Category Archives: writing

This Summer

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I’m sure that every single childhood summer day was not as perfect as those that live on in my memory. I know there must have been times when the heat seemed too much, or the days seemed too long. I have vague memories of begging to come inside out of the heat, of complaining that there was nothing to do, and of anxiously wishing for school to start back up. Mostly, though, the impressions that I hold are of long, lazy, sunshiny days, with fields to explore and the ever-present shade of the big willow tree.

Summer was playing in the sprinkler and wandering barefoot around the yard. It was reading for hours with my feet in the sand. Walks to the store for ice cream, and to the beach for the cool water. It was green fruit from the orchard, fresh peas from the garden, and bunches of grapes plucked from the vines. It was vacations on Beaver Island and all the perfect white-sand-blue-sky-warm-days-cool-nights magic it offered. In my memory, summer lives on as a perfect time.

Those memories – faulty though they may be – are what fuel all of my present-day hopes for summer, in the same way that anticipation for Christmas is fed by an impression of that perfect holiday, that may not have ever truly existed. Because of my high hopes, summers are often a bit of a disappointment.

I take care of my own yard and garden. That has managed, most years, to take up much of my spare time while still constantly frustrating me. The garden was always lacking something; I was constantly behind schedule, whether for planting or harvesting; the grass was always overgrown; the weeds continually got the better of me. Housework, studio time, and other projects had to be squeezed in around other obligations.

This is the busiest time of year here on Beaver Island; it’s when I work the hardest, and the longest hours at my job, whatever that job is. It’s also the time when  family and friends come here. Of course, I want to find time to see them! Many summers, the only time I get to the beach, to the shore to watch a sunset, or visit any of the wonderful sites that Beaver Island has to offer, is when I go with visitors.

Not this year! Because I was stuck (most pleasantly, but still…) on vacation due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, then had two weeks of mandatory self-quarantine before I could go back to work…I was replaced in my job. I should be concerned, but I’m not. I’m too busy, frankly, enjoying myself. For the first time since I moved to Beaver Island (in 1978!), I am not working this summer!

I wake up every morning to the rooster crowing with a smile on my face, knowing I have this time. I’m doing a little volunteer work. I’m making art. I have a whole routine of meditation, gratitude, reading, drawing, writing and yoga that I enjoy immensely. I’m growing my garden. I’m mowing my lawn before the grass is knee high. I take the dogs for walks morning and evening. Today, I’m contemplating a drive with them down to Fox Lake. I’ll bring my book. I had an ice cream cone for lunch. This is the summer I’ve been dreaming of!

Thanks, Dad…

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It is Father’s Day. My Dad would be on my mind today for that reason alone. This time of year, though, there are many things that make me think of him. The weeks of spring and early summer were Dad’s time, when he brought his expertise at farming and gardening into practice for his large family, and when he showed tremendous patience in sharing that knowledge.

It was in the spring when Dad would bargain and trade for truckloads of manure, often delivered in steaming mounds when he was at the shop, where he worked second shift as an electrician for Chevrolet. Mom would direct the driver to dump it at the edge of the garden, and downwind from the house. In the spring, Dad would be up at the crack of dawn, and out on the tractor early, to till and enrich the stubborn clay soil. Spring, he’d plot out the garden, and start pounding in stakes, running twine down the rows, and putting in plants and seeds.

The peas can be planted as early as Mother’s Day, and replanted every two weeks for a longer harvest. When planting corn, your hand, stretched out from thumb to pinkie finger, can be used to space the kernels down the row. After planting a hill of squash or pumpkins, run both hands through the surrounding earth to make a circular depression, to hold the water there. A thick mulch around squash, melons and tomatoes will hold the moisture, and keep the weeds at bay. Some things I learned because Dad taught me; others I picked up just from watching him.

Still, today, when I’m working in the garden, it seems like Dad is right there, at my side. I’ll puzzle over something for a minute, and then the answer will come. It seems, always, to come from Dad. Did it arrive as a distant memory, fresh in my mind just when I needed it? Or did my Dad, so present in my garden, just convey that bit of wisdom to me? Either way, he surely had a hand in it.

