Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lingering Shade Lane: A Ghost Story

            “Did you see that street sign?” my husband asked me.

            “Lingering Shade Lane,” I answered. “What a great name!”

            “It looked like there were a lot of big trees with branches overhanging the road. It would be great to linger in the shade there, wouldn’t it? Swinging gently in a hammock, listening to the Braves game on the radio, sipping sweet tea. Heaven on earth.”

            “mmm....” I nodded. We’ve been married forever, but it’s our differences that keep the relationship interesting. I was looking at the creepy dead kudzu draped over the tall trees along this stretch of I85 in South Carolina. It was nature’s Halloween display, and Morticia Addams would have approved. “I think it was named for the shades of people who have died that linger there.”

            “You do, huh?” My husband smiled. “What kind of ghost would linger along that beautiful, tree-lined road?”

            I thought for a moment. “About a hundred years before the recent unpleasantness (called the Civil War by Yankees), there was a small farm not too far beyond those trees. The farm produced just enough to support Arnold Moon, his wife, his mother, and his seven children. They all had to work hard, though, and life wasn’t always easy.”

            “Guess Arnold didn’t linger in the shade listening to the baseball game on the radio,” my husband commented.

            “No, he didn’t. Arnold and his 4 sons plowed and planted the fields and harvested the crops. They watched over the peach and apple orchards, and took care of the horses, the cow, and the ox. The women worked just as hard. They cooked and preserved food, made the clothing and blankets the family needed, and tended the chickens and the pig. His wife, who had been the village schoolmarm before she married Arnold, taught all seven children to read and to do sums at night by the light of tallow candles. His mother cultivated herbs as well as vegetables in the kitchen garden, and was often called on to help the sick and injured with her poultices and other natural remedies.”

            “Sounds like a hard life.”

            “It was a hard life,” I agreed, “but it was happy, too. The family was close, and they depended on each other. The oldest girl had just married and moved south to Georgia, where her husband owned some land. The two oldest boys were courting girls from the nearby village, and Arnold was planning to give each son a plot of land on his wedding day so that the new couples could build their homes.

            “And the ghost…um…shade?” my husband prompted.

            “I’m getting there. Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” I answered. “You see, Arnold’s mother had a secret.”

            “Dum dum dum.”

            “Exactly,” I said. “Arnold’s mother was very close to his youngest daughter, Charlotte. Charlotte was interested in learning about herbs and healing, so she spent a lot of time with her grandmother. Now fourteen years old, she had started accompanying her grandmother when she went to tend the sick.

            One beautiful fall Saturday afternoon, Charlotte gathered the last of the blooming flowers in the garden and headed for the church in the village. It was the Moon family’s turn to prepare the altar for Sunday’s service, and Charlotte was happy to help.

            She was surprised to find the preacher sitting in the front pew when she arrived at the church. She shyly greeted him, and then went to the altar to remove the dead flowers from the gold vase and replace them with the fresh ones she had brought. It was only when she stepped back to look at the display that she realized that the preacher, hunched over with his hands covering his face, was sobbing as if his heart was broken.

            Charlotte sat down next to him. ‘Sir? Is something wrong?’ She reached out a hand toward him, and then let it fall back into her lap. He was much older than she was, with a wife and grown children and grandchildren. He was highly respected in the village, and Charlotte had always been somewhat intimidated by him. However, she had a strong instinct to help those in pain, and it was obvious the man was in pain.

            She reached out again, and gently patted his shoulder. The preacher dried his eyes with his handkerchief. ‘I have tried to follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus,’ he said gruffly. ‘And yet I have done terrible things, things I am ashamed to admit, things that not even Jesus could forgive.’

            ‘But sir,’ Charlotte protested. ‘You tell us that Jesus will forgive anything if we truly repent. Surely that is true for you as well.’

            ‘You’re a good girl, Charlotte,’ the preacher replied. ‘Thank you for your comforting words.’ He took her hand in his and brought it to his lips. ‘You look just as she did at your age,’ he murmured. ‘How could I not have noticed the resemblance?’

            Charlotte frowned in confusion.

            ‘Your grandmother, child. You are remarkably like her.’ He moved closer to her, so that his leg brushed against her skirt. Charlotte was extremely uncomfortable. She pulled her hand from his and stood up.

            ‘People tell me that I resemble her, sir.’

