Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Glory of Fall

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Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”  – William Cullen Bryant

The southern hills of Tennessee are still mostly green.
The hills of southern Tennessee are still mostly green.

According to the calendar, autumn arrived in September.  According to the weather in Tennessee, we’ve barely just begun.  Up until last week, we’ve had a warm fall with very few dips in the temperature.  Last week, the bottom fell out, and we had our first freeze.  Since then, the leaves have finally started to turn.

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As October nears its end, I’m longing for as much fall as I can get.  I’m ready for cooler temperatures, pots of soup, a light jacket and a pair of jeans.  Before winter comes knocking, I want to relish what’s left of this season.  What is it about the smell of leaves that have given up and fallen to the earth?  And the sound of crickets chirping…a sound completely unlike the chirp of summer creatures…what makes that sound so musical and unique?

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And the colors, some vibrant, others mellow and warm…each beautiful in its own way.  There will be the first fire in the fireplace on a cold night, and the whisper of the north wind telling you to soak in the sun before she steals it away until spring.  Each moment will remind us that fall is so very short…it’s only a snapshot really.  Just a moment of celebration before the earth’s hibernation.  Just a glimpse of glory before a long restful sleep.

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So Many Questions…Too Many Memories

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In the last few weeks, I have been asked two questions that have stuck with me.  Two seemingly easy to answer questions, but they are still churning in my mind even now.  It’s the pressure, the digging deep for answers, the utter inability to make up my mind, that keeps me unable to come up with definitive answers.

Question 1:  If you could go see any concert you wanted, artist living or dead, what would it be?

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Question 2:  What does music smell like to you?

Don’t laugh!  These are excellent questions for a person like me.  I am and always have been a lover of music.  I will listen to almost anything from country to Bluegrass to Rachmaninoff.  But no matter what else I listen to, I always, always go back to classic rock.  It’s my all-time favorite for now and forever, amen.  I say this as REO Speedwagon thumps through my kitchen radio speakers.  What people call classic rock is my childhood, it’s my adolescence.  It’s in almost every memory I have.

That’s what makes question 1 so hard.  How could I ever pick just one?  When my friend asked me the question, I immediately started stuttering and said something like this, “I…uh…I don’t know.  Just one?  It would have to be Journey, Loverboy and Pat Benatar.  They just finished a tour together.  No!  Not them…living or dead?  Then no, it would have to be Led Zeppelin.  Yeah, Led Zeppelin!”

My friend began to laugh hysterically.  In my face, mind you.  I asked, “What? What is it?”  She said, “That’s what I told the ladies in the (school) office…you’d want to see somebody like that, and they didn’t believe me.  They thought you’d want to see George Strait or Kenny G.”  As my mouth fell to the floor, she added, “I told them my friend was a rocker and they just wouldn’t believe me.”

Okay, I said I liked almost all kinds of music.  Maybe not all kinds.  I’m not a saxophone kind of girl.

Statements like that make you question yourself!  They make you wonder, exactly, what kind of vibe you’re giving off to the world.  Apparently, I’m giving off a Kenny G vibe.  Hmm.  I’ll admit that I’m usually ‘professional’ at work. No dirty jokes, no silliness, but Kenny G?

Anyway…by lunch that day, I had also added the Fleetwood Mac 1977 Rumours tour and Def Leopard to my dream concert list.  There’s no way I could ever narrow it down to one.

This past weekend, I got to visit with another friend.  This guy is so much like me that at times I wonder if we’re genetically linked somewhere.  Our families came from the same small community so I guess it’s possible.  My friend asked question number 2.  What does music smell like to you?

We both love music.  He probably loves it more than I do, but I’m a close second.  And he’s a thinker like me.  We watch people, we soak in surroundings.  We very easily lose ourselves in songs and then link the song to a memory.  It’s those memories that helped me answer his question.

At first, I couldn’t.  I thought and thought and never could place a smell with music.  And then it hit me…it’s not a sharp odor or a warm aroma.  It’s a memory.

I have a very clear memory of Lynyrd Skynyrd playing at my grandfather’s house.  My rebellious aunt played the album over and over.  At the time, I hated it.  I hated hearing her play it.  I hated how angry grandpa seemed to be all the time.  My mind recorded smells with ‘Free Bird’.  There’s not a time I hear it that I don’t smell the stale cigarette smoke and lingering stench of alcohol that never left their little house.

