RSS

Tag Archives: school

Antidisestablishmentarianism—a quickie definition

I came across the word antidisestablishmentarianism today—hadn’t seen it in a long time, but I didn’t need to Google it. I just nudged my memory from philosophy and religion courses—History of Religion, Early Greek Philosophy, Golden Thread in Catholicism and others that I took at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio during the mid-1960s in search of truth in religion, a hopeless undertaking (true story). I realize, of course,  that my viewers are familiar with antidisestablishmentarianism, but I need to prove to myself that I haven’t forgotten my schooling so I’ll prattle on.

A Greek fellow named Arius established a theological school of thought, Arianism, and others worked toward the disestablishment of Arianism. Still others were against Arianism being disestablished, thus the anti in the term Antidisestablishmentarianism—they were against the disestablishment of Arianism—got it? The entire fracas consisted of religious scholars squabbling and quibbling over the relationship, in the biblical sense, of the Son to the Father.

Them aire greks war sum rite smart foks, warn’t thay!

That’s my quickie definition of antidisestablishmentarianism and my story and I’m sticking to both.

Postscript: Historian Warren Carroll at Wikkipedia describes Arius as “tall and lean, of distinguished appearance and polished address. Women doted on him, charmed by his beautiful manners, touched by his appearance of asceticism. Men were impressed by his aura of intellectual superiority.” I have added this description of Arius for this reason: Except for the tall and lean portions I, The King of Texas and the author of this blog, am a reincarnated mirror image of Arius, and I make that statement without even the hint of humility.


 
4 Comments

Posted by on March 16, 2011 in college, Humor, philosophy, religion

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One soul departs, and another arrives . . .

One soul departs,

and  another arrives.

I have read the letter that follows many times and each time my heart—my soul, my spirit—soars to incredible heights, and then descends to incredible depths. I know that I am not worthy of those heights, but I would like to believe that I do not deserve to remain at those depths.

I have vowed that in the time I have remaining above ground on this sphere—this earth—I will dedicate my efforts, my will, to live my life in a way that honors my wife, my family, my friends and my God. I hasten to add that I will accord that honor in my own way and not necessarily in ways favored by our society, nor by actions sanctioned by various religious denominations. I know that I cannot undo the things I’ve done in my lifetime that I should not have done, but I can try with all my might to do the things I should do in the time I have left in this realm.

I will begin this writing by saying proudly that I have the finest neighbors anyone could possible have, a beautiful couple that lives just a few feet away on the west side of our house. The husband is a self-employed architect and the wife is an educator-at-large in local school districts. They have two grown sons and a brand-new granddaughter.

My wife was in hospice care, and shortly before she died our neighbor gave her a gold chain with a pendant fashioned into the I Love You symbol in American Sign Language. She expressed her sorrow to my wife for her illness and her sorrow that she could not be with her until the end—her elder son’s wife, living in a distant city, was near child delivery and the doctors anticipated problems with the baby. My wife died before the neighbor left, and the neighbor’s sorrow—her sadness—is eloquently expressed in the letter she gave me before she left.

With her permission I have reproduced the letter and am posting it exactly as written, including the pen-and-ink sentence at the top of the page. She professes little talent for writing, but in my opinion, unlettered and unfettered though my opinion may be, she has a tremendous talent for writing and should pursue that talent, whether as a vocation or as an avocation.

Her letter follows, exactly as written. The first sentence just above the poem—This was in my heart today—was written in ink in the upper margin:

This was in my heart today:

Courage is not the towering oak
That sees storms come and go,
It is the fragile blossom
That opens in the snow.
—Alice MacKenzie Swalm

Dear Mike,

You hurt so deeply…..so, so deeply. You are sad, on top of sad, on top of sad. And all I know to say is, “I’m sorry.” So trite…..it screams out that I can’t even begin to feel your pain. I want to just sit and cry, cry, cry with you. Janie left you for another. That will always break your heart. She left you, she left you…how could she? You were always there for her. Year after year, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, second after second…..you were always there for her. But she left anyway. Gone, gone, gone. You always knew that she would leave you. It never mattered. You would do it all over again if you could. If only you could.

She said that you were a “Good Man.” A good man. A loving man. A caring man. A clever man. A funny man. A loyal man. A knowledgeable  man. An interesting man. But a man all the same. Not perfect, but not a requirement for Janie.

And there lies the real beauty. Janie left room for others to live their own lives. To make their own mistakes. To make their own amends. To write their own stories. To make their own verses and rhymes. To be their own selves. To find their own beauty. To find their own strengths. To find their own weaknesses. No matter where you were in life, whether in the good or the bad, she welcomed you home when you were ready to be home. She didn’t push or prod. She just waited. She knew you would eventually come home. She led by example. Every needle, every probe, every surgery, every bruise, every doctor visit…she said, “Be strong. Be strong, be strong, be strong. It was her battle cry. No words needed. She screamed it out with the softest of cries. So strong…..yet so, so gentle.

I’m your neighbor. I’m just simply a neighbor. How could I be touched this way? For me, death and birth are coming at the same time. I didn’t want to choose one over the other. But here it is, saying choose, choose. Janie’s example said to pick life. Choose life, she said. It is with sadness that I go. Even when I should be filled with bubbling joy. Be strong, she says. Go and be strong.

You are a good neighbor. The best. Be strong. Be strong. Be strong. “Live” she says. Be strong. She will wait for you to come Home.

With Sad, Sad, Sadness,

Your Neighbor, Your Friend,

Kathy

Postscript: At the memorial for my wife, our daughters placed the “I Love You” pendant in their mother’s hands, along with a small card with Biblical quotations given to her many years ago by her sister, Christine. The only other jewelry was a gold chain with a small pendant that I brought home many years ago from a foreign assignment while in the military. The pendant has a French quotation that translates as “I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.”

My neighbor is back home now and back in work harness. Her granddaughter, Caitlan, was delivered successfully by Caesarian surgery. The baby weighed eight pounds and two ounces at birth, and she is healthy, happy and growing by leaps and bounds.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Revisit to: Long, long ago in Mexico . . .

While browsing recently among past postings that are available on Twitter, hoping to find fodder for additional postings, I returned to this one. It is so beautifully composed and presented, and I enjoyed reading it so much, that I decided to bring it up from the depths of the Stygian darkness where it has stagnated for eighteen months—since June of 2009—and into the bright light of today.

Please note that I praise this posting with all modesty cast aside, just as I am wont to do with all my literary efforts. Please note also that the lawless situation that exists in Mexico today is not new—it was just as prevalent and just as brutal eighteen months ago as it is now. Click here to read the original post.

If you doubt my statement that the lawless situation in Mexico is not new , read the introductory paragraph below carefully, keeping in mind that it was written in June of 2009. I firmly believe that these conditions will prevail unless—and until—Mexico is annexed by the United States and our military forces are put into action in the newly acquired territory, but only after they are withdrawn from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and rested a bit. The sovereign nations of Mexico and the United States need to acknowledge that the drug cartels—the insurgents—are in charge, and are just as dangerous—nay, more dangerous—to the United States than the insurgents in the Middle East.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

Long, long ago in Mexico

Long, long ago in Mexico, in a time when drug lords were not spraying the streets with bullets from rapid-fire weapons purchased illegally in the United States and exported illegally to Mexico, and were not murdering Mexican police chiefs and news reporters and anyone else that might be expected to hamper their efforts to maintain control of Mexico and its citizens—long, long ago when roving gangs were not kidnapping U. S. citizens on both sides of the Mexican border and holding them for ransom and various other reasons—a time when the streets in Mexican border towns were as safe or safer than streets in our border cities—and a time when I was the supervisory Customs inspector at the Port of Roma, in the sleepy town of Roma, Texas, high on a bluff (the town was high, not I) overlooking the Rio Grande river, across from the even sleepier town of Miguel Aleman, Mexico—this was the time in which I and one of my three princesses (the one in Virginia that takes all the pretty pictures) took a brief trip to Mexico during her spring break from studies at Pan-American University in Edinburg, Texas.

