Thursday, April 27, 2006

Our Blog

This blog is off to a slow start, but I have faith in its future. Tina and Jackie have been extremely busy (as usual). In addition to teaching English and creative writing, which have the most paper grading of anything, Tina is also teaching in the credit/course recovery program after school that I used to do, going to school herself, involved in community theater by acting in plays and being stage manager of some. She also has a son at home and one who works at the Renaissance Center in the theater. Both sons work in the theater, actually. She also has pets to take care of as well as house, car, and all the responsibilities of single mothers.

Jackie is also teaching and going to school. She's just finished her student teaching in the Pittsburgh school system and has stories that are disheartening for the future of education and don't make a good case for paying teachers more and having better instruction. She has a teenage daughter and bunches of responsibilities as well. She's also a professional storyteller, as I mentioned in my other blog, when I described her wonderful show Middle Passage she's performed in Pittsburgh and Dickson and that I hope she takes to other places.

I used to be a workaholic, too, and know how it is. Some of it was from necessity and some from doing things I enjoyed and was interested in. Now I'm the one without a busy schedule although some people consider me busy. If so, they must not do much.

Jackie and Tina will probably be writing about these experiences and more in this blog. I know Tina has some poetry and Jackie some stories they might post, too. I hope so because they have a lot to offer that you'll enjoy reading. Please keep checking on us.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Many non-Southerners don't realize that y'all is plural. Unlike those people who affect a really bad Southern accent and bandy about the word y'all indiscriminately, we use it as the plural form of you.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Funereal Fun

My neighbors on each side when I was growing up were Elaine and Eloise, three years older than I who constantly dangled the future in front of me with such taunts as, "you haven't lived until you can ride a bicycle, you haven't lived until you've gone to school, you haven't lived until you are in the 3rd grade, you haven't lived until you can shave your legs, wear make-up, drive, date" and on it went with all kinds of milestones always ahead. Maybe that's why I've lived in the future most of my life instead of enjoying the present. Sure, I think I'll blame them for that! Why not?

Naturally, Elaine and Eloise went to a funeral before I did and told the other younger ones of us all about it. I was fascinated, asked questions, and filed the information away. It would be a while before I would actually see a dead person. I think I was probably around 11 or 12 when a neighbor died. She was young and the mother of two girls, one who was a couple of years older and one younger than I. The casket was in her home, and Mother took me there with her to pay respects. Then when I was in the 8th grade, a classmate died. He was a twin. They took a bus with all of us in his class who wanted to and were allowed to attend his funeral in a small country church. That was my first funeral.

Well, it was my first funeral for a person. Daddy always raised a garden and chickens, so I grew up on fresh vegetables, eggs, and chicken. Mother canned the vegetables, made apple sauce and tomato juice, and all kinds of delicious food. One day I remember that one of the baby chickens died, so I suggested to the neighbors that we have a funeral for it. We all volunteered for various roles. I wanted to be the family, so I could pretend to cry (ever the actress!). We had someone else to be the choir and another for the pallbearer (don't need but one for a matchbox with a baby chick in it). We needed someone to preach the funeral and thought Eloise's father would be the perfect candidate since he played the organ at their church. He refused. We were upset but found a replacement. The funeral was dramatic and grand and is something that I've discovered many other Southern children have played. I'm not so sure about other parts of the country, but then funeral home etiquette here allows for it to be a social occasion as well as a time to offer support and condolences.

After a while we were ready for another funeral, but nothing else had died. One of the older ones suggested that we kill a bee and then have a funeral for it. Made sense to us. So we caught a bee, put it in a jar, but didn't punch holes in the top they way we did for lightning bugs. It takes a while for a bee to die that way and would have been much more merciful if we'd stepped on it. In retrospect, I realized how cruel that was, but for those of us who had been stung by bumblebees, we didn't seem to mind. We watched the jar for days to check the progress of the bee's death. Yes, it's macabre, but there is a dark side to Southerners I'm not sure I can explain. Maybe one of my other blogmates can.

The bee died, and we had an elaborate funeral for him. Somehow we tired of funerals and didn't have another one. Perhaps it was too mafia-like to go to a funeral of someone we had killed. I don't know. Maybe we moved on to something else. That was the day we got our first television. Yes, kids, I was a child before TV and remember playing outside all day and into the evening. I was probably around seven or eight years old. We would just turn it on to watch certain shows we wanted to see and then turn it off again. It took it a while to warm up, and there was a test pattern on it when the stations were off the air. Everything was in black and white. It was a novelty but not something we kept on or watched all the time. I do remember Howdy Doody, Hopalong Cassidy, Doodles Weaver, Spike Jones, and other shows, but those are for another post. For now, I remember that we got our first television the day of the bee funeral.

