If You Don't Laugh, You'll Cry - Laughing's Better!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Teaching, Part 2

Being a natural show off probably contributed to my love of teaching. I also enjoy singing to people and presiding at meetings.

Tony and I had agreed early on that once we had children, I would stay at home with them and I never regretted that. Right after we married, Tony’s cousin, a teacher, needed serious surgery. She asked me to substitute teach for her and I did, though I never got paid for it. [She was supposed to pay me out of her salary.] The Principal, Mr. Caine, and I got along well, partly at least, because the class went smoothly and there were no problems.

Years later, Bruce and Dee transferred to the school where Mr. Caine was principal when we moved to a new home. Mr. Caine asked if I would teach for him? No way. Then he asked if I would substitute teach? Yes, but only in emergencies. Our agreement was he would only call me as a last resort but then I would come without question. I agreed to this because I went to school with my own kids and came home with them.

About 8:30 one morning, Mr. Caine called and said his 7th grade had just run off their third substitute and he had an important meeting downtown. On my way, I said and was there 15 minutes later. When I arrived, I announced to the class that they had run off their last teacher. After finding the ringleader, I marched him to the office, loudly proclaiming to the secretary, mailman, maids, and assorted parents that this child had refused to mind his teacher! I said he could just spend the day in the office because I did not want to see his face again! The secretary and I managed to keep from giggling. I had no more trouble that day. The next day, I had the boy sit by me and help me with the roll call, lunch money etc and we became friends.

That next day, while saying the pledge, I noticed a big girl sitting and drawing in her notebook. When I questioned her she said she didn’t believe in the pledge. Well, I told her I couldn’t make her believe it but I certainly didn’t have to watch her disrespect it either. Into the hall she went, standing until we finished the morning exercises and other things for about an hour. Now, when I see our so called president fail to put his hand over his heart when the flag passes etc, I think, I’d like to have had him in my schoolroom as a boy. But his early years were spent with his white mother, in a foreign country.

In South Carolina, when I was teaching there, spanking was allowed and even expected when kids acted up. Very rarely, one of my 5th grade boys would start out on Monday and by Friday, would be on a very high horse, indeed. I’d have been through all my tricks of talking, keeping him after school etc. Sometimes it worked but not always. This Friday, I told Jimmy he was going to get a spanking if he didn’t behave. Well, he said, his Dad was on the school board and if I spanked him, I’d get fired. “Oh, if that’s the case and I am about to be fired, I’ll make sure you have one spanking you won’t forget,” I replied - so he got four whacks with the bolo paddle instead of three.Of course I never heard from his parents at all. It would have been nice if they’d showed up and taken more interest in this child and his older sister. They were prominent people.

Back then, in the dark ages, teachers never wore pants. We wore stockings and leather shoes, not the comfortable shoes available now. We were not supposed to be seen smoking so I went for years trying to break the habit of holding my cigarette under the table when eating out. Parents smoked but teachers were not allowed. Any teacher who had “started showing” being pregnant, was dismissed. I did not smoke very much, maybe one pack per week, all I could afford back then anyway. The last cigarette I lit was on January 1, 1999.

I truly believe that the day any teacher tries to present him or herself as perfect or knowing everything, they are setting themselves up for a fall. Actually, the same goes for parents. The first week of school, or Bible School, or Brownie Scout Leader, or Adult Sunday School teacher, or various other activities, I tried to assure folks that I will definitely make mistakes and, if done politely, they are encouraged to point them out to me. For me, the old fashioned blackboard was a helpful teaching tool. However, just one squiggle out of place in your penmanship will produce that same squiggle about thirty times in the next two days. There was only one perfect human. I am not him and I used to assure my late husband that, in spite of what his Mama thought, neither was he.

