Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, June 30, 2013

"To LOOK sharp ..."

My bristles are falling out.

Out of my shaving brush, that is.  I've had that brush quite a while--fifteen years or so?--so I guess it's earned the right to fall apart, to shed.  Just like the rest of us as we near that age at which we own as many years as hairs on our head.  Anyway, I purchased that old brush at the local Acme store (grocery) back when (they carried shaving brushes and soap), but when I looked today ... nada.

I thought I'd try CVS or one of the other chain pharmacies that now fill the corners of every crossroads in America, but then decided not to waste gas.  Ordered one on Amazon--100% authentic boar bristle, I read, and I wondered (just briefly, mind you) about the poor boars who have their (whats?) plucked so that nostalgic men can shave their fat faces.

I just checked the ever-reliable Internet and found this bit of information about them:

Natural Bristle brushes actually come from a special breed of boar raised solely for its bristles. The bristles are carefully harvested using a process similar to the methods employed in shearing sheep. The boar are extremely well cared-for; their bristles are harvested repeatedly during their long lifetimes.

I hope that's true.  It sounds ... humane.  I don't like to think that--somewhere--there's an Igor with a set of rusty pliers and a screaming animal chained in a dank dungeon.  Just so I can shave the old-fashioned way.

I started shaving a few years before I needed to.  A number of my friends were already shaving--or should have been.  I was in ninth grade (1958-1959), and on a trip to Sears with my mom, we visited the Men's Toiletries (or whatever they called it) to look at razors.  I was humiliated.  I did not want the salesperson (a very attractive young woman) discovering that I was buying my first razor (rather, my mom was buying my first razor), so I--honest to God--pretended the entire time that we were buying one for a friend, who, just by coincidence mind you, had facial skin a lot like mine.  A lot like it.  My mom--smirking only slightly--went along with this deception that fooled no one.

In those days, Gillette was marketing three types of razors called ... cleverly ... Light, Medium, and Heavy.  (The old TV commercial for them had a tenor sing "Light," a baritone "Medium," a basso profundo "Heavy."  That Heavy Guy's voice was so deep he could have sung the hell out of Stewpot in South Pacific.)  I wanted Heavy, pretended it was a close call between Light and Medium.  Sighed and settled for a Light, which did indeed suffice to cut the single whisker on my chinny-chin-chin, which boldly reappeared about a month after the first harvest.

So ... I used that Light razor and a can of Barbasol, both of which served me well, right through college.  By the time I was in my twenties, I really did need to shave most every day, and I very quickly tired of the drudgery.  (Time shaving = time not sleeping.)  So I began to cultivate some areas that would need no edged attention: my sideburns, a moustache.  I had a little Chaplinesque thing when I met Joyce, and it apparently did not repel her sufficiently.  I think she actually liked this sign of rebellion in me, feeble though it was.

I tried a few beards early in our marriage, always giving up when I was in full grunge and looked more like a serial killer than the school teacher I was.  (I always did this in the summer, too, so that I didn't have to deal with administrators, who, bless their hearts, favored hairless-faced men in the classroom.)  But when our son was in sixth grade, he, unthinking, said he'd like to see me in a beard.

Always the accommodating father, I grew one.  It's still on my face.  Photographs, however, show its evolution: dark, gray (fifty shades of), white.

But the best thing about it?  I have to shave only twice a week.  My neck.  My upper cheeks.  Takes a few minutes.  Creature of habit that I am (something that can annoy Joyce more than my little Chaplin-stash did in 1969), I shave on Thursday and Sunday.  No exceptions.  If I forget on Thursday, I wait till Sunday to make up the difference.

For the past--what?--twenty-five or thirty years I've been using old-fashioned shaving soap and a boar-bristle brush.  I have not ever tried a straight razor: Too many horror movies (not to mention Sweeney Todd) make me afraid even to hold one.  I remember that my great-grandfather used one, though--had an old-fashioned razor-strap, too, which he sometimes suggested he would use on us if we didn't shut-the-hell up.  (He never did, though.)  Dad used a Gillette, then, later, an electric.  I tried electric.  Never liked it.

I keep the little disc of shaving soap in a Hiram College coffee cup.  For years, I used a cup I'd bought back when I was a student there (1962-1966): It bore a picture of old Hinsdale Hall (RIP) and the former motto: Let There Be Light.  (It's since been Latinized: Fiat Lux.)  I dropped it, breaking off the finger-ring, used it sans finger-ring for years, then dropped it again.  Buh-bye.  So via Zazzle.com I designed and ordered and now use a new Hiram mug.

And, yes, I prefer the old-fashioned boar-bristle brush--even if it means Igor and the pliers and a dank basement.  Some things are just worth it, you know?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What Would I Do Now?

When I was in college (1962-1966), the world seemed a lot more stable than it does now.  Oh, sure, there was the Cold War, ever threatening to go Hot, and never more so than in the fall of 1962, my freshman year--the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Ever the optimist, I did my homework those October nights, never believing catastrophe would actually occur.  (One sure measure of the profound depths of my naivete.)

But except for the threat of thermonuclear war (!!), the world I was preparing to enter seemed to me a pretty predictable place.  My father was teaching at Hiram College; my grandfather (Dad's  father-in-law) had been a professor, too, only recently retired.  Their professional lives--a generation apart--were not all that different, one from the other.

And when I began teaching at Aurora Middle School (its name in the fall of 1966), my life was not any different from what my mother's had been--she, too, had been a secondary school English teacher.  The technology available to me in my classroom was not much different from what I had experienced as a student at Hiram High School, with the possible exception of the overhead projector--not the kind with a computer on the other end (there were no personal computers), the kind on which you would lay a transparency to show a class. This is what I mean when I say things seemed ... stable.

Throughout the first couple of decades of my teaching career things didn't really change all that much.  Oh, we got videotape after a while--some laser discs.  But I didn't use computers in the classroom until the last few years of my public school career--the mid-1990s.  By the time I finished my career at Western Reserve Academy, though (2011), newer technology was everywhere.  Students with laptops, Internet in the classrooms, whiteboards, digital projectors, electronic essays, Moodle (it was like having my filing cabinet online) ... astonishing stuff.

