The Sunshine State Part 2

After arriving in Homestead, Florida, Momma got a job as a teacher while Daddy performed his duties as a “nozzle jockey” for the air force. He refueled planes, which basically meant riding up and down tarmacs on fuel tanks that amounted to humongous bombs on wheels–not the way one would prefer to spend their early 20’s. Since Daddy was a good shot, having grown up with guns, he was eventually given the opportunity to be certified to train men in small arms instruction. This meant going BACK to Lackland in San Antonio.

Mom, of course, went with him this time. She told me they rented a tiny efficiency apartment, and she set to work scrubbing and cleaning trying to make it like home. The floor seemed a very difficult task as the more she cleaned the dirtier it got. She eventually realized she was scrubbing the vinyl off the backing. Much like her life of petty crime, that sojourn in San Antonio began and ended her life of housework.

While they were gone there was a hurricane that hit the lower Florida coast. Momma said she was worried to death about. . .her coat. She had visions of their little trailer floating off into the Atlantic Ocean with her lovely black wool, fur-collared coat inside. Why in the world she thought she NEEDED her woolen coat while living along the southern tip of Florida is beyond me, but she HAD bought it with her very own money–her first pay check as a teacher. And it DOES get cold in Florida occasionally. That’s why they have smudge pots, you know. To save the oranges. OR Momma could have just draped her coat over a tree or two.

Either way, they made it back to Homestead eventually to their little trailer (Momma’s coat was safe and sound) and while Daddy busied himself with small arms instruction and Momma busied herself as a kindergarten teacher, together they busied themselves with making a big sister for me. Momma was due at the end of December, and they both wanted to get my sister here in time to count on 1964’s income tax statement. To this end, Daddy did several things. First of all, he kept Momma in banana splits from the Dairy Queen in Florida City. There WAS a Dairy Queen in Homestead, but their banana splits just didn’t taste the same. So to Florida City they would go. Not ONLY did they get plenty of banana splits, but they also got a free baby carrier. Evidently a couple had left a pink baby carrier in a booth, so one day the owners of the Dairy Queen gave it to Momma and Daddy. I spent some time in it myself. I don’t know if my brother, Hal, did or not as it was pink. Luckily all the photographs of him in ANY baby carrier are in black and white, so only Momma knows the truth. 🙂

My mother ALSO loved (and still does love) chocolate covered cherries. Someone told her that since she was pregnant, if she ate too many, she would get fat. Poor Momma–she didn’t need to worry about getting fat, but she dutifully ate only ONE chocolate covered cherry per day. She did, however, eat a fair amount of home-made floured French fries. And banana splits. So I doubt if two chocolate covered cherries would have hurt her much. Along with the chocolate covered cherries and bananas and icecream and French fries, Daddy also tried to bring about my sister’s arrival by taking my mother for frequent spins through the Florida Everglades in an air boat.

Something must have worked, because exactly two years and ten days after their wedding, my sister, Suzanne, was born. I have written about her birthday before–she was a New Year’s Eve baby. And had ANOTHER baby not been born shortly after her, she would have been THE New Year’s Baby–which meant lots of diapers and other prizes. Alas, she had to settle for being the daughter of Harold and Glenda Watts–and my big sister. But she DID and DOES get fireworks every year for her birthday.

She was born in the military hospital on the base. Momma was alone when Sissy came as Daddy had to work, and Granny and PawPaw had not made it there yet. Daddy didn’t get to see Sissy until the next day. Momma had already told him he’d better not show up unless he had a dozen red roses. She’s a smart gal, my Momma. That may have been the last dozen roses she got from Daddy as I don’t remember ever seeing any in our house while I was growing up. Where is one to find a dozen red roses in a tiny military town on New Year’s day? Well–Daddy managed to find a florist who was closed but in their shop preparing for a wedding. Bless her heart, the florist listened to his story, then fixed him up a bunch of roses so Momma would let him into the hospital room.

To be continued. . .

