Education and Common Sense
My WMU annual meeting report
I had been healthy all winter, and two days before the meeting I had been planning to attend convened, I developed a bad cough and runny nose. My daughter Cathy and I had reservations to stay in Winchester for the whole meeting. She, of course, was obligated to go, because she had been nominated to be Recording Secretary of the WMU, but I was going along to give her support and see all my WMU friends from all over the state that I had met through that organization. I had been on the State Board three different three-year terms, and was looking forward to seeing many friends at the giant yearly family reunion.
Besides seeing old friends, the Annual Meeting, which is held in a different church each year, is part business (electing officers, etc.), part inspiration (great speakers), part revival (the music is heavenly), part circus (two “church ladies”, Bertha and Bernice, furnished laughter), part support for a great cause (778 Hospice Kit Buckets were provided for those dying of AIDS in Africa.)
I was so sorry when Cathy left on Thursday afternoon to be there early Friday morning without me. After her school was out that day, Patti called and said that if I felt up to going to the meeting for one day that she would come to my place that evening and we would be able to go to Winchester the next day and at least be there when Cathy got elected. If I felt too bad, we could come back any time. I was delighted. So that is what we did.
We were so happy to see our friends, Gene and Uneva Graves, who were leaders in First Baptist Church at Paintsville, and Patti was in Uneva’s very vibrant youth group there. Uneva also taught a few years at Paintsville High School and has been my dear friend ever since. They are members of Central Baptist Church in Winchester, where the meeting was held. The Central Baptist members were gracious hosts to the several hundred guests. It is a privilege, but it is a whole lot of work. Peggy Craycraft, who was on the Board when I was once or twice, was the overall chairman, and she arranged everything beautifully.
I was so glad when I found that Susan Bryant, a young lady who became a WMU Board member twenty years ago, when I was a member, became Kentucky WMU President. We became fast friends that three years, and I almost felt I had two daughters elected to guide Kentucky WMU. I did not know Shelby Castlen, whose husband is a former Director of Missions in south central Kentucky, but Bunny Dixon O’Bryan, one of my surrogate daughters, posted on the internet that Shelby is her good friend.
I found out that our 14 hospice buckets were a part of 778 buckets that were packed and loaded to be shipped to Africa. Joy Bolton, the Kentucky WMU Director, and her husband, Stacy Nall, the state children’s leader and her husband, Susan Bryant, and I don’t know who else, went to Africa in December of 2013 to personally deliver some buckets.
These buckets are five gallon plastic buckets with tight-fitting lids that can be bought at Wal-Mart or Lowes. The buckets and contents cost about $100 or less. The contents are things that a sick person would need. Each bucket has exactly the same items: a waterproof pad, two twin sheets, two pillowcases, one thin towel (a thick towel will make the bucket too full and take too long to dry), four thin washcloths, two Chapsicks, toothpaste, two toothbrushes, a scrub brush, two pairs of cotton socks, plastic gloves, long drinking straws, four bars of unscented Dove soap, body lotion, a plastic garbage bag to store the materials in if the caretaker needs the bucket for some other purpose. They must be loaded in the exact order suggested or they will not fit. Exact instructions can be found on the WMU website.
The most inspiring story was told me privately by Susan Bryant. She said, “I was so busy getting ready to go that I did not have time to think about getting my two granddaughters’ Christmas presents before I left. Of course, they are like all our children, they have electronic games and just about everything anybody else has.
“We took one bucket to a house in Africa where an eleven-year-old boy, just the age of my oldest granddaughter, was dying of AIDS. His parents must have already died, and his grandmother was caring for him. We opened the bucket, and when the grandmother saw the two pairs of warm socks, she cried. The child was too sick to open his eyes. We told them that we were representing Jesus, and explained that we came to do what we could to help in His name.
“When I got back, I couldn’t bear to do Christmas shopping the way I always had. I couldn’t think of a thing my grandchildren needed. They had everything. I got them a few little things, and then I bought everything that went in one of those buckets, and wrapped them up individually and put them under the Christmas tree with no names on them. The girls started opening the packages and were puzzled to get a twin sheet, four bars of soap, until it dawned on them who the presents were for. So we packed a bucket on Christmas Day, and their bucket will go to Africa to ease the pain of someone who is dying.”
Susan cried when she told it, and so did I.
I was so blessed to get to go to Annual Meeting for one day.
Flowers, people and life
Now comes that wonderful time of year that we call spring. Down home, we rejoice in this: the arrival of a fresh new gift from nature. Happily, one element of this, a fringe benefit, if you will, is a promise that just a little ways down the seasonal highway, summer is waiting. Meantime, till it gets here, we bask in the here and now that hopefully, will have no more snow, no more arctic air masses, and no more frozen earth.
