Friday, March 31, 2017

Shut up and Blog Challenge, Day 6: The Mysterious Cemetery.

Day six and I'm still blogging strong! I think I'm getting addicted to this blogging thing. Where else do I have free reign to talk all I want? Well for tonight, I'm going to share with you one of my stories I wrote for my creative writing class. The assignment was to write about an event that happened to me as a child. My adventures on Homochitto street immediately came to mind. I hope you enjoy it. I even made a little picture to go with it. Yup, I got some skills. Please comment and let me know what you think of the story. 

Growing up in Oklahoma, the highlight of each year, was our visit to my Aunt Nadine and Uncle J.B.’s house during the summer in Vidalia, Louisiana. Mama, a single mother who worked as a waitress in a local cafĂ© saved her meager tips all year for our weeklong trip to Louisiana.

Most mornings during our visit, we would make the short journey across the large bridge that spanned the Mississippi River from Vidalia to Natchez Mississipi. Natchez was rich in history and antebellum architecture and steeped in the spirits of the past, both real and imagined. Aunt Nadine and Uncle J.B. were the consummate tour guides and from my place in the back seat of their car, I loved hearing their tales of the latest scandals occurring in that old town.

This was a trip mom and I usually made by ourselves, but in 1971, when I was eight, my Aunt Edith came along. My Uncle Otis Jr. had passed away unexpectedly with a massive heart attack six months earlier and Aunt Edith was still adjusting to being without the one man she had ever loved in her life. Though she was her sister-in-law, Mama loved her like a sister and whenever they were together, their laughter filled every available space.

Aunt Edith was mama’s perfect road tripping companion because she let mom take the lead and she was a willing participant in whatever adventure Mama got us up to. Usually, Aunt Nadine and Uncle J.B. accompanied us on our jaunts across the river but this trip, but Aunt Nadine was caring for some elderly friends and seeing mom had a companion, was inclined to let us go out on our own.

