Empowerment through Language...

Friday, December 12, 2014

Neighbors - Old School

We got a lot of snow this week. I have a bad back. I didn't know if my plow guy would come because I am still working on paying off the bill from last winter. I just knew that there would be a way to deal with it and sometimes I wonder about my plan to grow old in this house, usually when the snow starts to fly. As the snow piled up, I saw my neighbor to the right shoveling his sidewalk and then mine. He and several of the other men who have rented rooms from him have kept my front walk clean for the last 4 years. Living alone, I have been most appreciative. I have reciprocated by making cookies, soups, and hand-knit hats.

Yesterday, the church mother of the church across the street got stuck in the snow trying to pull into the driveway that had not yet been plowed by their contractor. I texted my neighbor next door to ask for help for Ms. Dorsey, especially since his 23 year-old son just came back to the nest to regroup so I figured there was an able body available to aid the elder in need. Both father and son were soon bundled up and digging her out, then escorting her to the church door, bracing her arm to be sure she did not fall. Shortly thereafter, the son knocked on the door to say that he was going to dig my car out in the back driveway. How sweet.

Today, I saw that the city plow finally arrived on our side street, pushing heavy, wet snow and ice into the end of the driveways up and down the block. I grabbed the shovel and invited the dog to come out with me while I carefully dug out the drive, planning on being methodical to protect my back. The left neighbor's other son, a 10-year old with a clear passion for videogames, was in the front yard playing in the snow. It seems that piles of cold, fresh powder hold an even bigger attraction. As I started to chip away at the ice pack, he called out, "Do you want me to help you?" I accepted his offer and we started shoveling and chatting about games, the school cancellations this week, Santa, etc.

Across the street, Wayne, the plow contractor for the church, was digging out the sidewalks and access points since there is a big holiday party at the church tonight. His little John Deere front loader was getting a workout. He signaled to us, mere mortals, to stand aside and he headed into my driveway pile, then to the neighbor's. In exchange, he asked me and my able assistant to dig out the fire hydrant on the corner as our part of the deal. So the three of us, including Enza the snow dog, headed across the street to meet our end of the bargain.

We thanked Wayne, shook hands, introduced the dog to the young woman leaving the church who was visibly fearful of canines, trying to help her learn that not all dogs attack.

Then it was obviously time for snow angels, if you are 10. My young friend threw himself into the piles and the dog followed, burrowing for whatever was lurking under the surface. They played and played in the front yard and the back yard, the two of them snowy messes in no time. I left them to their play in back for awhile longer, until Enza decided that she was cold and she abandoned her playmate.  I gave him permission to come ask for Enza to play anytime he wanted to roll around in the snow with a four-legged friend.

When my neighbors to the left moved in this summer, I went over the first day to introduce myself and welcome them to the neighborhood. We had conversations throughout the summer about how neighbors used to be when we were young and I was able to say that, on this block, we still look out for each other. We have had many times to prove this to be true in these past 6 months. So today, spending time talking about life and being neighbors with the youngest son was the natural order. It is the only way I know to be. And tonight, I hope to be home from work in time to stop into the party at the church across the street. They are my neighbors too. And I know it will be festive. Maybe there will be food left too...

Monday, December 08, 2014

Teachers Leave Lasting Impressions

Miss Mt. Pleasant. Even her name was magic. Soothing. Safe. Something about the idea of a mountain of pleasant, of being a resident of that mountain was captivating for me. I loved my 2nd grade teacher very much. It was a new school, having moved to the east side in October, transferred into a new neighborhood, social structure, new friendships to forge, new territory to cross.

My journey to school had been two city blocks since kindergarten. Now it was 1.5 miles. Miss Mt. Pleasant, whose face I can barely imagine anymore, was welcoming and showed the smile of encouragement. It was the year of oral polio vaccinations at school, the introduction to Brownies, the first year of school fluoride treatments and hearing tests, the year of school savings accounts and little orange milk containers to collect change for Unicef as we trick-or-treated to help children less fortunate than ourselves. Everything was new. Everything was discovery. The first year of my family's own home, liberated from the apartment we had outgrown. The year before I started writing.

Miss Mt. Pleasant probably fueled that urge. Every day after lunch, when we returned from the playground or cafeteria if weather was dreadful, we started our afternoon's work with story time. Miss Mt. Pleasant opened to the next chapter of the book we were experiencing and filled us in on what happened next. She started with Charlotte's Web. She read Stuart Little. She read several other "classic" children's chapter books, one chapter per day, opening whole worlds to us of magical animals and puzzling circumstances. This is how I knew I wanted to be a reader - being a listener first.

One day, when it was dark early, I had to stay after school to write I will not talk in class  on the board 100 times in dusty white chalk. I don't remember what our how this came about exactly but I paid my penance. I was more concerned with the fact that I had disappointed my dear teacher, my school mommy, and that it had grown to be night outside by the time I finished.

At the end of the year, Miss Mt. Pleasant announced that she was not returning to Ed Smith in the fall. She was getting married. I was crestfallen. Knowing that I would not see her in the hall was crushing. The fact that she would become a Mrs. seemed like every girl's dream but, for me, it was sadness. She would no longer be She Who Dwells in the Pleasant Mountain. She would abandon her name, her identity, everything was subject to change in the act of marriage. Already, I understood that. 

And I knew I would miss her, I would endure another of a long stream of losses. But the books would always be waiting on the library shelf. The sound of the words would ever echo her voice from behind the heavy oak desk in front of the window that opened to Lancaster Avenue and the blue sky beyond.