Jan 072022
 

January 7. 2022 — When I was a month old, I attended my first picnic, or so I’m told. My parents put me on a blanket with another infant, a baby boy born in April to my summer birth. To paraphrase Louie in “Casablanca,” that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Michael “Mike” Gene Butt, who died unexpectedly on January 5,  was the son of Clara Marie Butt,  a third-grade teacher in the same school system where my father taught agriculture in high school. The South Whitley school system was small, and everyone knew everyone else and their families. My mom was a frequent substitute teacher in elementary school. Mike’s dad, “Red,” was an executive with a local company. a long-standing civic leader, and an active fire department member.

Our elementary school had two classes for each grade. Michael’s mom was a third-grade teacher, so he was in the “other” classroom with our teacher, Miss Enid Heckman. One day, my mother was substituting for Miss Heckman. Mom didn’t put up with any nonsense, especially from her oldest child. Michael and I talked, and Mom sent us out in the hall.

Mom threw gasoline on the fire because we talked loudly and laughed hysterically in the hallway. Michael was a dark-haired Dennis the Menace, always clad as a child in a horizontal-striped shirts boys wore then. I can close my eyes and see the two of us in the hallway, tucking it up. In third grade, I had wild hair that my mom attempted to tame with oversized barrettes.

Mrs. Butt flew out of her classroom and immediately sent both of us to the principal’s office. I don’t remember what happened next, but I always felt some sort of pride that the only time I ever got in trouble in elementary school was from his mom and my mom.

Approximately one week before the Senior Prom, Mike and I worked on “paste-up” for the high school newspaper in the small newspaper office. I’m guessing the usual cast of characters was also there, but I don’t remember. Paste-up involved adhering long strips of galleys (the printed stories) to the page. We didn’t have a waxer, which professionals used to put an adhesive material on the back of the galley, so we used rubber cement. Mike decided it would be fun to pour rubber cement IN MY HAIR for whatever reason. I’m sure I said something that provoked this attack, but I don’t know what it was for the life of me. We enjoyed a near-constant stream of banter that probably most others didn’t appreciate when we were together.

I had to cut my hair, so it was very short for the Prom.

We wanted to do something spectacular to bid farewell to our high school before he went off to Franklin College and I went off to Ball State University, both to study journalism. So we spent weeks cooking up what may still be one of the most glorious senior pranks ever.

A week before school was out, we each brought in wind-up alarm clocks from home. We set them for 9 a.m., placed them inside our central hall lockers, and went to class. At 9 a.m., the alarms went off, and they were VERY loud. Management (aka the principal RV Reed) figured it out from the locker numbers, and we were summoned to his office. He gave us a pass and sent us downtown to Gruwell’s for doughnuts. Have to love Mr. Reed; God rest his soul. (I think there were other partners in that crime.)

In retrospect, high school was not the greatest time of my life. I always felt like an outsider — so different from elementary school, where I knew everyone. The larger consolidated high school environment was so different from my k-8 experience. But Michael Butt made it bearable and so much fun. He was an unbelievable prankster, but he was always kind and understanding and willing to listen to various incarnations of high school girl drama. I saw Michael at the occasional reunion, and we generally emailed around each other’s birthdays.

In my mind, I see the gregarious 17-year-old boy with his pal Bruce, riding in Bruce’s brother’s baby blue Caddy convertible on Homecoming night 1974. Mike always loved cars, Caddies, Miatas, and Corvettes. So rest in peace, a dear friend.

 

Jan 062022
 

January 6, 2022 — Mark this date on your calendar as the one where you have enough evidence to lock me up, to quote Perry Mason, in an east-coast sanatarium. For the first time in a year or so, we have snow. And like all first snows, it is beautiful, covering the ground like a pure white fleece blanket. Since 8 a.m., I’ve been in my office watching birds feed at four feeders on our deck. The feeding tableau doesn’t seem real–the birds have been coming all morning with no break. There are several pairs of cardinals, three different kinds of woodpeckers (pileated, downy, and what I think is a red-crowned woodpecker), tufted tit-mice, and various small brown birds. I think some may be goldfinches with a darker color for the winter.

