Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thank You, Mr. Bell

Once again, we have a wonderful story by a guest writer form my local class in Portland.  You may recognize her from some previous blog posts. Lee adds wonderful humor in her writing and definitely has had some great experiences!  I hope you enjoy this piece.


Thank You, Mr. Bell

            Jerry Seinfeld was ranting about some of the things in everyday life that perplexed him. It’s funny how he makes you think of things that annoy but can make you laugh. It reminded me of some of my life’s funniest moments that have happened on the telephone. Some sad and tragic news has also come along those wires; however, where would we be without it?
            Remember the days of going to the neighbors to use the telephone because it was the only one in the neighborhood? And now I have three in my four room apartment, and, of course, I can never find one when it is ringing. I often wonder if Mr. Bell knows what he started those many years ago.
            It took my mother a while to believe that the phone didn’t ring only in times of disaster. The telephone brought a call to inform my mother of the death of her younger brother. It was a freak accident while he was driving from Pennsylvania to California. Then there was the call from the coast guard to inform us my father and uncle had been rescued at sea. We knew they were late coming home from their fishing trip, but we didn't know they were adrift at sea. However, the telephone could be a very handy thing for my mother. She could call my friends on the phone and tell me it was time to come home.
            As I reached my teenage years I discovered the art of talking endlessly and not saying anything to my friends who did the same. The sole purpose being to irritate my parents, and this I learned when I had teenagers.

            In my later years I found the phone a nuisance but necessary in my business as an interior designer.  I spent most of my days on the phone with clients and vendors. One day a salesperson appeared at my office begging five minutes of my time. “I have the perfect solution for people on the go, you will love this.” was his opening line. He opened his brief case and pulled out a telephone that was at least a foot long and big enough that my hand could barely fit around. It weighed at least two pounds.
“This is a car phone. It will allow you to keep in touch with your office whenever you are on the road. You can conduct business from your car. It’s fantastic!”
            “You’re joking,” I replied. “The only time during the day that I have any peace and quiet and time to think creatively is when I am in my car. Thanks but no thanks!” The look on his face was non-believing. “
“How could I not want the latest thing? Any body who is anybody will have one!”
“I guess I am nobody,” was my reply.
Two day’s later I entered a client’s home with a key. She was at work in the Portland Mayor’s office and had called to say she would not turn on the alarm if I wanted to go in and measure the windows. Of course she forgot and turned on her alarm. It was so loud that it was rattling the windows and hurt my ears. I ran to the neighbors on both sides of the house and across the street, but no one was home. I waited in my car for the police to come, and about twenty of the longest minutes of my life later, a patrol car pulled up. “Should I arrest you for breaking and entering or noise pollution?” he asked with a grin.      
He went in the house, turned off the alarm and explained that he got the code from the alarm company. He told me to finish my business and lock the door on the way out. He also told me that he knew my client well and had responded several times to her alarm. He called her at work, and her office informed him that she was chairing a committee meeting on the escalation of home burglaries in the Portland area. We had a good laugh and then he said, “Too bad you don’t have one of those new car phones, you could have called the police”.

            One night after a dinner out with friends, I came home about 10:00 and since it was too early for bed, I settled on the couch to catch some television. The phone rang and when I answered a quavering voice said, “I would like to make a pledge.” 
            I told her she had the wrong number and we both hung up. I turned to OPB, and sure enough it was pledge week. My phone number was 245-2345. The pledge number was 245-2346, and I usually got a call or two during pledge week. About 10 minutes later the phone rang again. It was the same quivering voice wanting to make a pledge. Again I told her she had the wrong number and this time she apologized profusely, but before hanging up I explained that she wanted a six instead of a five.
            A few minutes later the phone rang again. This time I had pen and paper ready, and I took her pledge information. Then she told me the story of how she had been calling the wrong number and a very nice lady answered and gave her the right number. After we hung up I called in her pledge and mine, and I have been an OPB member ever since.

            It was summer and the weather had been great. I told my crew that I wouldn’t be in the office before 10:00 the next morning because I had client appointment that night and I fully intended to sleep in. My phone rang at 7:30. I answered, “Do you know what time it is?”
            A male voice responded, “Yes gorgeous, I know what time it is, and I know how you look just waking up, and I was wondering why I wasn’t there? But I’m calling to see if you would like to go on a picnic today. The day is beautiful, and I don’t have to be in the office today, so what do you say?”
            By this time I was awake and wondering who on earth this was. I would hate to think I have slept with someone and not recognized his voice…that was just not my style. When I asked who is inviting me to a picnic? He responded, “Come on Sally, don’t kid. You know who this is.  We had dinner last week and a great night and morning in bed.” Evidently Sally had more style than I did, and now I was intrigued.
            “Where did we have dinner?”
            “Zeffiro. Come on, you remember.”
            Wow, I thought, that was the newest restaurant in town and very expensive so Sally did have more style. “Listen to me, we did not have dinner and my name isn’t Sally. You obviously have a wrong number at 7:30 in the morning, and I am not happy.”
            “Are you sure this is not Sally? Is your number 245-2345?”
When I replied, “It seems Sally gave you a wrong number.”
I expected some protests that she wouldn’t do such a thing but without missing a beat he said, “Well, she wasn’t that good in bed anyway. You sound really sexy, would you like to go on a picnic?”
“Well, I would. You sound sexy, too, and I think we could have great fun. I will be honest with you, I have a weight problem, but I am down to 350.” The phone went dead.
Now that I was wide-awake I got ready for work and went to my office. When they asked why I came in so early I told them about my phone call. They all laughed and Helen said, “Lee go write that down and put it in your book.”
I used to say when something crazy happened, “One day I am going to write a book!”

I had been retired for one week and was already bored. My son’s friend was working with a company that did political polling and had just been promoted. One day she called and pleaded for me to help out as they had a rush poll to do and had several people out sick…and two had quit.
I went to the office took a short test, and they hired me. What an experience that was!
I was amazed at the messages people left on their answering machines and the old people who loved answering polls just to have someone to talk to. It was also a confirmation of my opinion that a large percentage of the American people should not be allowed to vote due to stupidity. The call that made me quit was truly funny.
A young man of twenty-eight from Hood River didn’t know the president’s name let alone his congressman or senators. He answered every question with a question. I was thinking, “how does he live, he’s as dumb as a fence post”. At the end of the poll we were supposed to ask, “Do you have any questions?” 
When he answered yeah, I thought maybe he’d taken an interest in his government. Then he asked, “Do you date?”
Flabbergasted, I answered, “Yes, yes I do but I live in San Francisco.”
“Oh damn” was his response and hung up.
The auditor who listened in on phone calls came over to my desk laughing and said, “I could not believe how dumb that guy was but you were great keeping your cool. You deserve a raise”
I said, “Thank you very much but this will be my last week. My frustration factor is full.”