One year when we were living in Augusta, I organized a Brownie Scout Troop because I wanted Dee to have that experience. I went to all the training sessions then invited a few little girls in our neighborhood to join. I don’t remember the maximum number allowed in a troop but I’ll just guess twelve. It was pitiful! Every little girl in our neighborhood wanted to join and they were going to be crushed for life if not included. So we ended up with about 18 or 20. Since we met in our family room, it was always crowded and difficult to arrange activities. So I decided that field trips would be fun but there was a problem. Most of the mothers had promptly made plans to entertain themselves while I babysat their little darlings. We took one trip to Colonial Bakery with the outside help of some of my friends. The bakery people were great and after guiding the unwieldy group back to an area where we were served Honey buns etc, our guide asked if there were any questions. Yes, one little girl [who had been talking the entire time] asked, “How do you make bread?”

Going back to my teaching years, for years, the area superintendant in the small town where I taught, and his very loved and lovely wife, hosted a picnic dinner for all his teachers and spouses. It was quite a large crowd but it was served buffet style and there were lots of picnic tables set up in their huge back yard. This was just after school started, in September, when daytime temps were usually between 90 and 100 degrees. Well, we went of course. Sometime during that night Tony became violently ill with a stomach virus and was up most of the night.

I went on to school the next day and found tons of children --- and no principal and no teachers. I got the kids inside and into their rooms. The principal ran in, unlocked the office, and said he and his entire family had been up all night and were still sick. He and his wife had carried their four kids to the dinner with them. He only stayed a minute and went back home. Finally, I was able to answer the office phone where the teachers were calling in sick. The first grade teacher said she would try to come and she did. So she ran her end of the school and I ran the other. No point trying to find subs as nearly every teacher in town was sick. I didn’t like ham salad then and wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole after that experience. That was the only food Tony ate that I didn’t. I’ve always felt so bad for the supt and his wife, knowing how very hard they’d worked to do something nice for the teachers.

Back in my mother’s and Tony’s mother’s time, teaching was one of the few options for college women who wanted careers. Home Economics was another. My mother majored in Home Ec. and Cordelia, Tony’s mom, majored in Education. Mother and two of her sisters and Cordelia and, I believe, two of her sisters, all went to Bessie Tift College, in Forsyth, Ga., a Baptist college. My Aunt Hazel went to the University of Georgia - called The State Normal College for Women, back then. It was located on Prince Ave in Athens, Georgia and had housed soldiers and been a hospital during The War Between The States. Aunt Hazel had stayed in Miller Hall, as did I my freshman year at UGA. Several of them taught school and my Aunt Jenny taught German at Tift College.

Cordelia got called back to teach during WW2. Tony used to say that the hardest year of school in his entire life was when his mother was his teacher. She told me that it always took her about two hours in a dark room to feel human after teaching all day. It was not quite that difficult for me but then I loved teaching. Also, I believe she had two older sons in the military at that time.

My dad was a professional baseball player so that meant he had winters off. He taught school in a one room schoolhouse in or near the north Georgia mountains. He often talked to me about those days and how much he enjoyed it. He said he had to study hard at nights to keep ahead of all the different subjects and try to keep the kids interested. One result of his teaching was that all of the big boys who had quit school, came back because they wanted to be with him and learn to play ball. He always laughed and said he never had any trouble at all .If the kids got restless, he declared recess and they played a “little ball”. At 6ft 4in and 220 lbs , one would not expect any trouble. Actually, he was a very gentle person but it never seemed to occur to him that a child would have to be told the same thing twice nor did he raise his voice. I’m sure he was a wonderful teacher. My brother, Don, often reminds me of my dad.

To me, it is a shame that today’s teachers are so regulated. They feel sorry for themselves if they have twenty students – I always had 30-40. I also was with my class from 7:30-3:30 without a break – no assistants, no one else to take my class. As public schools go, Atlanta schools are good as far as I can tell from dealing with Alesia and Mike. We’ve only encountered a couple of bad apples. One of those should be teaching college courses or improve her teaching methods for younger students. I think it speaks well for a school that Alesia loves going and hates to miss a day.

I am grateful that there are still teachers who enjoy teaching because it is surely one of the most important jobs there is anywhere.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


If you deal with young people and children, you are a teacher whether you choose to be or not. Today, these young ones are so bombarded on all sides by everyone and everything that it is little wonder that they take their peers as their role models. I can’t be bothered with trying to figure out why, but I was not that way when I was in my teens.

