Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bugs, Nightmares and Cookies

One of the reasons for a thin trickle of posts in this blog is the surprise I get when booting up Blogger. There's no end to the creative ways it tries to foil me. This morning I pass over tricky little attempts by Yahoo into perusing inane, comical, insightful articles about the supreme court nomination, foiling a bank robber with a water pistol or the best small town in America. Then, I click on my bookmark for Blogger, enter the user information and password, not waiting for the automatic bypass. It tells me there's a problem. I circle back to the beginning to re-enter important details. Before I can do that-Voila- I'm at the dashboard Seven Roads To Home. I'm not complaining. Time is of the essence. I don't have much. Summer is the busy season here.

I reject several possible titles and subjects for this post. Bugs, a constant in rural America, nightmares-I seem to have a wealth of subconscious muck and my coon-tail cat-Pucci. I've got to be careful about The Pooch. Soon Dawn will get jealous of the attention I slather on the little devil and I'll be living in a cardboard shack down by the river and the Pooch will be sleeping on my side of the bed.

Breakfast is a time for pampering. The rest of the day I'll be driving myself to exhaustion. Yesterday, I harvested onions. There was a threat of rain. Bend, stoop, groan and fill three wheelbarrows full of yellow and red onions. In the drying shelter we've set up over an old house foundation filled with sand, I clip previously harvested onions and make several trips to the new compost pile. The ground under the compost pile continues to smolder. There's an underground vein of peat moss-like material from the rotting maple tree. It's been burning since Sunday-three days ago. The older onions are placed on screens where they'll dry until the first frost. The newer ones just harvested are laid flat on old window screens until I have more time. I rake debris from the 10X80 onion plot and go back to the garage workshop for the tiller. The tiller is set to maximum depth and I make four passes at slow speed. The last three runs are at high speed to level off the sandy brown loam. Then I plant two varieties of carrots in a forty foot furrow. All the while I've been pleading with the clouds to wait until I finish before letting a torrent of rain loose. It drizzles. I thank the powers that be for the gift of time.

I walk out to the onion shelter at ten before seven for a red onion to go with the potatoes I dug previously. It rained during the night. At 11:30 thunder wakes me. I look at the clock and moan. I've only been asleep for a couple of hours. Getting up to close the north windows, I crawl back into bed wondering if thunder scares the Pooch. The red onions don't keep. I make a note to use them first. I pour Pomace oil into a fry pan, add the potatoes because they take the longest to cook, grab a fresh Serrano pepper from the frig, chop up the onion, walk back to the garden to hunt for a few errant stalks of cilantro and slice the last vine ripened, Canadian greenhouse grown tomato I paid $1.28 / pound. In two weeks I'll be awash in red fruit. The last addition to The Mess is chopped, smoked pork shoulder. With two slices of bread, Amish butter and this summer's strawberry jam I'm set for breakfast.

I have nothing to read. Dawn left for work;I finished the novel Made in the USA by Billie Letts and will return the book about an Amish girl to the library without reading it. I gave it to the Amish last week hoping that it'd be more than some romantic, slush fantasy. Titus says I should e-mail the author to see if she's ever met an Amish person. I have two choices from the downstairs bookshelves plus a notebook of my writings dated summer of 1996. The black cover has a drawing of a cat's face. Inside I title the writings Pushy. It's a naughty play on words. I want to be entertained. I do not want to examine my own writing. I reject Memory Babe-the book about Jack Kerouac. It's too ironic for me. Kerouac, the founding father of the beat generation dies in Florida from the classic alcoholic's disease- Chronic Esophageal Varices. After 26 blood transfusions, he bleeds to death because the lining of his throat is so damaged from alcohol. Aha! I find Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. One of my top ten favorites. As I savor my mocha coffee, I read the prologue-again. Thirty years as a teacher in NYC, teacher of the year in 1976 and three best selling novels written after retiring from teaching, he's my hero. It brings me to the focus of this post.

While blanching snow and sugar snap peas I listen to the radio. The Milwaukee Public Schools fare terribly on national testing norms for black children. While the white kids score at or around national norms, black kids are consistently lower on reading and math. The Wisconsin superintendent of Public Instruction says that scores for black children are higher than previous test scores. He's disappointed with current results. I consider writing about my first four year tour of duty in the inner city.

The school I begin as an intern-teacher is on the fringe of the downtown area. I've never set foot in a public school. I have a college degree in Political Science/Pre-Law and summer graduate courses in Education. In the fall I'm placed in the classroom. I'm in a national program called the Teacher Corps. I have a master-teacher next door. His advice, " don't smile until spring and hit 'em if they misbehave". This is the fall of 1970. Now, you understand why I smile when Frank McCourt tells about almost getting fired on his first day. A student throws a sandwich at him. McCourt is surprised, perhaps stunned. Then in a move that is pure creative genius, he retrieves the sandwich and eats in front of the class. Paraphrasing his remarks, he tells the student to tell mom it was the best sandwich he's ever eaten. A tense situation is resolved. Both kid and teacher are off the hook. The kid brings more sandwiches for McCourt.

I'll spare you stories of "dusting off children", of kids who tried to bite me, incompetent instructors, new teachers struck dumb with terror, muggings, robberies, murder, principals who hid in their office, principals who kept a bottle in their desk, a principal I helped remove from school who ignored a knifing threat on the bus, my own encounter with a student who put his hand inside his coat and threatened to blow me away while I calmly walk back toward the school building hoping that I wouldn't feel the bullet if I didn't see him pull the trigger. Now, you know why I have nightmares. Memorable, happy times are equally impressive. On Valentine's Day a female student hands me a Valentine with a heart on the front. Inside it says, hand written by her:

"You are so, I don't know what." I take it as a compliment. I'm beyond description. It's true. Ask my wife. There's only one like me. I wish my children would realize that.

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