Thursday, January 27, 2011

HERstory (It's not always HIStory)

The silence of the frosted air offered me time to reflect and refresh my mind. It's a rare day in the middle of Kansas in the dead of winter when I can sit outside and hear every chirp and tweet that nature produces. There was no whirling nor stirring in the air, the prairie grasses stood golden in the sun's early rays. I smiled, giving thanks to the silence that has become so golden for me after years of teaching and raising children.

Suddenly, the silence was broken by a series of jets booming across our skies. I scanned the skies in search of the vibrating noises, seeing only contrails and clouds. It as then that my mind wondered to a flat basin of land in Florida that gives rise to man's quest for space. I've never been to Cape Canaveral to the witness the beauty of nature confronted with man's curiosity and yearning to move beyond. Someday, I'd like to witness first hand man's endeavor to explore and fly.

Even now, twenty-five years later, I still speak with pride at our mission to send a teacher into space. They first advertised it as a storyteller going into space. Deep down in my soul I knew this opportunity to fly, to see our giant earth and tell it's stories from a newer perspective would only come once in my life. I was eager to apply.

Then one evening as I sat down to dinner, our three teens were being very argumentative. Glaring at one child and with the growl of a mother bear I explained we'd talk later. Turning back to the kids I uttered these words in a garbled tone, "I know because of divorce Jack and I are only one mother and one dad, but now we are family. We share this home together under one roof. We all have to work together to create a family we can all be a part of, no matter what." Later that night I knew I'd never apply for the "Teacher in Space" program. My children and husband needed me and I had a purpose.

When at last Christa McAuliffe and the crew of the Challenger took flight that morning over twenty-five years ago, I was there in spirit. As a librarian at Jefferson Elementary in Norman, OK, I had proudly arranged for every child, teacher, and staff to be in front of a TV when the Challenger rocketed into space that morning.

Eager eyes and wiggly bodies of fifty kindergarten children sat in the library that day watching and counting backwards from ten. At liftoff their voices began to rise in awe as the space shuttle slowing climbed toward space. Then it was our eyes that showed confusion. Instead of the continual upwards motion the Challenger made a sudden descending twist toward earth. Fifty-little bodies froze in silence and confusion, eyes shifting from screen to teachers. I'll never forget the look on my beloved friend's face, Lois Cowles, as she stood that day and gently coached her little ones to stand and walk back to class.

It was a day without answers as our building, community, and nation went forth with our tasks stunned and confused. Teaching and learning took place in silent words and broken dreams. Some will say that mission is now part of history, but I prefer to think it was the creation of herstory, not his.

So a morning toast to you Christa McAuliffe and all of those strong women who have lived and loved and gone before.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Polar Bear Dreams

Iced in, snowed in, are such lovely excuses for staying home. I bundled up just after sunrise to play outside with our Lucy dog and feed the birds. In her race to the yard Lucy took a side slide off the patio into the frozen flower bed. Rather than laugh out loud and humiliate her, I carefully shuffled on the ice to the grass.

Immediately, I did a double step on the frozen tundra which crackled and snapped sharply. The world beneath my feet continued to snap, crackle, and crunch all the way to the bird feeders. Tiny little juncos, UBBs, finches, and cardinals fluttered in the trees waiting on fresh seeds. Lucy patrolled the yard sniffing for a good chase while I scattered food for the critters around the bushes. The sun sparkling on the frozen fountain grass created a glimpse of regal beauty. I could just imagine each frozen flowered top marching as a guard at Buckingham Palace.

With our first task of the morning completed we returned to the warmth of the house and my pink playroom. Being relaxed and refreshed gave my mind time to wonder and imagine. There I saw my polar bears always keeping a watchful eye on my play. (On the wall by my desk is a calendar picture of three polar bears entitled "Bad Boys of the Arctic.") But it was one of those bears that altered the course of my professional career through a dream.

I had come to a juncture in my teaching career where I sought an administrative job, thinking I could be the leader of a school. We'd moved to Kansas, and I'd lost the solid footing and direction of my library years. In time I began applying for principal positions but found all too often that without a network of friends and professionals I did not go far. The time came to get serious, go back to school, earn more administrative hours, make contacts, and be ready to take a job within a 40-50 mile radius.

