Tuesday, July 09, 2013

P is for Playing


All of us come into this world playing and continue to do so for the rest of our lives. Babies play with their toes and their daddies’ ears; toddlers play with toys and their grandmas’ whatnots; children play with their friends—hopscotch, dodge ball, red rover (I know these are old fashioned); teenagers play hooky and chicken and steal-the-boyfriend; adults play all sorts of “games” to capture their sweethearts and to advance themselves in the work world.  The two types of play that are surfacing in my mind this morning, though, are two that I haven’t mentioned and are coming to me from my childhood. Both games were important in developing me into the person I am today at the tender age of 73.

In my neighborhood in New Orleans, a WWII housing project, we children didn’t have many toys. I always had dolls, and during the war, I had plastic airplanes that we played with, bombing the Japs (I know that’s politically incorrect, but that’s what we called them), but I don’t remember many other toys. Oh, yes, I heard on the radio once about a cardboard farm set that I could order, probably for a dollar or so, and I did just that. But I forgot to include the dollar. I received it anyway. That was surely “back in the day,” wasn’t it? After school, we skated and rode bikes on the sidewalks in our neighborhood, and on Saturdays we played in new-mown grass and on a jungle gym in the big, shared backyard. We also played all of the previously mentioned games—hopscotch, dodge ball, red rover—but the ones that I remember best are house and school.

I loved it when Donny Lockwood played house with us girls because he could be the daddy. If he didn’t play, I had to be the daddy because I was the tallest. How I hated that! Just because I was tall didn’t mean I had to be a boy. Sometimes we played with dolls for the babies, but sometimes we just let the youngest or smallest child be the baby. She would coo and gurgle just like a real baby, and we loved that. We prepared meals the way our mothers did, using leaves and flowers and dirt for the ingredients. The “garbage” flowers and leaves were the best because they were the biggest. I have no idea as to what these flowers and leaves really were; they were just the ones planted around our garbage area, a fence-in square where the garbage cans were located. The plants did their best to hide what was really there. We mimicked our parents when we talked to each other, with the daddy pitching his or her voice very low and authoritatively. Whoever was the mother had a high voice and always told the daddy what had gone on around the house while he was off at work. In the same manner, the daddy would report on what he had done at the office. He probably had the same job that his daddy had. Occasionally, while we were playing house, we’d stop for a while to use our spoons or little shovels to try to dig to China because we were convinced that if we dug down deep enough, we’d see Chinamen down in the hole. Inevitably during our playtime, we’d use the expression “Let’s plike,” being interpreted “Let’s play like.” We little Southerners didn’t do too well with some words. We loved playing house and  could stay at it for hours. In the evenings in the summer, we’d play slinging statues and catch lightning bugs until our parents called us in for bath and bedtime.

We played house both inside and outside our homes, but the next game was played inside because we’d never heard of a school being outside. That’s right . . . we played school. And guess who was almost always the teacher! You got it . . . Sandy. This was probably the only game in which I was really pushy. I was the tallest, so I could be the teacher. This was one time that I didn’t resent being picked for something because of my height. Children back then didn’t have many books of their own. I really don’t know why. Maybe parents expected their kids to get books from the library. I did that, but I also had some books of my own. I wish I still had those books because inside each one of them I’d see a subject written: arithmetic (we never called it math or mathematics), reading, trigonometry (I read that word in a book one time and thought it sounded interesting . . . had a real ring to it), composition, history, and probably some others. I was a hard taskmaster of a teacher and made the students stay focused on what we were doing. My little wooden easel chalkboard with the alphabet at the top made my schoolroom look real . . . at least to me.  

These two games have stayed in my mind through all of these years because both helped me to think about the future at a very young age. I knew that certain things were done in a family and certain things weren’t from playing house. The daddy was the leader of the household; the mother prepared dinner and took care of the children. Sounds old fashioned, doesn’t it? It is, but for me, it still applies today. Early on I found myself at the front of the classroom, giving instructions to children, teaching them what I knew best. I must admit that even back then, we spent more time on spelling and reading and writing than we did on arithmetic. Just a little foreshadowing, I guess.

We had a great time in our project. Games were important in our lives, and we played them to the hilt!

Sunday, July 07, 2013

O is for My Occupations

Well, I haven’t had many of those, so I’ll have to mention my jobs, which weren’t actually occupations. I’ll get to the occupations shortly.

My first job was as a clerk in my dad’s Auto Lec store the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. I worked every day from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., except on Wednesday, when we closed at 1:00. And of course, the store was closed on Sunday. I made $25.00 each week and was ecstatic to make that much because it meant that I could tithe $2.50 and save the rest to purchase a beautiful little baby-blue Smith-Corona manual portable typewriter. That little machine took me all the way through my senior year in high school and both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, plus several years of teaching. What a sweet little machine.

