Monday, June 27, 2016

Senior Year Electives

With the recent graduation season over, I was reminded of my own senior year in high school. I could have graduated a year ahead if I’d taken US Government in summer school after my junior year. It was the only required class I hadn’t taken. My friend, Susie, did just that and graduated early.

However, I didn’t want to miss all the special events of senior year, and after working so hard on academic subjects for three years, I wanted the opportunity to take a few electives. I also wanted to qualify for the National Honor Society, since any chance of college scholarships might depend on it.

At the time, we had six classes. US Government was my first class in the morning, and my advanced dance class was the last of the day. I had four periods to fill with classes I’d enjoy. What bliss!

First, I chose senior English since I planned to be an English major. I don’t remember much about it except we wrote a lot. I also took the one-semester World Lit. class with my favorite teacher, Mr. Ward. We studied the differences in the way different cultures approached the written word. I especially remember contrasting Oman Khayyam’s poetry with that of Yates and Dylan Thomas.

I then chose my only class in the Homemaking Department: Home and Family. This class was easy for me since I was already doing lots of the things it taught, like making the bed properly (bottom sheet right-side up, top sheet right-side down, and hospital corners), making and using a household budget, meal planning and shopping effectively, balancing a checkbook, repairing a lamp, etc. One of the most valuable lessons was how to repair a toilet. For many years, I replaced all the ball cocks and flush chains in our home.

Another one-semester class was Senior Problems. This was actually Psychology 101. We studied what makes us act the way we do. We had a long discussion on deceptive advertising. (Remember, this was the Mad Men era.) I’ve never looked at an ad the same way since.

I also took a semester of Beginning Spanish. We had a student teacher, and I confess, we drove him crazy. Once, I turned in my homework written backwards (right-to-left). I had taught myself to do it, and I can still read and write backwards. He returned my paper and told me to redo it. He said if I ever did it again, he’d give me an F.

Finally, I took an art class—the first I’d ever taken. And I LOVED it. I recently posted a photo of a tree I drew early in the class.
On a hot afternoon, we walked across to the cool garden behind the library to sketch. I’d always loved this tree, so I decided to choose it as my subject. I’ve always liked this quick study in ink on paper. Over the years, it became discolored, so I tried to clean up the background to restore the original effect.

I did a portrait of my favorite subject. Not great, but close enough to recognize.
This was a quick study using colored pencils.

In college, I took another art class. I loathed the instructor. In his opinion, anything that resembled real life wasn’t art. I disagreed. My grade reflected our disagreement.

I did a dual study in charcoal of Larry. Later on, I cut out the portrait and discarded the profile. (It wasn't accurate, and the whole dual study was too large.) It hung on the wall for a time until it fell and the glass broke, damaging the paper. But I still like it.
On one project, my college instructor and I agreed. Each student was to make a stabile. I took a small wooden block and attached interlocking quasi-circles of wire to the center. I painted the whole thing flat black, and added a red Christmas ornament in the middle. For some reason, the instructor liked it and asked to keep it as a demonstration to future classes. He did, and I got an A for the project, thus saving my GPA.

During my freshman year in college, the pressure was on again. I had a California State Scholarship and had to remain on the Dean’s List to maintain it. (I did.) I liked my classes, but not the school. And I never enjoyed another year as glorious as my senior year in high school.

What was your favorite year in school? What was your favorite class? What class do you wish you had taken?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Here Comes Summer

After a week of graduations and celebrations of the end of the school year, I’m taken back to my own school days.
When June arrived, I couldn’t wait to be free for the summer. Although I loved school, I looked forward to spending three months with my friends.

I remember waking to the scent of lilacs drifting into my bedroom with the warm summer breeze. They weren’t supposed to grow in our area, but my dad was an amazing gardener, and he planted the bush. It bloomed every year, long after he died. So did the sweet peas he planted. Each year, he saved the seeds at the end of the season to plant the following year. Several years after he died, Mom pulled up all the volunteer plants and threw them over the back fence. But those stubborn flowers didn’t die. Instead, they came up on the other side every year for as long as I can remember. Both sweet peas and lilacs are among my favorite flowers. They remind me of Dad.

We had lots of kids our age on our block, so we had no problem finding someone to play with. When we were small, we roller skated up and down the sidewalks. One year, we used chalk on Diane’s driveway and garage to create a roller rink.

When we got a little older, we rode our bikes to the park where we did crafts, played tennis, and swam in the swimming pool. We often took picnic lunches and ate at the covered tables. We sat beneath the trees on the hill and rested or read.

I spent many hours in the shade of the willow tree in our front yard reading. When the other kids ran around in the heat of the day, I searched for a cool spot. I have never been able to spend much time in the sun. My fair skin has always burned and peeled or burned and blistered. But books were my escape. Through them, I could travel to other locations and meet new people.

One summer, a Sharon’s grandmother taught us to play canasta. We played every day that summer at one house or another. The tournament continued the next summer. I wish I still remembered how to play, but unfortunately I’ve forgotten.

One time, we had a snack stand. We sold hot dogs and other food from our kitchen window. My mother was painting the bathroom that day, and I still can’t believe she allowed us to do this. I’m sure the supplies probably cost more than we made.

