Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, December 31, 2012

School Security in the 1950s

I started first grade at Huff Lane School in 1951, the year after the school was built to serve the rapidly growing Dorchester Court neighborhood. Dorchester Court, which provided homes for many returning Korean War vets and their rapidly growing families, seemed to spring up behind my backyard almost overnight. On the other side of Dorchester Court was farmland; on the backside of Huff Lane School was Pete Huff's Dairy Farm.

At age 9, I was toting my capgun. Couldn't take it to school, though.
I don't think anyone gave any thought to school security back in those days. The closest we had to security guards were the safety patrols, selected fifth and sixth graders who wore a belt and badge and made us wait before crossing the street. Sometimes we didn't even have those. All the teachers were female, and they weren't dressed for action. They wore dresses and high heels. The only male in the building was the custodian, whose main job seemed to be firing up the coal furnace or appearing with a mop and bucket if someone threw up.

The primary grades had doors that opened onto patios, where the sun beat mercilessly on us if we did activities out there. (Sunscreen hadn't been invented and no one wore hats except in winter.) There were no trees to speak of, except a few saplings out front—nothing to hide behind. In front of the school was the main door. We lined up in front of it every morning while we waited to go in. There was also a back door, at least one side door, and the cafeteria door. Nobody monitored those doors.

I don't remember an intercom in those days. Any messages for teachers were hand-delivered from the office. We had an occasional fire drill, though, indicated by a loud blast of sound. During these drills, we lined up, walked in a line out the nearest door, and stood out in the open—close enough to be in the way of any firetrucks if the school did catch fire. It never did. We didn't do tornado drills—it would be two decades before anything like a tornado would touch down in the area, and even then it only peeled the roof off part of Westside Elementary, about five miles away. Despite an air raid siren which sounded from the school's roof every Saturday at noon, we didn't do any disaster drills, even though airplanes from nearby Woodrum Field flew low and close to the school. I guess if a plane were to hit the school, it would be too late to warn anyone.

If we had to exit the school suddenly (and we never did), we'd have had to go through the halls. We wouldn't have fitted through the windows that were hinged at the bottom and pushed open, no doubt a safety feature to keep any kid—no matter how small—from falling out. The only place to hide in the classrooms were the wooden coat closets—one for boys and one for girls—which weren't at all secure and wouldn't have held everyone. If we got outside, we'd have no place to hide so we'd have to run for home.

This is how Huff Lane, now closed, looked recently. It didn't look like this in the 50s.
(I found this pic on the Internet, but I don't remember where.)
But the 1950s were a different time, a safer time when kids walked to and from school without parental supervision. Sometimes those of us who lived close enough even walked home for lunch. During the day, fathers were at work and mothers were at home. Most mothers didn't drive. I only know of one mother in the neighborhood who drove and had a car, but her son went to Catholic school.

Kids in those days had been warned, of course, not to speak to strangers and never to get in a stranger's car lest we get kidnapped. We never knew anyone that had been kidnapped or even what happened to kids who were kidnapped, just like we never knew any kid who'd lost an arm from sticking out the car's open window. But we heeded the warnings anyhow. Plus, if any stranger should approach us, we were secure in the knowledge that we could always run to the nearest house where the housewife in residence could call the police or something. 

That a stranger might come into our school to do us harm was something that never occurred to us. But those were different times, safer times. . . .
~


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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bleak December

. . . and memories of Christmases past. 
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December . . . .

Lately the weather has often been bleak, which it should be at this time of year. In late December 2012, we've had rain, clouds, and what the weather folks call a "wintry mix." The bleakness has its own beauty, stark and silvery.


Granted, most of December's bleakness as been obliterated by sparkly lights, plastic decorations, inflatable lawn ornaments, and whatever else many folks think makes the season brighter. A lot of these things went up before Thanksgiving. Or just after Halloween.

Lately I've been remembering Decembers when I was a kid. Back then—the late 40s and early 50s—things were different. We accepted December's bleakness because it would end with Christmas's brightness, and there was a distinct gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nobody decorated for Thanksgiving, and nobody thought of putting up Christmas decorations until a few days before Christmas.

