Sunday, January 27, 2013

Complete Idiot Guide to Smoking . . .

I have become my mother. My boobs are sagging, my hair is thinning. My smile gets wider each day with my contentment in life, and there are stacks of books next to every comfortable chair in my home. When my sons drive away I call after them, “Be smart. Be safe. Make good choices.” UGH! I am my mother.

As much as that may vex me at times, there are many other times when I am very thankful. The fact that I do not smoke and have never smoked is because I am my mother. And contrary to what you may be thinking, it is not because she nagged me about the smart choice to not smoke. It is simply the result of some weird genetic phenomenon.
At the age of 14 I became curious about smoking. Since no one in my family smoked, cigarettes were not easily obtainable to test out my curiosity. However, I was a resourceful kid so I figured out that making my own cigarette would be easy.
I got a plastic straw and a box of matches and snuck off to the woods behind my house.  I snipped the straw in half making it just the right length and began practicing holding it between my fingers the way I had seen the cool kids hanging out at the smoking area at school do. Yes! Imagine that. We used to have “smoking areas” at school. Seems absolutely insane now but I must say that back then I was glad. Those smoking areas made it possible for me to use the bathroom during the school day without having to cut through a thick cloud of smoke to find the stall. Who cares about their lungs, my bladder was grateful that they were outside in the "smoking area".
Oh but I digress. Back to me in the woods with my plastic straw and matches. After practicing the proper finger holds, I crushed up some leaves and stuffed them into the straw. Aside from the red and blue stripes down the sides of my “cigarette” it looked perfect. Carefully I placed the cigarette between my lips, struck the match on the side of the box, cradled the flame and brought it up to the end of my cigarette.  As I lit the end I inhaled gently (thank god). The straw and the leaves lit up like a torch! My lungs filled with burning plastic, leaves and dirt. The smell was awful but nothing compared to the fiery sensation in my throat.
Immediately, I realized I was a COMPLETE IDIOT!  Suddenly I understood chemistry and the difference between paper rolled cigarettes and a plastic straw, and I was quite certain leaves did not equal tobacco. In utter and complete shame I coughed my way home and disappeared into the bathroom to guzzle copious amounts of water and throw up.
I never told a soul of my adventures with smoking. Never.  But thirty years later sitting in my parent’s living room with my siblings, we began to reveal to our parents, now in their seventies, the crazy, not safe, not smart choices we made as teenagers. In that moment of family closeness and laughter I revealed my shameful episode in the woods with a plastic straw and a match. Everyone laughed, but my mother could not stop laughing. She laughed and laughed until she was choking uncontrollably.
When she finally stopped laughing and caught her breath, she revealed her teenage smoking story which was exactly like mine, only with a parifin coated paper straw (plastic unavailable in the 40’s). She had not told a soul ever – not in 60 years. She could not believe her daughter had done the very same thing, at the same age.
Neither one of us smoke. Neither one of us was smart, safe or prone to good choices. But today I am ever so grateful that it is books stacked next to each comfortable chair and not an ash tray. I am my mother and that makes me smile!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dad's Polar Bear

If you read last week’s story you know that staying in oneplace was not my specialty. As a child I had the tendency to wander off where my imagination and little feet would take me. Being the fourth of five children it was easy to wander off unnoticed. Or at least it would have been easy except for my nosey neighbor Mrs. Gilman.

She would sit on her front porch watching all the happenings in the neighborhood. Frequently she would call my mother, “Mrs. Johnson, do you know where Marty is?” My mother would look out the back window into the yard where she had left me and then have to admit to Mrs. Gilman that she actually did not know where I was.  “Well she’s out in the street playing in mud puddles. Do you know how dangerous that it. She’s just a little girl. It’s just not safe blah blah blah . . .”

Finally mom grew tired of Mrs. Gilman and informed my dad that on Saturday mornings I was his responsibility. Dad rose to the challengeand engaged me in a wonderful building job in the back yard. We went to the lumber store and spent several Saturdays building in the back yard. I worked with dad banging nails and painting. I didn’t know what we were building until it was finished and my dad placed many of my toys inside and closed the gate leaving me inside. It was a pen meant to contain me! Oh NO, that was not happening; I climbed out and chased my dad back into the house.

