Zoo

The St. Louis Zoo is wonderful, and one of the few free zoos, perfect for family outings.  I remember Dad declaring that we needed a play-break after walking around looking at animals.  He’d pick a nice clear, grassy hill, and we would “get our energy out” running up and rolling down that hill.  Mom told me much later that it was also the break for parents to sit on a bench and recharge their own energy.

Mom and Dad were constantly counting to five, checking to be sure we five children were all still together.  Once, after the chimpanzee show (which the zoo no longer has), she only made it to four.  Because of construction in progress, the chimps had exited through the crowd instead of backstage, all in a line, holding hands.  The last in line had a free hand, and there I was, holding hands, heading away to join the chimps ready to play with the motorcycles and other toys they used in the act.  Mom saved me from a show biz career, and my parents kept counting to five.

The zoo now has an insectarium, which, along with the Butterfly House in Faust Park, teaches appreciation of those small but plentiful occupants of our planet.  I remember the day Robin conquered her fear of butterflies and was delighted to have one persistently land on her sleeve, and this poem, for my mom.

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The Butterfly House  by Mary Garrett

In January my mother wanted to see the Butterfly House.

My first thought was to plan it for spring break,

But life is always uncertain.  We had mild weather for January,

And school ends blissfully early on exam days.

 

We rushed to get together all the necessities for an outing,

Medicines, oxygen, personal items.

I phoned for directions, and we set out,

Not actually following the most direct route,

But we got there.

 

Mom looked in dismay at the long path down to the House,

And then smiled brightly

When I pulled the wheelchair from the trunk of my little Tercel.

“I didn’t know you brought the chair!” she exclaimed.

Had she thought I would have her walk that long way?

 

Inside, warm summer met us in the middle of winter.

Flying jewels danced through the air,

And a room of chrysalises waited to emerge.

One very special blue giant perched on my mother’s knee,

Completely capturing her heart.

 

The visit was over too soon,

Closing time found us reluctant to leave.

In spring or summer we can come and stay longer,

But I’m glad we didn’t wait — Carpe diem!

 

Hawk   by Mary Garrett

The baby hawk was trapped in a courtyard,

No food to eat,

No mother to care for him.

He would have starved.

The bird lovers found him,

Took him to the one who knew hawks.

They broke the law to help this bird,

Luckier than the injured owl

That died while the vet waited for permission to treat it.

Fed to full strength, gorged to satiation,

Baby hawk was brought back to his home field.

Startled, he fled toward traffic and danger.

His new friend gently urged him toward grass.

A sound from above warned them away;

Mother hawk perched high above,

Watching her baby, ready to fly to his defense.

He could now be safely left

Where his mother would feed and guard him.

 

This has been a fun April.  I will continue to post, not quite as often, with more of my dad’s stories along with my own musings . . .

Thanks for sharing the fun!

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Yards and Gardens

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My father bought a mix called “playground grass” for our yard because “I’m raising children, not lawns,” and our yard was the site of much active play, by us five and half the neighborhood.  Sometimes he’d be asked if a ball player was safe or out, and he’d give his verdict, even if he hadn’t seen the play.  “Doesn’t matter which.  They just need an answer so they can go on playing instead of arguing.”

Dad grew a myriad of plants in his small yard, replacing old with new, just to see how they grew.  Strawberries (which mostly fed the birds), comfrey (he or mom was allergic to it, so out it went), Jerusalem artichokes, castor beans (huge leaves), bamboo (took over half the yard), as well as roses, irises, wild violets, and even cotton one summer, just to see how it grew.  Mom gardened as well, the frog plant was from a tiny plant brought home from Bible school, as was the little pine.  It was something they did together.  Mom told of a robin that followed Dad around as he dug in the garden, throwing her the worms he found, and being scolded as a slacker when he stopped work to talk with Mom.  Robins can be so demanding.

When we were very young, Dad raised rabbits . . .  you can take the boy off the farm but . . .

I bought some kale plants at Anthony’s, even though I was pretty sure the squirrel, deer, woodchucks will chow down before I get much.  So far, they’ve left the kale alone, perhaps because of the clover I have encouraged in the back yard . . .  Must be Dad’s influence.

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“Henderson irises” Wayne Gronefeld dug up at the site of Henderson Jr. High (now FHN), rescued from the bulldozer, grew at his home, and then gave rhizomes to teachers when Henderson closed.  Planted at my mother’s house, Sugarwood (this photo), and now at my new home.

The Garden  by “Daddy John” Fussner

Early one morning, Dough Doughy hitched his six big horses to his wagon.  He drove over to Sampson’s house and out to Sampson’s barn.  Then Dough Doughy and Sampson loaded a plow and a harrow on the wagon.  Soon they were heading out the gate and turning into the road.  They Saw Farmer Brown and By-Golly driving their wagons ahead of them.  As they passed Poppo’s house, he ran out and climbed up on the wagon.

