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Labor Day by Nancy Malcolm

 

According to Merriam and Webster, one definition of labor is: an expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory. Once a year our nation pays homage and celebrates the holiday called Labor Day, however, I have found that in my life, Labor day, rolls around more often.

College exams, grad school projects and commencement celebrations all follow a predictable set of trials that reek of labor and culminate in satisfaction. Never the less, in life, there are unpredictable days of labor that propel you to either sink or swim, fight or be knocked to your knees in fear.

Unpredictable labor days take you by surprise. You wake up one day, excited about a plan, looking forward to a completion and then it happens…your ordinary day turns into labor day.

On July 7, 1977, I was pregnant and excited about an early September due date and another addition to our family. My time had passed in a rather unremarkable way. I looked good, felt good and actually enjoyed being pregnant. As a teacher, I had made it through the school year and even managed to take a graduate course during the month of June. Day after day, that June, I carpooled with two other teachers and we laughed, studied and improved our minds. My already large belly seemed to grow more each day.
Our 11 year old daughter was such a trooper, being watched by babysitters and Aunts (it takes a village). I would come home, exhausted from Grad school and she would let me take a nap. Then we would eat popsicles and watch The Match Game together…our little ritual.

But, on the morning of July 7th, I had woken up a with a back ache. Feeling achy was no excuse to lounge about, I thought, so I proceeded to clean house. After all, today was the day the crib would be delivered. My precious daughter checked in with me often, but went about her job of playing outside and summer fun book reading.

The bed was delivered and I felt finally ready for this new baby. As the day progressed, though, I knew this was not a simple back ache and finally in the afternoon, I summoned my daughter to call her Daddy and tell him to come home.

What happened next is a blur. A slow motion, fast paced, jumping off a cliff Labor Day. We must have dropped our daughter off w/ neighbors or her Aunt. I can only imagine now, how frightening it must have been for her, because I was so afraid myself. Afraid of the severe pain, afraid of what would happen next and knowing in my soul, it was too early for this little one to appear.

The last thing I remember, on this unexpected Labor Day, was lying on a gurney and the nurse and Dr. telling me they would have to break my water. They did so, and water flooded the bed and the floor. The look on their faces was not matching their words of “lets go have this baby” The cheerful words did not hide the concern of their eyes.

They quickly put the mask over my face and the next thing I knew, it was two days later. Our small town hospital had a maternity ward and then a wing for everyone else. They put me in a room with another woman away from the maternity wing and crying babies. I remember waking up on and off and hearing the woman in my room sobbing. I laid perfectly still in that dark room and wondered what had happened to her. Looking back, now, I wonder if the sobs were mine.

When I finally came to, the Doctor on call approached my husband and I. His military manner was straight forward and blunt. In essence our little baby girl never breathed a breath of life in this world, her malformation prevented it and he encouraged us to seek genetic counseling. Period, end of story. Still trying to understand what the Doctor had just said, my husband then announced that “they” had already done the autopsy and buried the baby…there was nothing for me to do except feel better and get stronger. My bleeding heart sunk into a pit, a pit so deep, I wasn’t sure there was a way out. I felt silent. I became silent.

I told my husband how sorry I was. I knew he had weathered much pain in his life, but he assured me it would all be ok. We’ll move on with our lives.

I think we drove home in silence. When we pulled up to the house, I saw my parents’ were there. I went to bed and stayed there for what seemed like a long time. I could hear hushed conversations, door bell and telephone ringing and silently, I lay in bed trying to get the courage to go into the nursery.

I finally walked gingerly around the house into the baby’s room. The new bed, the rocking chair, changing table, it was all gone. In its stead was a desk, chair and table, all items in an office not my baby’s’ room. I was silently reeling. Well meaning friends had thought it best to get rid of it all, so I wouldn’t be reminded.

My reminder wasn’t furniture. It was my swollen breasts, my empty womb, my sore inner thighs. My broken heart.