            The preacher also rose to his feet. His eyes blazed and Charlotte wondered if he had gone mad. She backed away, but he followed her step for step. When she turned to run, he grabbed her and pulled her tightly against his body. His head came down over hers, and she could smell the peppermint and tobacco on his breath just before his mouth took hers in a hard kiss.

            Charlotte kicked him, her soft slippers doing little damage to his shin, but startling him enough that she was able to break free. She tore out of the church, guilty and embarrassed. She didn’t know what she had done to make the preacher behave so oddly, but that it was her fault she had no doubt.

            Her grandmother’s sharp eyes didn’t miss anything. ‘You were at the church, child?’ she asked, taking in the tear-swollen eyes and guilty expression that her granddaughter wore. ‘What did he do to you, Charlotte?’

            Charlotte looked away, too embarrassed to answer at first. Finally, the whole story came out in a flood of words and tears.

            ‘Charlotte, look at me,’ her grandmother said sharply. ‘You did nothing wrong. I have never lied to you, and I’m not lying to you now. You are completely blameless and you should think no more about it. Now go and wash your face, child, and I’ll join you inside after I check to make sure the poultice on the cow’s leg is still in place. Go on, Charlotte.’

            Charlotte’s grandmother found the preacher where Charlotte had left him. She closed the door to the church with a loud thump. ‘I thought you had learned your lesson years ago,’ she said. ‘I see now that you still haven’t learned.’

            ‘Mary.’ The preacher whispered. His eyes drank her in for the first time in too long. Pretending that she was just another parishioner all these years had been hard. He had always loved her, and he loved her no less now.

            ‘Charles,’ she said curtly. ‘You’re a fool.’

            He nodded penitently. ‘I know, Mary.’

            ‘I was her age when you took my innocence,’ Mary reminded him. ‘How many other young girls have you ruined?’

            ‘None, Mary, I swear to you. I loved you, and I thought you loved me.’

            ‘I was too young and you were married, Charles. What you did to me was wrong. What you did to Charlotte was evil.’

            ‘She looks so much like you,’ Charles answered wistfully. ‘I still love you, Mary.’

            Mary shook her head sorrowfully. ‘I had a good life with Shelby Moon,’ she stated. ‘I grew to love him and I still mourn him. He was a good man, devoted to his family.’ She paused. ‘I wish I had been able to give him children,’ she murmured, almost to herself.

            ‘He was proud of Arnold. He grew up to be a fine man, Mary. I know Shelby felt he was blessed to have you both. He told me so more than once.’

            ‘I never told him the truth, though,’ Mary answered.

            ‘The truth?’

            Mary gave a harsh laugh. ‘You never once suspected that Arnold was your son?’ she asked.

            Charles sat down abruptly, and covered his eyes with his trembling hands.

            Mary turned around and marched down the aisle of the church to the door. She pulled it open and then turned back to face him again. ‘Or that Charlotte is your granddaughter?’

            A groan of mortal pain followed Mary out the door. She pushed the door shut and set off down the tree-lined path. It didn’t surprise her to hear the gunshot a few long minutes later. She kept walking. He couldn’t be saved, and she wouldn’t have saved him even if she could have.

            Since that day, people walking along Lingering Shade Lane at twilight report seeing a man dressed all in black, his face pale as the moon, wringing his hands and moaning plaintively before vanishing into the darkness.”

            “So the ghost is the preacher?” my husband asked.

            I nodded. “He couldn’t forgive himself. He saw the light of heaven at the moment he died, but he truly didn’t believe that Jesus would let him in. He felt that he didn’t deserve forgiveness. He turned away from the light, and chose to atone for his sins by lingering here forever, a shade caught between the land of the living and the land of the dead.”

            My husband thought for a moment. “OK, you managed to make a creepy story out of a road sign and a beautiful tree-lined road. Kudos, Morticia.”

            I grinned. “Merci.”

Happy Halloween, my friends!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Meet Zoe


            Zoe posted this message on FaceBook yesterday. One of my former students, she is highly intelligent.  She loves to write and will probably have a book published before I do. That said, I’m left wondering about this post. Why is she shouting and, for heaven’s sake, why is she whipping her hair back and forth?

            Zoe has shoulder-length hair that changes color depending on her mood in any given week.  She has it styled so that the left side hangs in front of her face. While this style would drive me crazy, it suits her. She frequently shields herself from the harsh realities of life by hiding behind it. As I discovered when she sat in my classroom, that hair style is also useful for disguising the fact that she’s taking a nap instead of reading The Charge of the Light Brigade.