Even though that was my initial reason for working that summer, another reason soon became important. You see, a very cute boy worked in the meat market at Jitney Jungle, the grocery store where we shopped. Every day, during his lunch break, he walked past our store, and eventually, after we waved to each other each day (I was guarding the TVs at the front of the store), he walked in one day, and I fell in love. Not really in love, more like “in like.”  In any event, I was smitten. And he liked me, too. He was a student at Berry College in Georgia and was spending the summer with his sister and her family. After that initial meeting, he came in every day to chat, and one day he asked me for a date. Of course, I went, but I don’t remember liking him quite so much after that evening. He was a bit too forward for a shy high school girl. I don’t think I heard anything from him after he went back to college, but I surely did like him through the plate glass window of my dad’s store.

I learned a lot that summer—how to wait on customers, how to use the cash register, how to write up lay-aways, and most of all how to keep people from stealing merchandise, especially televisions. At least that’s what Daddy said. He didn’t lose even one TV that summer. How could he? My eyes were glued to them most of the day, except when I was waiting on customers.

My second job was grading papers for Mrs. Sue Price Lipsey, my favorite English teacher at Mississippi College. I don’t recall that she gave me many instructions before grading; however, I surely did get a lot of experience that would come in handy in the thirty-two years that I’d be grading papers after I went out into the real world of teaching English. Mrs. Lipsey and Miss Virginia Schimmel, my senior English teacher at Pensacola High School, were my inspirations for become an English teacher. They were my role models from day one in the classroom.

The third job that I had before getting a job in my profession was that of Veterans’ Clerk in the Registrar’s office at MC. I loved working for Mr. Troy Mohon, longtime registrar at the college. Even though he had probably the worst breath that I had ever smelled, I loved him. I also liked Virginia Busby (who taught me to make biscuits) and Betty Jo Ott ( a strange-shaped girl with a beautiful smile); however, I was scared to death of Miss Addie Mae Stephens, the person in charge of sending out transcripts from the Registrar’s Office. She slept through most of the days, and the other girls in the office and I would watch her as she almost hit her head on the desk as she dozed. She’d always wake up just before the landing, and we’d scurry back to our desks before she could see us. The other person in the office was Esta Spell, a witch of a lady, who made it her personal mission in life to frighten away any new girl who started working in her domain. She almost scared me off, but one Saturday when she wasn’t working, Virginia and Betty Jo told me of her witchy desire. From that day on, I stopped  crying every evening when I got home, much to Frank’s relief, and made it MY mission to stay in the office, maybe even to outlast her. After she realized that I wasn’t going anywhere, she became my friend. Very strange lady!

I’ve had only two real occupations, professions if you will—English teacher and sales rep/consultant. I’m probably one of the few people who can say that I had wonderful bosses, with the exception of Gary Dameron with McDougal Littell Publishing Company, but even he was good at the beginning. His problem was that he lost his mind somewhere along the way, and like Esta Spell, tried to run all of us sales reps off. I don’t think he succeeded with any of us. We were much too hard headed and in need of a job to be frightened of him to the extent that we’d leave our jobs. He was fired, thank goodness, after we Florida sales reps tattled on him. The day that Linda Lee left voice messages for us, telling us that she’d be our manager until she could find one, I’m sure everyone in Florida heard the collective “Hooray,” when we listened to our voice mail that day.

Teaching was my real calling, for I do believe that God has specific jobs in mind for specific people, and He wanted me to spend most of my working days in the classroom with seventeen and eighteen year olds, those teenagers whom hardly anyone truly wanted to teach, but whom I loved until after Spring Break.