In the spring of 1979, our father-and-daughter team (a college student of 18 tender years and a military-retiree father of 47 not-so-tender years) embarked on a memorable sojourn into the wilds of Mexico. We traveled in a 1978 Volkswagen diesel Rabbit, a small 4-door vehicle labeled “Panama Brown” by its maker, but its color could better be described as bright orange. It was a very small people carrier—to illustrate its smallness, I can tell you that somewhere between Monterrey, Mexico and Saltillo, Mexico, we strayed off-road into a canyon where it was necessary to navigate our auto around huge rocks, some much larger than the Rabbit. After circumventing several such rocks, with the paved highway receding in the distance and a line spoken by a Mexican bandit in a Hollywood western film ringing in our ears, reason prevailed and we returned to the pavement. That memorable line was, “We don’ take no stinkin’ prisoners!”

We began our adventure in Reynosa, Mexico, a metropolitan city on the Rio Grande river. The river marks the boundary between the U. S. and Mexico—its name in Spanish is Rio Bravo, a more appropriate and more appealing term than grand—I suppose it can be considered brave, but at no point can it be considered grand—at least not, for example, in comparison with our Mississippi river. Reynosa is directly opposite Hidalgo, Texas, a small city a few miles from McAllen, Texas.

Our first stop in Mexico was at the Office of Immigration to secure “permisos,” official documents that would authorize us to travel past the 15-kilometer check point, a distance of some 9-10 miles, beyond which is considered Mexico’s interior. Our treatment by Immigration officers began routinely, but progressed into a “situation.” The first officer we met took our vitals (name, citizenship, destination, purpose of visit, etc.), and leered knowingly when I said we were father and daughter—his thoughts were printed all over his face. He was thinking, “Yeah, sure, you are father and daughter, heh, heh, heh.” My daughter looked younger than her 18 years, and I grudgingly admit that I may have appeared a year or two older than my 47 years. After some copious stamping of various documents (our permits), the officer passed them to another officer that was apparently guarding the exit to the vehicle parking area.

The second officer gave our permits a cursory inspection, stuffed them into an envelope, laid them on the table in front of us and said in English, “Senor, anything you may wish to give.” This was a request for mordida, a very expressive Spanish noun derived from the Spanish verb “morder,” which means “to bite.” Mordida, a diminutive of that verb, is used to describe  “a little bite.” Mexican officials take “a little bite” out of everything which moves across the Mexican border, in both directions, including merchandise, produce and people. Mordida is a way of life in Mexico, so ingrained in the economy and in daily life that people expect the demand, and would be very surprised if it were not made.

The Mexico of today is a far cry from the Mexico of 1979. My response then would not be my response today, not in these trying times. This was 30 years ago, way back in 1979—times were different. I showed the officer my official identification and said, “Senor, no deseo dar. Soy el supervisor de las aduanas en el puerto de Roma, Tejas, y amplío cada cortesía a cualquier oficial del gobierno mexicano que entra en nuestro país.” What I said was, in fairly lucid Spanish, “Sir, I do not wish to give. I am the Customs supervisor at the port of Roma, Texas, and I extend every courtesy to any Mexican government official entering my country.”

The situation changed, abruptly and for the better. The officer stood, shook hands with us and escorted us to his commander. He introduced me to his commander as the Customs jefe at Roma, and introduced my daughter as my daughter. The comandante enthusiastically welcomed us into Mexico, and offered to accompany us to our vehicle and place official seals on our luggage—with those seals we would not be burdened with inspections at the 15-kilometer check point. Having nothing to hide and not wishing to call undue attention to ourselves, I politely declined the offer. We were, however, accompanied to our vehicle and were sent on our way with a hearty “Vaya con dios,” the Spanish version of “God speed.” And we sped away, at least as well as we could in a 4-cylinder diesel Volkswagen.

At the check point we barely slowed down—the officials there made us welcome and expressed their hopes that we would enjoy our visit to their country. We were reasonably certain that the station had been notified, whether by phone, radio, smoke signals or passenger pigeon, that our arrival at the check point was imminent, and that we could be identified from a distance because we would arrive in a little-bitty bright orange (Panama brown) car.

In our family we have always numbered our adventures, but the numbers are never in sequence and we never record them—someone simply picks a number and off we go. This adventure encompasses many scenarios, some foolish, some frightening, all memorable and well worth the telling. After passing the check point we took in the cities of Monterrey and Saltillo and a visit to and into Garcia’s Cave, a visit that was both foolish and frightening.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

From the mouths of babes . . .

Special note: This is not a Once Upon a Time story—this is a now story.

Somewhere near the approximate center of the Kingdom of Texas lies an area with beautiful lakes, open spaces and stately homes, and in that area there lives and loves a royal family that includes two of my royal grandchildren, a handsome prince and a beautiful princess, Prince Winnon and Princess Tracie. These children are young and bright, budding intellectuals following in the footsteps of their grandparents, both paternal and maternal, and their mother and father and their grandparents are very proud of them.

This posting revolves around the fact that the royal children are not wise in the ways of the world, particularly in the language of the realm but they are gaining in wisdom, in no small part because of their predilection for asking endless questions in their efforts to add to their accumulated knowledge—they want to know. Both are being schooled in fine public institutions and both are quick to learn. However, in their quest for knowledge they sometimes ask unanswerable questions, and tend to give memorable answers to others’ questions.

One shining example involves the Easter bunny, as told by Tracie’s mother. At the wizened old age of five years, Tracie had a question and answer session from the back seat while her mother was driving. She asked if the Easter bunny was real, and her mother allowed that he is as far as she knew. Tracie said that she believes the bunny is a girl, and asked how her mother knows that it is a boy.

The mother’s answer was that she just always thought it was a boy. Tracie then asked how he picks up the eggs, since he has no hands. With a weary sigh, her mother said that she had never been sure of that point either. Tracie closed the discussion by saying that she  thinks he just puts the eggs in the basket and runs around shaking them out on the ground so the humans can pick them up. I consider that explanation just as plausible as any I’ve heard or read.

Just a couple more Tracie-isms:

One day a prekindergarten Tracie entered into a conversation between her mother and the piano tuner. She appeared from her room with felt-tip marker colors all over her face, arms, hands and clothing and her mother asked, Tracie, who did this to you? Tracie, reluctant to admit that she had done it to herself but knowing instinctively that she couldn’t blame it on her mother or the piano tuner, confessed that her brother Winnon did it.

Her mother reminded her that Winnon was in school and couldn’t have done it. With wrinkled brow, Tracie took a long moment to consider that fact and finally responded with a crestfallen Oh, and returned to her room—that Oh said it all.

One morning while Tracie was helping me prepare breakfast by placing bacon strips in the frying pan, she told me that she wanted to be a vegenarian. Thinking that she meant vegetarian, but knowing that she liked bacon and other meats, I asked her why she wanted to be a vegenarian, and she replied, Because I want to work with all kinds of animals, and then I realized that she meant that she wanted to be a veterinarian.

Tracie’s brother Winnon asked her, while they were enjoying bacon with their breakfast, if she knew that bacon comes from pigs. Tracie considered that information thoughtfully for a long moment, then held up a strip of bacon and told her brother, forcefully, that it did not look like a pig.

And now for a few Winnon-isms:

In an English class, Winnon’s teacher asked him to construct a sentence containing three verbs. He submitted the following sentence, structurally and grammatically correct in every respect and in accordance with the teacher’s request:

A turtle eats, pees and poops in his cage.

One cool day Winnon emerged from the family’s backyard pool and entered the house to warm up, and exclaimed to his mother that his nuts were freezing. His shocked mother asked him where he had heard that word and Winnon, suspecting that he had committed a faux pas and expecting the worst, said that he didn’t remember. He probably heard the word at school but didn’t want to implicate one or more of his friends. His mother explained to him that the term nuts, although quite descriptive in nature, should not be used to describe those components of the male physique, at least not in conversations among genteel and well-educated people.

A pre-school Winnon and his mother were traveling in the car and his mother said they would have to stop at a station to fill the car’s gas tank, and Winnon asked why. She explained that if the car ran out of gas they would have to park it somewhere. Winnon said Oh, and then they passed an automobile dealer’s location that sported acres of new and used automobiles, and Winnon asked whether all those cars had run out of gas.

There are many more Tracie-isms and Winnon-isms lurking in the wings, and the count is growing steadily. I have implored their mother, my princess daughter that lives and loves in that land of beautiful lakes and open spaces, to document those –isms voiced in the past by her children and those –isms that will undoubtedly appear in the future. Many are classic, and all are well-worthy of documentation. Art Linkletter many years ago, and Bill Crosby more recently, were correct in saying on their television shows that Kids say the darndest things!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 15, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mexico—Texas border relations . . .

