Thank you for stopping by my blog.

I write day after day because I discover extraordinary lessons from ordinary life experiences. I record my visual portraits of everyday life filled with something sacred in hopes that my reflections might bring an insight that blesses my readers.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Envelope Lessons

Envelope Lessons
            Daily I face my computer and try to remember how I learned to teach.  Sounds exciting, right?   When I am writing my memoir, I am humbled how my first year classes must have suffered.  The  teaching learning curve is straight up.
            I recall how there was a stealing issue in my first school in New Orleans.  My purse couldn’t be secured because my desk drawers didn’t lock.  I noticed that a large, furry spider abided in my purse drawer.  She returned no matter how many times I removed her.  I named her Susie.  So, I decided to use her, not abuse her.
            After my class was seated, but still loud and visiting with each other, I asked,
            “Please, get quiet.”
            Conversations continued and their laughter grew louder.
            I reached into my desk, picked up Susie and held her on my hand for all to see.  Bombshell.  Instant silence. 
            "This is Susie."
            “Put that spider away!" shouted Alex.
            “Kill it.”
            “ I’m leavin',"screeched Joanne.
            “I just wanted to introduce you to Susie.  She lives in my purse drawer.  So, if any of you decide to visit my purse, know that you must ask Susie’s permission. " I put her back in the drawer, closed it, and began teaching the lesson of the day.
            My envelope lesson was use nature to help clear the chatter from the air.  The unexpected is a strong educational tool.  However, I now realize that was quite risky.  What if a child had severe acrophobia?  I’d be called on the carpet or even fired for abuse in this day.  I guess I’d better keep Susie and this technique in a hidden place.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

One Universal Song

            My intentions of visiting New Orleans were to reconnect with former students and faculty.  I wanted to interview them for my memoir.  I spent endless hours of research trying to find these people after Katrina had stolen their homes, their lives, and their phone lines.  My constant “people searches”  netted few results. 
            However, by the grace of God, one phone number had not changed.  It was Arthur McClain’s.  I left a couple of messages that went like this.
            “Hello, I am Mrs. Baron, your former Speech teacher at Carter G. Woodson.  I am coming to New Orleans and would like to meet with you.  If you are the Arthur I taught in 1967, please return this call.”
            I had left many such messages to several other numbers to no avail.  I was getting weary and asked God to intervene.  As I came in the door from my walk, I heard the phone ringing.  I hurried to answer it and the softest, Southern drawl said, “ Ms. Baron, this is Arthur McClain.  I can’t believe you still remember me.  I thought I would never see you again. “
            I squealed into the receiver, “ Arthur, Arthur, it is you.  I can’t believe I found you.  Oh, Arthur, I have the poem you wrote two days after Martin Luther King was killed, and I would like to return it to you personally.”
            At first there was silence.  “You mean you still have my poem.  Really?  I can’t wait to show it to my kids.”
            “Tell me about your kids, your life. 
            “I was relocated by Katrina for a couple of years, but I am back in New Orleans now.  I have three kids.  One graduated from Tulane and my daughter is in college and her younger brother works here in the city.  I have changed since you knew me.  God is first and foremost the center of importance in my life.”
            All this information was found jewels.  I talked to him about loving Jesus and made an appointment to meet him the last week of January.
            I was ecstatic.  I called my writing friend, River.  I called my neighbor.  I called my sister.  He was my first contact from our teaching experience of being the token integrators for the city of New Orleans.  This black community had shaped Denny and me and I wanted to go back and thank them.    “ Thank you, Jesus,” I repeated at the thought of actually seeing and interviewing Arthur for my memoir.
            Finally, the time to see Arthur had come.  Denny and I sat on a bench waiting for him, and my heart was thumping and my mind trying to recollect what Arthur would look like as a fifty seven year old man.  My student, Arthur. It seemed surreal.
            Denny spotted a couple coming up the escalator.  It was them.  Arthur sported a sassy, straw hat.  His smile was contagious.  I grabbed him and hugged and hugged him.  I reached to hug his wife and then just stood back and looked at Arthur and then kissed him on each cheek.
            “Ms. Baron, you look just as I remember you.”
            “ Arthur , I was 23.  Now, I am 67.”
            “I don’t care, I would still know your smile and those blue eyes.”
            “Lets’s go to Acme and have some good Cajun food.”  Arthur suggested.
            He was amazing.  Arthur could remember stories that I would tell to keep the class’ attention.  He remembered the first day he came in his room and saw a white teacher.  He couldn’t believe his eyes.  He said all the kids were talking about the two new white teachers at Carter G. Woodson.  He laughed and reminisced about the first play I directed with such a large cast.  I admitted that I had written new dialogue into the play so everyone who tried out could get a part.  His wife was so grateful that  I cared enough to keep his poem and return it.  Our evening was filled with long conversations, Cajun food, and laughter and one song.  Arthur taught me no matter how we might separate into individual notes, we still are involved in one song.  Arthur and the faculty and students at Carter G. Woodson showed me I was a part of that uni(one)versal melody of hope , love, and  relationships.