An example: One year my WRA students read a Hemingway story ("The Light of the World"); in it, the characters talk about a boxing match--recalling a moment when Stanley Ketchel (they call him "Steve") knocked down Jack Johnson.  And via YouTube I could show the students that exact moment from the 1909 bout!  It seemed ... magical.  (Wanna see it? Link)

But other aspects of my career became more odious as the years went on--and most odious of all?  Standardized testing and the egregious effects it had (and has--even more so) on the quality of school life.  I felt myself becoming more and more not an educator but a trainer--a test-preparation officer.  When I saw where all was headed, I retired from public schools the first second I was eligible--in January 1997.  The job I had loved was transforming into a chore, into something mindless and merciless.  Academic freedom vanished; standardization/homogenization reigned.  And reigns.

So ... if I were in college now, there is no way I would prepare for a teaching career.

And what would I do instead?  Well, throughout most of my life journalism has been an attractive option.  I have freelanced since the early 1980s--op-ed pieces, book reviews, features.  And I've always thought that it was something else I could have done instead of teach.  Write for a newspaper, a magazine.

Remember those?

Journalism, too, has completely transformed since my boyhood when the Sunday Plain Dealer seemed to weigh fifty pounds, and it took all day to read it.  Now, newspapers and magazines are falling like passenger pigeons.  The Sunday paper's so light it floats to the door when the carrier throws it.  The Internet has made everyone a writer, a critic (like a book? don't like it? put your thoughts on Amazon; no credentials required, just online access).  Blogs clog the Web; we have more tweets than a rain forest; Facebook has made it impossible for you to escape your past.  (A FB friend from years ago once reminded me of something stupid and cruel I'd done in 1961.  That will keep you humble!)

So ... today ... I couldn't teach.  Traditional journalism is all but gone.  (The Sunday Plain Dealer has one of the few remaining set of book-review pages in the country; I've been writing for them since 1999.  But it's all tenuous--fragile.  It could be gone any old day.)  I was/am too ugly to be on TV, couldn't handle law school (I once applied, was admitted to CWRU, changed my mind before going), too bad at math for any numbers-related profession ...

So what could I do instead?

"Fries with that?"

Friday, June 28, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 21

Victoria Byle

Free Writing

I hate this place—
this school, this town.

I’m bored.

My family?

I’m bored.

“Why don’t you get a hobby?”
croaks my grandma,
sticking into a stupid album
some old photographs,
curled and yellow and cracking,
like Grandma.

I’m bored.

A text!
I check.
It’s Ursula.

She’s bored.

My thumbs dance:

me 2

Thursday, June 27, 2013

An Errand I Didn't Want to Run

I'd been putting this one off--the trip to the local Acme Pharmacy.  Waiting for me there, I knew, was a little bottle holding a thirty-day supply of bicalutamide, the pills I will begin to take on July 16, the day I go to the Cleveland Clinic to get my first injection that will commence my hormone therapy, a last-ditch effort to stall the progress of (not cure) my prostate cancer, which surgery and radiation both failed to defeat.  My oncologist believes it has moved into the bones (my left ribcage), and I have had pain there for some months--nothing debilitating, nothing I really notice unless I sit in a hard chair, or lean the wrong way, or back into something sturdier than I.

The most recent bone scan (from late April this year) shows the coloration in the rib (the spinal stuff is normal): Something is going on.  But what?  The oncologist waited awhile; now he believes we've waited long enough.

Thus ... the bicalutamide.

I looked the stuff up on WebMD.  Here's what it is:

Bicalutamide is used to treat prostate cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. It is used in combination with hormone treatment. This medication works by blocking the action of male hormones in the prostate, slowing growth of the tumors.

Blocking the action of male hormones.  Get the picture?  That's the drug's principal function.  Prostate cancer cells feed on testosterone.  So ... starve the beast.  And the possible side effects?

Flushing and sweating (hot flashes), body aches and pains, breast swelling/tenderness/pain, headache, dizziness, drowsiness, trouble sleeping, weakness, hair loss, weight changes, constipation, diarrhea, stomach upset, gas, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite may occur.

Not a lot there to look forward to.  (Constipation and diarrhea!  Isn't that a bit like hunger and starvation?  Tall and short?  Brilliant and stupid?  Sick and well?)

My oncologist phoned in the Rx on June 19.  So it's taken me about a week to collect the courage to go get it.  I knew there was really no hurry (I don't start till mid-July)--though I have to say that the days have been whirring by even more alarmingly than they normally do.  (One thing about clich├ęs: They're often true--and the one about time accelerating as you age is absolutely true, at least it has been for me.)

I guess I was happy that it was only $10--thank you, Medicare and Express Scripts!  I joked with the pharmacist: "Change my life for $10--that's a good deal!"  He didn't know if he should laugh or not; I didn't either.  So we just looked at each other.  His eyes were kind.

I turned and went over to another aisle and found a pair of kitchen tongs to replace the rusty pair we've been using to grab ears of corn from the steamer.  $1.28.  Even a better deal.  Joyce found a head of lettuce.

And then we went for a drive to Kent, the town where we met forty-four years ago in a KSU summer grad school class on American Transcendentalism. We tried to talk about other things--about anything except July 16.  But it's not that easy amid the flurry of daily calendar pages whirling around us as if we're in an old movie.

July 16.  What a date in my life.  It's both the day Joyce and I officially met at KSU in 1969 and also our son's birthday--July 16, 1972.  An age ago.  And yesterday.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 20