Suddenly among the deep sadness, I felt shame. Shame that I had produced this imperfectly formed child, shame that I wasn’t grateful that friends and family had taken apart the nursery. Shame that I didn’t agree with well meaning phrases..”Its for the best”, “You can have another baby”, “its time to get on with your life.” Shame that I couldn’t bounce back so everyone else could feel ok.

My unpredicted labor day lasted longer than 24 hours, as often they do. If I could know then what I know now, I would do so many things differently. I just didn’t know, and no one else near to me knew either.

I would hold myself and rock and cry. I would mourn the loss of this precious baby girl. I would hold her clothes, her tiny shoes and drink in their sweetness. I would take time to grieve, be unashamed of my sorrow, my tears. I would not worry about disappointing others on how long it takes me “to get over it”.

I never got over it, I just went on. She is always with me. My little Autumn, my champion for all the wee souls who got a fast track to heaven. I want her to know that I loved her, and wanted her. Even though, I was young and unsure of my right to grieve, I mourn her loss yet celebrate her sweet heavenly soul.

Today, I honor two tender souls, hers and mine. Our tenderness gave us strength and gratitude. I will always remember, probably always be sad and always celebrate Autumn. For in doing so I realize, that my Labor Day was her Independence Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pinball Classes by Ginger Gannaway

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I tell my high school kids that I stopped teaching middle school because I was tired of students falling out of their desks for no apparent reason.  No shoves or outside forces were involved.  I could look up from taking roll and a typical 7th grade boy would suddenly be seized by an unexplainable spasm and be half on the floor, half in his seat as he struggled to hold on to his pencil.

I suppose between the sudden hormonal changes and the powerful mood swings these 11-13-year-olds lost control of their own bodies and their minds as well.

While teaching for 15 years in Texas middle schools, every day was like spending time in a Lake Charles, Louisiana casino.  Full of annoying sounds and ever-changing emotions!  Each class was a crap shoot or a sudden spin of a roulette wheel.  You never knew what you were gonna get, and at the end of the day you either felt like a lucky winner or a huge loser.

Maybe managing a middle school felt more like being  a steel ball in a pinball machine.  As the school bell rang, I’d spin out onto the play field where I’d bump from one desk to another while a variety of issues and voices would light up the board.  From the front of the class to the middle row and then to the back left corner, the class’s demands and emotions would pop and sling me from one ding to the next ping.  Questions like flippers would hurl me around the room as personalities clashed and kids played slap/ tickle.  At the end of the period, I’d be swept down the machine’s drain, only to have the spring-loaded rod pull back and send me spinning onto the next class’s playing field of slingshots and ramps and bumpers and kickers.

So, so many different kids were part of the pinball machine; however one student I’ll always remember was Victoria.  What a bold, loud, and commanding presence she was!  Whether trying to get a friend’s attention by throwing a pencil at her head or trying to finish writing a personal narrative by demanding, “Miss!  Make those ‘fruit bowls’ behind me shut up!” everyone was forever aware of Victoria.

One afternoon another student, Sonya, particularly pissed-off Victoria, and the two girls started yelling at each other from across the room of my rickety portable building.  My feeble efforts to calm the girls down completely failed when Sonya lunged at Victoria after Sonya’s friend Amos urged her to “Get the bitch!”  The noise quickly drew my next door teacher neighbor ( and former Army sergeant) Mr. Samuels into my room.  Mr. Samuels grabbed Sonya while I ushered Victoria to the back corner of the room.  As Sonya proudly displayed  a tangled yard of braided hair in the air the same way Beowulf victoriously held up Grendel’s bloody arm, Victoria grabbed the last word and exclaimed, “Give me my weave back, Bitch!  I paid good money for that hair!”

Sad to say, I remember another fight that broke out one day when Mr. Samuels had taken his class on a field trip.

