Saturday, February 2, 2008

Foul Ball

His name was John, and his hair was a bright red flag waving in the West Texas wind. They pointed him out to me as he chased his football-carrying brother on the paved recess playground.
“There they are, those two brothers. Pray that you don’t get them in your class.”
“Why not?” I asked, in all of my first year innocence, looking around at the other teachers in our private staff dining room off the cafeteria.
“They’re real trouble, I hear."
"Last week they were sent to the office for bringing beer to school in their lunches.”
“James was in a fight last week, and John’s a flat-out mess!”
"James and John--Sons of Thunder", I thought, and I knew they’d probably be in my class when they entered seventh grade the next year. As the new teacher, I taught two “basic” English classes, and kids in trouble were usually there.
Sure enough, the next year when I saw my class lists I recognized a name. It was John's. They had put his brother in another class at least, but in keeping with my last year’s resolve to get a firm handle on the class from the first, I determined to let this John kid know that his English teacher was formidable. On the first day of classes, I put the students in a predetermined seating order. John was "front and center", right in front of my desk. When I went over rules I spoke to him. When I checked to see if the students were doing the assignment right, his was the first I looked at. I watched him closely and I waited for trouble.
It never came. He smiled sometimes, a secretive little plotting smile, but nothing ever came of it. Other students got sent to the office for digging fresh glue out of the newly replaced window panes and trying to sniff it, for refusing to sit when the bell rang, for hopping around the room with their white gym shorts on their heads shouting, “I’m Chef Boy Ardee!”, but John was as good as a teacher-loving, apple-bearing, curled and perfumed, straight-A-making, little girl—except he was none of those things. He just never gave me any trouble.
So I softened. I smiled at him. He stayed good.
All year. It amazed me, and I would have thought that I had misunderstood the teachers’ dire warnings the year before, but for the fact that every now and then I heard grumblings about the boys at recess, and those “brothers were raising Cain again.”
In the spring, I took my two-year-old daughter to the park, and we played in the early sunshine and the first warm wind. It was while I was watching her pink-ribboned ponytails fly back in the swing that I caught sight of John.
He was running down the grassy hill, out of class, celebrating the freedom of Saturday, or so I thought. Then I saw the man behind him. Huge, rugged and unkept. They ran right by me, and I smelled alcohol, or sour vomit from it. Between breaths he was cursing and panting, and would probably have never caught John, but for that little slip on the new grass as the boy turned to see me watching. For a brief moment I though he would help the boy to his feet, but he didn’t. He kicked him, and cursed again. My “sons of Thunder” appellation had been strangely appropriate for those two.
If I hadn’t been holding my baby, I would have run down there and confronted the storming man—despite all my training to the contrary. This was just wrong. There was a bright red flag down on the field.
I stood there frozen, holding my child tightly, her little brown pony-tails flapping against my face. And the angry man turned and lumbered off, climbing into an old rusted car at the curb and driving away.
John, jumped up, flashed me a grin, and ran off in the other direction.
The next day at school, he was quieter than ever. I helped him with his English.
“Are you ok? Is everything alright”
He nodded, smiled, and said, ever so quietly, “My dad, well, he’s… I’ll be fine”.
Nobody else heard him. They were all talking about the football game that evening.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Won't Be Long Now

Gilded hands shine on the clock

There, just past the finish line, I see a light.

Could it be...

Reflected evening sunlight from the snow?

Old Memories magnify the moments in my mind

And I hear them all--crowding in around me.

Are they here ...

I'm astonished to discover how much I love them--

These strangely-familiar people hovering,

Coming to share the conclusion of my life.

I drown in joy as

Time becomes timeless

In memory of my grandparents--all of them.

(Written for Cafe Writing. We had to use these words:

astonished, conclusion, drown, gilded, hands, magnify, snow, time)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

13 Colors I Won't Paint My Bathroom in the Near Future

Thursday Thirteen #2

About three times a year, I wonder what it would be like to have bold colors on the walls of the house. Designers do it. All the time. So they say. (I don't even dream that audaciously, but I once painted a bathroom in bright teal. Granted, it was a teensy, tiny bathroom, but I think for bravery it counts.)
So if you had a bathroom that needed paint, would you try any of these big, bold colors with the names that required a full-time color inventing and naming professional to create? If you go online and visit painting centers, you can actually try their paint colors by applying them to a mock bathroom, complete with suggestions for agreeable second colors. I decided to scope it out. Hang on for a wild ride as we view bona fida paint swatches. Oh the joy of living dangerously!