However, beguiling as this is, we do know how unpredictable spring can be. The tempering of the earth will happen as it happens. I have seen it snow in May, have had an early garden zapped back, frozen to the ground. We just clear it all up and start all over again, singing to ourselves that old melody that says; “Oops. There goes another rubber tree plant!”
Nevertheless, another nice part of this time of year has to be the flowering of our environment. Along this line, it is a pleasure for me to see the magnolia trees as they flower. Just now, the redbud is in bloom, ditto the forsythia, and soon now the dogwood. Best of all these, when the magnolia trees blossom, with their big, cup-like pink blooms, I always feel we are home free. Of course, these are often hit by a late frost so that the blossoms will turn brown and wilt. Even so, in a kind of programmed reaction, they will set a new canopy of blooms, ensuring that the trees can do their compulsory thing in season.
For years now, I have been the recipient of a large bouquet of freshly broken branches and blossoms from a magnolia tree. I have often wished that those branches would root in water, but they don’t. So I just treasure my bouquet. I could write a book about the tree this bouquet comes from. To most, it is no different from all the others now blooming around the area. You see them in yards everywhere, small, lovely, semi-tropical and delicate looking trees. However this may be, my bouquet comes from the one that grows at the edge of the yard of my old home. My daughter Grace lives there now, and she knows that many years ago, her daddy set out the tree that is now in bloom.
Back then, we knew that Edward Parrigin’s life was winding down, in as much that as he worked, he told me it was the last thing he would ever get to do for me, and he was right. Now, soon as the tree sets flowers, Grace picks a big bouquet, brings it to me. Neither of us make any mention of why she does this. We know that words would make the moment to bittersweet to be borne. Even so, we both remember, as does all my family.
This morning, and not unexpectedly, the day is gray and overcast, and a cold rain has fallen, a carry over from the windstorm that quarreled and nattered at us during the night. Days like today I instinctively think of a simmering pot of vegetable soup. Of course I will also have to make a few breaded, gently browned and succulent pork chops, some fried potatoes, some corn bread, along with maybe a side dish of hominy or perhaps some cream style corn for Walter, who does not eat soup. I do, as does my kids, as well as all my grandkids. Nevertheless, when I make soup, I always make something else for Walter. Spoiling him.
Now. In the midst of ordinary things, word comes that an old friend in Michigan has passed away. Hank (Henry) Eisingah sang tenor in our old gospel group. I wrote about him in this column, how after a relatively simple surgical procedure, he had a side effect condition known as Guillain Barre Syndrome. This is a neurological condition much like but swifter in its effects than Lou Gehrig’s disease, where the victim becomes totally incapable of voluntary movement.
Sid and Betty King who called me from Michigan to tell me about Hank’s passing, said that he became tired of fighting to live, tired of not being able to move, not even as much as to scratch the tip of his nose. He wanted to go, and after telling his family goodbye, he did. All of life is just like that. Spring flowers bloom and fade, then fall to the earth till another spring brings them back again. We humans come and go, a part of our Father’s great design. For the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!
Down memory lane, again
At least once a month, Ronnie and I have a lively discussion about the neighborhoods in which we grew up. Needless to say, we invariably get into an argument about which one was the best. Of course, he thinks growing up in West Van Lear was much more enjoyable and meaningful than my experience of growing up in Paintsville around the park and playground. As far as I’m concerned, there is no comparison.
Ronnie, and his brother, Jim, grew up directly across from the grade school in West Van Lear. Obviously, the school was the hub of activity for the children who congregated there after school hours; and they had a large populous of young people. Ronnie goes down the Memory Lane of his childhood talking about the Robinson kids, Ronnie, Patty, Larry, and Bill Mike; Danny and Susie Preston; Nick, Neil, and Robin Marsh; Alan Ray, Sandy, and David Preston; David and Ricky Webb; Sharon, Kay, Pam, and Keith Wells; Cornelia, Jennifer, and Kenny Webb; Eugenia and Barbara Price; Donnie, Sammy, and Carolyn Watkins; Debbie and Diane Castle; Luther, Roger, and Sherry Russell; Cathy, Connie, and Chris Goble; Elaine and Donna Sherman; and Jim “Pooch” Arrowood. These kids lived within two or three blocks of the school yard. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ronnie’s mentor, Herbie Deskins who lived next door to him for many years. (At this point I am leaving out many, but you get my point).
