either. (Many years later, he and I would have a talk about this). Needless to say, I was a little nervous standing there.

Yet, as soon as I was face to face with K.R., I had no doubt about what to do, despite the religious dogma of my upbringing. In a split second, without giving it another thought, I said yes and took his hand. And for the next six weeks, at the beginning of every P.E. class, K.R. made the same bee line for me and I accepted every time. I guess he figured he shouldn’t change a winning ball game — at least he knew he wouldn’t be rebuffed. While I knew it was right, it wasn’t necessarily comfortable. I wondered if the other kids thought we were an item. (No other boy danced exclusively with one girl for the whole unit.) I wondered if he secretly wished there were at least one African American girl in our class to relieve the pressure of having to navigate uncharted waters. I wondered what might happen to me if my parents or other kids in our church who also attended my school found out what was going on.

Yes, I wondered, but it didn’t change anything, because here’s the deal: by some inexplicable grace, I somehow concluded that, while I needed to respect my parents, ultimately, I didn’t answer to them. Nor did I answer to some crotchety local pastor. I even concluded that I didn’t answer to denominational muckety-mucks. Nope, I possessed a strange but quiet assurance that eventually, on the far side of the Pearly Gates, my case would be heard by a loftier tribunal and my position vindicated. I believed my refusal to further wound the heart of a young man abandoned between a rock and a hard place would be validated.

Just yesterday I attended the screening of a new documentary on the life of a civil rights activist in our own city of Columbia, Elliott Battle. This gentle yet determined man paved the way for others in many situations: he was the first African American faculty member at the all-white high school, the father of the first African American students to attend their local elementary school, the first African American home owner to desegregate an all-white neighborhood. These firsts didn’t come without a cost. The film shared the reality of those times and the pain visited upon his family. (On one occasion, their beloved dog was shot by an antagonistic neighbor when it got loose from its leash and ran onto the man’s property — in full sight of their young son.) In one part of the film, Mr. Battle explained that the children who led the way in the desegregation of schools were referred to as the tender little warriors of the civil rights movement. Hearing that phrase for the first time brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat. Later it occurred to me: I myself had a close encounter with one of these tender little warriors.

So, K.R., wherever you are, I acknowledge that probably more often than not, the role you filled was less than thankless. And today, on this special anniversary, I thank you for giving our class a real-time lesson in race relations by letting us observe you up close, for just being yourself and inviting us to interact with you. Thank you for having the courage to blaze a new trail in our school and making it a better place.

And thank you for calling forth the better person in me.

The magic flute

August 28, 2013 — 6 Comments

My dad had a strong attraction to thrift stores. When I was in third grade he brought home a “good as new” clarinet.

“I got it so you can take music lessons next year at school,” he said. I was a little puzzled, since I’d never mentioned any interest in the clarinet and wasn’t familiar with it at all. Who knows? Maybe Dad had a special place in his heart for Benny Goodman and wanted one of his offspring to reproduce the sweet sounds of his youth. Whatever his thought process, I looked forward to music lessons that fall.

I proudly carried my instrument case to school that first day, recognizing the opportunity presented me: to follow in the footsteps of my older brother, who had been playing trombone since he was in fourth grade and who, by that time, was playing some very nice melodies. Unfortunately, my optimistic outlook would fade. I carefully assembled the instrument and moistened the reed, according to the music teacher’s instructions, but soon realized it would be weeks and weeks before I would even be able to play the simplest of little tunes. But that wasn’t the worst of it, no. The realization that in order to produce any sound with the thing, the reed had to vibrate between my mouth and the mouthpiece. And I really didn’t like the way that felt. To make things even worse, there were the ever-startling squawks that would come out of the thing with no warning at all, when all I was trying to play was, say, a B-flat.

Undeterred, I carried that little black case back and forth to school and practiced diligently between lessons, week after week, hoping against hope that things would improve. But I only endured more of the same: a perpetual buzzing on my lips and an endless series of random, unnerving, and distinctly non-musical squawks. Needless to say — and you may have seen this coming — I fell out of love with the clarinet.

