Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Review -- These is My Words:The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

After negotiating my first year of retirement and reentry into a more social life, last fall I decided to rejoin the local branch of the American Association of University Women, a group to which I had belonged about 20 years ago. The group offers a number of interest groups, including two different book clubs, both of which soon will be selecting reading lists for the summer and 2014-2015 membership year. As I was searching my shelves for books I might recommend, I came across this gem of a book, These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, written by Nancy E. Parker, a book representing Arizona on my Fifty States in Fiction Challenge.

Written in epistolary form, These Is My Words is a fictionalized accounting of the life of Ms Parker's great-grandmother, Sarah Agnes Prine, the sole surviving daughter of foot-loose parents who as children had traveled along the Oregon Trail and then as adults migrated to the New Mexico Territories and began horse ranching. We meet Sarah at age 17 as she and her family are driving their herd of horses across the New Mexico desert to settle in the greener pastures of San Angelo, Texas. The trail ride is arduous; Sarah's younger brother Clover is snake-bit and dies, the wagon train is attacked by Apaches, villainous outlaws appear, and just as the party is nearing journey's end, a band of marauding Comanches steals their herd of horses. Sarah's father has a heart attack and dies, her mother has a nervous breakdown,  and Sarah and her brothers must make a plan to care for themselves and their mama for the rest of her days.

What does the Prine family do? They fill their wagons  with fruit and nut trees and make their way back across the New Mexico Territory to Arizona, this time as part of a wagon train escorted by Army troops under the leadership of Captain Jack Elliot, a fictional character loosely based on the author's own husband. The family eventually settles on the banks of Cienega Creek near the Army fort at Tucson where Sarah marries a man she has known from childhood. It is not a marriage of deep love or passion; and when her husband Jimmy dies, she is filled not so much with grief at his death, but with guilt that she cannot mourn his passing.  

Sarah Prine's father once taught her, "A nice girl never goes anywhere without a loaded gun and a big knife."  Had she not followed these paternal words of wisdom, we may never have been given the opportunity to read about this larger than life heroine of These Is My Words. She faced the travails of pioneer life with spunk and determination, saying "Well, honey, you might live over it, but you won't look like much."

Ah, but don't feel too sorry for Sarah.  These Is My Words is, after all is said and done, a love story, worthy of being passed from friend to friend to friend because, in the words of Sarah Prine, "Why any woman does that. A girl has got to get along."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rice Krispy Treat

On Monday, he watched ten bears marching across the mustard yellow field,
one falling off the edge each time he crossed the boundary line.
He needed just one bear left to earn the favored Krispy treat,
but alas no bear was left standing.

On Wednesday, he watched ten bears marching across the mustard yellow field,
one falling off the edge each time he crossed the boundary line.
The blue line called him, enticing him to step beyond the pale,
but he stopped, with foot hovering .

The afternoon ended and the counting began.
One, two, three, four, five,
six, seven, eight bears had not fallen into the abyss.
The Krispy treat was won.

"I love you," he said,
for the very first time.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pencils, Intestines, Testicles, Mammaries, and Ovaries, Oh My

So what did a gnawed pencil and chewed metal eraser band have to do with mammaries and ovaries you ask? I had three girls in my classroom that year.  One of them had developed a phobia about one of my classroom paraprofessionals who was rather well-endowed, if you get my drift. This particular young lady would glance at the assistant and then immediately cups her hands under her own small breasts and push them up. Just several weeks before, this assistant had been her favorite person in the classroom but  she would no longer go near her. This same child would not look at her own face in a mirror, but had begun to search the room for reflective surfaces where she could catch glimpses of her chest. So, with him (he of the "broken testicles) absent from the classroom, it seemed to be the perfect time for "The Girl Talk." We sat around the table and talked about how when we become teenagers our bodies change, we grow hair in private places, we begin to have funny feelings in our private parts and we begin to grow breasts and they might hurt sometimes or feel funny but it's not okay to touch them at school, we start having periods when blood will come from our bodies, but it's okay, it had happened to me and to my assistants and their own mothers and would happen to all of their girlfriends too, that growing up to be a woman is cool.

