Chocolate War-Gifts

October 27, 2013

Santi made room for them.  In the moonlight a bruise revealed itself on his cheek.  Yohan pretended not to notice.  Instead he unwrapped a chocolate bar and shared it with them.

…Yohan had tasted chocolate for the first time at the camp.  It had been sent from America. A nurse rested the bar on the damp operating table, then cut it with a surgeon’s knife.

She shared it with those in the field tent.  Pieces the size of fingernails.  He stood in the corner and placed a piece on his tongue and kept his lips pressed together, unused to the flavor, the sweetness.  Watching the men on the cots and the other nurses do the same. All of them silent as though they each held a secret.

The nurse had also given some to a boy who lived beyond the camp.  In the days that followed Yohan would see him through the fences, standing in the fields, looking down at his shirt where there was a chocolate stain, which he licked.  When the taste vanished he continued to lift the spot on his shirt and sniff. He did so long after the scent faded.  Each time he grinned.               –  Snow Hunters, Paul Yoon, pp.77-78.

Before the call and response section during the Percussion Party last night at Music Life, the music store downtown, Bill told us that rhythm is sound and silence – that the silence is just as important as the sound.  Yoon’s chocolate speaks for itself.





The Lone Ranger Volunteer

October 22, 2013

OK, so not exactly the Lone Ranger.  BUT as I left our great-nephew’s 4th grade classroom today, one of the boys at the back of the line, just before the last of them walked out their classroom door, said, “What was your name?”  And later, I couldn’t help but smile.  (I told him my real one.)

Up until today, I’d been an invisible volunteer.  Which I was happy to be.  I’d signed up because I’d wanted to help in whatever way I could.  Jack’s class was infamous in the county – a too-full class of unruly, troubled children who stretched the term “classroom management” to new levels.  This year, with a brand new school superintendent and a brand new, tough little teacher, even that classroom seemed full of promise.  And when Jack’s mom mentioned that she was volunteering, I’d thought, “Sheesh.  Why didn’t I think of that?”  So I signed up.  I’d emailed the teacher and said that I was a good trash-putter-outer, an especially bright capability of mine, and she’d emailed back, saying that had made her laugh.  But bottom line: she got the idea.  I was pretty much willing to do anything.

The first morning I was supposed to show up, I forgot.  Oops.  So much for trash-woman-of-the-year.  I’d emailed the teacher again, apologizing in CAPS, so she’d be sure to get the intensity of my repentance, and give me a second chance.  I managed to show up, on time, the next school day….which unfortunately was a Monday, so of course she hadn’t gotten my email over the weekend, where I’d asked her if that day was OK – (no, contrary to popular opinion, teachers do not live at the school) – so I waltzed in with a very bright, willing smile, ready for my instructions, but since she’d had no idea I was coming, it was a complete surprise to her.  Oops.  (Again.)  BUT there was a man there, who was also a volunteer, and after I’d sat silently for a bit, he gave me some instructions.  I’d happily followed them and when I’d completed my assignment and was again sitting like a compliant little mouse (unusual for me, but I had messed up twice and wanted to do my best to improve my standing on the 4th grade volunteer list of the world, I wanted to put my best foot forward), he suggested that I maybe work on the books on the shelves, their classroom “library.”  Wow – that was exactly what I wanted to do:  a project to put things in order!  I’d be sticking small color-coded stickers on the spines of the books indicating reading levels, and yoo boy, I knew I could do that!  So I began following the directions to the “t,” putting on yellow stickers for the earliest reading levels, red for the next, followed by blue and then green.  After that, there were no more colors that would work (purple, pink and teal just didn’t come in the primary color package), but after a couple of volunteer days (one / week), I simply began identifying them by location on the shelves, while determining to find some of those rare colors some place else.  I went in today, ready to continue work on the books and oops:  the teacher wasn’t there.  There was a substitute.  (And she was a nice one).