Me in a pink baby carrier. Pink sponge curlers in my sister's hair.


Here I am in the Florida City Dairy Queen baby carrier. This photo HAD to have been taken on a Saturday night AFTER my Sister’s bath, or on a Sunday morning before the curlers were extracted for church. If I sniffed hard enough, I might be able to smell the Dippity-do. You can also see her perfectly cut bangs. Momma managed this by putting a piece of Scotch tape across our bangs so that she could cut a straight line even if we moved. I TOLD you she was a smart woman!

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The Sunshine State

My parents married at the end of December, 1962. They took off for a honeymoon in Colorado leaving my Granny in tears, because Momma had forgotten her winter coat, and Granny was just SURE she was going to freeze to death. It was a nice coat too–very expensive black wool with a fur collar bought from THE store in a nearby town. They made it to Colorado where Daddy hunted, they experienced their first ever white Christmas, and Momma (much to her own delight) threw caution to the wind and ordered a hamburger for Christmas dinner. It was what she wanted, and there was no one to tell her she couldn’t.

Within two weeks, Momma was back in Wilmot, Arkansas to finish her first year of teaching, and Daddy went into the Air Force. While Momma was teaching 5th grade and renting a room from a someone, Daddy was at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio later moving on to Amarillo. During the course of that (I’m sure long and frustrating) winter and spring, they managed to see each other twice. Daddy was able to fly into Shreveport one weekend. Granny accompanied Momma on the (then) three hour trip–more then likely to make sure she didn’t forget her coat this time–and stayed with her sister, Georgia Bea, while Momma and Daddy holed up in a hotel room. Later on Momma flew to Amarillo–the only time she’s flown in her life–where she also began and ended her life of petty crime by taking the fork from her airline meal. The lady next to her suggested it saying that if Momma put her napkin on her plate when they came to take it away, they’d never miss that fork. I guess they never did. . .but the fork still lived in our silverware drawer when I was kid.

Daddy came home about week before Momma’s school year was done hauling an 8’x40′ trailer with him. He had purchased it in Amarillo with insurance money he’d gotten from his registered quarter horse that had died. As soon as she packed her 5th-graders off for summer, they hooked the trailer up to Daddy’s truck and took off for Homestead, Florida with Daddy’s sister, my Aunt Sue, following behind them in their car. That’s a long trip with a 40′ travel trailer. When they were crossing the Old Mississippi River Bridge which was all of two lanes, they met a tractor trailer rig going the opposite direction. Daddy said the man STOPPED his rig in the middle of the bridge, then covered his face with both hands afraid to look. Evidently there was about a one or two inch clearance. Daddy had to tell Momma about it. She didn’t see that part. She was too busy hanging out the passenger window to make sure they weren’t scraping off the side of the bridge. She probably didn’t tell Granny about that until much, much later–if ever.

Oh. . .and when they GOT to Florida? Trailers JUST LIKE the one Daddy hauled from Amarillo to northeastern Louisiana, then down to the southern tip of Florida–very NEARLY the entire breadth of the country? They had ’em there for, as Momma says, a dime a dozen.

To be continued. . .


Aren’t they cute? I love this picture. . .which is a photocopy, so Momma, I need a better copy. 🙂

The Week with Four Mondays

That was this week. Seriously. Four. Mondays. It was a long week. I wasn’t the only person who thought so–at least not among the other teachers on my campus. I think I wrote an entry on Monday. . .and then silence. It wasn’t pretty–but I made it through. The week ended with my students endeavoring to complete a ten page packet (five front to back) on homonyms, context clues, and dictionary skills as punishment for their atrocious behavior for my sub on Wednesday. NONE of my students said a WORD. . .however, during my shopping trip last night, I ran into a student I taught in 6th grade (also her big sister) who is now in 8th. She was with her mom–and after some initial chit-chat, I said, “So, Emsley–what’s the word on the street about me?” Her mom just looked at both of us wondering what I meant. Emsley’s reply? “Well, let’s put it this way. Your students are convinced that you single-handedly made the copy machine run out of ink.”