            I must make it perfectly clear that Zoe, despite the fact that she only wears black and often seeks refuge behind her hair is not, I repeat NOT, emo. She will tell you so herself, and she is quite adamant about it. She is also not goth, despite her fondness for the House of Night vampire series. Zoe is…Zoe, and she cannot be labeled.

            Anyway, after she posted the above comment, it occurred to me that I could easily imagine Zoe whipping her hair back and forth. Since her post was in all caps, I pictured the sweeping movement of her hair looking somewhat like the exuberantly bouncing hair in a shampoo commercial. So my response to her post was:

                I can picture you doing that. Too funny.”

            And that’s where the generation gap widened and I fell in. The next post was written by another teenager and I quote word for word:

            “I Love Tht Sonq Itsz ma jamm!”

            All I can say, Zoe, is that punctuation was invented so that the reader would not become confused. Next time you quote a song, you could use quotation marks, thereby protecting my fragile self-esteem and keeping me from looking as if I am indeed as pop-culturally illiterate as I truly am. lol x

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Airplane Blues

            “How long do you think it’ll take until we have Star Trek transporters?” I tried to move my feet, which were wedged under my hot pink backpack, which was wedged under the seat in front of me pursuant to airline safety regulations. My knees collided with the seat back. I rubbed the bruise on my left knee and tried to stop squirming.

            “A century or two.” My husband grunted as I accidently poked him in the side with my bony elbow.

            “I don’t think I can wait that long.”

            “We’ve been on this plane for at least 50 years already. It shouldn’t be too hard for us to make it another 50.”

            “I’m afraid it only seems like we’ve been on this plane for 50 years. You know how time flies when you’re having fun.”

            “Are we having fun, then?” he asked.

            I sighed. “Not really. How much longer till we get there?” I sounded like a whiny little kid. I’d finished the book I’d brought, eaten an interesting concoction of chicken and rice, and watched the first 10 minutes of one of the movie selections. Bo-ring.

            “The entire flight is 8 hours and 50 minutes. That leaves approximately…7 hours to go.”

            I truly wished I hadn’t asked, because I really didn’t want to know. It’s at times like these that I envied the passengers around me who were happily snoring away. I cannot sleep on a plane.

            My husband settled into his seat, adjusted his noise-cancelling headphones, and went back to watching what appeared to be a movie designed specifically for an audience of thirteen year old boys. He chuckled out loud as the college freshmen nerds plotted revenge against the fraternity athletes who were harassing them by dunking their heads into toilets. As a rule, girls don’t get the whole “swirly” humor thing. I am not an exception.

            I sat for a moment, debating my next course of action. It was awfully early in the flight to break out the emergency stash of chocolate.

            The man sitting in front of me leaned his seat back as far as it would go. There was now a whopping 6 inches between my nose and his seat. And I’d thought I was uncomfortable before.

            Time to throw caution to the wind and break out the chocolate. I’d just have to make it last another…um…six hours and 55 minutes. Heavy sigh.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Windsor on Ice"

“Do you suppose the Queen comes out to skate?” My husband walked away from me, pretending that he had never met the American twit who had just asked such an irreverent question. I swear to you, I didn’t realize I had used my “teacher voice”, the one that will instantly quiet a room of noisy 7th graders. Oops…

We (I’ll include my husband here, even though he was not currently acknowledging my existence) were in Windsor, standing directly across from the entrance to the castle. Normally, ice skating would not have been a topic of conversation, but a young man had just handed us a flyer advertising the upcoming event “Windsor on Ice”.

My American readers are smirking even now.  You, like me, are picturing all those shows on ice that you’ve seen over the years. You’ve seen Big Bird and Elmo, Cinderella, Mickey Mouse, and even Santa Claus “on Ice”. Is it that big a leap to picturing the Queen appearing in one of those shows, clad in royal robes and her crown?

            Apparently it is, according to my husband. Admittedly, the Queen is elegant and refined and would probably never stoop to taking such a job, no matter how many pounds it costs to heat that huge castle, to feed and pay the 200 or so people who live and work on the grounds, and to entertain visiting heads of state. Her expenses must be enormous, don’t you think? I would think a second job might come in handy.

