Wednesday, June 23, 2021

J Is For Jeremy


Jeremy was my student back in about 1987. He was part of an English 10B class, or sophomore basic English. In that level of English, students were not college-bound; they could have mild to serious reading deficiencies; they were often discipline problems; their attendance could range from perfect to chronic absenteeism, and coaches loved it for athletes. Teachers were urged to make each day a complete lesson so that any kid coming in on any day wouldn't feel like he had missed anything. He could pick right up and get to work, completing it in class and turning it in for a grade.

I found quickly that a routine worked well. Mondays were vocabulary days; Tuesdays were reading and answering question days; Wednesdays were grammar days, etc. The students loved knowing ahead of time what to expect, and they thrived. The class that Jeremy was in was a nice group of kids who got along well and liked each other and me. We had a mutual respect.

Jeremy asked me on the first day of class if he could sit in the front row. He explained that his father and he felt it kept him attentive, and I obliged. He was tall, with long legs and a basketball player's body. I often had to navigate those outstretched legs as I wrote on the board at the front of the class and talked. "If those legs get any longer, I'm going to put you by the door and watch you trip people in the hallway," I used to say. He'd grin and blush a little under his freckles.

He was a good-looking kid, mixed race, his skin the colour of coffee with too much milk, brown eyes, an impeccable fade, and the kind of lanky, loose body that was born to be athletic. His smile was wide, winning, yet shy-looking somehow. He was a hard worker who could have a short fuse if he got frustrated.

One day a new student was added to the class. He arrived late, and I could see by his swagger and demeanour that he was going to upset our community, or at least try. Nonetheless, I greeted him warmly, accepted his pass, and assigned him a seat. Immediately, the rest of the class began to react to him, and not very positively, by rolling their eyes and mumbling under their breath.

"Here's what we're doing," I said, handing him a book and a copy of the worksheet. "If you need anything, just let me know."

"Shit, I don't need nothin'. I just got out of Indian River. This is my class now. You--" 

Quick as anything, Jeremy was up and out of his seat. "This is Ms. D's class. You're gonna treat her with respect. I don't care about where you were or why you were in prison. If you're in here, it's Ms. D's class, period. You don't like it, you can leave. And there's lots of us can help you."

I'd like to say that I immediately took charge of the situation, but I stood there, open-mouthed and stunned for a moment. The whole class had turned toward the offender, staring him down. Jeremy was still standing. After a moment I grabbed an incident report and started writing and said to the new student, "I think you'd better head down to the office. That's enough for today." 

He stood up, remarked that he was just about to leave anyway, and walked out the door. Another student took the incident report to the office, and I never saw that kid again.

In the aftermath Jeremy apologized for standing up and speaking out of turn. "But no way was I gonna let him disrespect you!" Others spoke up indignantly as well. The best thing was that they all wanted to keep our class dynamic as it was. 

Jeremy tried out for basketball and made the JV team and went on to play Varsity as well. His dad was a fixture in our school. He was an involved parent, making sure Jeremy was doing well and keeping the grades up, staying out of trouble. 

For many kids like Jeremy at our high school, it's tough to get into college. Passing the ACT and/or the SAT is a huge barrier. Then, affording college is another hurdle. Athletic scholarships help, but even then, they're often to small, faraway colleges that take them a long way from their families. That's often an insurmountable obstacle, especially when the colleges aren't very diverse.

I lost track of Jeremy after his senior year. I had my second baby, and life got so busy. The next thing I knew, I was reading his name in the newspaper (June 27,1991), but not for basketball. He was arrested for the death of a man at a gas station. The man had been beaten so brutally that he had died from his injuries; the newspaper said that it was a drug deal gone wrong. He was twenty years old.

Jeremy, I later found out from someone who had been in that English class, had gotten involved with drug dealers. It was the easiest and fastest way to make money. He was twenty years old. He's fifty now, and he's in prison for the rest of his life. 

My heart broke when I read that story in the newspaper. How could he? I wondered. What happened to him? What went so terribly wrong?

Sometimes I think that what I did for thirty years of my life didn't make a damn bit of difference. But I realize that I'm a tiny part of a huge environment. Jeremy deserves punishment, of course, but I mourn for him nonetheless.

Monday, June 14, 2021

I Is For Ice Cream

About a hundred years ago when I was in elementary school, our class went on a field trip to The Home Dairy, where we observed milk processing and bottling. After that, we all got to order an ice cream cone and sit outside on a little curb in front of the building. Imagine a long row of little first- or second-graders, all sitting down with single dips of chocolate or vanilla ice cream at their faces. Brown, white, brown, white, all the way down the line. Suddenly, a vivid orange flecked with yellow disrupts the sedate pattern. That, dear friends, was me, the only little classmate to order her (and her father's) favourite flavour, orange pineapple.

My dad used to take us to Home Dairy once in a while, and they had terrific ice cream, homemade and scooped generously. They had lots of flavours, and a neat art deco building. There was no indoor seating because they were primarily a processing plant, but their ice cream business did well. I can also remember a couple of times when my scoop fell right off immediately upon my first lick. After that, he used to take the first lick of my scoop himself and press his tongue down hard on top of the scoop to make sure it was set well into the cone. I watched and learned, soon doing that myself whenever I got a cone of hard scooped ice cream.

