Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Circle of Life Moves Right Along

The high school had their awards program back in May, and we attended to watch Colten  be recognized by the Awards of Academic Excellence program, which requires the students to maintain an overall 90 or above average each year in their high school studies. For one year they receive a medal; for two years the award is a paperweight; this year, his third year, the award is a plaque. For a full four years they are presented with a really nice Muleshoe High School blanket. I fully expect to see him receive that next year.


But I digress. I used to take part in those programs, presenting awards to kids for a job well done in the classes that I taught, as well as seeing what other awards and recognition they would garner from their other endeavors.

This year as I sat in the audience, as I have done for the last few years to watch Colten receive awards, as many of my old friends and former colleagues handed out their awards, I realized I was seeing more and more vaguely familiar faces and hearing more familiar names. Could it be? Am I really that old? Yes, it could, and yes, I am. My former students have kids old enough to be in high school!

Not only were there children of former students, there were former students handing out some of those awards!

There was former student Sharon Johnson Villa, now the school nurse,


and Maria Ramirez Sierra, now the ESL teacher, all grown up and doing their thing.


Then there was Val McCamish, wife of Darryl McCamish, who was a former student and friend of my son  AJ, giving out her awards.


Then I realized that Michael Martinez’s dad sitting in front of me is former student Fabian Martinez,


And then there was Baylee Bessire, our salutatorian, who is the daughter of another former student from my junior high teaching days, Todd Bessire. Belinda Pacheco, on the right,  was the valedictorian.  I don’t think I taught her parents, but I am happy to congratulate her for her accomplishments as well.


Walking out after the program, I was greeted by Shawn and Sonja Rejino, but I didn’t think fast enough to take a picture of them, and Daniel Campolla, holding his little one who had tired of all the hoopla.


The circle doesn’t stop there. Kit Dominguez married Beto Diaz and she is one of the secretaries at high school; there may even be others of which I am not aware. And the list would go on if I could name all the kids who now work at the other three school campuses and at businesses downtown, like Johnny Moreno who works at United’s meat department. I even let Tyson Purdy, MD, newly practicing medicine in Muleshoe with his dad, excise a pre-cancerous skin spot the other day.

I couldn’t begin to list them all, and I hate to leave anyone out,  but the point is, the  kids are taking over running the world. Like you didn’t already know this. Not only I am watching my own grandson working his way through the school where I taught, my own children have become teachers and are continuing the cycle.

It is always fun to see who former students  have grown up and become. When I see them now, it sometimes hits me after they have passed by that I know that person and realize it is one of the kids in their adult disguises. Sometimes I misplace the name, but I really do remember the face. I have been honored with the occasional revelation from a student that I actually made a difference in their lives or said something that they remembered that helped them later on. Thank you, Erik Sanchez and Greyson Rennels.  Or I have been given as a job reference, and I like being able to commend the good kids.  

So the payoff for teaching in high school sometimes comes after the fact, but it does come, and it makes all the head-banging and paper-grading  worthwhile. And that’s the way the circle works.

In the circle of life

It’s the wheel of fortune

It’s the leap of faith

It’s the band of hope

Till we find our place

On the path unwinding

In the circle, the circle of life.

“The Circle of Life,” Music by Elton John; Lyrics by Tim Rice. Copyright by Walt Disney Records; 1994 Wonderland Music Company, Inc.  (BMI).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Memories of My Daddy


My daddy. Sounds a bit Southern and cutesy, I suppose, but that’s what I called him. And it has stuck after all these years. It was always Mother and Daddy. He died in 1992 at the age of 79 of what started out as bladder cancer and progressed to lung cancer. 