This time two boys had decided to take their mutual dislike of one another to the “who’s the alpha dog here?” level.  In a typical 7th grade class two simple words may be all it takes to set off a “throw down.”  On this day during Sustained Silent Reading time, Randy had motioned to Sarah to look over at Josh (the football team’s star tackle) who was moving his lips as he read his Goosebumps novel.  Sarah noticed what Randy wanted her to see, and the mean-spirited boy loudly whispered, “Jumbo Dumbo!” loud enough for several kids AND Josh to hear.  In an instant, Josh was out of his seat and had overturned Randy’s desk. The class erupted into a welcomed frenzy that ended their SRR.  Soon others were moving desks around to create a fighting ring, as my loud demands to “Come on! Cut it out!” were drowned out by,”FIGHT! FIGHT!  FIGHT!”

Now slimy Randy was no fighter , so he actually picked up his desk and held it in front of himself like a shield.  Josh just smiled and swatted the desk out of Randy’s shaking hands.

As much as I wished Randy would get the comeuppance he deserved (He was a habitual liar, cheater, slacker, instigator, and all-around jerk), I knew his blood would ultimately be on my hands, so I frantically used the class landline to call for help.

Even though Randy started to try some ridiculous Tai Kwon Do moves, Josh had a smirk on his lips and hate in his eyes as he moved in for the pummeling.

Then out of nowhere Victoria jumped off the ground and onto Josh’s back! (Did I mention she was a big-boned girl?) She actually had Josh in a headlock.  “Ms. G, don’t worry! I got him!” she exclaimed.  “I got em!”  I think the unexpectedness of my rescuer’s actions caught most of the room by surprise.  Two of Josh’s teammates lost their mob mentality and helped Victoria subdue Josh.  I quickly got Sarah to take Randy outside on the portable’s porch, and within minutes the school’s SRO arrived to help contain the situation.

Now, Victoria may not have been an A-student or an eager writer or a lover of literature, but that day she proved a strong asset in my chaotic pinball class.  The moment of that chokehold told me Victoria was ultimately on my side and she became one of my most trusted and respected middle school allies in education !

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Sue-isms by Nancy Malcolm

005photograph by Nancy Malcolm

 

Words are so powerful. String them together and you have phrases, sentences and old fashioned ‘sayings’. Some people are more prone to descriptive verbage than others…

My little Auntie Sue lived in Oklahoma City all of her life. If you’ve ever been there, you know it can be blistering hot or freezing cold and always windy. Auntie Sue weighed 100 pounds soaking wet, so she was a good judge of the elements, if you will. One day, I called her and asked, “Are you having any weather up there?”, which in Oklahoma,  is a perfectly acceptable way to ask about the temperature. She replied, “Honey, its so windy, it would blow the hair off a dog!”. Now, that’s what I call a perfect description.

Auntie Sue was married to Uncle Benny for 50 plus years. Once, when visiting them, we were eating breakfast, and all at once Uncle Benny excused himself from the table. He was gone for quite awhile, so I finally asked, “Is Uncle Benny ok?”. She replied, “Oh, Honey, he got the call of the wild and when you get the call…you better answer quick! You know…his coffee kicked in.” We finished our breakfast in silence. Now, that’s what I call a perfect description.

One last thing to know about Auntie Sue…she was very hard of hearing. She had always suffered with ear problems and hearing loss, but continued to try new hearing aids and was an expert at reading lips. One day, she was reporting what the audiologist had told her at the last visit. “Honey,” she said, “he told me my ears are not going to get better…infact one day I’ll wake up and not be able to hear myself fart!” Now, that’s what I call a perfect description.

Oh, how I miss my Auntie Sue!

