Carpe Diem Haiku: Strangers

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I thought them all strang-

ers. Well, they surely seemed such.

Might I, too, be odd?

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You might find some “stranger” haiku at: Carpe Diem.

(Or…feel free to use the comments section to answer the question) 😉

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The Chastised Idle-ized

What be dat foolishness I hear tell comin’ outta’ yor mouth, child?!

Idle hands be dat ol’ devil’s work?! Dat what I hear you say?!

Whoo-whee. Why, no sir-ree. Can’t say dat strikes me as havin’ one tee-ninecy ounce o’ truth to it. Tweren’t dem dere hands who be decidin’ dat dey would or dey would not do dat ol’ work today – or what dey should or dey should not be a’doin’ instead.

Nuh-uh. Now don’t you go a’foolin’ yoself ‘bout dat, young sir – or tryin’ ta’ fool anybody else dat’ll listen, fo dat matter. ‘Specially not me! Ya’ hear? Somebody’s been a’fillin’ yor head full o’ some grand-i-ose nonsense, dey have. And, let me tell you sumptin’ else. I can smell it from here, I can.

Now just when did yorn feet ever once tell yorn head where dey was a’goin’ to take it? And on which occasion did dat well-educated mouth o’ yorn decide ta’ speak fo itself dat it didn’t get yor breeches a good heatin’ up?

Why, Laud, have mercy, no! Child, don’t you know dat be why de Good Laud, hisself, be a’givin’ you dat mind fo you ta’ be a’usin’ fo yoself? Why, dat way, dat ol’ devil – den, he can’t be a’usin’ it fo you!

So don’t you be a’goin’ and blamin’ dem dere poor ol’ hands o’ yorns, ya’ hear? Dat’s right. ‘Cause I tell ya’, sir – dem dere hands…dey be downright in-no-cent!

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Throwing this one in the Cajun-ized pot this week and letting the spices simmer just an itty-bitty-bit to serve up for the Trifecta Week Sixty Writing Challenge. Be sure to follow the trike link to vote (or to enter your own piece). No, there aren’t any prizes. It’s all in good fun – and great exercise for the brain…so it won’t become this week’s word…

IDLE
1: lacking worth or basis : vain <idle chatter> <idle pleasure>
2: not occupied or employed: as
a : having no employment : inactive <idle workers>
b : not turned to normal or appropriate use <idle farmland>
c : not scheduled to compete <the team will be idle tomorrow>
3: a : shiftless, lazyb : having no evident lawful means of support

Please remember:
  • Your response must be between 33 and 333 words.
  • You must use the 3rd definition of the given word in your post.
  • The word itself needs to be included in your response.
  • You may not use a variation of the word; it needs to be exactly as stated above.
  • Only one entry per writer.
  • Trifecta is open to everyone.  Please join us.

This week’s challenge is community-judged.

  • For the 12 hours following the close of the challenge, voting will be enabled on links.
  • In order to vote, return to this post where stars will appear next to each link.  To vote, simply click the star that corresponds with your favorite post.
  • You can vote for your top three favorite posts.
  • Voting is open to everyone. Encourage your friends to vote for you, if you wish, but please don’t tell them to vote on a number.  The numbering of the posts changes regularly, as authors have the ability to delete their own links at any time.
  • You have 12 hours to vote.  It’s not much time, so be diligent! We’ll send out reminders on Twitter and Facebook.
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Teacher’s Pet

Michelle from WordPress pressed: Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?

In a time when teachers have ridiculous outcome expectations flung upon them in the midst of conditions where it becomes nearly impossible for many of them to actually teach, I’m so glad you asked this question, Michelle. I am so long overdue in giving out some necessary thank yous…


“Give me a child and I’ll shape him into anything.”
-B.F. Skinner


If I had a time machine, there are two classrooms I would surely enjoy going back to revisit now that I have a meta-cognitive awareness of why the teachers who conducted sessions within them were two among my very short list of favorites. Though these teachers taught me at extremely different times in my K-12 educational experience and though their subject matters were quite different, these ladies both possessed common factors in their instructional approaches. As a matter of fact, my admiration and respect has grown immensely more, if I thought that were even possible, in my realization that these women had a firm awareness of their learning theory preferences and went to great lengths to assure they actively engaged their learners in these philosophies and practices.