He was quite a man, my daddy. He was the third child in a family of six who seemed to be the outcast of the family. Not because he was bad, but rather because he didn’t seem to fit the mold of the others somehow. He told stories of hard times, of moving around from job to job as Vance, what Louise and I called our grandfather, looked for work. By his teenage years Daddy was the one who was expected to quit school and help support the family with whatever job he could come up with. I remember stories of driving a gravel truck. It was Albert Acker, the football coach at Olney High School who wanted him on the football team who managed to get him back in school where he made quite a name for himself on the playing field. Bull Graves he was called and was known far and wide for his tenacious style and brute strength. He did well in school and graduated, was awarded a full football scholarship to Texas A&M (and how ironic is that, his daughter eventually becoming an Aggie at a time when girl Aggies were few and far between) but quit after the first semester because he wanted to marry my mother, which he did in 1934, and his sense of responsibility dictated that he get a job to support his new wife. He went to work for Sinclair Oil, a job which kept him from fighting in WWII because oil was crucial to the war effort, was transferred to Damon, Texas, where he at some point quit Sinclair and went to work for himself as a welder which led to a respected and successful pipeline business in Rosenberg. After he sold the business he went to work for an even bigger construction company in Houston, Langford Engineering, as a pipeline inspector, this man with no college engineering degree, but with more engineering knowledge than the wet-behind-the-ears college graduates he had to deal would acquire for a long time.

Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary,1984Top-001

So I grew up in Rosenberg with a doting daddy who loved doing things with his two daughters. Memory is capricious, and the things I remember doing with him jump around. I can remember going to the ice house with him for crushed ice when we would take a trip, as he always liked to take our own nice cold water with us,  or when we needed ice for making ice cream. The ice house was down by the tracks, built of massive, always wet, dark wood with a tin roof;  it looked like it had been there forever. Daddy would ask for a block of ice which they would crush and put in the insulated aluminum Igloo cooler for the drive home. Mother would have the milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla mixed and ready to go. After Daddy got everything all set up, he would put a towel on top of the crank and I was usually the one who would sit on top of it to hold it steady while he turned. I would sit in quiet anticipation while he would talk to Louise and me about how good that ice cream was going to taste and of other topics that came up, and before long his turning would get slower and harder. Then he would pull out the dasher, fill our bowls,  and  try not to eat it so fast that we got an ice cream headache.

Cutting into a nice cold, juicy watermelon was another major production, from choosing the right melon, making another trip to the ice house so we could ice it down, to that first crisp slice with the butcher knife and the two halves falling apart all juicy and plump. We always ate watermelon outside so sticky juice wasn’t an issue, and we could have a seed-spitting contest.

Come to think of it, Daddy liked everything that should be cold not just cold, but ice cold. I guess I learned that from him because I expect my glass of tea to be full of ice, and my canned Coke to be slushy with ice particles after allowing it to sit in the freezer just to the point of almost freezing. I guess ice was something hard to come by when he was growing up, and it was a luxury he could now allow himself to enjoy.

When we lost my sister Louise to leukemia at the age of 16 in 1957, it just nearly did him in. But I have fond memories of time spent with him before and after he was able deal with her death. He and Mother were a bit overprotective of me for a while, fearful of losing another child, but I can understand their concern. Now. At the time, I had no idea why they wouldn’t let me have a horse. I came to realize that horse represented danger to them and what might happen to me in relation to her. But with the horse came more time together at horse shows. But that’s another story.

The other thing I remember about Daddy was his tendency to go the extra mile. We still smile when we do things the AJ Graves Way: if a little does a little good, a lot will do even better. And things were always made hell for stout, as he put it.  I had my own playground equipment. He made me a see-saw. But my see-saw didn’t just go up and down; it went around. We would load it up with about three kids on each end and get it going around really fast and then hold on. My swing set was twice as tall as it needed to be, made out of steel pipe left over from some job. So anytime any of us tend to go whole hog on a project, we figure we learned well from Daddy.


Other memories abound, of course, but we can save those for another story, too. But the last one I will mention now is his love for his grandchildren. He loved taking Caroline to the garden with him to gather whatever was ripe-or in one case not so ripe. He got a huge kick out of one trip to the garden when she was about two years old and he left her with the bucket while he checked the okra and she presented him with a batch of small green tomatoes. He had a smaller crop of ripe tomatoes that year. We named our son AJ after him, which left him speechless when we told him the baby’s name. He loved to tell about AJ taking a bath during one of the kids’ many summer visits and being told not to mess with the shampoo sitting on the side of the tub. Daddy went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, and before he could return AJ was crying frantically that his eyes were burning and something about not knowing that he had been told to leave the shampoo alone.