When I told this story to students, I generally got reactions and comments from them about how cruel I was. Lots of kidding followed, especially by Challenge Class student Ben Blankenship, who presented me with this gift of bees in a jar. Thanks, Ben!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dressing Down up North

Joy and I were talking the other day and she instructed me to enter my thoughts on living in exile. Since I always do what Joy says, I will begin with my "favorite" pet peeve. First let me say that I willingly came north upon marriage. This is only because I had no idea what I was giving up. Twenty years ago my future husband drove to Memphis and kidnapped me. (That's another story). For now suffice it to say that I ended up in Chicago. Chicago is a pleasant vibrant city. Unfortunately from October to May it is also the coldest place on earth outside of the arctic circle. If you don't believe me just go up there for Christmas. Of course I did not know this at the time of my abduction. So on my birthday in January I put on what a Southerner thinks of as warm clothes and prepared to go out for dinner with my beloved. Picture it: one Black Southern woman standing on the El platform in a skirt, tights and a wool coat. No hat. By the time we arrived at the restaurant I was a fudgescicle. I "insisted" that my very frugal husband hail a cab to take us home.

Not to worry, though. After 10 years in Chicago my husband relocated us to his home town in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is further east and south. We were leaving the prairie! Sigh. There's one thing you need to know about Pittsburgh. Noone dresses here. I mean noone. Not even the Black women dress. This is disturbing on so many levels. I realized I was in some parallel sartorial universe when I went to a play in one of the beautiful theaters bequeathed to the city by one of their many robber baron benefactors. I looked around and people were wearing jeans, and even sweats. I'm not talking about those cute matching track suits either, I'm talking about honest God gray sweat pants. It was 8:00 on a weekend evening, so I cannot even fathom what possible excuse these people could have had.

Being an open minded person, I thought that maybe I was being too harsh. Perhaps the theater had designated this as a casual night and I had missed the memo, maybe these people meant to go to the Steelers game. I was ready to believe anything in order to avoid the possibility that I had landed in a place where people did not know what to wear when they left the house. After 10 years here, I'm sorry to report that my first impression was more than correct. Just last weekend I ventured out to the theater once again. Having lived here a while I dressed down. Since it was the 5:30 show I wore a pair of black pants and a brocade jacket. It didn't help. My husband now sees my reactions to what people are wearing as part of the evening's entertainment. I can refrain from commenting in public (I am still Southern) but when we get home, I just have to say something. I try not to, but it's just too much. Since we have a daughter, I have had to work really hard to instill the proper values in her around this issue. Trips down home and lots of supervised shopping have helped.

The way people dress is so bad that even the merchants have given up. Last summer I had to do a show down home. I needed an outfit for the second half, something simple and elegant. I had to go shopping in Nashville in order to find anything suitable. My other recourse has been catalogues. It's not just dressy clothes, either. People don't know what to wear to work! I,ve seen teachers in capri pants and house shoes, secretaries in fishnet stockings and spike heels, receptionists in torn jeans and sales people in lord knows what. There are two types of business dress here: sloppy and wildly inappropriate. I finally knew I had to leave when I tried to sell some business suits to a consignment store. One was a $400.00 Mark Shale wool suit in Olive green. It was in perfect condition and I was only selling it because I will never be that size again. I had another Mark Shale suit that had a cropped jacket and knee length skirt that I took by as well. I had purchased both of them when I worked in Chicago where people actually wear clothes to work. I had both suits cleaned, and took them to an upscale consignment shop. The woman told me that she couldn't sell anything like that in Pittsburgh because "women here don't dress like that". I finally gave the clothes to Goodwill. As my husband and I plan our retirement, my one requirement is that we move someplace where the women are familiar with the little black dress. Every time I see a woman in a little black dress here, I know that she's either obscenely wealthy or from out of town. I must admit that my standards have fallen since I've moved here, and I often take advantage of my surroundings to cheat on the clothing thing. It's a slippery slope. I just have one request: should anyone see me sitting in nice restaurant in a stained sweatshirt please organize an intervention!