My stomach churned with these decisions. My shoulders road high, nearly to my ears, and my sleep was forever fitful until the night my polar bear arrived. In my dream I was clawing with fingertips up the side of a snow packed mountain covered with a layer of thin ice. Every jab of my cold fingers took me forward and upward ever so slightly followed occasionally by a backward slide. The granite faced mountain seem to stay just out of reach. I knew I could climb the wall if I could just get there.

Suddenly, I heard the sounds of crunching ice coming up from behind. In moments a looming polar bear appeared at my side. There was not a moment of fear, only awe, as I gazed up at him. He spoke to me kindly, "Here let me help you. Take hold of my fur with one hand and we'll climb together." So we climbed until he stopped and asked, "Where are you going?"

"To the top of the wall," I replied politely for fear of a growl.

In a deep musical voice he spoke, "To the top? Don't you realize that wall and it's base is granite. One slip, one fall could crush you. Even if you reached the top, what do you gain?"

Rather meekly I replied, "Well, I would have completed the challenge, the climb. I'd be on top." After a long pause I continued, "but it just looks so harsh, so cold."

"Then let me show you what I like to do on this mountain." He rolled in the snow, howling and growling, until at last he laid on his back and spoke, "Here climb on my belly and hold on." With full trust and faith, I climbed on. In a swish we were sailing down the mountain slope till we skipped right through a mountain stream and stopped.

"How was that?" he asked nearly grinning.

"Exhilarating!" was the only word that came to my mind.

"Let's go again. Here climb on my back and I'll take you up." Without question I clambered up. The view from his back was spectacular. I saw trees, boulders, clouds, and vistas that I hadn't noticed when my head focused only on cracking the ice and climbing. Higher than before we climbed taking time to gaze and breath in the freshness of the mountain air. Once again we slid down the mountain splashing into the stream. I couldn't pass up an opportunity to play with my friend. Trip after trip we made that day; my polar bear was tireless.

At last he said, "Now what will you do? Climb the cold granite face of the mountain or play with life and share the beauty of what you've seen with others?"

The answer glistened in my eyes as I glanced around the mountain slopes. With a deep breath of mountain air, bear and I ambled down the mountain together. In the years that passed I looked back at the granite mountain more than once, only to feel my bear's warm breath on my shoulder.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Greensburg Memories: A Toast to Frisky

Oh, our Frisky kitty, whatever was your fate? I pray it was a gentle sleep on a warm comforter. Today, I found a picture of you that captured all of your spirited orneriness. There you were crawling out of the trash can, leaping up at an unsuspecting four year old Katy. But that was your life, always full of surprises.

You came to us from our friend, Gary, who never knew his gift might someday be the reason he called out the Greensburg fire department to rescue a black and white kitty meowing from the highest branch of the old cottonwood tree. Our trailer and yard on Nebraska Street became your playground for three adventurous years.

It was the pink picture of you that stumped me. Frisky, why were you stained in shades of pink? There you were on the brown and white checked bedspread with a black coat, tail, and forehead and the white underbelly and paws stained in shades of pink and red. Whatever you had played with while I was at work, would soon be solved by sleuths, Katy and Gail. They were the ones who found the magic markers on the bedroom floor, opened, scratched and strewn apart. The camera shot evoked a cat charmingly innocent of all artistic endeavors. Luckily, the olive green carpet showed only a few color blends. For months your pinkness gave the neighborhood much delight.

Frisky and Squirty dog, you both chased back and forth on the linoleum floors of that trailer keeping us on constant alert and in cheerful moods. But once you took a dare only a cat with nine lives would take. I had been in the hospital for a week with pneumonia and came home weakened, but with a trailer filled with delight at my return, and dirty clothes. The dog must have dared you to hide in the warm dryer. I certainly didn't let you in. I did throw my newly washed gowns and underwear into the dryer. With the door closed I turned on the dryer and you, too, to twenty minutes of low heat.

I took a nap at the back of the trailer while Katy and Gail played with Barbie dolls at the front end. We heard thumps but never suspected you. At last the buzzer went off and I shuffled to the dryer. On my first reach I pulled out blood covered lingerie and promptly did what any young woman would have done. I screamed bloody murder.

Katy and Gail rounded the corner at a fast slide in time to see me pull out a wounded cat. You were covered in blood with your eyes, nose, and mouth swollen, ears broken and torn, and a tail more crooked than any tales I've ever told. You managed a weak meow. Tears of joy and fear followed.

