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Lake Nipissing

I have decided to go to Lake Nipissing, Northern Ontario, Canada this August, a farewell bow to my former life. I know little about this place. A Frenchman, Etienne Brule visited it in 1611; he was an associate of Champlain. I am on his trail and the trail of all those people who jumped off cliffs to discover new worlds. I am ready to do that. I am so ready.


This post is dedicated to my mother who taught in California from 1929 to 1966. I remember her bringing home research projects done by her elementary students. She spread them out on the dining room table and I watched her work through them as she talked to me about each one.

In front of the whole class, my algebra teacher in 9th grade said that I was the student with the lowest scores and yet, she added that I had tried harder than anyone else. It was one of those red-face moments for me.

She was approachable, my algebra teacher. I would visit her to get help. No matter how much she wanted me to do well and she worked with me, I didn’t get it until I took Algebra twenty years later. I got As then. My brain had matured and so had I.

I got the low marks in 9th grade; I was responsible for them. Not my teacher!

I read the words “lifelong learning, ” “learning outcomes,” “powerful predictor,” “effective teaching,” over and over again in commentaries and discussions on education and students and teachers.

What are we all doing?

We have at best 100 years, any of us, in this most magnificent place.

I am glad my algebra teacher didn’t get held responsible for my C in her class. I remember her until this day yet I don’t remember her name. I remember her kindness and caring. That is what it is all about: kindness, understanding, helpfulness, and most important love.

I don’t see those words thrown around in educational conversations. Hard to measure ‘em isn’t it?

One Small Change

My great grand nephew needs help in school. My best friend’s granddaughter needs help in school.

 My grand nephew lives in Berkeley, California. My friend’s granddaughter lives in Atlanta. I live overseas and work at an international school. I am retiring.

 My son, who now works in Ohio attended the school where I work. At the time, it was a miracle because class size was about 15 across the grades. He would have needed help too, if the class size had been larger; but he made it through, studied oboe, got fantastic scholarships, and went back to the United States for college. In first grade, he had ten in his class. First grade is important.

 Class size matters. My friend’s granddaughter is in a school, in a fancy neighborhood with 25 to the class. It’s fine if you aren’t dealing with dyslexia. The little girl, second grader, has all the social skills you would ever want but she has difficulty reading.

 My grand nephew will succeed. His grandma has always been a fighter and for him she will fight until the battle is won and he has an aide in his class. Grandma is retired. She has the time , the inclination and the lawyer. Bless her.

 I am retiring. Class size matters. It matters more than anything. Ask a teacher. For all those children who need help in school, we can help them. Easy. Don’t worry about curriculum; don’t worry about textbooks; don’t worry about technology; don’t even worry about aides if the class size is small enough.

 My great grand nephew needs help in school. My best friend’s granddaughter needs help in school. How many more? Just how many would be affected by a simple change in the amount of children in every class. It costs money. So does Iraq. Which is more important?

The Venetian Bridge

The stones and arches cross an ancient river and lie hidden now behind a junked car and a patch of bamboo. The Trimethos River has changed course and a new bridge spans it on the main road out of town. The echoes of Count Gibelet’s horses, his soldiers, the burdened donkeys carrying loads of carobs and swinging leather pouches of wine, the monks from Constantinople, the Russian pilgrims off ships from Syria, the invaders with their broad swords, a carriage full of women, its window flaps down pulled by white horses, they have all passed over where I now kneel knee deep in mayweed and scarlet pimpernel. When we asked the shopkeeper at the church store up the road where we could find the bridge, he told us just down the road apiece. “We should really raise the money to fix it up,” he added.  It wasn’t hard to find. We could see the ancient stonewalls follow the waterway from the new bridge to a patch of bamboo, a rusted Morris Minor and farther down shaded by giant fennel and stately juniper the hint of arches. We drove to the far side of the river, climbed a wall, followed it, and stood on the pebbled road. The water rushed beside us on its way to the sea and the archway stood dry. The early spring sun cast a spell as we joined the tallies and lists of those who over the centuries have crossed the Venetian bridge near the town with the church that angels built, on an island in the midst of the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Just in Case

I picked romaine lettuce in the rooftop garden beds off the library and then went home. The sun is out later in the afternoons, the cool air comes down from snowy Mt. Olympus, and the sky is cobalt with a glimmer. Jars of humus are in all the shops since Green Monday and the Lenten season begins next week. I have mushrooms steaming in red wine; green beans cooling for the salad; and a bottle of French uncorked. Life brims over, boils over on the burner. I keep my eyes wide open just in case.

The Master’s Brush

I handle books on a daily basis. I talk about them and I am told about them. I order them. I try to fill the library shelves with variety, keep clean copies of classics, and order bestsellers. What are books but big ideas. I’m not interested in being entertained but some readers seek it.