In 1977 during my sixth year as a journeyman Customs inspector at the port of Progreso, Texas I was promoted to a first-level supervisory position at the port of Roma,Texas. Roma was a small port in terms of staffing, consisting of the port director, a first-level supervisor, the office manager and ten inspectors—one of the ten was a combination inspector and detector dog handler. The image at right shows the old international suspension bridge, built in 1927 and the new bridge completed in 1979. The old bridge remains as a historic structure and will only be used for pedestrian traffic.

A cursory review of enforcement records at the port presented a dismal picture of enforcement—either everyone that entered the port was scrupulously honest, or the inspection force was lax in its enforcement duties. The latter proved to be the case, and with the port director’s assistance and approval I developed and established procedures intended to improve the enforcement posture of the port. With only two exceptions the inspection staff was local, born and reared in the area with relatives on both sides of the international border. Complacency was the order of the day when I arrived, and I soon incurred the wrath of the inspectors and that of a goodly number of international travelers.

The seizures began to stack up—small amounts of various narcotics were intercepted by increasing the number of vehicles sent to the secondary inspection area, along with undeclared items such as alcoholic beverages, prohibited fruits, meats and plants. By checking vehicle serial numbers our interceptions of stolen vehicles began to rise, and Customs duties and fines collected on undeclared commercial importations and personal importations began to pour in to our cashier.

There was a new kid on the block, a supervisor that almost immediately incurred the displeasure of citizens of the local community, the inspection staff at the port, travelers from the interior of Mexico and local citizens from Miguel Aleman, Roma’s sister city on the other side of the Rio Grande River. I also incurred the wrath of our Mexican federal counterparts at the other end of the bridge spanning the river.

In the early days of my assignment at Roma, I frequently took the place of the officer at the primary inspection point, and in that position I checked vehicle interiors when traffic was light, and referred vehicles to the secondary inspection area when traffic increased. I also worked with inspectors in the secondary area, confirming declarations made at primary and searching travelers and their vehicle’s contents, and the seizures began to mount.

Miguel Aleman was the Mexican city at the other end of the suspension bridge spanning the Rio Grande River at Roma. The Mexican federal building housed a full staff of Customs, Immigration and Agriculture officers, all fully subject to United States laws when entering the country. Early one morning I checked a Mexican Customs officer and his vehicle, a Volkswagen bus, in the secondary area. The officer told the primary officer he was bringing nothing from Mexico, and repeated his declaration to me in secondary. I found two young boys hiding in the wagon, one behind the back seat and one hidden under the back seat.

The little fellow under the rear seat had crawled through a very small opening and the sliding panel was closed behind him. I slid the panel open, saw a pair of shoes and closed the panel. At that instant I realized that I had seen a pair of feet in that pair of shoes and I ordered the Mexican officer to extract his passenger—it wasn’t an easy task!

Questioning by U. S. Immigration officers determined that the boys were the officer’s nephews and neither boy had the documents necessary for entry in the United States, so the Mexican Customs officer hid them—he wanted to take them to the city of McAllen, Texas to purchase clothing and supplies for the coming school year—the small city of Roma offered very little in the way of shopping.

That stalwart representative of Mexico’s federal inspection force, regardless of his reasons, was guilty of breaking the laws of the United States. He could have easily secured a temporary pass from Immigration for the purpose, but he preferred to smuggle the boys in, just as he and others had done in the past, obviously feeling that no inspection would be made. That pretty well summarizes the enforcement posture that existed at the port of Roma prior to my assignment there. If two kids could be smuggled in without fear of detection, virtually any amount of illegal narcotics could pass with the same ease. I have no doubt that they did in the past, but I at least slowed them down during my tenure there, some two and one-half years.

The commander of Miguel Aleman’s federal Customs staff made a negative declaration to me at the primary point. I asked him to step out of the car—a late model Mark IV Lincoln—and open the trunk for inspection. With some hesitation but without protest, he opened the trunk and revealed a case of bottled alcoholic beverages purchased in Mexico. He said he was taking them to a friend in McAllen. I told him he was subject to a fine and forfeiture of the merchandise, and referred him to the Immigration office. He was allowed to continue with the importation after paying federal tax, Customs duties and Texas state tax on the liquor. The penalty in that instance should have been seizure and forfeiture of the merchandise and payment of a fine equal to the value of the merchandise. The decision to lessen the penalty was not mine—that was the decision of the Customs and Immigration chiefs—they felt that a more severe penalty would strain relations between U. S. and Mexican federal officers—go figure!

At that time I drove a Panama brown diesel Volkswagen Rabbit, and diesel in Mexico was only $.12 a gallon, a bargain that was not easily ignored. A few days after referring the Mexican commandante for possible seizure and forfeiture of the liquor I crossed the river for a diesel fill-up. I was in my official uniform, and prior to my encounter with the Mexican officer with the liquor I would have been passed with a friendly smile with no questions asked. Not this time—I was ordered to remain in line while the officer returned with the commandante. That worthy approached my car, stopped by the driver’s side and unsmilingly stared down at me—he was tall and my little Rabbit was not—with some trepidation I stared back at him. Neither of us spoke, and after an agonizingly long moment he motioned me to proceed. I continued to the gas station a few blocks from the bridge, filled up with diesel and returned to the United States without further incident.

That long silent moment before I was allowed to proceed was obviously meant to show me that he had the power to refer me for inspection, with or without a valid reason. His action was prompted by my referring him for questioning by Customs and Immigration officers. The obvious question to ask me at this point would be whether I was intimidated. The answer is a resounding yes—to use a time-worn analogy, my nerves were drawn so tight that my posterior was cutting washers out of the seat cover of that Rabbit.

Yes, I was intimidated—horror tales abound concerning detentions of Americans by Mexican officials, ranging from local police up to federal officers. In fact, a DEA officer, an official of our Drug Enforcement Administration, had recently been kidnapped and killed in Mexico. His murder was attributed to Mexico’s drug cartels rather than by Mexican federal officers but then, as now, the line between the two is often blurred.

Yes, I was intimidated, but it did not affect my duties as a supervisory U. S. Customs officer. I continued in the same vein for the rest of my stay at Roma, right up to the day that I transferred following my promotion to a second-level supervisory position at the international bridge at Brownsville, Texas. I continued to buy diesel for my Rabbit in Mexico, but I shunned Miguel Aleman’s theaters and restaurants—my diesel buying ended when the station pumped gasoline into the tank instead of diesel—they drained the tank and replaced the gasoline with diesel, explaining that a new employee made the mistake—yeah, right!

Suffice it to say that I made few friends and many enemies in the early days of my assignment to Roma, and that applied to our cadre of Customs, Immigration and Agriculture inspectors—they resented my treatment of their long-time friends and family members and their counterparts in Mexico. I accepted that as a hazard peculiar to my occupation—mine was a lonely job, but the pay was good and there was no heavy lifting, and I thrived on the rancor.

Speaking frankly, I didn’t like them any better than they liked me. Both I and they were pleased when two and one-half years later in 1980 I was promoted and transferred to the port of Brownsville, Texas. My promotion was based in large part on the improvements made in Roma’s enforcement posture—upper level management felt that a similar situation existed at Brownsville. In a meeting with an upper level official prior to the final selection to fill the vacancy at Brownsville, I was told that a strong enforcement-oriented supervisor was needed—actually the expression used was that a hard-ass supervisor was needed. Among other problems, enforcement was lax, and misuse of overtime was the order of the day. Evidently the selection board felt that I had the necessary qualifications including the hard-ass, because I was selected for the position. And yes, you guessed it—shortly after my arrival at Brownsville, with the assistance of the newly assigned chief inspector, inspection overtime was cut drastically and seizures and arrests rose dramatically. The majority of inspectors was not impressed, neither with me nor the chief inspector—they did not view the changes as improvements.

As the result of pressure from the ranks and from my supervisors, in the final few months at that station I stood alone against the cadre of five lower ranking supervisors, my equal rank counterpart, my immediate supervisor, the top level manager at the port and the National Treasury Employees Union. That pressure was terminated only following my promotion to U. S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC.