Faye Duke was my third grade teacher. In the 1970’s, this sweet, bubbly, petite blonde, who wore modern polyester mini-dresses well enough that all the boys in our class still have a crush on her to this day, looked as if she should not yet be out of high school herself. I suppose an active classroom of 8 to 9-year-olds could have made a late breakfast of her, but she kept us far too busy in activities from the time we walked in until the time we left each day for us to dream up any trouble (short of a couple of stolen cheek kisses at the bottom row of the back bookshelf).

How the 3rd grade boys saw Miss Duke when she walked into the classroom.Image Courtesy of CBC Player Web site

How the 3rd grade boys saw Miss Duke when she walked into the classroom.
Image Courtesy of CBC Player Web site

Miss Duke’s philosophy obviously included the importance of establishing and engaging learners as a community. Though our curriculum was rigorous, including learning our multiplication tables and how to write in cursive, we never seemed to have the sense that we were slaving away in school. Because she vibrantly and excitedly approached every new topic as an adventure, we believed her, enjoying every moment of what we accomplished together. We learned our telephone manners with desks facing one another, authentic telephones in hand. We learned to set extracurricular goals together, such as helping one another prepare for the upcoming spelling bee, putting together a mini-choir for our school’s talent show, and quizzing one another on newfound math skills. We created our own poetry and illustrated our own stories; and, in some aging teacher’s attic, there may yet be a copy of a story about Roxy the Rabbit, written and illustrated in an educator’s magazine by a 9-year-old elementary student named Jody Love. The pages of the magazine may be faded, but the social learning environment set up by Miss Duke has not. Though I left that elementary school the following year and it has now been many forgotten a few years since, I have reconnected with many of my prior third grade classmates, via Facebook; and we still vividly recall our experiences from that year, enthusiastically sharing them with one another.

Sylvia Wade entered my life as I began my sophomore year of high school.  My new Spanish I instructor was tall and willowy in shape, with dark, wavy hair and cinnamony-brown skin. As a woman of Puerto Rican heritage teaching in a predominantly white southern middle-class school, no one would have ever thought to question her authority in her position anymore than her expertise in her subject matter. Differences were only beautiful comparisons to be esteemed in her classroom. She had a way of easily blending everyone into a like-minded community that could have the power to end all prejudice in the world if her magical formula could somehow be bottled and distributed. With immensely warm cheerfulness, she conducted her class sessions with a welcoming sense of humor that caused people to look forward to being in her presence. During my two years of Spanish with Ms. Wade, I learned to conjugate verbs and carry on conversations (well, sort of) without ever feeling as if the tasks were mundane or too far out of my ability’s grasp. As her students, we performed quite a bit of role play, eventually getting beyond the embarrassed giggling (okay, not always) to making pragmatic preparations for the day when we might take a future Senior Spanish trip with our beloved, bilingual teacher to Mexico. (Unfortunately, I left a year too soon and missed that trip – but I came to realize the educational journey was the most important trip I’d made.)

Ms. Wade’s missed runway calling (had she not answered a higher one to teach).Photo courtesy of: http://aloftyexistence.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/top-black-models-of-the-decade-2000-2010/

Ms. Wade’s missed runway calling (had she not answered a higher one to teach).
Photo courtesy of: http://aloftyexistence.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/top-black-models-of-the-decade-2000-2010/

Judgment was never attached to who could or couldn’t roll their r’s or how badly we might have interpreted during our extemporaneous exercises. Rather, we were praised for our attempts as we all laughed together, helping one another stumble through the transition of forming Spanish words from English thoughts, self-assessing our improvement as we went. I remember a surprise visit from our principal once, who entered a classroom full of laughter with a stern expression on his face. Ms. Wade approached him warmly, patted him on the back, and teasingly explained to her class that our principal thought all we did was play in there. We were suddenly proud to be able to showcase our learning so we might assure him otherwise. That was the only smile I ever saw from him during his tenure as my principal. He, too, seemed pleased with what was being accomplished there.