            Further inspection of the flyer, however, revealed that “Windsor on Ice” is not a show, but an opportunity for locals to ice skate on a rink that will be situated so that they have a view of the Thames on one side, and a view of the impressive castle on the other. It does sound lovely, doesn’t it? Maybe the Queen will come out and skate with her neighbors. I’m sure she’d have a nice time.

            As for me, I’ve decided to propose the idea of “Washington on Ice” to my elected representatives in the Federal government. How much would you pay to see President Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi perform in an extravaganza of music, lights, and daring skating jumps?  I bet we could pay off that enormous national debt in no time! 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wooden Gates and Revolving Doors

            “We don’t have any idea, really, how it got here.”

            I looked at the huge wooden gate set into a wall at the Museum of Reading in England. It was ornate and beautifully carved. How was it possible not to know how something this large and this heavy got to the museum?

            “We do know that this gate was the original entry gate into the Oracle.”

            I snorted. I’d just been to the Oracle and it was…a shopping mall. Made out of steel and glass, it was modern and looked just like the ones in the U.S. The entry gate now was an automatic revolving door that effectively kept the warm air in and the cold air out. Very green.

            “The Oracle was built in 1628…”

            Excuse me? It was built in 1628? The year 1628 doesn’t register in my American brain. Wasn’t that around the time the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock? Yes, it was. OMG! I guess I’ll have to give the museum a pass for not knowing how or when the gate arrived at their door, so to speak. I mean, it’s not like my knowledgeable tour guide actually knew anyone who was around to ask.

            “…and was originally a workhouse for the poor of the area.”

            The Oracle was originally a workhouse for the poor? I looked at sketches of the brick, stone, and wooden structure that had provided jobs in the weaving trade and basic shelter for the poor of the area nearly 400 years ago.

            I gently touched the wooden gate with one hand, my shopping bag from one of the Oracle mall stores clutched in the other. From workhouse to upscale shopping mall in just the blink of an eye.

            Now that’s the definition of irony.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

News from Home - sigh

            “Want to go to England with me?”

            “Oh, yeah. When do we leave?” My husband has been working in Reading for a few months now, and I whine every time he leaves to go there. I love England, but haven’t been there in a few years. Work, children, school, and money have kept me from going with him. Isn’t it annoying when life gets in the way of you doing what you want to do?

            I fixed all of that. I quit my job, decided that PJ was more than responsible enough at 24 to watch Alex (who can drive himself around now that he passed his drivers’ test – gulp), and used Chris’s Delta Skylines miles to get a cheap ticket.
            We arrived yesterday afternoon.

            “We should check in with the boys,” I said, later in the evening. What I really meant was “you should call the boys now.” There is a 5-hour time difference, which makes calling and actually talking to the person you want to talk to slightly more difficult than usual.  He got the hint; since my cell phone doesn’t work in Europe he was the designated caller.

            “You fainted? How are you feeling now?” My ears pricked up and my heart sank to my toes as I listened to Chris’s side of the conversation. “Still feeling poorly?”


            “Well, it sounds like you need to go to the doctor.”


            “PJ can take you to the walk-in clinic tonight when he gets home from work. I’ll call him and let him know.”

            Silence. Every muscle in my jet-lagged body tightened as I kept myself from grabbing the phone from my husband. He was dealing with the situation, and I was grateful.

            “No, that would be OK. Your mother doesn’t like the walk-in place either. If Mrs. R will take you to see Dr. D tomorrow morning, that would be fine. It’s nice of her to offer. Then PJ can go to work.”

            The silence was broken only by the loud quaking of the ducks on the banks of the Thames outside our hotel window and my deep sigh.

            “All right. Call me after you see Dr. D. Get some sleep and please drink lots of water.”

            I nodded in agreement. Sleep and drinking lots of water was my prescription for pretty much everything.

            “I love you, too. Yes, I’ll tell mom. Don’t worry. Just get better.”

            Click. My bloodshot eyes linked with Chris’s.

            Ah well. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that.

I took this photo today: The Thames and the noisy ducks as seen from the Caversham Court Gazebo, circa 1660. Our hotel is on the other side of the river, just over the Caversham bridge.

Hey Dad, I have a bunch of pictures of the Caversham gardens to show you. It was beautiful, even in October.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I left my cell phone at home. Again.