Up the hill to the Orphans’ Home they went because it was garden day.  Soon Dough Doughy’s three big teams were pulling plows, and the dirt was really rolling.  Did you ever see a plow work?  If you haven’t, you have missed something worth seeing.  Farmer Brown’s team and By-Golly’s team were pulling harrows.  A harrow is like a big rake, and it breaks the plowed ground up very fine and levels it very smooth.

Dough Doughy, Farmer Brown, By-Golly, and Gramps were all sitting on some chairs and watching the teams.  No, the horses weren’t trained to farm by themselves.  The older boys were taking turns working the teams.  Yes sir, and they were teaching the younger ones how to prepare the garden for planting.

One little boy, just seven years old, was really having a good time.  It was his birthday; so he was the little big shot for the day.  He drove the two big blacks, then the grays, and then the white horses.  He gave the mules a round or two and then ended up riding one of Farmer Brown’s horses while the team was pulling the wooden drag to put the finishing touches to the garden.

By noon, all of the garden was ready, and some of the corn ground was plowed.  After a big dinner, complete with a birthday cake about half as big as the back door of your house, everyone went back to the garden.  Mr. McGregory was there with his planting machine, ready to go to work.  Mr. McGregory’s horses were good farmers, with three or four years of farm work behind them.  They knew how to pull a straight row.

First the sweet corn went in.  Lots of long rows, for everyone likes corn on the cob, and corn is used in soups and frozen and canned for winter use.  Then the beans, green beans, wax beans, red beans, all kinds of beans to eat fresh and to can, freeze, and dry for winter use.  Then the watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, lettuce, and all the other good things it takes to make a garden.

Last, but not least, the six rows next to the yard were planted in cut-and-come-again flowers.  These flowers are used in the Orphans’ Home and in churches in town.  They are also sent to the hospital, the Old Folks’ Home, and to anyone else who likes flowers.  The children have lots of fun giving flowers to others.

Did you ever plant a little seed and watch it grow?  All it takes is a little dirt, a little water, and lots of sunshine and love.  Try it, won’t you?

More of Dad’s stories at

https://storytellermary.wordpress.com/category/stories/daddy-john-stories/

 

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X-rated Ban

storyteller

I learned to set limits on my students’ writing, for my own sanity and for job preservation —

G-rated material only, no graphic violence because I couldn’t handle it, no explicit sex.  Yes, their minds did go there, but I didn’t care to.  I found out early on that even a seemingly innocent request to write prepositional phrases on the board could go astray: in the cabin, on the bed, under the covers, next to his body . . . stopped and erased quickly.  I told them, “my mother won’t let me read that sort of thing.”

They would point out how successful Stephen King was, and I admitted that was true, but when they became that successful, I still wouldn’t read anything violent they wrote.  I would, though, appear on the talk shows to congratulate them, and “if you get tired of a sports car and would like to give it to me . . . you know I’ll never afford one on my salary . . . ”  😉

Then a student told me, “I know you don’t read Stephen King, but you’ll like this one” and handed me Nightshift with “Quitters, Inc.” bookmarked.  I trusted her evaluation enough to risk reading the story, and she was  correct.  It made excellent points about smoking, how unhealthy it is and how hard a habit it is to break, and it raised discussion issues about whether ends justify means.  I read it with the short story classes from then on, sometimes handing out “Don’t Smoke” stickers afterward.

Mom Poems

I wrote most of these poems as a farewell to my mother and have shared them with others when I thought they might help.

 

Today (April 27, 2014) I’m sharing them as part of poetry month . . .  and to have them safely archived somewhere not at home.

 

Side note: I was reminded today of my mother telling of her mother, who coped with her noisy brood by turning down her hearing aid when they got too loud.  At the end of Revolutionary Road, the realtor’s husband does that, and the sound of his wife’s critical nattering quiets to silence.  I’m not actually recommending the (rather depressing) movie, but I did love that one detail and a surprise connection to Mom’s anecdote.

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Sitting    by Mary Garrett

 

We spent so much time sitting,

Sitting in doctors’ offices,

Sitting in medical labs,

Sitting in hospital rooms.

 

During better times we sat in your kitchen, talking;

Then in the dining room at Harvester, both talking;

As you tired, me talking and knitting, you listening;

As you became too tired to even listen, just sitting.

 

You sat in your wheelchair to visit restaurants,

Shaw’s Garden, the art museum, the zoo,

(where I nearly lost you on a steep hill),

the Goldenrod Showboat,

(where Mr. Yamamoto taught me to back down steep hills).

Doug called you “love on wheels.”

 

Returning from the doctor’s one day,

We visited the mama killdeer

Who built her nest next to a parking lot.

You could sit in the car and see her through your window:

Drive-through bird watching!

 

At the end, we sat by your bed,

Holding your hand, smoothing your brow,

Saying I love you.

Then we were sitting by your still form,

But you?  Surely not still sitting —

Soaring, flying free

From this world to another,

Released from all bonds,

Too full of joy to sit.

 

 

Verna Fussner   October 8, 1924 – August 14, 1999

My mother lived her life for children, her own five, her five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren, of course, but she loved and cared for all children.  Neighbor children and cousins would come to the house for everything from a snack to a haircut, and especially to be listened to — she was a great listener — and for sensible advice.