Friday, February 10, 2012

When My Mind Deceives Me

“I am sure this is the cubbyhole where I put the checkbook.” I said.
“Then, give it to me. I need to write a check.” Denny responded.
“It’s not here.  I remember distinctly putting it back in this little cubbyhole in my desk.”
“Then, it would be there.” Denny said.
“I know I put it right here.”
Denny walked away and into his room.  I thought, “he used the checkbook and he forgot to return it to the cubby hole..   I frantically looked in every drawer of my desk.  I looked in my purse, my closet, even the glove compartment of my car.  No where could I spy the checkbook.
I gave up and was making a salad for lunch.  You know the feeling.  Chop, chop, chop. Where did I leave it?  Chop, chop.  Oh, I hope its not at the grocery or in the parking lot.  I know I put it in that cubbyhole.  Chop , slice, chop.  “What Denny?”  I asked as I heard him calling to me.  In he walked with a smile on his face. 
“Here is the checkbook.  It was in the entrance hall on the chest.”
My mind is a wonderful yet deceitful thing.  I see but my mind says it is something else.  When I draw or paint, I think I see something.  I see a bright spot of yellow and paint it and it looks out of place.  I look at the landscape again.  Yep, bright yellow, medium cad yellow needed.  So, I paint a bigger yellow spot.  It looks even worse.  What is the problem?  Is it there or not?  Does it exist or has my mind “fixed” it with yellow.
Likewise, when I draw a person , sometimes I draw them leaning the opposite way that they are standing.  Why?  My mind “fixes” things without my permission.       
As I often write blogs, I can’t see my grammar error or word connotation error. I am blinded to my own thinking because I am in my world, my perspective, my understanding.  I am frozen there and unable to move to a broader understanding or see missing details.
So, how do I change my paradigm?  I get constructive criticism from other writers or painters.  I seek trained eyes to help me see my flaws.  I am so close to the situation that I cannot find the real truth in the landscape, nor can I see my misplaced modifier.  Even though God has given me gifts, they are not complete in me alone.  He uses others to complete my gift.  He makes me vulnerable by having to ask others.  I must admit my inability to see accurately or remember where I placed the checkbook.  That can be humiliating to some and sometimes me.  However, most of the time I can accept that my mind is tricking me.  By asking others, I trick my mind.  I over ride its decision.  I seek new information to my situation. 
Another’s insight is my gain if I can step back and accept I am wrong.  My mother and father could never do that and it resulted in divorce.  My extended family from Kentucky couldn’t do that and have remained racist.  Even a former pastor couldn’t admit he had wrong thinking or a distorted perception on some issues and the result was a loss of many members.   Hard, heels set in the ground folks have a difficult time coming over the “I am right” syndrome.
I   try to remember that I have two feet.  Not two right ones or one right and one wrong.  I just look down and see I have a right one and a left one.  Each are used to push me forward, to navigate my journey, and at times to insure my safety.  So, being wrong is not so humiliating or such an issue as I age.  Instead, it is a new perspective offered to me by others.  God uses our husbands, our children, and our friends and colleagues to sharpen us and correct us.  We are being molded to see things rightly, not wrongly.