Tisha Blacque

     Found in folder

Do you know what the first words you said to me this year were?  I bet you don’t’ remember.  So I’ll tell you: Well, you certainly look different this year, Tisha.  Then you sort of smiled and shook your head a little and walked off down the hall to teach your class.
Now what was I supposed to do then?  I mean, you directed me in the school play last spring … you said I did a really good job … and on the last day of school, you even came looking for me.  Remember?  You found me out by the buses that were all lined up out front.  The kids were filing on board.  Teachers were out there, just about all of them, waving good-bye to all the kids.  Lots of kids were crying, especially the 8th graders, who were going on to the high school and would not be back in this building again. 
That sort of made me laugh, all that crying.  For three years those kids have been saying how school sucks, how they hate this place, how they can’t wait to get out of here, how they treat us like babies, how no one trusts us, and on and on.  And then when the last day comes—the day that they’re released from this suckery—what do they do?  They cry!  They write stupid notes to their teachers about how they are grateful, about how they’re going to miss this place.  Some kids even give presents—not just to other kids, but to teachers, too. All kinds of hugging in the halls. More tears. Pretty strange stuff, if you ask me.
Anyway, last spring, the last day, you came and found me.  You walked all the way down the line of buses, looking for mine.  And when you saw me sitting by the window (I was one of the first kids to get on), you tossed a pebble at the window to get my attention.
Well, it got my attention, it almost scared the hell out of me, if you want to know.  And then you motioned for me to lower the window (which we’re not supposed to do, you know, without the driver’s permission, but she wasn’t paying any attention, so I did it, it was hot anyway and most of the other windows were open so I don’t think she ever even noticed in the first place).  So anyway, I lowered it.  And here’s what you said that day, that last day of my seventh grade year when I was getting ready to ride home on the bus: Tisha, I just wanted to tell you one more time how great you were in the play.  Really great.
I felt myself blushing.  You may not believe this, but I’m not really used to teachers saying nice things to me.  I don’t like most teachers, you know, even though I pretend I do—like most kids.  I mean, I don’t suck up to them, like lots of kids do.  I’m not the kind that shows up after school and offers to help clean up the room or something.  You know that.  You can tell.
So anyway, I was blushing, and feeling really stupid and really hoping that no one was noticing.  I guess I sort of mumbled a thank you or something.  And then you said something else: Have a great summer, Tisha—I’ll be thinking about you.  And then you smiled and turned and walked away.
I’ll be thinking about you.
What did that mean?  I thought about that all summer, off and on.  All summer.  I couldn’t really figure out what you were getting at.  And then along in July, late in July, I got that postcard from you.  From New York City.  You had gone to see some plays on Broadway, and you sent me that card that showed Times Square.  Do you remember?  Of course you do … Well, maybe you do.  Maybe you sent a million other cards, I don’t know.  Well, I know you sent some, because at the roller rink some of the other girls said they got a card, too.  I was kind of embarrassed by that, you know?  I thought I was the only one.  So when I found a chance to say I’d gotten one, well, a couple of other girls said they did, too, and that sort of hurt a little. Later, I wondered: Did you send any to guys?
I know … it shouldn’t hurt me.  Because you can write to anybody you want to.  It’s a free country and all that.  You’re a teacher.  I’m a kid.  But still … I thought I was the only one … but I wasn’t.  Doesn’t matter, really.
I guess I should tell you at the rink I met a bunch of kids who don’t go to our school.  (I won’t tell you where they go, because you don’t know them, so what’s the point?)  Anyway, these kids were nice to me, not like a lot of kids at this stupid school, and so we started meeting there a few nights every week, these kids and me.  My parents wondered at first, like what am I doing, going to the rink so often, because I never used to go more than once a week, if that, so anyway, I just went, you know, “I’m starting to like skating.”  And they were okay with that because they don’t really care if I’m around that much or not.  Oh, I know what you’re thinking, that my parents are bad or something, but they’re not.  They love me.  I can tell it.  But, you know, once kids get older and start hanging out with their friends, they don’t want to be around their parents as much, either.  It’s kind of an agreement, you know?
Anyway, these kids at the rink, they don’t dress or act like most of the kids around here.  And I thought it was funny because I was a little scared of these other kids at first, because they looked . . . well, they looked like I do now.  And so I was afraid.
But after a while, after they were so nice to me, I quit being afraid and I started realizing that if you’re nice it doesn’t matter what else you are.
So I started wearing lots of black, too, and at the mall I got my ears pierced.  (My navel, too, though my mom hasn’t seen that and I don’t want her to because if she does she’ll make me take it out.)  And I wear the purple lipstick and the dark make-up.  It’s fun, really, like being in a play every day, dressing up.  It doesn’t mean anything, really.  Not to me.
I won’t lie to you, though.  I don’t wear this stuff much around home.  My mom sort of likes it but my dad would go crazy if he saw me and would say I was a daughter of Satan or something when all I’m doing is just dressing up, pretending, playing a part.  Just like everyone else really.  So I bring clothes and make-up to school in a bag and change before classes start.  It doesn’t take all that long.
Lots of kids treated me strange today, looked at me like I was crazy or something.  It was fun.  No one really said anything too mean.  Not any meaner than usual around here.
You were really the meanest, you know?  I mean, of all people I thought would get it and would not go all weird about it, I thought it would be you.  The teacher who directs the plays.  Who sees kids dress up all the time.  Teaches them how to use make-up.  Teaches them how to play parts.
So why does this part bother you so much?  And why did you laugh at me, today, in the hall?  I don’t understand.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Kick in the Comma-But

I thought some dumb things when I was 8 or 9.  Back in Enid, Oklahoma, in the 1950s I once saw a newspaper headline about a Sadistic Killing.  I read the story (it was brutal, I remember), then asked my mom what a SAY-duh-sak killing was.  She was so baffled (my word-attack skills obviously needed some attention) that I had to show her the headline, and I wish for all the world I could remember what her answer was.

What I remember instead?  The killer (still at large at the time) had his name (what was it?) tattooed on the tops of his fingers--one letter per finger.  So until they caught the guy (did they? or did I just grow tired of it all?), I was checking out the fingers of every man I saw anywhere--from the grocery store to the public buses to the church sanctuary.  (Perhaps I gave my dad's fingers a quick look, too?  And Grandpa ... surely not he ... !)  I figured there was a reward, but I also didn't want any SAY-duh-sak killer practicing his craft on me!  Certainly not in church.

There were other words I screwed up, punctuation I didn't figure out for a long time (semicolons, en-dashes), usage conventions I didn't know (like or as, anyone? comprise or compose?), spelling issues (I still have to look up occurrence every time I use it), words that put my stuttering in the limelight (statistics was a killer--still is, actually; don't ask me to say it aloud for you), words I didn't pronounce properly--for years (coccyx, for example--the tailbone; I'd always said KOSS-iks.  Guess what?  It's KOK-siks.  Sounds naughty, I know, which is probably why our public school science teachers taught us the wrong pronunciation: Imagine a room full of adolescent males chanting KOK-siks! KOK-siks! KOK-siks!  Then, admonished by the teacher, claiming they were just working on their science vocab, you know?  Kind of like reading an old nautical novel and coming across poop deck.  Such a poop appears in Melville's "Benito Cereno," and my juniors always enjoyed that part of the story.  One of my favorites in the story:

Ere long, with a joyless mien, looking up towards the poop, the host
invited his guest to accompany him there, for the benefit of what little
breath of wind might be stirring.

Or this one ...

He had descended from the poop, and, wrapped in thought ...

Or this ...

... and so, amid various grins and grimaces, returned to the poop, feeling a
little strange at first, he could hardly tell why ...

But let's get serious.