[Note: Not once during my struggle did I entertain the notion that my predicament may have resulted from any fault of the player of the clarinet, but instead, using my primary school reasoning power, opted to regard clarinets, in general, as stupid.]

I finished out that year’s instruction having basically given up on my instrument, mesmerized instead by two fifth grade flute players. Oh, the exquisite — nay, angelic — sounds that emanated from their wonderful instruments! What bliss, what joy they must be experiencing! My heart coveted those flutes in the worst way. But alas, our family owned one trombone and one clarinet and I would never, ever have confessed my lust to anyone. So at the end of the year, with resignation, I quietly parked the clarinet in the hall closet, never to retrieve it. And thus my budding career in instrumental music was scuttled almost as soon as it began.

Then during my freshman year in high school, out of the blue, my brother challenged me at the dinner table.

“Linda, why aren’t you in band? You’re a good singer. You could play an instrument too, if you wanted to.”

“I hate the clarinet.”

“Who says you have to play clarinet?”

“Well, that’s the only thing we have.”

“What would you like to play?” No one had ever asked me that before, nor had I ever divulged my secret passion.

Without hesitation I shot back, “Flute.”

“I’ll ask the band director if I can borrow a flute for you to try out this weekend — he’ll probably let me.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Wow. I got butterflies just thinking about getting to hold one in my hands. A few days later, the dream became reality. After several hours of experimenting, I was actually producing a few notes — those rhapsodic flute-y notes. I was in love. The following school year, I signed up for beginning band as well as the individual instruction my school offered. My career in instrumental music was suddenly back on track. I continued playing throughout high school and then auditioned for the college stage band. (They played augmented arrangements that featured flute embellishment.) I passed the audition and proudly took my place in the group. I had a grand time, especially when we took our show on the road — we hit Nashville and Cincinnati the next summer (1970).

Oh yeah. I should probably mention that I fell hard for the drummer in that college band and married him a few years later. And all because my brother figured it was a shame I wasn’t playing some instrument or other…

Playing at a nautical them ed college dance

Playing at a nautical themed college dance

From all that I’ve shared about growing up among a bunch of boys it might seem like I didn’t have any interest in playing with girls. Au contraire; I loved having girl playmates. It’s just that I had this problem…

Back in the day, children generally weren’t shuttled around in minivans to soccer games, tae kwon do classes and scout meetings. (Well, actually none of us were shuttled in minivans since Detroit hadn’t designed any yet. But that’s not my point…) Most of the moms I knew were stay-at-home moms who considered having their children play with other children in the neighborhood to be both enriching and entertaining. On nice days, they scooted us out the door right after breakfast and didn’t expect us to come home until lunchtime, then out the door again until dinner. Because they wanted to keep us near enough to hear the dinner bell, we weren’t allowed to leave our block.

Our duplex was in the middle of a rather short block, the residents of which went like this (from one end of the block to the other):

  • On the corner, an old lady who didn’t socialize with kids (we were all scared of her, although I now suspect, looking back, that she may have gotten a big kick out of her scary persona, because if we rode our bikes past her fenced yard while she was watering the lawn, she would spray us with the hose).
  • Next to her, a house with four teenage girls with no interest in a little girl like me.
  • Beside them, a couple in their 50’s whose children were grown.
  • Then our duplex, housing my brothers, plus four boys in the other half.
  • Continuing down the block, a widow in her 50’s who was very kind to us kids (she’d invite us to enter her fenced yard every once in a while to pick a bouquet of flowers for our moms).
  • Beside her, a single man whose daughter visited on some weekends and during school breaks (she was my brother’s age, and a tomboy; I loved it when she was around).
  • On the opposite corner, one last house. For the life of me, I cannot recall who lived there. Which merely signifies that there weren’t any kids.