I'll begin with a color close to my normal taste in rooms.
It's called Pinkish. Maybe because that's what it is.
It doesn't even merit the "blush" or "morning sky with
the sun coming up and reflecting on the clouds below
pink" label. Just Pinkish.

Now we get wild. Look at this one.
It's called Gutsy Grape.

Note the subtle difference as the walls change
to Fabulous Grape.

Then shift to a blue, but not just any old blue.
This one is called Rainstorm.

Not that you'd want it to be too rainy in the bathroom.
Maybe we'd better check out a few greens.
Here's one called Pickle.

And right beside it on the color chart is the color Dill.
Seems like we're scraping the bottom of the
name barrel for these.

Of course neither of these measures up to the
lush green of Paradise. I'm afraid this one
is a little too lime for me, more like the color of
a serpent in paradise, or at least a lizard.

Now for the opposite extreme.
Here's one called Smokehouse.
So why would you want a bathroom
painted in smokehouse?

However if you like brown bathrooms check this one.
It's called Grounded. Probably after coffee--
you'd be surprised how many different browns
are named after coffee-- Java, or Kaffee, or Latte.
Well, I just imagine someone sitting in the bathroom
sulking because they've been grounded.

Now this one is more like what one should
do in a bathroom. It's called Meditative.

At least it's a quiet blue. Not like this one,
loftily called The Grand Canal, but certainly
not looking the color of any canal I've ever
seen, grand or not.

This gold color is called Brittlebush. Yikes! If someone makes a smokehouse in here they'd better not be too meditative or they'll start a fire that neither rainstorm nor the grand canal will extinguish. And I fear they will be grounded, or at least in a pickle and expelled from Paradise with a pinkish posterior.

So what's my absolutely most awful suggestion
for a bathroom color. This one.
It's appropriately called STOP. So I will.

Monday, January 28, 2008


On Mother’s Day she wrote a play for me, assigning parts to her brother and sister so they could borrow my video camera and act it out. It was full of pathos and moments of solemn reflection, as the three children dreamed of Moses and Joseph, and Samuel—all of whom were separated from their mothers at an early age. I don’t know if my younger two children fully understood the purpose behind this masterpiece of poignancy produced by their eleven-year-old sister, but it made a dramatic Mother’s Day present nonetheless.

My eldest daughter always wanted to be a journalist, to fearlessly oppose the evils of society and defend that which was good by blasting or commending with a shower of well-thought-out words. She promised me that she would never turn into a “teen-ager”—well, not one of those typical ones anyway—and she didn’t, surprisingly enough. She kept her head, and we remained friends throughout all those years that prove so difficult for some. One summer she worked as a volunteer apprentice at the Gunnison newspaper, and the next year she began college, declaring journalism as her major.

Then it happened. Even though her teachers encouraged her, and assured her that her name would make a catchy byline for editorials, she turned her back on the profession and began to seek another. Three things deterred her: first, she was instructed to write at the third-grade level, and that seemed like a galling retrogression; second, and more important, she was introduced to the “ethics of journalism” which bent the standards upon which her soul was anchored. To succeed in this world, she would have to give up precious values; the third troubling aspect was the realization that a true reporter must belong to the story first. By now, my daughter had met and married the man of her dreams, and she didn’t want to abandon him and any children they might have to be raised haphazardly while she dashed off for Beirut to impress the American public with her valor and/or disregard for personal safety. She graduated as an English major and left journalism untried. Perhaps she remembered Moses, or Samuel, or Joseph. I don’t know.

Today, Carina writes from home. She blogs, a major that hadn’t yet been invented when she attended college. Nobody makes her write at the third-grade level, but she sometimes willingly stoops even lower when making up marvelous stories for two-year-old Mim and three-year-old Zaya. She’s their Mom. She’s home. And I’m proud of her.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

All Maestros Were Once Three Years Old

I'm going to try posting a video. (There's a first time for everything). If you are not amused by other people's three year old grandsons' pounding on the piano, don't even try this video. On the other hand, he is very cute. After the first pounding, he even settles down to what he considers real playing...well there is a kind of rhythm, and a little effort at dynamics, and a dramatic last note. His little sister accompanies on the organ. Only a grandmother would put up with this...or a mother. I don't think artistic tendencies should be stifled by people with over critical ears. Ha.

Of course I just noticed that all the cushions are off the couches in my living room and on the floor in that video. Ah well, if I had put them all back first I would have missed the moment. Youngsters are pretty impatient.