One convention of spoken English I mastered very quickly is the dreaded comma-but.  EXAMPLES: I appreciate your concern, but I'd rather do it myself.  I'd like to go to the prom with you, but your best friend just asked me. I'm glad you liked The Da Vinci Code, but it's crap.  Etc.

I very soon learned this convention, and I am now claiming my interpretation of it as Dyer's Law: In any comma-but construction, the true meaning of the sentence follows the comma-but.

You may disagree with me, but if you do, I hope you fall on the poop deck, get a bruised coccyx, and have to share a bunk in the sickbay with a SAY-duh-sak killer.


BONUS: Captain Delano advanced to the forward edge of the poop ...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Spoon River MIddle School: 19

Billy Kidd

Crumpled note found on floor near Buddy Charles’ locker

Hey, Buddy,
That new Brian kid rides my bus. Last night I went to sit—you know where I always sit—and that kid was in my seat. I didn’t do nothing. (He’s big.) Or say nothing. (Same reason.) But I figured I’d sit beside him. Be friendly. Never hurts to have a buffalo for a friend.
But this kid looked at me—didn’t say nothing, just looked—so I moseyed on down the aisle & found another place to graze, next to Mercury, who’s nice to everybody because you kinda have to be, working in the office & all.
And she’s like, “Billy, why aren’t you in your seat?” I point my thumb back over my shoulder. She looks, then goes “Oh. Him I met today.” I’m silent as a desert night. Then she’s like, “Guess we’ll be sitting together … for now.”

“Reckon so,” I say.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"Yes, I've Done My Homework--But I Didn't Really Have Any."

I never liked homework.  Didn't do much of it in junior high (as my sorry grades confirm).  These, my friends, are my yearly averages in 7th grade (Hiram Schools, 1956-1957):

  • English: C (yes, I became an English teacher)
  • Phys. Ed.: A (I liked to run around and hit things)
  • Arithmetic: C+ (too high: I was an ignoramus)
  • Geography: B (I'd traveled a lot in the USA--relied on my experience, not on study; I threw up one day in class--got to go home)
  • General Science: C+ (I hated it, spent all my time in the back laughing with friends and looking at the automobile engine stored back there for a reason I don't know)
  • Art: B- (a gift: I sucked, big time)
  • Music: S (my voice changed that year: from canary to crow in just a few weeks)
My parents soon despaired, I think.  My older brother, Richard, was on his way to becoming valedictorian (then off to Hiram College, to Harvard grad school, to a long career as the classical music critic at the Boston Globe).  My younger brother, Davis (we called him "Davi," rhymes with "Davy"), would also be high school valedictorian, Harvard B.A. and Ph.D) and has had a long career as a business historian (Link to his company, The Winthrop Group; Cambridge, MA).  And I?  I was floating along in the gutter, heading for the drain.  (I exaggerate.)  (I think.)  My career plans were simple, as I've written here before, I think: catcher for the Cleveland Indians, then, during the off-season, star on Broadway.  After all, I was the starting catcher on the Hiram High Huskies!  Played major roles on the Hiram High stage!  Of course I would become a professional at both.


Anyway, my dilatory ways continued in high school, though I began, there, to show some signs of recovery--especially in the humanities--though I never really dazzled anyone, except the phys ed teachers, who gave me A's.  But my senior year, I had a B+ yearly average in English, B- in German II, A- in American government (I loved the teacher, a young woman--and I mean loved), A- in Advanced Math (a kind teacher, also one of our basketball coaches).  I was doing a little more homework, though generally (always?) lying when my parents asked if I had any.

College--again, I slowly emerged and improved, doing well in some classes (English, German), not-so-well in others (Calculus, where the prof, I swear, wrote on one of my miserable tests: Can I help you cry?).  Off I went to teach in Aurora, Ohio, and to start grad school at Kent State a few years later, where I finally started doing my homework all the time, had only one B+ the entire time (I would still punch that prof in his fat face if I saw him on the street! I will find him in a nursing home; I will shove him into the goldfish pond outside, watch him flail around, laugh).

All of this is a long introduction to telling you that I am doing my recently self-assigned homework, the novel Silas Marner that I miraculously avoided having to read in high school (see the two earlier posts about it).  A chapter each night (most nights--I guess I'm still putting off some homework).

And I've reached two conclusions: (1) I like the novel; (2) there is no f*****g way I could have read it in high school!  Long sentences, difficult vocabulary, long paragraphs, 19th century English country customs (WTF?), dialect.  At Hiram High School I would have failed all the daily quizzes, the final test.  And essays about it?  Fuggetaboudit.  I would have stuck with the adventures of the Cheerios Kid on the back of the cereal box.  Much better writing ...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

It's a Mess

Education is messy--like a good marriage, if you think about it.  So let's do think about it.  What if we approached the institution of marriage the way we do another large public institution--say, schools?  Let's see ... what are the steps in assessment ...?
  • Okay, first of all we need to assemble a Panel of Experts to define what a good marriage is.  That shouldn't be hard.  I mean, all good marriages are basically the same, right?  We'll just assemble a few "representative" couples, give them each an iPad (will have to write a grant for this part), put them in a room with wireless and Starbucks and Danish (do not allow any Facebooking!), and in an hour or so, I'm sure they'll emerge, satisfied smiles affixed to their faces like decals, with a few brisk (but compassionate) paragraphs defining a good marriage.  (Maybe we'll pick up their lunch tab, maybe not; depends on how near it is to noon, you know?)
  • Now that the definition is settled (whew, that was easy), we need to break a good marriage down into measurable units. I see another panel here--a different panel.  Some scientific types (geeks, nerds, whatever) because they're really good at finding the parts of things.  Molecules and that stuff.  God particles, though I don't think we ought to get into religion during any of this.  What you believe is what you believe.  If you want to believe that a particle is the Almighty, go on ahead, but that shouldn't figure in our Integrated Assessment of the Marriage Process (IAMP).  Anyway, as I said, science types are good at this sort of thing--very businesslike, very rigorous--so I don't see any problems coming up with a good crisp list of Units of a Good Marriage (UGM), either, do you?  (By the way, it is not necessary that these experts have ever been married--I mean, we don't usually consult teachers about any education issues, right?)  Shouldn't take even an hour.  I'll bet, in fact, that you and I could come up with some right now ... you go first ...
  • Okay, that's done.  Now we need to craft the instrument to measure our UGMs.  There may be a little debate here.  Should we use multiple-guess format?  True or False?  (I never liked T & F--I mean, it gives you something like--what?--a 60-40 chance of getting it right even when you don't know the answer?)  Essay?  (Who wants to read all those papers?  Though, I guess, we could assemble a bunch of retired English teachers--they don't have anything to do, anyway--and let them have a go at it.  Though we've got to make sure they don't mark commas and junk--they love to do that--but commas aren't, you know, relevant on our IAMP instrument.)  I think multiple-guess is probably the best.  (See samples below.)
Whose responsibility is the alarm clock?
a. the husband
b. the wife
c. both
d. neither
e. I can't think of a fifth choice, but we really ought to have five, don't you think?