My contributions to the Customs mission during my three and one-half years at that station are well documented, as are my trials and tribulations. However, I can state honestly that I hold no animosity for the three officers that stood against me in the final months of my service there. To hold a grudge against dead people would be an exercise in futility. All three have since passed from this vale of tears, trials and tribulations, either to that shining international port of entry in the sky, or to a climate warmer even than that of South Texas. I cannot be certain, but I would suspect that some of the older inspectors have also dodged their last non-overtime job assignment. More than a few were at or past retirement age when I left the station 27 years ago. Whatever their official status now and their location, regardless of whatever sphere in which they dwell, I wish them well.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Postscript: I must acknowledge the fact that my immediate supervisor rated my final performance as outstanding, a rating that was reduced to just barely acceptable by his supervisor. That fact, however, cannot be confirmed. Shortly after the revised rating was submitted for entry into my records, I requested a copy—in the oft-used words by Gomer Pyle of Mayberry fame, surprise, surprise! The evaluation could not be located—it somehow had been lost between submission by the port and acceptance by Headquarters, either lost, misplaced or deliberately removed and destroyed. Who knows, and who cares? At this point in my life, not I!



 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 4, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A medical miracle . . .

A medical miracle

When I was twelve years old I went to live with my brother and his family in Suitland, Maryland. This was not a voluntary change of scenery and habitat. My stepfather had returned to his parental duties after having broken up our little family for the umpteenth time. My mother, my youngest sister and I were living in Durant, Mississippi and as far as I was concerned, I would have been happy to continue there through high school, and then on to whatever life might offer.

Prior to our migration to Durant, we were living on a small farm twelve miles from Columbus, Mississippi, living an idyllic existence and had I been asked, I would have said that everything was coming up roses. Papa John, my stepfather, had other ideas. Just as he had done at other times in the few short years of his marriage to my mother, my sister and me, he found an excuse to explode into a rage and dissolve the family. Click here to learn the reason for the breakup. It’s a story of chapped hands, Jergen’s lotion, talcum powder, biscuits and breakfast, a clawed cheek, a shotgun, a young boy and girl hiding in the woods and a Model T automobile. If that doesn’t pique your interest, I can’t imagine what would!

When I left Durant I went to live with a family that was unknown to me. In my first twelve years I could count the times that I had seen my brother on the fingers of one hand, and each of those times was only for a few days. Now everything was strange to me—my brother, his wife, their young son, our neighbors, my school, the community, the people and the weather.

Now in order to continue, I must discuss a mental and physical change in me that any psychologist, psychiatrist or medical doctor could have predicted—I swiftly descended into a condition known as constipation. You can Google that, but it probably isn’t necessary. Sooner or later, having birthed into an unfriendly world—probably sooner rather than later—every living creature, whether human or otherwise, will suffer from that same malady.

One should think, even at the tender age of twelve years, one would know what was causing the gnawing stomach pains that began a few days after I joined my brother’s family. What began as a slight feeling of discomfort rapidly devolved into severe pain that could only be lessened by my curling up into a fetal position and doing some audible grunting and groaning.

Okay, it took a bit of ink for the prelude to the following action, and I apologize for the delay—I felt that the background leading up to my visit to a doctor was pertinent to this discussion, but from this point I will make an effort to be brief. I realize that my readers are anxious to learn what deadly malady had overtaken me.

Very soon after arriving at the doctor’s office I was lying on my side sans trousers and undergarments, and the doctor’s index finger, the one on his right hand with the hand ensconced in a white plastic glove—yes, that inordinately long digit was uncomfortably fitted into a sensitive area in my lower part of my body—yes, you guessed it—it was in the part that can be considered a homonym, a word that sounds like another but is spelled differently and has a different meaning. In this instance the word rhymes with wrecked ‘um, a condition that describes the effect of one motor vehicle colliding with another—go figure!

The doctor, calling on all his medical study and training and the sensitivity of that inordinately long finger, diagnosed my condition as severe constipation, a malady that in his opinion was caused by my reluctance to fill my brother’s small abode with unspeakable odors, thus making me the object of ridicule, scorn and sarcasm. I know, I know—it sounds really stupid, and to echo the words of Forest Gump, stupid is as stupid does, and it was stupid of me to worry about something that is as common to mankind as breathing. The exact words of the doctor’s diagnosis were, There’s a lot there that needs to be cleared out.

Now on to my recovery, a miracle that was accomplished with a solution of warm water with some sort of powder dissolved therein and placed in a red rubber bag known as a hot water bottle—well, there was another common term for the bag, one that was not voiced in mixed company, that is in company comprised of mixed genders. That other nomenclature is douche bag, and that should indicate one of its functions to any knowledgeable reader.

Shortly after returning home from the doctor’s office I was seated in the bathroom on you know what with the business end of a flexible tube inserted in you know where with the other end attached to a red rubber bag filled with that solution of powder and warm water, with my brother manipulating the bag much as a musician manipulates an accordion.

With each squeeze of the accordion, the musician creates musical notes. With each squeeze of that devil bag my brother elicited vocal sounds from me and lifted me ever so slightly off my seat, and with each squeeze his laughter increased in tempo and volume. He was literally in tears, long before the deed was accomplished to his satisfaction.

The rest is history—I retained my seat on orders from my brother, and shortly after being disconnected from that devil apparatus following many days of discomfort and pain, I was cured by a miracle, a miracle that featured a kindly, long-fingered doctor, a red rubber bag, a medical solution and a maniacal brother, and I returned to the adventurous life I had lived before my transportation to strange surroundings.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on September 29, 2010 in health, Humor

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Two pets for Christmas presents . . .

For a brief period of several months I lived with my family—mother, stepfather and youngest sister—in a one room kitchenette in a small motel on East US Highway 82 in Columbus, Mississippi. This was in the latter years of World War II—although the term motel had been around since 1925, our establishment called itself the Columbus Tourist Court, the word court suggesting a more comfortable kind of accommodation—it was actually a stand-alone cabin in a line of other stand-alone cabins backed by an ages-old cemetery that historically was limited to black burials but was no longer in use.

Just as an aside, our stepfather frequently told people that the owner of the Columbus Tourist Court was a close personal and business friend of many years standing, and that if one mentioned his name—my stepfather’s name—the owner would cut some slack on the price of the accommodations. I tried that some years later and got nothing but a blank stare from the owner—he opined that he was not familiar with the gentleman—so much for slack, right?

The cemetery was in total disrepair, with tombstones missing, broken and fallen, graves sadly sunken and the ground strewn with remnants of urns and flower vases and leaves and rubbish, even a cast-off mattress or two. My sister and I roamed that cemetery picking up bits of colored glass and retrieving unbroken receptacles for flowers, some almost buried in the ground. This was the equivalent of a nature park for us, a place to linger in the evening after school and on weekends. It was also a place that prompted us to make up ghost stories, sometimes so scary that we scared ourselves.

But I digress—this story is not about cemeteries—it’s about the two pets, dogs, that our stepfather promised one day near Christmas as he and our mother headed for town in his four-door black 1939 Plymouth sedan. I mention the auto because it was never, not even once, not even on days of rain or snow or heat or cold, used to transport me and my sister to school. Had our tourist court been on a numbered thoroughfare, it would have been somewhere around Twenty-fifth Street. Our high school was located at Seventh Street and Third Avenue North—city blocks usually run 12 to the mile, so our walk to school covered some 21 blocks, almost two miles, and we walked it barefoot regardless of rain or snow or heat or cold, and it was uphill in both directions. Okay, I’m stretching it a bit, but the fact remains that we walked the distance five days a week while we lived at the Columbus Tourist Court—bummer!

When our mother and our stepfather returned that day shortly before Christmas, our stepfather gave me and my sister separate packages that we hurriedly unwrapped. My sister’s package contained a beautiful Collie, colored identically as Lassie of the movies. My package yielded a gorgeous Pekingese with the cutest face ever seen on a dog.

These were the two dogs he promised us for Christmas, and he had followed through with his promise. However, there was a hitch—my sister’s Collie was mounted on the side of a large tabletop ashtray and my Pekingese was a lead-weighted plaster dog intended to be used as a doorstop. We expected pets, of course, but we were given functional replicas of dogs instead. Mental torture? Child abuse? Of course, but in those days there was no Child Protective Service or any other service to accept complaints, even if we had been endowed with the courage and the willingness to complain.

Merry Christmas!

We were between trips to the atom bomb project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee where our stepfather worked. He was laid off for awhile and we had left a government trailer village in Gamble Valley, Tennessee to return to Columbus, and we were now returning to that area to another trailer village called Happy Valley, Tennessee—both locations are subjects for future postings. Stay tuned!