As wonderful as I’m sure he thinks this neighborhood was, living around the tennis and basketball courts, the baseball field, and the swimming pool was quite an adventure. Starting behind the baseball field there was my family, Melinda, Sara, Jenny and Amanda; Mike and Kathy Miller; Bas, Tinker, and Tootsie Mullins; Jimmy and Cookie Carroll; Suzi, Vanessa, Robert and Richard Mullins; Joy and Lyda Mason; Linda Sue Preston; Pam King; Danny Gene Colvin; Linda Faye, Becky, and Chuck Carroll; Debbie and Susan Christian; Joanie Roberts; Patty and Kathy Barker; Bill Osborne; L. B. and Johnny Lemaster; Anna, Brenda, and Thom Deskins; and Marta Dean and Darla Ann Helton. (I’m probably leaving out some, too.)
We moved to this area in November of 1957 from Fifth Street, where our neighbors were Alan Montgomery; Denny and Lynn Dorton; Clary and Nancy Bailey; Lorna, Janie, and Danny Moon; and Jan McPherson.
But Ronnie and I are not the only people who think their neighborhoods were special in the 50’s and 60’s. On several occasions while talking with Chuck Morgan, he disputes both of us and says that growing up in the lower end of town, Grabnickel, beat our experiences 10 to 1. That’s when he goes into his memory bank and names all the families from Euclid Avenue, Stafford, Preston, and Frank Streets, all the way to Bridge Street. “That was a pretty good place to grow up, too,” he argues.
Thinking back, we had multitudes of children living in communities of their own throughout Paintsville. And, basically, each of these sections stayed within their own perimeters. Rarely did we venture out of kingdoms except to go to school or church. Each section had special qualities that were unique to them and that’s where the memories emanate from.
I can’t imagine a greater childhood than the one I had, and Ronnie can’t either. He didn’t have all the amenities we had like a swimming pool, etc., but he and his friends created their own universes at the schoolyard and on the riverbank at the “Junction.” His tales of climbing the old Van Lear Bridge and the Halloween pranks they played rival many things we did. However, I just can’t envision anything more wonderful than sitting on the bleachers at night in the summer talking and laughing into the wee hours of the morning. And the parents weren’t worried about us either because Gus Hayes, the night watchman for the pool, kept a close eye on us.
If nothing else, I hope this article reminds all of the readers of that magical time of lives called “childhood.”
Have a great week and don’t forget to Smile Awhile.
Apr 9, 2014, 08:13
Living in the present tense
Tomorrow I’ll have me another one of those birthday things that used to come every two or three years, but now seems to come every few months or so.
Not that I need more proof than what appears in the mirror every morning while I’m shaving, but this one will leave little doubt about whether or not I’m now a bonified senior citizen. After all, I was here long before TV, polio shots, open-heart surgery and hair transplants.
Furthermore, I also arrived on this planet before frozen food, florescent lights, credit cards, ball point pens and Frisbees. I showed up before somebody invented panty hose, the ice maker, the dishwasher, disposable diapers, aluminum cans, plastic anything, cheerios, pop tarts and instant coffee.
Having graduated high school in the fifties, I can go back to a place where time seemed to stand still and days were twenty-four hours long. It’s obviously an age thing, but lately I find myself returning to those times of sitting for hours reading Captain Marvel comic books that older brother Hubert bought me at a place called a dime store; of heavily-starched and tightly-pegged blue jeans and button-up shirts with the collars turned up. It was a time when somebody invented an entertainment phenom called an Elvis, but nobody was smart enough to invent something to cure zits.
I can even remember when the education process was considered a success, not because students scored well on some test made up in Frankfort, but because the Meade Memorial Red Devils sometimes beat the Inez Indians in basketball. I remember when it was a rarity, even bordering on curiosity for a student to drive to school, and when drugs were what was left in the bottom of Dad’s coffee cup.
I’ll admit that for some time now, I’ve been a card-carrying member of the AARP and although not yet needing to take advantage of all the assisted-living products displayed in its little magazine, I have been known to flash my membership card long enough to merit significant discounts in certain restaurants and motel chains.
At the same time, I realize that I can’t go back as far as some folks I know, but my memory does have a working relationship with FDR, Amos and Andy, Gabriel Heatter and Perry Como. I remember listening to the evening news on the radio and hearing my dad speak reverently of John L. Lewis, who was president of the United Mine Workers of America, and whose word, at least as far as the miners were concerned, was gospel.
But while all that memory stuff is well and good, living in the present tense has its perks, too. One, of course, is being able to enjoy family, especially those grandchildren, Alison and Owen.