Now, if you were keeping track, you noticed there were exactly zero girls for me to hang out with on a daily basis. Any girlfriend time had to be fitted into the adults’ plans. Fortunately, this wasn’t too difficult, since my dad’s boss had a little girl my age and they arranged for us to get together from time to time. (She is the only other girl in the picture of my birthday party posted along with On boys, baseball and bags.) I always preferred visiting her house to her coming to mine because at my house the boys would inevitably lure her into playing their games, which she relished, not having boys around at all. Sigh.

In contrast, visiting her house was simply dreamy because she, as an only child, had a bedroom chock full of dolls, little kitchen appliances and furniture, dishes and the like. From the moment I arrived until the very last minute, we played with an intensity and focus usually reserved for air traffic controllers or neurosurgeons. After all, I had to make sure the girly “fix” would last me a good while. I also had numerous girlfriends at school, and quite a few girl cousins, on both sides, but again, play times were at the discretion of the big people.

I would eventually get my heart’s desire: a daily-basis-type-girlfriend. Much to my delight, the little sister who was in elementary school when I left home, and in junior high when I got married, became an adult! Being six years my junior, my relationship with her while still living at home had centered mostly on looking after her. But once she “caught up with me,” she became the best girlfriend I would ever have.

We’ve done our share of girly stuff together: making jewelry, planning big parties, designing room makeovers, etc. These things have been highly enjoyable. But it’s really about the sharing of not only genetics, but myriad life experiences; it’s her being enough like me to “get” me, yet different enough from me to balance me; it’s her validating me in all the ways that matter most; and it’s her embracing me with that huge heart of hers in my downs as well as my ups. These are what I truly treasure.

Ain’t no friend like a sista friend.

Little Sister

Leader of the pack

August 26, 2013 — 2 Comments

I mentioned previously that I grew up among boys. I paid a lot of attention to their behaviors and attitudes so I could fit in (“You can never have too many snowballs stockpiled,” “Shake it off,” etc.). I also wanted to become proficient in the skills pertaining to the activities they enjoyed most so they would always include me (baiting a fishhook with a fat night crawler, getting the yo-yo string twisted and knotted just right, hitting a baseball into the outfield, etc.). I tried real hard to keep up and not slow them down because I never wanted to be left out. (I really didn’t like playing by myself.)

The one I studied most was my older brother. No surprise there, I suppose. I don’t think this was simply because we returned to the same house at the end of the day, but largely because the neighbor boys also considered him the leader of the pack. His opinions always mattered most. If he said I could join in, no one ever objected. (At least that’s my recollection.) He was strong, he was tough, he was clever and he was cool. Very cool. Three incidents would cinch his demigod standing with me. Two happened when we were pretty little, one a few years later.

The first happened when we were on our way home from the local swimming pool. Our routine was to stop by the concession stand to buy some candy for the return trip. A nickel would buy a package of five caramels — our absolute favorite. On this particular summer afternoon, after the attendant handed me my candies I had a hard time opening the cellophane. Meanwhile my brother and the neighbor boys had started walking toward home and were far enough away from me that they didn’t see several bigger, menacing-looking boys surround me and demand my candy. Frightened, I complied. When I finally caught up with my group and told them what had happened, my brother didn’t scold me for lagging behind or for letting the bullies muscle me out of my treat, he just handed me the rest of his candy. That action communicated volumes to my five-year-old heart and persuaded me he was as compassionate as he was tough.

The second incident happened one night while riding in the back seat of our parents’ 1958 Rambler sedan. We were on a two-lane highway returning from a visit at our grandpa’s and I was nodding off to sleep seated next to the right door. Suddenly, while rounding a curve, the door I was sitting next to flew open. (Seat belts were not yet standard issue on cars.) This startled and woke me, but before I could even figure out what had happened, my brother, seated in the middle of the back seat, lunged across my lap, grabbed the door handle and pulled it shut. Dad shouted nervously, “What was that?!!” to which my brother calmly replied, “Don’t worry, Dad. The door flew open but I got it.” Both our parents praised him for reacting quickly, but now I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he was as brave as he was clever.