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Mirror Images by Ginger Gannaway

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Pride fills me with warmth on a cold early morn when I can view the selfie sent to me by my 22 year old “baby” before he left for his student teaching gig. My usually slovenly-dressed lad who wears faded t-shirts and holey sneakers is not hung up on details like good clothes. In the selfie,however, he wears newish, brown slacks with a matching belt and a wrinkle-free, cream-colored button down shirt. His girlfriend has given him a slim-fitting haircut, and only she and I know his glasses are held together with Super glue. He also has the echo of a smile, and my usually laid-back, monk-like Art Major child almost appears eager and excited to go to school.

And so the teacher tradition in our family lives on. I am retired after 35 years of public school classrooms. (I have one small gig as adjunct faculty for a private Catholic university.) I look at Evan’s handsome and hopeful face, and I remember being the latter adjective long ago and far away…

“Teacher!  Teacher!”

For my 6th Christmas  I got a blond-haired Susie Smart Doll from Santa.  She stood about 2 feet tall, wore a plaid skirt with suspenders, and a white collared shirt.  She came with a desk and a small chalk board.  At 6 a.m. when I sleepily walked into the big living room and saw this dream-come-true Susie Smart Doll under the Christmas tree, I was dumbstruck with excitement!  I soon found my voice and ran down the long hall to my parentsbedroom.  I breathlessly exclaimed as I jumped on their bed,  Momma!  Daddy!  Santa. Brought. Me. Susie Smart!  Can you believe it?!  Dad grunted as he rolled over, and Momma patted my hand and said, Ah-hummh, Sweetie.  Ill be up soon.She smiled and softly turned over.

So my fascination with being a teacher began early for me.  That year I taught Susie so many things: how to write her ABCs, simple addition, and the importance of paying close attention to your teacher.  My two younger sisters sometimes joined our class as did the occasional Teddy bear.  Susie was the model student who always sat quietly and always listened attentively.

Oh, how far from reality was my Susie Smart!  I taught for 35 years, and my students (from ages 5 to 20) rarely liked to sit quietly and attentively. I even remember one day at Pearce Middle School, one of my 7th grade boys literally fell out of his desk  without just cause.  Maybe he was reaching for a pencil on the floor or just rearranging papers on his desk.  But with his arms flailing and he is legs dancing in the air, he fell to the floor while his adolescent voice squeaked and squawked.  I always confessed to my high school students that middle school was too much for me because, Students can fall out of their desks for no apparent reason!.

The thousands Ive taught through the years seem to meld together in my memory, but a few highs and lows stick out:

Marco,the  chubby kindergartener  who did not like talking to me because his mom told him,I dont trust any white person farther than I can throw them.

Andy, the 16 year old 7th grader who was taller than I was and glared at me with pure hate when I took him in the hall outside my classroom to use the paddle that every new teacher was given at that school on the wrong side of the tracks. ( That was my first and last time to use corporal punishment, a method Louisiana schools believed in during 1978.)

Sam, the senior who pulled out his pecker when I went to his desk to answer a question about his college essay after school one day during a tutoring session.

Victoria, the feisty 7th grader who helped me break-up a fight in my portable classroom by putting the boy who had hurled a desk at other student in a choke-hold and yelling, Its ok, Ms. G., I got him for you!

Nicole, the senior who was both an award-winning actor,comedienne, and journalist who awed me with her literary insight and wrote me the most beautiful thank you cardI had ever received.

Tyronne, the video anchor for our Eye of the Cougar morning announcements show who also painted the backdrop mural in our studio.  Then he visited me years later to tell me about the Christian rap band he started and performed with around town.

Dare and Kyle, the crazy campus duo that once hauled a shopping cart full of shit we found in our garageas part of a visualization of hell assignment.

Diana and Hannah and the many kids who cried and kvetched in my classroom about their broken families, broken hearts, and even broken dreams.

Nothing can make you laugh, cry, praise the Lord, or curse the world like teaching can!

Now that Ive retired from full-time , public school teaching, I still feel that teaching will be part of my future life in some way.  

The teacher in me is not quite ready to put her chalk down.