When we were all grown, I tried to encourage Mom to develop other interests, hobbies, friends to go places with, but her focus remained her babies, and whatever they needed or wanted, she would try to help them get it.  I was looking at a hole I had fixed in a sweater I had knitted for her — a niece had wanted to wear it outside to play in.  When it happened, she said, “I don’t know why I let her,” but I know, because she wanted to and it made her happy.  We have pictures of little ones playing dress-up with her scarves; she didn’t care if they got wrinkled or dirty because the children were having fun.

Donna and I still have the habit, learned from my parents, of noticing and commenting on cute children we see out in public — and they are all cute!  To my mother, children were always the most important part of life, and the love she gave continues in the loving lives they will live.

 

The Butterfly House  by Mary Garrett

 

In January my mother wanted to see the Butterfly House.

My first thought was to plan it for spring break,

But life is always uncertain.  We had mild weather for January,

And school ends blissfully early on exam days.

 

We rushed to get together all the necessities for an outing,

Medicines, oxygen, personal items.

I phoned for directions, and we set out,

Not actually following the most direct route,

But we got there.

 

Mom looked in dismay at the long path down to the House,

And then smiled brightly

When I pulled the wheelchair from the trunk of my little Tercel.

“I didn’t know you brought the chair!” she exclaimed.

Had she thought I would have her walk that long way?

 

Inside, warm summer met us in the middle of winter.

Flying jewels danced through the air,

And a room of chrysalises waited to emerge.

One very special blue giant perched on my mother’s knee,

Completely capturing her heart.

 

The visit was over too soon,

Closing time found us reluctant to leave.

In spring or summer we can come and stay longer,

But I’m glad we didn’t wait — Carpe diem!

 

 

Hawk    by Mary Garrett

 

The baby hawk was trapped in a courtyard,

No food to eat,

No mother to care for him.

He would have starved.

 

The bird lovers found him,

Took him to the one who knew hawks.

They broke the law to help this bird,

Luckier than the injured owl

That died while the vet waited for permission to treat it.

 

Fed to full strength, gorged to satiation,

Baby hawk was brought back to his home field.

Startled, he fled toward traffic and danger.

His new friend gently urged him toward grass.

A sound from above warned them away;

Mother hawk perched high above,

Watching her baby, ready to fly to his defense.

He could now be safely left

Where his mother would feed and guard him.

 

Haiku  by Mary Garrett

As a solution for scary situations, nothing can beat my mother’s accidental

creativity. As we walked to the Arch parking lot late at night, discussing

my sister’s keys and my umbrella as self-defense weapons,

Mom said, “I’ll just tell them, ‘Watch out! I know Haiku!'”

 

— response from a friend:

Mother’s knowledge shines

Daughter’s safety is in words

Self-defense with poetry

— Margaret in Illinois

 

 

Verna Fussner  by Mary Garrett

Her life is centered around her children,

grandchildren, great-grandchildren.

Though she watches the news and reads the paper,

The current events that really matter

occur within her family circle.

The welfare and happiness of her offspring

are her prime concern.

Trips to the zoo, museums, gardens, storytelling,

and puppet shows with those children

are her major adventures.

Tending her garden and watching the birds at her feeder

are the entertainments of her free moments.

Spring is here, new plants are growing, birds are singing.

New adventures await.

 

The Bad Boys  — I have kept this poem mostly private, but I think there’s an important message there so I’m sharing it now.  Caregivers have told me that men are often absent from the lives of those who are very sick, and these male relatives are missed, and missing out, because of that absence.  I don’t actually think they are bad, perhaps more unsure of what to do and how to handle illness.  Mom and I admired the five sons who every Sunday visited their mom, just to visit . . .

The Bad Sons  by Mary Garrett

The bad boys won’t visit their sick mother,

“I don’t do sickness,”  they say.

“Hospitals give me the creeps.”

They won’t help fix her leaking roof,

“I’m too busy,” says one. “I don’t know how,” says another.

The mother cries as she explains to  people

Who think she only has daughters,

“No, I have three boys, but they never visit.”

She begins introducing her neighbor as

“My adopted son, the one who visits.”

 

On Christmas, when they come for a brief visit,

She rejoices, “I’m so happy, I have my b . . . .,

I have all my children with me today.”

 

The boys don’t know what they’ve missed,

The tender moments shared, the life lessons learned,

The hugs,

The pleasure of being told, “You’re such a good daughter,”

The comfort of having no regrets.

 

They don’t realize what they have taught their children.

 

 

Poetry

It’s April, poetry month — and I have some.  This will be a long collection, perhaps to be revisited with commentary later, but I want it in place . . . preserved somewhere . . . 😉

 

Poetry written as a part of a Writer’s Workshop at UMSL with Professor Howard Schwartz, a magic, inspiring summer.  I saw Howard at UMSL last week, reading from his new book of poetry, and remembered my joy in learning from him, and my awe as I watched him encourage even the most reluctant students with reassurance that they did have worthwhile insights to contribute.