Yes, Mr. Bell you gave the world a great invention, but gone are the days of the polite phone operator; she has been replaced by the frustrating voice mail. Gone is the rotary dial and the ability to connect with people.
Instead we have phones that can answer any question that you ask, take pictures of things that should not be photographed. And now you don’t even have to talk on a phone; you can type out your message in shorthand. But mostly today’s phones keep humans from connecting to humans. I thought it was just desserts when the Japanese government said that the number one accident for teenagers was walking into objects while texting. If I never hear the words selfie and apps again, it will be too soon.
I am hoping that soon texting will be limited to a certain area like smoking. I have banned phones at my dinner table, and if someone has to answer their cell phone they can go into another room. Phones should not be allowed in public places as there are things I have overheard that could get people arrested and things that make me think less of my fellow man. But the lingering question I have Mr. Bell is why does my phone mostly ring when I am in the bathroom?
                                                                                                          Lee V. 
                                                                                                          12 Nov 2014


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Italian Christmas

BUON NATALE

   About the time that I realized that it was impossible for the big fat man in the red suit to slide down a chimney, I knew what Christmas was all about. It was the Christmas Eve gatherings in the Italian tradition: Aunts, uncles, cousins, special food, things that we looked forward to all year long. The days of preparation, and when old enough, I got to help. Grandpa Biase had a small room that he used as a pantry, with all his pots and pans and shelves from ceiling to floor and by Christmas Eve it was filled with Italian Cheesecake, an assortment of cookies that would make the local bakery look wanting.

   For Catholics, it was a fast day, no meat just fish, several kinds and pasta of course. The dough balls were my favorite. Little balls of light, fluffy dough with an anchovy in the middle was for before dinner and the ones with white raisins and warm honey mixed with whiskey drizzled over the top, were served after dinner with the other desserts. We had pizzelles, biscotti, little turnovers filled with dates and raisins and various Italian candies. My brother and I loved the nougat and almond that came in little boxes with beautiful pictures on them. We would collect and save them to build things.

   After dinner, while the woman cleaned up, the men would usually start a card game and they would play until it was time for church. It was a struggle to stay awake but I loved midnight mass, as there was music and everyone was in a good mood and it was all very festive.

   We usually took turns, one year with the Seraphines, the next with the Palianis. I loved them both, but my mother's family, the Palianis were known for their volatility. So it was always interesting. The penny ante card games were a lot louder than the Seraphines. Grandpa Paliani played Santa Claus and with his mustache and round belly he was very believable but the Italian cheroot that he always had in the right side of his mouth gave him away.

   The first Christmas in our new home in Baden was memorable because my brother and I looked in the cubbyhole upstairs, which was forbidden and saw all the Christmas presents. Everything I had asked for and them some. We must have been good! Christmas morning brought me a coloring book and a 10-cent box of crayons. My brother got something like an airplane model. What a shock, we acted appropriately grateful and it wasn't until about two in the afternoon and I couldn't stand it anymore and blurted out, “What happened to all the presents in the cubbyhole?” To which my mother calmly replied, “Those went to children who didn't look in the cubbyhole before Christmas. . After my parents had a good laugh, they brought out the presents and we never looked in the cubbyhole again at Christmas time.

   After the war, when the Palianis headed to California, Christmas looked a lot different. Our first Christmas in California was such a shock. It was at least 75 degrees and we had dinner on our patio surrounded by flowers and a banana tree. Lots of family did not make up for the lack of snow! My brother and I moaned and groaned and when friends came after dinner one of them had a Lincoln convertible and took us for a ride and we went to the beach. Sand does not make up for snow.

   The families grew and the children became adults and we still went to Aunt Lena's and Uncle Carlo's for Christmas Eve. Grandpa Paliani was bouncing great grandchildren on his knee while playing Santa. He was 95 when he died. He was caught in a rainstorm while on his daily 10-mile walk and came down with a bad cold that turned into pneumonia. That brought an end to that era of Christmas Eve parties.

   Being married, it would soon be my turn to host Christmas Eve. We had been in our new home a few years and it was our turn to host Christmas Eve. My two nephews and our two boys were the same ages, five and four. My aunt and her family and three children were there also. My parents and younger sisters completed our gathering. We had our traditional dinner and were just finishing up when we heard the sound of jingle bells and noise on the roof and the front door flew open and in pranced an elf. He yelled at the children, “Rudolf needs carrots, quickly, carrots!” Where upon Mark who was the oldest passed out cold, he hit the floor in a split second and the three others ran to the refrigerator to find carrots. They ran to the elf and gave him the bag of carrots while Mark laid on the floor with his hand to his head moaning, “I don't believe it, I don't believe it. Santa is on the roof.” While the elf was feeding the reindeer, Santa came marching through the door and thanked the children for the carrots. We had no idea who this Santa was, but I did recognize the elf as someone from church. After the all the children got to talk to Santa, my aunt who may have had too much wine sat on his lap and sang Santa Baby ala Eartha Kitt. We never did discover who played Santa, I think Aunt Jean embarrassed him so he never ‘fessed up.

   Another memorable Christmas Eve was our first Christmas in Salt Lake. There were 12 children so we hired a Santa and he was very good. We left a bag of small presents on the front porch and he brought them in for the children. By the end of the party one of the children was not feeling so good, we figured too much candy and cookies. A Christmas morning phone call let us know that she did not have too much candy, she had the chicken pox. What a present! Two weeks later one of my children came down with chicken pox and one by one every two weeks we had chicken pox. It was the gift that kept on giving.

   Many Christmases have come and gone, the loss of family members makes it a bitter sweet time. My sister and her family and I and mine still celebrate together with the old fashioned seven fishes and everyone seems to love it. We have included a few friends with an Italian background and the young people talk about keeping up the traditions.

   My responsibility is cookies for dessert and if I can find smelts this year it is my turn to fry.

   I wish I could do some of the cookies Grandpa Biase made, but Santa would have to bring me the gift of endurance and patience. May your holiday be filled with good food, family and friends.

                                                                                                                                    -- Lee V., 2013

Thank you Lee for a wonderful memory...

Happy Holidays to all...
Emily

Friday, August 16, 2013

THE PSYCHIC by Lee V.


Many people do not believe in the supernatural, "fortune tellers", or past lives, and some do not believe in fate while others accept some or all of these.  I've personally known too many people with such experiences, including my own.  Even before my experiences, I've always said that life is stranger than fiction, and it appears so!


THE PSYCHIC

On November 5, 1981 a friend dragged me off to visit Portland’s famed psychic, Michael Thompson. I remember the date because it was my ex-friend Terry’s birthday. The object of this visit was for Michael to tell me how or should I get Terry out of my life.

Michael was sitting at a little round table draped with a paisley print cloth (very gypsy looking), and in the middle of this table was an honest-to-goodness, real live crystal ball! I almost laughed. 

As I sat down, he closed his eyes, and soon his chin dropped to his chest. After a few minutes I thought, “This joker has fallen asleep!  The thought had barely passed through my mind when he said, “I am not sleeping. I am seeing things that concern me.” 

He then picked up a deck of cards and dealt out a row, studied them for a moment; still he had not looked at me. He picked up the cards, shuffled and dealt them again. He turned to look at the wall next to him and said, “You think you are divorced, but you are not. You have two Scorpios in your life, a husband and this boyfriend. Get rid of them both. It will take you several years but you must make a permanent break with both of them. Your husband thinks of you as his possession and will not easily relinquish this relationship. The boyfriend is one of your life teachers. He will always be in your life, but the relationship will change. Before that happens, there will be much happiness as well as tears. You will learn life lessons that you need in order to progress; the most important being self-introspection. From that you will grow to be a better person, but it will be a painful journey. You will help him with a major change in his life. This man will never be happy in this life, as he is not willing to learn his lessons. It is the same for your husband. These two men are not willing to make the changes necessary to achieve what they want in this life. You are willing to do what is necessary, but don’t always know what that is. Your confusion comes from major issues involving your mother.” (Now that, I already knew.)