I found Bleak House on the shelf. I had ordered it as a classic from a list I use to help with my selections. Dickens’s best it had said. When it arrived several years ago, I shook my head and smiled thinking I had made a mistake. No one in my library would read this enormous book, no matter how entertaining or instructive.

But I am.

A few days ago, I was looking for descriptions of the slums in Victorian England, so I took the book home and began reading. If my iPad hadn’t been stolen, I would download it. The book is a trial for me to hold, one thousand pages and tiny print.

As a reader, I am mystified by it and fog filled London. Dickens chastises his world. He wanted me to feel that and I do even though his world is gone. Or is it? He cared as a writer about what I would think. It’s grand to converse with a genius.

When I am done, I will put the book back. The next someone who asks my opinion about a good book, I will mention Dickens. What a storyteller! I am over bestseller lists right now and on the trail of those whose names we know so well but have forgotten.

My last brush with this was Walt Whitman.

“They had time to think,” the English teacher said.

I can’t dismiss his passing comment.

A Better Place…

Someone asked me, “Where are our children going?” and I answered, “ I am not sure. I see them jump, laugh, hit; I see them hug. They are going where we have all gone before and after.”

 Then someone said, “We’ll make a better place.”

 “Yes,” I said.

 “You mean like those children over there, sitting still, each alone?”

 “Sure,” he said.

 “For certain,” she said.

 I left.

 I closed my eyes. I rubbed them. I walked for a time and then a time again.

 “Dare I look?” I asked.

 I took off my cap, looked and cried.

 I dried my eyes and returned to my bookcase and took down Leaves of Grass and read it over and over again.

 In several years, I gave it to my granddaughter.

 I said, “ this is your school, absorb.”

 She laughed and threw it to the wind and the leaves reached heaven.

 I said, “throw it to the wind and watch it return on angels’ wings.”

 She smiled and it did in seconds with open pages for open hearts.

 Someone asked me, “Where are our children going?” and I answered, “ I am sure. I see them jump, laugh, hit; I see them hug. They are going where we have all gone before and after.”

For John

Daddy rested in his chair reading the Chronicle, he half-asleep, his feet propped up on a footstool and his glasses perched on that big nose. I watched him from the balcony and prepared for my attack. Hanging onto the banister, I lowered myself into the living room step by step. I crossed the room watching to see if he noticed me.  In the end, with my head squeezed against the arm of the chair, I peeled back the paper, and he saw me. Next, in his lap, my arms around his neck, I kissed the tip of his nose. His eyes, circled by ridges of skin, looked into mine and I could not hold my question back any longer, Daddy will you take me tomorrow? Please, please, and he answered with a slight smile. He never uttered a word. I knew I was going; he’d be mine for the day.

Early next morning, I crawled into the front seat of the Pontiac while Daddy poured hot water on the icy windshield. The car was running; the heater was on. In no time we travelled down a long stretch of darkened highway. Bored and restless, I prodded him with chatter. Daddy, how far is it going to be? When will we get there? Will it still be cold? Will there still be snow? He had an answer for each question. I loved his belly and the deep lines on his face for he was my daddy.

The car moved up the mountain on a spiraling road to the top where snow glistened in the early morning light. Daddy parked the car at the summit. Within seconds I scooped up the snow and I tasted it. Daddy opened the trunk; he was so smart to have brought cardboard boxes. We broke them down and laid them out flat. He showed me how to slide down the slopes head first on a box. I squealed, giggled, and shot the rapids while climbing back up the hill over and over again. Daddy did too but only once. He spent the rest of the morning cheering me on. He must have gotten hungry, or maybe he got tired watching because soon enough he said it was time to go. Oh, Daddy, no. Just one more time, please. So he let me go down the slopes just one more time: but that was it. We packed up the cardboard and drove back down the mountain.

We stopped at Foster’s Old Fashioned Freeze for a hamburger. I wiggled around the table while Daddy drank his coffee and rested. Then I watched as he played a game with straw wrappers. He put ice water on them and they turned into snakes and moved. Daddy could do lots of things. He could put a penny in one ear and make it come out the other. I saw it. No one else I knew could do that. He could wiggle his ears. He could oil and mold a baseball mitt better than anyone. He was the one who showed me how to hit the bull’s eye by throwing a dart through his legs backwards. I learned my fastball ping pong serve from him. When he put up the hoop for us girls, I never attempted to be as good a basketball player as he was. He’d been a pro.

We finished our burgers amidst games and laughter and piled back into the car. He laid me down on the front seat and covered me with a blanket. Somewhere between the diner and our little town I fell asleep and Daddy took me home.

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