If a spouse forgets an anniversary, what is the most effective way to deal with it?
a. scream and yell and call him/her an ungrateful bastard/bitch
b. commit a certain level of violence
c. ignore it: love isn't about the calendar
d. treat it as another lovable quirk of your partner; snuggle and forgive
e. What is it with this fifth one?  I'm just not good at this.

What do you do when you discover your spouse has a private email account and has been using the name "LoveBunny"?
a. scream and yell and call him/her an ungrateful bastard/bitch
b. put all of his/her favorite stuff in a yard sale the next time he/she is gone
c. wait till he/she is asleep and do something with those heavy-duty German-steel scissors you got for Christmas
d. open your own secret account with an even better name--like "LoveRocketRideMe"--and start an online relationship with LoveBunny; arrange a meeting, and then ... you know ...
e. whatever

Okay, once we have the Assessment Instrument, once we've administered it to married couples all over the country, we'll need to hire some company to grade them, to interpret the data, and ... whatever.  Then we'll publish the results in the local papers (be sure to call CNN and Fox, too) and find ways to punish whoever it was who was responsible for any low-scoring marriages.  We'll have to figure out who those people are (the couple? their parents? their children? the economy? the schools?--yes, definitely the schools).  I know one thing for sure, though: We are not responsible for any of this!  And that's a fact.

PS--All of this will cost a little--okay, a lot--but you don't get nothing for something.  Or whatever.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 18

Brian Novell

Free Writing

This school sucks.
Just took me one day to figure that out. Less than a day, really.  And I know that nothing is going the happen for the rest of the year that will change my mind.
After I finished writing that stupid paper the school made me write this morning, first period was over.  By the way, that kid finally quit puking, but the other kid, the one in the other room, was still snoring.  It was starting to get on my nerves, too, so it’s a good thing they came and got me or I might’ve gone back there and done something about it.
Some ugly girl who works in the office walked me to the guidance counselor’s office where I was supposed to pick up my schedule.  She said, “Here’s the office.”  As if I couldn’t tell.  And then added, smiling: “My name’s Mercury Swift.”  As if I cared.  And then she headed back to her exciting job. 
Wouldn’t you know it, I had to wait outside.  Through the closed door I could hear some loud crying.  Girls, probably, but you never know.  There are some guys whose voices haven’t changed yet, and when they cry, they sound like girls, too.  But I was betting girls. 
I sat down and waited while the ugly girl went back to the main office.  Waiting with me, sitting on opposite sides of the hallway, were two guys who had just been in a fight.  How could I tell?  Oh, it wasn’t too hard.  One kid had blood on his shirt.  But at least he had a shirt.  The other kid’s was half ripped off.  And one of his eyes was closed from where he got punched pretty good.  I could tell who won, too.  The kid who won was staring right at the kid who lost, and the kid who lost was staring at the floor, probably wondering how he was going to get through the rest of the day knowing that everyone in the entire school had heard by now that the other kid had kicked his ass.
I decided to have some fun with these two idiots, so I turned to the one next to me, the one who lost, and said, “Looks like you got your ass kicked pretty good.”  He mumbled something I couldn’t quite hear.  So I said, “The kid you fought, the one who kicked your butt, she must have been pretty tough.”  I emphasized the she part, just to see.  The loser just sat there and shook his head.  But the kid across from me, the winner, he didn’t like that girl part.
So he said, “It was no girl kicked his ass.  It was me.”  I looked over at him, no expression on my face.  While I stared right at him, he tried to come up with something that would sound tough: “And you’d better keep your mouth shut,” he warned.  “You could get some of the same.”  I stared at him a little longer, then said calmly, “You sure you’re not a girl?  Have you checked lately?”
He jumped up out of his seat and came over to me, standing over me with his chest stuck out, to make himself look big.  “Let’s go!” he barked.  I smiled calmly at him, then gave him a short, quick punch, right in the target closest to me, right in that spot you don’t ever want to get hit.
He doubled over on the floor and started groaning real loud.  The other kid, the loser, looked at me like he’d just seen a miracle.
Just then the counselor’s door opened, out came a couple of red-faced girls (I was right!  Girls!).  “You can go wash up,” the counselor said, “before you go back to class.”  She handed them a couple of written passes.  They glanced at me, then stared at the kid who was still groaning on the floor.
The counselor said, “Oh, Davey, are you all right?”  She looked over at the loser kid.  “Trevor, you didn’t do this, did you?” she cried.  Loser Trevor looked at me, and I stared right at him.  “No, uh,” stuttered Loser Trevor, “he, uh, got a cramp or something, just a minute ago.”
The counselor looked at me.  “You’re the new student . . . Brian?”  “Yeah.”  “What happened here?” she asked.  “I dunno,” I said.  “I just got here and this kid was rolling around on the floor.”  Meanwhile, the kid Davey quit groaning so much—he probably noticed the girls and didn’t want to look stupid—and struggled to his feet.  “Davey?” the counselor asked again.  “Like he said,” Davey croaked, “I got a cramp.”
The counselor motioned me into her office.  Davey got out of my way in a big hurry, too.  Inside, she’s like, “We hope you like it here at Spoon River.  It’s a wonderful school with some wonderful students and really wonderful teachers.”  I looked at her.  She was fat.  Wore lots of make-up.  And her glasses looked greasy.  “That’s wonderful,” I said.  She looked closely at me … was I insulting her?  I decided to make it more obvious: “I feel just fat with good luck,” I said.
The counselor picked up a phone and calls the main office.  “Please send Mercury down here,” she said.  Oh great.  Another guided tour through the halls with Mercury Swift, Ohio’s entry this year in the Miss Ugliest Kid contest.  In a minute, she was there—but it isn’t Miss Ugly.  It’s Miss Uglier.  Somehow they found someone even worse—maybe they’re sisters.  Oh well.  At least they’re keeping it in the family.  So she takes me to a class, where, of course, we have to walk in the room in the middle of things, and everybody stares at me like they’ve never seen another kid before.  I ignored them all, teacher included, and sat down where I was told.  It was one of those rooms with tables instead of desks.  The kid next to me—some little girl with a big stack of books beside her—was too close, so while the teacher wasn’t looking, I shoved some of her books on the floor.  She didn’t say anything, just picked them up and put them on her half of the table.  That was better.
The classes here were just like classes anywhere else—just as boring, just as stupid.  And the teachers were just like any other.  Some of them thought they were tough, some were so easy you could probably have a party in the room and they wouldn’t even notice—or even care if they did notice.
Lunch sucked, of course.  A big long line—I cut in toward the front when the teacher wasn’t looking, right between a couple of stupid little kids.  One of them goes, “Hey—” but that’s as far as he got because I grabbed his scrawny neck and leaned down and said something in his ear that made him change his mind about complaining. And about life, too, probably.
The food they serve here is like food you get in the DH.  The cold food is warm, the hot food is cold, and most of it a starving dog would take a leak on instead of eat.
Afternoon classes were just more of the same, except kids got away with even more because the teachers were already tired of saying “Shut up” and just ignored a lot of stuff.
On the bus ride home, some kid in a cowboy hat start to sit by me, but I stared at him, and he moved on.  All the way home I rode alone.  Just the way I like it.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Common Bore Standards