I went to O’Keefe Jr. High in Atlanta, for 7th grade. I was the only girl in two classes who did not go directly to private schools from 6th grade. So I had no built in friends at O’Keefe. (In other words, we had done a lot of moving around until after World War II, when we settled in Atlanta. Because of a housing shortage, we had to live with an aunt for a while, so I didn’t go to the O’Keefe feeder school.)

I’ve had really awful teachers and really wonderful teachers. [Photo at left shows me during my teaching days]

My 7th grade homeroom teacher’s name was Mrs. Woods. She’d been an “old maid school teacher” until she’d recently married. That was about 63 years ago and I can still see her face vividly. She was ugly. Beauty may be skin deep but ugly goes all the way to the bone! My cousins who’d had her before me, talked about how wonderful she was. She managed to conceal any human trait she possessed from me. One morning, after arriving at school, I went into the bathroom and put on some pale orange Tangee lipstick, just a tiny bit. My stars! You’d have thought I’d walked into homeroom in pasties and tassels! That woman screamed at me all the way across the room and sent me to wash my face. I made A’s and B’s in her history class but I could never look her in the face again. I was 13 years old.

By contrast, my 6th grade teacher had been an absolute angel. Her name was Julia Clifton. I’m thinking she must have been in her late thirties at least, about then because she had a child in college [as well as I remember]. Somehow, she saw through the extremely awkward, shy child that I was, and found a talent that helped me the rest of my school days. Two or three times a week, she’d take our class into the auditorium for music. In no time at all, she had me singing alone for the group, and to my great surprise, they seemed to enjoy it. Yes, I sang all the rest of my school and college years.

When I started my own teaching career, I had great role models like Mrs. Clifton, but I also had to figure out my own way. Teaching in the late 1950’s was different than it is today.

After college, I taught 4th grade at Fowler St School, in Atlanta. My Area Superintendant was Dr. Rual Stephens, who had been my principal at Grady High, all five years. And guess what, my Language Arts Supervisor was Mrs. Clifton. She walked into my classroom one morning and announced that she’d come to observe my teaching of a penmanship lesson. I thought I would croak! My mind went completely blank and I was afraid I’d wet my pants. What she obviously observed was my utter horror. I had no idea how to teach a penmanship lesson and didn’t even know we had little booklets in the closet. She very kindly asked if I’d like her to teach it ---- and I was saved by her kindness.

I only taught through January that first year because my boyfriend said that driving back and forth from Augusta to Atlanta every weekend was putting too many miles on his new car. We married Feb.8, 1957. After that, I taught 5th grade, in North Augusta, S.C.

I used to say that some day I’d like to finish the graduate work and teach education courses in a college. With all the courses I took, no one actually taught me how to teach. Everything was so high flown and ethereal, you know, the psychology of education – nothing practical. Once, we spent weeks just on motivation and then the history of blah blah blah! No one told us what to do when we had two big boys rolling around on the floor in a fight to the death. What I did was grab my paddle and every time a bottom presented itself, I whacked as hard as I could. In a few minutes, they realized what was going on, and the fight was over.

My kids had to outline their geography books. Once they learned how to do that, they pretty much knew their geography, plus how to make a correct outline. Years later, a woman stopped me on the street and said, ”We thought you were such a hard teacher but after a year with you, Bonnie never had trouble in school again!” Made my heart sing!

My kids were allowed to move around if needed and to whisper as well. Total silence is really just not normal, for hours at a time now, is it? No, they could not talk during tests and they could not disturb people. Little girls, especially, often arrived in the mornings with some information they just had to tell their best friends and I always found it easiest just to give them a few minutes to visit .

My student load was between 29 and 35 children. There were no helpers, aides, music teachers, Phys Ed. teachers, etc. I had my class by myself all day and ate my lunch, sitting with them. We rotated play ground duty and early morning [bus] duty. One day, when the students were lined up to come inside after recess, a little girl whispered to me that a boy in the back of the line had a snake he’d found on the playground. I just backed up and closed the big double doors and locked them. I found the principal and he marched the boy out to the woods and released the critter. No, I did not want it for science class.