All of my 32 years of teaching were done at Pascagoula High School, Live Oak School, Jackson County Junior College, Pensacola Junior College, and Woodham High School, where the vast majority of my years were spent—28 of them. I began my teaching career at Pascagoula High School in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The first year that I taught, I was assigned two tenth-grade basic classes and three tenth-grade average classes. I could lead you to my room right now, but I can’t remember the room number. When I reported to school a few weeks before planning days began, I went to the main office, and as I was standing there looking at who knows what, the principal, Aubrey Johnson, walked up to the counter where I was standing and slapped his paddle down right next to me, causing me to almost jump out of my skin, and said, “Miz Young, you just send ‘em to me if they give you any trouble.” I don’t remember ever sending a student to him because I surely didn’t want it on my conscience if the student got a beating. What if he didn’t really need to go to see Mr. Johnson? I handled my problems myself. I must have done all right that first year because the next year I was “promoted” to seniors. Maybe no one else wanted them. I loved them!
After two years at Pascagoula High School, I decided to apply for a job as reading teacher in the Jackson County School System, still in Pascagoula. I got the job after answering a few questions from Mr. Mallette, the superintendent. He explained to me that I’d be working with Kreole kids, those students whom the public school in Vancleave, Mississippi, didn’t want even less than they wanted Blacks. Kreoles, he explained to me were sort of “red and yellow, black and white,) as the old Sunday school song goes. I found that truly they were a mixture, but also that, as the song continues, “they are precious in His sight.” My year as a reading teacher was truly delightful. Granted, I had a long drive each morning and afternoon—at least 30 minutes each way, but I didn’t mind. The children in the thirteen-grade school (Kindergarten through 12th grade) were sweet, eager to learn, dirty, and very, very poor. Their social life revolved around their Pentecostal church right in their neighborhood. I’m not too sure that I taught them much that year although almost every child’s reading scores went up by the end of the year; however, I managed to get in some lessons in manners and a grand performance at Christmastime. I’d like to think that at least the manners stuck with them.

One year in the country was about all I was up to, so I applied to Jackson County Junior College in Gautier, Mississippi, for a teaching job in the English department. I’m sure I went for an interview, but I don’t remember any details about the meeting. Frank and I were eager to have another child, but we had been unsuccessful during the past year. Wouldn’t you know it, though? Almost as soon as I got the job at JCJC, I found that I was pregnant (or as young couples today say, WE were pregnant). My wonderful college teaching career lasted one semester, one summer, and then another semester, during which time, I gave birth to a sweet baby boy. While at the junior college, I taught mostly freshman English classes and loved every minute. In the fall of 1968, Frank announced that he thought we should move to Pensacola so that he could learn the business of Auto Lec, my folks’ business in Brownsville, because one day it would be ours. So, amidst many tears on my part (I had left Pensacola after high school, never really wanting to live there again), we began making plans to move, the most important part of this big change being my finding a job.

So . . . one weekend that fall, we went to Pensacola so that I could find a job the next week. After visiting with Bill McArthur for a few minutes and trying to sound very much sure of myself, the man in charge of hiring new teachers told me that it would probably be about three years before I could get a job in my hometown. Ha! I needed a job that very day, not three years hence. I thanked him for his time and headed to Pensacola High School, my alma mater. I walked hesitantly up the stairs up the stairs at the school and asked for the principal. Mr. Mabry, the man who had been the assistant principal when I graduated, welcomed me, and we began to chitchat about old times at PHS. Gradually, we wound our way around to why I had dropped in that afternoon. “I need a job,” I told Mr. Mabry. Then I explained what Bill had said about the scarcity of openings. The principal was sad to tell me that there was an opportunity at Woodham High School, a school that I’d never heard of since it was the “new kid on the block.” And why was he sad? Because he’d have loved to hire me but there were no positions at PHS. He made me promise, before he sent me on my way to Woodham, that I’d check with him before accepting the job because maybe someone would walk into his office that afternoon to announce that he or she would be leaving. He had my word, and I headed to 150 E. Burgess Road to see if I could snag a job that hadn’t even been advertised yet because the teacher wouldn’t be going on maternity leave until the end of January. “Oh, by the way,” Mr. Mabry said as I left his office, “Miss Virginia Schimmel teaches there. You may remember her.” Remember her? She was the reason that I was an English teacher! Her personality in the classroom and her method of teaching were what made me think that I could be a success if I just kept her foremost in my mind as I prepared to teach young people.

I could hardly wait to get to the school so that I could connect with her. After I told Mrs. Love, the school secretary, that I’d like to talk to Mr. Holston, the principal and former band teacher at PHS when I was a student there, about a teaching position, I asked to see Miss Schimmel. She called her to the office, and when Miss Schimmel walked in, I could tell that she couldn’t quite place me. She recognized me as a former student, but I had to tell her my name, being careful to say that I no longer went by “Sandra” but by “Sandy,” just in case I got the job. I surely didn’t want my fellow teachers calling me by my despised name. More chitchat here with my teacher, more catching up with what I had been doing in the six years since I had been in her class . . . then I was told that I’d see Mr. Holston in just a few minutes. Miss Schimmel went back to her work, and I entered the principal’s office. He grilled me on my teaching experience and my desire to teach at Woodham. Near the end of our meeting, he asked what kind of teacher I was. “Why, a good one!” I answered immediately. He was probably looking for an answer that involved creativity and liberalism and something very literary, but I wasn’t into those things. I was a good teacher, and I knew it. He said the job was mine if I wanted it. Of course, I wanted it, but I had promised Mr. Mabry not to sign on the dotted line until I checked with him. I told Mr. Holston as much, and he agreed to hold the job until Monday. Fairly early on Monday morning, I called to accept, having known in my heart that that’s exactly what I would do since it’d be very unusual for someone to pop into Mr. Mabry’s office on Friday afternoon to resign.