A few years ago, I answered a question posed by a friend on why I garden:

I garden for the connection…to the earth, yes, but also…
…to my father, gone now almost twenty years, and the memories of the first little garden he helped us plant. I can see him, still, cutting the furrow in with the hoe, and letting us – tiny children – measure with our hands to space the dried peas and beans, then helping us to cover them over and tamp down the earth…
…to my mother, who would accept our meager bowls of berries or beans and figure a way to incorporate the little bit we hadn’t already eaten fresh into a dish for the whole family…
…to my children who, when I realized children benefited from watching things grow, caused me to abandon my plans to “never step foot in a garden as an adult”, and helped me to know that we all benefit from getting our hands in the earth…
…to other gardeners everywhere who, I find, are related to me through our connection to growing things, whether we have another single thing in common or not…
…and not only presently, but through time, for I can relate to Henry David Thoreau or E.B.White or Celia Thaxter when they speak of their gardens, as if they were sitting here with me today…
For all of this, I garden.

These reasons hold true for me, still, and on this Father’s Day, it feels important to note that my Dad’s influence was the first on the list. Thanks, Dad!

Dear Mom…

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When my mother was alive, I missed a thousand opportunities to have a chat with her. I could have easily picked up the telephone, but didn’t. My letter writing was pretty hit or miss: I’d write pretty regularly for a while, then neglect the practice for months at a time. I am ashamed to admit that sometimes, arriving in my home town, I’d deliberately drive past my parent’s house, waiting until I felt “more prepared” for a visit.

In the last few months of Mom’s life, when I knew the end was imminent, I regretted each one of those missed opportunities, and cherished every chance I had to speak with her. Though she’s been gone almost nine years now, there are still things I wish I could talk to her about.

Dear Mom, the pussy willows are blooming, now, off the King’s Highway. They always make me think of you. I first noticed them growing there more than thirty years ago, when I saw Madonna McCafferty, parked at the side of the road and trying to navigate the ditch to cut some of them. You always had a big bouquet of pussy willows every spring. I wish I knew where you got them. You put them in a glossy, mottled gray ceramic vase. The vase sat in the back room, on top of the clothes dryer. The blossoms seemed to last for months.

The few times I’ve followed in Madonna’s path and waded into the ditch to cut them, they seemed hardly worth the effort. After only a few days, each gray fluff would  send out a myriad of tiny threads with yellow ends, that would drop in a powdery mess all over the table. How did you make yours last so long? How did you keep them from going to seed?

Dear Mom, the snowball bush is in bloom in my front flower bed. Mine is much more upright in habit than the one that grew beside the cinder driveway in your parent’s yard, but the blossoms are the same. Their’s grew rounded, like an igloo, with each of the branches tipping over to the ground. It left a hollow space underneath. You’d walk us on the path from our house to theirs, then go inside to visit with Grandma, while Brenda, Ted and I, tiny children, played in the cool shade under the snowball bush. I wonder if Grandpa Ted pruned it to make it grow that way. I wish I’d thought to ask you.

Dear Mom, after working in the yard and garden for most of yesterday afternoon, I was ready for a simple summer supper. Grilled kielbasa and potato salad was my plan. I always use your recipe for potato salad: potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, radishes and cucumber. Cooking for your big family, you always made two large dishes of potato salad: one with onion; one without. Most of the time, I don’t bother with the onion, though I like it both ways. The dressing is mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper. I’m a little more generous with the mustard, but otherwise, just like yours.

When making pasta or potato salad, I always make a big batch so that I can eat it all week. Not a “big batch” by your standards, mind you, but enough to fill my two-quart covered bowl. So, I set the potatoes and eggs to boil while I cleaned up and changed out of my gardening clothes. Then, as you well know, it took a concentrated effort to drain, cool, peel, slice and dice all the ingredients. By the time I mixed it all together and put in in the refrigerator while I grilled the meat, it was almost 7:30! Not such an “easy summer supper,” after all! I blame you for that, Mom. You always made it seem so effortless.

Dear Mom, my rhubarb is doing well this year. I’ve given quite a bit of it away and, three times this spring, pulled out your recipe for rhubarb crisp. It’s a nice dessert when it’s warm, fresh out of oven and topped with milk, the way you used to serve it to us. After that, I’ll eat it for breakfast, cold, until it’s gone. I was still in high school when you gave me the recipe. I wrote it right inside the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook that you’d gotten me for Christmas, on the contents page for the chapter on desserts.

Rhubarb Crisp

1 cup flour, 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 stick of butter

Mix together until crumbly. Put half of mixture in a buttered 13 x 9 inch pan. Top with three cups of diced rhubarb. Cover with remaining crumble. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and two tablespoons of water. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.

The ingredients were written at a forward slant; I hadn’t yet gotten in the habit of writing with the upright letters that I was certain looked more creative. Oh, and that reminds me, your beautiful handwriting…

I could go on and on.