 “You should not travel in a car during the month of December.” That was not good news for someone who made her living traveling in a car and whose busiest month was December.

“I do see you traveling south, next year about the fourth month. It has something to do with your parents.”

I said, “Yes, they live in Ashland.” 

He replied, “Please don’t tell me anything, I am here to tell you. No, it is not Ashland, it is further south, maybe California. Yes it is southern California and while it will be very difficult for you to make this trip, you must do it. The discomfort must be overlooked and you must go. I can’t tell you why, only that it is important for you to go.”

All this time he is staring at the wall with his eyes closed. Then he picked up the cards, shuffled, dealt and finally looked me in the eyes and said, “Someone with dark hair, very close to you will die.”  Again, he read my thoughts, “No it is not your mother. She has much to do before this life is over. I can tell that you do not want to know more. Just remember you must take this trip.”  

He turned to the wall again. “You have four sons. One will cause you much heartache. There will be an enforced break in your relationship but he will use this time to make major changes in his life and will do very well. You will then become closer. Another son who is musically gifted will go through much anguish over his career and his relationship with his father. He will have moderate success as a musician, but will be very successful in another field.

“You will meet a man who is tall, dark and handsome (Ha, all the fortune tellers say that!). He has something to do with the Army Corps of Engineers, but he is not in the Army. I see the Navy or Marines involved.”

That didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but none of this did. Michael stood without looking at me and said that’s all I can tell you today.” He turned, walked behind a curtain, and that was it.

The hair on my arms stood up, and it was the eeriest feeling I ever had. All the way home I concentrated on what he said and how he said it and immediately wrote down everything he told me and impressions of him as he spoke. I was going to remember all this and make sure Madeline knew that he didn't get anything right. After all, Val swore he had signed the divorce papers, and I was sure that Terry would come to his senses and act sane!

That evening I called son Mark in Salt Lake City, and asked him to find out if his father lied to me when he said he signed the divorce papers. When I think back to that moment, I can still hear Mark laughing. Well, that answered that question. We would just have to wait and see about the other things.

About a week later my brother Del called my sister and me to remind us that next year would mark our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and his and Kay’s 25th. Did we think it would be a smart thing to start and planning something now? Also we should do it in Southern California because that is where friends and family were. We decided on April 4th. Oh boy, here was that trip to Southern California in the fourth month of next year. But surely it wouldn't be so difficult for me to get there. I had a new car; Brad and I could drive it or fly.

I wasn’t thinking about Michael’s dire prediction for December until Brad and I were sitting at a red light the week before Christmas. I looked up in time to see a car run the red light as a car with the right of way entered the intersection. The car that got hit spun around and stopped. The car that ran the red light picked up speed and headed right for us. It wiped out the driver’s side of my car, bounced around the car behind us and wiped out the next car which was a brand new Cadillac being driven home from the dealer. She spun around that car and went up over the curb into a parking lot where she managed to destroy two parked cars. It wasn't until late in January that I learned that the lady who ran the red light was looking into the sun and thought she had the green. On impact with the first car, she hit her head and was unconscious as her foot got wedged on the gas pedal, which caused the speeding. I learned this when we both went to the same chiropractor, and he realized I was part of what she called, “a minor mishap!”  We all thought it was a major disaster. Michael called it again!

The month of January went by and the body shop had still not received the new doors for my car. It seemed to be a problem with the factory in Japan, and no one could tell me when we would get the new body parts. The first of February found me at a charity auction where one of the items up for bid was the use of a 15-passenger van. Now I ask you, wasn't that the answer to my problem? We could get my sister and family, Brad and I, and our entire luggage with room to spare. Oh, we would have great fun all driving together to So Cal. Boy, was I going to outsmart that pessimist Michael. I plunked down my $200.00, which was the winning bid and gloated all day Sunday.

Monday morning found me sitting on my rear in my parking lot, where I stepped into a small hole and broke my foot. The doctor told me I picked the worst bone in a foot to break, and I would have to go to the hospital and have a pin put in it. I informed the doctor that when I broke my elbow years before, the pins worked their way out because the doctor said I was allergic to surgical steel. He assured me that people were not allergic to surgical steel.

Four cast changes because of swelling, and six weeks later, still no healing. They then determined I was allergic to the pin and they would remove it, and for sure I would have no walking cast. I was in a wheel chair for a month and panicked because it was getting close to the time to leave for California. 

When I told the doctor what I had planned, he said absolutely not. Driving all that way was out of the question as the vibration would not be good. After I cried and threatened to jump off a bridge and leave a note to his wife naming him as my lover … he agreed to put a walker on my cast, but I would have to fly and have to have two seats so I could put my leg up. I could only get two seats as far as Fresno but figured that it wasn't so far from Fresno to Orange County, and he didn't have to know. 

Well, my leg knew and that was the most miserable flight and week I have ever spent. Michael was right, it was the most difficult trip I ever made, but I still didn't know why I had to make it. I soon realized that it was just wonderful being with my family because it was the first time in years that Del, M.J., Judy, Mom, Dad and I were all together.

August of that year was one of the worst times of our lives. Judy died and then I knew why we all had to make that trip to California. She was the dark haired person close to me who would die.

I am not sure that it is a good thing to know about the future unless it is all good or you can do something to change the bad things.

About a year later, Mark took an extended vacation to Texas courtesy of the federal government. Some might call that a break in our relationship, but he did make a major life change. That was another one for Michael.

That just leaves tall, dark and handsome to be accounted for. An acquaintance that knew Terry said, “You must get him out of your life, and boy, do I have a great guy for you.” He hounded me for about a month before I finally agreed to have dinner with this person. It was the first week of December; we were in the midst of a huge job redoing some models in a Palm Springs project. The other designer was an episodic drunk and chose that time to do his thing. That left me in charge of everything so I was not looking forward to the usual turmoil associated with a blind date. 

Saturday night came, the doorbell rang, and when I opened the door ... there he was, six feet two, broad shoulders, narrow hips, black hair with a smattering of silver at the temples, bright blue eyes and a smile that could have sold toothpaste. That was the beginning of a great evening. We went to dinner and conversation was easy and good. He sold commercial insurance but didn't really like it. I asked how long he was doing a job he didn't like. “Only a year,” he replied. “I retired as a major in the Marine Corps, but most of my 30 years I was attached to the Army Corps of Engineers.”

The first thing I did when I got home was look in my journal and sure enough, that was exactly what Michael said. But he made no mention of the fact that tall, dark and handsome was going to quit his job in two weeks to live in an art colony in Mexico and paint.

This is the story of my psychic, and it is all true. Gathering the pictures of my parent’s 50th anniversary party brought back these memories. When I look at the pictures of the party, I saw so many people who were dear to me and within a year or so they were dead. So yes, Michael was right when he said, “No matter what, you must go to California.”
   
- Lee V., 2013 


*****

Lee is a member of the Woodstock Community Center writing class which encourages everyone to write childhood memories and family stories.