A funny thing happened to us when we were loading the car for the return trip to Tennessee. I had an armful of funny books—they were actually comic books but nobody called them comic books in those days. They were funny books, even the ones picturing the most violent mayhem, and the comic strips in newspapers were also referred to as the funnies.

Our stepfather told me I could not take my funny books because the car was already overloaded. My sister promptly spoke up and told him, in a completely serious tone, that she would carry them in her lap. That was one of the very few times that our little family laughed together—for a brief shining moment we were a happy family, albeit caused by friction. The moment was brief—the stack of comics was consigned to the trash, we climbed into the car and were off on another great adventure.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
10 Comments

Posted by on June 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11th Street South and a watermelon party . . .

In a recent posting I outed a boy that lived next door to my house on Eleventh Street South. His name was Edward Earl but he responded to Tootie, a justifiable moniker that he could easily demonstrate—Edward Earl could, with little or no urging toot at will, hence the nickname Tootie.

Tootie and I were friends and we rambled together all over town and country, but I don’t remember whether he attended my school. There was another elementary school nearby and he may have been enrolled there. I say may have been, but in retrospect I suspect that he was not enrolled anywhere. I have no memories of walking to or from school with him—I usually walked with my sister, eighteen months older than I and one grade ahead of me. She constantly lorded over me in our elementary school because she was ahead, and I spend a lot of time dreaming and hoping and praying that she would fail at least one grade—two grades if the good Lord could manage it.

But I digress—back to Tootie and the watermelon party.

Early one sunny summer Saturday morning Tootie and I decided to go uptown to check out the flood waters of the Tombigbee River, a normally peaceful stream that was in flood mode at the time and was the subject of much conversation. We walked the eleven blocks east to First Street, then eleven blocks north to Main Street, a distance of some two miles—city blocks usually run about twelve blocks to the mile.

Most of the homes on First Street were, and I suppose still are, owned and occupied by the upper crust of Columbus—the wealthy, the near wealthy and a few wannabees. All the homes fronted First Street and backed up to the bluff overlooking the river. We checked out the flood waters from several backyards along the street, and at one point the water had risen so high that we were able to walk out over the flooded area on a limb of a huge tree near the bluff.

Our destination was the high bridge over the Tombigbee River. We traversed the length of the bridge, marveling at the flotsam and jetsam moving down the river, did the uptown thing, checked out the marques and the black-and-white lobby cards posted at the town’s three movie houses, rambled through Woolworth’s and McClellan’s Five and Dime stores—didn’t shoplift anything—and sometime in mid-afternoon we headed for home, primarily because we had no money and we were hungry—considerable time has passed since breakfast.

We made it home safely but not under our own power. Several blocks from home on Eleventh Street was an ice plant, a business that operated five and one-half days a week. The plant’s loading dock was near the street and as we drew near we noticed numerous watermelon halves on the dock and walked over to take a look. Apparently the workers had a watermelon party after their shift was over. The plant was silent, no vehicles or people anywhere in sight.

Evidently the workers had just left because the  melons were still cold. In most of the melons only the heart, the part with no seeds, had been gouged out, so one can guess the rest of this story. Tootie and I feasted on cold watermelon, digging out melon bites with one hand, swatting flies with the other hand and competing to see how far we could spit seeds—for two tired and hungry little boys it was heavenly!

We were still enjoying our find when a city police cruiser, a black-and-white with two patrolmen, drew up and stopped at the loading dock. The driver asked us what we were doing and we told him the honest truth—we told him we were eating watermelon. He asked us for our names and we told the truth to that question also. He suggested that we hop into the rear seat so he could give us a ride home. Tootie said that it was not far and that we would rather walk, that we were going home and only stopped to eat some watermelon.

Both patrolmen exited the car and each opened a rear door. The same officer repeated his suggestion, but couched it in different terms and in a different tone—we scrambled off the dock and into the rear seat. As the doors closed Tootie whispered to me that yeah, they’re taking us home alright—home to jail. I made no response because I was so scared that I couldn’t even swallow, let alone talk.

When we got home we were met by some very relieved and very angry family members. Calls had been made to the city police around mid-morning and the search had been going on ever since. I don’t know what sort of system they had at the time—obviously there was no Amber Alert system in place. I imagine the search was simply a call to local law enforcement personnel to be on the lookout for two wayward boys, one named Mikey and one that was called Tootie.

I have every reason to believe that some sort of corporeal punishment was meted out to us. There was no doubt that we deserved it—we had earned it. However, I do not remember what transpired following our triumphant homecoming. My punishment may have been so severe and so traumatic that I blotted it from my memory. I may awaken some night screaming, drenched with perspiration, reeling from a whip lashing and recalling threats of being drawn and quartered, but I may have suffered nothing more than a few bear hugs and kisses.

At least seventy years have gone by since that day, and I have never had such dreams and what scars I have were earned in other places and in other ways. I have serious doubts that I will ever have such dreams, but hey, anything is possible. The punishment may be so deeply buried in my subconscious that nothing can bring it to the surface—I hope!

I am honest enough to admit the possibility that I may have—may have, mind you—embellished this story a tiny teeny weeny little bit along the way in my efforts and desire to enlighten and entertain those that may pass this way, but the story is true—honest! I can prove it by demonstrating that I can still eat watermelon with one hand and swat flies with the other hand.

It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


 
4 Comments

Posted by on June 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A third-grade cutie and chocolate-covered cherries . . .

She was one year behind me in elementary school. I first became aware of her in my fourth year of elementary school and from that point on I stalked her, all the way through the sixth grade. A blue-eyed blond with a curvaceous figure, long pigtails and bowed legs, she was always smiling and skipping instead of walking—that may, perhaps, have accounted for the bowed legs. I did not consider her figure to be curvaceous at the time, did not in fact know the word. I just thought she was really, really, really cute, and the curvaceous thought came along in later years.

Her older sister was one of my classmates through elementary school. I pined for the older girl from the first grade to the fourth, then in that year I became aware of her blond sister in the third grade. I guess I liked younger girls, even at that early age, and I was hooked—my pining for the older sister ended abruptly.

Oddly enough, my fourth-grade class learned the song, “My darling Clementine” that year, right after I noticed the cute little blond in the third grade. That song relates the death of Clementine, a girl that lived “in a cavern, in a canyon” with her father, a “miner, forty-niner, excavating for a mine.”

According to the song, this is how Clementine perished:

Drove she ducklings to the water,

Every morning just at nine,

Struck her foot against a splinter,

Fell into the foaming brine.

Ruby lips above the water,

Blowing bubbles mighty fine,

But alas, she was no swimmer,

So I lost my Clementine.

How I missed her, how I missed her,

How I missed my Clementine,

But I kissed her little sister,

And forgot my Clementine.

When I heard the line that said “But I kissed her little sister,” I knew God had smiled down on me and cleared my path to a heaven on earth—all I needed now was to make my case to the little sister.

I never did. She never knew how I felt. I just hung around where she happened to be and stared at her. I never even sat beside her at the picture show—yes, we called it the picture show. The term movie was not in vogue in those days. But I did sit as close as I could without appearing conspicuous. I would actually take the seat directly behind her and stare lovingly at the back of her head, only occasionally leaning to the right or the left in order to see the screen. She was always cordial, always said “Hi!” when we met, but she never invited me to sit beside her and I was too scared to ask. Had I asked and been rejected, my life would have been over—I could never have recovered, and I was not willing to take that chance.

For a period of several months we lived in the same neighborhood. I lived in the house on one corner of the block, and her house was on the other corner on the same side of the street. She played with her friends and I played with mine, and except for school days we were rarely in the same area.

I believe that I have explained the third-grade cutie phrase in the title to this posting, so now I’ll get to the chocolate-covered cherries. I somehow acquired a whopping total of forty cents, cash, to be spent on anything my heart desired, and my heart desired a one-pound box of chocolate-covered cherries, a gift for Clementine’s sister, the “blue-eyed blond with a curvaceous figure, long pigtails and bowed legs” that lived at the end of my block.

I don’t remember whether there was any occasion involved—I suppose it could have been Christmas or someone’s birthday, or Valentine’s Day or some other significant day. I bought the cherries, took the box home and stared at it for a couple of days, then at high noon on a Saturday I took it to the house on the corner, placed it on the porch near the front door, rang the doorbell and ran like hell.