I grabbed his hand and said, “What are we going to do next?” He looked down at me, then back outside at the pen and answered, “I guess we’ll take it down now.”  We did.

And that is how it came to pass that I spent Saturday mornings at the Forest Park Zoo. We would get up early, make pancakes for everyone and then head out to the zoo. We’d walk down Magnolia Terrace, across the meadow, down the wooded path and up to the front gate.

We visited the lions, tigers, giraffes, the reptiles and the bird house. But best of all, we ended up at the Polar Bear’s cage. My dad would stare at that bear pacing back and forth, back and forth until finally the bear would stop pacing and stare back at my father. I would stand quietly next to my dad watching him watch the bear and the bear watching him. It seemed to me they could stare at each other for hours.

And that was what we did every Saturday for weeks and months and years. One day as we walked home I asked my dad what the bear said to him. He walked on for awhile and then finally stopped at the end of our drive way and said, “Out. The bear says ‘Out.’ “  I could certainly relate to that. Out was my favorite word.

One Saturday morning Dad and I headed out to the zoo as usual. We walked down Magnolia Terrace, across the meadow, down the path through the woods and into the zoo.  We made our usual rounds and arrived at the Polar Bear cage. It was empty.

My dad stared into the empty cage for a long time. I stared at my dad and then stared into the cage where nothing was staring back. After what seemed like an eternity, the zoo keeper came over to my dad and said, “Mr. Johnson, I am very sorry to tell you this but a teenage boy tried to break into the bear cage this week.” He pointed up to the corner of the cage that had been cut open. He explained to my dad that the bear had mauled the boy’s leg. He assured us that with the exception of many stitches, the boy was fine and would heal with no problems. He then said to my dad, “I’m very sorry to tell you that we had to shoot the bear.”

My dad did not say a word. He just continued to stare into the empty cage. He stared and nothing stared back. I stared at my dad staring into that cage and saw nothing staring back at him. Dad remained silent and frozen in that spot. I stayed frozen next to him until he finally crabbed my hand and whispered, “Let’s go home, Marty.”

We walked through the zoo, up the path through the woods, across the meadow and down Magnolia Terrace. We were almost to the end of the drive way when my dad stopped, shook his head and said, “They should have shot the kid.”




Sunday, January 13, 2013

Keep Your Pants On!

Lessons that stick are on my mind these days as I think about teachers from my past. I remember Miss Bobbi. She was my preschool teacher at the Living, Loving, and Learning Center. Her wisdom got me through my teens and her words still echo in my mind even now as I move toward my 50’s.