 

The Child Collectors

by Mary F. Garrett

 

My friends collected children.

They began with one,  with a weak heart,

An outcast in Vietnam

Because of his African-American father’s blood.

Then another, with one eye destroyed by lack of vitamins.

The third had nightmares for weeks, remembering the bombs.

 

As their hearts opened to more children,

Their house grew crowded; they added more rooms

And more children.

A fourteen-year-old boy found his way

From Saigon to an American ship.

They couldn’t say no.

 

Two sisters from Mississippi would have to be separated

Unless someone would make a home for both.

One had a heart problem, not diagnosed.

They said, “Send them to us right away.

We have experience with heart problems.”

 

Tenderly, with love and discipline,

They gathered and healed the injured children.

 

 

Auto-Mobile

by Mary Garrett

 

Ray Bradbury, the guru of space travel, will not drive a car.

More die each year from cars than from Vietnam at its worst,

And where are the marches in protest?

 

Instead, we daily enter thin sheaths of metal, and Auto-propel

Ourselves at impossible speeds over hard concrete.

Only a thin line of white paint separates cars on either side.

We seldom ask if this trip, this job, this play, this class,

This visit is worth the risk.

 

Highway rules are followed, most of the time;

Defensive vigilance is maintained by drivers, most of the time;

Guardian angels or luck protects us, some of the time.

 

When those fail, the first law of physics prevails:

Two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

 

Flood

by Mary Garrett

 

As we sat beside the Missouri River,

I tried to explain the flood to a four-year-old.

I showed her trees with water covering their trunks.

“There wasn’t water there before.  They can’t grow in water.”

We watched the water race by,

Floating branches showing its speed.

A beaver nibbled twigs on a new island.

A young boy skipped stones and we tried to do the same.

He said the Riverfest booths would have to be moved, but

Official word declared them safe until after the Fourth.

 

I think now of how little I really know of floods.

Volunteers’ shoulders ache from filling sandbags.

A farmer mourns his flooded field, “Those were good beans, too.”

People struggle in the heat to move possessions ahead of the flood.

Homeowners let basements fill with water so the groundwater pressure won’t crack the walls.

It can be as damaging to move a trailer as to have it flooded.

When the waters recede, homes will be filled with silt and critters.

You must sterilize canned goods contaminated by flood water.

Thousands of people have lost everything.

Experts debate whether to strengthen levees or let the river take its flood plain,

Whether to continue flood insurance or “encourage” people to move.

 

Out-of-town friends call to see if I’m still above water.

I explain how remote I am from the site of disaster.

Driving over the bridge, I can see the Missouri, a little higher each day.

The flooding of the power station darkened traffic lights on Highway 94,

My only personal challenge due to flood.

 

Truly, I know as little about floods as a four-year-old.

 

The Goldfinch

by Mary F. Garrett

 

The goldfinch has returned to my balcony.

I saw him today, sipping water from a flower pot,

Nibbling at the plants,

And then darting away to attend to other business.

 

His favorite treat is the Swedish ivy.

There are two plants,

Kept alive indoors all winter.

By the end of summer,

They will be nibbled down to bare stems.

 

Our Swedish exchange student

Said they have that plant in Sweden,

But she couldn’t remember what they call it there —

Not Swedish ivy, certainly.

 

He darts back into sight,

With another golden dynamo in fast pursuit.

They both hit the window and fly toward the trees.

I close the blinds to save them from a second hit

And wonder if two plants will be enough.

 

In Surgery

by Mary F. Garrett

 

Godlike, the voice of authority penetrates

The anesthetic fog,

“Mary, it’s alright; there’s no cancer.”

I fall back into deeper sleep, blissful relief.

 

Later, awakening with a smile, tears and fear behind me,

I look to the smiling nurses for reassurance

That it was not a dream.

They offer confirmation and breakfast

And call my friend to take me home.

 

Still I wonder: when all else,

Even the cutting out and the stitching up,

The invasion in the name of healing,

Was lost beyond the cloud of sleep,

How did that voice find its way

To bring the message of hope?

 

One O’Clock

by Mary Garrett

 

Sticky little fingers open and close

The wings of my ladybug watch.

Afterwards, the time vanishes

And then returns as 1:00.

 

We go to supper at 1:00.

The play starts at 1:00

And ends at 1:00.

I arrive home at 1:00,

Shower and read and am in bed by 1:00.

 

Tomorrow is my niece’s wedding.

I know I’ll be on time.

It starts at 1:00.

 

Metamorphosis

by Mary F. Garrett

 

The sweet and loving child has been replaced.

She once was interested in everything around her.

Now “I’m bored” is her constant refrain.

Once she loved her family; she thought we were nearly perfect.

Now she can’t stand us, and her frequent tirades leave us shaken.

All of the “warm fuzzies” she used to share have been replaced with “cold pricklies”

Hurled at any who dare to invade her space.

We don’t know this new, hostile creature.

 

From time to time we get a glimpse of the child we knew.

In between the storms she comes out for comfort.