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Amarillo Sky by Nancy Malcolm

007photograph by Nancy Malcolm

 

It’s raining. I can hear it on the windows and hear the gentle tap, tap, tap on the deck out back. Its soothing, rhythmic, almost hypnotic and ‘gentle on my mind’.

I grew up in Amarillo, Texas. It seldom rains there, maybe because it’s so dern windy, the drops blow away before they can hit the ground. But on occasion, God will send a rainstorm that is so spectacular, it will take your breath away. The lightening puts on such a show, you would think it was the Fourth of July. Long, silver streaks light up the Panhandle sky and they seem to last for minutes, illuminating the whole city. It’s quite a production, quite a symphony of lightening, thunder, light, dark, loud and eerily quiet. Its frightening yet you cannot take your eyes away, it’s nature at its finest. In all my 62 years, I’ve never experienced a rainstorm that can rival my Amarillo sky.

These days rainy weather makes me think of my Grandson, Sam. A few years ago, when he was almost four, he was visiting us for the day. It started to rain and my husband, AKA PaPa, asked Sam if he had ever built a dam. “What’s a dam PaPa?”…and so it began. We three donned our goulashes, umbrellas and smiles and headed outside. As luck would have it, rain water was rushing down the crevice by the curb, streaming down the street…going nowhere fast. PaPa began his explanation of dams and we began gathering rocks, sticks and shoveling dirt onto our dam site by the driveway.

Sam took a businesslike approach to this work and we three labored happily side by side. Of course, being the girl, I did have to take orders. “Nannie, hold my umbrella!”, “Nannie, please help me find more rocks?” It was one of the sweetest hours of my life. Two miracles from my Creator: the rain and my Sam.

PaPa has since made a trip to Home Depot (like he needed an excuse), to purchase more bags of sand that we can use for future dams. As Sam gets older, our bridges are becoming a little more sophisticated. Hopefully we can have a few more glorious rainy days with that precious boy, giving orders, moving rocks and smiling ear to ear. No rainstorm in this Nannie’s heart, only sunshine and a love as big as the Amarillo sky.

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Sittin’ Ugly by Nancy Malcolm

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In the early morning hours, before anyone else is up, while the cat is still stretching languidly in her chair, I begin my day. In this quiet early hour I can hear the thud of the newspaper being thrown on the sidewalks, the coffeemaker finishing the last few drops and I hear the tick of our clock on the mantle. This is my selfish hour. This is my cherished solitude. I must have it!! This is my time to drink my coffee and absolutely, unequivocally “sit ugly”.
Sittin’ Ugly is a family tradition passed on by my 88 year old Auntie Sue. Her mother did it, she does it and now I do it. I’m sure lots of other people on earth are doing it, but to do it correctly is an art. The art of sittin’ ugly is learned and perfected through years of practice. There are rules of course, and above all, one must respect another’s’ right to sit ugly. There should be no judgment about sittin’ ugly. The fact is, one just simply does…..sit ugly. No judgment, no shame.
Everyone has their own way to sit ugly. But there are guidelines that I find very comforting and helpful to follow. Anyone that is new to the art will surely want to comply. The rules are as follows:
1. There must be coffee. Preferably freshly brewed with everything extra that you need, (cream, sugar etc.) and of course the favorite mug. I’ve never known a tea drinker to sit ugly, but I suppose it could be done.
2. No talking!! No one speaks to you-you speak to no one. Sometimes it may be necessary to point or grunt especially if you have small children and they absolutely must encroach on your time. But, the only talking truly allowed is to yourself.
3. You must sit. My favorite spot is an oversized chair by the window. Above all else, you must pick a comfortable, familiar place to sit. It is always good to be able to put up your feet and have a little table nearby. Your sittin’ area should be away from anyone else who might be awake.
4. You may be asking yourself, now what? I have the coffee. I’m sitting quietly. Now what? The “what” to do part is really up to you. Sometimes I just sit and stare while sipping my coffee. Staring is perfectly allowable and even encouraged. I also read my daily devotionals and have long conversations with God. I contemplate my day and my life. I think. I don’t think and then I may stare some more, all the while continuing to drink my coffee. This part may go on for a long as necessary. One hour is perfect for me.
5. Lastly, about this “ugly” part. Sittin ugly simply means that you come as you are, straight from bed. No primping allowed! One must be ones’ self. Tattered nighty? That’s ok! Acne medicine dotted on your face? Beautiful! Scruffy old favorite robe and slippers? The older the better! Sittin’ ugly is actually a super-natural phenomenon that makes you more good looking. The longer time you have to sit, the better you will look and feel. Try it and see!