The third incident wouldn’t take place until I was almost a teenager. My brother had turned sixteen earlier that summer and had been working full-time for several weeks as a dock worker. I guess he was saving money for a car, or college, or both. One morning I exited the bathroom and opened my bedroom door only to see a pretty bright blue girl’s bicycle parked beside my bed. Taped to the bike seat was a note:“Now you won’t have to ride hand-me-down boy’s bikes any more.” I was blown away. Not only had he spent a big chunk of his very first paycheck to buy it, but his purchase affirmed the girly part of me. I was convinced he was as generous and savvy as he was strong.

Those three snapshots served to seal his status in my heart and no amount of standard-annoying-sibling-type-behavior on his part would ever dissuade me. Of course, he will demur if I say it within earshot, but he has always been very cool. To this day.

scan0002   On his 40th Wedding Anniversary

I have this friend who volunteers at the public library. He reacts strongly to the idea that items get retired when their usefulness to the institution has expired. “Perfectly good books are being thrown away,” he’ll lament. With the zeal of a freedom fighter, he rescues book after book from the “Destroy” bin in order to deliver them from the incinerator’s flames. Not long ago I was in the grocery store parking lot and he hailed me to come see what he had in his trunk.

“Wow. That’s a lot of boxes,” I remarked. I mean there were boxes and boxes. We chatted for a minute or two and before I knew what had happened, two of them magically levitated into my trunk.

It’s well known that when a person is in recovery there may be former friends (or even relatives) he or she may have to limit contact with to maintain sobriety. As a recovering pack rat, this guy probably falls in that category for me. A box of “perfectly good stuff” might as well be labeled “Crack Cocaine”. I can resist to a point, but all too often I succumb to the lure of the contraband. I blame it on the fact that I have, more than once, found gems hidden in his stashes.

So it was that one day last spring while perusing the contents of the boxes — panning for gold, if you will — I picked up a little spiral-bound perpetual calendar, approximately 4 x 6″, with a mother-daughter theme. (The library actually lends calendars?Each page contained the date along with a nice quote or adage about moms and their girls, plus some artwork. I had no need for this type of calendar, and furthermore it was vintage 70’s, so I was just about to pitch it. Then in a moment of hesitation — because it was still in very good condition — the pack rat voices began to whisper. They often sound a lot like my dad, whose attitudes about salvaging “perfectly good stuff” were forged during the Great Depression: “Can you believe the things some people throw away?!!”

I realized the calendar had the possibility of being re-purposed as a Mother’s Day gift, which was rapidly approaching. I grabbed some colorful ink pens and began customizing the calendar, adding relevant personal remarks on the white space of each page. I expressed gratitude for the infinite small acts of love she has demonstrated over the years; I recalled family traditions she inspired; I noted her many admirable attributes; I shared amusement over the silly moments we’d had; I doodled stick figure depictions of some of our best times together. It didn’t take long before a little party for one was in full swing at my desk.

[CAUTION: Not that you should or even would, but if you happen to take a notion to do this yourself sometime for gift-giving purposes, do know that at about page 237 you will begin to malign yourself for having conjured such a stupid idea. You’ll groan to your spouse that your hand is cramping up and that you want to ditch your dumb project. But you won’t be able to abandon it, having already spent so much time and so much ink. Then, after missing several hours sleep on the night before you want to give it to her, you’ll finally punctuate your last note on the very last page, flip through the completed calendar, and then coo to yourself what a clever one you are and how it was such a grand idea.]

My mom promised not to read the whole thing in one sitting, which means every few weeks I receive a message from her sharing a response to something I wrote. Here’s an excerpt from the one she sent a couple of days ago.

The printed part of the calendar page read:
  • AUGUST 13 — “Every week of summer brings new blooms in the garden.  There’s no need to mourn those that are fading.”

