School Stories From Olden Days: Trust Me, We Got it Better

As much criticism leveled against public schools nowadays, it might be tempting to think it was better in the past. Back when there was no standardized testing or government interference, back when parents had complete control. Then you read something about that earlier time and you realize it was only the rich who could afford good teachers; the rest of us poor slobs were on our own.

Continuing on with our perusal through my Great-Aunt Clara’s writings in Pioneer Memoirs, we come across her memories of school, or rather, the pioneer version of school. Specifically, two teachers whom she remembers fondly, however incompetent they turned out to be.

Keep in mind she’s writing this in 1911, regarding events that happened nearly 50 years prior. Imagine in this small country parsonage, somewhere in Dane County, Wisconsin, there lived our spunky writer, along with her parents and 10 younger siblings.

Someone must teach the children, yes? With no Board of Education or government funding, you take what you can get.

“One of them was old Berentsen. He must have died years ago. He came from Lindesnes in the southern part of Norway; “near the lighthouse at Lindesnes,” he said.

He had been a teacher of navigation. He tried to get a job teaching parochial school and pestered the minister with his many and lengthy testimonials. Once he was really allowed to try teaching, but he was not fitted for it, for, as a farmer declared, “We might just as well have a cow to teach school as this Berentsen.”

It was his first and last effort in these parts.

I remember Berentsen well — the square figure, the red wig, and the straggling hair handing beneath it. He had all his belongings in a bag that he carried on his back. He always shook hands, Mother said, with such a fierce grip that her fingers tingled.

She always treated him like a guest and never showed that he was not especially welcome. It amused us children to see him eat, for he had an unusually good appetite. He was not troubled with dyspepsia.

When he had eaten he always read the newspapers. He also read certain books. He asked permission to read Holberg’s Comedies nearly every time he came. He sat and read in a half whisper, chuckling as he read. Poor old man! Then he forgot his troubles and sorrows and lived in another world far away, where no doubt schoolmasters led a far more honored existence than fell to his lot.

Old Hans Heegaard was in many respects a complete contrast to Berentsen. Tall and thin I remember him, with an almost military bearing.

His long, well-worn coat was carefully brushed. He had a large neckerchief that he tied with great care. He would stand before the mirror as long as any lady of fashion. He would spread his silvery locks to cover his bare head. I remember how pleased he was once when Mother gave him a new neckerchief. He did not like to share the bedroom with John, the hired man who had been with us so long that he was a real factotum.

Heegaard once told Mother something about himself when he was in a talkative mood. In his youth he had been a clerk in one of the larger cities in Norway. He had gotten into gay drinking parties with like-minded companions and so gradually he went down. In brief, it was the old story — he lost, step by step, money, position, friends, health, all. By an accident he came to America, where for some time now he had wandered about in the Norwegian settlements.

He had also tried his luck as schoolmaster, presumably with not much better success than his colleague, Berentsen. When Heegaard came to us, he always asked Mother in his most polite manner, “O dear Mrs. Jacobson, may I stay a couple of days? I’m so tired and poorly.” Mother, of course, could not say no. The “couple of days” usually became weeks.

I remember the time brother Jacob was to learn to read. He was rather slow and had no liking for the A-B-C’s. As Heegaard happened to be there at this time, Mother proposed that he should undertake to be Jacob’s tutor. Heegaard expressed his willingness, and the lessons began quite impressively but were very short ones. The boy read about five minutes and then had a recess that lasted till Heegaard saw Mother, when he would tap at the windowpane and call, “Jacob, Jacob, you must come in again.” Soon both teacher and pupil became sick and tired of the reading and the boy had a vacation until Mother took hold in earnest.

As much as I love Clara’s description of these two men — it’s a wonder she never attempted a novel, right? — for my own part, I appreciate our modern version of schools. In particular, our teachers.

Here in Arizona, we are in our fifth day of teacher strikes. Their demands are modest. In a nutshell: competitive salaries and for school funding to be returned to 2008 levels. It is expected our legislature will have a favorable meeting today and classes will resume tomorrow. (Keep your fingers crossed.)

Due to being out-of-town, I haven’t been part of either the marches or the “Stand-Out” groups on city corners. But I have to say, the site of our downtown being turned into a sea of red is indeed lovely…

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Hug a Teacher Today ❤️

The Best of Community Theater — Zoni Style!

Hey gang, did you catch the 27th Annual AriZoni Awards? Or as we AZ dwellers affectionately call them, “the Zoni’s”.

(Really, if your state name lends itself to such a great rip-off on the Tony’s, how do you not use it?)

The Zoni’s recognize excellence in community theater in our Valley, and this year we went to the ceremony because… (drum roll, please)… Son was nominated! For Best Original Music Composition for a Play.