Thank you Lee for sharing your wonderful story.

Emily

Thursday, July 25, 2013

PASSPORTS

Once again, a member of the writing class has shared a wonderful story.  I can't imagine being this brave and this lucky!  Although times were different then, no doubt luck had a huge part in his adventure!

Passports


Sometimes when I get caught shaking my head at the perceived foolishness of the young, which is so easy to do at my age, up pops all my past mistakes, my hubris, my misconceptions, risks taken in ignorance.  One such a blissfully ignorant undertaking still makes me shake my head in wonder at my stupidity, and I shiver. 

My first baby girl was born in August of 1964.  The miracle of this event hit me like a bolt of lightning after the plodding months of pregnancy.  This beautiful little being was mine, my responsibility, my joy, one reason for being. My first thoughts went to my mother. I had to go home to have her hold my Christina, share my joy with her.

Since home was over 6,000 miles away, this was not so easy to do.  I had lived in Oregon for two years.  My husband and I were married in my hometown in Germany.  It took six months to get my visa so that I could come to the USA with him. My German passport was still valid at that time. It had been granted several years earlier for a high school trip to Great Britain.  I was set to travel to America and to exciting adventures in my new home. 

A green card was sent to me several months after we arrived in Baker, called Baker City today. I was adjusting well to the American way of life, but the need to go back and connect with my mother was now overwhelming. So when Christina was nine months old and the sweetest easiest baby ever, I had her ticket and mine to Hannover, Germany via New York and Frankfurt.  Since Christina was an American citizen and I was not, she had to have her own passport with this adorable little passport picture.

When I checked my own passport, I noticed that it had expired a few months earlier.  Here comes the incredible act of foolishness I tended to be possessed with in my youth.  I assumed that I no longer needed this passport.  I did not find it necessary to check with anyone who knew anything about traveling across borders.  On my green card it said “in lieu of a passport” and that was good enough for me.  Off I flew with the baby in my arms to New York. 

I got to New York without any trouble, no security checks. There was a special airplane bassinet and other pampering from a not overworked attendant for Christina and me, after all this was 1965.
.
At La Guardia airport I checked in at the International desk of Lufthansa to continue my trip. The agent looked at me with open mouth when I presented my tickets, Christina’s passport and my green card. 

“You have to go back,” he said, you cannot leave this country without a passport.  

“Impossible,” I replied, “I paid for this expensive trip, and I have to keep going!”

Visions of an embarrassing return to Baker without having been in Germany, knowing that I would not have a chance to repeat this trip for a long time kept me fighting.  I really do not remember how I talked them into letting me board the plane.  I told everyone I had a passport in Baker and I would send for it as soon as I got to Germany, leaving out that that passport was expired.  The knowledge I have now that it is a lot easier to allow someone to leave a country than to get permission for entrance probably had something to do with it. In any case we were on our way across the ocean.  

In Frankfurt I climbed down the stairs of the plane with a bit more apprehension and continued to go through customs.  There was no discussion, just a look of disbelief and I was led into a small office.  Here someone took Christina out of my arms.  I started to panic but was told that she would be fine at an in-airport nursery close to us.  Then the questioning began:  Where was I from, where was I going, why was I going, had I run away, was I stateless, was I a fugitive, a refugee and on and on.  I told my story and told it again – my interrogators could hardly believe that someone could be so blissfully ignorant, so dumb, so careless about international travel. They really did not know what to do with me and my baby.  

Finally, they decided to call my hometown and check with the courthouse there about the information I had given them – birth date, place, address of my mother, etc.  It all checked out and all was as I had said.  Then it was decided that I could travel home since I was going to send for my passport from there. A parting remark from one of the agents was.  “Make sure you have that passport when you return. If you think we were hard on you, it will be much, much harder to get back into the USA!” But I would have my passport renewed in my hometown, and I would be fine.

It was wonderful to be back home after three years.  I showed off my baby wherever I went, Mutti cooked my favorite dishes, friends and relatives wanted to hear about my new life and told me about their changes.  My husband had sent my expired passport.  I went to the courthouse with confidence.  “No,” they said, “we cannot renew your passport.  You are no longer a resident here.” 

I was stunned.  I knew better than to argue with a German bureaucrat.  I slunk home to consider my options.  What amazes me today is that I did not seek advice from anyone, nor that anyone asked me about my passport.  Everyone must have assumed that I knew what I was doing, and I was too embarrassed to tell them otherwise.  

I decided (or did I decide?) to do nothing and so the last day of my stay came and my family escorted Christina and me back to the airport in Hannover.  Our tickets were checked, suitcases weighed, but no one asked for passports since we were leaving the country. Today that would never happen! I looked with foreboding at my mother and uncle and aunt who were hugging Christina and kissing me ‘Good Bye.’  Would I see them again very soon, or worse, would I not see them for a long time, locked up somewhere with my baby on Ellis Island?  I didn’t even consider that my precious baby could be taken from me ... which has happened, as I now know,  to other immigrants with faulty papers.

We arrived in New York tired of course.  Customs loomed.  I handed over the passports, Christina’s on top with her immunization records all in order, legal, and my passport below, outdated.  The middle aged customs official smiled at us and started paging through the green booklets.  I was waiting for the explosion, for the open mouth, the incredulous questions.  But none came.  He handed the passports back and I moved on.  I could have hugged him, but no, I moved coolly on.  He had not notice the date of expiration in my passport, and I was back in the USA!  We probably looked so innocent, so average, young mother with baby going home. It never occurred to him that there could be something wrong, that someone would dare to travel with incomplete papers. Forty-eight years later I can still see the face of that agent and his absolutely wonderful smile.

The year after I got back I applied for citizenship. It was granted just before my second child was born.  Being separated from my children because of my different nationality had been giving me nightmares. There are lots of stories of immigrants being sent back to their country of origin while the children, American citizens, have to remain here in the USA.  I have heard of people trying to enter with incomplete paper who were not allowed back in the USA for many years.  I shake my head at my incredible foolishness.  I was young, I was lucky, but at least I now always carry an up to date passport!
                                                                                                                                                     – Kaethe W.

Kaethe, thank you for sharing!

Emily

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My Friend Roy by Norm E.

Harry Chapin's Song Circle was the inspiration for Topic 130 in my writing booklet.  His song states:

"All my life's a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
Moon rolls thru the nighttime;
Till the daybreak comes around.

         ........snip........

It seems like I've been here before;
I can't remember when;
But I have this funny feeling:
That we'll all be together again."

My focus on this topic stems from a personal experience where I was drawn back to people in my past.  I believe in circles.  Our lives are so intricately entwined, and if we open enough doors, we will all make that discovery.  As you can see one of the members in the write groups I facilitate has experienced his own circle.  Thank you Norm for sharing with all of us!

                                                       
MY FRIEND ROY

Following high school, I suppose that I was like many of my peers who knew that they wanted to go to college but didn't know in what to major.  Going both full and part time, I finally was able to complete my lower division courses, and it was now time to commit to a goal of some sort.  After some thought it seemed an easy decision as I had always been interested in art and therefore a career as an artist seemed to be the best match.  So I proceeded to take classes emphasizing fine art with a few classes in commercial art thrown into the mix.  Being young and not certain of what the future would hold, I still did not have a specific plan for a profession after graduation.  Also because of my age, thoughts of how I would make a living with my art never really entered into the equation.