So what if another birthday has rolled around? Life is good.
Education and Common Sense
Chose the gold schoolroom
(I am so grateful that through the magic of the Internet and Facebook, I am able to know what happened to so many of the students that I had for six years from seventh through the twelfth grades. Because I lived in the same town for sixty years I could know how so many of them turned out. I can be concerned when a former library assistant, now an engineer with IBM, is flying to China on business, or know when others are making momentous decisions. Because my head feels like it is full of sawdust, and I am coughing intermittently, I am going to recycle a column I wrote in 1989, when I first started this column. I shall always be grateful to Scott Perry, then editor of the Paintsville Herald, who printed my first efforts about “Education - then and now.” This column was published in Education and Common Sense, c1989. Now out of print.)
CHOSEN AT RANDOM
Needles eye, castles high,
Aiming to go through
Many a beau did I let go
Because I wanted you!
Jesse Stuart used a line from a variation of this song for the title of his early adventures in schoolteaching, THE THREAD THAT RUNS SO TRUE. Instead of “the thread that runs so true”, we sang “aiming to go trrough” at Wilson School in Butler County, Kentucky in July of 1944.
After my first five weeks of teaching, where I finished a school year because the teacher had quit, and there was no one else available, and where, miraculously, everyone had survived, including me, I went to Louisville to make my fortune in War Work. While my clearance was coming through, I worked a few weeks at Besten and Langen, a clothing store on Fourth Street. I managed to do just about everything wrong once. I salved my injured pride by reflecting that I never made the same mistake twice, but I must have driven the New York native floorlady to distraction at the new mistakes I could blunder into.
Just when I was about to get the hang of selling ladies’ sportswear, my FBI clearance came through, proving that I was indeed a loyal citizen of the United States. I was hired by Goodyear in Charlestown, Indiana, to weigh, load and sew charges of powder for the big guns to use at the War Front. While I was there the the Allies invaded France on D-Day.
I had not gone to college a day. The Superintendent of Butler County Schools, Mr. Louis Arnold, sent word to me that I had a school if I wanted one. A broken engagement, the expense of living in Louisville, the coarsening effects of living in a rooming house and factory work combined to help me decide to come home to teach. Besides, I already had chalk dust in my veins.
Wilson School was an old school, having been built of logs in the early days and later weatherboarded outside and ceiled inside. Sitting in a little meadow in the bend of a dirt road, it had three windows on either side of the house. Inside, the blackboard covered the end wall.In front of the teacher’s desk was the long “Recitation Bench.” Rows of hooks for hanging coats were on the wall to the right of the door. On the left were the shelves for the water bucket, each person’s drinking cup, and the dinner buckets.
In the center of the oiled floor was the rusty, pot-bellied iron stove. The inside of the room was painted a soft cream color, much more pleasant than the “schoolroom buff” that most classrooms were painted at that time. The windows were clean, with freshly washed, starched and ironed white muslin curtains made and maintained by one of the mothers. This loving touch made the scholroom a cosy place in which to be cloistered for seven months.
That year we had a 97% attendance record, the highest in the county. Some of my teacher friends suggested that we were so far out in the country that even a germ could not find its way there!
The school was twenty-three miles from my home, and I had never been in that area before. I had thirteen students, scattered among eight grades, but we only taught the fifth and seventh grades the years we didn’t teach the sixth and eighth grades.
At recess, we played the games they always played. I had never heard the song they sang, but I had played the game many times. It was “London Bridge.” While we sang the song, everybody trudged under the captains’ upraised joined hands, and when they sang”Many a beau did I let go because I wanted YOU!”, they grabbed the person going through at the time.
They took him aside and asked him a question,”Which had you rather be, a gold bed or a gold couch?” After every person had chosenwhich captain to get behind, the game ended in a tug of war.
We played other games, and, during the winter, kept a jig saw puzzle on a table for anyone with time on their hands, and sometimes we made sculptures out of a vein of clay we dug out of a ditch by the side of the road.
I remember that those children, aged six to thirteen, played happily together, watched out for each other, and did not expect me to figure out something for them to do during our two fifteen-minute recesses and the hour lunch break. None of us had ever seen a television set. We had no electricity for a radio, and if we had any music we had to sing it ourselves.
“Because I wanted YOU!” Sometimes I feel that I was chosen to be a teacher in that ramdom manner. After those two attempts in the spring of 1944 to work in a department store and a war factory, I have never been tempted to leave teaching for any other work.
I chose the “GOLD SCHOOLROOM” and I’ve never been sorry I made that decision.