There seems to be an effort on the part of education policy-makers in this country to transform the American public school classroom into a laboratory of boredom.  Places where youngsters focus principally on "foundational skills" and "anchor standards" and "key ideas"--places where we relentlessly test students (and teachers) to make sure that everyone is--quite literally--on the same page, maybe even on the same day at the same time.

It's all based, of course, on the daffy notion that we can measure anything.  All we need to do is identify a topic, break it down into smaller components, measure them.  Simple!  What we never seem to acknowledge is the great difficulty of measuring all the things in life that really matter--like hope and loyalty and devotion and love.  And learning.

No, measuring in education is not simple.  But it is simple-minded to think so.  It seems to equate education with the eating of a jar of pretzels--those little barrel-sized ones.  First, you weigh each student.  Then give each a jar of the pretzels.  Announce: "It's time to eat one pretzel now."  You watch; they eat one pretzel.  You weigh them again.  See a weight gain?  Progress!  It never seems to occur to anyone that there are kids who need two pretzels--or three or more.  Or some who need none--or want none.  Or hate salt.  Or react to gluten.  Or burn every calorie with a blast-furnace metabolism.  Or whatever.  Doesn't matter: Pretzels are the only item on the menu.  Barrels, the only shape.  Weight-gain the only measure.

I've looked recently at the Common Core Standards in literature for 8th graders.  I taught literature at that level for about thirty years, so I was curious to see what I should have been doing all that time. First, though, maybe I should tell you what I did do ...

  • We read stories by Washington Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., O. Henry, Shirley Jackson, and numerous others.
  • We read (even memorized) poems by Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Stephen Crane, Edgar Poe, and numerous others.
  • We read Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew (and, in later years, Much Ado about Nothing).
  • We read the Goodrich and Hackett dramatization of The Diary of Anne Frank.
  • We read The Call of the Wild.
  • We saw films related to our reading.  Wrote essays of all sorts about our reading.
  • Among other things ...
All right, now what should I have been doing all that time--at least according to the Common Core Standards?  Well, I checked the "Text Exemplars" (even the language of all of this is ugly, isn't it?) appended to the Standards and saw that I was doing some things they recommend--e.g., The Diary of Anne Frank, "The Road Not Taken."  But that was about it.  The texts they listed were relentlessly multi-cultural (a good thing, mostly) and PC (Tom Sawyer is there--not Huckleberry Finn).

Of course, the authors of the Text Exemplars (that term gets uglier each time I write it!) are quick to note that their lists are "suggestive."  Oh yes.  We know what that means.  Lists become numbered stone tablets; suggestions become imperatives.  (Can't you hear the arguments now?  The kids in Yourtown read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ... do we want them to have an advantage over the kids of Ourtown?)

I don't really object to the standards themselves, by the way.  They're innocuous enough.  Here's one of them (under the category Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.7 Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.

What's to object to there?  Teachers have always done that.  Isn't it a good thing--at least initially--to talk about how a filmmaker has changed the text he or she is working from?  Sure.  A good thing.  But also a very low-level thing--a starting point only.  A film is not just a transformation of a text; it is an art form in its own right, with its own elements and goals and techniques and whatevers.  Applying this Standard strictly is a bit like focusing principally on the variety of apple Van Gogh painted in his Still Life with Apples.  It's mildly relevant, sure.  But widely aside the point.

My main objections to all of this, though, are born of a long history with this sort of thing.  As any educator knows, minimum standards become the maximum curriculum--especially when the standards are linked to testing students--and to evaluating a teacher's effectiveness.  If the Common Core Standards are what matters--what really matters--then what incentive is there for a teacher to deviate from them in the slightest?

To me, it's a horrifying thought, everyone doing the same thing at the same time, reminding me of painting-by-numbers or putting together a jigsaw puzzle of Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water and thinking you've designed the house.

In my career as a student--and as an educator--the greatest teachers I ever had--the greatest I worked alongside (and there were many)--were manifestly not like everyone else.  They were not doing what everyone else did, and they were not teaching in the same fashion as everyone else.  No, they were teaching about their passions in ways that fit with their personalities and with their habits of mind.  Some kids related; some didn't.  But the good thing?  During the day, a kid was going to find someone who was like him or her.  As a teacher I saw youngsters get excited in places that would have bored me as a kid, saw them bored in places that would have dazzled me.

I learned along the way, you see, that there are all kinds of ways to be effective in the classroom.  By watching my colleagues, I learned a lot, and I imitated like crazy--but I also learned that not everything I saw--as great as it was--fit me.  Over the years I had to create my own style--something that accommodated my personality, my mind, my passions.

We know, too, that students will remember very little of the specific content we teach--not unless they use it frequently or want to remember it.  But what they will remember is the human being they met in that classroom--that unique person who looked at the world in his or her own way, who was enthusiastic about the subject, who revered the life of the mind, who loved nothing more than being in the room with wacky kids like you.  A teacher's enthusiasm--genuine enthusiasm--can ignite kids who never would have believed they could catch fire, not in that class, that subject.