We know the pain and confusion of growing up are responsible for this agony.

Before punishment, my father used to say, “This hurts me more than it does you.”

If one could measure pain, which of us would feel more

The pain of these “growing pains”?

 

On My Desk

by Mary Garrett

 

On my desk I see,

Pens and pencils and scissors and markers,

In two separate holders,

As if one weren’t enough.

By the end of the day,

Both might be empty,

As I leave pens all over the school.

 

I see a variety of rubber stamps,

To decorate the “on-time” papers

Of students with “good work habits,”

And, by their absence, brand

The lazy and disorganized.

 

There’s a box of Kleenex,

My one little contribution

To the physical comfort of my scholars.

 

The desk is covered with books and papers,

Ideas I want to share,

That we never have quite enough time for.

Why do the trivial necessities of attendance and tests,

Have to get in the way of the intellectual gems

That would be so much more worthwhile and memorable

By the end of the day, there will be a layer

Of miscellaneous papers,

Not handed in at the “proper” time,

Half-read announcements,

Notes from the office, hall passes,

Book club orders, leftover cake from lunch,

And scattered pens and pencils.

 

I will take the half hour after school

To sort through the papers,

Re-check the attendance,

Put away the pens,

Eat the cake,

And place prominently in the center of the desk

The article I hope to have time

To read to the class tomorrow.

 

News of My Death

by Mary F. Garrett

 

The National Education Association has declared me dead,

And Jim Garrett has been a dues-paying member all year.

My friends inform me after they have corrected the records.

 

I feel an eerie shiver, but mostly I remember Jim,

A friend and advocate for his deaf students;

in his “free” time he taught my students to sign.

 

We were friendly, but not close,

Although students were positive, because of our names,

That we were married.

In fact, they said we were “a very nice couple.”

We agreed that at least we fought less

Than any married couple we knew.

 

Our mail always ended up in each other’s mailboxes,

In spite of my efforts to clearly label and personalize them.

I once received his health insurance claim with one of mine,

My first clue, though I didn’t try to read it,

Of the illness that would destroy him.

 

It seems fitting that his death

Should find a way to come to me,

Consistent avoider of funerals caught at last.

 

I decide I’d better tell my mother,

In case official word is sent to next-of-kin.

I joke that if anyone complains about a boring class,

I can tell them it’s the best they can expect

From a dead person.

 

Words That Should Be Oxymorons––

Working poor–

Homeless person-

 

 

Rorschach Clouds  (for Laya Firestone Seghi)

by Mary F. Garrett

 

Cloud mother above

Lies on her back

And holds her laughing baby

Above her.

Nearby a stuffed tiger

Stands watch,

Bringing joy to the wind-blown child.

 

 

Rainbows  by Mary F. Garrett

Rainbows, class, are formed

When rays of light pass!

Through tiny droplets of water.

The white light

Splits into all its separate colors

And spreads across the sky,

Appearing to us as a rainbow.”

 

“Teacher, no, that’s wrong.

The fairies and brownies,

Coming home from a picnic,

Had to cross the river after the rain.

They took all the flowers

They had gathered in their baskets and

Wove them into a bridge to safely cross over.

My father said that’s what we see

When we see a rainbow.”

 

Teacher, wise and gentle, only said,

“There is more than one way to understand a rainbow.

Ask your father to explain.”

That night my father taught me the difference

Between the facts of the real world and

The Truth of Imagination.ˇˇ

 

SPF 30  by Mary F. Garrett

Chlorofluorocarbons,

Docile propellants of hair spray,

Drifted upward, past shape-shifting clouds,

To nibble at molecules of ozone.

 

Rays of sunlight, now unchecked,

Attack sunbathers in backyard pools

And canoeists on quiet rivers.

Skin cells change to carcinoma and melanoma.

 

Coppertone gives way to Sun Block;

Sun Protection Factor of 30 is best.

For longer outdoor exposure,

A hat and long sleeves are recommended.

Or just stay indoors.

There is no such thing as a healthy suntan.

 

How I miss the ozone!

 

 

The Necklace

by Mary F. Garrett

 

At St. Cecelia’s Academy,

Where the lockers need no locks

And stamp collections and antique dollhouses

Can safely sit on open shelves in the library,

The Mother Superior called a before-school assembly.

“Girls, we need to pray together this morning.

A gold necklace belonging to one of our students is missing.

We are concerned for this girl in her sorrow.

The necklace meant a great deal to her.

On each of her birthdays, her parents have added one bead

As a remembrance of each year of her life.

Of greater concern is the girl who has the necklace.

She is now feeling the burning pain of one who knows

She has done wrong.

Her soul will feel no rest until she makes amends

And asks forgiveness.

Let us pray now for this girl.

May her contrition make her whole.”

Four hundred heads bowed.

Four hundred hearts sought to help the one who was lost.

Later that morning, the necklace was discovered

In the school chapel

Adorning the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 

 

Verna Fussner   

by Mary Garrett

 

Her life is centered around her children,

grandchildren, great-grandchildren.

