Thursday, February 25, 2010

Grandmother's Buffet

My  maternal grandmother, Carrie Tate, with whom I spent many a summer and lots of family holidays in Olney, Texas, had this piece of furniture, a great big dining room buffet, that ran the length of one whole wall and was strategically located to be handy for gathering clutter. Now Grandmother didn't see it as clutter; I never heard her actually say it, but I suspect that to her it was just a collection of tidbits from life that needed a place to stay, and on the buffet was their home. I fear the same syndrome has developed in our house and that the tradition lives on in me.

After the ice box incident (not to be confused with "The Ox-Bow Incident"), I fell into my cleaning mode and decided to tackle the collection of tidbits that had taken up residence in the computer room. This malady used to strike me when I was growing up, usually around bedtime, and would seduce me into organizing the hall closet or my shelves or something else that really could wait till the daylight of tomorrow. But I would push on, much to the dismay of my mother, and usually finish around one or two in the morning. Which of course, made it more difficult to get me up the next day for school. 

But to borrow a phrase from Sophia, I digress. I systematically started going through the piles and stacks of pictures, clippings, books, files, mementos, stuff, that I had let collect over time that was taking up valuable desk and closet space.  It was just amazing what little treasures and trinkets and words of wisdom I rediscovered in the process. That's what's fun about it. And frustrating. I go through this stuff and try to remember why I kept it all in the first place. I reread the clippings, reconsider the recipes that sounded good at the time, relive the memories found in the pictures, flip through the books, and then agonize over what to do with it all now.

I found articles dispensing words of wisdom I planned to pass on to my kids and then didn't because I backed out. I found newspaper comics I thought were really funny or appropriate to the lesson to share with my students. I relived articles that were particularly meaningful to me, like the one from Glamour magazine, May 1993, titled "31 things Mom was right about, even though it kills us to admit it" that I sent to my mother as a tribute to her putting up with me. "Don't wash dishes without rubber gloves; don't quit one job until you have another, you'll be thrilled to have good silver one day," are three that spoke to me. I came across vitaminds, vitamins for the mind, according to Zig Ziglar, that I would put up in my classroom every day and that still had significance to me, like "Make Your Life Extraordinary," and "Only Put Off Until Tomorrow That Which You Are Willing To Die Having Left Undone." You know, important stuff like that that I keep holding onto, thinking one day it will come in handy. Or pictures or souvenirs I intend to put in a scrapbook layout one of these days.

The funny part is that, believe it or not, some of the little trinkets I am now having a hard time parting with actually lived a part of their lives on the orginal buffet: a dog-shaped lead paperweight Granmother used to hold down patterns when she was cutting out material to be sewn (she never pinned patterns); cast-iron dinosaur figures; an old, old pair of wire-rim eye glasses; old brass buttons; a broken tie clasp; family pictures; cuff links; a scrap of her handmade tatting; and on and on. Some things, however, are really a part of family history. Grandmother's father was a country doctor. I have his old log book of patients treated, house calls made, babies delivered, and his opium license, apparently required in those days, which cost him 18 cents, I believe it was. I have a soft little leather pouch filled with real gold dust brought back from California by some relative whose name I have forgotten.

Those things, of course, I will keep. They have no real monetary value, but I can't stand to part with them. The rest of the stuff filled half a 30-gallon trash can in the garage. What's left I am still fretting over. I organized and filed, but I am just kidding myself; it is just an avoidance technique. In a few months, a year, whenever, I will find myself going through new clutter and some of the same stuff once again, reliving the  memories, rereading clippings, debating once again what to do with all this minutiae that seemed important enough to keep at one time and now seems important enough to make me take pause over it once again.

I guess there will always be a Grandmother's buffet in our house, thanks to me. We all seem to have that niche of our own somewhere that becomes our personal version of that buffet and when something can't be found, there is always a good chance it will be found on Grandmother's buffet.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Our Thirty-Year-Old Ice Box

I don't know about your spring cleaning procedures, but in my house spring cleaning is erratic at best, non-existent more often than not. Which is not to say I have a dirty house; it may not be the cleanest every single day,  but it is certainly not the dirtiest. Let's just say it is cleaned on a need-to-clean basis. Living on a dirt road doesn't help any. That having been said, cleaning the ice box has never been a regular chore for me.