Every morning, we read a chapter from the Bible, most often one of the Psalms; then we said the Lord’s Prayer; then we said the pledge to the flag. After that, we sang 2 or 3 songs. Often, we sang later in the day as well, especially if we needed to wriggle a bit and wake up. I never asked but am fairly sure that we had several very different religions represented in our class. Many of the families in our school were from all over the U.S. because the parents worked for the Savannah River Plant, nearby. Nobody objected to reading the bible.

My class always had one or two slow learners, at least one or two very bright children, and the rest were all degrees in between. We had tables with books and projects all around the room for the folks who finished their work first. Boredom is the enemy of learning plus the beginning of discipline problems. Some of the parents built glass cases for the tops of our cabinets so that we had ant tunnels around the back and long side of our room. They were interesting to watch and provided learning experiences. My principal just shook his head and said if that thing ever breaks, we’re going to have to have the entire school fumigated.

Because I was the only teacher in the school who had taken and passed the Red Cross First Aid classes, I was also the school nurse. Quite often, I had a sick or hurt child at the front of the room, getting “doctored” while I was listening to a reading group in the back, plus explaining long division once again to a little fellow who had trouble grasping it.

My best piece of advice to a new teacher is possibly to whisper, don’t shout, if you want the kids to be quiet and listen to you. I never had to shout to control a class. Move around the room, too, don’t stay at your desk. Make sure the room is comfortable, shades adjusted. AND, if you need to turn your back, always spot a kid fixing to whisper, throw an airplane, or leave his seat, then turn your back before you call him down. That is how you assure them you have eyes in the back of your head!

My teaching career ended in 1959 when I became pregnant with my son. As soon as I started showing I had to quit, which was very upsetting to me. Teachers today don't realize how fortunate they are.

I resurrected my teaching skills recently when Dee adopted Michael. I tutored him in English that first summer, with Alesia's help, and we got him ready to start school after being home only a few months. After a lot of intense tutoring, he is now functioning quite well in the 6th grade - and he has been speaking English less than 3 years!

Once a teacher, always a teacher. I am happy now to just be a grandmama, though. [Dee and Alesia supervise homework now.]

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dating Games

Recently, since my granddaughter has been dating, memories crop up that I thought I’d forgotten.. She is dating a sweet, nice young man that we like a lot. Even Uncle Bruce says Pickle is OK. I would not want to embarrass him so will just refer to him as Pickle. I truly doubt he will ever read this but why take a chance.

The poor kid is scared of us. Yeah, I can hear you saying, “Well, who wouldn’t be?” But, come on, we knock ourselves out trying to be kind. We invite him for meals and he takes a teaspoon of a couple of things and manages to get it down. He and his very nice dad live together and I doubt they eat very formally. But the point is, neither do we. We do use cloth place mats but most often, use paper napkins for example.

When I was in high school, here in Atlanta, I kind of grew up at the First Baptist Church, on the block between 5th and 4th Sts, facing Peachtree. This was probably the closest church to Ga. Tech. I did not date a lot but when I did, it was Tech freshmen and sophomores. Our church had a grand young people’s program and my brother and I were active members. Most every social activity was in a group.

Every now and then, I’d date a boy for a while, never anything serious.

One guy I dated, Scott, was from a small, south Georgia town. He was short, about my height, and his voice was changing. When he called, his voice either squeaked or ran up and down the scale. My dad, one of the kindest men on earth, could barely control his mirth when Scott called. That boy just tickled him to death. Dad often answered the phone, pointed at me, and rushed out to the front porch so he could laugh without being heard.

Curtis was another fellow who “ called on” me. That child was nearly as round as he was tall. Freshman didn’t have cars and it was a right long walk to my house. He called one day, saying he had a present for my dad and asked if he could come over. He showed up about an hour later, hugging a big, round watermelon. He had walked about twenty blocks, in Atlanta summer heat. His face was red and he was exhausted. I told Dad he should at least go out with Curtis after the boy had made such an effort.