I say mission accomplished. Although–as always–I hate when the many suffer for the few.

Thad also had cold, but it fine. Victoria was gifted with a VERY NICE camera (on loan) from her Uncle Robert, and she has already been taking photos. Here is one of her Momma. 🙂

Due to a deluge of water from the heavens that came in band after band of storming–my OWN photography class today was canceled. THAT means I get to look forward to it another time. And I got to take a little nap on the couch this afternoon.

After four Mondays–a Saturday at last.

A Day

It has been a day. It was a day full of promise that culminated in me losing my temper with my 7th period class. Granted. It was not solely their fault. It was the build-up of an entire day’s worth of whining, chattering, eye-rolling, huffing, muttering, But-I-Didn’t-Say-ANYTHINGing (except for what they said to their friend before I called their name AFTER I had said “No talking.” about ten times.) people who show me every, single day how they treat their parents by how they treat me.

I thought it was only me–alas, I was not the sole teacher with a story to tell at the end of the day. I heard bits and snatches as I stalked to the front after school to run some scan-trons. The capper was when I walked into my a.p.’s office to get some forms, and saw a teacher sitting in the chair while the a.p. was having the following conversation over the phone–presumably with a parent. “Yes. Well, he told his teacher that she did not have a brain capable of comprehending why he did not need to work in her class today. . .” Evidently it wasn’t the first time the 7th grader–who has a MUCH BIGGER CAPACITY FOR COMPREHENSION THAN HIS 30-something SCIENCE TEACHER–had chosen his reasoning skills over science.

I am not one to wish away days. . .I AM one to wish away these feelings however. The feelings of righteous indignation, exhaustion, justification, and guilt all rolled into the brain and onto the shoulders of a mere mortal. “Chill out, Miss.” I heard that three time’s today–from three different students. I very nearly punched the 3rd one in the mouth. I would GLADLY chill if it weren’t necessary for me to actually, you know, teach. . .or give directions. . .or remind students of rules. . .or do what my administrators tell me. My life would be NOTHING but chill were I able to say, “Open your book to page 56. Read the chapter than follows, then do parts A, B, C, AND the challenge questions. They are due at the end of class. If you don’t finish them in class, you will need to take it home for homework tonight.” That’s what I heard pretty much EVERY teacher I ever had say at the beginning of class more days than not. Except for my Bible teachers.

We don’t even give our students hard copies of text books anymore. The state decided it was too expensive to keep paying for all the lost ones, so now if a kid wants a book to use, they have to check it out overnight.

It’s time for me to go to bed.

But before that, I got to fill out the Scholastic book order forms that Thad brought home. You remember the excitement? Sitting down with a pencil to see what was on deck this month. . .having your mom give you a bag full of change dug from the bottom of her purse to take to school. . .watching the teacher count out the money and fill in the huge, Top Secret Teacher Order Form while we did parts A, B, and C (and feeling REALLY LUCKY if we had to do evens only) or outlined chapter 5 in our social studies books?

Tomorrow it’s back to trying to convince people who care not a whit for education why they must behave long enough to soak up directions. . .why three weeks of daily, uninterrupted class reading time should be enough to complete a middle school length novel. . .and why it is important for them to at least have a working idea of how to identify figurative language and locate text evidence to support it before they go to high school next year.

But tonight–my own two (because Thad is HAPPY to let Victoria look through his order forms too) were just glad to get to ORDER books. I don’t care that Thad’s was about BeyBlades. Scholastic book ordering was the high point of my day. And something I’m glad is still around.

A High Compliment, Indeed

Thad struggles with writing. He is a great story teller. He gives a plethora of details that become tedious at times. He has a vocabulary bigger than he can spell. And there-in lies the problem. Thad also has dysgraphia, a tracking issue, and Irlen Syndrome. I haven’t told the Irlen Syndrome story yet–but will. All of this adds up to a vivid imagination that turns to sludge and cement when he is asked to put it on paper. He is a painfully slow perfectionist.