I’ve recently reflected on the brilliance of how these two women inspired me and others like me to believe we weren’t getting a traditional scholastic experience. They tricked us, if you will, into learning more than we realized in what appeared to be an informal, social setting. Furthermore, our retention was obviously greatly enhanced, as I cannot describe many other classrooms in which I have attended from those early years or remember many other teachers to the extent that I am able with these two, nor have I maintained many other peer relationships from those years in which we discuss other teachers to the extent that has been so with these two instructional matrons. In essence, these women have become ghost mentors to model in my own instructional career. It would be a natural extension of that admiration, then, for me to reflect upon and enact these associated theoretical beliefs and learning philosophies.

In revisiting my two ghost mentors, Miss Duke and Ms. Wade, I readily subscribe to the notion that learners are more greatly impacted by delivery related to context rather than content. It is within a carefully planned and engaging environment that a learner has the ability to combine cognitive, behavioral, affective and social learning domains to make a lasting connection with the content being introduced or reinforced. Attention to this procedural aspect of obtaining knowledge likely enhances the attaining of conceptual knowledge. Both of my ghost mentors actively engaged me with application in what I was learning. They gave me glimpses of how I would procedurally interact with such content in future contexts, aspiring me to achieve greater goals (such as being published or traveling to another country) than I might otherwise have thought possible for myself. These women were change agents, bringing innovation to the classroom that learners eagerly adopted because it was radically different from the boring means by which we had otherwise been forced to endure instruction as recipients of a sometimes mundane educational process. The only contextual meaning of social education we otherwise understood was being packed together into a classroom of crammed-into desks and told not to communicate with one another – else, we would be negatively disciplined. Such a structure of formal public education did not truly equate to social learning, the element that seems to be key in the motivation I experienced in my then-indiscernible apprenticeship with my ghost mentors.

These two teachers were also active facilitators within their settings, purposely leaving their own desk space to become actively engaged within their designed learning communities. Miss Duke surrounded us with her lively presence, even singing with our little choir on stage to support us. Ms. Wade immersed us into another culture, taking her classes with her to another land, whether she was helping us bumble through interpretations in our classroom with our southern accents or leading groups of seniors to Mexico (to roll r’s in mixed accents). Both of these ladies created the means for positive affective synaptic connections to learning, praising us when we were right or praising us for our attempts, so we would have the courage to tackle the problem set before us once again. They brought their learners into a Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky), teaching us to be facilitators of one another, operating as resource exchange agents in our problem solving development, providing motivation through stimulated emotional satisfaction. This, too, is the sort of community in which I want my own students to develop as they make choices to engage and reside within it.

How can you not like love a teacher who strives to help you like what you’ve accomplished in yourself?

In the words of Sylvia Wade, herself…Con mucho cariño. -j

A Resolute New Year

New years resolution

Need a worthwhile resolution for the New Year?

Resolve to save a life for just $10. 

No More Malaria Gift Link

No More Malaria Gift Link

Eventually, the life could become your own.

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One of this week’s WordPress Daily Prompts was this:

Franz Kafka said, “we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.” What’s the last thing you read that bit and stung you?

The last recent thing I’ve read that’s bit and stung me is that nearly 1 million people are dying annually from being bitten by malaria-infested mosquitoes, a large majority of them being children. And, truthfully, that really does bite! 

We’re not talking fictional horror here. We’re talking about precious little faces that are very real to me – little ones who have survived a war-torn world only to face continued daily threats that could realistically be wiped out if enough people cared to make a difference. The cost is even ridiculously low. And, yet, few people are willing to respond. In further honesty, that reality stings.