Friday, February 3, 2012

New Orleans' heroes

Learning  About Heroes

I have been in New Orleans doing research for my memoir.  I reconnected with former colleagues and students.  Since it had been forty-five years since I had seen them, we had all changed a bit.  It is interesting how the outer body changes, but the intellect, the spirit, and personality stay the same.  As I met with each person, I learned new things and reminisced old memories.  This last week really touched me.
I will be writing posts on my interviews and discoveries and share with you my new epiphanies.  The first couple we visited is eighty-five years old.  Sarah and Jason stand about four foot eleven in heeled shoes.  I seldom have felt the love I received from them.  They insisted we come over for breakfast.  Jason picked Dennis and I up at our hotel and drove us carefully through the busy streets of New Orleans. 
As we drove , Jason told us their house had been ten feet under water , corroded with mildew, and had many broken windows and most of the roof removed by Katrina.  He explained that he and Sarah were so delighted to be one of the lucky few that returned to their original homestead.  Friends, volunteers, and their church folks totally restored their property after Katrina tried to destroy it. 
When we arrived,  Sarah opened the door and gave me a loving embrace that lingered.  She kissed my cheeks, my hands, and then my face all over.  I was overwhelmed with such an outward, loving greeting. She whispered in my ear, "This is how it should be." I smiled and kissed her all over her face and hugged her tightly.
Jason insisted we sit at the breakfast table while they prepared fried eggs, bacon, toast, and grits.  That is not an easy menu for a lady with Alzheimer’s that kept forgetting where the instant coffee was, to turn the stove on and off, and how to get the toast in the toaster.  Jason assisted her kindly and never spoke of her losses.  “Here, Sarah, the butter is to the right of the stove.”
“Oh, yes, Jason, I know that.”
“Here, Sarah let me help you put the bread in the toaster.”
“ He’s my boss,” she said as she peaked around the corner and gave me an exaggerated wink.
Watching them gave greater  importance of their sixty plus year old wedding vows.  “ For better or worse,” were those words Denny and I had recited, but at that time we had no understanding of what the future might hold. Jason and Sarah were teaching us a deeper meaning of wedding commitments. 
The eggs were all done the same.  Sarah was careful to ask each of us how we wanted our eggs, yet all were over with yokes broken.  I may have memory loss too.  I often get so carried away trying to fill breakfast orders that I too serve eggs all done the same.  Sarah forgot to toast all of the bread, and the grits just wouldn’t thicken.  She lost the instant coffee and sugar several times, but she was so happy.  She talked about her handsome man and how he helped her.
When we sat at the breakfast table, Jason began to tell me his life’s journey.  He was an exceptional black man.  His mother taught him the only way to have a better life is to get educated.   He majored in Social Studies and minored in English.  He paid his own way and jumped through a lot of racial obstacles.  I asked him how he continued and why he felt no anger or resentment.
“I just tried to do my best, work my hardest, learn the most of anyone there, and I just kept going forward.  “  Ahhh, a philosophy that many young people today would find foreign and obsolete.
Jason served in the Army and is still suffering from post dramatic stress from how he was treated as a Negro in the Army.  He said his most humiliating experience was while he was in the Army in 1951.  He had received word that his younger sister died of pneumonia, and the Army was making provisions for him to go home.  The Red Cross made all his accommodations and helped him make hotel reservations in Kansas City.  Jason arrived at the hotel and the clerk told him, “You can’t stay in this hotel.  You have to stay with other colored folks.”  Jason explained that it broke his spirit because he had been fighting for this man’s freedom, and this was his reward. 
The amazing character trait of Jason was he climbed over every obstacle.  If it was racism, he just went on.  If it was Katrina, he just went on.  Now, Sarah’s declining memory made him know that each day is more precious than the last.  Jason affected me in 1967 when we taught together and in 2012 he was still teaching me how to handle life's valleys.  He revitalized my spirit by being the strong person he had become through adversity.  Just a short little old man to some became an instant hero to me.  Sara was right, " This is how it should be."