 

 

 

Finally, the Garden

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the west (back) edge of the garden, with freshly planted tomatoes inside, and a healthy border of rhubarb outside the fence

Yes, it’s that time of year again: garden time! Actually, I’m late. I could have planted peas a month ago, and most of the greens would have appreciated a cooler start. Here it is, June already. And a very warm June, too. Even here in northern Michigan, where nighttime frosts are a danger well into the late spring, I should have had my seeds in the ground before this.

Spring – once again – got away from me. First it was cold. Cold enough for the furnace and, when I stubbornly decided I would not continue to use propane well into May and turned off the gas, cold enough that I had to bring the portable heater downstairs. Sixty degrees should not be too much to ask for! A month ago, I still had snow along the fringes of my yard.

Next came the rain, which washed out the last of the snow, freshened everything up, and caused the grass to grow. Oh, yes, and the mosquitoes hatched. So, first, in order to be able to work outside without being carried away by blood-thirsty insects, I had to mow the lawn. So the garden waited.

In hindsight, I always think I could have sped up the process, stuck to it longer each day, pushed myself harder, but at the time, it feels like I’m doing all that I can. With my little 18″ push mower, and whole swaths of long, tough quack grass, it took me four days to complete the job.

Finally, the garden. Which has taken a week. Though each evening I told myself I’d be able to finish up the next day, it hasn’t worked out that way. Mornings have been damp and chilly. Mosquitoes are voracious. By mid-day, the sun is beating down mercilessly. The dogs peek out with pathetic expressions from their bits of shade, pleading for a walk or a ride to the lake.

So, every day, I carry outside:

  • a tote of garden tools
  • my garden plan, sketched in pencil on graph paper
  • the book, Carrots Love Tomatoes, on companion planting, which I use to plot out my planting arrangement, but also refer to when I’m squeezing something in
  • sun screen
  • mosquito repellent
  • my full-body, hooded, polyester net, hotter-than-hell-but-effective anti-insect suit, for when mosquito repellent is not enough

And I give it my best. And every evening, I carry it all back inside.

It’s coming along. I have planted thirteen tomato plants, all generous gifts from family and friends, and sixteen basil plants started by my cousin Bob. I have double-dug, spaded and raked nine garden beds, each roughly 36″ wide and twelve feet long. I’ve planted peas, bush beans, summer squash, winter squash, and cucumbers.

Yesterday, on my afternoon walk with the dogs, I gathered long branches that had fallen over the winter, and carried them home. Today, I’ll use them to make my pole bean tepees, and plant those seeds around the perimeter. Because I have run out of space, I’ll plant Swiss chard around and inside of those tepees, and hope for the best. The kale seeds are going in the asparagus bed, along the north wall of the garden, and the salad greens will be planted in my last canvas tub. That’s it! Finally, the garden will be done!

 

 

Bumping Along

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“Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word. I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep. The world goes on as it must, the bees in the garden rumbling a little, the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten. And so forth. But I’m taking the day off. Quiet as a feather. I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance. Stillness. One of the doors into the temple.”

~Mary Oliver

I was doing fine, really. Covid-19 entered our world, our consciousness, our news cycles, and we were all affected. Sadness, loss and fear became a daily, always escalating theme. Through all this craziness, that seems to have thrown the whole world into a tailspin, I was okay.

In February, when the virus was just beginning to make the news, my sisters and I took a planned trip to Florida. In March, when it was making bigger news, my daughter Jen and I, after thoughtful discussion and much weighing of options, decided to push forward with our plans to visit my daughter Kate in Hawaii. We listened to warnings and advice, took added precautions, and warily made the trip.

By the end of our first week there, the virus had taken off, closing down travel and businesses throughout the state, and the country. We kept a close watch on the numbers in all of the states. Just like everyone else, we were horrified at the mounting death toll, and fearful of the future. As one scheduled flight after another was delayed, then cancelled, we kept in touch with family members, work associates, and the lovely people who were taking care of my dogs.

Still, I more than once said, “If we have to be stuck, what a wonderful situation to be stranded in: surrounded by family…in Hawaii!” With my normal routine disrupted by the enforced, extended vacation, I expanded the time I spent writing and drawing. I continued my little exercise routines. I read a lot.

Time spent at the house was lovely. Mornings, Jen and I sat on the porch, drinking coffee, chatting and reading books. Chickens were always close by, and three little Kona pigs often stopped in. One of my daughters or grandchildren would sometimes accompany me on my walks.