Of course, there are some teachers who are duds (as there are folks who are duds in every human enterprise--think of your own workplace), but we need to do everything we can to attract exciting young people into the profession of teaching--intelligent, creative, passionate, hard-working young men and women.  And the surest way not to do that?  Offer them on Day One some jars of pretzels and tell them how to dispense them (specific day and time).  Show them the scale in the room where you'll be measuring their "success."

You'll probably have to chase them out into the parking lot because they'll be driving off in search of a real career.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 17

Chris Cross

Free Writing

My father is a preacher.
So was his father.
So was his father’s father.
That’s my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather—
all preachers.

From kindergarten till right now
everyone has expected me to be ... what?
Better than they are?
Better than I am?
More religious?
People act surprised when I’m not any of it.

Once in first grade I picked up a book and hit a kid,
for no real reason that I can remember.
And the teacher just stared at me,
and the other kids just stared at me,
and even the kid I hit,
who was crying, just a little,
just stared at me.
And then he said,
that kid I hit:
You’re not supposed to do things like that.”
And the teacher said,
“That’s right, Chris. 
You’re not supposed to do things like that.”
And when I got home,
my mother said the same thing,
and then cried while Dad was hitting me.

There’s a picture we have on a shelf at home.
It’s a big picture, eight by ten.
It shows this:
three men and a little boy,
standing in a row outside our white church.
All four of them are wearing black suits
in bright sunshine.
It was hot that day,
hot as Hell—
I remember it perfectly,
even though I was only five.
All four are in the same position,
facing the camera:
Great-grandpa is holding a Bible,
Grandpa is holding a Bible,
Dad is holding a Bible,
and I am holding a Bible.
It’s heavy,
and I had a hard time holding it
up to my heart the way they wanted me to,
holding it up there like the others were doing,
while Mom took her slow old time taking the picture.

I’m the only one who isn’t smiling.
I’m squinting into the bright sun
and wishing
it was all over.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

News from the Cleveland Clinic

Monday evening, 17 June 2013

Before ... 

I'd not had my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) checked since February--Valentine's Day, in fact.  That test result had been an ominous one: In just three months, my number had risen from 7.5 to 13.98.  That surge prompted my oncologist to schedule me for another bone scan and CT scan, both of which, to our relief, showed no sign of any metastasis of my prostate cancer.  (For new visitors to this site: I should have no PSA at all: Surgeons removed my prostate gland in June 2005.  Any number at all indicates that some cells escaped the surgeon--and, later, the radiation oncologist; a rising number indicates growth--perhaps a metastasis.)

Some months passed--more than the normal three--without my hearing from the Clinic about another PSA test, so, two weeks ago, I emailed, got a quick response, a date with a technician in the Twinsburg facility on Friday, June 7, for a blood draw.  On Monday, the 10th, Joyce and I headed off on our Indiana-Illinois-Iowa research trip.  I checked MyChart every day (the Clinic's online service), but no results were there.  I knew that if I emailed my oncologist or his assistant, one of them would send me my score.  But I didn't do it--I didn't want to know, not while I was having so much fun seeing things that in most cases I'd never seen before.  It was thrilling, pretending that I was well, ageless, still able to do the things I love with the woman I love.

But by Saturday, I couldn't stand it any longer.  I emailed.  Waited.  Nothing all day.  Nothing on Sunday morning.  But about an hour or so after we got home--a little after 1 on Sunday--an email popped up.  With a score: 22.9.  Another disappointing--and significant rise.  Tomorrow morning at 9, I'll meet with my oncologist at the main branch of the Clinic downtown.  And we'll see what's next ...

Tuesday, 11 a.m., 18 June 2013

After ...

Not what I wanted to hear today.  The oncologist thinks it's time to commence hormone therapy, which, as some of you know, is no cure.  My best shots at a cure--surgery and radiation--both failed, so now it's a bit of stalling--a year? two?--before the cancer cells evolve and begin ignoring the hormone treatment.  Then ... all we can do is hope that something new has come along.

I'm going to start in mid-July--delaying a bit because we're going to Lenox, Mass., about then to see Richard II at Shakespeare and Company--the final play by the Bard I have not seen on a live stage.  I want to experience that last play as my "old" self--not as whoever the "new" one is going to be.

The side effects of the therapy range from the certain (loss of libido) to the possible (discomforts of all sorts).  No way to know until I take the initial injection (repeated every ninety days) and the daily oral meds also required.  I'll have to watch my eating (the appetite surges), keep exercising (bone issues), take calcium supplements (ditto).

And hope--which, as Emily Dickinson told us, is the thing with feathers--that perches in the soul.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Spoon River Middle School: 16

Craig Burns

Free Writing
Transcript of Recording

I listened to a story last night.  Reading hurts my eyes now.  So I listen.  A famous writer wrote this story.  His name is Stephen Crane.  He also wrote The Red Badge of Courage.  Most people have heard of that one.  It is a Civil War story.
But this is not a war story.  It’s just a sad story.  A very, very sad story.
It was about a black man named Henry.  He was a very handsome man who worked for a doctor.  Henry took care of the doctor’s horses.  Henry was friends with the doctor’s little boy, Jimmie.  Jimmie liked to come visit Henry down in the stables.
There is a fire at the doctor’s house one Saturday night.  Henry runs to the house.  In all the smoke and confusion, no one can find Jimmie, the little boy.  Henry runs upstairs.  He thinks he knows where Jimmie is.  He calls out the little boy’s name, over and over.
He runs into Jimmie’s room and finds him there, sitting in bed, terrified.  Henry grabs him, wraps him in a blanket, runs back to the stairs.
But the stairs are gone.  The fire has eaten them.
But Henry remembers a back staircase.  He runs for it.  Down the stairs he goes, into the doctor’s laboratory.  There Henry sees an amazing sight.  “The room was like a garden,” that’s what the story says.  Little flames of all different colors were blooming everywhere.  Colorful little flames were rising from all the little containers that held the doctor’s chemicals.
I guess it might have been beautiful, all those little flowers of flame.     
But Henry cannot stop to look.  Tongues of flame are licking his ankles.  Hurting him.  Oh, they hurt him so much.
He struggles over to a window, shoves the little boy Jimmie out onto the lawn.
But Henry is overcome with smoke and passes out right under one of the doctor’s laboratory tables.  Right below a glass beaker of boiling chemicals.
Here’s what happens next.  The glass explodes with heat.  A thick red snake of liquid slides across the top of the desk, pauses a moment, then glides over the edge and pours onto Johnson’s face.
In a few minutes a young man grabs Henry and brings him outside, puts him down on the grass.
No one thinks he will live.  Everyone gives up on Henry Johnson—Johnson, that is his last name.  But not the doctor.  The doctor does everything he can to save Henry because, you see, Henry saved Jimmie, saved the little boy’s life.
And Henry does not die.  The doctor saves him.
But for what?  What kind of life does Henry have now?
His face is horribly burned.  Children hide from him.  Adults look away.  Friends quit coming to visit the doctor.  Soon his patients stop coming, too.  They just can’t stand the thought that Henry Johnson will be there.  People say he looks like the devil.  People say the doctor should have let him die.  In this case, they say, death would be better than life.  Much better.
And do you know what was the worst of all?  Jimmie was afraid of Henry, too.  Afraid of the man who saved his life.     
Pretty soon some of the most important citizens in the town come to see the doctor.  They tell him he should send Henry away, away from where people have to look at him.  Otherwise, the doctor will have no friends and no patients at all.
The doctor refuses.  He will not betray Henry.
And so the town betrays the doctor and his family.  He will probably have to move away, that’s what I thought as I listened to the end of it.
It was really a sad story.
I cried as I listened to it.  I’m crying as I say these words into my recorder.
I didn’t tell you the worst thing about the story.  But I guess I will.  The title.  The title is “The Monster.”
Of course, you’ll think that the monster is Henry Johnson, the man with the horrible face.
But I think the monster is the whole town.  The whole stupid blind town.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Father's Day--2013