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Here’s the BUZZ:

Malaria is not a disease that only occurs in third world countries.

It’s not a disease that’s been eradicated.

As a matter of fact, my own grandmother suffered from the malaria parasite here in the United States. Once a person acquires malaria, it can be treated, but there is no cure. Outbreaks may occur throughout that person’s life, with malaria being responsible for many deaths, particularly in children under the age of 5.

3.3 billion people live in areas where this disease is a constant threat. 

The “elimination” of malaria within developed countries, such as the U.S. and European ones, does not mean that it no longer exists. In the U.S., this “elimination” definition went into place circa 1950, through the impact from spraying and improved drainage. Yet, malaria still has the capability of affecting residents even of developed countries. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates approximately 1,500 cases in the U.S. annually.

Outbreaks generally come from either mosquito-borne transmission, “airport” malaria (whereby mosquitoes survive from one country to another on a plane), congenital transmission (mother to child, during pregnancy or birth), and blood transfusions. Don’t fool yourself into feeling too safe. The CDC also explains that there are still ample numbers of the same types of mosquitoes around who created malaria problems for us within our past century.

In under-developed tropical/sub-tropical countries, malaria can run rampant. The largest worldwide malaria burden is in Africa, where 90% of malaria-related deaths occur. The CDC explains the reasons it is difficult to contain the disease there as:

  • an efficient mosquito that transmits the infection,

  • a high prevalence of the most deadly species of the parasite,

  • favorable climate,

  • weak infrastructure to address the disease, and

  • high intervention costs that are difficult to bear in poor countries.

Prevention efforts include spraying, mosquito nets and education. Treatment efforts include getting medicines to the medical clinics and communication efforts to get people to them. Our nation, along with others, have assisted in funding many of the spraying efforts, and I’ve read articles recently explaining that if such efforts get reduced, we will go back many years in our worldwide efforts towards eradication.

The Imagine No Malaria campaign was put together by some strong and dedicated partners – partners that have no need to skim your money off the top before it goes to meet greater needs – including the United Nations Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The World Health Organization, the people of the UMC, and others. No one is a stronger partner than those individuals willing to give to this effort, though.

I can’t imagine that $10 is too much to ask to save someone – particularly a young child – to either save a life, in general, or to greatly improve a person’s quality of life.

Will you resolve to make that difference?

Related:

Daily Prompt: Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution that you kept?

Attitude of Gratitude – A Guilty Little Pleasure

One of the Daily Prompts this week is:  Tell us about a guilty pleasure that you hate to love.

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One week before Christmas…

Gosh, I just HATE that I loved getting up at 5:30 a.m. this morning when I had taken the day off and could’ve slept in.

And I just HATE knowing that, even though I said I was doing it for someone else, in truth…
I get this extreme pleasure from testing God and seeing what He’s going do with it.

Yep, I said it. I know, what does that say about me?! The thing I was told my whole life not to do. Test God. Except I did find this one place in the bible where even God says to test Him. So, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I get this guilty little pleasure, this one day a year when I’m actually able to get away from work, to take Him up on His challenge. (Okay, maybe I’ve tested Him a few other times, but let’s let mangy dogs lie…)

You see, our church has a Title I elementary school next door to us – a school that doesn’t always have necessary enrichment resources to meet the needs of its students, a school whose parents may have limited practical resources to be involved there or sometimes even with their childrens’ homework. (Single parents often work multiple jobs to support multiple kids, you know.) When our church first got involved in how to help our next door neighbors, we realized there were three particular areas of concern where we could help: (1) provide some appropriate reading level resources; (2) provide some instructional supply needs; and (3) provide something else that was important to these children – a back-to-school celebratory gathering that the school’s resources could not accommodate.

We named our little project the “Open Hands” ministry, at the time an extension of our Church’s tagline: “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” We wanted these children to understand that we were trying to be the hands and feet of Christ, serving some practical needs with our prayerful hands, while also extending those hands in welcoming friendship in community with them.