Though she watches the news and reads the paper,

The current events that really matter

occur within her family circle.

The welfare and happiness of her offspring

are her prime concern.

Trips to the zoo, museums, gardens, storytelling,

and puppet shows with those children

are her major adventures.

Tending her garden and watching the birds at her feeder

are the entertainments of her free moments.

Spring is here, new plants are growing, birds are singing.

New adventures await.

 

Artificial?

by Mary F. Garrett

 

Life has become artificial:

Non-nutritive sweeteners,

Decaffeinated coffee,

Low-fat ice cream,

Salt Substitute,

Butter-flavored sprays and seasonings,

Low-cal, decaf soda,

Everything light, lite, low-fat, artificial.

 

Is anything real?  Yes!

 

Fresh green salads,

Ripe juicy fruit,

Grilled lean meat,

Pastas and breads not drowning in fats,

Ice-cold, sparkling water,

And best of all,

Real size-six clothes

On my now healthier body!

(update: not six any longer . . . but still healthy 😉

 

Crossing the Washington Avenue Bridge

by Mary F. Garrett

 

After January, 1972,

Each time I crossed the Washington Avenue Bridge,

I thought of you, John Berryman.

 

Pausing in the middle of the bridge,

I touched the railing where you waved good-bye.

I looked down at the swirling water

Toward which you threw yourself and wondered

How could you do it?

I could see the coal barges.

What cruel irony that your final flight should end there,

When you aimed for the clean, swift water.

 

Seeing the young couples walking hand-in-hand,

The craftspeople selling candles and beadwork,

Students carrying books as they hurried to class,

And anti-war activists handing out leaflets,

I felt, because I did not know better,

Smugly superior for being alive.

 

I thought teachers had all the answers,

And I felt disappointed, cheated,

That you would surrender to death.

I knew nothing of depression.

Now I see that your death was not your choice.

 

Broken Bottle

by Mary F. Garrett

 

The old man stands on the busy corner,

His faded plaid coat unbuttoned to the cold.

Earflaps hang from his shapeless wool cap.

Deep lines etch his face.

He stares at the precious bottle in its brown paper bag,

Smashed

And dripping

At his feet.

 

We see the heartbreak in his face

But traffic makes us move on.

We circle the block and return.

We want to help him replace

The lost elixir.

 

We can’t; he’s gone,

While on the ground the paper sack

Bleeds its last few drops on unappreciative

Pavement.

 

 

Prayers

by Mary F. Garrett

 

My Catholic cousin and her Jewish husband,

Enjoined at their beautiful ecumenical wedding

To make a warm and beautiful home together

For the comfort of their family and friends,

Did their best to obey.

 

Fair weather was predicted;

They began work on the roof.

Just as the old roof was removed,

In true Missouri fashion, the weather changed.

Thunderstorms were predicted for that night.

 

With no time to replace the roof,

No time to move or protect possessions,

They turned to very special prayers,

To female relatives of his and hers

Already departed from this life.

 

“Grandma, if you do not want to see your dining table ruined,”

“Aunt, if you still cherish the home you lived in,”

“Mother, your linens are in the hope chest,”

“If you love us and want to see us

Enjoy the lovely home we’ve worked to create,

Please help us with this storm.”

 

That night rain fell on streets all around their home,

But not one drop touched the house with no roof

Save love.

 

 

Drama at the Baskin-Robbins

by Mary Garrett

 

Act One

Two Young Women on Children

“I can’t stand her.  She goes out looking all Hollywood and leaves her children dirty and ragged.”

“I know.  My children will be clean, even if I have to be dirty.”

“I told her, your children should always come first.  When you’re old, they are the ones who will still be with you, looking out for you.”

 

On Husbands

“I’m glad to have been married, but I’ll never be married again.  I just got so tired of calling the police all the time.  They got so they knew my address as soon as I said my last name.”

“Right.  I told them to keep him locked up.  They said, but he seems to have calmed down.

I said, keep him locked up tight and come get his car out of my driveway.”

“He said ‘Baby, don’t hurt me like this,’ and I said ‘you don’t seem to care how you hurt me.’”

“He said ‘don’t go for a knife now.’

I said ‘I’m not going to try to cut you; I’m not a fool, but just put a gun in my hand and see how brave you’ll be.’”

“Yeah, just give me a gun.”

 

Interact

Two couples discussing art auctions.  One woman leaves her purse behind.

 

Act Two

Older Couple on Honesty

“There’s a purse someone left here.   Come pick up this purse please.”

“Someone’s going to be very worried and grateful to get it back.”

“Couldn’t possibly profit from someone else’s misfortune.”

Young woman returns, offers money as reward.

“No, we couldn’t accept that.  Just pass it along as a good deed for someone else.  A man said that to us when we were just a young couple, and we liked it so much we’ve used it ever since.”

 

On Marriage

“We’ll celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary next month.”

“It’s been a good fifty years.  I think I’ll keep her for another fifty.

 

** Written later, but inspired by the ’93 workshop nonetheless . . .

 

Fall

by Mary Garrett

 

If a Teacher falls in the parking lot and no one is there to hear,

Does she still make a sound? (and if so, is it printable?)

