“Gaining Access”

I have spent some time lately thinking about the various ways politicians have been attacking access to books, information, and school curriculum. In the next few posts I will write about them beginning with the access I had to information, books and curriculum growing up.

I was born in 1947, began public school in 1953 and continued to be taught in public schools through my high school graduation in 1965. My experiences during that time were probably typical for a middle class American kid in a medium sized, fairly racially homogeneous(white) city. I welcome comments from any readers whose experiences either echoed mine or were very different.

My access to books came from my school library, the public library and my parents’ collection. The school library had carefully screened books. Even though we had the World Book encyclopedia, when I asked a teacher what its statistics on “venereal disease” meant, she told me it was a disease people gave to each other.

The public library segregated children’s’ books to a special room. To go into the adult section I needed a note from my mother, and even then I had to be twelve. The children’s librarians were fierce defenders of what they considered “literature.” No Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys or Oz books graced their shelves. Those books were definitely not “real” books.

Unbeknownst to me, even on a national level there were books my parents couldn’t add to their collections. Although they were to free to buy Nancy Drew and Oz books for us, they were unable to buy Henry Miller and others for themselves. The sexuality was considered “too extreme.”

I was ignorant about a great deal of life. Tomorrow I discuss how television continued to keep me that way.

“Practical Education 3”

After a few days to deal with car problems, I return with the third skill we learned in the seventh grade from Mrs. McElveny. We were entrusted to run the school store. Situated between the classroom and the audio visual room, the store consisted of a large counter, a place to stand behind it, a change box and assorted classroom supplies in compartments on the counter. We sold pencils, paper, erasers, rubber cement, glue and paper clips.

My favorite offerings were boxes of Ace Reinforcements. We all bought them though none of us ever used them. They were meant to fit over a ripped hole in a sheet of loose-leaf paper thus “reinforcing” it for its return to the binder. As far as I can recall we simply stuck them wherever we felt like, though never on ripped paper holes. I can still recall the exact taste of the glue on these little circles, so I must have bought them too.

We learned to make change, though always for coins. I don’t think anything cost more than 5 cents and I doubt we ever received more than a quarter. Mrs. McElveny kept us supplied in the nickels and dimes we needed to do business transactions with the younger students. Everyone looked forward to being old enough to work in the store, and I had the chance to “wait on” my admiring younger siblings.

I only spent one dreadful year in retail sales, but it was long before cash registers did the work for the clerk. As I made change I remembered how I once thought it would be exciting to work in a “real” store. Sadly the most fun I ever had in sales was many years behind me.

In case you wondered

“Deep Freeze”

Yesterday the temperature plummeted to -6F(-21C) as an unwelcome guest from the Arctic rolled in. The Connecticut River suddenly froze in large chunks. The day before it had been flowing freely. I enjoyed seeing the ice against the walkway as we took this afternoon’s stroll.

Kids were happily skating on the little frozen pond, but spots were already beginning to thaw. I am sure that by tomorrow it will be posted “No Skating.”

“Practical Education 2”

By the time we reached seventh grade in our kindergarten through eighth grade elementary school we were seen as pretty mature by our teachers. We were entrusted with a couple of new responsibilities, including using the audio-visual equipment.

In those days the equipment consisted of an overhead projector, a filmstrip machine, and a movie projector. Using the overhead projector didn’t require much instruction, though we frequently put images up in the wrong direction. The teacher usually ran the filmstrip machine since we were inclined to rush through the strip to get it over with. None of us liked filmstrips.

The biggest privilege was being allowed to go next door into the “movie room” and show films to younger classes. We learned to load the reel, run the movie and then rewind the reel to return it to its container. Left alone with the younger kids, we ran the show. Fortunately their teacher stayed too, so there were no added disciplinary requirements.

My one horrifying mishap occurred early on in my training. Failing to firmly secure the upper reel, I watched in horror as it rolled across the floor, the film unspooling as it went. Fortunately the “movie room” was next door to our seventh grade classroom. Hearing the racket, Mrs. McElveny entered and calmly showed me how to restore everything in time for the younger kids to enter the room.

During my own teaching career I frequently showed movies to my classes. I always remembered to carefully attach the reels and to painstakingly thread the film through the machine. Mrs. McElveny would have been proud knowing her practical education had paid off.

“Practical Education 1”

In seventh grade we had a wonderful, strict, knowledgeable teacher who thought that at twelve we were able to learn some practical skills. The first course she taught us was Junior First Aid, using a teachers’ manual similar to the one pictured above.

Among things we learned that I have never had occasion to use was how to fold a large square of muslin into a sling for an arm. Pinning it together with a safety pin(I don’t think she trusted our knot skills) we could all treat our peers as though they had just broken their arms. While the boys eagerly volunteered to put slings on the girls, Mrs. McElveny restricted us to same sex applications!

We learned to clean wounds, stop bleeding, remove slivers, and know when to exclaim “that is going to need stitches!” I did have occasion to use that phrase several times in my adult life.

The most important lesson I learned was how to treat choking. Since the Heimlich manuever had not been developed, we were to use a sharp slap on the back of a bent over person. She did not have us practice this since she knew the mayhem that would result. Instead she used a doll as a prop. But some months later I went into the kitchen and saw my four year old sister sitting on the counter, box of dried prunes in her hand, looking stricken. Realizing she was choking, I hauled her down, put her over my arm and hit her hard on the back. The prune came flying out and she was able to breathe.