Our community gathering, the Back-to-School Bash and Splash, has become epic (at least for me – and nearly 700 other people); but today – the day in which we visit just before the students leave for the holidays and provide a reading-level-appropriate book to each child at the school – is one of my favorite days of the year! I didn’t do it out of guilty pleasure the first year. I did it with my heart focused solely on those children. But that was the first year. We’ll call it the “pre-assessment” year, when I didn’t know any better…

All I knew was that, by my Christian beliefs, this was part of how I intended to celebrate Emmanuel coming into the world to be with us as humans. That’s one of the names given to the Christ child in prophesy – Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14); and it means “God with us.” It’s a great reminder to me, especially when life seems to be stinking out and all my joys seem to have been plundered, that God wants to draw near to me, to be in relationship with me. He wants me to know that He wants to be here. He understands.

“Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel…”
we Christians sing as His season draws nigh upon us.

playing_SantaSo as I entered the hallowed halls of that school building this morning, I took time to think of the many ways in which He’d shown Himself since I started to get to be a part of this several years ago. I calculated that many of the 5th graders who were completing their tenure at that school this year knew well of His arrival (since they were quick to tell us so today) – and of our arrival with the books. Those oldest students would have, in fact, received a visit and a book from us each and every year of their elementary life existence. They knew why we were there as we arrived! The teachers were ready for us too – many telling us that their students had been anxiously awaiting our arrival to their classes since they saw us come into the hallways, even peeping up from their work or out their doors occasionally. As we entered their classes, without exception, we were welcomed with warm, gracious and cheerful hearts. I reveled in this guilty pleasure!

But what, you ask, do I mean by me testing God? Well, I’ve come to realize, over the years, that I never know what to expect from these visits – not specifically anyway. What I do know is that I have to be present to receive His blessings. When I do show up and test Him with the big question, “What exciting blessing am I going to receive today?”, He simply tells me to be ready for it. I only know that I’m going to walk out that school door later that day with a heart overflowing in gratitude for the gifts I’ve been given. Yes, I know. I’m the one bearing the physical gifts of books. But the gifts I receive are so much greater (because it’s impossible for me to out-give God).

HUMC_ltrs

Evidence of the children’s gratitude

This year, as I sat on the wild-and-whimsical purple carpet of Ms. J’s reading center, spreading out books to be chosen and claimed, I didn’t realize the depth of gratitude I was going to receive in the unexpected hug of a tiny 7-year-old girl. I understood there was something special about this particular hug, something deeply heartfelt. It wasn’t until we had said our “Merry Christmases,” “You’re welcomes” and “Good-byes” that Ms. J caught us at the door to personally express her appreciation.

Ms. J told us how one of her children had gone home only a few days earlier to find her mom, no longer alive. She told us how that child had asked to come to school in the days before the funeral because that’s where she felt safe and loved. I asked if she would show me this child, though my heart already knew her before Ms. J pointed to a tiny, caramel-skinned girl in a flouncy blue skirt. Ms. J told me how, over the past few days, sometimes this little girl had stopped her work and come up to lay her head against her teacher’s shoulder. For anyone who believes a teacher’s calling is only to impart knowledge, I can’t think of anything further from the truth. Ms. J will be the teacher whom this little girl, “A,” remembers for making a positive impact for the rest of her life out of the quiet, responding care that would allow a little child to come gather love when needed.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.”
What greater calling is there than this?

I shared with Ms. J how I, too, lost my mother when I was a little girl and how “A” would be in my prayers because my heart ached for her to be without her mom during this holiday season and beyond. I also thanked Ms. J that “A” had her and caring classmates to feel safe around. But I still hurt for her loss. Isn’t that why the babe of Christmas Day truly came into this world? To bring us hope in the midst of our trials, our losses, our suffering. That’s the reason I get excited about Emmanuel – about God coming to be with me – and you – to suffer alongside us during our hurts, our doubts, our despairs, and our joys and victories. Even in the very worst times in my life, knowing that ‘Emmanuel’ has been with me brings me a great sense of peace – and gratitude.