Excursions were extra special for their scarcity. One morning Kate, Jen and I walked on the lava cliffs at the shoreline. One night, my son-in-law, Jeremy, took me up into the foothills to look at the stars. On our last day there, we gathered lava rocks and bits of coral from a beautiful, deserted beach while watching the waves crash against the shore.

Getting home was scary, with stops in Los Angeles and Detroit. Again, we were thoughtful and careful, taking every precaution throughout the trip. The trip from Lansing to my home on Beaver Island was a new adventure, too. I have become hyper-aware of every encounter, whether with humans or door handles. A simple pause at a rest stop was a mask-wearing, disinfecting-wipe-wielding, hand-sanitizer-using challenge!

Finally home, I had two weeks of self-isolation that I spent loving on my dogs and re-acclimating myself to the not-so-perfect weather. I think leaving Hawaii’s near perfect climate would always require adjustment…but snow?! Really! Still, I kept my good habits, and enjoyed my time alone.

After that time, I did not go back to work. Though my position in the hardware store is considered “essential,” I am of an age that falls into a high-risk group. In addition, my boss had to keep the store staffed while I was stuck on vacation, so hired new employees. Business has been slow. While I was away, several things broke down, and it sounds like for some reason I am considered at fault for not letting the boss know (I know, right?).

In any case, at least for the time being, I don’t appear to have a job. Worrisome, yes, but unemployment benefits will keep me going for a while. I have on-going projects in the studio, and many others in the planning stages. It’s spring, so there is plenty to keep me busy in the yard and garden. I called to offer my volunteer services at local non-profit. I still have my daily “meditate-write-study-draw-yoga-walk-read” routine to give substance to my days.

So, I was doing fine. Until, with no warning at all, I wasn’t. I lost a filling, and getting in to see a dentist has proved challenging. My ex-husband’s aunt died. I broke the handle that turns on the water to my shower. The replacement I bought for it was missing a set screw. I learned that an old friend, my age, has been put into hospice care. My tomato plants didn’t come. Big things and small, they all played on my emotions.

After having just explained to a friend how I had conquered my insomnia by getting up at a set – early – time each day, I spent an entire night tossing and turning. That was the final straw. Yesterday, I woke up discouraged and depressed.

I was fearful of the future, worried about finances, and troubled about my work situation. I was distressed by the bitterness and animosity that is running rampant on social media, disheartened by a thoughtless comment made by a political candidate (does he not realize how important this is??), and sad for the state of the whole world.

I let myself be miserable. I not only allowed it, I wallowed in it. I skipped over or abbreviated every element of my morning routine. I ignored my to-do list. I took a long afternoon nap. I watched mindless shows on Netflix. I went to bed early.

Today, I’m better. It turns out it wasn’t the early signs of a big down-turn It’s not a path I’m staying on. It was just a few bumps in the road.

Dogs Can’t Tell Time

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Dogs can’t tell time, and that’s often a comfort to me. .

When I dropped my dogs off at the kennel in March, I intended to be back in ten days. I gave each of them loving pats and hugs, and assured them that I’d be home soon. My planned one-week-in Hawaii vacation became complicated, however, by lock-downs and restrictions due to Covid-19. It was a full month before I made it home. I had missed the dogs terribly, and knew they’d be happy to see me, too. My mind was eased, though, knowing that they didn’t really register how long I’d been away.

Sometimes it seems like dogs can tell time. One of my sisters keeps an eye on her dogs remotely with a “nanny-cam.” Sure enough, when it’s just about time for her husband to pull into the driveway, they rouse themselves and move toward the door. My dogs know when they should get their dinner, and if anything keeps me from noticing the time, they are quick to remind me. Likewise, when it gets close to ten o’clock at night, they know it’s bedtime.

Work used to keep me away from home for long stretches each day. I’d remind myself that my house-bound companions couldn’t really tell if I was away for four hours, or six, or eight. They would generally just sleep until they heard my car. Rosa Parks, who is getting hard of hearing, would often still be sleeping when I walked in the door.

Now, in these crazy, scary circumstances, I’m home almost all the time. The dogs come with me when I walk. They crowd into the bathroom with me when I get into the shower. They follow me upstairs if I go to work in the studio. When I do leave home, to pick up groceries or the mail, it’s just a quick trip. Sometimes, I just sneak out to put compost in the bin while the dogs are napping.

