Closed for the Summer

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Just before Labor Day, I took my Boston sister, Anne, to my favorite place to while away some time in the Northwoods. In fact, Chucky Lou’s Last Dance is the inspiration for the title of my blog. It may be the last big tourist weekend of the summer, but unlike the malls and city shops, the proprietors in our out of the way places operate on their own time. Though disappointed to find the Closed for the Season sign, I like the fact that there is an independent spirit about the shop as well as unexpected treasures within.

It was a beautiful drive, a perfect setting to take a picture we’ll remember – and always, the anticipation of being together and returning next summer…

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Ladies Keep Their Legs Together

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…or so I was admonished by my maternal grandmother, Edith. My grandfather, Charles, was a Presbyterian minister, which probably prompted her reaction to my backyard pose at 12 or so. Some time after that, my mother invited me to sit on the porch with her, and I anticipated the topic she wished to address. SEX. I remember the motion of the glider, the smell of its plastic cover and the hum of the streetcar as it passed our house. But I also remember trying to be serious because I already knew more than what she thought I should know about SEX. And that brings me to today – about 63 years, a few boy friends – all followed by one great marriage.

Last night I watched the Emmy Awards, and after it was over I watched The Normal Heart on HBO, a well documented movie about AIDS. The night before I caught up on two episodes of Ray Donovan, and they had some explicit scenes. I also like Sons of Anarchy that has some but less of it. Next Valentine’s Day, Fifty Shades of Grey will probably gross millions, and even some of the historical novels I’ve read this summer contain shades as dark as those. Even my 97 year old Aunt Mary liked a little ‘romance’ as she viewed it, in her reading. Cleavage and the most minimal bikinis are all over the place, and schools have to define in detail what’s acceptable attire.

So, flashback to my high school days when TV was hardly allowed to expose a thing, in pool class boys swam nude (true fact in Waukesha, Wisconsin), reading Lolita was deemed scandalous and the closest I got to porn was a flasher trying to entertain me in his window as I walked past. It seems we’ve come full circle, and so many things are tolerated that never were – but after all these years, what do I honestly say to my granddaughters in this climate about having sex?

Its wonderful beyond words. BUT, know when it’s right and when it’s not; try to be sure it’s love not lust and be safe always.

The Door Is Open

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I have a yellowed newspaper article taped to my up north refrigerator that reads: “There’s a moment of expectation as you walk into your summer cabin after it’s been closed up for the winter. You open the door and peer in. Did chipmunks sneak in to leave shells under your pillow? (it’s happened). The air is cool and quiet; the linoleum cold underfoot, sand free for maybe the only time this summer. Sun drifts through the kitchen windows past last year’s calendar. There sits the old couch, the driftwood lamp and weather beaten coffee table, welcoming an old friend. You walk out leaving the door open on new summer adventures.”

We’ve had our old cabin that was built in 1940, for thirty two years – with few updates since then. My children and grandkids have come and gone already, but I look forward to their return whenever their work, baseball, football, hockey, volleyball and soccer schedules allow. Friends welcome! In the meantime, I get to spend days with my black shadow, Josie, who will be 16 on her next birthday. I was afraid this might be her last summer to wander the woods and swim, but her new arthritis pills hidden in a gooey marshmallow have given her a lift. Literally. Being stone deaf, she can’t tell me when someone turns into our driveway, and we communicate now with sign language and touch, but she’s still one of the sweetest Labs I’ve had.

Four years after Bill died, Kathie Lodholz Batsch and her husband George, flew up for a short visit. She was head of our alternative ed department where we worked with at-risk high school kids; also a bright accomplished poet. I loved her gentle manner, wisdom and fierce certainty in dealing with our kids who needed a tough advocate in their lives. Sadly, her years were suddenly cut short by a glioblastoma that robbed her of a happy future with her children and George,the love of her life.

Shortly after their visit, she surprised me with this poem and photo she had taken of the door.
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Titled ‘Invitations’, she speaks of our history
here, the strength of my husband, Bill, and the joy
we’ve experienced as we’ve all passed through this
door that leads to the lake.

And this is my corner of our old cabin, where I can
write and think about all the fun and growing up
we’ve shared here with family and friends.
It’s summertime at last!

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#15/100: Saddle Up

Red's Wrap

Some people who were walking on the trail stopped to watch us slowly ride by, my daughter, granddaughter and me, on our rented horses following Amanda, our guide. They waved at us and told us to have a good time but gave the appearance of finding three women and a 10-year old girl on horses on a horse trail in a part of San Diego County layered with riding stables as something unusual and worth watching.

And immediately, it flashed in my mind that I should somehow tell my granddaughter that this is what makes life the richest – being watched rather than being the watcher. Being on the horse instead of hanging back and thinking that riding a horse is something that only other people do. And maybe I didn’t even have to tell her this. She’d gotten on her horse with no fuss even though she was scared…

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A memo from my friend Thoreau

A sequel to writing in cursive:

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Many years ago, a friend gave me a little book of quotations from Thoreau.  She signed it: “Since Walden seems to be your Bible, I thought you would enjoy,  Love, BH”. My friend was very Catholic, and if I had been, things probably would have worked out. I wouldn’t say it was my Bible, I think that would risk hell and damnation.  It was my conservative evangelical upbringing  – just that Thoreau and to some extent Emerson, always resonated with me. she and I went different directions, but remain friends to this day.  I am happy with my path and I know she is happy with hers.   Thoreau has always given me a path to walk, (not run).  I have been to Walden.  Living among the beautiful lakes of Southeastern Wisconsin, the pond was unimpressive in comparison, but you could feel the solitude, which I have always craved.  Every once…

