Living History

September 11, 2001 was the most difficult day in my teaching career. I wrote the poem I’m posting today several years ago.

Living History

On a blustery November afternoon

We sophomores rehearse.

The principal interrupts our song.

“Our President has been shot.”

 

Sister Choir Director gasps,

Then her face freezes.

Girls, let’s pray.”

Her voice quaking,

she leads us in

“Climb Every Mountain.”

 

Later, during biology,

Our principal announces

“Our President has died.”

 

Sister Biology’s head falls to her desk.

She rearranges her face.

“Girls, let’s pray.”

Then page by page,

Sister drags us through

the chapter on amoebas.

 

In last period, Sister History

wipes her cheeks.

“Girls, let’s pray.”

She begins, “When I was a girl…”

and recalls Pearl Harbor.

We don’t even open our books.

 

There’s

Another announcement:

No sock hop, no basketball game

tonight.

 

Weekend plans destroyed,

the President we love gone.

What would happen next?

Our world has changed,

But we just don’t know it yet.

 

On a sunny morning,

new school year freshness

brightens my classroom.

 

We teachers gather in the hall,

grousing about the broken copier,

keeping our eyes on

our eighth graders

squealing, chattering

around us.

 

Someone with a radio

pops into the hall.

A plane …

the World Trade Center

…a second plane

 

A bell…

class begins.

 

I pray silently.

Stunned,

I tell the kids about the attacks.

“Does anyone need to

call home?”

No one.

 

So I read Chapter One.

My mouth introduces the story’s characters.

My mind chases horrifying images.

 

The principal announces

“The Towers have collapsed.”

 

I pray silently, and

struggle to imagine,

But the students barely react.

I crave a TV,

other adults, my husband

to share my horror.

Tears threaten;

I blink them back.

 

But yet,

twenty-five eighth graders

sit before me,

unruffled.

It’s not about them, they think.

Tragedy is on the news every day,

What’s the big deal about this one?

 

We go on.

“What have we learned today

about the story’s characters?”

We dissect plot and theme.

Anguish fills

my stomach.

I pray silently.

 

The bell rings.

my girls and boys burst into the hall,

greet friends,

go on their way.

Gym class, science,

math.

 

Their world has changed.

They just don’t know it yet.

 

 

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Fifty Shades

 

“Mauve is just pink trying to be purple.” – James Abbot McNeill Whistler

The other day, I was in Talbot’s looking for a new pair of jeans.

“Do you have these in black?”

“They don’t come in black.”

“Hmmm… I thought I saw black ones in the catalog.”

The saleswoman flipped through her catalog until she found the picture of the jeans in question. She pointed at two little color swatch boxes, one labelled delta blue, the other deep sea.

“There are no black. Just deep sea.”

Oh. At home, the little box had looked black to me, and I didn’t catch that “sea” was code for blue. Oh, well. Dark blue jeans would work. I bought them.

Color names in the fashion world have often confounded me. Sure, I can figure out that chocolate and walnut are shades of brown, anything watery (lagoon, neptune) is likely to be blue, and juniper or kelly are green. Others have me stumped. Vine is probably green, of course, but at Talbot’s, it’s a garish, teeth-on-edge shade, not like any vine found in nature. Gray? Passé! Talbot’s features storm, shadow, oyster; all gray. Some names require a knowledge of flora– yam, fig, guava, allum, and pollen—and fauna — palomino and blue mallard. While I can figure out that tomato equals red, Talbot’s jazzes things up with pomodoro. J Jill gets evocative with breeze. Do breezes come in color? At J. Jill, a breeze is light blue.

Ann Taylor features camis in faint maple, polar peak, and pale praline, and lovely blouses and sweaters with pretty names to match: candy cloud, city sky, fresh ink, peri whisper, topped off with a robust chianti.

Do the folks at O.P.I. sit around conference rooms for high-energy brainstorming sessions, scribbling zany puns onto sheets of chart paper, so we can paint our toes with You Pink Too Much, You’re so Outta Lime, Toucan Do It If You Try, and Taupe-less Beach? This month’s colors have a Venice vibe, so we can dabble in It’s a Piazza Cake, I Cannoli Wear OPI, or Gelato on My Mind – a.k.a. orange, white, and blue.

Painting a room? The Benjamin Moore Paints gang must sneer at home decorators looking for boring off-whites and beiges. Their palette soothes us with both steam and vapor, marscapone and fondant and frappe, harmony and hush, a subtle hue called subtle, and my favorite – deep in thought.

Those back jeans I was hunting for? Maybe I’ll give it another try. I’ll search for some that come in asphalt, soot, raven, or gloom. They’ll go perfectly with my brick sweater, my smokey shoes, and my head over heels walls.

 

 

A Grand Tour

 

“Oh, the things you can find if you don’t stay behind!” — Dr. Seuss

DC Class Photo (3)

My first big vacation was my school’s trip to Washington, D.C., Annapolis, New York, and Philadelphia. I think that it cost around $180 for the week, an amount I’d saved from my Drapery Fair paycheck, but maybe I’m remembering wrong. Regina Tours, a company that specialized in Catholic school trips, arranged for us Queen of Peace girls to hit all of the historic hot spots, and on Easter Sunday afternoon, we boarded a train for the adventure of a lifetime.