When I come back through the door, though, whether I’ve been gone ten minutes or two hours, I’m greeted with enthusiasm. They come to meet me with kisses and wagging tails, as if I’d been away a month. Fortunately, dogs can’t tell time!

Put On Pants!

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Hasn’t life changed?! Pretty amazing, really. Tragic, yes. Scary, of course. This is new…different…unknowable. We have no idea what will happen next. Though there is lots of speculation, none of us can really see how this is going to pan out. Which is what makes it all so frightening…and amazing.

There have been few occurrences in my long life that I knew – as they happened – how important they were in the large scheme of things. Things that would change everything. There was the first man in space; the moon landing; the dismantling of the Berlin Wall; and the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Most, though, have been associated with tragedy: assassinations; shootings; wars; terrorist attacks. And now this. Covid-19.

In the big world, people seem to be taking sides, and forming camps, as if we were fighting Nazis rather than a virus. I don’t think anyone is actually taking the side of the illness, but there are certainly those that think it is blown out of proportion, or an all-out hoax.

Life versus the economy seems to be one thread. Each political party seems able to find members of the opposing party that they can accuse of making money from the situation. People who protect themselves with masks and gloves are mad at those who don’t. The ones that don’t seem to think it’s an unreasonable imposition. Who has the right, after all, to try to control the spread of disease?

It’s all too much. I watch the news; I keep an eye on the reports. I suit up responsibly whenever I have to go to town, and I don’t go to town more than is absolutely necessary. Mostly, I stay home.

From the safety of my little house off the Fox Lake Road, I notice, with fascination, how my own life has changed. I still get up early, even when there’s no place I have to be. I don’t set an alarm, though I may start. On days when I sleep later, I feel behind all day. I’m happy to have a routine, and I stick with it.

In my life at home, casual comfort is key. If I switch from slippers to shoes, the dogs know it’s time for a walk. I never wore much make-up, but it’s completely out now. Who would know? Even on trips to town, my face is covered. Moving through the day, I go from pajamas to sweats and back to pajamas. Yesterday, running out to pick up a prescription, I had to remind myself to put on real pants.

I’m happy to report that I am finding time to do many of the things that I always said I would “if I only had the time.” I write every day; I draw every day. I get two good walks in, and other exercise besides. I spend time in the studio almost every day. I’ve taken two on-line courses. Always a fan of self-help books, I now give them, one by one, my full attention. I take notes, highlight passages, mark pages for review, and actually put what I learn into practice!

In other areas, more time does not seem to make a difference. My housekeeping leaves a lot of room for improvement. I still have a long list of projects to tackle. I’ve managed to avoid yard work, even on the warm days.

And, when the world is smaller, little things take on greater importance. I almost cried when I over-cooked a meat loaf last week. When my little tablet quit working, I thought I’d have a nervous breakdown! It has both Kindle and Audible on it, with several books I’m loving right now. My daughters both tried to help, and Kate managed to figure out the problem, long distance. Before I fell apart.

Telephone calls make me unreasonably happy, now in my isolation, and I’ve become more chatty than ever before. I think my cousin, Bob, and I, in two long, recent phone conversations, have spoken more words to each other than we have in the last year!

So, some improvements, some stagnation, some sadness and some joy in my life, in the middle of this world-wide crisis. Like everyone, I’m concerned. For the most part, though, I’m okay. Just as long as I remember to put on the pants!

That’s One Good Thing!

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My friend, Linda, who puts out a wonderful food blog (https://mrsportlyskitchen.com/) from her home in England, wrote today about frustrations of this situation we’re in. Lock-down, isolation, quarantine: by any name, it is frustrating. Different for each one of us, I’m sure.

The “normal life” things that I miss are based on what I’m used to; I suppose that’s true for each of us. Also, like me, many may be finding things they like very much about this slower world. It’s an opportunity to experience a whole different lifestyle. Though I feel guilty acknowledging benefits to a crisis that has caused so much pain, and even death, there are good things going on.

Likewise, I hate to grumble. There are things that I miss, and things that are more difficult now, at least for the time being. Like Linda, I feel like I should just be quiet about inconveniences, and disruptions of normal activities. Many folks are enduring much worse. This is serious stuff. We all know that.

Still, it’s human nature, isn’t it, to make comparisons, for better or worse? So I appreciate the almost total lack of traffic as I walk my dogs down the Fox Lake Road; I worry that I’m down to three rolls of toilet paper; and I whine to myself about changes in my routine. Sometimes, I’m bored.