            "Where have you been?” My husband had his hands on his hips and he was scowling at me as I walked through the door.

            “I ran some errands and then had dinner with Gail. We went to the Vietnamese restaurant. Did I forget to tell you that I was going out tonight?”

            “You told me, but I was worried about you.” He waited until I put my purse on the desk in the kitchen before he grabbed me and hugged me close.

            “That’s sweet, but you really didn’t need to be,” I mumbled into his chest. “It’s not even 8 o’clock yet. It’s still light out.”

He stroked the back of my hair lovingly.

“Um…honey?” I said after a long moment. “I really have to go to the bathroom.”

He released me reluctantly and followed me, talking to me through the closed bathroom door. “There was a fatal accident on Highway 29.”

“That’s awful,” I answered loudly, flushing and turning on the water in the sink to wash my hands. “The boys are OK?” I was pretty sure they were not involved in an accident on Highway 29, since neither of them was going in that direction this evening. The restaurant in which I had eaten was in a strip mall right along that highway, though. The little cartoon light bulb lit up over my head.

“Yes, they’re fine. They both went to the high school football game tonight.”

I opened the door and stepped out, turning off the light. “Why didn’t you just call my cell phone if you were worried about me?”

He pulled my purple Lotus phone out of his back pocket. “You mean this phone?”

“Yeah,” I answered, taking it from him. “Didn’t I hear your call?” Sometimes the phone was so deep in my purse I didn’t hear it make those annoying bird chirps.

“No, you didn’t hear my call. It would have been im-poss-i-ble for you to hear it.”


“You left it at home!” My husband never yells, but his voice might have been raised just a wee little bit at the end there.

“I’m sorry. Really. But you know we lived without cell phones for most of our lives.”

“And I would have worried about you back then, too. The point is that now I Don’t Have To!”

            I winced. “I’m sorry you were worried about me. I’ll try to remember to carry it with me from now on.”

“Good!” He walked over to the kitchen sink, poured himself a glass of water and took a big gulp.

I followed him. “I love you,” I offered in a little girl voice.

“Don’t try to make me laugh,” he warned, spluttering and coughing. “It won’t work.”

“Then why is there water coming out of your nose?” I asked.

He looked at me, trying to hide a smile. He curved his arm around me and pulled me close. “I love you, too.”

“I know,” I answered, kissing his chin. “But if you want to say it again, I won’t complain.”

“Fine.” He sighed heavily, playing along. “I love you.”

“I didn’t hear you,” I whispered in his ear. “What did you say?” I unwrapped myself from his arm and ran toward the stairs.

            He chuckled. A moment later he followed me up the stairs so he could tell me just once more.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Table 12

            “Table 12.”  Stanley pointed to a table in the back corner of the restaurant.

            The young hostess in the low cut black top obviously recognized him. “Of course, sir.” She grabbed two menus and led the way. I idly wondered if she had to lie down to button her black pants as I followed her. No doubt she stuck to the lettuce with no dressing and avoided the prime rib sandwich and fries. If I did that, I might look like she did. Or not. We’re not likely to find out anytime soon.

            “Enjoy your lunch,” she said as she walked away, tottering a bit in her 4-inch-high spiked heels.

            “So what’s good here?” I asked, opening my menu.

            “I always get the chef salad,” he answered, putting his menu to the side and gesturing to the group of waiters who were standing by the kitchen door, arguing softly among themselves. After a long moment, one young man sighed heavily and broke away from the group. One of the others patted his shoulder as he walked by.

            “Hi, my name is Michael and I’ll be your server today.” His lips curled up in a slight smile. “Can I bring you something to drink while you look at the menu?”

            “Hi, Michael,” Stanley smiled. “I’d like an unsweet iced tea with 3 slices of lemon.”

            Michael nodded and looked at me. “I’ll have unsweet tea also,” I answered.

            “Do you want lemon?” Michael asked.


            Michael stood there for a moment, and when I didn’t say anything else he took off for the kitchen. I scanned the huge menu before deciding that the chef salad for which the restaurant was known would be a good choice. After all, Stanley had recommended it and he obviously ate here quite a bit.

            Michael arrived back at the table with 2 glasses of iced tea and a bowl filled to the brim with lemon wedges. “Are you ready to order?”

            Stanley gestured to me to go first. “I’ll have the chef salad.”

            “Is the house dressing OK?”