I never looked back. I never knew whether anyone was home at the time, whether the doorbell was answered, whether the door was opened, whether the box was picked up by her or by a family member, or by someone that just happened to stroll by, and seeing a perfectly good box of chocolate-covered cherries lying on the porch, purloined it and slithered away into some dark recess and glutton-like devoured all the candy. No one from either end of the street ever mentioned the chocolate-covered cherries incident, and life went on as before. It may perhaps be hard to believe, but I’ve wished, many times, that I had eaten them myself.

After elementary school I saw Clementine’s sister only one more time. I was home on leave from the military service and I took a nostalgic drive past the school where I attended junior high and high school. She walked across the street directly in front of me and I turned my head so far to watch her that I got a crick in my neck and damn near wrecked my car.

Now for an anti-climatic disclaimer: When I was twenty-years old I met, fell in love with and married a Georgia peach, a blue eyed blond with a curvaceous figure, but no pigtails and no bowed legs. We are well into our 58th year of marriage and are still in love—and the beat goes on.

I neither dwell nor dote on my memories—I had to do a lot of remembering to recall the specifics of the chocolate-covered cherries for this posting, and the walk down memory lane was interesting, but I neither regret nor wonder about what might have been.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

More dumbing down of America . . .

Today is Tuesday, March 2, 2010.

I am noting the date in order to record the day that I peeked into the future of America, and my opinion is that our future does not shine nearly as brightly as it should, and certainly not as brightly as it did before the promulgation of certain documents by our government.

And in that vein, please know that I just signed off from a United States government web site that provides everything one needs to know in order to become a naturalized U. S. citizen. I left in haste because I was stricken with extreme nausea, a condition that developed in less than five minutes of reading the basic conditions that an applicant must meet in order to become a bona fide citizen of our country, entitled to all the rights and benefits appurtenant thereto.

Numerous inhalations and exhalations, plus several Tums tablets, plus some fifteen minutes in a supine position on the sofa (lying down face up, on my back, so to speak) enabled me to recover sufficiently enough to return to the site for further reading. My nausea returned immediately on arrival, but I managed to control it. I felt that it was the least I could do in order to understand the requirements enough to pass the basics on to my blog visitors.

I stayed at the site long enough to capsule the requirements into a few brief statements—actually,  they can be expressed in one statement, namely that an applicant wishing to become a naturalized citizen must be alive. I found no evidence that our Immigration officials would grant, or even consider granting, naturalized citizenship status to non-citizens that have departed this vale of tears for another world, regardless of whether they ascended or descended into their new world.

At this point it would perhaps be beneficial to define a naturalized U. S. citizen. Such citizens begin as resident aliens, those that hold a green card, a federal document that gives the resident every right enjoyed by U.S. citizens except for the right to vote and the right to hold public office. Under current regulations, any resident aliens that have held their green card for a certain number of years may apply for naturalization, the successful completion of which will entitle them to all the rights and benefits accorded to citizens born on U.S. soil, or born on foreign soil to parents, either one or both, that are U. S. citizens, regardless of the place of birth.

I could ramble on interminably—just as I normally am wont to do—by replicating all the requirements, but you can read them for yourself at this site, The U.S. Naturalization Test. Rather than repeating the requirements verbatim, I will compare them with the basic rules that determine whether our children will, at the close of the school year, either ascend from their present school grade to the next level or remain at their present level for another year.

While our schools may vary in some degree, most require students to attain a final grade of C, an alphabetical term corresponding to the numerical requirement of 70 points earned by students from a total of 100 points. I know of no legal exceptions to that requirement, although in the past some schools have elevated students that failed to achieve the minimum points by granting them the necessary points—70, a C. That practice was labeled a social promotion—I am very familiar with a school district in South Texas—deep in South Texas—that used the term Circle C. That district’s report cards featured a C within a circle, indicating that the student had failed to attain a passing grade but was allowed to pass to the next level—that’s the concept of social promotion in action!

No, my children never presented their parents with a circled C—had they received a report card with such, I venture to say that they would not have dared to bring it home—they would have probably claimed, wisely,  that the dog ate it!

I am not privy to statistics concerning social promotions in American schools, neither past nor present, and any prediction of future social promotions could not possibly produce accurate figures. However, I can accurately predict that social promotions—read granting U.S. citizenship—will be awarded by our U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in direct proportion to the numbers of applicants that minimally qualify for U.S. citizenship.

Unbelievable? Read on!

An applicant for citizenship must be able to read one sentence in English from a group of three sentences presented in English. Reading that one sentence correctly awards the applicant the qualifying grade of 33 percent in the quest for U.S. citizenship. Thirty-three percent is far below the 70 percent required for children in our public schools to attain in order to pass to another level. Thirty-three percent would be considered an F-minus in our schools, but it’s a passing grade for the legal resident alien on the path to citizenship.

And here’s the exact sentence, copied from the English & Civics narrative—the catcher in the rye, so to speak—Your ability to speak English is determined during your interview on your naturalization application. Well, I say good luck with that!

In this instance the official becomes the catcher in the rye—whether the applicant passes or fails the spoken English requirement is determined by that official. Based on my experiences accumulated over a period of 26 years while working in proximity to Immigration officials, I found that some lacked full literacy in at least one language—English. All such officials were bilingual, but I could neither determine, nor vouch for, their literacy in languages other than English. To apply the term catcher in the rye, I believe that in some, perhaps most, of the time the examiner will catch the examinee as the need arises (see the post script below for an explanation of the term catcher in the rye).

Wait, there’s more:

An applicant for citizenship must be able to correctly answer at least six of ten civics questions—six of ten—that’s another grade of 60 percent, an alphabetical grade of D in our schools. And guess what? An applicant that fails to attain that lofty 60 percent may test again, anywhere from 60 to 90 days after initially failing the test—the same version of the test the applicant failed. Based on my knowledge gleaned over 48 years of military and federal civil service, bootleg copies of every test will soon be available, and new tests will be developed to replace the existing bootleg copies, and soon after that bootleg copies of the new tests will be made available, etc., etc.

Other than finding that the path to citizenship for a long-time legal U.S. resident is a piece of cake, there’s lots more learning to be gained by spending some time on the citizenship site. You might consider taking the sample tests. They could prove to be an eye-opener for you concerning your knowledge of our nation and its government.

I took the tests, and yes, my eyes opened wide indeed—the tests were not the cakewalk I expected and I stumbled on several questions. Actually, I gave the wrong answers but I managed to eke out an A overall.

Try it—you’ll like it!

I have striven mightily to avoid any semblance of purposely projecting personal political preferences (how’s that for alliteration!) in this posting. I trust that I have retained my anonymity, whether I’m standing stolidly and solidly in the center, or I’m leaning toward the left or to the right of our political spectrum.

I realize that any readers will be able to satisfactorily discern for themselves which political party, if any, will benefit (if there is any benefit to be gained) from this kindergarten approach to determining qualifications for U. S. citizenship, whether Democratic, Republican, Constitutional, Green or Libertarian, or any of the plethora of third parties that infest the United States.

I must resume my supine position on the sofa now—I am sorely in need of more Tums.

Postcript:

My reference to the catcher in the rye was prompted by Holden Caulifield’s thoughts expressed in J. D. Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye. Holden says he pictures children playing in a field of rye on the edge of a cliff, and in expectation of them accidentally running over the cliff he stands ready to catch them—he thus pictures himself as the catcher in the rye, and says that’s all he wants to be.

It’s one of America’s greatest novels, a read that you’ll enjoy.

I believe that—I really do!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let me tell ya ’bout the birds and the bees . . .

I have dredged up this posting from the depths of my blog in order to bring it into the bright light of today. It was posted early in my blogging career, dated June 11, 2009. My daughter in Virginia considers the subject a favorite memory—it’s also one of my favorites.

The original posting follows—it is my remembrance of a very positive multi-grade on-stage presentation at my elementary school, a presentation chock-full of lights and action, but no cameras except for a smattering of Kodak Brownies—none with flash capabilities—wielded by family members in the audience. It was a presentation that should be replicated on-stage in today’s schools, in high schools as well as elementary institutions. It was a highly positive learning activity that taught us all we needed to know—at that age—about the birds and the bees.

Now for a redux of the original posting:

My family has been blessed with three princesses produced, with a little help from me, by my wife, the Queen Bee of Texas. This posting is in response to an e-mail from Cindy, the middle daughter, a royal princess who lives, loves and works in Northern Virginia.