These are things I was thinking about while mulling over Linda’s [much more articulate] blog on this topic. She mentioned the urge to fall back on dinners of beans on toast when cooking for just herself and her husband. Then the realization struck me: I don’t have a husband!

Right away, I felt a wave of relief that I am not contending with relationship issues, or even simple “man-in-the-house” issues during this time. Now, I know nothing about Linda’s husband; I’m sure he’s a very nice man. I can, however, conjure up extremely clear images of my own ex-husband, and a few other men that I kept company with over the years. They all had their good points. Being confined in quarantine with any one of them? A nightmare!

Terry hated to play games. He despised being stuck at home. He would have broken quarantine, I’m sure, just to get away from me. Or, he would be sleeping. He slept when he was bored; he snored when he slept. Others watched too much TV, or cheated at games, or talked too much, or never wanted to talk. It’s clear that, if I had company here, I’d be miserable

Hearing about efforts at home-schooling, I already thought to be glad that I no longer have small children at home. Until today, I hadn’t thought to be grateful that I am single! In all of this madness, that’s one good thing!

Zoom!

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Today is the last day of April. Outside, it’s still overcast, rainy and cold.

Today is the last day of the April A~Z challenge. Though I started late, I made it through the alphabet, twenty-six blog posts in a row. In my gratitude journal this morning, I wrote that I’m grateful to be at the end of this daily writing commitment. After a few weeks without a break, I feel like I’ve run out of interesting things to write about, and those last few letters, V, W, X, Y and Z, are always difficult.

I have meandered through these last few weeks, but it’s time to get serious. This is spring! It’s time to get busy! There are a dozen tasks right here in this room that could use my attention. Outside, there are a hundred more. The studio waits for me, with works in progress, and ideas to explore. It’s time – way past time, in fact – to get cracking on that diet and exercise program I laid out in January. Spring! Zoom, zoom, zoom!

Not today, though. Today, I’m going easy on myself. I’m midway through a good book; I may curl up in my comfortable chair and finish it, my “To-Do” list be damned!

X-Ray

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Blackie Chan and Darla, enjoying the morning sun

Sixth-hour Study Hall was held in the large cafeteria of Lapeer Senior High School. Being the last hour of the school-day, it was the best time for a free period. Students from grades nine through twelve were combined there. We were seated at long tables arranged in rows, overseen by one teacher, and separated roughly by grade.

Despite its name, studying was low on the priority list for many of the students in Study Hall. The teen-agers huddled over the tables, whispering about anything other than what was contained in the notebooks and texts strewn over the surface. When the teacher’s back was turned, a flurry of wadded paper balls would fly from one table to another. Now and then, a fight broke out.

I had convinced my mother that Study Hall was a good idea. “I’ll be able to get all my homework done at school,” I told her, “that way, I can help out when I get home.” I wasn’t known, as my sister Brenda was, for “helping out.” In fact, I often used the excuse of “homework” to get out of helping. For whatever reason, Mom agreed to it anyway.

I was fourteen, and in the ninth-grade. After eight years in Catholic school, taught by nuns, this was a wild new experience. I aspired to be one of the kids that was whispering, passing notes, and giggling with friends. I wanted to be a dare-devil, trouble-maker, one of the students singled out by the teacher with warning looks. Mostly, though, I did my homework. Then, I filled the margins and covers of my notebooks. I practiced different handwriting styles, did sketches, and copied the lettering found on record albums. I rarely got in trouble.

One day stands out. The teacher had stepped out of the room, and several students were taking advantage of the situation. Voices called out to friends across the room; kids left their seats.

An eleventh grade boy, a popular kid that Brenda had told me was “really cool,” stood up. He pulled a pair of shades out of his shirt pocket and put them on. He struck a pose as his eyes swept the room (think “the Fonz”). His glance paused on me. “These are X-ray specs,” he said. His eyebrows went up and down twice, Groucho Marx style.

I can still feel the heat of my face turning red. I remember the horror I felt. Was it true that a “cool boy” might now know the secret of my AA bra, stuffed with old nylons to keep the cups from collapsing against my flat chest? And how could I go on?

Then, somebody gave the boys arm a punch. There was laughter. Another boy called out, “You’re a liar!” And it was over. Blessed relief!

This incident happened more than fifty years ago. I’ve forgotten many of the details. I don’t know who I was sitting with or what I was studying. I can’t remember what the boy’s name was. Yet, when the letter of the day is X, this is the story that comes to mind!