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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

We are home again after a week on the road--or rather in the air.  Jim had his annual Society of Biblical Literature convention in Atlanta and while he did his various meetings, I enjoyed the High Museum of Art and the MLK Center and we both enjoyed eating at various restaurants with friends or just with each other.

After the convention, we flew to Newark and took the train to Princeton for family time.  There were two nights at the historic Nassau Inn with one night in the middle at Laura's home in Gladwyne where we enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with 14 of us.

 Actually, there were only 13 of us at dinner.  Little Alex was blessedly asleep after crying hard for an hour and pulling on his ear thus letting us know in his own way what was wrong.  He is the dearest, most pleasant and sociable baby and very, very busy so when he cries, there is a real problem.

It was so wonderful to hear all the conversations going on between our three children and their spouses and also between Katie and her Uncle Dan about colleges.  The big kids were so good with the little kids as they played football in the back yard or video games inside.

For me a highlight of the whole trip was walking into the dining room on Wednesday evening and seeing Jasper's handiwork in making place mats for the 13 of us.  I was moved to tears by his creativity and his sweetness in getting us all to complete "I,m greatful for..."   He was pleased that the first thing I listed was being thankful for our placemats!   Everyone mentioned family on his or her list; our dear Michael, age 12, was the only one to mention God.  We all should have done so!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Taking Bus 110 down Peachtree Avenue

I am not a shopper but yesterday I took the MARTA train to Lenox Square, a very large mall with all the usual stores, but also a huge Macy's, Bloomingdales, and even a Neiman Marcus.  I didn't spend long there but instead headed down Peachtree Avenue for the Buckhead Shops, supposedly Atlanta's "Rodeo Drive."  It was a long walk past elegant office buildings, but also strip malls with mattress shops and nail salons.  My reward was finding a Trader Joe's where I purchased three of my very favorite milk chocolate truffle bars--at $1.99 each.  This is why we need a Trader Joe's in South Bend!

The Buckhead Shops area was very upscale with Jimmy Choo, Hermes,  and other such establishments.  There were many empty slots with signs "Coming in 2016" etc.  I was tired and my iPhone app said I had walked well over 8000 steps.  The nearest MARTA train station was back where I started.  I asked two security guards about taking a bus downtown and they were very helpful although they thought I really should download the Uber app and try that.

I waited quite a while for the bus.  When it finally arrived,  for some strange reason my empty MARTA card got me on free.  That was the start of my bus adventure.  A gentleman on crutches eased himself into the seat in front of me.  At one point, he asked when Thanksgiving would be.  Another person replied, "Thursday."  There was some questioning of this and I joined in affirming that it would be Thursday, refraining from saying, "It's always on a Thursday,"

Another gentleman with no legs boarded on a wheelchair.    The bus driver was very  helpful in getting him situated.  After about four or five stops, this rider asked when we would get to Shepherd's Place.  I knew we had passed it before he got on the bus.  This was a problem!  He could get off and head the other way or he could, as a voice from the back of the bus suggested, stay on to the end and turn around.  He chose to get off, was lowered to the pavement and crossed the busy avenue in his motorized chair.  I hope he found Shepherd's Place eventually.

Then there was the cell phone drama going on in the back of the bus.  A rather voluptuous young woman  never stopped talking while she tapped her MARTA card as she boarded the bus.  She was obviously talking to young children with lots of "I love yous" and "I'll see you tomorrow."  Her next conversation was not so sweet.  She was recounting her problems with her supervisor at work and the email she didn't get changing her hours and how she had just gotten her children back and she can't work those hours and she doesn't want to lose them again.  Her voice got louder and louder as she talked to her friend.  Eventually the driver asked her to lower her voice.  I hoped she wouldn't lower it too much because it was quite the soap opera going on.  I did feel a little strange as the only white person on the bus when she was exaggeratingly imitating the HR person, "this white lady," who may have been putting her on probation.

It was a slow ride, but a glimpse of life for me of those who take busses all the time. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Miss Mary"

Yesterday I purchased a few items at Sears.  The clerks looked up my phone number for some point plan or other and then said to me, "Miss Mary?"  The first clerk was African-American like many of my GED students who also called me Miss Mary.  The second clerk was older and Asian-American but she also called me Miss Mary.  I wondered if that was because of my obvious age and a term of respect or their protocol.  They did not say, "Ms. VanderKam?"   (I think Macy's clerks use your surname.)

I would tell my adult education students that they could just call me Mary, but some said their mothers would kill them if they showed that kind of disrespect.  My student at Hope Ministries also refers to me as Miss Mary.

At first it made me uncomfortable and  feel like the plantation mistress in the pre-Civil War South.  It probably is not a racial thing at all but just courtesy for an older woman or a teacher.  I learned to accept it and even like it--and sometimes give it back in return, "Yes, Miss Tamisha?"