My doodles on under the quote:

  • “We really didn’t grow too many flowers, did we?  Oh well, we embroidered lots of them!!”
My mom’s response:
  • No, not too many flowers. Such a tiny front yard on Oliver. I did plant flowers along the side of the house though. Nasturtiums, which I think are pretty. And my pride and joy — nice gladiolus. Dad and I had gone away on a day trip, probably to Cincinnati with Oran and Barbara. When I went outside the next day all my blooms were on the ground and there stood 10 or 12 nice tall bare green stalks!!!!!  Some little hands had had lots of fun stripping them off. Maybe I gave up after that.

And the woman loved me anyway. I am blessed.

Gladiolus

The first book I remember getting lost in was Fun with Dick and Jane, a basal reader published from the 1930’s through the 1970’s. Determined to catch up with the boys, I somehow cajoled my older brother into unlocking the mystery by telling me what the words in the book were. Afterward, I settled in on the front porch glider, alone and very focused, sounding out word after word all by myself and experiencing a series of exhilarating moments.

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What seemed like a good idea at the time — and you wouldn’t have been able to stop me had you tried — sort of backfired once I started school and got bored straight away. I resorted to amusing myself by creating conversation bubbles on crayon and manila paper art projects, memorizing all sorts of things (like the number of coat hooks on the back wall of my classroom), dreaming up little practical jokes to play on classmates, and such.

[Before I go any further, I feel compelled to offer a heartfelt apology to all you educators on behalf of my kind. We didn’t mean to add to your difficulties, we just couldn’t help ourselves.]

Fast forward to 2005 when I took up writing beginning readers. They were created for a friend named Robert who lived in the apartment building caddy-corner to my house. Robert was a retired truck driver who lived alone and sometimes stopped by our house to pick up home-cooked meals I’d set aside for him. As we got to know each other better, it came to light that he had never actually learned to read. For a moment, I was distracted by the idea that someone behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler couldn’t decipher such signs as “Road Closed Ahead” or “Oncoming Traffic Does Not Stop.” I jerked my attention back to the conversation and asked him whether or not he, in fact, wanted to read. He said he did, but that when he borrowed children’s books from the library, besides the print being too small, they just didn’t command his attention.

No doubt. I remember being peeved by the excessive repetition in my childhood reader, and I was only four and a half. “Look up. Look up, up, up… …Run, Dick, run. Run and run,” etc., ad infinitum.

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“So if you had something interesting to read, would you try again?”

“Sure.”

“What kinds of things would you like to read about?”

“Things like the Chicago Fire and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” (Whoa. Bye-bye kiddie stacks at the library!)

I agreed to start researching both topics and compose two short books to read with him. I embraced the challenge of telling the stories in nearly all one-syllable words. Because of Robert’s significant vision impairment, it was necessary to print the readers in a 24-point Times font. I put the freshly published pages in slim 3-ring view binders with spiffy title sheets in the front pocket and presented them.

“Here you go, Robert, some “adult” reading for you. Which story would you like to read first?”

“The Chicago Fire!” he shot back with glee.

Somewhere between a cow kicking over a lantern and the fire jumping the river, we took a break and glanced in the rear view mirror to admire his accomplishment. To my surprise, he had a retained a strong recognition of consonants and their sounds, so his progress was rapid. Clearly encouraged and optimistic about his prospects, he eagerly scheduled another session so he could tackle the next segment of the story. After he devoured the first two books, I continued in the same vein. A little research into the history of the trucking industry yielded a third reader that tickled his fancy. For about three months I had more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

The piece de resistance was the last book we read together. Early on he had shared that one of his motivations for wanting to read was so he wouldn’t be relegated to listening to recordings of the Bible any more — he could read it for himself. Consequently, I decided to write the story of the three Hebrew young men who stood up to the king of Babylon from the third chapter of the book of Daniel. Unbeknownst to Robert, I had embedded the two verses containing their challenge to the king’s decree, verbatim from the scriptures, toward the conclusion of the story. After he had sounded out each of the words I asked him to reread the passage. This time it was only slightly halting. And the third repetition was much smoother.

“Robert, do you realize what you just did?”

“Huh?”

“That part I just had you read over and over — it’s from the Bible — word for word. You just read the Bible!”

“I did?”

