Tuesday, January 30, 2007

You've Got to Read This Book!

That's the title of a book I'm reading now by Jack Canfield, the creater of the Chicken Soup series. A bunch of famous and rich people tell the book that changed their lives. It got me to thinking.

The book that changed my life was True Story magazine, anybody remember them? My mom used to read them and leave them laying around. I guess she was hungry for romance.

When I was seven, I had already gone to four schools and lived in, I think five towns. Somewhere I'd learned phonics. I was bored one day, leaning against the radio where we spent much of our time being entertained and I picked up my mom's magazine. I thought since I knew the sound each letter made, I could sound out the words.

I did. By the end of the year, I was checking out big books from the library and I'd found my salvation from the world of degradation and poverty we lived in.

True Story is not an appropriate magazine for a seven-year-old. But it saved me.

What book changed your life?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Laughing Hyenna(Guest Post by Barb)

Shortly after starting at my current I company, I sat a reserved position with the name of someone who I had gone to school with starting in the first grade. I pondered leaving a note signed, "The laughing hyenna was here." I wasn't quite sure if she was one in the same or if she would even remember that nickname that she called me sometimes in first grade. I don't know if it was here or Danny who gave it to me, but I think they both liked to say it. She said that the name fit as I laughed just like the hyennas at the zoo.

When I finally saw someone occupying the desk that matched a mental image of what my friend may look like, I confronted her to find out if she were my friend from grade school who I last saw at age twelve. She was. She said she would not have recognized me as my hair is a much darker blonde. I access memories quite easily of first grade and grade school in general and running into her may make what I call my Norman Rockwell years more concrete. Home life and school were great in those years. My school was a small Catholic school with a small town feel.

My first grade teacher was a nun with dark brown hair and very pale skin. She wore dark rimmed glasses that were not very stylish but probably about the norm for the 70's. I have little sound bites of her and my class. My family thinks I remember everything. Of course, that is not true. But there is so much that I recollect from first grade that may equal my memories in a given year in high school.

One day before the school day started, I was walking around with jerking movements acting like I was a robot or something thereabouts. Sister let me do it for a time and then said it was time to wind down as the school day would be starting. I followed her cue and said my batteries were running out. Later, I would read a report card with her comments from first grade where she wrote about my coming out of a shell. I don't remember being in a shell. Perhaps I was very observational without talking at times until I got to know people, which is different than being shy.

The boy's plaid pants that my mom had me wear under my uniform to keep my legs warm on a walk on a cold winter morning were the subject of conversation one school day. The fact that they were boys pants was pointed out by one of my classmates. Sister started talking about hand-me-downs and how if you had an older brother that you may receive boys clothes. Wow, that was just like me. I felt special.

After randomly questioning us as to what we had for breakfast one morning and pointing out the food groups, sister said the french toast that my mom made would have all the groups if I had some fruit with it. After all, it is made with milk, eggs, and bread. She queried if I had orange juice. I thought I must have. I don't think I knew about food groups before that. I beamed at the new found knowledge of my healthy breakfast.

Sister had us students seated on the ground one day and she must have been reading a story. Danny who was my best friend in the class as we sat next to each other and talked a lot the easy conversations of youth. While seated on the ground, Danny scratched me out of the blue. I liked Danny, but I wanted him to know I would not take this. I promptly bit his arm. I am not sure if Danny's offence was seen by Sister. Mine did not pass her by. She asked if I had my rabbi shots? I am sure I looked dumbfounded as sarcasm was beyond me at that age. At that moment, our teacher's aide was there and I was ushered out of the room with her. The aide asked me why I bit Danny. I offered the oft repeated, "I dunno."

In my first grade mind, Sister had made one incredible mistake during the year. She had picked another students doll to be the baby Jesus. The event may had already come and gone, but I still wanted her to know how wrong she was. For show and tell, I took my newborn baby doll that could pass for a boy unlike the obvious girl looking doll chosen. I think I expected her to comment on what a perfect choice for the nativity my doll would be. The events of the day took a different course. I walked my doll around the room for other students to view. Questions of what can it do were made. This was the era of dolls that could eat and perhaps even craw. Sister came to my rescue in saying the doll was for loving.

This was the year I started reading first with sight and see flashcards and then easy readers. We practiced our addition. For music, we had rhythm sticks. During one music lesson, sister held my attention as she told the story behind the writing of "The Star Spangled Banner." They say your first grade experience sets the tone for your future school experience. I received a great start!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

In Their Eyes(Guest Post by Barb)

I noticed such kindness in the eyes of one of my Sunbeam's fathers. I think at that moment he was holding his daughter and talking to me. I had seen him before but the kindness never really stuck me before. Maybe it was the covering that glasses provide that kept me from my initial observance. Intelligence is what we are often conditioned to find behind lenses. Those were very difficult days for me and the warmth found there was something that I took in with gratitude. I don't recall anything he ever said to me. I was very shy and probably said very little if anything to him.

About four years later, I would actively seek to stare into a Sunday School teacher's eyes. It was my third area in my mission field. That was the area that I would hit what was known as "the wall." I know what my trials were in the area but not exactly right at that time. I just remember feeling that if I stared into his eyes that it would help me to hang in there. Again, it was not about him or I having any type of friendship. It was not about having feelings for this man. I did not know him other than the fact that he seemed strong and nice. I don't think we ever had dinner at his home so he probably lived in the Elder's area. In addition, we only had very casual and limited contact. He did not seem uncomfortable to my knowledge. I just wanted something to lean on or hold onto when I was a shell. I gazed intently into his eyes as he taught trying to shut everything else out.

Several years later, I noticed the eyes of my professor during a lecture. I thought I may have detected his eyes watering. This professor seemed to ignore me in lectures never calling on me when I raised my hand. After my second test, he let me know how he thought I was so promising after the first one and was disappointed on my performance on the second. I think the moment when I encountered the humanity in his eyes was much later in the semester. In that moment, I saw more than a professor in front of me. I wondered what trials or sorrows he might have in his life that I do not think I ever considered. Through my sister, I would learn that he was diagnosed with dementia. I am not sure of the exact timing of diagnosis in regards to my class. Through his early stages of dementia, I thought how perhaps he would understand more what it was like for those who did not have his ability to recall trivia and data.

It was a few years after his diagnosis that I saw his by line in the alumni paper. I took that as a wonderful sign that he is still functioning well as he is able to organize his thoughts in a literary manner. I do not know if he felt connected to me as I tried to search his mind and heart as I looked into his eyes. Maybe, just maybe, I was a source of compassion or strength for him right when he needed it.