Their behavior fascinates me, especially the cardinals who hover around the window feeder and talk and chatter to me, or that’s how I perceive it. Cardinals have special meanings for many people. I like the Cardinals because they are the mascot of my college. (I have a Cardinal red car with Cardinal license plates.)  I hear there’s a baseball team with that name, but I don’t much care about them. Some people believe that the red birds represent a loved one who has passed and visited in the form of a cardinal. Regardless, Charlie is a beautiful bird. That other can see their departed loved one in his red crown and feathers make him all more appealing.

My time communing with our feathered friends is one of the great joys of retirement. I sit in my comfortable chair, having my second cup of coffee and watching the snow descend on these delicate creatures. I know it makes me a cliche (yes,  I do eat supper at 4 p.m.,  and I talk to myself, so what?)

Charlie Cardinal and friends

I spent time each day on Facebook for more than a decade, feeding their algorithms. I originally joined for two reasons: to stalk my non-communicative son at college and keep up with friends after the dissolution of Salon’s writing group, Open Salon. Our adult son became a grown-up and communicated regularly. I stopped posting or sharing most political posts after 2016 because either I would get into arguments with people or be trolled. It wasn’t worth it. When I got an Instagram account to promote my new book, I believe that led to extreme trolling, hacking, and copying my accounts.

I’m not trying to be holier-than-thou at all. My account is still there because I realized I needed it to watch my church services. However, since I announced my flouncing and didn’t read or post, the account has been inactive. I thought I would miss it more than I do, but I don’t. Several friends have made me aware of when there’s a death or an issue with a friend.

Now I have more time. I don’t get rattled over what Charlie Cardinal says at my window, and I often get upset about others’ posts. While I often felt tense or anxious when I read Facebook, I relaxed and focused when watching the birds.

For me, leaving Facebook was the right decision. Maybe I’ll come back someday if our national polarization lessens. But, for now, I would rather spend my time with these fat little creatures of nature.

 

 

Dec 112021
 

In Texas, Panic Over Critical Race Theory Extends to Bookshelves – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

December 11, 2021 — I’ve been a voracious reader all my life.  I was read to as a child, and I witnessed two parents reading every day, from the weekly and daily newspapers we received to their respective alumni magazines and books that reflected their own interests.  My mom took my brother and me to the library weekly.  When I was old enough, I could go on my own.  My mother and grandmother were in “literary” sororities, and our family was often engaged in whatever book each of them was to present that year.

I know that I was extremely fortunate to come from a family of readers. Even my paternal grandmother, who left school in the fourth grade, made a weekly trip to the library.  My parents were both teachers, and reading was sacrosanct in our home.

After moving to the country in 1966, I lost my town playmates. As a result, I became even more of a serious reader.  I rode my bike into town, and the big basket held four or five books.  I liked reading current fiction, history, and especially biography.  I particularly liked the books by Arthur Hailey. So when I checked out the novel “Hotel,” the librarian called my mom to suggest Hailey was inappropriate reading for me.  I think I was about  12 or 13.  The librarian — you can’t make this up — was named Marian.  I am not kidding.  She was a dear person who started the literary sororities in our little town in the 1930s.  (When I wrote my first book and did a well-attended book signing at my hometown library, I stopped by her nursing home to give her a copy of the book.)

But here’s the most important aspect of the Arthur Hailey story.  My parents felt I could handle the book and allowed me to read it.  Before my father taught agriculture, he taught biology, and difficult subjects weren’t hidden from us.  I can’t for the life of me remember what the objectionable part of the book was, but I know I enjoyed “Airport,” “Hotel,” and other Hailey books.  I doubt seriously that my parents would have let me read pornography; in fact, I’m sure of it.  But they had been guiding what I read and heard from before the time I could read.