A few terms went by, and I was making progress toward my goal of graduation when I decided that I needed to shift gears and work toward a major in Secondary Education with the emphasis on teaching art.  A major factor influencing my decision was the mentoring of an art teacher in High School by the name of Ruth Tennant.  She symbolized the bohemian, youthful energy of the 60’s  despite being from another generation.  Ruth was truly an “older” person---probably in her early 50’s!   But even at her “advanced” age she was a free spirit and encouraged her students to experiment with their art, try new things and really find the joy of making a work that was truly their own.  In 1966 she was one of those teachers that broke the mold of those in that profession.  Ruth not only channeled my thinking about my art but also about life and the changes that were happening to our world at the time.  By 1969 I knew that I wanted to be like her.

Filled with youthful vigor that was not tempered with practicality I started taking the courses needed for my new major.  The course requirements were difficult, and I struggled.  As time went on I began talking with others that I knew that had graduated with their teaching degrees and who were unable to find jobs.  Teaching jobs at that time were nearly impossible to land, and many had to leave the state to find work.  I began to question whether the course I was on was the right one, and on an impulse I decided to drop out of school for a while to reassess my life goals.  Doing so, I lost my student deferment and one month later received my draft notice.  Uncle Sam had some other life goals in mind for me, and it involved learning to be a soldier in the US Army.

There is a lot of ground to cover in my military experience, but I would like to fast forward to 1972 when, having left the Army, I needed to plan again for my future which involved more education.  Having amassed a lot of credit hours and not wanting to go back into Secondary Ed, I decided to get some additional art training at PCC this time following a path to a degree in Graphic Design.  One of classes was called “plate-making and printing”, and was taught by Roy Gyllstrom.  Roy was a part-time teacher and worked full time for an advertising firm.  Many of the teachers that I studied under at PCC were also professionals that used their art skills in the real world.  So the students were not just learning theoretical ideas from a text book, but they were learning practical skills that had a direct application in the job market.  This is what those of us in their classes wanted----to learn real job skills that would land us a good job once our studies were completed.

Roy was a good teacher, but strict, and he expected us to be exacting in the work that we did.  The other classes that I was taking taught us how to create quality original art that could be used for advertising.  Roy’s class showed us how to copy that artwork, make it into a photo negative and position it in a layout with print that could be used in a magazine or newspaper.  It was the final step in having your artwork published and it was rewarding to learn this important skill.

So after two years of learning a variety of job related skills and producing a portfolio of some of my best work, I graduated and walked out into the real world looking for a real job in my field, filled with high hopes.  After a few months of going door to door, showing my portfolio to every advertising agency, print shop and independent art studio in town, I wasn't able to find a job.  It turned out to be a kind of catch 22.  I was told that I couldn't be hired because I didn't have any published work.  But I couldn't get my work published unless I had a job.  And so the cycle went on.  Totally exhausted and terribly discouraged, I finally gave up on my dream.  I took a variety of part time crummy jobs to help out with the bills.  I even worked for a friend for a couple of years in his furniture refinishing shop.  Finally, I got a call at 9:30 pm one night in 1977 from a guy named Dale Johnson who was the head of personnel at Northwest Natural Gas Co.  He told me that he was looking at my job application (that I turned in about a year before and had no recollection of doing that) and said that everything looked good and would I be interested in coming in for an interview.  I said sure, and the rest, as they say, is history.  The story of my career in pipeline construction will be for another time, so we will fast forward again 31 years to the time that I retired from NW Natural in January of 2009.

Due to physical problems and job related stress, I retired early at 60 years old.  Because of my years of service I figured that I could live comfortably on my pension and my social security benefits.  The next decision was to decide how I was going to spend my retirement years.  I have a number of hobbies which I knew would help to take up some of that time and there was always things that needed to be repaired around our old house.  But there was a desire in me to get back to doing what I started to do almost 40 years before.  I really wanted to start doing some sort artwork again.  During those intervening years from the time that I quit looking for a job as a graphic designer, people would ask me to do posters to advertise community events and I even designed some of my own personal greeting cards.  Each card was an original piece of art custom designed for only one person.  These small projects kept me busy for a while but as we had kids and other commitments outside the home, time and energy for art became less frequent.  But with retirement came a lot of extra time, less energy than in my youth, but still a lot of desire.  One day I was thinking back to a gentleman that I met during my short working experience at a company called Pacific Stationery co on 2nd and SW Washington in downtown Portland.  His name was Larry Smelser and he ran an art studio called “The Brush and Palette Association”, located in the Oak Grove area.  He invited me to pay them a visit sometime.  That was back in 1972!  Well by this time it was 2010 and 38 years had passed.  I didn't know if the association even still existed.  So I looked them up in the phone book and was pleasantly surprised to find they were still around and so I gave them a call.  A nice lady answered the phone and I said that they were recommended by Larry Smelser and I was wondering they were still taking new students.  She said yes and the next day I went to pay them a visit.  As soon as I walked in the door I was welcomed by the studio full of artists.  Many of them said hello and made me feel right at home.  I also found out from one of the students that Mr. Smelser had passed away back in the 1980’s.  Well, one older gentleman on the opposite side of the room looked familiar so I decided to go over and introduce myself.  I extended my hand and told him my name and was shocked when he told me that he was Roy Gyllstrom.  This was the same gentleman that had been my art teacher almost 40 years before!  The very idea that my former teacher and I could be peers in an art class together was mind boggling.  But here I was and there he was and it was so hard for me to believe that our paths had crossed again after all of those years.

I asked the teacher of the class if it was o.k. for me to join the class and was told  that I could.  I explained a little of my background and she thought that I would fit right in.  So the following Tuesday I showed up with drawing pad and pencils in hand, ready to go to work.  I spent the first two or three classes mainly doing sketches.  There were models who came and posed and even some of the people in the class volunteered to be models.  Our teacher was Helen Trayle, a retired art teacher, professional print maker and an outstanding artist in her own right.  She was 92 and the same age as Roy.  Helen was strict with us on the fundamentals of composition, mixing colors and having a clear goal of what we wanted to do with each piece of art.  Her discipline was necessary for me as I had been so long out of practice and away from the very basic principles of art.  In time I began to feel more confident and my completed work reflected that.  The people in the class were so helpful in giving me tips and ideas to incorporate into my work.  It was a very positive and entirely enjoyable environment to be in and one that I have looked forward to each week.

But let me get back to the essence of my story.  One day after class one of the other students asked me if I could give Roy a ride back to his residence after class.  I told them that I would be glad to do that.  Little did I know that this was just the beginning of what would be a lasting friendship.

The 2 mile drive to his retirement home each week gave us a few moments to talk and get to know each other.  The man that I had known and respected as my teacher was now my fellow student and I could relate to him as more of an equal.  That is not to downplay the years of experience and skills that he had gained as a professional artist, teacher and as a recreational artist in his own studio.  But he was no longer just my teacher Mr. Gyllstrom...he was now my friend Roy.  Most of the time I would just drop Roy off at his front door, say goodbye, we wave at each other and I would leave.  After a few months he would occasionally invite me up to his apartment for a visit.  We would talk for an hour or more and it seemed that we had many things in common.  I really enjoyed our visits and it gave me the chance to get to know more about this man that I respected and admired.