            Michael turned to Stanley, his pen poised over his order pad as if he were taking notes in a particularly difficult college physics course. OK. Something was going on here, and I wasn’t getting it.

            Stanley knew exactly what he wanted. “I’ll have the chef salad, too,” he said.

            I lifted my menu, and stuck it out for Michael to take. He ignored me.

            Stanley continued to place his order. “I’d like the dressing on the side, and please bring me a carryout box immediately when you bring the salad. I need you to put double turkey meat on it, and skip the ham. Add extra cheese.”

            Michael nodded as he scribbled down the instructions. I was glad he wasn’t one of those waiters who try to remember everything instead of writing it down. “Anything else, sir?”

            “I want the bread to come on a different plate, and not on the side of the salad plate. And please make sure that the lettuce is crispy. Last week, the lettuce on the bottom was wilted and brown. That’s unacceptable.”

            I was stunned. Part of me was embarrassed and part of me wanted desperately to laugh.

            “I’m sorry about that, sir. I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen today,” Michael apologized.

            “Very good,” Stanley answered, handing Michael his menu. Michael ran off, and I propped my forgotten menu between the wall and the salt shaker.

            “So how ‘bout those Braves?” The Braves had just lost the league championship and would not be in the World Series, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

            “Yeah, it’s too bad they didn’t win,” Stanley responded. “Not that I expected anything else.”

            I nodded. That about summed up the extent of my baseball knowledge.

            Stanley added 3 packets of Splenda to his tea and eyed the bowl of lemon. “Why do they always bring wedges? Slices are so much nicer.” He sighed and squeezed three of the offending wedges into his tea.

            I really had no opinion on the slice vs. wedge controversy, so I didn’t offer one. I surreptitiously rummaged through my purse to find my little bottle of Tylenol and swallowed two with a gulp of tea.

            The food came. Poor Michael had forgotten the carryout box, and had to scurry off to find one. When he came back with it, Stanley carefully divided his salad in half and neatly placed one portion into the carryout box. Then he poured the dressing, which had indeed come on the side, onto the salad left in the bowl. I had already eaten a quarter of my salad before he took his first bite.

            “This is delicious,” I offered, wiping my lips on the white cloth napkin.
            He nodded. “I need another glass of tea,” he commented after a few bites. “Do you want some more tea?”


            Michael had anticipated our request and fresh glasses of tea were on the table before I swallowed my next bite. He didn’t make his escape quickly enough.

            “Would you please bring me some salad dressing to go?” Stanley said, pointing to the half of the salad safely tucked into the carryout box.

            “No problem,” Michael answered, turning away.

            “And Michael?” Stanley called to the waiter’s back.

            “Yes, sir?”

            “I’d like to take a cup of unsweet tea to go.”

            Michael looked at me, eyebrows raised in a question.

I shook my head. “Too much tea and I can’t sleep at night,” I commented.

Michael brought the dressing in a little cup, and an empty to-go cup.

“I’m going to drink this one now,” Stanley frowned, pointing at the still full glass of tea on the table in front of him. “I want a full cup to go.”

Michael, bless his heart, smiled and took the empty cup away, bringing it back full of tea seconds later. He handed each of us our checks.

I placed my cash in the black leather binder and waited.

Stanley dropped his cash on the table and smiled at me. “Ready to go?” He picked up his to-go tea and his specially-prepared salad and stood up.

“Don’t you need change?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No.” Stanley had left the waiter a 50% tip. "I'm a pain in the ass in restaurants."
            "Really? I hadn't noticed."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Who says you can't go home?