Also, both offspring were involved in a production of Avenue Q, nominated for Best Overall Production of a Musical. Their ensemble performed a musical number for the ceremony. (*proud mama moment*)

Neither Son nor the production won, but it was a thrill to hear his name read among the other nominees. And perhaps I’m rationalizing a little, but beings how it was his first time writing a composition, maybe it was best he didn’t win.

Might set the bar a little high for the next time, don’t you think?

Or as Husband said (with more enthusiasm than I thought necessary), “I bet this will be the first of many losses for him!”

Such a proud father.

Anyway, as to the ceremony itself, here a few observations I made:

Phoenicians Clean Up Good

This city isn’t known for its fashion sense, but when the event calls for it, we don’t disappoint. There were some incredible dresses that night, several of them red carpet worthy.

I was sooo relieved I thought to do an image search on the Zonis before I got dressed. (This is something introverts can relate to: I’m okay going to big event, as long as I know ahead of time what to expect.)

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Dressing up in Phoenix usually means a nice pair of jeans with no holes, a button down shirt, and your best pair of sneakers (cowboy boots if you got ‘em). After viewing the images, I pulled out my black dress and heels. Good thing. I was just fancy enough to blend in, without drawing any attention to myself. (Whew!)

That’s not to say everyone got the memo. As we were making our way through the parking lot toward the theater, we walked past a family disembarking from their red Ford F-150. All of them dressed very casually. The woman was wearing shorts, flip-flops, and a t-shirt advertising Bud Light. As we passed, I recognized the look that passed over her face. It was that moment of realization when it hits you, “Oh! Should we have dressed up?”

Dear Lady, we’ve all been there.

Google image search. It’s a thing.

Presenters Got it Good

Yes, it’s nice to be a nominee and hear your name called, but honestly, if I got to choose my place for the evening? I’d be one of the people standing toward the back of the stage holding the award. The ones whose only job is to hand the awards to the winners. They don’t talk, they don’t perform, they don’t do a thing but walk on stage and stand there.

Golden.

Don’t believe me? Consider this gal:

Presenter

She looked to be in her late teens or early 20s. She was wearing a red mermaid dress, smiled the entire time she was onstage, and I don’t think she exhaled once.

I grew to love her.

It looked like she was having the time of her life, and why wouldn’t she? There’s no stress over winning or losing, she got a chance to shine a little on stage, and she got to hand people their award and make them very happy indeed. One woman hugged her. 

You rock, Mermaid Gal!

The Little Theater That Could

There were 26 awards given over the course of the evening and a number of them went to a community theater in the little town of Queen Creek. (By little town, we’re talking a population a little over 30,000, immediately adjacent to a large urban area. So, relatively little.)

This was the first year their theater participated in the Zoni’s and they made an impressive showing, winning several major awards. Including Best Overall Production of a Musical, beating out the production my kids were in. But after hearing their director’s acceptance speech, I forgave them.

“Everyone in Queen Creek thanks you!!” she told us. “Seriously, most of them are here! We brought a bus!”

She went on to say the town of Queen Creek provides some of their funding.

Isn’t that something? How many towns do you know of set aside part of their budget to support the arts? I think that’s darn swell of them. And no doubt a big reason why they were able to put on several award-winning productions.

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Phoenix is the Next New York!

Okay, this one might be a bit of a stretch. It was said by the dude who won Best Actor in a Play, so maybe he was a bit delirious at the time.

But one thing he said – and there was no reason for him to lie, so we should probably believe him – was that he moved to Phoenix five years ago and as of this year, he’s now able to support himself full-time as an actor. In Phoenix!

Granted, we’ve no idea what he means by “support himself.” Is he on his own? Does he have an apartment to himself. Does he have five roommates?

Maybe he lives in a cardboard box behind the theater! We don’t know!

All kidding aside, I was surprised to hear there were any full-time actors in Phoenix. Clearly, there’s more to our community theater scene than I realized, and I’m determined to see more of it next year.

And so should you! In your own community, I mean.

Wherever you live, there’s probably a little theater somewhere just aching for more people in their audience. The tickets are never too much, usually in the $20 to $40 dollar range – sometimes less and sometimes for free! (Be sure to check out your Community Colleges — that’s where we saw Avenue Q!)

And who knows? You might be surprised what talent is lurking in your community. You might find out you’re living in the next New York! 😉

 

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Would You Stay Here?

I’m sure this is a fine establishment. A lovely bed and breakfast in the historic downtown area of Glendale Arizona.

All the same, I rather not take a chance.

Gaslight Inn

Good morning, ma’am. How did you sleep? I hope the room was to your satisfaction?

Well, yes, only I kept hearing footsteps in the room above me.

That’s impossible ma’am. There is no room above you.

What are you talking about? Of course there’s a room above me. I saw a man walk up the stairs last night.