To add insult to injury, this school year as he is expected to complete a state mandated test on the writing process. He, along with all the other fourth graders in the state, will be given a totally unknown prompt, then they will have to write an essay. He is a little stressed despite the fact that no one is putting undo pressure on him. He has a great language arts/reading teacher whom he LOVES–but last week there was some trouble at bedtime. Thad was heavy-laden–and pretty soon the tears began to flow. “I hate writing, and writing hates me!” he wailed into his pillow. We talked about it, and had a cup of milk and some extra hugs, then I e-mailed his teacher to let her know.

In true Excellent Teacher form,she and the teacher who was administering the “practice” both worked to help Thad through it. They set a timer. They gave him lots of encouragement. They gave him extra time to complete it (which is an accommodation he has). On the home end, I reminded him that spelling is not an issue in tests like these. If he wants to use a word he can’t spell, use it. It’s cool. I also reminded him that he did not have to find The Perfect subject on which to write. I encouraged him to take the first one that popped into his brain on that topic, and to tell what he knew about it. We even practiced.

He did well on the test and took extra time, but a lot less than he had before. For his next essay in class, I wrote out reminders on Post-it notes for each paragraph like, “Why do you like it?” “What do we watch?” “What is your favorite game?” I did two or three reminder notes for each paragraph, and it worked mostly. He still had to bring his essay home, but he was moving forward.

I got another e-mail from his teacher last night. He was working on a new essay–could I help him make some more Post-its to aid in his writing. Well–OF COURSE I CAN! The problem was, that once we started discussing what to put on the Post-its, Thad began writing–not with his hand but with his words. We came into the study, and while he talked, I typed. His paper was excellent. He used all manner of figurative language, pointing out each piece to me and telling me what type it was and why it was a better choice than the alternative.

When we were done, he read it to his Daddy who laughed aloud at one of the lines. There is no better compliment–unless, of course, it is your Wonderful Teacher being JUST as excited as your Daddy. And your Wonderful Teacher ALSO laughing aloud at your writing when it was supposed to be funny. And your Wonderful Teacher printing out your essay (along with the photo your mother sent unbeknownst to you) and allowing you to staple it to the board with her industrial, super-duty stapler that she’s had for over twenty years that is NAMED it is so special to her.

I sent him on to school with the Post-its and e-mailed the paper to her rather than sending it with Thad. I wanted her to choose if she wanted him to write it on his own from his Post-its or copy it by hand into his journal to practice his handwriting. Instead, she took what I’d sent, called it done, and then, in Thad’s words, “She gave me a CHALLENGE.”

This is the e-mail I got from her this afternoon. It contains the compliment that was bestowed on me by my son.

“This is great!
He got to hang his paper and picture up in the hallway using my super duper heavy metal stapler that I’ve had for 20 years. I think he was excited!

I gave him a new task: Choose 5 different colored index cards to “plan” his next essay on (by himself). Then he gets to type it (by himself). I will help of course…I just wanted you to know what he said about this, “This isn’t good. Without my mom? It’s like a jelly sandwich.” “What do you mean?” I asked him. He replied, “You know, PB&J without the PB!”

I told him not to stress- it will be a piece of cake and we’ll hit it tomorrow. His new topic: Nerf”

This is the highest of compliments coming from a child who eats a PB&J (grape–not strawberry) EVERY DAY for lunch except Wednesday which is hamburger day in the cafeteria.

In our time together tonight, (Tony and Victoria were at a meeting.) he relayed the same story to me. He said, “You know, Mom, we’re kind of a team.” I said, “Well, Buddy. I’m glad you let me be the peanut butter, because you know I don’t like jelly.” He said, “Yep, ’cause the peanut butter is the best part!” How can my heart contain it?!?!?

Here is Thad’s paper–typed by me with attempted punctuation while keepin’ it real to a fourth grade boy. I changed no words–just spelled them all correctly. My apologies to those of you who have already heard this story. . .
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Boogie Boarding

Boogie boarding is my most favorite thing to do when we go to the beach in Galveston. We have a belly board and a boogie board. I prefer the boogie board.

