Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mrs. Marie Tye, A Teacher for The Times

Mrs. Marie Tye,
A Teacher for The Times

Mrs. Marie Tye, my 8th & 9th grade English teacher was my favorite overall. She possessed a number of qualities that made me feel that I was important. Not another student of the many she taught in her lifetime, but a student that she had confidence in and one worth teaching.
This was during a time in our country when teachers could actually mention God and the Bible in the classroom and not fear retribution. Morning prayers and the pledge of allegiance over the school intercom were daily rituals at school and no one was offended. This was all normal and no one believed their religious expressions were infringed on.
I was not brought up in an overtly Christian home so I had little understanding of biblical stories, books of the bible or things spiritual. I went to church off and on with friends that invited me but I didn’t have any knowledge of what it was all about. There was a picture of the Last Supper prominently displayed on the wall next to our kitchen table but that was the depth of what I knew.
Mrs. Tye was always dressed nicely and appropriately when she entered the classroom. She was no one’s fool as she had several children herself so trying to pull one on her was fruitless. Her facial expressions said it all. When she was perturbed at classroom commotion, she didn’t yell or threaten anyone with a trip to Mr. Havens, the school principal, where getting licks were unavoidable. She didn’t wave a board the size of Mt. Rushmore around as a warning. She simply would look at us and arch her left eye brow and silence would ensue. We knew! Mrs. Tye taught me that a lot can be said without saying it.
Mrs. Tye liked to test our knowledge on a number of subjects by having open quizzes. “Jeff, where can we find the Book of Deuteronomy?” she asked me. I was usually very good at these things, but I was stumped on this one. However, I took a stab at it and said, “In the library???” to which a portion of the class laughed. Mrs. Tye smiled at me and said” can anyone tell me where we can find the Book of Deuteronomy?” to which another female classmate correctly answered,” It is a book in the Old Testament in the Bible.” Mrs. Tye planted a seed in me that day about spiritual things broadening my horizons.
She also liked to conduct impromptu class spelling bees. I was an excellent speller and during elementary school I usually won most class spelling bees. On two occasions that I recall, only one of my classmates, Pat A. Phillips, could beat me when we had inter-class spelling bees. I was a visual speller, I could see the word in my mind, so I wasn’t prone to the rules such as I before e except after c. Although I relied heavily at times on my understanding of vowels, consonants, and syllables to get through, my visual ability was my salvation. If I had seen it, I could spell it.
One day the Book of Deuteronomy came back to haunt me in Mrs., Tye’s in class spelling bee. “Jeff” as she looked at me with a smile and look of re-assurance, “can you spell Deuteronomy?” Little did I know this would come back to me so soon. Trying to look as though I did my research by tracking down a Bible, I gave it a try by spelling it phonetically. “Du-Ta-Ra-On-Me Dutaraonme” it sounded and looked reasonable to me since we were talking about old things in the Bible. I was waiting for her to give me the eye brow arch of dissatisfaction, but true to her nature, she sweetly smiled, chuckled a bit at my attempt and asked the class if anyone could spell it. Again a female classmate got it correct. Must have been Pat A. Phillips! Mrs. Tye had taught me to not quit, keep trying, dig deeper to find the answers.
Mrs. Tye was the first teacher that I remember that had us memorize poetry. By this time in my education I had acquired a good memory of things and could use my visualization to learn. She usually gave us a week to memorize it and then each classmate would have to stand up and recite. One of the first poems I remember memorizing was Rudyard Kipling’s If:
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
I memorized this by the end of the class in which she gave it. Mrs. Tye allowed me to stand up and recite it although I had a week to do so. I did so flawlessly to which she gave me the I knew you could do it smile. I didn’t win a trophy, plaque, or certificate for my efforts. Mrs., Tye aptly rewarded me with not only a poem with which I have leaned on through the years to remind me of where I come from and have been through, but a reward of satisfaction and confidence.
Mrs. Tye was the only teacher besides 2 others that were neighbors that came to our home to visit after my dad died suddenly of a heart attack on December 29th 1966. She showed me her humanness, compassion and concern that night as she reassured my mother now widowed with 5 school aged children that all would be well in time. Her devotion to her family, faith, friends, and a student named Jeff Riley, made her a Teacher for The times.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Art of Nose Picking