Parents always die before we are ready to lose them, but I have always been sad that Daddy died before he could know his great-grandchildren. Oh, how he would have loved them. But he left them a legacy that I hope someday they understand and appreciate. I know he is waiting patiently to share stories and make new memories with them.

I miss you, Daddy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Now It’s Band, Choir, and Art’s Turn

Just like the athletes, speech, and one act kids, band, choir, and art can advance and be recognized for superior performance. But the process is a bit different in these areas.

Athletic contests make it pretty easy to declare a winner; you run fastest, jump highest, toss farthest, make the most points.  Band and choir are a bit more subjective, and it is conceivable that many kids could be gold medal material. So instead the kids are ranked based on the quality of their performance, and they are awarded a I, 2, 3, 4, 5. Thanks to some talented students and dedicated band and choir directors, we have had our share of kids receiving 1s and qualifying for state in their respective fields.

IMG_7979Nick Stephenson handed out many awards to band students at the awards night program on May 24.

Band competition includes yearly solo and ensemble competition, as well as  playing with the honor band every other year, and attending state marching contest every other year. This was the year and they received sweepstakes honors by earning a 1 in marching, concert, and sight reading, no small feat. Band director Nick Stephenson says this is the eleventh sweepstakes band from Muleshoe since 1983. When I last talked with him, the band was about to travel to Austin for state solo and ensemble contest, and I understand they did very well. In fact, the other night at the high school awards ceremony when all the results were announced and medals awarded, they, along with choir and speech,  had on so many medals that when they walked off stage it sounded like an invasion of wind chimes as their medals jangled upon each other around their necks.  The outstanding band members this year included Gabby Chavez, Frank Recio, Ryan Johnson, Sarah Whitworth, Kari Mendoza, Michelle Chavez, Miranda De Bruin, Belinda Pacheco, Roman Chavez, Brittany Soliz, Mateo Castillo, Matthew Dickerson, Ace Alvarez, Juan Guerrero, Zachary Taylor, Greg Hernandez, Jenna Whitworth, Robert Brewster, Jordan Russell, and Merced Campos.

IMG_7960Lorissa Mason handed out awards to choir members at the awards program May 24.

IMG_7958Mrs. Mason and Ryan Johnson, who qualified for the TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association) state choir this year, the first student from Muleshoe to be named to that choir.

Choir director Lorissa Mason also had her share of award-winning performances by students competing in solo, ensemble, and madrigal events, and they were awarded medals: gold medal soloists were Isaiah Guerrero, Ryan Johnson, DonAnn Rempe, Mandy Scolley, and Bayne Shipman; silver went to Andrea Alfaro, Bailey Bales, Marissa Hernandez, Jessica Kube, Dalia Melendez, Kari Mendoza, Garrison Myers, Sheridan White, and Cristian Zaragoza; bronze went to Stephanie Infante and Crystal Rubio. Madrigals receiving a division ll, equivalent to a silver medal, were Andrea Alfaro, Bianca Aviles, Bailey Bales, Adrian Estrada, Alexa Fuentes, JJ Gandara, Tessa Garner, Isaiah Guerrero, Marissa Hernandez, Stephanie Infante, Ryan Johnson, Jessica Kube, Jaxiel Lopez, Jose Martinez, Michael Martinez, Kristen McCoy, Dalia Melendez, Kari  Mendoza, Patrick Mendoza, Garrison Myers, Kayla Preston, DonAnn Rempe, Christain Reyna, Jade Rodriguez, Crystal Rubio, Mandy Scolley, Blayne Shipman, Sheridan White, and Cristian Zaragoza.

Art has something called VASE-Visual Art Student Exhibit- which is their equivalent to UIL This year art teacher Sandi Chitwood reports that MHS had a bumper crop of gold medal winners at this year’s competition: Alyssa Leal, Stefani Lopez, Alexa Acosta, Bianca Aviles, Lupe Campos, Roper Kerby (two medals), Mandy Scolley, Luiz Ruvalcaba (two medals), and Morgan Burris. Stephanie Vasquez had a piece chosen to be exhibited at the Superintendent/School Board State meeting in Houston this year, which is also quite an honor for an art student.