The first Christmas event was Roanoke's Christmas Parade in early December. Mama would bundle me up, and we'd ride the bus downtown. Then we walked a few blocks to stand in front of the Elks Lodge on Jefferson Street, one of the best spots to view the parade. I really liked the big statue of the elk that, in later years, sometimes sported a red nose. (The Elks Lodge hasn't existed on Jefferson Street since the late 50s-early 60s.) We waited under streetlights in the cold until we heard the sounds of a band in the distance. Before long, the parade came into sight. There were high school bands, some Christmas-themed floats, a few fur-wrapped beauty queens shivering in convertibles, and—at the very end—Santa Claus himself. After the parade, we waited for the Williamson Road bus, and rode back home.

About mid-December, we'd ride the bus to town again, but this time during the day. Mama would take me to Pugh's Department Store, where we'd ride the elevator to the top floor where an imposing Santa sat on his throne. I waited patiently in line until it was my turn to sit on his lap and tell him what I wanted. As I recall, he listened politely but made no promises, and I never got the pony I asked for.

Less than a week before Christmas, we bought a tree—usually a fresh cedar from one of the many places that temporarily sprung up on Williamson Road. (In later years, it was a white pine, and by the 60s a spruce.) Mama put it up in the living room and we decorated it with lights (which we only turned on for a limited time and never left unsupervised), fragile glass balls, tinsel made of metal (not vinyl!), and—for a year or two— something called angel hair which made you itch if it rubbed against you. We usually had running cedar on the bannister, and a homemade evergreen wreath on the front door.

No one had anything plastic, and no one had outside lights that I can remember. (This was a time when a 40-watt bulb was sufficient to light a room, and any higher wattage was considered wasteful.) Outside was bleak, as it should be, but everyone's living room was brighter than usual—at least while the tree was lit.

The tree stayed up until New Year's when it was usually shedding needles all over the floor. While it was up, it smelled wonderful, though.

By the 60s, extravagant folks put lights on an outside shrub or two. Some even bought artificial trees and displayed plastic poinsettias, but—as I remember—the tackiness that is a plastic, inflated, over-lit Christmas didn't really arrive until the 70s, a decade noted for tackiness in decorating.


As for me, I'd rather have bleakness and the smell of cedar.
~

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Mooey Christmas

We wish you a Mooey Christmas! 


We wish you a Mooey Christmas, 
We wish you a Mooey Christmas,  

And a Holstein New Year!





Oh, and Melody wanted to add, "Mare-y Christmas!"


The Santa cow is in my neighbor's yard; the folk art nativity is at the Methodist church in downtown Penhook; Melody is in my pasture.

~

Monday, December 24, 2012

But Is It Art?

The other day, when temps stayed at or near freezing, Ma Nature made art. See?


Hmmm. Maybe we should stand back a little.


Yeah, that's better. Is it a golden medallion?


Or is it some kind of sculpture? Nah, it's just the ice that formed on the horse water tubs. But if you add a cat . . .


. . . then you've got an interactive piece of art.


But a cat can soon lose interest.


Let's add a different cat.


Hmmm. Interesting. But is it art?


Maybe you have to look at it from another side.


Or sneak up on it. And squint.


It radiates a nice glow thanks to the reflection of the setting sun.


It's pretty, but is it art?
~


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Sunrise

Today I was up before the crack of dawn, so—between feeding various critters— I was able to watch the sunrise. It looked like this:







. . . and here's the view to the North: 


~

Friday, December 21, 2012

Solstice Day

For the past week, we've had some spectacular sunrises.

Wednesday's sunrise

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
T. S. EliotThe Hollow Men

Today—December 21, 2012—was supposed to be the day the world ended. At least according to some folks who misinterpreted the Mayan calendar. If the world were going to end, this would have been a nice day for it. The sunrise on this Winter Solstice was spectacular and the wind was brisk.


Gradually more and more red crept into the sky. "Red sky at morning; sailors take warning."




For a while the sky blazed.


An hour later, all was gray and the wind was stronger. 


The cows across the road grazed in the lower part of their pasture and turned their tails toward the wind.


In her pasture, Melody also turned her tail toward the wind.


The wind tousled the pasture daisies. 


Daisies in December? Is that a sign for the end of the world? But I've heard nary a bang or whimper.

~

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mid-December Rain


These lines from poet Robert Frost are appropriate today:

My Sorrow, when she's here with me, Thinks these dark days of autumn rain Are beautiful as days can be. . . .