Art of Nose Picking
There is an art to picking. I first became aware of this in the 8th grade at North Heights Jr. High in Texarkana, Arkansas. My 8th grade geography teacher, Coach McKinney, had the art down perfectly.
I sat in the middle row directly across from his desk but a couple of seats back. This provided me some level of security when the threat level went from caution to Red Alert, attack imminent.
At first, I believed Coach didn’t realize that he was teaching more about nose picking and its various nuances, than geography. This could be why I mastered the first and not the second. Once we were all seated after the bell rang, Coach would open up his geography book and look at us with a blank stare as though he wanted to say something. We looked back with blank stares as though we wanted to hear something. Coach, was the assistant football coach and head basketball coach because he was taller than the football coach. It all makes sense. I had to be careful though because I played sports and whatever I did or not do in class could and would be used against me later on in the Coach’s courtroom of Law. This was the basis of today’s Miranda warnings.
Once everyone got past the stare stage, class would begin. Coach would ask things like” can anyone tell me where I put my paddle board?” I usually raised my hand and would say something like” Coach it’s still stuck to Billy’s Butt.” That much I knew about geography, location is everything.
Then Coach would lean way back in his chair, with outstretched arms and clasp his hands behind his neck. I had seen this move before. I’m sure most of my classmates thought he was just bored and disinterested in being a teacher and took a casual laid back approach. Not me. This was his warm up signal usually accompanied by his head twisting side to side getting out the kinks. My early warning booger picking deflection system sent out an alert that attack was imminent.
Coach then would lean forward and gaze around the room as through it was an important thing to do and then ask Patsy to read page 1, paragraph 1 in our text book. Although we were almost to semester break, we were slow to learn. Once Patsy started reading, I fell asleep, but one eye cocked on Coach.
On cue, Coach went into the retrieve and load position. He was very particular about retrieval. Digging around is an art itself. Carefully selecting the most robust booger with proper form and texture was paramount to it hitting its target.
Once he had made his selection, next came the exam and roll technique. Coach would roll his choice selection between his thumb and forefinger, gently massaging it into a solid mass never taking his eye off of it. By now, the whole class has caught on and is on the edge of their seats and were preparing for the duck and cover. Everyone is looking around and a slight hum begins to ensue as we eagerly await the shot heard around the world.
Coach, was never one to hurry the process, including teaching geography. Once he got just the right firmness and texture, he would then raise it slowly to his mouth and gently spit ever so gently on his creation. One last tweak of his ammunition required taking it to his left ear after the spit on. Leaning his head to one side and rolling it around while listening intently to its peculiar resonance, he was satisfied that engagement was necessary.
Then came the lock and load. The entire class has now hunkered down into a full safety position leaning forward; face down on desk, geography book on heads, ready for a full scale launch. Coach didn’t notice that small fact as his mind was clearly fixated on completing his mission of not teaching geography, but warfare.
Suddenly and in one smooth motion his hand comes down from his ear, with forefinger cocked back, and ammo loaded on the end of his thumb. This was it, the moment of attack. All defensive positions were secured. I lay with my head firmly imbedded in my desk praying that somehow it would misfire, or fall harmlessly to the ground.
But the flick was on, confirmed by a whizzing that undeniably was the sound of artillery rounds being fired. At this point I was happy that Coach had not mastered an automatic flinger that would reload and bombard us unmercifully.
Then we heard a thud and a bang of broken glass. We slowly rose up, everyone checking for signs of a direct hit on their person. All hands were on deck.
We looked toward Coach who was grinning ear to ear as one who was content with his assignment of the day. He had clearly hit his intended target, a picture of Mr. Havens our principal, hanging on the back wall, now lying scattered on the classroom floor.
I think Coach was trying to teach us in his own subtle way, you never know what life’s going to sling at you, so be prepared, sometimes it can be a booger!

Ghost of Bosses Past

Ghost of Bosses Past
“Pick that sack up” he yelled. “Do you have any idea how much that sack cost?” as he pointed a finger in my face.

“No, not really( as though I cared )” I replied.

“It cost me $.01 and that’s throwing money away.” “If I catch you doing it again, we are going to the back room and having a little talk” he snapped. A little talk to him meant we weren’t going to be chatting over tea and talking sports, I was going to be the sport.

James Peek a man in his late 30’s , was the manager of the Piggly Wiggly I bagged groceries at during my senior year in high school. Red wavy hair slicked down with Ultra Brylcreem, a sheepish smile to say he was onto you, and eyes that would make you run for cover made it evident he was no fool. He had simple philosophies. Work hard, dress neatly, treat “his” customers respectfully, don’t waste, and you might survive.

