Tag Archives: Nature

Classic Post: These James Whitcomb Riley Days

This post first appeared on October 11, 2017.

Photo from Pixabay by Michelle Scott.

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.”

Steve and I harvesting our homegrown pumpkins.

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.

Photo from Pixabay by Adina Voicu.

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 or poem?

Top 10 Things about Fall

Nobody feels neutral about autumn’s advent. Mention fall, and you trigger one of two reactions:

“No-o-o-o-o (weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth)!”

Or, “Ye-e-s-s-s (double fist pump)!”

The first response typifies skinny beach bums and bunnies who evolved without sweat glands. They play tennis on boiling blacktop and Frisbee on 500-degree sand. My scientific theory: summer people originally lived on the sun, but inexplicably migrated to the Midwest a million years ago. They’ve complained about fall ever since.

Perhaps you’ve deduced that I support the second view? Below, I’ve listed my Top 10 reasons for loving the harvest season:

  1. Steve – At a Labor Day picnic 67 years ago, my husband’s 20-year-old mother wondered if the holiday would prove prophetic — she thought she was going into labor. However, the excitement was traced to a mole digging holes under her blanket. Hubby, who still takes his good old sweet time, appeared two weeks later. I’m glad he did.
  2. Layers – No more bathing suits! Hurrah!
  3. Cozy reading – Sure, beach books introduce us to new imaginary friends and take us to faraway places. But during fall, I can roll up in a throw like a giant burrito and read with equal enjoyment — with no sand in my pants.
  4. Apple everything – Orchard apples taste as if they grew in fruit heaven. They bless us with bubbling apple pie, chunky homemade applesauce and hot, cinnamon-y cider. Mmm.
  5. Comfort food – During summer, Congress should declare cooking illegal. But fall brings urges to fill the house with delicious fragrances: chili and cornbread on cold Saturday nights. Chicken and noodles for Sunday dinner. Golden loaves of bread that smell like love as they bake. Even hot coffee tastes better during fall. (I never could embrace iced coffee. Some things are just wrong.)
  6. Squirrels – I like to watch them work. I like to watch anybody work but me.
  7. Sports – I like to watch football and playoff baseball. I like to watch anybody exercise but me.
  8. Weather – A fall day’s air smells fresh as if God just invented it. Often, autumn brings the only true-blue blue skies we see in Indiana. Even the most addicted summer junkie can’t deny that fall offers great snuggle weather.
  1. Nature – Trees, clad in their best fall-rainbow finery, leave me breathless. Other scene-stealers: morning glories swathe fences with royal blue and ruby blossoms. Chrysanthemums bloom in jewel colors. Cornstalks rustle with gentle gossip about weather changes. Orange pumpkins like harvest moons nestle among brown vines. Ugly brown milkweed pods erupt with white, airy adventures.
  2. Besides all this, we don’t have to weed or mow the grass this weekend.

What’s not to love?

Welcome, fall!

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What is one of your Top 10 reasons for loving the harvest season?

Love Those Layers

Contrary to logic, as the weather warms, the plant world dons more layers. Bushes and shrubs wrap colorful scarves of leaves and blossoms around their shoulders. Trees drape bare branches with graceful green mantles. My lawn pads itself with a soft, thick layer of crabgrass.

Young human beings, however, shun this idea. Passing our town’s grade school one chilly afternoon, I noticed most shivering kids walking home sported shorts and flip-flops. They looked bluer than Smurfs.

At prom time, young women wearing strapless bodices and frozen smiles grace the spring landscape. A million goose bumps encase these lovelies like Bubble Wrap.

If you’re a parent, you do not puzzle over this missing link between wardrobe and meteorological conditions. Weather has nothing to do with it. What’s really happening? Kids are exercising independence. We all do stupid things at that age so we can grow up to never make stupid decisions again.

Still, as a perfect, mature being, I sympathize. My classmates and I suffered similar symptoms. We of the Dick-and-Jane generation wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing shorts and flip-flops to school. Still, our rebellious frenzy blasted black holes in that era’s proper universe.

We wore sleeveless shirts to class.

Abused classmates still wore sweaters Great-aunt Arlene gave them for Christmas. Obviously, they hadn’t exerted proper control over their parents.

I enjoyed wild, uninhibited freedom — until Mom made me wear a jacket.

In fact, she and my teacher kept me in a catch-22.

Mom: This class sheet says you must dress for all weather possibilities. Wear your jacket.

Teacher: Your mother sent this jacket with you, so you have to wear it.

Me: Can’t I put off hot flashes for a few decades?

We tortured children discarded outerwear as close to school dumpsters as we dared. We left jackets hanging in restroom stalls — or tried to flush them.

But our sins always found us out. Traitors among us tattled. No doubt bribed with extra-long turns at the water fountain, these snitches displayed our jackets and sweaters before the entire class until someone identified the culprits. Never would have I participated in such betrayal.

But when my children were growing up, I not only surrendered to the traitors — I joined their ranks.

Sweaters and jackets remain my friends to this day. They conceal my medical condition known as winter waist, characterized by mysterious swelling and extreme pain when buttoning last spring’s capris. Even when the sun shines, I cling to my compassionate buddies.

Someday, the young will realize that, along with moms and teachers, layers can be their friends.

And trees, who sport new cover-up wardrobes every spring, aren’t so dumb, after all.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you love your layers, too?