Monthly Archives: October 2017

These James Whitcomb Riley Days

My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Baker, read James Whitcomb Riley poems, along with other Hoosier literature, after noon recess every day.

She brought poems and stories to life in a way that made my ears and mind tingle.

However, she enforced “rest time.” We had to lay our heads on our desks while she read, an indignity that smacked of kindergarten naptime. After all, we were nine-year-olds, soon to reach double digits.

We didn’t need any dumb rest time.

Decades later, I realized that after policing a playground resembling a crash derby without cars, then facing a similar classroom scenario, she might need the break.

Not all of Riley’s poems topped my “favorites” list. Braver classmates asked Mrs. Baker to read “Little Orphant Annie.” Why did they like those repeated references to “gobble-uns” that would get us if we didn’t shape up?

I already slept with my knees near my shoulders to avoid giant spiders lurking at the foot of my bed. Adding gobble-uns to my nighttime freak-out list didn’t induce much sleep.

Even more frightening, Little Orphant Annie had to do lots of housework.

The James Whitcomb Riley poem I liked best was “When the Frost Is on the Punkin’,” which celebrates autumn in Indiana. That poem tasted good, like tangy cider, and still does:

“But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.”

However, James Whitcomb Riley never would have received an A on a grammar test. He would have been the very first down in a spelling bee.

Mrs. Baker and other teachers deluged us with homework, tests and even demerits to ensure my classmates and I spoke and wrote correctly.

Yet my teacher read us his poems almost daily.

Grown-ups never made sense.

Despite my confusion, James Whitcomb Riley’s magic sang in my head and heart. A Hoosier like me, he wrote about the land and life I knew and loved. He instilled pride into us for who we were — kids in a country school in a county where farmers helped feed a nation and the world.

His poems still resonate with me, especially on a crisp, fall Indiana morning with a shimmer of silver on my lawn, and gold, russet, and scarlet leaves flying in the chilly, sunny breeze. James Whitcomb Riley still reminds me of all I cherish in my native state.

Even if he didn’t know how to spell.

 

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did your childhood teachers read to you? What was your favorite read-aloud story/poem?

 

Playing Hooky in October

Is there anything more fun than sneaking a walk when you should be hard at work?

Perhaps balancing the national budget, achieving world peace and losing four dress sizes rank above it. None of these, however, appear imminent. So I pilfer little thrills, like kernels of candy corn, when I can.

Autumn’s tawny, sun-freckled face grins from every yard and field, a mischievous TP-er who messes with trees so we have to clean up many-hued clutter. Scraggly flowers, survivors with colorful personalities, mix well with show-off mums. Ragged, brown corn and soybeans look weathered and friendly as smiling scarecrows that guard small-town yards and grocery store produce sections.

Al mellow and unhurried. Autumn urges me to enjoy its relaxed aura while I can.

Apple trees, however, awaken my laid-back senses. Loaded with plump fruit, they tempt me to borrow just a few.

However, calling my husband to spring me from jail isn’t the best way to celebrate fall. Forcing my steps past, I promise myself a trip to an orchard.

Squirrels, sociopathic larcenists, don’t worry about raising bail. They freely steal fruit, walnuts and acorns, which they hide in my flower pots—their personal storage units. Fall squirrels are like spring dandelions, fluffy and cute. I love both … in other people’s yards.

All paths lead to the elementary school, easily evidenced by a trail of kid stuff: a flattened baseball hat; a pink bicycle abandoned near a stop sign; a plain strawberry Pop-Tart®, no doubt rejected because someone wanted frosted chocolate with sprinkles. Scholarly endeavors are verified by broken pencils and crinkled homework. How long has this rain-faded permission slip lain here?

Rows of cars at the school speak of the commitment of teachers, administrators and staff. I pray for them, as the place — even when recess is not in session — emits energy unmatched by Hoover Dam turbines.

Ditto for Taylor University. A substantial portion of its science building’s energy needs are supplied by geothermal, solar and wind power. However, the pulsating between-class rhythm of skateboarders, scooter-riders, cyclists and joggers who don’t even notice they’re jogging prompts another energy question: Couldn’t the remainder be supplied by students, who regard midnight as the start of prime time?

I seek quieter streets, where I can saunter, unmolested by the vigorous and motivated.

Instead, yards teem with home improvement projects, and on the town’s outskirts, farmers driving giant combines lumber into fields, braving clouds of chaff. All strive to complete their tasks before cold weather.

In the face of so much diligence, goofing off is downright tough. I head for home.

But that doesn’t mean autumn and I won’t try to play hooky tomorrow. …

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite goof-off season, and why?