And yes, I know, technically it's a refrigerator, but I call it an ice box because I think that is what my daddy called it. At any rate, ours has been with us for thirty years. It was new when we moved it into this house when we built it in 1981. So when it quit cooling and freezing the other day,  instead of just hauling it to the dump and starting over, we cleaned it out and took it to local electrician/fix-it man, Jack Dunham, who promptly diagnosed faulty defrost switch, replaced it, and we hauled that little ice box back to the house to look forward to another thirty or so years with our little almost-antique appliance.

And it's clean! It's kind of like cleaning the house before the cleaning lady gets there. We hated to take it to be fixed all dirty, and with all the food out, well, I'll admit it, it needed a cleaning. So, even knowing we might be spiffing it up for its final ride to the land fill, we scrubbed  it up and it looked just like new. Well, almost. But it looked good. Good enough to move it right back into its spot in the kitchen, now that it was working well again.

I'll bet we are one of the few households that still enjoys its original almond-colored refrigerator with no water/ice dispenser in the door, no ice-maker in the freezer compartment and doing just fine without either, thank you very much. I plan on it outlasting us. I also plan on cleaning a bit more often...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Vocabulary Story

As the years pass and time goes by, I suspect most teachers wish they had written down the funny things that happen in their classes that they are just sure they will remember, which of course, they don't. I am at the top of that list, but here is one story that I do remember that usually gets at least a smile.

I was teaching an honors junior English class at Muleshoe High School and had the kids in groups working on vocabulary. Some of these kids should have been in that class; others perhaps not. But I digress. One group was close enough to my desk for me to hear the conversation when  the word omnipotent comes up. Omnipotent, as we all know, means all-knowing, all-powerful, almighty. I hear Girl M (all  names will be coded to protect the guilty), who is 17 going on 27, when she perks up and says to Boy G, "You should tell everybody you're impotent." At this, Boy G straightens up, grins, and puffs out his chest. He likes the sound of that. Girl M smirks, and I say, " Boy G, you might want to be sure what that  means before you say that to anyone." At this,  Boy C, also in the group, takes it up on himself to look up impotent. He reads loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, "Unable to copulate," and I knew we still weren't out of the woods. "What does that mean?" he asks me, and I say, " I think I'll let you ask your mom about that one." Well, that was an immediate tipoff that he definitely didn't want to ask mom. About that time the bell rings, and as they are gathering up to leave, there is some banter among them.  Boy G is still wanting to know what impotent means. As they are walking out the door, I hear Boy J confide to Boy G, " It means you're shootin' blanks," and I am thinking, well, we're not there yet, when I hear Girl M gleefully inform them, "It means you can't get it up."

And off they go into their adolescent world of angst and sexual tension, armed with one more tidbit of knowledge about the most pressing topic of their young lives. And they didn't even have to endure a class on sex education to learn it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Nature is Cruel, But We Don't Have To Be

I just watched  Temple Grandin on HBO. This is a heck of a movie about an amazing woman. I don't even know where to start. Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University, the designer of humane slaughterhouses and feedlot practices, and is autistic. She didn't speak until she was four years old. Her mother couldn't stand the thought of putting her in an institution as was suggested to her,  so she worked with Temple, never gave up , and saw her daughter learn to live in the world with her autism. Temple saw the world in pictures and was a keen observer of animal behavior in order to understand them. (And I think we could all learn volumes if we would follow that simple practice with animals, and  people!) After being inspired by her observation of how calm cattle became after a squeeze chute was tightened around them, she built one  for herself, used it when she panicked, and it worked.

It was her observation that "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be; we owe them (animals) some respect," and that became her life's work. When she was fearful of new situations, she  remembered what her science teacher told her, to consider problems a door that opens, and then she would go about making that door open for her.

Her attention to detail and simply observing animal behavior, her inventive strategies for opening those doors that were closed to her, and her ability to cope and live with her autism was inspirational. We could all learn from her-and we aren't autistic.

I sat so engrossed watching the movie that I realized too late that I should have been taking notes or something. But I didn't, so I hope you will watch for it to be shown again or pick it up on DVD when it most surely will come out.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Coach Washington 1925-2010

Muleshoe's Coach George Washington passed away Sunday at the age of 84 after living 52 years in Muleshoe and coaching and teaching for 28 years in Muleshoe, becoming a local legend along the way. Gilrobert Rennels at our local access cable Channel 6 posted Coach's obituary and some pictures on Facebook. The response was a tribute to the man who was  known as the biggest Muleshoe Mule fan on the planet, but his reputation was also made during his time as a teacher and coach at the high school. I read the comments in response to Gilrobert's posting, and the recurring themes in his legacy were peppemint candy, his money-loaning service, and the ever-present paddle (which you apparently signed after your swat) as well as his devotion to Muleshoe sports. That devotion was the inspiration for the Legends Award, of which he was the first recipient, now given periodically to individuals who emulate that dedication to all Muleshoe sporting activities. I will let the comments speak for themselves-I chose a few to share here-and more can be found at the Gil Lamb Advertising site which can be found under Gil Lamb in Muleshoe on Facebook-which you can access if you have a Facebook account.