 

Rushing to a before-school meeting (I do hate those)

and to get out of the cold,

Carrying too many library books (McKissacks’ — I do love them).

Uneven pavement, dark (why are the lights out?)

Suddenly, trip and pitch forward, no time to regain balance,

pulled down by the heavy books. (“Weighted with authority”?)

Stay down a minute to decide how I am.

“You just had the wind knocked out of you.” My thoughts echo my mother’s voice.

No one here to help me up — ah, no one here to see this embarrassing fall. . .

Standing up carefully, picking up the scattered book bags, walking slowly into the building,

Silently cursing that this will make me late.

 

Inside, I notice my scuffed glove, new and expensive

— guess I won’t be spreading the cost over three years of wear.

Then, taking off the glove, blood!  (I really hate blood).

It doesn’t really hurt, yet, but the meeting will have to wait.

The school nurses prove themselves this morning.

Peroxide, butterfly band-aids, tissues, and TLC.

“Don’t cry,” someone says, but the nurses and I know I have to, for a minute.

Then tissues and Tylenol, join the meeting in progress — get sympathy.

Teach six classes — sympathy.  “I’d have taken that fall for you,” (half-serious student).

The bandaged hand my own red badge of courage — even bringing extra dessert at lunch!

Filling out the accident report, “Names of witnesses” — “no one” (thank goodness!)

 

Arnica for bruises, stretching for stiff, sore muscles,

and new rule for self: No matter what the meeting is or when, I’m not rushing!

 

 

Plop Quiz

by Mary Garrett

Falling backward in the snow,

What to do?

Accidental snow angel.

 

Sam 

by Mary Garrett

 

Sam, Sam, Watermelon Man,

Chimichanga, Little Man,

Seeking adventure and affection.

Cuddle and purr, stretch toward the floor —

Yoga expert.

 

“Chase me, play with me, watch me, walk with me.”

Can’t abide a closed door,

Scratch, scratch, “Why won’t you let me in?”

 

Our tame Siamese panther, catching crickets,

Stalking birds (but not catching them),

Hopping after rabbits,

Challenging a blue jay from my balcony railing.

I can’t have my own cat —

I’m glad to be your godmother, cat-sitter, friend.

 

 

Wisdom of the Young

Image

My co-stars on the storytelling CDs . . .  Brianna, Hannah, and Josh. ❤

In The King and I, Anna sings, “by your pupils you’ll be taught.”  There is so much to learn from their young, fresh outlook on life.

Jillian once, when she was very small and I complimented her on a great hint for some kitchen chore, “I don’t know it all, but I know some things.”  These days, she’s my go-to person on technology questions.

My alderman’s daughter, at a neighborhood picnic, laughed at the adults’ discussion of exercise.  “I don’t exercise,” she explained.  “I PLAY” . . . and she ran over to the swings.  Healthy attitudes . . .

 Joy once encouraged me, “Run, Aunt Mary.  It’s FUN!”

photo of my mom with Joy . . .  >Mom and Joy (3)033

They have so much to teach us, even as they are learning new things every day.

 There comes the day when spelling won’t work as secret code . . . “Shall we stop for i-c-e-” ICE CREAM!!!!!   “Want to go to the z-o-o?” YES!! ZOO!!!

The lessons of childhood continue to mold the adult.  I loved when my high school students would pick up on the Reading Rainbow song and join in, “Take a look, it’s in a book . . .”

I used to give students extra credit for finding errors in published sources and then correcting them, and they found plenty.

I also gave credit when they showed me a new perspective on something, even sometimes on things I had read fifty times.

After a really serious vandalism incident at our high school, a student made me feel a little ashamed of my own punitive thoughts when she said, “If they had parents as good as mine, they’d never have done anything like this. — Empathy, understanding . . .

 . . . and then there was a student I didn’t even know, who when he heard me complaining that a mandatory inservice would take up half the weekend, “Half a weekend is better than none.”  Perspective.

While I do have the bumper sticker “Don’t Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story,” I believe in using the teachable moments in fiction and sharing good values in my stories.

Mr. Fox is a story full of important lessons on courage and caution, and it helped my sophomores understand Pushkin’s “The Bridegroom.”  I first told the story when my Dan Keding CD stopped playing right in the middle and my students insisted I finish it.  Then, darling scholars, when I got a new CD and a new player and played it again for them, they sweetly told me they liked mine better . . .

My ESOL students ably critiqued my telling of La Llorona one year.

Dan’s “Two Warriors” story ends with “You can’t hate a man once you know his story.”  Often when we know what’s going on in a person’s life, we are much more able to help.  I often said of difficult students, once I knew their background, that I might have acted out even more if it had been I.

A teaching colleague whose wife got a raise was a bit surprised when I remarked on how well he was dealing with her earning much more than he was.  I was glad to see that vestige of the ’70s mentality gone, and perhaps it was never an issue for intelligent and reasonable men.  He then polled his students, who all agreed that more money in a family is good, no matter who brings it in.