My taste in ice cream has changed many times over the years, and I doubt that I'd like orange pineapple very much now. I used to like mint chocolate chip ice cream, too, but now even the thought of it makes me shudder. Same with caramel in or on ice cream. For some reason, I am anti-caramel. Maybe it's a case of being ill shortly after having it and having a bad association. I don't know.

For a long time I was a huge fan of Ben & Jerry's ice creams and their sinful chunkiness. Those are ice creams you actually chew. There's a lot of extras in there! Now, I just see it as Too Much. I want ice cream, not a bunch of other stuff mucking about in there. 

Perhaps I am an Ice Cream Purist. I'd rather pay more for good, smooth ice cream in small containers and feel the richness of all that butterfat. I don't eat ice cream all that often, so I don't feel too guilty when I do. I like Haagen Dazs very much, but they don't have my all-time favourite flavour, chocolate marshmallow. For that, I have to slum a little and buy Turkey Hill, a very good brand despite not being a premium ice cream. Haagen Dazs does have an addictive chocolate peanut butter flavour that makes me forget myself and chocolate marshmallow, however; I've been known to eat the whole pint once or twice. Not recommended. Especially before bed.

The little ice cream and pizza place on the way to the lakehouse has very good soft-serve ice cream. (And chocolate is back! as of Memorial Weekend.) Unlike Dairy Queen's "ice cream," it does not make me double over with terrible gas cramps. The best soft-serve is still frozen custard, however, and if you've never had it, you're missing something wonderful. 

When I was little, I was also enamored of sherbet, which is not, of course, ice cream. I think I loved it mostly because of its lovely colours, then because it tasted so fruity. I still love fruity sorbets, especially mango and lemon. So refreshing! (And yes, it drives me nuts when people pronounce it SHER-BERT, tossing an extra R in there for no apparent reason.)

Do you have a specific childhood memory of Ice cream? What is your favourite flavour?


Wednesday, June 02, 2021

H Is For Hair


An article I read not too long ago proposed that most women cycle among three hairstyles. They don't stray from these three, and if they do, they try to make the errant haircut look like one of the three styles they are more comfortable with. 

I absolutely get that. 

Every so often, I used to get a restless fussiness about my hair, usually in the late spring, and I'd decide to Try Something New And Short(er). This almost always resulted in either A) Disaster or B) Immediate Regret the next morning when I'd try to style it myself and my hair would refuse to cooperate. I'd call my stylist and book a recut, or more often, I'd sit in front of the bathroom mirror with Rick at my side and point to wayward hunks of recalcitrant hair while he used his barber scissors and tried to Do Something. These unhappy incidents are all duly recorded here in my archives someplace, of course.

I've been at war with my hair for more than fifty years. Ever since my mother first decided that I would have long, long hair that she would braid every morning, my hair has been almost a separate entity. I wanted to wear it long and loose; that was not an option. And like most people with straight, straight hair, I longed for naturally curly hair. I remember watching The Wizard of Oz with particular longing:  Judy Garland had dark hair like mine, and she wore it in the most beautiful curls. That (and those red ruby slippers) nearly killed me with envy.

Remember the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott? In it, the sister Jo has her hair cut off short and boyishly in order to sell it for twenty-five dollars. She wants to raise money so that her mother can bring their father from the war and nurse him at home.  When Jo reveals her shorn head, one of them cries out, "Oh, Jo! How could you? Your one beauty." I read that book when I was about eight years old, and that quote stuck with me. Your hair is part of your beauty and your femininity. And it's not like history and the media didn't agree.

"Nance," Rick will say, after I've gone on a tirade about my dissatisfaction with my hair, "I think your hair looks nice." And because I have been working on Accepting Compliments Graciously Without Negating Them, I try to simply thank him. Without sighing and rolling my eyes and saying something like, "Oh, Rick. What the hell do you know? Don't you see how flat it looks? Do you know how much time I spent with the round brush, and it looks like all I did was roll out of bed after sleeping for fifteen hours on this one side of my head?" 

It's not easy.

Why can't our culture be one in which women shave their heads and write clever slogans or cute drawings on them in Sharpie markers? Or have haircuts like men, who mostly walk into some place and don't really care all that much because It Will Grow Out In Two Weeks And Look The Same Anyway? 

My eldest granddaughter is 19. She dyes her hair all different colours, sometimes several at once. My son Sam's girlfriend walked into her stylist and said, "I'm sick of messing with my hair all the time and trying to make it something it's not. Give me something short and trendy that suits my hair." And he did and it's awesome. My son Jared's girlfriend has wonderful wild curly hair that descends in spirals and makes me want a crazy perm. 

But I know better. I'm currently on #2 of my 3 Usual Hairstyles. And I'm actually having a Good Hair Day. 

That's today, however; tomorrow could (and probably will be) an entirely different story.  Talk to me of all things Hair in Comments.


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