One evening, filled with one of the large dinner’s that Aunt Nadine treated us to each night, we crossed the bridge and took a drive through Natchez.  As we got off the bridge, Mama took a left turn and began winding her way through the historic part of Natchez near the cliffs that overlooked the river. The air was moist and heavily spiced with the stench of the town’s paper mill chugging its smoke into the sky. Though Mama and Aunt Edith commented on the stink, I loved it because it reminded me of summers we had spent there before.  In the front seat, Mama and Aunt Edith were chuckling and snorting as usual and I leaned my head against the window and watched the beautiful old homes slide past my view.  We ventured deeper into Natchez and down a road Aunt Nadine and Uncle J.B. had never taken us to on their tours of the city. Lost in my thoughts, I heard Aunt Edith exclaim, “What’s that!”
I looked up in time to see her pointing at some trees. Mama immediately slowed down. Wedged into a grassy incline were six cement steps leading upward from the cracked sidewalk that ran along the roadside. On a grassy knoll beyond the steps appeared to be an iron gate.
“Let’s go check it out!” said Mama. I was alert now and anticipating an adventure. Mama drove a half a block down the road to an old convenience store and parked the car. At the corner was a road sign. 
“Homochitto Street.” Aunt Edith said. “What a funny name.”
“Sounds like Homashitty Street!” Mama giggled.
We crossed the street and walked on the sidewalk. Dense foliage draped in Spanish Moss shaded us from the evening sun. Earlier, we had passed a few mansions that called Homochitto Street home. The tall iron fences surrounding the estates shielded the occupants from the poverty that could be seen in the surrounding area. On our walk, we passed a dark alley lined with tiny, dilapidated wooden shacks that faced the knoll that was our destination. A few of the inhabitants sat on their tiny front porches and watched our excited gait with curiosity.
 “There they are! Those are the steps we saw!” I said. Excited, we increased our pace and bounded up the steps. When we reached the sixth step, we continue our ascent up the grassy incline beyond.  At the top, our eyes feasted upon the tall iron gates and fence that we had briefly glimpsed between the thick greenery during our evening drive. The rusty iron padlock that barred our entrance did little to dampen our excitement. 
“Wow!” Aunt Edith said.
“Look at this. It’s a cemetery!” Mama said
We pressed our faces between the gaps in the bars and our eyes squinted to see inside the iron enclave. In that moment, I felt special, like an explorer who had discovered a secret place hidden and long forgotten. In the middle of this walled plot was an enormous gnarled tree whose branches resembled a brown hand sitting palm up atop a tall, crooked and deeply rooted stump. The “knuckles” of the branches brushed the ground around the trunk and surrounding this spectacle of nature were ornately carved headstones. Their once elegant, intricately engraved exteriors were weathered. Some were slightly askew in the moist earth while others rested upon their sides, victims of time and gravity.
“Mabel, who you think this belongs to?” Aunt Edith asked.
“Hmmm…looks like some rich people’s family cemetery.” Mama guessed.  
We squinted into the shadows made by the large tree to discover what was inscribed on the stones as if they had the answers we were seeking.
“1848! That’s before the Civil War!” Mama said reading a headstone. “Look! All those last names are the same but I can’t quite make them out. It’s definitely a family plot.”
“But where’s the house?” Aunt Edith asked.
We looked around and then back through the iron bars to see what lay beyond the brick wall at the back of the cemetery. We expected to see a rooftop beyond the wall but there were only thick trees. 
“Maybe it burned down like that big house Aunt Nadine showed us last summer,” I said, remembering the tall fluted columns shrouded in thick morning fog that had been the only evidence that a house had once stood there. “Windsor!” I said suddenly remembering the name.
“Could be.” Mama agreed. She looked back the way we had come. “Let’s go ask that old man sitting on his porch in the alley over there.”
Aunt Edith though adventurous, was more cautious than Mama. “This isn’t the best neighborhood Mabel. You think it is safe to go talking to strangers?” she said.
“It will be fine,” Mama said and started down the hill.
The shacks in the alley faced the cemetery and as we approached, an old man sitting on his porch smoked a cigarette and watched us. We stepped into the darkened alley and Mama called, waving her hand. “Excuse me, sir!” My grandma used to say Mama had never met a stranger and she was right.  “Could you tell us something about that old cemetery over there?” Mama said.
The man stood up as we neared and gave us a nod and a friendly smile.His hair was grizzled and his brown face was weathered with deep lines and a shadow of gray stubble.  “Once belonged to a rich family that owned all the land ‘round here.”  He gestured animatedly.  “My daddy worked for ‘em when he was a boy. They all gone now.” He scratched his chin and said, “Can’t remember their names. Used to know but I’m old now. Things got fuzzy.”  He chuckled revealing several gaps in his teeth. Mama thanked him for talking to us and we took one last look through the gates before walking back to our car in the fading sunset.
When we drove back across the river to Vidalia and Aunt Nadine and Uncle J.B.’s comfortable brick home, Aunt Nadine fed us thick slices of her Texas sheet cake with cold glasses of milk. Between delicious bits of rich chocolate cake, Mama regaled Aunt Nadine with our unexpected adventure on Homochitto Street.
Hands on her hips, Aunt Nadine exclaimed, “You did what!” She was six years older than Mama and much more cautious. She was also clearly appalled. “You went walking along Homochitto Street by yourselves? There was a robbery and a shooting at a store not far from there last week! You could have been killed! J.B. did you hear this nonsense?” Aunt Nadine yelled toward the living room. I heard Uncle J.B. chuckle briefly and continue watching television from his comfortable recliner. Nothing much ever ruffled Uncle J.B.  
Oh, Nadine. We were never in any danger!” Though Mama mocked Aunt Nadine, I noticed she didn’t mention our talk with the gentleman in the alley. Every summer after that, Aunt Nadine would mention our misadventure on “dangerous Homochitto Street”, but we didn’t care. No trip to Natchez was complete without at least one drive by that mysterious cemetery. 


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Shut Up and Blog Challenge-Day 5: I'm Still Heeere!

Yes, I'm still blogging. Rather proud I have stuck with this for five days. However, anyone who knows me understands this may be a passing thang! I'll try, though.

This post is going to be really random because nothing out of the ordinary happened and I just don't feel like digging deep and finding something profound. Soooo....here is a picture of my latest fashion acquisition:
Attractive, huh? This lovely piece of fabric was purchased by my older sister, Linda who after hearing that my doctor said, "no outdoor activity for at least a month" because of my blasted allergies, didn't believe I would follow doctors orders. Somehow she thought I would wear this...and I did. When I go out without it, I spend my night coughing and tired the next day.

Yesterday was my first venture outside with it on. The kids, of course, were curious so I told them I was allergic to naughty children. Lol.  A fourth grader named Lane was concerned and I told him I was allergic to Trump lovers. He giggled. You see Lane and I have this joke going. He and his mama know I was a big Hillary supporter during the election and his family voted for Trump. Anytime Lane wears his Trump sock's, I act like it's my Kryptonite.