Roy had been born in Chicago and his family moved to Michigan when he was very young.  He grew up there with his 6 other siblings, Roy being the 3rd oldest.  Now the only ones left are Roy and his youngest brother who lives in Minnesota.  Roy’s parents and grandparents were from Sweden and he is very proud of his Swedish roots.  His grandfather was a fisherman and Roy remembers him being a very tall and strong man.  He was also a tough, no-nonsense kind of person with a gruff exterior.  But there must have been a kinder, gentler side to him because his hobby was crocheting doilies.  A real man of contrasts to say the least.  He mentioned that his last name in Swedish mean “strong river”, which Roy is very proud of.  When WWII started Roy joined the army and spent his service in the Pacific theater as a combat infantryman.  He recalls one incident in particular that changed his life.  Roy had jumped in a foxhole to take cover from Japanese gunners that had his unit pinned down.  As he was laying there another soldier jumped into the same foxhole, not knowing that Roy was in there, landing squarely  in the middle of his back with his combat boots.  Roy heard a loud crack when the other soldier landed on him and pain shot through his body.  But there was no time to worry about the pain and so he continued to fight and survived the battle.  Roy’s combat group continued on through the months of fighting, capturing one island after the next.  Finally it was time for him to go back home.  When he arrived back in the states he was told that x rays showed that he had cracked vertebrae, but there was nothing that they could do to treat his injury and he would have to live with it.  That injury has stayed with him all of his life and he lives with constant pain in his back. Despite this he married, had children and had a wonderful life.

On one of our visits, as I was preparing to leave he came over to me and said “For what it’s worth...I love you.”  I told him that I loved him too and we hugged.  He went on to say during another one of our visits that he had perhaps 5 people in his life that he could count on and I was one of them.  I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.  My own father passed away in 1982 and Roy had become not just a friend but a kind of father figure to me.  I plan to continue to be that friend that he can count on and enjoy him for as long as he has left on this earth.  His friendship has added a new and wonderful dimension to my life and I will always remember the time we've had to spend together.

*     *     *     *     *

What stories do you have which can relate to some type of circle?

Enjoy,
Emily
      

Thursday, June 27, 2013

MY WEEK WITH JESUS, JOSEPH AND CHER

From time to time, some of the attendees of the writing classes I facilitate allow me to post their memories to share with all of you. This is one of those.  Thank you Lee.


MY WEEK WITH JESUS, JOSEPH AND CHER

To appreciate this experience to the fullest, you must imagine our house in a suburban neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah. Nice big lots, manicured lawns, children playing on the streets, and a Mormon Church around the corner and down two blocks. This peaceful looking setting typifying what most folks thought of as pure Americana, was anything but. We were smack dab in the middle of the most dedicated followers of the John Birch Society. In a Mormon neighborhood, all social activities are centered on the church and its various auxiliaries. When you have a bishop who has strong political leanings and presides over a congregation of about 500 people, you will have a neighborhood that is usually in line with what is being preached at the local church.
            
I was already on the list of people to watch as I had supported the reelection of the Democratic Governor with a poster in my front window. That caused my yard to be toilet papered and have trashcans emptied on the front lawn on a regular basis during the previous election season.
            
It was during the summer of 1969 I received a phone call from my sister Judy to tell me that she and husband Tim would be coming to Utah for a few days to visit. They were going to come by bus because they were stopping along the way to visit the small towns and didn't know exactly when they would arrive. They were finding the sights in Southern Utah interesting. Since Judy and Tim never traveled without best friend Bill, I was wondering where would I put three guests when Judy informed me that they were camping along the way and would I have room for their tents in our yard? I told her not to worry as we had a big yard surrounded on two sides by a cinder block wall, and we were on the corner.
   
Two days later, mid afternoon on a lovely summer day, Mark (my son, not the apostle) came running into the house and said, “Mom you better come and see this, I think it’s Aunt Judy.”  Remember, this is 1969, in the full flush of hippi-itus, tie dye, love beads, flowers in her hair etc….
            
I walked out to the front yard and coming up the middle of the street was a small parade, and it looked like Jesus, Joseph, and Cher leading, followed by most of the young children in the neighborhood. 

Following the parade was a sheriff’s car.

We were about four blocks from the nearest bus stop, and it looked as though they had gathered all the children in a parade. In a Mormon neighborhood, that can be a whole lot of kids.
             
I really didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I laughed until I cried!
             
If you have ever been in a Mormon Chapel you will see a picture of Jesus. Their version has long slightly curling hair sun streaked light brown, a well-trimmed beard, and piercing blue eyes which is  interesting when you think about the fact that Jesus was a Sephardic Jew and would be rather dark. Tim could have been the model for the picture, and today he is wearing a long flowing thing that looked like a robe and sandals.
            
Bill, with his slightly receding widow’s peak, and trimmed goatee, was a dead ringer for the Mormon profit Joseph Smith. Where he found his frock coat would remain a mystery

Then we have sister Judy, about 5’7’, a size 5 and long dark hair parted in the middle, looking like Cher before Cher met her plastic surgeon. She was wearing a tie died, long drapey thing, bell-bottoms, and sandals. A whole lot of beads and a flower behind her ear completed her look of the day.
            
As they turned into our driveway all those nice little kids, who looked like the rats following the Pied Piper immediately stopped at the edge of our lawn. This was the house of the Democrat and we can’t go any further, we could catch something. They just stood there looking toward the house.
            
Our visitors dumped tents and backpacks in the back yard, we all went into the house, and after they were settled with cold drinks, we noticed the kids in the neighborhood began to disperse  I told Judy I was surprised they arrived here so soon. I assumed they would be stopping in the little towns along the way. Cher, in a very serious manner informed me “those fucking bigots just don’t get what make love not war is all about. Seeing that they didn't appreciate our life style we decided not to grace them with our presence.”

Now why did that not surprise me? I could have warned them but this was a lot more fun. There are some things in life that are either so funny or outrageous that you just never forget them. I was soon to learn that I would have a whole week I would never forget.
            
The dinner hour was approaching and while I prepared for a cook out, they set up their tents, took showers, and got ready to settle in for a week.  Since they didn't spend any time exploring the little towns, they could spend more time with us because they didn't have to be in Colorado for 10 days. Yippee! Did I want to know what they were going to do in Colorado? It was business, Jesus informed me, a pot grower’s convention. I picked my jaw off the floor and thought how could they say these things with a straight face?
             
I requested that they not tell anyone in the neighborhood if asked and most of all, my husband Val. Val and I already had many a discussion about my family and friends, and he was convinced that my sole purpose in life was to embarrass him.
            
For the next week Val managed to leave early and come home late; business called. I asked Judy if Mom and Dad knew where she was. “Oh yeah, she was happy I was coming to see you, but when I told her we would probably hitchhike and camp along the way, they had a fit. She was crying and carrying on, so I promised we would take the bus. I don’t know what their problem is.” Yep, that was our flower child.
            