What do you think was the one thing they really wanted to know about all of this  -- will HE (of the broken testicles) have periods too?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pencils, Intestines, and Testicles, Oh My

We knew as we watched him get off the bus that his day was already on that slippery downhill slope; his body was in constant motion, feet moonwalking, arms gyrating, lips moving as he belted out the words to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Mania had a firm grip on his shirt collar and we were all in for a good shaking that day.

In my life skills classroom, Fridays were meant to be that day when we unwound from the rigors of the week. We spent the first hour of the day wrapping up unfinished business -- quick assessments of progress towards meeting IEP goals. That particular morning the students were expected to complete independent work at their workstations while awaiting their turn for spelling and dictation assessments at the computer. He balanced his chair on two legs, occasionally only one, complaining loudly, "Why do I have to do this stupid work?"  When it was his turn to work at the computer, he came bouncing over, sat down a moment then jumped up and spat something into a nearby wastebasket. I'd remember that event several hours later. Of the four students taking spelling tests that morning, he was the only one to spell each of his words correctly (hurray!) and the only one to type his dictation sentences with all the words run together iamafraidofthedark, iputmytoysaway, mydadsaidno, icancatchtheball, westandforthepledge, ialwaystrytodomybest, didyouaskforacookie, iateallmydinnerlastnight -- his mind was racing as fast as his body. I went to his desk to check the status of his independent work; and it was there I discovered THE PENCIL, gnawed into 2 pieces with the pink eraser scattered in crumbs across the floor. Aha, I thought; he was chewing a bit of eraser and spit it out, knowing that he would be in trouble. Destruction of work materials was one of the behaviors which earned him a ticket to the PASS room, a very structured, more restrictive environment than the life skills classroom; so, off he went.

It was about 2 hours later, as we sat in the cafeteria eating lunch, that a scary thought crossed my mind -- where was the silvery band that cupped the pink eraser to the end of the yellow pencil? I returned to the classroom and began to sift through the several wastebaskets scattered around the room. No, not in the basket by his desk, but YES, nestled in the wads of discarded tissue in the wastebasket near the computer was a small piece of crushed metal, molar stamped and crumbling. It was the band of metal that held that pink eraser to the yellow pencil. I carried the evidence to the PASS teacher and discussed with him my concerns that perhaps he had cut his mouth or swallowed some of the metal that would later irritate his intestines. The nurse came and examined his mouth and tongue; she collected the remnants of the chewed pencil and metal band, placing them in a small plastic bag and then left to call his mother. In the midst of singing, "So, You've Had a Bad Day," he stopped. A look of panic crossed his face and he whispered, "Can I go to the nurse? I have to know, did I break my testicles?"

Friday, March 14, 2014

In Memory of Jordan Elaine

People often ask me if I have grandchildren.  I'm never quite sure how to answer that question. You see, I do have grandchildren, six beautiful granddaughters, but only five are living. Do I tell them about Jordan, my very first grandchild,  who died nine short days after her birth,  or do I keep her hidden in my heart?

In a perfect world, Jordan would have turned twenty-three yesterday. Perhaps she would have celebrated her birthday at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, eating greasy fried food from the carnival midway and watching Maroon 5 in concert after the rodeo events were over.  Perhaps she would be planning her wedding to a man who loves her more than the sun in the sky, or cuddling her newborn child, or enjoying a myriad of other life events.

Instead, she lives  in my imagination as a toddler, squatted down to examine ants crawling up the sidewalk.  None of us ever held her in our arms until she fell asleep, never nuzzled our noses against her warm baby neck and smelled that sweet baby smell. We held her for the first time after she was gone.

Twenty-three years, and still my heart aches. Should I tell people I have 6 beautiful granddaughters, or should  I keep her hidden?

I love you still, sweet baby.