The first fifteen minutes wearing this thing were rather confusing. My glasses kept fogging up from my breath rising upward. It's hard to watch kinders with foggy glasses. Then I discovered, it can be tightened at the nose and all was well.

Well on another note, I took some pictures of my cats. I know totally random, right? I warned you. Anyway, I was hanging out with the prairie cats-our name for the outdoor cats we care for that roam the pastures near our house. Well, my indoor cats did not like it and gave the prairie cats and I the stink eye from the front door. Here is the evidence:
This is Graellyn and Moki. In the reflection, you can see Tripper (she likes to trip us when we walk outside) frolicking between my legs. Gracious, I'm wearing flip flops. Totally hope you can't see my funky toes. Anyway, this was my day and I need to go because my husband is giving me the stink eye. Even though he doesn't have anything much to talk about, he likes someone to snuggle with on the couch while he channel surfs. Have a great evening!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Shut Up & Blog Challenge-Day 4: Teaching is My Super Power!

I really love making these little pictures to go with my blog. They are super easy to make and so you will probably be seeing lots more of them with theme's that have nothing to do with what I am writing about. I'm a clipart freak and I love any reason to use the clipart I have bought over the years. 

Luckily, this picture kind of goes with my post. My super power. Hmmmm.... I think if I do have a super power, teaching may be it but today my powers failed me. 

My principal came to observe me this morning. In Oklahoma, teachers get observed twice and evaluated once. The evaluation is the big deal and the observations are like a practice run. I usually put on a dog and pony show but my dog and pony were tired and decided not to perform. I was just going to do what I would normally do during a Phonics lesson. 

I was pretty zen about the whole thing because I had done this type of lesson a bunch of times before and it always turned out great. The plan was to segment word families, review word families, build words with word families and then have the kids divide into groups of three to play a board game where they had to build and read words. Simple. Riiiiiiight. 

I was zipping along. I was in the teaching zone (a very cool place) when I looked up and saw my principal, Diane writing on her observation sheet. I suddenly got nervous and slightly off track. I couldn't concentrate and I even used a dry erase marker on our new Promethean board. Yikes! Reeling from the humiliation, my brain went into panic overload. 

Next, I divided the kids up into groups. We do small group activities quite a bit in my class. I usually make sure the groups have a good chemistry with at least one calm, responsible student in each group. Well I was nervous and didn't pay attention closely to who I was putting in what group. Two of my groups argued and tattled the whole time. I'm running around making sure everyone is on task and those two groups are eating each other up. Plus,  my aide wasn't there to help me run things. I felt like I was juggling plates. I would just get one group on track and then the other would start yelling "He cheated!" This three ring circus went on for fifteen minutes and when my principal left, I felt like taking a giant nap. I was feeling like a pretty lousy teacher at that point. 

Luckily, my kinders also have a super power. They can pick me up with the simplest words. Judah sat next to me and randomly said, "Mrs. Liddiard who do you think I love more? You or my family?" Of course, I said his family. You know what he said? "Yes but you're my family too Mrs. Liddiard, so I better love you too." I hugged him and he hugged me back. With those sweet little words, he erased all my misgivings and worry about the observation. Ten or twenty years from now no one will know or remember my evaluation was a flop but Judah Bear and his classmates will remember how much they loved me. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Shut and Blog Challenge; Day 3: A Few Days in April

I'm rather proud of myself because I'm sticking to this blogging daily thing. Well enough of that.

Here is what is up with me. Last night, Seth and I were getting ready to listen to an audio book.  That is our nightly thing. Anyway, he asked what day it was. Hearing it was only Monday, he began bellyaching about the fact it was four days until Friday. Seth has never been a big fan of school. He's a good student and he has a wonderful teacher but he just gets bored easily. Unfortunately, Seth is part of a generation who has the world at its fingertips. What 3rd-grade teacher can compete with that? Seth's aversion to school has intensified lately and I've noticed he and his friends have a frenzied air about them. Wilder and rowdier. 