My sister went screaming to my mother that I had hit her! But I had a good story to tell my first aid teacher who was appropriately impressed.

“Expecting Addition”

Some of you may remember that last summer we lost our beloved dog in a tragic accident. While we have never been without a dog, that trauma took a toll and we weren’t sure we wanted another one. However, after much discussion we decided to look for a new puppy. While there is much to be said for rescuing a dog, I prefer puppies. I guess I don’t have the energy to deal with the issues a rescue sometimes brings along.

I went through pictures and descriptions of many breeds hoping that one would appeal to us. While we have always had Australian Shepherds, we were ready for a smaller dog less in need of vigorous daily exercise. One day walking in the park we talked with a woman whose dog attracted us. He was a cocker spaniel/poodle mix and just the right size and temperment.

Needing to avoid pet stores and puppy mills, I finally found a woman in nearby(2 hours)Rhode Island whose female cocker and male poodle had puppies in early January. We drove over yesterday, met the lovely caring woman, the cocker(at a distance since she was protecting her pups)and the spunky male poodle. Above is the female we picked out and will be able to take home March 3.

Be assured. More pictures and a chosen name will appear in future posts.

“Dr. Google”

Artist not cited

When reading Colm Toibin’s essay collection I found the one on cancer particularly intriguing. Toibin spent hours using only Google to self-diagnose his condition. It took a long time before he finally went to a doctor and found that not only had he misdiagnosed his situation, but also that the cancer had already spread beyond its original site.

Typing symptoms into Google tempts many of us, but frequently we come up with the wrong conclusion. I am reminded of my neighbor who rushed over in the summer cradling his little dog. He was certain that the growth on the dog’s abdomen was cancer. Google had a photo that looked just like the one on the dog.

Fortunately he gave “Doctor Charlie”(my husband, not a doctor on tv or in real life) a chance to take a close look at the swollen bump. A calm inspection revealed that the dog was the victim of a very voracious tick, still attached, still feasting. With a deft hand and groans of disgust all around, Charlie removed and destroyed the tick.

No wonder so many veterinary practices use the above image to point out that Google isn’t a veterinarian.

“Small Bites”

Most of my reading consists of full length novels or complete books of nonfiction such as history and science. I have always struggled with compilations, whether of poems, essays or short stories. I end up avoiding them without questioning my dislike.

Since I have appreciated much of Colm Toibin’s fiction, particularly Brooklyn and Nora Webster, I picked up his recent book of essays A Guest At the Feast at our library this week. (As I did so the librarian told me he would be reading in Hartford(Connecticut)on February 7. He will be at the Mark Twain House for this event. Since it is a hybrid event, both in person and streaming, anyone can attend. It is at 7pm Eastern Standard Time in case you are interested.)

The first essay about his bout with testicular cancer was compelling and familiar to anyone who has experienced chemotherapy either first hand or in a close friend. Fully involved in this ordeal, I turned to the next essay. This one recounted his growing up in Ireland. I stopped to really wonder why I didn’t want to read on. In my mind once I pick up a book I like to read it through.

Finally I understood. I need to approach any anthologies, whether of prose or poetry, in small bites. I came to realize that my habit of reading–start to finish–is precisely the wrong strategy for such books. I need to read an essay, a short story or poem and then put the book down to let it sink in. If I still want to read I can turn to something else, probably a novel.

This afternoon I will read his thoughts on Pope Francis. I won’t be trying to connect it with cancer treatment! The essays were, in fact, written many years apart. Who knows. I may even check out a book of short stories one of these days.

“Compelling Reworking”

I have enjoyed reading the novelist Barbara Kingsolver for many years. Each novel is original, unlike many authors who get in a pattern of a set locale or set time frame. In this 2022 book Kingsolver reworks Dickens’ David Copperfield with a character nicknamed Demon Copperhead by his friends and neighbors. Lovers of Dickens will find many characters in the book with names very similar to the original inspiration.

Kingsolver sets the book in very southwest Virginia, an area close to Tennessee and Kentucky, a part of the United States we think of as Appalachia. A region once supported by coal mining and tobacco farming, it is now better known for its abject poverty and opioid addiction. The poverty because the natural resources were tapped out. The opioid addiction because large pharmaceutical companies flooded the region with Oxycontin which they maintained was non-addictive.

At 560 pages this is not a quick read. In fact I read it in bits at a time allowing myself an opportunity to really take in the characters and their predicaments. Filled with violence, addiction, and hopelessness, Kingsolver’s writing also highlights the strengths of the people, their determination to get by and their tight family bonds.

I had no trouble connecting with David Copperfield before I had ever visited England. I hope that those of you who are unfamiliar with Appalachia can connect with this novel as well. Let me know what you think if you end up tackling it.

“January 26, 1953”

I pause each January 26 to remember my little sister Patsy. She died at 64, never making it into her 70’s to join me in old age. I still remember my mother coming home with this big(over 10 pounds) dark haired(the rest of us are blond/brown) brown eyed(ours are blue) baby with no name. She was going to be Jeannie(with the light brown hair) but a quick look at the actual baby required a new name. After two weeks she finally was named Patsy, much to my relief. At five I was not happy with an unnamed sister.

Along with the dark hair, dark eyes, height and build totally different from my own, she came with a much sunnier disposition than I ever could maintain. Her laugh still echoes when I think of her.

Eternal peace dear one.