My first day at work required a tour of the store and Mr. Peek was my personal guide. The last stop on this whimsical tour was the stock room (aka the back room). The entrance to the stock room was an old swinging steel door like one would see in a restaurant in between the kitchen and the serving areas. This one unfortunately didn’t have a window where you could see if anyone was coming through so proper caution when approaching could save a nose from being broken.

The back room was where Mr. Peek, gave his new recruits boot camp. Standing tall with his hands on his hips slightly bent over forward to make sure I could hear him he began to call out his repertoire of rules- “Rule #1- I’m the boss and what I say goes, understand?” as he held up 1 finger. “Rule #2- I will treat you like I would treat my own kids, understand?” as he held up 2 fingers. “Rule #3- If you are ever rude to “my” customers, we will have us a talk back here, understand?” as he held up 3 fingers. By this time in my indoctrination, I was hoping he was missing some fingers, so I could get out of there. I was wondering if he was going to tell me to hit the floor and give him 20. By now, my mind was thinking, the Marines were using Piggly Wigglies as a cover for recruiting and I’m standing in front of my Drill Sergeant.
“Do you understand the rules?” he said sternly looking straight into my eyes. “Yes Sir” I replied while my mind replayed the rule book. Let’s see, you’re the boss, you will beat me within an inch of my life like you do your kids, and if I break Ms. Smith’s eggs or squash Ms. Jones bread, I get an all expense paid trip to the torture chamber. Now I know why there was no window on that swinging door.
The store set up was all designed so Mr. Peek could watch all the action. His office was right inside the front entrance to the store. It was an elevated open office with half walls, so that it looked down at everyone and he had a clear shot- I mean view of everyone and everything. Strategically placed mirrors where he could see every aisle and I saw him toss out more than one shoplifter that he caught. Justice was swift. No police, just him as the escort out with a shout “Don’t ever come back in my store” like Marshall Dillon restoring law and order. From his throne he could rightfully claim that he was King of the Piggly Wiggly Empire and many people paid him homage and tributary by shopping there.
The store was built on a hill and the parking lot had a steep grade toward the end. The back entrance door had a steep decline that ran about 50 yards downhill and into the lower end of the parking lot which made for great downhill runs with the shopping carts while we rode them and used our shoes for brakes.
Mr. Peek reigned supremely and wisely. Saturdays were the busiest days and all hell broke loose if it was double or triple coupon day. I knew Mr. Peek would be more agitated on these days so I prayed for mercy every night before going to bed. “Dear God- Now I lay me down to sleep, tomorrow I might die at the hands of Mr. Peek, if I should die before I’m through, I pray the Lord, Mr. Peek does too.” Amen!
Mr. Peek knew the name of his loyal customers. Every old lady south of the Mason-Dixon Line and west of the Mississippi shopped there. He engaged his customers with a rousing robust southern, “Howdy, how are you today?” and with a hand on their shoulder and look into their eyes, “I appreciate ya.” He was a master purveyor of charm and wit, a true salesman and showman that rang up sales of twice that of larger stores in the chain.
“His” customers were quick to tell on you if eggs were broken or bread squashed from poor bagging. The cost of replacing them came out of your pay check and that could mean no money left over for date night. No one called labor boards to bail them out, that’s the way it was.
Mr. Peek had his good side and would also defend you. One of his customers, a man in his 40’s, was trying to “hit” on me. At first I thought he was just being friendly with me, a guy thing, until he made it abundantly clear that he had ulterior motives. To a 17 year old teenage boy in 1968 this was rather unsettling. I advised Mr. Peek of whom it was and he was astonished as it was a very loyal customer. However, he believed me and approached this man with my accusations and promptly escorted him out of the store and in very direct language advised him that he would personally take care of him if he ever came back.
We live in a time where we need more Mr. Peeks. Those who are not afraid to stand up and tell it like it is. Those who work hard, have values, and take action. Those who don’t pander to public opinion, or bow at the altar of compromise and that follow through on commitments on their beliefs. Mr. Peeks was fundamentally driven, nothing wavering, a true patron of the America I once knew. I’m grateful for those like him, although tough, that knew they were passing onto my generation the values and ethics that would be needed in my world. Though Mr. Peek is gone, his memory like all great warriors of those times, goes on in the hearts and minds of those like me, that he cared enough to tell it like it was—