There is, I believe a cause and it is TEST PREP. For two months now, Seth's classmates, teacher and principal have devoted massive amounts of time and paper to preparing for the test they will take in April. Seth's poor teacher Mrs. Renfroe is beside herself devoting class time to test prep and tutors her students two days a week after school. Our principal, Mrs. Bejessie, though semi-retired (or so she says,) also spends two days a week tutoring a portion of the group. Every kid in Seth's class goes to after school tutorials. EVERY KID! Parents have to make arrangements to have their kids picked up when tutoring is over because buses have already run. Why all this effort for a three-day test in April? Because in Oklahoma, if a third grader doesn't pass "the test", they can be retained in third grade. 
 Now I could go into a full-tilt rant about this and I have in a previous blog post. For that, click here. What makes me sad is in Oklahoma, my bright child and his classmates worth is measured by what they do a few days in April. 

His teacher and our principal is right there with them. Can you imagine putting your heart and soul into bringing lessons that are engaging to students who have so many other distractions and then after all that work, your rating in the newspaper comes down to a letter grade in a column of data? 

I teach kindergarten so I have my own battles but I'm not sure I could do it every year. Further, I think I would have days that if I had a kid who just refused to be motivated, I would think, "Our class/school grade is being jeopardized by you???" Not a very nice thing to think but I bet there are good teachers in Oklahoma who find themselves thinking that and probably feel horrible for it. 

There is this ugly cycle going on in education. Our children's ability to pass that test isn't just affecting that child. There are high stakes here. Entire school districts are being threatened because of it with little regard to what is going on in that child's life. When you put a price tag on a child's ability to pass a test, the child is being cheated and the people who pass these laws, are painting Oklahoman's into an educational corner. 

I'm a believer in the ripple effect. When you label a kid a failure in third grade, where does she or he go from there? When does it stop and how many children will fail in this life because of a few days in April? I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below. 




Monday, March 27, 2017

Shut Up and Blog Challenge, Day 2; Listening to the Voices in My Head.

Well, I can't believe it. I'm actually blogging a second day in a row. Challenge accepted and so far, met. 

I couldn't sleep last night. My brain simply wouldn't shut down and go to sleep. I've had that problem a lot lately. I blame it on a creative writing class I'm taking from Wesleyan through Coursera. 

I've always wanted to write my mom's stories of her childhood during the Depression in Oklahoma.  I have even posted a few of these stories on my little blog but I just couldn't seem to stick with it. 

Recently on a whim, something, I am wont to do, I enrolled in this creative writing specialization on Coursera.  In the past two months, I have learned so much. Initially, I learned that I've been doing it all wrong...not really, but kinda. I've also unleashed the voices in my head. They have always been there. My whole life I've had a scene randomly pop in my head with dialogue and think, "Wow. Where did that come from? That would make a really cool scene in a movie!" 

These creative brain farts were random but since taking this course, the scenes are coming faster, getting bigger and the voices louder (and most with Southern accents and Texas drawls). I find I have a dozen stories I could easily develop except for one small problem. They all want to be heard! "Pick me, pick me! They are sneaky and if I allow them to, they can completely carry me away in a quiet moment. If only I could just concentrate on one, I might actually have a novel in there somewhere. 
One of my writing assignments: Write the same scene from different points of view.

Besides the voices in my head and the sometimes sleepless nights, I love my creative writing classes and the assignments. I am developing as a writer but only time will tell If I will be a published one. I'm not worried because for now, I love writing and all those voices are interesting and I get a kick out of opening the treasure chest occasionally and letting them have their say.  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Shut Up and Blog Challenge: Day 1

I have a confession. I love to write but I don't love to blog. Why? The pressure. For me, it's the perfect image, perfect words and socially accepted content. Blah. Blah. I know a fellow teacher who blogs all the time. I know for a fact that while her blogs are well thought out, she doesn't put in half the time and effort I do. You know what? Her posts are awesome. 

Well, I recently started a creative writing class and all the instructors and all the research says if you want to be a good writer you need to shut up and write. So this is what I'm going to do. I am challenging myself to blog daily. No pressure. Just a little line to say, "Hey this was my day..." This lets me off the hook and lets me do what I love. Writing. 

So hey, this is what is up with me today. I spent my entire day working on third nine-week report cards. The grades were the easy part. It's those stinking teacher comments that always get me. I know how important that kind of thing is to me as a parent so it's rather important I'm sincere and positive. Not always easy but I've got a pretty amazing class sooooo I'm done with report cards! 

I also worked on the script for the EC/Kinder play which they will be performing in about a month. Yikes! We have learned all 9 songs and now it is time to learn the lines. We are performing Willie Wonka and it's going to be adorable. If that is, BFF and fellow teacher Vanessa C and I don't kill each other. Well, that's it for this evening. Wow. That was easy....