Even Santa expresses gratitude.

Even Santa expresses gratitude.

Speaking of gratitude – I learned more about gratitude on my first visit to that elementary school than I ever could have imagined – not the children’s gratitude (though that was extraordinarily special); not even my own gratitude (though it could always use the boost) – but I learned about GOD’s gratitude towards us! Does that sound like a ridiculous claim?  Hard to believe, isn’t it? That the GOD of the Universe would actually take the time to express His gratitude to us – His creation.

That first year, delivering those books, we didn’t quite know how to be organized about what we were doing; a few of the teachers were wary of us as strangers roaming their hallways; and the children didn’t really know what to make of us (like they do now as the ‘seasoned book-receivers’ they have become!).  But one little boy answered an immediate prompting from his heart that will always remain in mine. Long after we had left his classroom, long after he and his classmates had said a verbal thank-you, he came racing out into the hallway with a torn, folded note in his hand and gave it to one of the gentlemen helping that day (along with a great big hug).

As we got ready to leave the school, standing at the school’s entrance, this gentleman handed me the note. (I just hate to tell you that I’m loving this moment of gloating over this once again.) I unfolded this tattered little piece of paper and stood there, speechless, tears forming in the corners of my eyes. You can make of it what you will, but I felt the grateful hug of my heavenly Father upon reading it that day.

The note simply said,

“Thank you. –Emmanuel”

Travel theme: Circles

The travel theme from Where’s My Backpack for this week was Circles.

I had a hard time deciding which direction I wanted to take this. I have so many pictures depicting families and good friends gathered ’round in circles that I liked so well. I just like the idea that people like to circle up, to bond, to be close together in the kind of unity that’s represented so well by that circular symbol.

But I finally decided, to be true to the “Travel Theme,” I’d think about some other symbols of unity (and, unfortunately, some dis-unity) to a couple of different groups from my travel time through the Holy Land.

Here, you quite prominently see the circular cap on the Dome of the Rock hovering above the wall of Old Jerusalem.

Here, you quite prominently see the circular cap on the Dome of the Rock hovering above the wall of Old Jerusalem, from my vantage point on the Mount of Olives.

Here is the commemorative birth site of Jesus in Bethlehem, prominently marked by a unified circle with a star surrounding it.

In Bethlehem, this marks the commemorative birth site of Jesus, prominently displayed by a unity circle with surrounding star.

This circular baptismal font lies in the Capernaum region, near the Sea of Galilee.

This circular baptismal font lies in the Capernaum region, near the Sea of Galilee.

This is "Mary's well" in Nazareth. With no abundance of other wells in the area, it's deemed the most likely spot where the angel was described to have come to her to announce her upcoming motherhood to Jesus.

This is “Mary’s well” in Nazareth. With no abundance of other wells in the area, it’s deemed the most likely spot where the angel was described to have come to her to announce her upcoming motherhood to Jesus. I was drawn to the way that it seemed to glow golden and was pleased that I could capture its essence in the photo.

And this is a baptismal remembrance being held at the Jordan River. It does serve as a great example of how people like to be circled in the unity of community, which is really what baptism is all about.

And this is a baptismal remembrance being held at the Jordan River. It does serve as a great example of how people like to be circled in the unity of community, which is really what baptism is all about.

To run around in circles through others’ themes on this topic, check out this Where’s My Backpack link.

Sidearm Throw: a.k.a. How a Southern Belle Potently Packs a Pirouetting Punch

“Open your mouth and close your eyes, and you will get a big surprise,” chanted Carol in a sweet tone, using her ‘I’m two years older and much wiser than you’ voice. Though I was hopeful for a piece of candy I was sure she was planning to share with me, I can at the very least attest that she wasn’t lying when she called what I got ‘a big surprise.’