Not every book is appropriate for every child.  My husband is a librarian and made a summer reading list for our son when he was young.  I didn’t always agree with every book (Jackie Collins), but I trusted my husband.  We also discussed almost everything you can imagine in our house.  Our son still is a huge reader in his spare time and doesn’t seem to have ill effects from reading great literature like Huck Finn in junior high or that blasted Collins book.  And why?  Because he had parents and teachers and other family members who were readers and talked to him about what he read.

In reading, we can learn not to fear what we don’t understand.  One comment from the New York Times article really stood out to me, “Mr. Krause, who compiled the list of 850 books that might “make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish” because of race or sex, did not respond to interview requests. Nor did his aides explain why he drew up the list, which includes a book on gay teenagers and book banning, “The Year They Burned the Books” by Nancy Garden; “Quinceañera,” a study of the Latina coming-of-age ritual by the Mexican Jewish academic Ilan Stavans; and a particularly puzzling choice, “Cynical Theories” by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, which is deeply critical of leftist academic theorizing, including critical race theory.”

Feeling discomfort, guilt, and anguish?  When I read that, my mind went immediately to Colin Craven, the frail hero of my favorite childhood book, “The Secret Garden.”  Reading about Colin for the first time in the late 1960s, I remember feeling “discomfort, guilt, and anguish.”  Colin was alone most of the time; he had no friends.  My life was so different.  Yet “The Secret Garden” was such a profound book for me as a child and taught me so much.  Here’s something else shocking.  I was reading Philip Roth fairly early.  I will note that I liked “Goodbye, Columbus” better than “Portnoy’s Complaint.”  (And if you haven’t read, “The Plot Against America,” well, you should.)

I suspect any child reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will feel many emotions about Jim, the enslaved man.  How can we hide that enslaved people built our country?  Children need to know these things.  For children below high school age, parents need to engage in and understand what their children are reading. I do not support a random school board telling the librarians what to buy and teaching the teachers.

When I was in high school seven thousand years ago, I worked as a writer for my high school newspaper.  During my junior or senior year, the high school moved to a “Phase Elective English” program.  Rather than teaching literature the way it had been taught in Indiana for a hundred years, classes were offered by topic, Shakespeare, Love Stories, Poetry of Relevance, etc.  One of the sections was the “Man Series.” Unfortunately, I cannot remember anything about it and could not find any references on Google.

I remember that the high school administration, school board, and community members felt it was inappropriate for high school juniors and seniors and pulled it off the schedule.  Our high school paper editor wanted to tackle this in the newspaper, but the advisor did not allow him to do so.  They compromised by his putting out a “mimeographed” (oh, remember the pervasive, mind-altering odor of mimeo fluid?) opinion that this class and subsequent books should not be banned.

The phase elective class I took was the best class I had in high school.  I kept the books (one for each semester).  This book compared current (the late sixties) poems with current songs.  We studied Amy Lowell’s “Patterns” and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I am Waiting.”  We studied the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth.”  This class dragged me into loving classic poetry by showing me the parallels with modern music.  Today these books are on my desk, dog-eared and beloved, along with my Helen Ferris’ anthology of famous poems and volumes by Dickinson, Yeats, Kipling, and others.  I’m so glad that wasn’t tagged with the same brush as the will-never-see Man Series.

If you are a parent or grandparent, don’t give up your rights to random strangers. Trust teachers and librarians.  They are not trying to indoctrinate your children. On the contrary, this group has trained to help children understand our complex world.  As the daughter of teachers and the wife of a college librarian and faculty member, I can assure you that people don’t become teachers for any reason other than loving children and teaching.  It sure is not for the money or the glamour.

You do your children no favors by hiding them from the reality of slavery or carnage European immigrants heaped upon indigenous peoples.  Sometimes cliches fit the bill, and this one does, “Those of us who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.”

 

Please share on your social media.  Indie writers need love, also.  Cross-posted on Medium.

If you wish to comment, you can reach me at amy@amyabbottwrites.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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