Then the fun began the next morning. I was making coffee in the kitchen when I heard “Maaa-um the hippies are up.” I knew it wasn't one of my kids so I peaked out the back door to discover at least five kids sitting on top of the block wall and one was the designated spy and reporter to the busy body next door. Of course that just inspired the hippies. They started out the morning by sitting at the table in the yard and rolling their early morning joint. “Maaa-um, they’re rolling cigarettes, maaa-um, they’re smoking.”  “Maaa-um, the one that looks like Jesus is making out with Cher!” 

Oh boy this is going to be a long week.

As soon we finished breakfast, I packed a picnic lunch and loaded Jesus, Joseph, and Cher along with my children in the station wagon and off we went. I figured they would like to visit the forests in Big Cottonwood Canyon. I found a campground and let them hike through the woods. Is it asking too much Lord to let them get lost for a couple of days? They’re hippies, they could live off the land, and it was fairly warm. I guess He thought it was too much to ask as they returned in time for our picnic.
            
We arrived home after dark, and I was hoping that the neighborhood excitement had worn off, but there she was, the spy sitting on the wall waiting for the hippies. I told her to get down from the wall or I would call the police. She slowly climbed down while yelling, “Maaa-um, she’s gonna call the cops!”
            
The next morning there were several kids sitting on the wall, and they politely informed Cher that they were sitting on their side of the wall, so there!
           
I packed us all up again and headed up Parley’s Canyon so they could see where the pioneers first saw the Salt Lake Valley. We then headed up to Park City, which at the time was still a little mining town with little wooden houses clinging to the sides of the hills. We wandered around until most of the day was gone, getting back to the house after dark seemed the best solution to avoid the spies.
            
The next day Judy and I went grocery shopping. I convinced Jesus and Joseph to stay and guard the tents and watch my kids. We made it through the market with only a few turned heads and whispers. 

When we arrived home we prepared a lunch and took off up Little Cottonwood Canyon. They loved being out in nature, and I loved leaving them out in nature. We spread around a lotta love. We returned home a little before sunset and sure enough a whole group of kids were sitting on the wall, waiting to watch and report.
            
The next day we went to the Great Salt Lake, and drove around parts of the city I thought they would enjoy seeing. Keeping them out of the yard until sunset was an all day job!
           
 I couldn't put it off any longer, the next day we would go downtown to Temple Square.

I suggested to Judy that maybe they should consider dressing up a bit as we would be going to the visitors’ center and they would be required to wear shoes, shirts, etc.

When they appeared, Tim had on a cleaner robe thingy, Bill had a clean tie-dye under his frock coat and Judy had on some bell-bottoms that she had decorated herself and a bunch of new beads. They were ready so off we went.   
            
Temple Square is the heart of Salt Lake City. It is at least two city blocks square, and the blocks in SLC are about twice as long anywhere else and very wide.  Brigham Young had a four oxen, and it had to be able to turn in a full circle from the middle of the road. The Temple Square area downtown is quite lovely with big old trees; there were park benches, a statue of Joseph Smith, the tabernacle the temple and in the corner, a one room pioneer hut that had been original to the site.
            
The big three were completely blown away when they saw the statue of Joseph Smith. He looked just like Bill, frock coat and all! They were not the only ones who were impressed. In a matter of minutes there was a line of tourists who wanted a picture of Bill with Joseph. Then Jesus and Joseph Oh, this just kept getting better. In the meantime I lost track of Cher. I walked over to the pioneer hut, and there was Cher twirling around on the dirt floor. When she saw me she cried, “Isn't this just fabulous?”  I confess I could not see anything fabulous about living in a hut about 12’x 12’ with a dirt floor and no windows. She twirled herself against the wall and started laughing. “No I don’t mean the hut; I mean all those people who think those two out there look like Jesus and Joseph!”

“I love camping but this hut is too much, those pioneers must have been nuts!” We both laughed until someone came to the door and two little old ladies were remarking that it was just uncanny how much those two looked like Jesus and Joseph. One said, “Do you think they are really Mormons?”  To which Judy replied, “Those two guys out there? Nah they just look like hippies to me”
            
What a day! I don’t know if word ever reached any church authorities that Jesus and Joseph visited Temple Square that day. They surely missed an experience. It took about another hour to get J & J away from their admirers and cameras. We walked through downtown and toured some more of the historical sites. People stared but no one stopped and asked for a photo op, and I think the guys were a little disappointed. Their 15 minutes of fame lasted at least two hours; that is more than most people get.
           
It seems that not being able to roll weed and smoke at will was putting a damper on their time in Salt Lake City. When we arrived home they organized so that they could leave first thing in the morning. We had one last cook out in the yard with a few kids sitting on the wall, and I could see the wheels turning in Judy’s head. I warned her, “What ever you are thinking of doing, don’t! I have to live here after you are gone.”
           
I have thought about that time and some of the things that Judy and I did a few years later when she and son Joey moved to Salt Lake City. No matter that she was older; she was still a hippie in her heart. She was kind, generous and funny, and I miss her every day. She died at 35, and I can still hear her say, “I just know I will not ever be an old person so I need to do everything while I can.” She did.

-- Lee V.
            Jun 2013
   

*****
Thank you Lee!

Hope you enjoyed it!
Emily
27 Jun 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Incarcerated Youth...Up Close and Personal


The variation in our personalities, interests, and jobs adds so much to our collective being, and the variety of  their life's stories are always amazing and intriguing to me. We find among us those who spend much of their lives following a chosen path which elevates them to a desired level in their field. We find those who strive to help others and find satisfaction in giving of themselves. They clearly understand how life can affect and destroy some of the most helpless, the most innocent. By telling their stories they help us understand the problems in our society give us insight into a world that may seem quite foreign, yet shows us how we, as a society, played a role through our action or inaction. Oh, but if only the lessons could be learned.

Valerie participates in a writing class I lead and has many wonderful stories. She chose this one to share, no doubt, because there is a message here for all of us. Thank you for this story. May it help everyone have a better view and an open heart.
  

        INCARCERATED YOUTH...UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Broken children are everywhere, subsisting within the obscure fringes of the social order. Society chooses not to embrace them by claiming ignorance to their essence and their needs. These children’s minds, bodies, and spirits bear a resemblance to fragments of a smashed glass. This situation equates to the Christmas story of the damaged Misfit toys. Banished to a remote island, the toys disappear out of the visual acuity of those who have so callously terminated them without any conception of their intrinsic value if repaired. Out of sight out of mind. Society tends to discard objects that are flawed. Imperfection is not an attribute we are willing to encircle with open arms. We follow the same pattern with children that do not live up to the criterion we as a society exemplify. If a child is broken, is it not our moral covenant to take the time and effort to rebuild that shattered child instead of throwing him/her away?

In 1990, I accepted a position with the Wenatchee School District as the School Program Teacher housed at the Chelan County Maximum Security Juvenile Detention Center. In the blink of an eye, I had descended into the world of incarcerated youth. For 20 years, these children infiltrated my heart, challenged me, occupied my thoughts, and inspired me to achieve unparalleled pinnacles of compassion, patience, and love. MY STUDENTS became my passion, morphing into a part of me. We were the same in so many ways. Welcome to my world of Incarcerated youth -- up close and personal.