We wrapped you in warm towels and called Nurse Arlene for help. In the coming weeks you were nursed back to health by a community of loving people. Pictures show the before with a curling sly tail and the after, a crooked bend and kinks in a tail that would never swipe the same way again.

Frisky, you, too, were the one that could have gotten me arrested for exposing a wet nude body had the bath towel dropped to the ground. I'll never forget the blood curdling screams of little girls outside. Inside, in the shower with only a six inch window open to the outside world, I heard, "Help, Letty, help. The dogs have Katy!" Dripping wet with soap slidding down my body, I stepped out grabbing the nearest towel. Running outside I saw a covey of little girls backed against the trailer and three snarling dogs at the base of the tree.

There stood Katy safe and sound, but the screams continued, "Save Kitty. Save Kitty!" With fingers pointed at the tree I saw you. There you were, only weeks away from the dryer episode, in a feeble crawl to save your life from the ferocious teeth and paws of the barking dogs.

What's a mother to do, but rescue the cat! My screaming and running alone shooed the dogs away, but there you were frozen flat to the tree, just out of reach. One ladder found in the neighbor's yard saved the day. With ladder leaning precariously against the tree, up I went, step by step, one hand on the ladder and one on my knotted towel. I grabbed you by the scruff of the neck and together we gingerly crawled down.

We were all safe that day and lived to tell our versions of your escapades. Thanks for the memories, Frisky.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One May Only Wonder

Over a century of photos lay scattered on our dining room table teasing me to stack, sort, and place in order, but Lucy Bird wants to play outside. outside in the snow in zero degrees with a Northwest wind gusting or sit inside by the fireplace and sort pictures. Easy decision.

First, I layered my back and hips in biofreeze, a necessity for cold weather walking. Then I piled on the clothes with Lucy jumping at my every move. Heavy socs, scarf, and hat helped to accessorize the winter wardrobe. At last we stepped out the door, oops, back in for sunglasses. Off at last, no lease today. Lucy ran figure 8's up and down the street destroying the serene beauty of front yards without children. Birds fluttered in and out of bushes, cats skittered and hid, while I shuffled along afraid of being clipped by Lucy on a fly by. The prairie grass field beckoned us to roam. In my head the black days and dates flashed through my mind: gunshots in Dallas, killing fields, the Space Shuttle spiraling out of control, the shell of the Murrah building, planes crashing into towers, and still it continues. It took only moments for the fresh air to clear my head of death, tragedy, and blame. I wonder, today 1-11-11 can something exhilaratingly wonderful occur?

Once back home with toes warming at last and a bowl of chicken noodle soup in me, I jumped and jiggled trying to energize my sluggish blood to flow faster, so I could sit and sort. Pictures everywhere with few names and dates, and places lost forever. I wonder, a hundred years ago was my family not bound by dates and deadlines?

To the left I begin the Clendening Weaver pile. My grandmother, Pearl Clendening Weaver and her sister, were raised by an aunt and uncle in Indianapolis after her mother died in childbirth. Their father eventually went West looking for gold, never to return leaving another life story unfinished. How did she meet my grandfather, Tobias Weaver? One photo shows a child, my mother, reaching for her mother's skirt. Behind them a large open draped tent over a wooden frame, clothes on the line, and wash bucket too the right. Grandmother was not smiling. How hard that must have been to have followed her husband one oil field to another from Lansing, Michigan to Ardmore, Oklahoma to Wichita, Kansas. In another photo there's grandfather standing by a Model T with the little blonde girl, my mother, standing on the running board. The notation reads "Arbuckle Mts. near Ardmore, Ok." Still no smiles.

To the right the DeBacker Stapp family, heavily documented with photos from the early 30's to the 60's. My Aunt Sissie was an amateur photographer who captured much of the social life of working women in Wichita during WWII. Now, there before me, a pile of partial stories cheering me on to write.

Smack dab in the middle are the colored prints of my life since the 70's. Ironically, this assortment of photos was a result of a one day search for pictures of me as a smug-teenager (the Sweet Potato Queens understand). My three complete albums from Disneyland in 1960 to my Delta Gamma years at LSU and youthful marriage, have vanished, lost in the moves and upheavals of life. A missing decade of photos...a basement of boxes to go...A table not big enough for more. I wonder?

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Purple Egg

No, not a purple people eater, even though I can still sing the song, nor a purple haze. Guessing the sky kissed my egg that day.