Photo located at: True Vibes blog

My desiccated second grade tongue thereafter knew that, as light and fluffy as dandelion seeds appeared while floating gracefully across sporadic summer breezes, their taste was relatively bitter and didn’t as easily blow off a sticky, wet tongue. Why, I was as foul as the fluff balls flying out of my mouth – mad enough to ball up my two little fists as if I was going to use them. You see, Carol might have been older and she might have been taller, but I considered myself more athletically proficient. I came to this conclusion because (a) I was already in my second year of softball, (b) I could make foul shots on my basketball goal when allowed to move the line to where I wanted it to be, and (c) I had sat religiously with my dad through rounds of boxing matches being punched out on our television set. In contrast, Carol’s favorite sport was shopping with her mother every Saturday. Oh, and her dance recitals (tap, jazz, ballet, and anything else that required sparkly costumes and massive amounts of pictures) – these were responsible for the only exposure to arts and culture in my life. I know. Amazing how two girls who grew up next door to one another and rode to church together every Sunday for their entire one-digit lives and beyond could have such drastically different lifestyles, isn’t it?

But there were those strange and special moments when our interests did converge (or maybe collide). I was fascinated when Carol’s mother took a group of us to the curtained, paneled theater in town to see Gone with the Wind. I remember feeling reasonably satisfied, long after intermission when the blood flow had returned to my rear quarters, to hear Clark Gable, as Rhett Butler, utter his final words to Scarlett: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Though I wasn’t sure I bought that he necessarily meant it, that’s how I was personally feeling at the moment. I have since recanted and am thankful for that dose of Southern culture I was forced to swallow that day.

Clark Gable (as Rhett Butler) & Vivien Leigh (as Scarlett O’Hara) in Gone with the Wind

Speaking of swallowing…that reminds me of the beginning of my story and how Carol forced my 8-year-old self to swallow ripened dandelions on a stick that weren’t Gone with the Wind. This was another of those moments when we became more alike than I’d earlier suspected, as I found, in our collision, I wasn’t the only one making a fist. Back then, Carol was taller and she was older (okay, she’s still older), but she recognized that I was madder. Though she might not have understood the concept of dandelion-induced adrenaline, I’m guessing my reddened cheeks and stiffened body progressively plunging in her direction tipped her off to some potential threat.

My rapid onslaught came to an immediate halt, though, as I studied the fist she’d made – the one with her thumb tucked neatly against the palm of her hand, snuggled beneath her other four fingers. If that wasn’t odd enough, the moment she took a warning swing – the kind that says back off before I really decide to make contact – I fell out into full-blown laughter. Oh, I’d seen boxers make hook swings that came around from the side, but never in my lengthy 8 years of life had I witnessed anyone bring an entire arm back sideways from the shoulder cuff and come around, straight-armed, at a 180-degree angle. While wiping my tear-streaked face (tears caused from gut-busting guffawing), I tried to explain the problem to Carol with her swing and how she was leaving her entire body and face open to be assailed. At this, she became the one too angry to listen. She crossed her arms, swung her body around in a direction opposite mine, and stormed up to her house without another word (well, maybe she gracefully skipped a couple of times along the way).

Ashamedly, I must confess that I tried to start a few fights with her after that day, just so I could find out if her round-about side-armed throw could really do any damage. I had a hypothesis to test (even if I couldn’t pronounce that word with two missing front teeth). Just as I suspected, I became pretty successful in collecting my data. I discovered I could always either get out of the way in time or else, in a worse-case scenario, my upper back would take the brunt of the blow and I could still convince myself I was walking away unscathed. (Lest you think Carol was being a bully, I must speak up in her defense and admit I was ruthless in my scientific methodology; though, eventually, I was able to narrow it down to a couple of key phrases to reduce my efforts. I’m sure B.F. Skinner would’ve applauded my behavioral astuteness in the matter. ‘Brace face’ probably created the most rapid Pavlovian response.)