The boogie board is kind of like a surfboard. There is a Velcro strap that you put around your wrist. If you wipe out, it’s still going but it’s connected to your wrist. With the belly board if you get a wipe out, then you have to run after the belly board. The belly board is my uncle’s, and one day while my mom and I were out in the surf, my dad and my sister found the boogie board next to the trash can. It was in tip top shape.

My dad, my sister, and I go where the water is up to my stomach—about three and a half to four feet. Sometimes it’s my turn, and sometimes it’s my sister, Victoria’s, turn. My sister goes by herself. Whenever she comes back, it’s my turn. I get the Velcro strap on my wrist. I get onto the belly board, and my dad holds me. I’m all set with my swim trunks up, my Speedo goggles over my eyes, and grasping onto the nose of the boogie board. I’m ready for a good wave, so my dad can let go.

When my dad sees a great wave coming straight towards us and it’s almost here, my dad lets go. I inch forward a tiny bit, then I go zooming towards the shore. I like the feeling of it, because the wind’s in my hair, and I’m going fast without having to do any work. For all the times I know I’m going to wipe out, I take a lung full of the salty air, and close my eyes shut. Sometimes whenever I wipe out, it’s so powerful that my goggles get knocked off, and they go around my neck.

For boogie boarding there are ups and downs. I hope whenever our boogie board breaks, we buy a new one. I think that the next time you go the Gulf of Mexico or the ocean, you should rent a boogie board and give it a try.

Thad with his Speedo goggles after a day of Boogie Boarding, circa 2009

He’s a semi-aquatic, egg layin’ mammal of action…

If you have never seen an episode of Phineus and Ferb, well, you should. My sister got Thad hooked a couple of summers ago, and now that we have Netflix on demand with our fancy schmancy Wii, he watched them all–ALL THREE SEASONS. . .OVER CHRISTMAS BREAK. Tony and I are watching our way THROUGH them.
Anyway–the whole show is hilarious, but below in bold are my VERY FAVORITE lines from the entire show. I had to give you ALL of the Dr. Doofenshmirtz lines (which were delivered over several weeks) so that you could get ALL of the humor, and I BELIEVE that you can find the humor even if you have NO context. He and Stacy are minor characters–but priceless.
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Dr. Doofenshmirtz: Ah, Perry the Platypus, what an unexpected surprise… and by unexpected, I mean completely expected!

Dr. Doofenshmirtz: Ah, Perry the Platypus. As usual, your timing is uncanny. And by uncanny, I mean, completely canny!!

Dr. Doofenshmirtz: Ah, Perry the Platypus. Your timing is impeccable. And by “impeccable,” I mean completely peccable!

Dr. Doofenshmirtz: Perry the Platypus. As usual, your timing is incredible. And by incredible, of course, I mean completely credible!

Dr. Doofenshmirtz: Perry the Platypus, how unexpected! And by unexpected, I really mean unexpected–what are you doing here? This is my week off.
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Stacy: Listen up, twerps! Just because Candace is sick doesn’t mean you can get away with anything! I am now her eyes, ears and mouth. Basically, I’m her whole face.

Thwarted by the CONSTRAINT of 24 hours

We’ve had a lovely, lovely weekend. LOVELY because there was NOWHERE that most of us had to go. Tony DID have to go somewhere for a bit on Saturday, but the kids and I never left the house OR our pajamas until it was time for church this morning. After church we came home and got right back INTO our pajamas and there we have stayed. Heavenly. Tonight I am finally sitting down to write a post–alas, I can stay up WAY too late to finish it or, as Momma would say, I can use my good, common sense and go to bed. Since the story features my mother HIGHLY in it, I think I will heed her voice from long ago when I was in high school and go to bed. Here is a photo that will mean nothing until I finish the post. You’re welcome.

And see, Momma???? I’m going to bed!!!