I am in my fourth year of substitute teaching here in Alabama and I’ve come to look at it as more than just a job. When I was a full-time teacher, I had so much on my plate and so much on my mind that many days I was too exhausted to think much past the next set of papers I had to grade. Now I’m looking at things from a little different perspective.
Some days I just sit and don’t do much more than take roll and pass out an assignment. Other days might be jammed packed with instruction and discipline. The variety is usually enjoyable. I have learned to be an observer and I try to make connections with students when I can.
From time to time I’ll be sharing my thoughts, observances, and tidbits from the classroom.
“A circle was ugly without you.” -from Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
Being on the outside of a circle, looking in, is a lonely place to be. I’ve felt that way over the years, but fortunately not too often. It hurts, no matter how old you are. But, the middle school years are the hardest. If you aren’t in a circle, your outsideness really shows.
One day I saw a pretty young girl sitting all alone in a room full of kids who were talking to each other and laughing while they sat together. I didn’t know her or her story, but I wondered. Did she choose to sit alone? Did she just not have a friend in this particular class, but when the bell rang would she meet up with her BFF as she headed for her next class? I sure hoped so. That’s what I wished for. I wish everyone had a BFF waiting somewhere for them. A person who was interested, a person who cared. But, I know that isn’t always the case. So, all the more reason to be kind. And to remember how ugly that circle can be when you are on the outside.
“Childhood’s learning is made of moments. It isn’t steady. It’s a pulse.”
~ Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
I can remember random moments from childhood and now wonder, were they learning moments?
I remember when I was five being frightened of the man next door, the father of an older girl I played with, who pushed his wife down as she was ironing. She already had a cast on her leg. He knelt down to try to comfort me, to tell me it was okay. I knew not to trust him.
When my older brother and I got in trouble and were banished to our separate bedrooms, we got our little brother to be a messenger, passing notes between us. These notes consisted of stick figures doing silly things. I learned my brothers would be my friends for life, though not without a few rough patches.
Fast forward to fourth grade and the learning didn’t feel like a pulse. Long division felt like a long, slow drip-drip-drip in a bucket. A bucket with a hole in it; for just when I thought I was finished with a problem, I’d discover my numbers weren’t lined up properly and I would have to start all over again. Recently I think some of my students have fely this as they have become friends with the seam-ripper in thier efforts to make pillowcases and aprons.
Many of my learning moments came through books. The horrors of the Holocaust came through the eyes and words of Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom; the horrors of child abuse from A Child Called It and Sybil. But before these books, there was Little Women, where I first got the idea that I’d like to write. I wanted to be Jo. That desire has waxed and waned over the years, as motherhood and making ends meet took precedence. I know many have been able to work, mother, and write concurrently, and I did to some extent, in pulses like my childhood learning.
But now the writing flame has been fanned and I need it more than ever. I don’t want it to go out.
“How many of us, the South’s writers-to-be of my generation, were blessed in one way or another, if not blessed alike, in not having gone deprived of the King James Version of the Bible. Its cadence entered into our ears and our memories for good. The evidence, or the ghost of it, lingers in all our books. ‘In the beginning was the Word’. “ ~ Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
While her understanding of John 1:1 is flawed, I find it interesting and sad that this cadence is no longer a part of the lives of children in our country. According to the Shelby Baptist Association, Shelby County is the most unchurched county in Alabama. David Olsen, in his book The American Church in Crisis , states that only 16.4 percent of the population in Shelby County attends church on a regular basis.
Though I grew up in church and became a Christian at an early age, I am ashamed at how sorely lacking I am in having memorized scripture. Or in having memorized much of anything. I have snatches of verses in my heart and in my head, but I can’t tell you the reference for the majority of them. Growing up in public schools for the most part, I didn’t memorize scripture until seventh grade when, at a Christian school, we were required to recite chapters. Fortunately we were given numerous chances, reciting in chunks, until we got through the entire passage. Sadly, I was always one of the last to complete the requirement. Years later, after listening to the Guess Who’s song, Hang On To Your Life, numerous times throughout my teens, I read Psalms 22:13-15 as an adult and made the connection between the words spoken in the song and the verse in the Bible:
They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
This is all just food for thought – I don’t really have a conclusion.
I love opening up a book and finding a surprise. I found three in the past two days. Yesterday, I found the sticker seen above. I googled it, and came up with three things
A Greek vehicle manufacturer
A German beer
The Pakistani Elvis
I think it is really LOVE, scrambled.
So, today I found two more unexpected things. First, a sad one, a card from a funeral.