Essentially, by the time I’d reached 5th grade, I had no use for Carol’s side-armed throw in mock battle any more than I might have had use for a side-armed throw from my position at 3rd base (of which I’m certain our pitcher was most appreciative). I was convinced by neither’s effectiveness. Until one day…

There was a boy who was two years older than me who lived a couple of streets away. Some of the boys would come to our street occasionally for a game of backyard football or kickball because of the other boys on our street (and maybe one of the attractive teenage girls who always made a guest appearance). To assure enough players, it always ended up being a co-ed game in which at least one of my other friends of the tomboy-female persuasion and I would play. Carol often interceded as some sort of referee (though she knew nothing about football) because she was the tallest and the most mature in the group. Her reasoning seemed to suffice in solving many of our arguments and dilemmas.

So this boy (whom I’ll call John because that’s a rather common name – oh, and because it just happened to be his) decided that he would pick on me for whatever reason there was to do so that day (which I’ve managed to effectively block out over the years, but I promise that I didn’t call him ‘brace face’). The most likely reason I can’t remember any other detail is because of the one that stands out so vividly in my memory. John, standing what seemed to be a head taller than me, had followed me up to my driveway and was continuing to harass me. Carol wasted no time pursuing the situation, bringing her more mature reasoning and shape with her. At some point, it became obvious that neither 7th grade girly logic nor figure was going to resolve the matter. (I believe that point was when Carol prudently told John he should go home, and he haphazardly replied that she could make him.) My eyes widened in horror as I watched John take a threatening step towards Carol and saw Carol respond by tucking her thumb in under her fingers and cock her arm. I knew she was toast. But before I could get my own fists up and convince myself I could float like a butterfly (or maybe a dandelion seed) and sting like a bee (or maybe kick a shin), Carol was in the midst of delivering her package. Only this time, she didn’t swat at the air, an arm, or even an upper back. Her aim was tried and true – a full force, direct hit into…John’s face, in the exact spot where his braces resided beneath his now bloodied lip. I was in shock. Despite the fact that he’d helped her immensely by walking right into the blow, I couldn’t believe how effective it had actually been. As evidence, there was John, bent over, holding his lip, incredulously crying out in staccato phrases, “You hit me! My braces! I’m bleeding!” Then he turned and headed quickly for home, obviously succumbing to the reality that he had, indeed, been made to do so (just as he’d requested).

I had a newfound respect for the thumb tuck and the side-arm throw. (Not that I could ever bring myself to use this technique, mind you. I just no longer made fun of it or tried any further personal experiments concerning its effectiveness. I was convinced Carol wielded her weapon well.) Mostly, I had a newfound respect for the philosophy that you’d better not step onto hallowed friendship ground without expecting to endure the wrath of protection. Carol and I could pretend to fight amongst ourselves every day of the week if we wished; but apparently when someone outside of the circle stepped in with an intent to harm, all the rules were going to change.

The best part was that Carol never suffered any payback for what she’d done. You see, John understood that he was in a position in which only two girls had witnessed the fall of his harrying conduct. He actually impressed me with his wisdom of never bringing up the incident again. Carol would’ve impressed me with her lack of bragging except I understood that beating up boys didn’t fit well with her ballet pirouetting persona. I decided to take the high road and let the subject go unmentioned too (except to brag on her later in life for coming to my rescue).  Astonishing how civil John was on the bus for all those years thereafter.

A Photo from a Recent Dandelion-free Reunion

Note that this post is in honor of my friend for her birthday, aka Pearl Harbor Day – forever to be remembered as a day of infamy (er, the Pearl Harbor Day part, I mean…of course.)

NOW PLEASE NOTE: This is, in fact, a true story (as I recall it, of course) that is not told to emphasize bullying or how to bring down a bully. Nor is it told for the purpose of promoting the thumb-tucked, side-armed punch. Let me re-emphasize that last point, as I’d still never be caught dead using it. As for the bullying, might I suggest, if you take anything from this story on that subject, take the Rhett Butler approach and simply determine to…walk away & let the matter be gone with the wind.

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