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Writing Letters is a Lost Art, and now, so is…

…learning cursive! I came home one day to find my grandson and his father huddled over a spiral notebook at the kitchen table. Hud was laboriously practicing the letter H in cursive. IMG_1254 Now in fifth grade, he told me that cursive  is no longer taught in his school, so I credit Sam for insisting that it is important for him to be able to at least sign his own name in script. Granted, his printing is fine and legible, but how can it be that handwriting is no longer a lifetime skill that requires instruction and practice? I don’t get it – makes me wonder what else is being dismissed as time-consuming and irrelevant ? Having been a teacher, I know there are only so many hours in a school day, but I believe handwriting is such a personal thing to develop from the time a child can grasp a pencil that it should not be eliminated from the curriculum. There are some things computers and spell check should not replace. Learning to write in cursive should not be one of them. My Dad was a master of letter writing , and I loved his long newsy pages written in flowing ink, and signed in his own inimitable style. His H’s were near perfect, and with practice, I believe his great grandson’s will be too!

Johnny’s Essay

Every teacher’s best reward is knowing they made a difference. With the school year about to close, Johnny’s Essay is my sweet reminder:

Oconomowoc, Wi September, 1962

 

SEVENTH GRADE

You could get a paper route when you were twelve On August 22, 1962, I was twelve years old On August 22, 1962 I got a paper route  You got Esther Schroeder in the deal On September 4, 1962 I went to Junior High I became a thing, in the name of my school, for the first time Like all my classmates from sixth grade, became a Lincoln Bulldog

It was a huge transition. In the very building where I had spent K-3 The building, where, in the corner room on the first floor Next to the office of Principal Don Kramer Where only a few short years ago I had earnestly tried to convince the testy Mrs. Voight that my father had played with Blackhawk as a child

There was not just one teacher to win over, as there had been every school year prior to this There was one for History -love history, but…Miss Neuman was an acquired taste There was one for Math – hated math, but Mr. Geraghty-ya gotta’ love him There was one for Science, Mr. Merrill – he seemed so young to have his pants hitched up so high

There was art and music and gym and health A different teacher for all of them There was Gus. Gus the janitor that all the staff tried to get the kids to call Mr. Vogt But he was Gus. Sat by the boiler. And chewed and spit Cleaned floors, windows and bathrooms And chewed and spit

Then there was English. And Homeroom You went there to get your marching orders for the day The announcements. No one listened. For everything else you were in the cautious, caring hands of a teacher For homeroom, though, they all turned into wardens They kept the peace-most of the time Mrs. Kroseberg -Homeroom Warden Where had this one come from? I knew most of the teachers-My mother was The School Cook I had big brothers. Lots of them. I knew things

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Quality was the Sixty Three (yes, sixty THREE) It was a Ford Galaxie 500 XL convertible that THAT guy used to pick her up after school It could have been a commercial for Ford. It was the car they used to get you into the dealership so they could sell you the Country Squire. But you could still think about the Ford Galaxie 500 XL. With bucket seats. Blue interior and the girl, with the dark hair, and the flashing dark eyes.

Later in the day, she turned up in my English class or I in hers. From my usual place in the back of the room over days and weeks, I migrated. To the center row and then to the front of the center row – something about talking out of turn, not paying attention, dark hair, the same flashing eyes – she could put you in your place without a word, but when words did come – Hell was never so hot. She was different. She didn’t tell me to stop doodling. She asked me to draw for the school paper.

She asked me one day if I was the Journal boy for Wisconsin Avenue, you can just put it on the stairs. And so I did. And Christmas came. You never quit your Journal route before you collected your Christmas tips. The first year it was more money than I had ever seen. I had forty three customers when I started my route. By Christmas I had fifty six. When Christmas was over I had $212 and a foil package with a beautiful ribbon and instructions that I could not open it until Christmas Guess who?

I don’t know why she did that. Made me wait and fantasize the contents of the box – two weeks at least It was a comb and brush It was not something cool but it said you have potential kid, use these. For me, it was a good Christmas. Pair of pants, a “school shirt” a Kodak Instamatic from my brother and sister and a comb and brush with a big doubloon on the brush. The comb was gone early, broken teeth and being kept in my pocket. The brush stayed around. Twenty years or more, as I recall. Took me awhile to understand the message.

It was the school year I never wanted to see end. No one had ever taken an interest in me like this one. I felt good about myself. MY cartoons were in the Bulldog Bulletin. MY poems got into some book and it was okay for a guy to write poetry. Susie said so

After the school year was over, there was still the paper route. I got to walk Nokes, the Labrador. I mowed the neighbors lawn. She said that since the school year was over, I could call her Susie – and I still do. She seems to think that gave her license to call me Johnny. Forever. And that’s okay.

Epilogue

I continued to teach and smoke in the boiler room with Gus for two years, until our first child was on the way. I loved the old building with its creaky, glossy wood floors that smelled like fresh wax, and the ditto machines that sent me home with purple hands. I remember having to tell my class that the President had been assassinated. One of the few sad days I had there. The old school was razed years ago to become a parking lot, and many residents are unaware that it ever existed – I still drive the same road, and have happy memories of that time. When I retired from teaching in 2004, Johnny’s Essay was my favorite gift.

John Lindsay  graduated from college where his punctuation improved; he married a tall beautiful girl who is a teacher, and they raised three very bright, pretty young women. He is now a good grampa. He was our insurance agent until he retired to his well equipped wood working shop to handcraft heirlooms. We still keep in touch  –   and I don’t think he allows anyone else to call him Johnny…