Using my googling/detective skills, I found the memorial for this man on Find a Grave and posted the picture there. I’d like to think one of his friends left the card in my book. I got the book in either Florida or Alabama, I don’t remember, but Mr. Canavan was buried in Massachusetts.
My most exciting find was an autograph I’d completely overlooked. My copy of The Bride of Innisfallen by Eudora Welty is actually SIGNED!! It’s inscribed to a Mrs. George Barrett. There is a copy online that is inscribed to someone and signed and it’s selling for $120. Think I’ll keep the book to myself a while; just knowing she signed it makes me feel connected to her.
A few years ago I found a baptismal certificate and photograph in a book. Using those skills of mine, I’m pretty sure I found the owner’s brother on facebook, but he never responded to me. I don’t think he was very active online. Now, however, I may pursue it once more. I’d love to be able to return the items.
There is a book and blog called Forgotten Bookmarks that is about just these type of finds. I hope to get a copy of the book soon. In the meanwhile, I think it would be fun to write stories about the items I find. If I do, I’ll post some here.
Looking back on 2016, I was surprised at the number of biographical books I’d read. Here is my list with a brief review of each.
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
Written after his wife died, I would recommend this to anyone grieving. Lewis is brutally honest with his feelings and gives a true window into the soul of someone who loved deeply.
The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle
This is the third out of four of her Crosswick Journals. It takes the reader through the liturgical year, addressing questions of faith and facing old age. Her writing style is lovely. Those of you who read A Wrinkle in Time as a kid must read this series, also.
The Confessions of St. Augustine
Parts were helpful, but some parts were difficult to comprehend. I had to read it very slowly. I enjoyed the biographical parts the best.
More Than Petticoats – Remarkable Georgia Women by Sara Martin
These stories were impressive, and one was of particular interest to me. That was the chapter on Leila Denmark. She is my cousin’s aunt (on her father’s side) and an exceptional woman. She was a pediatrician until the age of 103, and she lived to be 114.
One Writer’s Beginnings – Eudora Welty.
In this autobiography, Mississippi native Welty shares the details of her childhood and influences on her writing.
Dispatches From Pluto : Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant
British-born Grant writes about the south in such a charming way. I really loved his narrative of life in the delta as seen by an outsider.
There is a lot of variety in these selections. Written from 400-2015, there is something here for everyone.
“I learned much later – after he was dead, in fact, the time when we so often learn fundamental things about our parents…” – from One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty
Why is it it takes so long sometimes for us to understand each other? Why didn’t I understand as a teenager that everything Dad threatened was not actually what he would do? I didn’t appreciate what a challenging task he faced in trying to parent when he barely remembered his own father. I didn’t appreciate how difficult it must have been to be a good father when he’d been brought up without one. It must have been especially hard to know what to do with me, his only girl. I can’t remember him saying “I love you,” until after I started college.
I didn’t realize how much he wanted me to succeed. He supported my desire to go to college and I wanted to follow in his footsteps, so I majored in marketing. He didn’t say a lot when I got engaged after two years, and got married instead of returning to school. Except for right before he walked me down the aisle. My hand was in the crook of his arm when he turned to me and asked, “Are you sure?”
He always seemed to struggle with showing his concern. Sometimes he was too hard on me. Sometimes, because he worried, he didn’t say anything at all. He didn’t show excitement when I got pregnant, but then he would warm up to the idea over time, or maybe he became resigned to the fact that there was nothing he could do about it. By the third pregnancy I decided I wouldn’t care what he thought, and by the fourth I think he realized we were going to be okay. But, no matter what, he was there or on his way to the hospital with each birth. He was happy to be a grandpa.
I missed him so much when, after having four kids, I finally walked across the stage to receive my degree in Elementary Education. I wish my children had been able to spend more time with him; to grow into the special nickname he had for each one of them. My oldest was 15 when Dad died. He wasn’t there for any graduations, or the wedding of that oldest, or the birth of his two great grandchildren.
I tell my husband and my son “Happy Father’s Day” , but I wish I could still say it to Dad.
In talking about a music box at her grandparents’ house, Eudora Welty compares the sound to spoons in such a way that I could fully sense what she meant.
“….rather as if the spoons in the spoon holder started a quiet fretting among themselves.” ~ from One Writer’s Beginnings
This is a fantastic combination of simile and personification. After (as an adult) I read The Indian in the Cupboard, I thought often about things in cabinets as having a personality. Maybe I should not admit to this childish working of my mind. Maybe I should funnel this imagination into a picture book.