So, I know we saw the must-sees– the Capitol, the Washington Monument, Betsy Ross’s house, the Statue of Liberty. But the images that have stuck in my mind are not the viewing the Declaration of Independence or the United Nations. Here’s what I recall:

Five of us shared a room: Marlene, Carol, Mary Anne, Annie, and I. We were the only group who was allowed to go over the limit of four. Quite a coup. We took turns sleeping on the fold-up cot delivered to our room at each stop.

We ate at Horn and Hardart’s cafeterias everywhere. In Washington, we stayed at a depressing hotel for single women. Its H and H was next to a dingy parlor where residents could entertain gentlemen callers. The lodgers were dried-up old maids, probably as old as thirty-five or so, who worked in D.C. offices for such a pittance that they couldn’t afford to live in a real apartment building. We vowed never to join their ranks.

At Radio City Music Hall, the Rockettes dazzled us with their high-stepping act. This was followed by the movie The Singing Nun – a wholesome choice. I fell asleep to the tune of “Dominique.”

My friend Mary Anne nearly missed getting back on the bus at Mount Vernon, and was chastised for keeping everyone waiting. We gawked out the bus windows to see her saunter along in the company of a cowboy-hatted Texan she’d met. He even hugged her goodbye in front of everyone! Well worth Sister’s glare.

Our NYC hotel, the once-venerable Commodore, right over Grand Central station, was a tired old place. The dreary rooms looked like the ones we’d seen in seedy Boston Blackie movies, and ours had a locked connecting door. We spent the night listening through a drinking glass pressed to the door. Surely that muttered conversation we strained to hear was the plotting of a bank heist by our sinister neighbors in black Fedoras.

Annapolis was guy-gawking heaven. When classes ended, uniformed, studly midshipmen swarmed out of the buildings and we Catholic school girls snapped picture after picture of boys, boys, boys. Our bus driver corralled one obliging young man to pose with me in a photo. Oh, be still, my heart.

Our chaperones and the Regina Tours brochure emphasized that any misbehavior would result in “a long, lonely ride home at your own expense.” If we giggled too loudly or stayed up too late, we joked that we’d be sent packing. Then – scandal! A couple of girls, the kind that wore beehives to the sky and heavy black eyeliner — took that lonely ride when they were found drinking vodka in their hotel room.

We dressed up in suits and kitten heels. Even though the Capitol steps photo is black and white, I recognize the mint green wool suit that my mother made for the trip. It has always been one of my favorite outfits.

The photo (only a piece of it is shown here) reveals something I’d never considered. I can only spot two chaperones in the crowd, responsible for herding around over 150 girls. These guardians of our virtue surely excelled at organization, with-it-ness, and mind control, but, except for a handful of rebels with liquor hidden in their suitcases, we were a well-behaved, docile bunch. Such a feat of supervision would not be attempted today.

 

A Champagne Toast

“Next time I see you, remind me not to talk to you.” Groucho Marks

The weirdest thing happened to my husband and me last week at Washington, D.C. ‘s Bar DuPont. We were suddenly cloaked in invisibility.

Here’s what happened.  We were vacationing in D.C., staying at the Hotel DuPont,  and one day we noticed that Veuve Cliquot was hosting an event on the terrace. Great! We settled into one of the couches, caught the eye of a Bar DuPont server, and ordered two twenty dollar glasses of VC champagne.

DC 6

It was a beautiful afternoon, and we sipped our bubbly, listened to the jazz combo, and soaked up the festive atmosphere. Several reps from Veuve Cliquot bustled about. A guy in a pith helmet and a mail sack greeted the women at the table next to us. He handed out postcards, invited them to address them to their friends, then tucked them in his mail pouch and promised to send them.

One perky rep toted a bright orange picture frame and bopped from group to group, taking photos of happy people posing in the frame. Other VC peeps passed out goofy orange sunglasses and invited patrons to play a round of  VC bean bags. What fun! Their goal seemed to be clear…. Stir up the crowd into one big, happy, champagne-drinking fiesta.

Except, for us invisible people.

Had a big ethereal blanket been thrown over us? Reps zipped around to everyone — the women on our right, the couple on our left, the ladies at the tall table in front of us. Yet they would not, could not see us. Not even a glimmer of acknowledgement.  How bizarre! We flagged down a server and ordered a second glass, but that didn’t end our place on the “pay-no-mind list”  as far as VC folks were concerned.

No free post cards, no orange sun glasses, no fun photo in the picture frame. (Not that we wanted any of it.) That stuff was for the visible people only.

Weird, huh? We could see them, but they couldn’t see us. Kind of like an episode from the old TV show Topper. But since life is not a TV show, we couldn’t quite buy into the idea of invisibility. Here’s our guess — we are sixty-six years old.

Geezers. Over-the-hill. Senior citizens. Guilty of carrying Medicare cards. Old enough to get the reference to Topper, when the ghosts of Marion and George Kerby haunted the home of a banker. Nonetheless,  we are also people who occasionally purchase champagne. In fact, we’d had a bottle of VC at a restaurant just two weeks ago when we celebrated out forty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Silly us! We hadn’t realized that  VC was only for the younger crowd, and we fogeys might tarnish their image. We won’t make that mistake again.

Next time we buy champagne, we’ll be sure to avoid any from Moët and their affiliates.

I’m passing along my congrats to Veuve Cliquot for having their reps at the Bar Dupont make it so  crystal clear that we are personae non gratae. Cheers!