It is 8:00 a.m., and I am on my 2-way radio calling for students to come to school. They walk down the hall hands behind their backs, eyes looking forward. The line must be straight and talking is prohibited. The students are accompanied by juvenile custodial officers, and when the kids are seated the staff retreats back into the bowels of the building. Standing by my door, each student is welcomed with a cheerful greeting. Many of the kids refuse to look at me and most mornings there is no reciprocal response. In all honesty, the kids do not know how to react to a simple salutation from an adult. It makes them uncomfortable. They are much more at ease when the interaction is negative as opposed to positive. Negativity is their forte  and sadly enough their life code. Their social etiquette is simply stated: attack before you get attacked.

The kids know the routine: Enter the classroom, get your work folder, take your assigned seat and remain silent. The actual scenario presents itself as: enter the classroom, talk to anyone and everyone, forget about your file, sit in someone else's seat, continue to talk as loudly as possible, and pretend you are clueless. Finally, students are in allocated seats, folders on desk and silent.  In a final effort to establish control before the day begins, they deliberately make eye contact with me flaunting an intimidating leer reminding me to watch my back.

Routine is problematic for this group of youngsters. They identify it as an implementation of authority. The line in the sand is brazenly drawn the minute they enter the classroom. Pencils, aka potential weapons, are passed out. A request to open folders is made and to begin work. It is now 8:10 and the natives are already restless. The next issue of the day presents itself as “what do I work on?” The habitually repeated answer is “where you left off yesterday.” The response, “Don’t remember, can you show me? Note the use of the words show me instead of help me. Asking for help demonstrates weakness. This start-up routine is to get attention, and each individual student demands it on a  daily basis. With vague recognition etched on their faces, the day ultimately commences. Continuity and routine are two perplexing concepts thrown into their chaotic reality. Adapting to others expectations does not come without some kicking and screaming along the way.

As the day continues, small battles are fought and indignation infuses itself into every situation. The kids do not like to have anyone tell them what to do. A simple please get to work or stop talking can erupt into an ugly confrontation in less time than it would take to snap your fingers. The choreography between teacher and student is set in motion. Attaining the lead position is the ultimate goal of both parties, but for very adverse motives.

The teacher's intent is to gently guide the student to the awareness that life is dictated by boundaries and to demonstrate how the usage of adaptive behaviors and respective demeanor can ultimately influence the outcome. The frequently used illustration is: you are on the job and the boss instructs you to do a task. You blow up, curse him out and storm off. You get fired for this behavior and now find yourself in the predicament of not having money. You blame the boss! Being told what to do is taken as harsh criticism, and immediately there is the need to reestablish control over the situation. At the end of the day you no longer have a job, but you have the satisfaction that no one can tell you what to do. We then run through the role play of respectful compliance and its outcome.

The day brings constant struggles as the two worlds continually collide. Oddly enough the perception is that their world is much safer than ours and simpler to navigate. Their so called straightforward world consists of violence, abuse, crime, addiction, gangs, and death, and yet to them it is the more benign of the two coexisting domains.

Anger is the mother of all emotions. Indignation will eventually set you free. Strike out at everyone and you will be memorable. Where does this rage come from? That can be answered in one word: life. These kids have been deprived of a childhood. By the time they can walk and talk, it ends before it  begins. They start off at a early age missing out on the occasions that make childhood special and magical. These kids will never have hot chocolate waiting for them on a cold winters day. Having their hand held to cross a street never happens. There aren't any loving hugs and assurances  that everything will be OK. Nobody wipes the tears away or puts band-aids on scraped knees. Bedtime stories are never read. There isn't any encouragement or hope tossed their direction. Incapable of envisioning a future, only the current moment matters.

Home is not a sanctuary. It is a house of horrors. Think about going through a haunted house at Halloween. It is dark, scary ,and the fear of the unknown looms before you. Your heart races, and your palms get sweaty with the anticipation that a monster might jump out of nowhere and grab you. Your instinct is to run back outside to a safe place. The trepidation of what might happen if you stay is paralyzing. If grabbed, is escape even a possibility? Does the monster want your blood? Will cries for help be heard? Will your absence be noticed? For most of us having these concerns running through our minds at warp speed are short-lived. Outside of our present nightmare there exists a safety net of love, protection, friends and family. Make it through the next 5 minutes on this dark excursion and Shangri-La awaits. For most of us it takes a little side trip down a dark alley to make us appreciate what we actually possess. At risk youth live in the haunted house 24/7. When these kids depart into the dark alley there is no light to guide them to a safe place. There is no one waiting on the other side. Life for them  is like being trapped on an out-of-control roller coaster ride. Your screams for help fall on deaf ears. There are no good Samaritans in their world.

Imagine having an accident where you take a large gouge out of your leg. It is deep painful and bleeding profusely. With proper measures the hemorrhage can be stopped. At risk youth are constantly on the verge of bleeding out. Preventative measures are not always  accessible to them. Many friends and family members are already In heaven due to violent deaths.

In a convoluted way, these kids are very religious. They believe Heaven will provide them with the good life that was denied them here on earth. They do believe that God is virtuous and will grant them redemption sanctioning their entrance through the Pearly Gates. The honor of sitting at his feet and basking in the Holy Spirit will also be bequeathed. The ultimate vision is absolution. It is worth dying for even as a child. Religion is a lifeline used only to the hereafter not in the present.

A student’s writing helped me visualize the inner angst of my charges.

I jump on a big white fluffy cloud and sail away from my life. I look down and  jump off when I find a new place that looks good. This community has not labled me. They do not know what prior bad acts I have committed. At first they enthusiastically welcome me with open arms. Just as I feel like I belong, all of a sudden Chicken Little arrives yelling,” the sky is falling, the sky is falling.” The sky falls on me and ruins everything. It is though I had a gps system installed in by body at birth and can be tracked anywhere I go. Eventually all the Chicken Littles will  find me and  it is back to square one and once again incarceration. I screwed it up again and know that it is a vicious cycle. No more clouds. I need something faster to outrun my life. I hop a frieght train and am satisfied this will work. It departs and speeds throught the night increasing the distance between me and my old life. Sometimes it slows to a comfortable pace and then Boom it resumes  full speed ahead. The train never stops. I find this odd. Then I realize there is no one driving this train. It is the train to no where for nobodies like me. Why did I not jump off when it was going slow and I still had a chance? Those chances are over. This train is now in runaway mode and there will be no slowing down.  Why do I always try to keep up with my homies, my drugs, my crimes?  Why? Why do I keep doing this? My one saving grace is knowing that I will be with god in the afterlife because I have already  spent my years on earth in hell. God I am ready to be your obedient and devoted solider. Please take me now!

Why do they keep doing this since 99% of their reactions are impulse driven? The answer is simple; Because it feels good.One moment of feeling good is worth sacrificing everything! Sacrificing everything is easy because you never had anything. A moment of pleasure is a way to escape the harsh reality of a dysfunctional life even if only  for a millisecond in time. The moment, the rush of adrenalin, the thrill, the chase, the deception, and the fame make it all worthwhile. Crime, addiction and violence are normal lifestyles for these kids. It is all they know. Trapped in an environment created by others, survival is the driving force. Incarceration for this group of youngsters is viewed not as a deterrent  but an achievement.

Why did I do this for 20 years? That is best answered by the poet Emily Dickinson.

       If I Can Stop
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

by Valerie S., 2013

Enjoy,
Emily
23 Apr 2013