The e-mail is a passionate plea for me to blog about two events, one that took place in the early years of my education and was reprised some 32 years later, and another that took place around the same time as the reprisal. I have divided her e-mail into two parts, and will respond to the two parts separately.

This is the first part of her e-mail:

I have always loved this memory…you, me, and Kelley…sneaking into an abandoned grade school in Mississippi…you got up on stage and started singing some bee song. You told us about your mother making you a bee costume but she either couldn’t (or didn’t care) that you would be the only orange and brown striped bee. Your costume wasn’t yellow and black, as assigned. I think I was only 12 or 13 when you told us this story. Remember that adventure?

And this is my response, my blog posting, to the first part of her e-mail:

My acting career began and ended at some point in my fourth grade school-year at Barrow Elementary School in Columbus, Mississippi, a town of some 25,000 people, situated on high bluffs overlooking the Tombigbee River. My school occupied a relatively small two-story red-brick building, but with its surrounding playgrounds it covered a full city block. It was ruled by the iron hand of Miss Mary Stokes, the school principal, a white-haired high-buttoned-shoe spinster throwback to the 19th century.

I loved that lady with all the fervor a little boy could muster, a love that still exists many years after her death. I loved her despite being a frequent target—perhaps the most frequent target—of the 18-inch ruler she always carried in that iron hand, a tool that she used for punishment, and one that she wielded with vigor, accuracy and effectiveness on recalcitrant palms and backsides.

Ah, those were the days! Corporeal punishment no longer exists in our elementary schools, whether public or private, and our nation suffers horribly because of its demise.

That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it, and I humbly offer myself as a shining example of the system’s effectiveness, with full credit given to Miss Mary and her ruler.

She never left home without it.

I attended her school for the first four years of my education (a process that continues to this day). For the fifth grade and through (almost through) the tenth grade, I began each school year in one city and finished it in another. That tortuous progression in my education resulted from my mother’s remarriage near the end of the fourth grade year. At the close of that year I began a pilgrimage that lasted seven years—a pilgrimage that would have me living, and attending schools, in several different cities in several different states.

Now on to my acting debut and its reprisal

I was fortunate enough to successfully complete the academic requirements of the fourth grade, chiefly because the school did not grade its students on their acting abilities. I debuted my acting career in that year, and some 32 years later I briefly revived that career with an impromptu reprisal of my debut performance. The reprisal was a command performance of the part I played so many years before, at the same school and on the same stage. My reprisal was performed before a wildly applauding audience comprised wholly of my two younger daughters, aged 8 and 12 years.

The school year was 1940-1941, and I was enrolled in the fourth grade at Barrow Elementary School in Columbus, Mississippi. The principal, Miss Mary Stokes, felt that every student should be involved in everything—if the third grade performed on the auditorium stage, every student in that grade had a part, even if it consisted of lining up on stage and watching their peers perform. However, the play in which I made my debut required flowers of different sizes, so students from grades below and above my grade were pressed into service—one of the taller flowers was my sister, a fifth grader. I mention all this because the stage was small and the cast of the play was huge.

I debuted as one of several boys cleverly costumed as bees. The curtains opened to reveal a group of girls—including my sister—cleverly costumed as flowers. The girls were almost immobile, because flowers have neither the option nor the ability, perhaps not even the desire, to move around. In this case, because the script called for it, these flowers were allowed to lean forward, backwards and sideways to simulate swaying in the breeze, most of which would be created by the bees buzzing around them, doing their pollinating thing.

The flowers began singing a bee song on cue, and on cue we bees spread our wings (arms), trotted on-stage and buzzed—as in bzzz, bzzz, bzzz, etc.—all around and between the flowers, pausing briefly near each flower and bzzzing like crazy, with the bzzzes aimed at the flower’s ear (a bit of symbolism there—hey, we didn’t write the script—we just emoted!). We were given to understand that we were simulating pollination and that the actual pollination was a vital activity of the bees, although they accomplished it unknowingly and accidently by transferring pollen (with their legs) from flower to flower—the pollen accumulated on their legs while they were gathering nectar. We learned that bees were absolutely necessary to propagate the flower species and to ensure a good honey crop and beehive survival.

That which we bees were doing was simulation, not stimulation—I don’t think I learned the latter word until junior high school. Here I must note that, contrary to the popular and virtually universal belief regarding familial relationships in the deep South, I never pollinated my sister, not even once, nor was I in the least bit ever inclined to pollinate her.

I drew the line at pollinating her.

I did not even like her.

As we bees flapped our wings and trotted, buzzed and pollinated, the girls sang the bee song, a catchy refrain of which I remember only a smattering. I googled the term and was faced with a bewildering array of bee songs but none sufficiently comparable, as I remember it, to this line from the song the flowers sang:

“Honey bee, honey bee, fly to and fro, gathering honey where ever you go,” etc., etc.

I know now that bees do not gather honey—they gather nectar, a substance that is ultimately turned into honey in the beehive. And all that pollination, a process that generated a lot of giggling from the girls, is purely accidental. We bees, bless our hearts, may not have been fully aware that our pollination was ensuring the propagation of the flower species. However, our lack of awareness did nothing to reduce the giggles.

The girls made their own costumes, with considerable help from the school staff. Their costumes consisted of varicolored crepe paper shaped as petals and affixed to their regular clothing, effectively obscuring their clothing and transforming them into beautiful flowers filled with pollen.

The flower costumes were made by the girls with staff assistance, but the bee costumes were made by the bees’ mothers at home. Our costume was a one-piece ensemble similar to a jump suit with short sleeves, with the legs descending only to mid-thigh—the ensemble’s legs, not ours—our legs continued all the way to our bare feet—evidently bees do not wear shoes. The basic color of the bee costume was light yellow, with strips of black material affixed horizontally to give the effect of stripes.

I was given no samples to take home to assist my mother in selecting cloth for my costume, so she winged it (so to speak) based on my verbal description. She chose bright orange for the basic color and light brown, almost tan, for the horizontal stripes.

I can truthfully state that I would rather have been a normal bee, one of several normal bees, but I was not—I was a standout among bees, a honey bee of a different color, if you will—I was like, you know, a honey bee with panache and lots of it. In later years I would happily conclude, in retrospect, that my costume was intended to identify me as the king bee, the strongest of the beehive’s male bees—all the others were mere drones.

I was the lucky bee that would be able to follow the Queen Bee’s flight straight upward to unimaginable heights, while one by one the other suitors would be falling back to earth, completely exhausted, and ultimately, at the apogee of our ascension I would mate with the queen, thereby ensuring that the pollination and propagation of flowers would continue, nectar gathering would continue, and the production of honey would continue in the new colony that the queen would establish.

Sadly I also learned in later years that, immediately following our coupling, the queen would begin the new colony as a widow. I, the bee with panache—the bee with the spectacular colors—the strongest and highest-flying bee—would not survive the mating.

Very soon, after you know what, I would have died—with a smile on my bee face, perhaps, but no less dead.

Bummer.

But that’s how things go in the bee world—if you don’t believe me, google it.

And now to the crux of this posting:

I and my two younger daughters were touring my home town, with me pointing our the various places I had lived,  played, worked and gone to school, and we found that my elementary school was still standing, but just barely. The building was condemned, surrounded by a tall chain-link fence with warning signs posted prominently:

Danger!

This building is condemned!

Do not enter!

So we squeezed through an unauthorized opening in the fence and entered the building. It was in total disrepute, with broken windows, sagging sheet rock and debris everywhere. We were not deterred. I gave the girls a limited tour (we avoided the second floor because the stairs did not appear trustworthy), but we thoroughly toured the lower floor that included the auditorium. The seats had been removed but the stage was still there and reasonably intact.

I told my daughters about the fourth grade play, and at their urging I even mounted the stage for a reenactment of my part, including my entry, the play’s sound effects and my exit. I was a smash hit, with a far better reception than I received at the original performance, and I bowed to thunderous applause from the audience. In fact, I received a standing ovation—well, it was necessarily a standing ovation because there were no seats, but my daughters assured me that, had they been seated they would have nevertheless stood to applaud, and I accepted that gracefully.