I hear ‘Turn Me Loose’ by Loverboy and I’m instantly back in the gym of our local recreation center.  I was 14 and at my first high school dance.  The lights were low, the music was loud, and we danced as if we had no cares in the world.  And there’s a smell.  It’s moldy, a little sweaty.  The faint odor of rubber soles and basketballs linger in the air.  It all mixes together with an overly stressed air-conditioning system that blows out musty, cool air.  All of it blends together to form a sweet memory in my mind.

Still, for me, there aren’t smells with every song.  Only a few.  Only the ones with poignant memories wrapped in them.  What does music smell like to you?  Have you ever thought of it before?  And if you’re going to answer that question, then you also have to answer the first question.  Churn back through your memories, think of your favorite songs, your favorite music.  What do you smell, and if you could see anybody in concert , who would it be?

Kiss My Grits

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Next week is fall break, and never have I seen or known a group of people who need a vacation more than the women I work with (including myself).  We’ve survived the first two months of school but even though those weeks have been hard, it isn’t the sole cause of our exhaustion.

I left work today in tears.  I refuse to let them fall because I kind of feel silly about crying over work.  But here’s the thing…I bet I’m not the only one who feels like crying.  Once again, we were reminded that we’re not doing good enough.  It’s a gray cloud that hangs over our heads or sometimes drifts away on a child’s laughter only to be brought back again by a bureaucrat that reminds us that we’re not worth a raise, or praise, or any kind of positive attention.

There’s this part of me that wants to say kiss my grits just like Flo did when I was a child watching Alice.  I want to smack my gum and scream to the universe that I am worth praise now and then, and I am worth a raise no matter what some ridiculous growth measure says about my school.  To the people out there sucking the joy out of education – kiss my grits!

I work with incredible people.  Teachers who take tiny kindergarteners and somehow, someway change them from babies to students.  When they scream for their mothers or refuse to walk in the hall, they endure and they teach.  I work with second grade teachers who stop their instruction to console a weeping child who saw a homeless woman passed out by a creek and wrongfully believed it was his mother.  This teacher held him while he cried and stayed with him until the police discovered and reassured him that it wasn’t his mother after all.

I work with people who spend their own money buying supplies for children, who feed hungry babies each day out of their own pockets.  I work with people who defend bullied children, who clean up after them when they are sick, who give every ounce of themselves until when they go home at night, there’s nothing left in them to give their families.

These people are teachers (and assistants, custodians, secretaries, principals, and nurses), and we work hard and we care.  But our number isn’t big enough.  We’re not worthy enough.

So they say.  But that’s not what I say, and it’s not what I see every single day.

When I want to cry…like I still want to right now…I try to think about my students.  They are the only things that keep me going day in and day out.  I think about the little girl in my room who is way too smart for her own good.  I promise, she could run my room with her eyes shut.  She has memorized my routines, my gestures…everything.  It’s kind of spooky in a cute, invasion of the body snatchers way.

I think about the little fellow who hugged me goodbye the other day.  He said, “Goodbye, Mrs. Wack-a-wee.  I hope you look pretty tomorrow.  Really pretty.”  I glanced down to my shirt and wondered if I looked especially bad right then!

I think about a shy little girl who ran up to me on the playground and said, “Mrs. Rackley, Mrs. Rackley…this boy just said the “C” word.”  I broke out into an all body sweat , and then I had her whisper into my ear what she’d heard.  Thankfully, it was only kill.  I know, I know…it’s not a nice word, and yes, she used her phonetic skills to tell me the beginning sound, but…whew…it was a relief, I promise you.

I think about the shy boy with impeccable manners who came up to my desk and said, “I didn’t know cousins could be different colors.”  I told him they could, that I had cousins a different color, too, and then I told him that God made everybody (and I said God at school…I know that’s bad, too…but it was the moment and I don’t care).  His smile was so innocent, so sweet.  I think he realized in that moment that people can be and are very different.

Every teacher has a million stories like these.  We deal with living, breathing people every day.  It’s what we do whether someone says we’re a zero or a ten, a one or a five.  I finally don’t feel like crying anymore…that’s what thinking of my students does to me…but I still want to scream to the world in my loudest, best southern drawl, “Mel, kiss my grits!”