Monday
Oct232017

Lessons from Preschool Soccer

Robert Fulgham has nothing on me. You may remember that he learned all he really needed to know in kindergarten and wrote a book about it. I learned a slew of life lessons on one fine Saturday morning watching preschoolers play soccer and am now writing a blog about it.

Tatum Park in Hattiesburg is a sea of soccer fields on Saturdays so locating where our two preschool grandsons were playing took the modern intervention of cellphones, but that’s beside the point. I had planned to give cheers and moral support, but unexpectedly ended up with a few surprises and great ideas.

(1) It was not uncommon for the young players to make a goal for the opposing team. Applause followed nonetheless.

(2) When one grandchild accidentally kicked the soccer ball into his teammate’s face, he cried longer than his injured friend – truly sorry that the other child was hurt. 

(3) Bystanders and parents, including the injured child’s parents, kept repeating, “It’s okay. It was an accident.” Blame was not assessed.

(4) The injured child, without prompting by an adult, brought peace to the kicker as he gave a hug to show both love and forgiveness.

(5) At the end of the other grandson’s game, I asked my son who won, and he said, “I don’t know.” Neither did any of the children who were busy giving high fives and running under the tunnel formed by their parents.

(6) The tunnels turned out to be so much fun that the temptation to run through one on a brother’s field was accepted and even encouraged.

Lessons carved out over the course of the morning were to take joy in scoring one for an opponent, to truly care when you cause someone to hurt, to extend forgiveness freely and spontaneously, and to find joy in the game and celebrate no matter who won or even if it’s your home field.

I have my doubts that these lessons will remain unblemished for a lifetime, but if they could stay and spread – picture what a world that would be!

Friday
Oct202017

Speaking Our Truth

The nonfiction book Speaking Our Truth by Monique Gray Smith takes an in-depth look at the residential school system in Canada, but its interest spreads to the United States since similar schools and problems occurred here. Interest in this book extends to anyone concerned with fair treatment of Indigenous people wherever they occur. The author, with Cree, Lakota, and Scottish heritage, infuses her account with personal passion.

Her book cites the report “The Survivors Speak: A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada” as background and looks to bring action to the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In the initial chapter, she gives the names used to describe these first people – Indian, Native, First Nation, Aboriginal, and Indigenous – explaining that she will use the one that was the norm of the time as she tells the story beginning with Indian for the 1800s and coming to Indigenous for the present day.

Scattered throughout the book are personal accounts of those she calls Survivors who lived through experiences in the residential schools, sometimes with one generation repeating the last. Separated from parents and unable to practice their culture or speak their own language, indigenous children also suffered abuse, deprivation, and hunger in the schools. Frequently, discipline patterns learned at the school were passed along to children of these Survivors. The reader is left wondering who thought this would be a good idea.

Balancing the negative picture comes the efforts now being made to bring reconciliation and hope with projects such as Orange Shirt Day, the Blanket Exercise, and Project of the Heart. Discussion questions leading to empathy thread through the narrative. Back matter includes opportunities for further study in Online Resources, Reading List, Glossary, List of Residential Schools, and an Index.

As a coincidence, the next book I read and will not be discussing or recommending had a girl “whooping like an Indian on the warpath.” I would have been offended by the negative stereotype, but coming immediately after Speaking Our Truth, the phrase touched a newly exposed nerve.

In a second coincidence, I need to get this posted quickly so I can leave for the Native American Mounds Tour in and around Natchez with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Maybe I’ll find another accurate and empathetic story today.

Monday
Oct162017

The Case of the Missing Painting

Did I detect a touch of accusation in my principal’s voice? A few weeks into the new school year, Mrs. Morgan came down to my room, “Virginia, do you know what happened to Andy’s painting in the teacher’s lounge? I've looked everywhere. You were my last hope.” My concern matched hers. We agreed to keep a lookout, but one day led to another and the school year wore on.

Andy Woods, our quiet introverted art teacher for the first few years that I taught second grade at South Polk Elementary School, challenged those who were artistically talented while encouraging the ones with no more talent than I have. I think of her when October comes.

Andy left us the first time to have surgery for breast cancer. She downplayed her concern, talking to only a few of us with whom she had become close. I bemoaned my inability to teach art to my students while she was out. She knew I could put all my artistic ability in a thimble and still have room for my finger. Smiling, she said, “You can. Just tell them to use all their space and realize that nothing is just one color.”