Sittin’ ugly is my personal time. It is my favorite time of the day. Sometimes I can hardly wait to get up in the morning just to sit ugly. I am always at my best while sittin’ ugly, mainly because no one is speaking to me or me to them. What a joyous, peaceful time! What a perfect way to start your day, infact for me, it is a necessity.

Some mornings my little Auntie will call me and ask, “Honey, are you sittin’ ugly or can you talk?” It is always good manners to ask first encase one is not fit for conversation.

So here’s to “Sittin’ Ugly”, to having this special time each and every day and to the millions of us who find it necessary for the sustainment of sanity. Here’s to my precious Auntie Sue and all the beautiful ones who “sit ugly”.

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Food for Thought

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Food for Thought

I don’t trust people who do not absolutely LOVE food. A person’s attitude toward food says a lot about that person. Just look at our cultural connections to food. Texans love their bar-be-que and Tex-Mex dishes as much as Cajuns take pride in their gumbo or etoufee. Also, folks have particular preferences about their favorite foods. Some like fast food fare like burgers and pizza while others yearn for “faun-faun” meals that feature foie gras or pork belly linguine. But no matter what one prefers, just have a preference. Someone with food apathy is not to be trusted. Make sure the eggs are scrambled hard or the steak is bloody rare, if that’s what you crave.
My close friends tell me I have lots of “food rules”; I suppose that’s because I grew up in south Louisiana where we discuss Monday’s supper while we’re eating Sunday’s brunch. One Cajun dish I have a long list of rules for is gumbo. Gumbo is a very important staple that we cook once the football season begins, the temperature dips below 50 degrees, and people declare, “It’s gumbo weather.” (One disclaimer to all of my rules is that most Cajuns prefer gumbo the way their momma liked her gumbo, and there are as many different gumbo recipes as there are mosquitoes on the porch in summer!)
Ginger’s Gumbo Rules (as learned from Geraldine Latour of Ville Platte)
Make your own roux. (none of the store-bought stuff)
Chicken & sausage gumbo should not be combined with seafood gumbo (shrimp, crab, oysters). Make a choice.
No okra in my gumbo (Gerry’s preference).
Start with the Cajun Holy Trinity: onions, celery, and bell pepper. (no carrots or potatoes)
Cook the gumbo with bone-in chicken pieces, and you can debone chicken after it’s cooked.
Add boiled eggs to seafood gumbo.
Skim a chicken gumbo as meat cooks.
Use true Louisiana sausage, like Lejuene’s Garlic Pork sausage, whenever possible.
Add green onions and parsley at the end.
Serve gumbo over white, not brown, rice.
The cooking and sharing of gumbo makes my heart and soul get all warm and fuzzy. Gumbo is my favorite thing to cook – partly because it connects to a social event (a big football game, a birthday, a graduation, an anniversary, or a Mardi Gras gathering). We don’t make a gumbo for just two! Also, my gumbo-making ritual usually includes beer drinking and music blaring, even at 7 a.m.
Even though I have “gumbo rules,” I’m not a gumbo snob. To each his own, right. I respect ALL gumbo recipes because we learn to make gumbo from our momma or our poppa or our Tante Sue or our parrain (godfather) or our close couzine. It’s a family thang base on love of food and love of each other. And “it’s all good, cha!”