The nation has, of course, experienced great sorrow from Friday's Sandy Hook shootings. And today was indeed a dark day of late-autumn rain—the first rainy day we've had in ages. Because our water level is way below normal, the rain was welcome.

Rain dripped from cedar branches . . .


. . . and besoddened the fallen leaves in the woods.


But, in almost winter, a forsythia branch bore yellow blossoms. 


Even on a bleak mid-December day, there's a promise of spring.
~



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Repeating Dates

Today is 12/12/12, a date that hasn't occurred for a hundred years. On the last one, December 12, 1912, my grandmother—a young housewife living on either Hanover Avenue or Staunton Avenue in Roanoke—was six months pregnant with my mother. Her grandfather, a Civil War veteran, was still alive. The world on that 12/12/12 was considerably different than it is today.

December 12, 2012, dawned cloudy—and cooler than it's been for a while. We're in the midst of a drought. This fall is the driest it's been for ten years and the past few weeks have been unusually warm for November and December. Even some flowers are blooming, like the rosemary in my herb garden near the gazebo.


I remember my first repeating date. On May 5, 1955, I was in the fourth grade at Huff Lane Elementary School when my teacher, Mrs. Clark, told the class that today was 5-5-55. She told us that it would be eleven years, a month, and a day before we'd see another date line up like that.

Mrs. Clark and the 4th grade.
I'm in the striped dress on the center aisle on the right side.
On June 6, 1966, I'd just finished my junior year at Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU). My summer job would begin in a couple of weeks—working as an aide at a Head Start program for Roanoke County Schools. I'd be at Academy Street School in Salem that summer. I drove a blue and white 61 Ford Falcon. I was getting ready to be a bridesmaid in my roommate's wedding in mid-September.

On July 7, 1977, I was off for the summer from my teaching job at James Madison Junior High in Roanoke where I'd taught English, speech, and drama for five years. I was driving a new red Ford Pinto, a replacement for the 67 Firebird I'd bought when I signed my first teaching contract. I was still recuperating from a riding accident in March, and I'd just bought Blackie, my first horse. That summer, my husband and I went to Niagara Falls and walked across the bridge to Canada.

On August 8, 1988, I was a few weeks away from my last year teaching at Stonewall Jackson Junior High. I was driving a silver 76 Camaro, my favorite car. I was trail riding and showing Cupcake, my second horse. I owned am 80-something green Chevy Longhorn truck.

On September 9, 1999, we'd lived in Penhook for a month. I'd been retired from Roanoke City Schools for two years, but I was still driving a Camaro I now had a 94 Dodge truck, too. I'd just finished an English-teaching stint at ECPI in Roanoke and had started a part-time adjunct English instructor job at Ferrum College. And I had two horses.

Then the repeating dates came closer together: 1/1/01, 2/2/02, etc., if you count the years with those extra zeros.  Like them, 10/10/10 and 11/11/11 and today—12/12/12—were each separated by a year, a month, and a day. But today breaks the string—at least until February 2, 2022. Maybe I'll still be around for that one. Time will—I suppose—tell.

But I won't see another 12/12/12.
~

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Warm and Foggy

Today began foggy and then turned sunny and hot. This is how the morning looked:






If we have a white Christmas this year, the white might very well be fog—not snow.
~

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Foggy December Morning

This morning dawned warm and foggy.


I was up in time to see the sun rise. On my way up the driveway to the paper box, I could see golden light creeping through the trees.


To the north, fog hung low.


Then the sun rose higher.


From the end of my driveway, I could see more low fog to the southeast.


In the pasture across the road, shafts of sunlight pierced the fog.


Eddie-Puss, king of the household cats, followed me partway to get the paper.


Waiting in the gazebo where I'd drink my first cup of coffee and read the paper was George, youngest of the household cats.



Eddie-Puss, who doesn't like George, sneaked closer . . .


. . . and closer.


Ed soon took a position of authority. He has to teach upstart George who the king cat really is.


George has learned not to challenge Eddie-Puss.


Meanwhile, old dog Emma came out of the garage to oversee her domain.


Across the road, cows graze in the foggy pasture.


Except for the leafless trees, today could have been a morning in August. It was that warm—mid-70s later in the day.

Not like a December morning at all.
~


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