I did have one real date when I was 15. This was an Atlanta guy who looked like a young Elvis and was old enough to drive. I thought he was just about the best looking guy I’d ever seen. He asked me out a week in advance. I bit my fingernails until Elvis asked me out but was horrified to know they wouldn’t grow out and be pretty in one week. I’ve never bitten them again.

Now I should explain that I knew absolutely nothing about sex, zero, nothing! Before going out with Elvis, my mother succeeded in pretty well scaring me to death. I was not to even let a boy touch me. Why, even holding hands could cause some boys to get all excited , start jumping around, and not be able to control themselves. I had visions of Elvis foaming at the mouth and jiggling all 6ft 2inches of him. I mean, why on earth would they get excited and go nuts like that? At any rate, I knew I didn’t want to cause it!

When the big night arrived, we went to the Fox Theatre to see “Little Women.” About ¾’s of the way through the movie, I announced that I had to go home and insisted that he take me home. No, I couldn’t tell him why. I wouldn’t go to the Varsity for a hot dog. I just wanted to go home. I needed to go to the bathroom and was too mortified to tell him. Of course he never called again and it was a shame because he was a very nice, sweet guy.

I’m happy to explain that I did date a lot of cute guys, during college years, and even got up the nerve to go to the Ladies’ room when I needed to go. During my freshman year at UGA, I was female soloist with the GA [men’s] Glee Club. It was kind of traditional for the guys to take out their soloist, I think .I know they did, at least, and it was fun. You know, I never did see any of the guys get excited, start drooling, and jumping around ! Hmmmmn, wonder if my mom was just sexier than me -------- or if she just dated some real screwballs?!

One interesting sort of date I had was with three of the guys at the same time. I learned that they rented an old house together and they had me over for a delicious dinner. They were upper classmen, music majors, and were lots of fun. I had never even heard of homosexuals, men or women, so had no clue. They were sweet to this exceedingly dumb little girl.

The only man I ever had much trouble with was a young Baptist preacher. My parents knew him from church or he was someone’s son or cousin or something. He got it into his head that I should quit college, marry him, and use my music to be a perfect preacher’s wife. Oh, how wrong, just plain damn dumb, he was! Then, he developed about nine hands so I refused to ever go out with him again. My parents’eyes got big as baseballs when I told them about his shenanigans.

Back then, girls married younger than they do now, I guess. When I was about a junior in college, one of Mother’s sisters told me she had put my name on her prayer group’s list. I asked why she did that and she said in a low, kind of whispery voice, for me to find a husband, of course. She was not pleased that I giggled!

I had been 23 years old for 39 days when I married, so guess I was kind of long in the tooth. At about that time, lots of our local men were coming home from Korea, finished with school, and ready to settle down. I made sure that the same aunt that prayed for me to get married, got invited to every shower and trousseau tea I was given. She had the pleasure of buying a gift for every one. She threatened to just buy a set of wood salad bowls, very popular at that time, and give me one at each party. She didn’t do it tho’, she was a good sport.

I hope Pickle learns to relax around us a bit, and I hope Alesia has fun with him, but I sure want her to wait until after college to get married.

Me during the dating years..

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Old Age Ain't For Sissies

The holidays are special times for getting in touch with old friends and distant family. Sometimes, the visits are by U.S. mail, or phone, or email, but the best ones are the ones where the front door opens and they are right there in front of you!

The day after Christmas, my brother and sister in law came to have lunch with us. Such a nice visit. They prefer a light lunch, as do we, so I just made a big pot of my beef-vegetable soup and Dee made a pecan pie. My son was here so he got in a visit with them as well. I’d not seen them in about 18 months as they live several hours away. I no longer drive trips alone. Dee and the children have to drive me so it gets to be expensive, what with 2 or 3 nights’ motel, two rooms, plus three meals per day for four people.