Miss Bobbie was about four feet tall with a smile that went from ear to ear and lit her eyes in a soft beautiful glow. Miss Bobbi loved me and I loved her. She just didn’t love that I was in her classroom.
I wasn’t a bad kid, just a “toad in a hot shovel” kind of kid. Accustomed to wide open spaces and places to climb, sitting still in a classroom was not my thing.  My back yard was an outdoor adventure ropes course learning lab. In our house we learned by doing and figuring out answers on our own through trial and error. By the time I entered pre-school I was already a strong willed, curious, high spirited independent little girl. Not exactly a teachers dream.
Miss Bobbie was up for the challenge and figured out ways to manage my energy, enthusiasm and curiosity. She would walk around the classroom with her head tilted toward the heavens whispering to herself, “God is My Rock . . . God is My Rock . . .” She would then call out to me, “Marty get right here in my pocket, stay close, you know I love you girl.”
I would scurry over to her and stay close until something or someone distracted me and then I’d be off again. Miss Bobbie would look to the heavens and continue her mantra, “God is My Rock . . . God is My Rock” and then shift her focus to call out to me, “Marty get right here in my pocket, stay close, you know I love you girl.”
Miss Bobbie was able to take a break from me each day at recess when we would walk out the back door of the classroom to the little preschool playground. She had seen the ropes course in my back yard and knew I could climb the 25’ cargo net with ease. She knew the little playground equipment would do nothing to drain my energy so each day she allowed me to go to the big kid’s playground.
Off I’d go skipping, running and dancing my way down a short path to play with the big kids on the big swings, see-saw and monkey bars. One day on my way down the path a beautiful rock appeared on the ground looking lonely and out of place. I picked it up in my little hand and stuffed it into my pocket. It was heavy and tugged at my shorts.
I arrived at the playground to discover that the 3rd and 4th grade boys were having a contest to see who could cross the monkey bars the fastest. Beating them would be easy and I quickly told them so. The race was on. I grabbed hold of those bars and began swinging myself from one rung to the next. I was winning the race and was about half way across the bars when the weight of that rock in my pocket brought my shorts right down to the ground.
Suddenly I was suspended in midair no longer moving forward. The playground quickly turned silent. No one moved. There was simply a collective gasp that sucked all the oxygen out of the air for a full square mile. It seemed that time itself stood still.
Then I saw Miss Bobbie out of the corner of my eye as I hung there in my princess panties. She was running down the path toward me moving faster than I had ever seen her move in my life. She gathered me in her arms, swooped down to pick up my shorts and ran with me still in her arms back into the classroom.
When we arrived in the class she put me down and dropped my shorts on the floor. They landed with a loud THUD. She picked up my shorts, newly focused on their weight and the huge bulge in the pocket she said, “What is in your pocket?”
I responded quickly, “God. I love him. I’ll keep him real close in my pocket.”
Miss Bobbie laughed and her entire beautiful roundness laughed with her. She looked at me and said, “Good idea. Keep God close and love him but when you play with the big boys . . .  Keep your pants on!”
Miss Bobbie’s wise words stuck with me and got me safely through my teen years (almost*). Now that I am a single “woman of a certain age” her words have come back to me. Old men are really just big boys you know. Some lessons just stick. God is my rock . . . and I’ll be sure to keep my pants on.

* - click and listen to "Skinny Dipping, Cops & Clergy"

Tune in next week for: "Polar Bear & Life in a Zoo"

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Doodling Does Pay!

The New Year has most of us looking forward and thinking about what we want in the New Year but this week I found myself thinking back to the lessons I’ve learned that have stuck with me through all my years.

Although I’ve had some great teachers in my life, I think many would be surprised by what I actually learned from them. My second grade teacher at Magnolia School, Mrs. West (first name “Wicked Witch of the”), tried to teach me that doodling doesn’t pay.  Mrs. West expected her students to sit up straight perfectly still  in their desks and follow her directions without discussion. I was good at none of those things. During her incredibly boring classes I would doodle all over the edges of my worksheets which she would then grab from me, crumple up and throw in the trash stating fiercely, “doodling doesn’t pay!”

She was wrong.

 Mr. Barardino, my tenth grade history teacher at Georgetown High loved to listen to himself talk and we were supposed to take copious notes during his lectures.  Although he was somewhat handsome and fairly entertaining, I survived the daily note taking torture by doodling in four color ink with my Bic Pen all over the edges of my notes. Page after page, day after day . . . notes, doodle . . . notes, doodle . . . notes, doodle – you get the picture. At the end of the year my notebook was two inches thick and full of red, black, green and blue doodles neatly scribbled around all four margins of every page. I must admit that while I can picture the doodles clearly in my mind, I remember nothing from tenth grade history.

The final day of that 10th grade year Mr. Berardino called me to his desk and demanded that I bring my notebook to him.  He then reached into his wallet and pulled out a twenty dollar bill and asked if he could buy my notebook. See, doodling does pay!

Thirty years later I can say that I really haven’t changed much.  I can’t sit still and I’m not very good at following directions and I now doodle out loud rather than around the edges of my notebook. My stories are simply the doodles of my mind put out there for your entertainment. Enjoy!   . . . (if you want to pay for more entertainment click and purchase a CD J)

And thanks Mr. Berardino, where ever you are, for teaching me that the doodles of my mind have value.

Tune in next week for, “Keep Your Pants On” - lessons from pre-school