Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Twenty-first Century, Here I Come!

A few weeks ago, Jackson, our almost-four-year-old grandson, came to spend the night with us because his mom and dad were really under the weather with the New Mexico crud and allergies. He was so excited about staying all night with Grammy and Pop, and needless to say, we were elated to have him.

During the early evening, he was fine as he ate dinner, chatted with us, punched holes in paper; I think we even watched one of his videos. As bedtime grew near, however, he started talking about going home to sleep. We tried talking to him about how sick his folks were, but nothing comforted him: he wanted to go home. I thought maybe putting his pajamas on him and reading a story would help, but it didn’t. The tears came, and my heart broke. He wanted to talk to his mommy.

I made the call; Wendy tried to convince him that he was a big boy and would be just fine. Their being ill didn’t impress him one bit. Frank was sympathetic with the little fellow, but I was empathetic. I could put myself in his place because flashes of my childhood kept coming back to me. When I was a child, I absolutely would not spend the night away from home. I got so homesick for my mother that she would have to come to get me, sometimes at 2:00 in the morning, even if I was just next door. Homesickness is the sickest sick in the world, and my heart went out to little Jackson!

We all knew that he would stay with us, but getting him to sleep was quite a problem. We read his favorite book twice; I lay down with him for about fifteen minutes; he assured me that he’d be okay. Just as I pulled the covers up when I finally went to our bedroom, he began to cry again. Sigh! It would be one of “them nights.”

When I went back to Jackson’s room to try to convince him that he could go to sleep, that everything would be fine, that pretty soon he’d wake up to a brand new day (his term for the next morning), he looked up at me with those big teary blue eyes and very solemnly said, “Grammy, if I could just listen to your iPod, I think I could go to sleep.”

Imagine his surprise when I told him, “Jackson, Grammy doesn’t have an iPod.”

“You DON’T?” He was amazed. Everyone has an iPod in his little world, maybe even more than one.

Did Jackson ever go to sleep without music, without an iPod? Oh, yes . . . after I lay down again with him for about 30 minutes, this time not getting up until I knew that he was asleep.

And just why have I written about this important event in my life? I just want everyone to know that I have truly entered the twenty-first century because of a little boy with a broken heart, a little boy who is my heart. Never again will he wish for an iPod at our house. I now have a lovely little turquoise iPod Nano. It really is neat, and I think I’ll even use it for my own entertainment, not just for Jackson’s.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Just Talk Through Your Fingers!

I became an English teacher for two reasons, one of which is the main reason that most people choose to enter the profession, one of which is something that many would just as soon not have anything to do with: I love to read, and I wanted to lead young people to be lifelong readers; I also loved grammar, the study of language and how it works and wanted my students to share my love. You may notice that I mentioned nothing about loving to write and being eager to teach my students to be good writers. The truth is that I never enrolled in any writing classes past the mandatory Freshman Composition. My college, from 1958 to 1964, didn’t offer any courses in writing except one semester of creative writing. I had no desire to write short stories or poetry, so I shied away from that elective.

For about twenty-two of my thirty-two years in the classroom, I struggled with teaching writing and with getting students interested in writing. Oh, I could teach them the five-paragraph essay in the inverted pyramid form, but I couldn’t get them to be enthusiastic about writing, not even about persuasive papers in which they could promote their biases.

After I participated in a writing workshop one summer, led by three teachers from Ft. Walton Beach, FL, I discovered what my problem was: I didn’t like to write, so I couldn’t instill a love of writing in my students. During those two weeks in 1986, when my “new best friends” presented us with activity after activity intended to help students become better writers and to enjoy writing, I became a better writer who could hardly wait to get her fingers on the keyboard.

Two truths that I brought from the workshop into my classroom were that I needed to write with my students to show them that I loved to write and that I had to find my voice before I could teach my charges to find theirs. I had always thought the third-person approach to writing stilted and wanted to get away from it, but I almost had the idea that writing in any other point of view was practically illegal. I know that’s crazy; however, in composition classes, I had always been taught that using first person was a no-no.

Early August in 1986 found me breaking in my students with one of my new activities: I know, I think, I wonder. On the very first day, after I had given my annual this-is-how-things-are-done-in-Mrs. Young’s-classroom speech, I had them write this very informal assignment addressing what I had just told them. I loved reading these journal-type pieces in which they let me know what they knew about my expectations, what they thought about them, and what they still wondered about Old Lady Young’s class.

Through that first year of my new approach to writing, I wrote along with my students. Sometimes they liked what I wrote; sometimes they didn’t. I had found my voice: I sounded like myself, and that’s just what I wanted. Now my job was to help my students find theirs.

They balked at leaving their comfortable third-person voices, voices in which they didn’t have to expose themselves because they were just spitting out what someone else thought, whether they were writing literary essays or research papers. I was asking them to have original ideas and to talk to each other and to me about them. I had to un-teach what my friends had been drilling into their little heads for years. Each year, including the first, I would walk slowly to the door of my classroom, close it, and say, “We need to talk.” Then I’d begin my teaching of voice, telling them that I expected them to use I in many of their papers during their senior year. They wrote the occasional essay in which I required them to write in third person just so that they wouldn’t be lost in college. But for the most part, they used first person. One year, a girl who had rebelled against first person all year wanted to write her autobiography in third person. Oh, brother!

Though at times I wanted to throw my hands up in frustration, teaching students to talk to the paper through their fingers, either with pen in hand or on a computer, was one of the most rewarding things I ever did in the classroom. If teaching voice were the only thing I had to do there today, I’d go back in a heartbeat.