My brother Don and his wife live in a retirement village, in North Carolina. They sold their big home, in Marietta, Ga., and disposed of much of their household furnishings. They have a cute cottage and love their arrangement which works well for them. It would definitely not be good for me because I would be alone and too far from my children. .I lived alone for nine years and spent part of one summer in a nursing home so know whereof I speak.
Me, Jane, Don

People are so different that the reaction to being left alone after the death of a spouse, may come as a big surprise. For the most part, women do better than men. I’ve spent so much time with both at church related classes and classes I took at the Adult Ed at Augusta college, plus observing friends, that I gained some insight. I’ve done a good bit of informal counseling but did not complete my Psychology Masters. It seems to me that geriatric counseling might be well received along with grief counseling, perhaps in a church or retirement area setting.

Guess my mind really is wandering today but ladies, you could help insure your husband’s well being if you die before he does. Some men fall prey to the “casserole ladies” simply because they lack household coping skills. At least, teach him the bare basics. I have found that the folks my age and older are the ones who lack everyday experience in, for men, doing their laundry , turning on the dishwasher, and using the oven and microwave.

Make a master list of the items you routinely buy at the grocery store every week. I am thinking: milk, eggs, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, lunchmeats, bread etc. Then make another list of things to check on and buy when they run out. This list could include: coffee, cereal, canned soups, salt, pepper, peanut butter, mayo, preserves, sugar, etc. Another list could include cleaning products, laundry items, paper products, personal items like shaving cream, and deodorant. If you will put this in a little notebook and include clean paper in the back, he can make his list by reminding himself from your list. If you think this is far fetched, just observe older men, usually, wandering around glassy eyed at the Publix or Kroger.

Years ago, my sister in law had elective surgery and was away from home a couple of weeks. Back then, hospital stays were longer. Later, I asked her very bright husband how he got along by himself, knowing she had left all kinds of food fixed for him. Oh, he said he’d got along fine except for the towels. It seems that over the two week period, his towel and wash cloth got awfully grungy……. Of course her laughing reply was that she thought he’d have enough sense to remove clean towels from the linen closet in the bathroom.

Most often, widows need a different set of skills. Foremost of course, is how to handle finances, pay bills, and when to change the oil in the car. Many older women have never driven on trips alone or with just another woman. Mainly, they just lack self-confidence. One would think that in this day and age, they would be fine but often, not so. My husband was the head of Trust Departments in two large banks. Some of his lady customers were left well cared for financially but were terrified that they would run out of money. It was sad that they were so fearful and it could have been averted. Often, if I knew the women I would spend time with them mainly just to try to encourage them.

I wish I could tell some of their stories but am afraid it would not be proper. In my own case, one fellow assured me that he’d be happy to take over my finances and I wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. When I explained that everything I had was tied up in trusts, [not true] he decided that I really was not so cute!

A way to start developing self-confidence is to go ahead and take short trips, with a friend along if you like. After Tony died, I drove back and forth from Augusta to Hilton Head at least a dozen times. Sometimes I had a friend with me, sometimes alone. Several times I also drove alone to Dee’s, in Atlanta, a shorter trip.

One day trip I thoroughly enjoy, is to Dillard, Georgia. Dillard House and Motel is there right in the foothills of the mountains and the fresh air and scenery truly lift my spirits. We usually just drive up there for Sunday dinner. No matter which day of the week one goes, it is just like Sunday dinner! The food is brought to the table, family style, and there is much variety and plenty to eat. I’ve never spent the night there but I believe Dee has. Somewhere we have cute pictures of our kids taken on the big front porch with the mountains in the background. Surely there are places like that or other interesting places one could drive to for a pleasant experience.
My grandchildren at Dillard House last spring.

There are exceptions to every rule. Most of the young folks that I know, men and women, are self-sufficient. So many wives of my generation tended to spoil their husbands, partly because we were home all day with the children. Nowadays, women are working away from home too, and everyone has to pitch in. Also, I know some widows who live within a few miles of where they grew up and have the comfort of old friends and family.

Hmmmmn, maybe we need a non-credit course: Home Economics for old geezers -

Or: Balance Your Checkbook Without Tears.