And here is the second part of my daughter’s e-mail. Again, the e-mail is a plea for me to blog this subject:

And another segue….we always marveled at a) how many places Hester shuffled you and Dot off to whenever Papa John demanded the two of you be banished…and b) how you could remember exactly where (even if the house had been replaced by a 7-11 at the time you were showing us the location) each house was, which aunt/uncle/cousin took you in, and how long you were there before Hester cajoled Papa John into letting you return home. It seemed like dozens of locations, but maybe that is just how I remember it. That memory sticks out because we can’t relate to being tossed out of our home. We always had such stability (still do) in our family. I recall only living in five places—155 Farrel Drive in San Antonio, the house in Louisiana, then 155 Farrel Drive again, then briefly in Bonnie’s trailer park in Weslaco, then finally on 109 N. 10th Street in Donna.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What I did on my summer vacation, by . . .

Does anyone remember the return to their classroom on the first day of school following the summer hiatus, a return to the unwilling pursuit of an education under the tutelage of teachers toiling at the elementary level? On that first day at my beloved school, every child in every grade (first through sixth) was privileged—nay, ordered—to stand in front of the blackboard, facing the class and disclose some or all of whatever they did on their summer vacation.

Some of my classmates stood stiffly throughout the delivery with arms held rigidly at their side. Others stood with hands in pockets or clasped behind their back, and in some limited cases, especially for the boys but occasionally for one of the girls, with hands covering their crotch, concealing that area of their anatomy. Whether that pose was an effort to divert from, or perhaps attract attention to that area, the “hands covering crotch” was limited by the teacher to a very few seconds, with the remonstration being made before the speech began and sometimes repeated during the presentation.

The title to each speech—the preamble, so to speak—was given rote and was identical for each student except for the name. My speech to my classmates began with this:

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, by (fill in first and last name)—as if the rest of the class didn’t know my name!

Everything that followed that ominous start was extemporaneous, a wandering recitation filled with numerous ands, uhs, thens, wells, ain’ts, mispronounced words, poor sentence constructions, conflicting subjects and objects, misuse of adverbs, long looks at one’s feet and even longer (and longing) stares through the classroom windows to the outside world.

Most errors were caught by the teacher, with the resultant corrections and reprimands. If anyone wonders how we got through the first day, just remember that we didn’t change classes during the day—our heinies were glued to our seats all day—we had more than enough time to finish.

A few of our What I Did speeches were mercifully terminated early by the teacher. A classic example of such action was the speech to which we all looked forward, that of a classmate known only by the initials W. A. It isn’t that I’ve forgotten his last name. I remember it well, but I must admit that, for some odd reason, I remember more names of girls than names of boys among my fellow students in elementary school—in fact, I am hard put to remember both given name and surname of any boy from those years (none other than W.A., of course).

W.A.—the boy and his name—is prominent in my memories of elementary school. A unique and very special person, I treasure his memory and could never forget him.

W.A. stuttered—not a slow, drawling stutter one would expect from a Mississippi stutterer but a staccato stutterer, a rapid-fire stutterer, one that soon had the entire class in tears, howling with laughter while our teacher faced away from the class with her gaze apparently fixed on something interesting outside the building.

Although she made no sounds while gazing, W.A.’s speech was apparently so effective that it made her tremble with pleasure—in fact it affected her composure so strongly that she invariably terminated his speech well before he finished. When she told him “That was very good, W.A., thank you,” W.A. always returned her thank you with his own, obviously heartfelt thank you, although it took awhile to return it. Once he got past the tee in thank, the you followed quickly and W.A. could then return to his seat.

We had ample opportunities to develop and perfect thespian skills in our elementary grades. In addition to individual performances in various holiday presentations such as Easter, Halloween, Independence Day and Christmas, we also appeared onstage as a group in the school auditorium, an area that daily doubled as our lunchroom. Each class went onstage en masse, and each student performed—each had a speech to give, a poem to recite, a song to sing, a story to tell, etc.

On a memorable day, perhaps the most memorable in the history of our school, the third grade students’ presentations began with a song by W.A., a heart-wrenching story  about a missing cat, one that was last seen running over hill and dale with a dog named Bowser in hot pursuit. Here is the first line of the song, a line that was repeated several times in the song’s chorus:

Has anybody seen my kitty, has anybody seen my cat?

Note the letters b, d, k and c (k sound) in the line—it should not be necessary for me to describe how difficult it was for W.A. to sing that song, but I will attempt to describe the audience’s reaction to the song, a reaction that included faculty, lunchroom employees, visiting friends and relatives and every enrolled student that was fortunate enough to have attended school on that day, including W.A.’s fellow classmates.

The laughter was thunderous, but the applause was even more thunderous, a standing ovation that began just before the conclusion of the song. And for those that may be disposed to criticize the reactions of the audience, we should remember that in those days, particularly in my part of the country, very few things were politically incorrect—actually, neither were there many things that were politically correct.

In order to wrap up this posting, I urge the viewer to understand that W.A. was, without question, one of the most popular students in our school. We mocked him but we also imitated him, not to belittle but to share with him even a small portion of the laughs he garnered and the popularity he enjoyed—because of  W.A. every kid in school could qualify as a stand-up comedian. And most important, W.A. was frequently surrounded by a bevy of cute girls. That’s a neat thing, regardless of their motives—like, who cares why?

I can never know whether he enjoyed his popularity or hated it, but in retrospect I suspect that W.A. tended to prolong his stuttering and perhaps even embellished and enhanced it—but I could be wrong.

W.A., if you happen to read this and you enjoyed your popularity, I’m happy for you. If you hated it, please accept my abject and heartfelt apologies. And if you are enrolled and performing in that brightly shining elementary school in the sky I say,

BREAK A LEG!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

School teachers rock!

I recently received this e-mail, Teacher arrested at JFK, from a relative in Dallas, and I felt that it should be disseminated as widely as possible. It was very difficult to confirm with Snopes because of the profusion of articles dealing with the arrest of teachers including arrests for DUI, indecent exposure, drug theft, leading prayer, dealing crack, having sex with minors, early dismissal, slaying stepdaughter, brainwashing kids, kicking students in karate class, murdering another teacher, etc., etc.

The scope of these arrests and their reasons reflect poorly on our historically vaunted teaching profession, but they comprise an infinitesimal part of the whole—they amount to no more than the teeny-weeniest part of the iceberg’s tip. The greater part of the educational iceberg is comprised of teachers that are largely and historically overlooked and underpaid. They are the ones that work and fight in the trenches, the ones that dedicate their days, their nights and their lives to helping families and other elements of society mold students into outstanding adults, and the ones that are in a great measure successful in their efforts.

The story of the teacher’s arrest is untrue, of course, but it’s funny and it’s very creative, obviously penned by someone familiar with mathematics (I’m not very familiar with mathematics, but would like to believe that I’m familiar with creativity in the written word). I am using it in this posting because it enables me to expound on my feelings and my respect for teachers—and I feel that I’m qualified to express my feelings and my respect because I’ve been paddled by some of the very best—seriously!

This is the story as I received it in an e-mail:

Teacher arrested at JFK

A public school teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy International Airport when he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a compass, a slide-rule and a calculator.

At a morning press conference Attorney General Eric Holder said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement. The man was not identified, but the Attorney General said that he has been charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

“Al-Gebra is a problem for us,” Attorney General Holder said.

“They derive solutions by means and extremes, and they sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute values.”

“They use secret code names such as “X” and “Y” and refer to themselves as “unknowns,” but we have determined that they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval, with coordinates in every country.

“As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, “There are three sides to every triangle.” (The Snopes article added the following item: The teacher was found carrying code books written in an arcane language called “calculus,” which the NSA is currently attempting to decode)

When asked to comment on the arrest President Obama said, “If God had wanted us to have weapons of math instruction, he would have given us more fingers and toes.”

White House aides told reporters they could not recall a more intelligent or profound statement by the President.

It is believed that the Nobel Prize for Physics will follow. (This was not included in the Snopes article)

The comment attributed to President Obama was attributed by Snopes to Hillary Clinton as follows:

When asked to comment on the arrest, Senator Hillary Clinton said, “If nature had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, she would have given us more fingers and toes.”

House aides told reporters they could not recall a more intelligent or more profound statement by the senator.

On a personal note, I believe that neither President Obama nor Hillary Clinton made the statement. I don’t believe it because the statement is funny, and neither person is capable of exhibiting that level of humor. I have not detected one whit of humor in either person at any time since they stepped into the national spotlight.

Those that laugh when a person says something intended to be funny are not always laughing with them—quite often they are laughing at them.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,