We also have kids compete in something called TACS Academic Challenge, formerly known as Small Schools Academic Competition, which is the small schools’ answer to large schools’ academic decathlon, and we have had success in that competition as well. They don’t seem to fit anywhere else, so I will just include them here. April Smith has been in charge of this contest for years, with help from Vickie Burch and Val Acree, and this year they sent three teams to state and one team placed third-Belinda Pacheco, Michael Martinez, and Camilo Torres. Along with their medals, they were also awarded $3,720 in scholarship money. Not a bad deal at all.

So as you can see, Muleshoe High School is well represented in a variety of endeavors, and I am sure there are some I am unaware of and have left out. But not intentionally. This is just my way of saying job well done, and we are proud of you. Being from a small school in a small town in the middle of nowhere is not a road block to success, as these kids’ accomplishments prove.

Thanks to Lorissa Mason, Nick Stephenson, Sandi Chitwood, and April Smith for helping with this article.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Maya’s Dance Recital


Dancing With The Stars is a big deal right now. Well, not any bigger than our granddaughter’s first dance recital, which we drove down for the other day. The costumes were just as sparkly, the music just as danceable, the dancers just as attractive, the audience just as enthusiastic. It was quite a production.


The recital was held at Evans Auditorium on the Texas State University campus in San Marcos. We had not been on that campus  since AJ graduated in 2001 when it was Southwest Texas State University, and while we still had to walk up and down the hills, boy, had everything else changed! Lots more buildings, broad walkways and steps, landscaping. We were impressed.

But I digress. We found an empty parking garage, empty since classes were already over for the summer and the student body had evaporated, but a little distance from the recital site. The closer ones were already full from dance patrons. But then that gave us the chance to take in all those changes on campus as we walked to our destination. There weren’t many people milling about-until we walked inside, and then things suddenly got real busy. Parents everywhere, bored dancers waiting for their turn hanging around, vendors selling bunches of flowers to give to the dancers after the performance, vendors selling dancewear, food, t-shirts, programs, videos of the recital; this was a major production. But what was I thinking? We were in the middle of a major metropolitan area, full of potential dance students. Of course it was big. Maya’s recital was one of six sessions of separate recitals, the first one starting at 9 am and the last starting at 6:30 pm, involving 18 instructors, two backstage helpers and sound crew,  and a total of over 600 dancers by the time the last curtain closed. I’m exhausted just thinking about the wardrobe malfunctions, let alone getting each little darling on and off stage in a timely fashion.


The program: Peace, Love, Dance was the theme of the recital this year.

And when you consider that the youngest students were probably three years old and didn’t have a clue what was going on, well, I’m impressed that it went as smoothly as it did. I would guess that about half of them were there because they wanted to be there, the other half were there because Mom wanted them to be there, and all of them, upon seeing the mass of faces intently watching them, had all memory of the dance routines  float up into the stage lights, and they pretty much made it up as they went along. But the costumes were all shiny with sequins and of beautiful colors, so the important thing to remember was how you looked, not how you danced, right?

Maya’s dance was of the hip-hop variety, and she remembered her routine-(she was one of the ones who wanted to be there) as did the majority of her fellow dancers, as they were older than most of the little ballerinas,  so her dance was fun to watch. We were told emphatically that there were to be no pictures taken turning the performances, but of course I took the camera anyway, for pictures afterward. Sure, no pictures during the performance. Smart phones were busy all around us, so I just upped my ISO setting  and took some anyway. Unfortunately, my indoors in a huge darkened hall and from the balcony photography skills are still a work in progress, so my pictures leave much to be desired. But I did get some nice shots of her outside afterward.


The plan is to take a break over the summer and sign up again in the fall. She will be with a different group next year, as they are organized by age, and she just had a birthday that puts her in the next bracket. So while she is learning new dance steps, I will be working on camera skills and looking forward to another edition of Dancing with my Granddaughter.

IMG_7903Maya and her grandaddy after her recital was over.