When Andy came back to inspire our creative and noncreative students, we rejoiced and settled comfortably – until the cancer returned aggressively a couple of years later to the other breast. The group of friends mourned with her, unwilling to accept the diagnosis that she would not return and treatment would be palliative.

After Andy died, Mrs. Morgan asked me to do a eulogy at faculty meeting. Using Andy’s words, I said she had filled all her space and had painted her world with a myriad of colors. Mrs. Morgan placed her favorites, Andy’s clown paintings, around her office. Andy’s husband gave us a mixed media painting for the teacher’s lounge that visualized sitting on the patio in the fall with the morning paper and a cup of coffee. We enjoyed it, and then it went missing – for a while.

Late one afternoon toward the end of the school year, when almost everyone had gone home, Mrs. Morgan returned to my room, beckoning me to come with her. In the teacher’s lounge, she pulled something from behind the soft drink machine – Andy’s painting! The painters had taken it down the summer before and stuck it behind the machine rather than replacing it on the wall. “Take it with you,” she said. “You are the last one working here that was close to Andy, and I have the clowns.”

Truthfully, it doesn’t have to be October for me to think of Andy. The painting hangs where I see it when I eat or drink coffee. But in Breast Cancer Month especially, it makes me hope for the day when we will be rid of this terrible disease for Andy and for people like her who fill all their space with color and beauty. 

Friday
Oct132017

Lightning Men

In his novel set in 1950s Atlanta, Thomas Mullen borrows his title Lightning Men from Nazi Germany. In the prologue, Jeremiah, newly released from prison is told one of three things happen when a Negro is released from jail: (1) his family or friends pick him up, (2) the prison takes him by bus to the train where his people meet him. or (3) they give him about seventy-five cents and let the prisoner walk. By the time the prologue is finished, crime has begun and the writing has seized the reader. 

The body of the novel has the police department chasing drugs and alcohol and solving murders while keeping a line drawn between the white and black officers with both groups wondering who among them are the corrupt. There’s a group of Columbians with the Nazi-style lightning bolt on their sleeves which now reappears on street signs. The policemen’s personal stories weave in and out and color their own hand at justice, giving hard choices between family and the law.

As tensions escalate over black families moving into “white” neighborhoods, Mullen draws a parallel: “‘Lightning men,’ the doughboys had called the SS troopers. But they were all lightning men. Not just the Columbians but the Klansmen, too, and the neighborhood association that had offered to buy Hannah’s house as if that were a legitimate, regular ol’ business arrangement shorn of threats.”

Such a tangle of multiple stories keep the reader on edge pondering if any satisfying ending can come of all this – and yet it does with an ending that left me shaking my head and saying, “I didn’t see that coming.”

Monday
Oct092017

They're Here!

Waiting patiently doesn’t happen to be one of my virtues. Early this year, I was alerted that I would get an invitation from the United States Postal Service to the first day of issue ceremony for forever stamps honoring The Snowy Day. This picture book by Ezra Jack Keats became a pioneer in diversity when Ezra chose a clipping from Life Magazine of a little black boy that he had saved for twenty years for his model of a child having fun in the snow.

I heard on good authority that in the planning discussion for the event, someone suggested it would be convenient and easy to send out RSVP invitations by email. You might rightly guess how that went over with the post office. USPS assured the group that the postal service would mail cards properly in envelopes. I concur with their decision for quite another reason. Email may be efficient, but a Snowy Day card makes a much cuter keepsake than an email printout!

I’ve really enjoyed the irony of stamps created to honor Ezra’s artwork in light of one of his childhood escapades. Already an artist, he drew some exotic stamps and carefully cut perforated edges around them with his sister’s manicure scissors. He traded his bogus creations to the most serious stamp collector in his neighborhood for some of his rarest stamps. All went well until his friend took Ezra’s handiwork into good daylight and realized he had been duped. Ezra holed up in his tenement apartment home while the friend rained down curses on him and his entire family. In the interest of his own longevity, Ezra gave the rare stamps back.  

When my invitation finally came last month, I stopped at the Hattiesburg post office to see if these stamps would be available on the October 4 issue date. The postal clerks were busy and not sure what special stamps were in the back. If you remember what I said about my lack of patience, you can probably guess what came next. I came home and preordered my stamps!