To go or not to go?
That is the question that millions of adults agonize over at some point in their lives. It is a thorny dilemma, and there is no simple answer. The entire issue brings intense emotions bubbling up to the surface of our consciousness. We feel powerless to make a decision. Should we or shouldn’t we? We seek help from those family members and friends who have gone before us, but they can’t guide us. Ultimately, the decision must come from deep within our own psyche. There’s no getting around it; the invitation to your high school reunion has arrived.
            A year ago, I made the mistake of registering on the Facebook website. I say that this was a mistake for two reasons. The first reason is that the site is quite frankly addictive. I am hooked. I really do have other things I need to be doing, but instead of working, I’m logged onto Facebook. Oh sure, I can dress it up and call it “social networking,” but what I’m actually doing is chatting with friends and playing games. I need my daily fix. Soon, I’m going to need help. I just hope there’s a “Facebook Anonymous” group I can join. I see you nodding knowingly. I’ll send the link to your Facebook page.
            The other reason joining Facebook was a mistake is that I am now in the horns of the very dilemma I alluded to earlier. About 20 years ago, I moved away from the town where I grew up, and I didn’t leave a forwarding address. Needless to say, I have never received an invitation to a high school reunion. I must admit that this has never actually bothered me, if indeed it occurred to me at all. I felt no lack, no deep yearning to reconnect with my past.
            At least, that’s what I thought before one of my classmates found me on Facebook, and linked me to the information about our upcoming 30th high school reunion. Yes, it has been 30 years since I graduated from high school. Yes, that’s a long time. In addition to making me feel ancient, once I clicked the link I was immediately confronted with images of “the good old days”.
            My sudden desire to reconnect with my past was considerably dampened when my yearbook picture scrolled across the monitor. The fact that I actually wore my hair like that in public and that the image of me wearing my hair like that was saved for posterity and posted for anyone to see was downright horrifying! Seeing myself as I had been stripped away the outer layers of self-assurance and wisdom I’d spent 30 years developing and exposed the core of angst and lack of self-confidence I had when I was 17. Truly, it was a scary moment. Perhaps not Janet Leigh-in-the-shower-scene scary, but it was uncomfortable just the same.
            High school was not the worst time in my life, but looking back, those four years certainly weren’t the best. Remember the overwhelming stress of trying to figure out what you wanted to do for the rest of your life? I would be a lawyer, a nurse, an accountant, a teacher, for-ev-a. What if I messed up? No one ever suggested that by the time my 30th reunion would come around, I would have changed careers at least four times. As Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote so succinctly, “Change is certain” and I have proven him correct. (No – thank you very much – he didn’t write that in my yearbook. If he had, this would be our 230th reunion. Very funny…)
            Perhaps even more stressful than thoughts of the future was the task of “finding your own identity”. If I asked you to sum up your relationship with the rest of the student body at your high school, you would invariably give me one of these two answers:
            I was one of the popular kids.
            I was not in the popular group.
Now I have to ask you another question. When was the last time you referred to yourself as “popular” or “not popular”? Um, that would be 30 years ago for me. We mostly outgrow that egocentric need to be universally loved, thank goodness. But while we’re in that phase of development, life is anything but copacetic. (I assume that the strain of trying to stay popular was as difficult as not being popular at all, but I don’t know that first-hand. I was a nerd back when nerds weren’t cool.)
            Because I’m one of those people who have a half-empty glass, it’s the painful memories about high school that surface first. But if I was forced to be honest, I would have to admit that I have great memories of high school as well. The other members of the marching band always had my back. Thinking of the times we got thrown out of the local Pizza Hut after football games still make me laugh. Yes, there are people I haven’t seen in a long time that I would like to see again. After all, we shared our lives for 4 years and we will always have that bond. I’d really like to go to the reunion. OK, I will go. I’m glad to have that settled. Regis, that’s my final answer.
            But…I’d have to buy a plane ticket and pay for a hotel room. That would be expensive and I don’t have the money right now. I also don’t think there’s enough time to diet between now and then, and I certainly wouldn’t want them to see me this fat. No, I’m not going and that’s that.
            So there you have it. You want to know if I’m going to my 30th high school reunion? Maybe. Ask me tomorrow….

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Columbus Day!

            Happy Columbus Day to my friends in Spain, Italy and the United States!

 Columbus Day is the glorious celebration of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in fourteen-hundred-ninety-two. I remember that date because when I was a child in elementary school, I was taught the rhyme: Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety two. We might forget the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, but American schoolchildren never forget Columbus.

Nor should we. After all, Christopher Columbus discovered America!

NOT! Archeological evidence shows that the Vikings had landed on the North American continent centuries before Columbus had even been born.

NOT! Actually he discovered the Caribbean island of San Salvador. Close enough, right? The fact that he thought he was in Asia is irrelevant. I’m sure the indigenous people of San Salvador didn’t mind being called “indians” as a result of this misconception. (Note: The people who lived on the island when Columbus “discovered” it were the Arawak. They called their island Guahanal. Yes, this can be placed in the category of Totally Worthless Information or TWI.)

In all, Columbus’s journey to discover a shorter route to Asia from the Iberian Peninsula was an EPIC FAIL. He didn’t find Asia, and he didn’t discover America, even by accident.