And then, right there in Panera this morning ... tears in my eyes. Here's why ...

I had a review in the Plain Dealer today and was reminding Joyce how her dad, Thomas Coyne (who died in 1990), used to phone me when he saw I had something in the paper. I was writing op-ed pieces about once a month in those days--and although I knew that he probably didn't agree with the political slant of most of them (Leftish), he called anyway, told me he enjoyed reading my words.  Said he was proud of me.  I knew, too, that he took the paper down to the local donut shop (Krispy Kreme, his morning hangout), where he would wave the paper around and brag to his unimpressed buddies about his son-in-law.  It embarrassed me then; I weep now.

My father and Joyce's father were in superficial ways very different. My dad (who died in 1999) was a college professor; Joyce's dad worked for Firestone in Akron most of his life.  But their backgrounds were both rugged.  My dad grew up on a farm in Oregon; as a teenager, he lost his own father and had to go to work during the Depression.  Then World War II, Korea (he was called back to active duty but did not go overseas).  Joyce's dad came from Pennsylvania coal-mining families.  Both of our fathers worked for everything--hard.

In the most fundamental--most important ways--they were very similar men.  They loved their children fiercely.  They supported us--no, celebrated us--in all that we did.  They were devoted to their wives and encouraged them to be and do whatever they wanted.  They had enormously capacious hearts.  In emotional moments their eyes would rim with red.

And so, this morning, they would have understood had they seen me--son, son-in-law--eyes wet in Panera.  How I miss them both ...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

On the Road Again, Part 2

Guess Which One of Us Is Goofy?

14 June 2013, 9:28 p.m.

We're in our hotel room in South Bend, Indiana, worn and weary but bewildered by all we've been able to do in our week away from Hudson.  I'll not write too much about Joyce's endeavors (that's her story), but in a bit I will mention a few things, just to give you an idea.

But first ... "my" part ...  We left Hudson on Monday morning and headed south and west toward Indianapolis, where we found the two houses where my uncle and aunt (Ronald and Naomi Osborn) lived while he was teaching at Butler Univ.--and then, later, at Christian Theological Seminary.  Their daughter, Virginia (Ginny), an only child, died in a freak auto accident in 1967, driving home on spring break with friends from Stephens College. A driver of another car died in a heart attack, drifted into the path of my cousin's car.  Killed her.  She'd been valedictorian of her class at Indianapolis' Short Ridge High School (the same high school, by the way, that Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. attended) and had just completed part of her freshman year at Stephens.  Her death is a horror from which none of us ever really completely recovered--certainly not my aunt and uncle, who'd adored her.

From Indianapolis, we drove into the Spoon River country of Illinois, where we saw two homes once occupied by Edgar Lee Masters (one is open to the public) and visited other sites related to him and his work--including the cemeteries in Petersburg and Lewistown that inspired his powerful work Spoon River Anthology.  We saw his grave, as well.

And then ... off to Iowa, where I wanted to see some places important to my great high school English/Latin/German teacher, Mr. Brunelle.  I'd learned from the 1900 census that he and his family (he was only about six at the time) were living in tiny Miller,
Lutheran Church, Miller, IA
Iowa (my GPS, offended, refused to find such an insignificant place!), where his father was a farmer.  We found Miller all right (the GPS on my iPhone was willing), and chatted with a woman who'd lived there all her life.  She'd not heard of the Brunelles, of course (1900 was awhile ago!), but said if I'd send her more information, she'd find out what she could.  There are only a handful of houses there--a church.  And cornfields sufficient to feed the world.

In Sioux City, Iowa, we found (as I posted on FB the other day), the building that was Sioux City High School--now called "Castle-on-the-Hill Apartments--when Mr. Brunelle was in high school there.  We also found the house where he and his sister lived with their mom, a seamstress at the time, while he was in high school.  Dad had taken off.

We also went to the campus of Morningside College (his alma mater) in Sioux City and saw a couple of buildings that date back to the time of his tenure there.  We drove, as well, to the monument erected to honor Sgt. Charles Floyd, the only member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to die on the route.  It was December 1804.  He is buried on a high bluff above the Missouri River near Sioux City, and in the Morningside College yearbook I learned that  when Mr. Brunelle was a student, he liked to run to that monument, dedicated in 1901 (he was seventeen at the time), about two miles away from the Morningside campus.  Mr. Brunelle, the Founding Father of Jogging!

Then commenced "Joyce's part" of the trip--tracing the 1859 trip of John Brown across Iowa, west to east, as Harpers Ferry loomed in the near future.  We visited tiny towns (or town sites--some places are just gone now), saw the worn gravestones of Brown supporters in small cemeteries in vast cornfields, and ... but, as I said, this is her story, so I will let her tell it in her own way, somewhere down the road.  I know she will do some FB posts later.

Joyce and I have been making trips like this since ... well, since our honeymoon in December 1969, when we visited New Orleans so she could do some work on Kate Chopin and--on the way home--Hannibal, Missouri, for the many Mark Twain sites.  We have never taken a "vacation" in the traditional sense; we're always chasing ghosts, delighting in the flashes of phosphorescence they permit us to see.