Sitting in the hot tub on a cold winter morning with the sun glistening on the frozen rooftops I listened and watched in awe as hundreds of geese flew in formation over our tiny space on earth. Their V formations billowed in and out like the prairie grass in a brisk breeze. I sat in awe and then suddenly clamped my mouth shut. I could just imagine that thick white drop from the heavenly skies finding my gaping mouth. How disgusting.

Then just like that I recalled my purple egg breakfast. One warm sunny morning last summer I decided to eat my breakfast outside (always pretending I live in sunny California). I served myself hot tea and a gently poached egg on toast. I carried my tray full of food and condiments to the backporch. The arrangement was spread out and ready for me to sit down and enjoy, when I realized I had no napkin and had left my cell phone in the house. Quickly, with Lucy dog at my heals I ran inside.

My mind, however, wondered ever so briefly to another task. In only minutes I was back outside with cell phone, napkin, peanut butter, and dog biscuits. There is was! A poached purple egg with a sliver of a yellow happy face underneath. I actually stood and studied the situation, noting the trail of fresh purple mulberry droppings across our patio underneath the electrical wires. Tossing my meal wasn't an immediate action since I knew Lucy would follow the food trail and lick up my viands. So I did the only logical thing, I picked up the dishes, returned to the kitchen and started over.

First, I went back outside and washed the table, then moved the patio table and chairs away from the birding wires. After the world was rearranged, I returned to the kitchen and scrambled my eggs, fixed some toast, and brewed some fresh tea. It seemed appropriate that I should serve myself and the birds some blueberries, but alas, the frig was bare of berries. With a tray full of food and necessities in hand I returned once more to the fresh air. While enjoying my meal in the sun I listened to a treeful of UBB's (unidentified brown birds) chirping with laughter.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

De Clutter

The new year begins at last with my pink room clutter free and portions of the house the same. Clutter is a huge issue in my brain, my soul, my home, and in my creative process. I allow it to get in my way. It stops me from writing, playing, reading, and other adventures I seek.
I do wonder why? Why do I seek to clean and sort when I could be creating? I can think of several reasons: I love to check off a completed task, no matter how simple; I enjoy closure; I like the physical experience of work and reward; My eyes need to see the simple beauty in this world. I know there is some theory that talks about the need to finish easy doable tasks rather than climbing the mountains. For me, at least, there will always be a mountain range of climbing.
I vividly remember one experience in teaching in which clutter stopped me in my tracks. It was the first day back for teachers on a hot August morning. I was returning to a classroom without windows, with nights and weekends lost for ten months to grading papers, but luckily, the days would be filled with intelligent, inspiring, energetic, and delightful seventh graders. Instead of pacing myself that morning to get the bed made, dressed, make up applied, or fixing a breakfast that's not overcooked, I stood in my bathroom and soaked then washed my jewelry. Yes, it was dirty, but it had been all summer. Just like that I checked it off my mental to do list and life was brilliant for a moment. Breakfast was not. I arrived at school with not a moment to greet friends or leisurely enjoy the moment. Within three days though I was back in the swing and climbing a new mountain with a goal of improving the reading and writing skills of willing students.
Upon reflection I can see that each year of my career in education I climbed a different mountain, with different paths, different kids, and often different settings. I liked it that way. Lesson plans were always new and fresh which kept me intrigued and eager to teach. Along with each mountain came piles of books, papers, and learning. I suppose in the end I was always the one to learn the most about life, perceptions, and learning.
One evening on facebook I received a friend request from a student I had in the 70's. He refreshed my memory by saying how much he enjoyed those experiences in the storytelling bubble. So my mind wondered through the faces and lives of every child I may have touched in Greensburg. Yes, there were mountains in Greensburg, some real, some imagined. From every path on every mountain I have highlights, delights, scenic sights, but no dead ends. One brief note from a "friend" can send my mind searching for that face, that encounter, the laughter, or sometimes even the books we may have shared. What fun to have taught children and been involved in books and learning ALL of my life.
And now a new year is upon me. I think I've said goodbye to the classroom, but not to children or learning. I 'm a Youth Friend now; involved with numerous book clubs; always learning technology through my Blackberry and computer; exercising my body and brain; and have dreams of developing a writing club.
Today's been good. I can honestly check off a written thought. So now I'm back where I started, but I've decluttered some wondering thoughts and composed a simple story.