(If teaching English happens to be something you’re interested in, you might want to check out my post on October 16, 2008, another adventure in first person.)

Music and a Mom

Frank and I had been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks. Every night, as we watched our favorite shows—CSI, NCIS, The Mentalist, Eleventh Hour, and other such gory, yet interesting and entertaining, programs—we’d see the promo and determine that we’d watch. So the closer it got to 7:00 last night, the more excited we became, and at 6:55 we changed the channel from CMT, where we were watching O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, to CBS so that we could settle in for an evening of the Country Music Awards.

If a person has to be a redneck to like country music, then just call me a redneck. Reba McEntire was the host. She’s such a cute little country girl who’s made it big. I haven’t really followed her career closely because I’m not a person who follows the careers of entertainers; however, I remember how my heart hurt for her when, in the spring of 1991, seven of her band members and her manager were killed in a plane crash. I wondered how she would ever recover from such a tragedy and whether or not she’d get on with her career. I don’t know that she recovered, but she managed to get through, and she certainly has gotten on with her career. At the time of the crash, our son was still alive and playing with his band, Velvet Melon. I remember that he suggested that he and the guys in the band apply for the jobs of Reba’s “Crazy Eight,” as she referred to her band. Jay was only half kidding: he was a very confident, charismatic young man who never saw his dreams as impossible.

Anyway, we loved watching such stars as George Strait, Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flats, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, and lots of others perform. The female stars were especially stunning in their sparkly dresses—some long, some short, some exceptionally revealing, but all beautiful. Brad Paisley opted not to be in Las Vegas in person because his wife, Kimberly, was practically to the giving-birth stage with their second child. What a great husband!

Both Frank and I teared up as we watched star after star accept awards and give credit for their success to friends, family, and God. The whole evening was very emotional but lots of fun. Probably one of the main reasons that it was emotional for me was that I could picture Jay winning awards someday had he lived, not in country music but in rock music. (For more about Jay, see posts from July 2, 2007, and February 10, 2008.) He would have been a star. As I watched Carrie Underwood’s mother hug her every time she won an award, my heart soared for her mom because I could see Frank and me sitting next to Jay at some celebration, hugging him every time his name was called. I know I’m a dreamer, but moms are supposed to dream, especially about the success of their boys.

Breakfast in the Boonies

If you were to drive South on Gold Mine Road just outside Cerrillos, NM, you’d swear that Frank and Sandy live in the big middle of nowhere almost all by themselves. You’d see a house now and then, nestled down among the junipers and pinon or up on the ridge of a hill; however, you’d never guess that there are hundreds of people far off the road, so far that they’re considered “off the grid,” meaning that they have solar power for their electricity. We do live in the big middle of nowhere, but we definitely have neighbors.

When our Russian daughter’s mother visited us, she was very much concerned by our lack of neighbors because, as she said, “What happens when you need to borrow a cup of sugar?” Not important to us—we shop at Sam’s Club and have a pantry stocked well enough to feed the proverbial army. Borrowing from neighbors isn’t really a priority to us; however, being in touch with them is. And just how do we connect? In lots of ways, most of which I’ll write about later. One of the best ways that we’ve found is through The Alternative Builders’ Breakfast Club, known today as simply Breakfast Club.

Back in 1992, five of the ladies out here in our hills decided to form a group that would meet monthly to discuss innovative projects, specifically the things that they were doing on their property to make their lives easier, to conserve energy, to live off the land as much as they could. These ideas included such things as hay-bale construction, fences made of aluminum cans, solar power, lots and lots of other ideas, most of which I don’t even know. In addition to their discussions, they, naturally, included breakfast goodies. What’s a meeting without food, huh? I imagine that they invited other neighbors to join them on the first Saturday of each month, going to different people’s houses and having everyone take a “covered dish” to the designated house. Three of the original ladies still live in the ‘hood, but only one is still active—Annie Whitney, our very efficient and very much loved organizer and group leader. Annie deserves a post all her own, and she’ll get one soon.

Today, instead of 5 neighbors gathering on the first Saturday, we now have anywhere from 50 to 100 folks eagerly heading to someone’s house for a morning of catching up on the news and stuffing themselves with some of the best cooking in these parts. Though we still talk about innovative projects (in the twenty-first century, you’re likely to hear lots of exchanging of ideas about Internet connections and other such ultra-modern topics), you might hear just as much about grandchildren, travels abroad, and recipes. We have a wonderful time, and since Frank and I love a party, especially if it’s at our house, we have hosted Breakfast Club twice: the first time in July 2005; the second, last Saturday. I tried to count the number present, but it was impossible because our friends kept moving from the
 kitchen to the Two Rocks and a Hubcap Music Hall (explanation to follow in another post), also known as the company room. I believe, though, that there were about 60 in attendance.

Even though Frank and I are the hosts at our house, we manage to flit around enough to visit with lots of our friends. Most of the people in attendance on Saturday are special friends whom we’ve known most of the time that we’ve lived in New Mexico; however, many new folks were here, too. We collect “new best friends,” and I added all of them to our email list for invitations to our concerts, Frank’s birthday party, and our Christmas Open House. As I said earlier, we do love a party, and we had a glorious time on Saturday.

Here are a couple of photos from Breakfast Club: Tom Fulker, Annie’s husband; and our daughter and son –in-law, Wendy Young and Todd Yocham. You have an open invitation to come to our get-together on the first Saturday of any month!