As the afternoons cooled, we took to the streets. We played Red Rover and other team games. At dusk, we played ‘Ditch,’ a variation on tag. We could hide anywhere in the front yards on our side of the street. ‘It’ stayed near a streetlight and counted to 100. We each waited, hardly breathing until ‘It’ left the streetlight. Then we ran to the streetlight and tagged home.

We stayed out until a parent called their children home for dinner. Several adults had distinctive whistles. As soon as the first of the kids went home, our game broke up.

We often had sleep-overs with our friends. Sometimes we slept outdoors under the stars.

Our parents didn’t have to worry about where we were because we congregated at one house or another. Most mothers stayed home, so an adult was always present. They were friends, so everyone knew where we were and what we were doing.

Looking back, we had an ideal Norman Rockwell-type childhood. Our lives at home may not have been perfect, but our neighborhood was a safe place with families who cared about us.

By the time September rolled around, I was ready to return to school, although lots of my friends were not.

How did you spend your summers? What are your favorite memories?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Happy Graduation

'Tis the season for graduations. Whether from preschool, grammar school, middle school, high school, college, grad school, or trade school, it marks a major transition in life. Graduations are rites of passage, of which we have few in today’s world.
Graduation marks both an ending and a beginning. It represents the end of one level of education and the start of another, or the next step in life.

I remember my grammar school graduation. We lined up on the playground and marched into the auditorium. Several people spoke, and we sang a couple of songs. Our names were called, and we were handed our certificates.

Then, in the evening, we had a party. Some of the kids danced, but no one asked me. I remember feeling such disappointment. For me, graduation was anti-climactic.

Last year, we had a grammar school reunion. I was surprised to learn how insecure we all felt. The guy who was the class heartthrob (yes, you, Jack) said he was totally oblivious to how many girls had crushes on him. At the time, my crush was Larry. Some things never change.

I remember high school graduation vividly. I went all through school from kindergarten with most of the same people. We began as babies together. After high school, we scattered. Until our reunion in 2014, I hadn’t seen or talked to most of my classmates since the night of the all-night party following the ceremony in the stadium where we collected our diplomas.

This year, we bought cards for three girls.

Our neighbor, Claire, graduates from grammar school. She is fourteen going on thirty—scary smart and wise beyond her years. She is also in our critique group, and has been since she was ten. All of us old folks are so proud of her. She is one of our best critics.

The daughter of a young lady who grew up across the street from us. She spent lots of time with us growing up, and we were like her second set of parents. (Her folks served the same role for our daughter.)

Kaitlyn is graduating from high school. When we received her announcement—with photos—we could hardly believe how adult she looked! We haven’t seen her in a couple of years. My, how she’s changed!

Our last graduate is Brooke, the young lady we have been mentoring. We attended her ceremony on Monday morning. After working with her all year, we wanted to be present when she received her diploma.

Each of these girls will soon begin the next phase of their lives. One will go on to high school, and the other two will start college.

Graduations are special times and deserve to be acknowledged.

So, happy graduation to all the 2016 graduates! Congratulations on your accomplishments, and all the best on your next step.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Life Isn't Fair

Life isn’t fair. That’s just how it is. It doesn’t always make sense. In fact, it often doesn’t make sense. Don’t bother asking, “Why?” There simply isn’t always an answer. Actually, there usually isn’t a satisfactory answer.
If life were fair, I wouldn’t have lost my dad when I was seven and my brother was four. I did. (Today would have been his 100th birthday.)

If life were fair, tragedies would only happen to those who deserved them. They don’t.

If life were fair, the best people would live long lives, and those who abused drugs, alcohol, and other substances would die young. They often don’t.

Mean drunks live long lives.

Innocent children die. Parents leave their families far too young.

If life were fair, each family would experience problems equally. They don’t.

Our friends have had more than their share of difficulties. Tom badly injured his knee years ago while working as a firefighter. The first surgery to repair it was botched. In the intervening years, he’s had numerous additional surgeries. None solved the problem—or relieved the pain. Last year, he had a knee replacement. A week after the surgery, his tibia shattered. As a result, he had his leg amputated below the knee. A week later, he had a heart attack. He recovered and is now learning to function with a ‘bionic’ prosthesis.

His wife, Robin, had a stroke several years after Tom’s injury. It was followed by a heart attack. Either one could have killed her, but they left her with some paralysis. While in the hospital, she contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. She has survived far longer than the original prognosis.

We sometimes compare their situation to that of the biblical family of Job.

Another family has also experienced far more than their share of tragedy. The mother died at age thirty-seven leaving three small children ages four, six, and twelve. I was her same age and identified with the younger kids. The father died about ten years later.

This past week, we learned that one of the youngest son’s newborn twin sons died suddenly. Not fair!

How do people survive these kinds of shattering events?

The answer for me is: faith. I truly don’t see how anyone can get through life’s toughest times without believing in something larger, more powerful than we are and that there is a greater plan. The comfort of believing we will see our loved ones again keeps me going and at peace.

Each of us copes in our own way, but I also believe having a group of friends who will stand with us in compassion and support can keep us going when we couldn’t do it on our own.

Life isn’t fair. Nothing is guaranteed. Each of these devastating events—whether our own or others’—is a reminder of how fragile life is.

For me, the only appropriate response is gratitude for the good things in life, for those around us, and for whatever time we are given.

How do you cope with loss—your own and others'?