I cannot imagine being a substitute teacher.  I have to have all of my ducks in a row.  I can swing along in some settings, but when organization and structure are needed (at least in one’s head, even if it’s not in the physical space), I need to know what’s what.  So the idea of being a sub where one arrives two minutes before the kids, with exactly that many minutes to read over an entire day’s worth of the teacher’s lesson plans, while figuring out the lunch money routine, attendance chart, seating arrangement and who-knows-what-else, the scenario does not appeal to me.  I’d be lost.  I wouldn’t care how much they’d be paying me.  I’d have to have those lesson plans at least 24 hours in advance.  And that’s just not how it works.  So the first thing that struck me was that the sub looked pretty OK.  She looked comfortable and OK, and this was saying something in that particular class (even though it had been split in half with an extra teacher hired.  It was not an easy group.)  I walked over to “my” table, where the book project always happened, and kept my ears and eyes open.  I was a teacher for too many years not to have my ears and eyes open.  And as I said, she was OK, but I sensed she might be still OK if I offered to help.  I approached her quietly and asked if she would let me read to the group while she got a bit more organized.  She very graciously gave her permission.  So I began reading the paper aloud that the kids had in front of them about the “Woodland Native Americans” in our region.  And then, right away, I knew I was going to have fun.  I’d never been in front of a group of 4th graders before, but before I knew it, I was in a groove.  At one point, darned if I wasn’t telling them about my Daddy chopping the heads off of the chickens that he butchered for us to eat.  (I knew they’d love the part about where the headless hens continued hopping and jumping and I was not wrong about that.)  They began really thinking:  one wanted to know if that’s why fish sort of jumped after they were dead, and there was another example which I cannot now remember but I told them they had great questions, that I thought that the reason was the same, but that they should go to the library and ask the librarian to help them look up the answer.  They really looked like they might want to do that.  When they began talking more than they should, I did hand clapping games and silent hand motions that they needed to copy.  Land sakes, it worked.  I let them act stuff out.  They did.  Good grief, I was in my glory.  And the sub just let me go.  I was so grateful.  The time flew for me, and gosh, I think it did for them, too.  I didn’t get to point out Wyoming, which I’d intended to do (it was related), and I didn’t get to define all of the vocab words (and I would’ve loved that) but they did get “plaza” before the end, I think – we’d acted that out – and they seemed like it had been pretty good.  When our time was up, Jack (one of the best students who has found himself in that particular class – before the split – every year since kindergarten and who has tried to let most of the difficulties roll off his shoulders) came up to me quietly before they all left and said, “Thanks for coming.”  And then there was the one at the very end who asked, “What was your name?”  So yep.  As I said, not exactly the Lone Ranger Volunteer, but it was fun enough to feel like it – for me, anyway.  And if you have fun with something and others are there, too, it can’t be all bad, right?  Hehehe.  So that’s how I spent my Tuesday morning, from 10 – 12 on this gorgeous October day.  🙂


Time to Listen: Candy Voices

October 14, 2013

Chestertown hosts an annual book festival; the town was the site of the culminating event for the One Maryland / One Book program a few years back when James McBride spoke at the Fine Arts Center up the street; Washington College gives the largest literary prize in the country to a graduating senior each year and the local news frequently contains information about poets and authors giving lectures here.  So I think it’s safe to say that one can find books and book gatherings tucked away in lots of corners of our neck of the woods.  Recently (within the past year) I became a part of a local book group – a small group of high school friends and friends of friends and we’ve been reading whatever has struck our fancy.  Our most recent title is King Peggy, (another One MD / One Book selection), which I finished last night.  (At 2 A.M., I’m sorry to say, which is a problem with me and books – an especially significant problem when I have to get up at 6 to do breakfast, but here I sit at 3 P.M., and I haven’t konked out yet, so it’s going to work out just fine).  I love reading a book like there’s no tomorrow…

Friends and neighbors greeted one another cheerfully.  Peggy closed her eyes and listened.  The voices of Ghanaians had a different timbre entirely from Americans’.  Their voices were rich, deep, and reminded her of different kinds of candy–there was the bittersweet chocolate voice of an old man, the caramel and nut voice of a middle-aged woman, the mint chocolate voice of a middle-aged man, the butter cream voice of a young woman.

And Peggy’s voice?  Someone had once told her it was like hot chocolate, and that her laughter was like boulders of chocolate rolling down a mountain.  She had thought the remark was odd at the time but now, listening to the African voices all around her, she understood it.     (pp. 157-158, King Peggy, Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman, 2012). 

Candy voices:  do you have time to hear them?

Location, Location, Location.

You might notice the WAC Administration Building cupola out of the corner of your eye as you walk onto Simply Bed & Bread's brick path, since our house is just a stone's throw away from the college. Or it might be the ...
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