And so began the longest teaching stint of my career. If it hadn’t been for Miss Virginia Schimmel, I probably wouldn’t have had even one day at Woodham. I learned after I reported for duty at the first of February 1969, as she left the office where we were talking, she went immediately around the corner to Mr. Holston’s office and said, “Hire the young lady who is about to walk through that door!” No questions asked. When Miss Schimmel spoke, it was like E.F. Hutton. Everyone listened, and most people did just what she asked of them. Bill Holston did that Friday afternoon.

My work at Woodham got off to a rocky start. You see, when I was hired, I took the place of the favorite teacher for sophomores. Peggy Doherty was everything that a sixteen-year-old would want in a teacher. She was smart, funny, entertaining (she sometimes sang in night clubs, so she also sang in her classroom), and demanding. I was smart and demanding but certainly not funny and entertaining. The kids, for the most part, resented me. They thought somehow that I had made her pregnant and that I had forced her to quit . . . to leave them. Almost every day in every class, someone would say, “That’s not the way Mrs. Doherty did it!” Finally, one day, I threw back to some unsuspecting student, “I wonder if any of you have noticed that I am NOT Mrs. Doherty. I don’t ever want to hear that again!” And that was the beginning of the classes’ belonging to Mrs. Young and not to just some substitute for Mrs. Doherty. Before this change, I had spent the majority of every Sunday afternoon crying because I didn’t want to go to school on Monday. Every once in a while, I’d break down during my free period at school. I’d cry on Miss Schimmel’s shoulder about how things were going in my four advanced sophomore classes, a dream schedule if thee ever was one. And then one day everything changed. Miss Schimmel said to me, “Sandy, if these advanced classes are too much for you, I can change your schedule and give you average and basic classes. There are plenty of teachers who would love to have your schedule!” Oops! That’s not what I wanted at all. My tears miraculously dried up, and my attitude changed. That’s about the time that I reminded my students that I wasn’t Mrs. Doherty. From that time onward, I was a different person as far as my teaching was concerned.

I could write a book about my 28 years at Woodham, and someday I might. For right now, though, I’ll just say that during my time there, I taught the following: average and advanced sophomores, one class of average juniors (it just about did me in!), Grammar and Composition, Advanced Grammar and Composition, Fiction, the Bible as Literature, College Prep English, Advanced Placement English, Dual Enrollment English, and Basic, Average, and Advanced Senior English. I also served as sponsor of the Junior Honor Society, Senior Class Sponsor, Project Graduation Sponsor, and co-creator and sponsor of Senior Day, the latter two activities being ones that I could write pages and pages about. Maybe some day, I’ll write lots more about my years at Woodham. I loved my job, but when I went on to my next vocation, I was happy to change. After Jay died, I lost a little enthusiasm for teaching. I must say, though, that I never have completely left the classroom. Right now, I have about 150 former students as Facebook friends, and I’m still looking over their shoulders and giving them advice when they ask for it . . . and sometimes when they don’t!

Jay died on July 2, 1992, and about two years after that, I decided that I’d seek, not necessarily greener pastures, but other pastures. For years I had gone to the Florida Council of Teachers of English Fall Conferences, and had gotten to know lots of the sales reps for publishers of textbooks. Frank and I thought that being a sales rep would be perfect for me when I retired from teaching. So . . . I began to solicit jobs. After talking seriously to people from both Holt and McDougal Littell, I finally landed a job with the latter and began a fairly long career with that company. I was a field sales rep for McDougal Littell in Florida for seven years (there’s fodder for another book during that time), then retired to move to New Mexico, where I’d stay in retirement for exactly 79 days before going right back to work for the same company. I was a per diem consultant for just about a year before taking the sales rep job in New Mexico for a year. After that year, I went back to per diem work, and now at the age of 73 am still working for the same company although because of buy-outs and/or mergers, it’s now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Holt McDougal. At this point in my sales and consulting career, I have the perfect job. I do most of my work (back to working per diem) online though occasionally I get a face-to-face job and even get to go back to my glorious Southland to work. I love my job, and I doubt that I will ever again announce retirement. I’ll just quit taking jobs, and everyone will wonder what ever happened to old Sandy. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!