You must have imagined it.

You bear a striking resemblance to Charles Boyer. Has anyone ever told you that?

Never. Here’s the coffee you ordered.

I didn’t order coffee.

Yes you did.

No I didn’t. I don’t like coffee.

Of course you do. You love coffee.

I do?

Here’s your spinach omelet.

But I didn’t–

Yes you did.

Hey, did the lights just dim?

It’s your imagination. Drink the coffee ma’am. You’ll feel better.

My Glorious Summer of ’76

Note: Since I’m on vacation, I’m giving you a rerun. This first appeared on June 3, 2015, back when I was new to blogging and had about 10 followers. It relates a childhood memory of mine that involved murder and explosives, as all good memories do. Also, the post includes a recipe because when I first started blogging, that was supposed to be my schtick. Then I forgot my schtick.
That’s the trouble with schticks. They only work if you remember them.
Oh well. Enjoy.

Growing up in the 70s was great. I’m not even talking about the movies and music from that era, although we had some darn fine ones.

What I’m talking about is the total lack of parental involvement. Even if a parent stayed home, they pretty much left us to our own devices. It was great.Kids-jumping-and-playing-outside-940x600

Brother and I had it even better, as both Older Sisters and Older Brother were out of the house.

We’re talking complete lack of supervision, baby! Frankly, it’s a wonder we didn’t burn the whole place down.

Though we came close. Continue reading “My Glorious Summer of ’76”

In Defense of Lazy Gardening

This morning as I was walking Dog, I passed by that house.

You know which one I mean, right? There’s one in your neighborhood too. It’s the one with the perfect yard.

Perfect yard

The grass is perfectly green, the bushes are perfectly shaped, the flowers look like they were planted with a ruler and level.

Walking by such a yard used to fill me with envy and shame, for I knew I had no chance of joining their anal-retentive ranks. Frankly, I was too dang lazy.

Since then, I’ve come to realize there are lessons to be learned by lazy gardeners. Highly important lessons. Lessons that can change lives!

Okay, I can tell you’re skeptical, so here are three such lessons from my own yard.

Continue reading “In Defense of Lazy Gardening”

Appreciating Art: Best Done Sober or Stoned?

Phoenix art museumDaughter and I went to the art museum last week.

You know. To appreciate the finer things in life.

As did many other Fine People in Phoenix, including at least one couple who did it while stoned.

I’ll tell you about my stoner friends later. First, let’s talk about the museum…
Continue reading “Appreciating Art: Best Done Sober or Stoned?”

Community News With Pancakes

magazineThis last Sunday at church, a woman handed me a magazine to give Husband, who is currently out-of-town.

It was one of those freebie publications you might see at a doctor’s office or hair salon, with a ridiculous number of ads and one or two articles on local interests.

The reason she was giving it to Husband is that he sings in the same group as the couple on the cover, so she figured he knew them. (He very well may, but beings how he’s out-of-town, I can’t say for sure.)

What I can say is that somewhere in the 85086 zip code, there is a woman who may or may not be in dire need of medical attention. Also, whoever Mama G is, her pancakes look damn fine.
Continue reading “Community News With Pancakes”

The Suicidal Mice of 40th Drive

One look at that little rodent corpse, the serene look on his face, and I knew. It was a clear case of mouse suicide.

My family lived in west Phoenix in a square cinderblock home, painted turquoise. And the thing to know about cinderblock homes, however unattractive they might appear, a splash of turquoise paint makes them nearly… less unattractive.

housemouseIn any case, cinderblock keeps out rodents and reptiles, and for desert living that’s darn smart.

Although about the time I was 12-years old, my dad built a garage in our backyard.

Actually, it wasn’t so much a garage as a giant workshop/sanctuary. It took up nearly half our backyard and was made primarily of wood.

That’s when the mice moved in.

The reason we knew we had mice is that every so often, about once a week or so, we’d find one floating in Pepper’s water dish.
Pepper being our family dog.

Continue reading “The Suicidal Mice of 40th Drive”

Birds: Helpful Neighbors or Ruthless Overlords?

treeA three day weekend before me, I had one plan and one plan only: to move a tree.

To be specific, a volunteer tree that was growing in a small shaded area between our home and the back fence. Far too close to both home and fence.

After some careful research, I determined it was a silk tree – Albizia julibrissin – and that it would make a pretty little shade tree near our front entrance.

My dad was a great one for transplanting volunteer plants, and I think of him whenever I follow his practice. Although my success rate is nowhere near as good as his, I like to think I’m improving.

I also tend to think it will go much faster than it actually does, because I forget I live in Phoenix. Digging a hole in Phoenix is not for the faint of heart.

After 20 minutes, this is what I accomplished:

Continue reading “Birds: Helpful Neighbors or Ruthless Overlords?”