The look of satisfaction that began to spread across his face as he recognized what he had done was priceless. Our budding reader was out of the gate, off and running, and we had a little party for two.

Sadly, Robert moved away rather suddenly right after that special session together, but among the things he took with him were several unconventional beginning readers. He also left behind a rich deposit in my heart.

My early childhood years were spent in a duplex we shared with the Ware family. They were a typical 50’s family: he a factory worker, she a stay-at-home mother of four boys. Given that I had a brother three years older than me, a brother three years younger (a six-year gap separated me and my little sister), I spent a lot of time with boys.

Granted, no one forced me to spend all this time with them – it’s just that, being more of a pack animal than a loner, I wanted to play with. And that meant with boys. They taught me baseball, but possibly with the ulterior motive of having someone to assigned catcher duty since they preferred pitching and fielding. (Baseball spoiled me for girls’ softball in P.E. – never liked it.) They managed to somehow persuade me to climb onto the garage roof and jump off along with them, taught me to value and collect certain varieties of marbles, and to dodge many a snowball. I knew I wasn’t exactly “in” the club, but I still felt a measure of respect when invited to join the activity du jour.

My husband’s suggestion that I add the Any Given Sunday movie line to my inaugural post so as to attract male readers got me thinking. It’s true: I wish for an audience comprised of both genders. Perhaps this desire stems, in part, from my tireless efforts to win the respect and approval of all those boys in the back yard. Yet I suspect that most of us covet the respect of both genders to one extent or another. I mean, when my husband told me not long ago how surprised he was after we got married by what a good driver I was, well… I’m here to tell ya’ that one was 24-carat.

In that same spirit I share the following: I recently traveled abroad as the sole female in a foursome. I hadn’t spent that much time with just guys in a long, long time. My take away: I think it’s the only way to fly! We had three layovers between here and there and every time we needed to head for a terminal gate, grab a snack, or make a pit stop, it was as if three full-size Lego people bent down, locked their grip on their duffles and backpacks and moved with purpose toward a fixed destination. No extraneous movements, no fuss, no drama – just elegant simplicity and efficiency. I really appreciated and enjoyed the streamlined component of the trip.

Since this particular attribute isn’t generally my strong suit, having people in my life who are especially good at drawing a straight line between where they are and where they want to be brings much value to my world. Thanks, guys! [And to you women who also have this attribute in spades: you go, gals!]ImageMy sixth birthday and the gang’s all there, plus one little girl I played with occasionally. (Baby sister is being held by older brother.)

“Hey, Mark…”

August 18, 2013 — 8 Comments

“Hey, Mark… I’ve been thinking lately I could blog about the first six decades of my life and call it Zero to Sixty. But that sounds too much like high performance car stuff. It needs something. Any ideas?”

“Call it Zero to Sixty in Five.”

“But that’s still the same thing, isn’t it?”

“No, actually, it’s the title of this really great song by Pablo Cruise. And wouldn’t people be able to read your posts in five minutes or less?”

“Well, yeah… I guess so.”

“That’s my two cents’ worth.” As he left my office and headed back to his own, I realized I had only a fuzzy recollection of Pablo Cruise and no idea how much web content would equal five minutes’ worth.

  • Turns out Pablo Cruise was the band’s name, not a performer. I think I knew that. Also turns out I’m familiar with their big hits — cranked the volume up riding in the car back in the day. Just checked out Zero to Sixty in Five on YouTube: very cool song, indeed.
  • Since five minutes is an eternity on the internet and you get about ten seconds to capture a reader’s attention, I think I’ll aim for somewhere in between. They say if a reader’s still with you at 30 seconds the odds really go up that he’ll continue reading. (Which is right about… now.)

So here’s to finding out what the past six decades of my life will divulge.

And by the way, Mark, I liked your two cents’ worth.

P.S.  My husband just wandered by, snack in hand, so I asked him to read my draft. “You should add this line from Any Given Sunday: ‘A minute in football is an eternity.’ Maybe that way guys’ll read your stuff.” He’s always been real helpful like that…