Sam Whalin just shared with me another side of George Washington. Coach expected kids to show up for his class with paper, pen, books, all that they needed for class that day. If students didn't have something, they would have to rent a pencil. pen, book, whatever, and buy the piece of notebook paper. He also owned a Coke machine in the gym and took care of keeping it full and working. People accused him of making lots of money from all this, but what people don't know is that he had no P.E. budget and would use that money to buy balls and supplies for his class. What people also don't know is that sometime after he retired, he went to Al Bishop, who was high school principal at the time, and offered to use that money, which he had kept in a separate bank account and was reputed to be several thousand dollars, to carpet some classrooms and do other things to improve the high school.

My kids also borrowed money from him from tme to time and laughed about how he never falied to follow up to get his loan back-with interest. Not a bad way to teach kids  responsibility with money. His reputation as a loan officer was so great that when he retired from Muleshoe ISD, his retirement plaque closed with the statement, "The bank is closed." Indeed. We all should live a life so well.

What follows is just a sampling of the farewell comments to this man who touched so many lives. I am also including the link to Facebook if you would like to read more:

Stacy McElroy Johnson- I have fond memories of him. RIP Coach.

Sharla Evins Reed- Coach Washington drove my school bus when I was in first grade. Loved getting on every morning despite the adventuresome driving I endured weekly! Sad to hear of his passing. He was a great man!

Jill Foster McCall -Coach Washington was always willing to stay after practice and help me through another “practice.” He taught me to believe in myself when no one else did.

Sandy Adair- When he subbed while I was teaching there, he always had candy in his pocket. At Christmas it was peppermint nougats, and I still hunt for them every Christmas! He was a fine gentleman!

Amanda Carpenter Clifton- He was such a staple in our community! He was MY mother’s bus driver and MY sub at times! He loved this community dearly and he will be missed!

Deanna Rasco- Think about all the hats he sold for the Booster Club.

Robin Evins Retz- He will be dearly missed! He’s a Muleshoe Legend!

Janell Garrett Hanlon- RIP Coach Washington! I will always picture you standing in the hall during class change, paddle in hand with a huge “just you try it little girl” grin on your face. Thanks for caring about us all!

Scott Spies- I think my favorite memory of Coach Washington other than the bumpy rides to school on the bus, is him play Santa Claus at the old Sear store. My parents took me there and I asked them why Santa looked like coach.

Gary Wrinkle- I still to this day use a boot jack that Coach made and my mom bought from him for my birthday in seventh grade. I also remember him complimenting me on a play from a Friday night football game when I thought no one in the world really even watched. He was a character, and solid as a rock.

Karen Stickman- I loved my Swat with the paddle from Coach Washington! Loved writing my name on his board! Prayers are with the family.

Tammy Black- I cherish ALL of my memories of Coach. He drove my bus, made me cutting boards and a special paddle. My son dropped it down the incinerator after I paddled him with it. I think I’ll paddle my 26 year old son (with the cutting board since he tossed the paddle) in honor of Coach. I LOVE YOU COACH1 See ya later!

Robert Nowlin-I rode bus 13 for many years. Coach Washington was as fine a man as you will ever find. He whistled everywhere he went and treated everyone with respect, something he expected from you. I remember the night of our graduation, at the reception, I asked him if I could call him George yet. He said, “Only if you think you can get away from my paddle.”

Jane Calton Welch- what a terrific man! When I moved to Muleshoe, Coach was such a help with my girls! He coached them when the coaches didn’t have the time or effort! Made a real difference in our lives and always had a peppermint taffy for me and a big smile!

Magann Rennels- My daddy’s favorite story about George Washington was when Coach first came to MHS and you had to talk to a long distance telephone operator to call out of town. One time he placed a person to person call to Morton from George Washington to John Paul Jones at Morton. The operator thought it was a joke. It was the truth. John Paul Jones was the Morton High School coach.

Courtney Brown Ware- I remember coach Washington being generous when lending money, but happily charging a quarter for interest and then “harassing“ the student with “Navejar, where’s my quarter?” He was bigger than life and will be greatly missed!