It’s amazing that the things former students remember are not always the lessons we plan, but are more often the moments of kindness, the lessons in grace . . . and it goes both ways.  When my mother was very ill, my students shared cards, prayers, Chicken Soup books, and kept me going through it all, and when I thanked on student, she said, “Remember last year when I needed help?  Well, now it’s your turn.”

On a lighter note, one day I reached high to write something on the board and felt the underarm seam of my blouse RIIIPPPP.  A student immediately defused my embarrassment by asking, “If you are going to throw that away, could I have it for my mother’s fabric art?”  Silver linings everywhere . . .

Like my friend’s daughter, I think perhaps we should just play.

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Vietnam War Protests

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My friend Ellouise wanted me to record some of the tumultuous ’70s, the marches, conferences, demonstrations . . . mostly about the war in Vietnam, but also Women’s and Civil Rights.  Coverage of the War in Vietnam brought violent images of war to our attention, whether we wanted to see it or not.  My own moment of awareness was reading of an effort to provide medical care for children burned with napalm and realizing that a better effort would be to stop burning children with napalm.

Patched Jeans in College015

We were so young, so energetic, so idealistic and determined to make the world better. Male friends waited out the results of the draft lottery and then made plans, to enlist, object, or move to Canada if they couldn’t face “killing people halfway across the world.”  I don’t remember ever discussing the dangers to themselves . . . that invincibility of youth, perhaps, but as a friend remarked later about the many single women my age, “You sent your husbands to Vietnam.”

Most of the demonstrations in Minneapolis/St. Paul were actually well-organized with legal parade permits, not a publicized fact, but a fair and orderly expression of the right of assembly.  The usual route was from the U of Minnesota campus, through downtown to Loring Park.  Once we were told that we’d have to move to the sidewalks as we passed through downtown.  We weren’t sure it was going to work, moving masses of demonstrators onto sidewalks,  At the appointed intersection, police dogs were on hand to make sure we got out of the street, and we meekly moved to sidewalks.

After the Kent State shootings, we planned a longer march from the U of M to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.  St. Paul had more conservative rules, requiring six months’ notice for planned demonstrations.  I was asked to present our plans. * I remember telling them that of course we’d have given six-months notice if we had known . . . or if we had known, perhaps we could have prevented the tragedy, but we didn’t know.  People would be marching, but we’d like to help make it orderly and safe.  I was asked to assure them that we wouldn’t be drinking (10 a.m. march) or littering (of course not, we loved the planet, too), and I added that we planned to have first aid providers as well, in case of blisters.  We must have seemed responsible and determined; we got the permit.

It is true that spring demonstrations on campus were often extra-large as the warm weather drew people who didn’t want to go inside for class anyway.  However, we also stood vigil in the winter, even in the early morning as our friends appeared at the federal building to answer the summons of the draft board.  “We shall not be moved” took on an added dimension with the half-fear that we’d be frozen to the spot, and one must be very careful using a bullhorn in -20 degree weather.

The long bus rides, to New York or Washington D.C., were amazing experiences of working together for a cause, having adventures and enduring hardships.  I learned to bring homemade granola, better for a traveler’s stomach, and the young can sleep anywhere, on the long bus ride, on church floors.  One chilly day we asked the guard at the Smithsonian if we’d be allowed in for a while to warm up.  “Of course,” he replied.  “It’s YOUR museum, after all.”

The year my hippy friends tried to levitate the Pentagon, and SDS provoked tear gas near the White House, our busses decided their contract did not include waiting through mayhem.  We looked for our bus back to U of M, when we heard a friend calling, “St. Paul.”  — close enough!  He informed us that if he found all his people, there wouldn’t be room for us, but I knew in my heart he would not abandon us, and we made it home . . .

On one trip, we were joined by an older woman, a Quaker perhaps, probably around my current age, which of course seemed ancient to my young self.  Asked how she maintained the energy to do so much, she replied that it “helps to choose your ancestors wisely.”

These recollections are blurred by time, and I didn’t keep a journal.  I rather wish I had the FBI’s records to consult, as they seemed to have kept good track of us, but they seem to have put a freeze on all SWP and YSA files.

  • I was recognized as one of our more diplomatic members.  One semester someone had painted “Free the Eight” (perpetrators of a draft board office break-in) on a campus building. It was quickly cleaned off, but then someone painted “Hang the Eight” and it stayed up for several days, infuriating us every time we saw it.  Finally, I shushed everyone in the antiwar office and called campus maintenance.  In my very sweetest voice, I shared my distress at this blemish on my campus and my concern that my parent’s (ficticious) visit would be spoiled by seeing it.  He pointed out the “other” graffiti, “Oh, yes.  Your people did a wonderful job of cleaning that up, but this has been there for DAYS . . . and it’s just so ugly.”  After I hung up, my friends laughed at me, and one called me a sell-out for not launching into a tirade, but I was after results, and Mom had taught me about getting “more flies with honey.”  When we left the office, workers were already scrubbing away the “Hang the Eight” graffiti.

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