            So enjoy your holiday today, my friends, and raise your glass in a toast to Christopher Columbus. May all of your epic fails be as successful as his!

Friday, October 8, 2010

White Paper Syndrome

            “But I don’t know what to write about!” The pitch of my distraught7th grade students climbs higher and higher as the class period drags on and on. Language Arts teachers must learn to ignore it or they will eventually resolve to find a different career that involves less whining. I can’t think of a job that has no whining involved off the top of my head, but if you have one, good for you.
“You’re supposed to write about something you think is interesting.”

25 faces are staring at white sheets of paper. Two students have written on the front and back sides of their papers and have gotten up to get additional sheets. One of the 25 sticks out his tongue at the student walking back to his seat. “I hate you,” he hisses. The passionate writer smiles smugly. I can hardly wait to read the epic story about the purple and blue ninjas from outer space. It promises to be a page-turner, despite the fact that the author is demolishing the conventions of the English language as thoroughly as his aliens are demolishing Atlanta.

“Go back to your prewriting. We did all of that brainstorming and free-writing to help you choose a topic. There must be something there that you want to write about.”

23 sets of eyes stare at me blankly. Two heads are down on desks, and the two writers continue scribbling away.

“Are you going to let a blank piece of paper get the better of you?”

10 heads nod yes, 9 look at the clock in panic, and 4 more foreheads hit desks.

“Here’s a trick. You have a disease called ‘white paper syndrome’. One of the ways to get rid of the dreaded disease is to write something – anything – on the paper. We can fix whatever you write to make it better, but we have to have something – anything – to start with.”

My darlings are starting to drool on their desks. One girl in the front row raises her hand.

“Yes, Brianna?”

“But what are we supposed to write about, Mrs. Scullion?”

“Try writing your names on your papers,” I suggest with a sigh. “You can include the date and class period if you like.”

23 pencil points are placed on the top right-hand side of the page. The two who put their heads on their desk earlier are now asleep. I touch their shoulders as I walk by, and they sit up with a jerk. “Write your name on your paper, doofus,” the student sitting behind them advises. They look around sullenly and slowly search for the pencils that rolled off their desks 15 minutes ago.
            “All right! Now you have something on that white paper, and I can tell you’re feeling better already! Let’s write!” If I had a set of pompoms with me, I’d be shaking them enthusiastically. “Yeah, writing!”

            Cheerleader, teacher, class clown – whatever it takes is what I do. 8 slightly pained smiles are shot at me. The rest pretend they don’t know me. I’m OK with that.

            “Now write one sentence, just one. We’ll change it tomorrow if you don’t like it.”

            12 students slowly and carefully write, “Hi, my name is (insert name here).” 5 more write, “I hate writing.” The last 6 are still stymied.

            The bell is about to ring. Most of my students have written a sentence on their papers, so I consider the class period a moderate success. “Time to hand in your papers now.”

            “Will we have time to write tomorrow, Mrs. S.?”

            I smile at the alien-story student. “You sure will.” He smiles happily as he leaves the room.

            “We’re going to have to write again tomorrow?” This from the cluster of students who are handing me papers that have their name, the date, and the class period in the upper right corner.

            “Of course,” I answer. “You haven’t finished your stories yet. But it’ll be much easier tomorrow since you got a good start today.” Yes, I do manage to say that with a straight face.

            They eye me doubtfully, but we’ve been together for a while now and they already know I’m nuts.

            “So have a good afternoon, everyone, and don’t forget to read for at least 30 minutes tonight.” I ignore the involuntary snort of laughter 2 of the girls can’t hold back, and walk over to my desk to paperclip the class’s stories together.

            “That went well, don’t you think?” I asked myself out loud.

            “It could have been worse,” I answered myself.

            “Uh, Mrs. Scullion?”

            “Yes, dear?”

            “You’re talking to yourself again.”

            “Was I? Sorry about that.”

            “Are you OK?” The concerned eyes of my next class met mine.

            “Oh, yes,” I assured them. “I’m great.”

            They smiled happily. “What are we going to do today?”

            I ground my teeth. “We’re going to write stories today.”

            “We’re going to write stories today?” 2 students looked excited. “Really?”

            The other students eyed me doubtfully. “But Mrs. Scullion, what are we going to write about?”