  Our name tags as art museum docents have our first names in large letters with our last names in very small letters.  With 3rd and 4th and 5th graders, I wouldn't mind introducing myself as Mrs. VanderKam instead of Mary. 

A week later:  We ate at the PittyPat Porch in Atlanta last night--a very Southern restaurant where I enjoyed chicken, biscuits, hoppin' john, cornbread, and other delicacies.  The hostess was a character and welcomed me as "Mary" with our open table reservation.  At the end of the evening, as we complimented her on our experience, I became "Miss Mary." 

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Purging of Plan Books

It has been almost two years since I taught my last adult education class.  When I first retired, I got rid of all sorts of paper.  But I tired of it after a while and let those boxes in the furnace room sit there for a later date.

Today was one of those "later dates."  It is cold and windy and I have no reason to go anywhere.  Walking into the furnace room with the B and W furnace inspector on his annual inspection this noon reminded me that there was still plenty to purge.

I spent 45 minutes going through two boxes.  Ten blue plan books are now in the recyclable container.  An armful of colored folders with student goals, tests and permission slips are gone.  Purchase order records from ten years ago--no need for them any more.  I have made progress in purging; there are several more boxes left for another day.

I kept essays and notes that students wrote--for now at least.  I kept a few folders of students who are still my Facebook Friends.  So many students--so many names--and many I don't remember any more.  Some, however,  I will never forget! 

  A stack of photos of Hope Rescue Mission students from the early 1990s was hidden in one folder. Fortunately there are names on the back of the photos. I remember each one of those students , but their names may have been hard to recall.  I'll bring the photos in to Hope Ministries when I next volunteer and maybe someone will recognize them. I have wondered how they have survived over the years.  Homeless shelters can have revolving doors.

I also found a four page journal recording classes at the Mission in July 1995.  This is why keeping a journal or a blog is worth doing--the memory is weak and those memories are treasures or are they best forgotten?   There was the student who kept the cash from his SSI check in his shoe or the one who came in to wish my son a happy birthday, thus reminding me that it was his birthday too or the young couple who met in class as an excuse to get in a little affection because there was no other place they could get together--I remember it all clearly as I read about it again.

I've been reading several novels by Patrick Modiano, the 2014 Nobel Prize winner in literature.  They are very mysterious, haunting books with a repeated them of memory and forgetting.  The purging brings back so many memories of faces and feelings. I look over these files and can hardly believe that 20 years of my life were so involved in an undertaking with so many frustrations and challenges, but also occasional rewards.  . 

Recently our financial advisor gave Jim and me the usual sermon about how no one will say at your funeral how hard you worked and how much money you made.   He had in mind particularly the legacy we leave of time with our children and grandchildren.  I am glad to be able to spend more time with them.   So we didn't correct him, but I know that for both Jim and me, part of our legacy has been our work--our students--whether they were struggling to do basic math and reading and writing, or whether they were PhD candidates.  I don't regret those years of work.  But I also don't regret retiring!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Poverty and Pain and Loss

My student at Hope Ministries has lost at least four family members in the few months that I have known her.  She has been sad, especially so on her birthday when she particularly missed her mother.  But this week a tragic death has been overwhelming to her.  Her cousin's three year old grand-daughter ran out into traffic and was killed.  The funeral will be today in Gary, Indiana and my student will be there with her extended family. 

I lay awake for a long time last night thinking and praying about this tragedy, not only about the horrible death but also about the contrast in life-styles between those who have and those who have-not.  The Chicago Tribune reported part of the story this way:

Diana Hobbs, DaVea's grandmother who lives in the 500 block of Jackson Street, said her daughter and DaVea lived with her. "I was at work and it was about 3:30 p.m. and DaVea walked to the store with my godson."
Hobbs said her godson who went with DeVea to the Family Dollar is 12. .
"She got home and had to have Family Dollar chips or something every day," said Hobbs. "She was such a bright child. She's very smart. She loved chocolate."

I think about my own grandchildren coming home and being greeted happily by their parents or their nanny.  The nanny prepares a snack for them and they sit down at the table to enjoy it together.   My daughter says her 8 year old is almost never on his own which she says may also not be a good thing but it is safer.

I grieve for the grandmother, for the mother, for the 12 year old child who was with DeVea, for my student who has suffered so much loss and for the truck driver who hit her and fell on his knees in prayer afterwards.  He is not being charged. 

During the night, the scene would not leave my mind.  A busy street, a liquor store parking lot, an omnipresent Family Dollar store, traffic cones for construction, and a child letting go of a hand and darting around the cones into the road. For years while teaching  GED classes I was aware of so many difficult lives;  since retirement I have been sheltered from much of that.   Volunteering at Hope Ministries has given me a glimpse of that world again. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Walks Close to Home

I have a goal of finding new places to walk or, if not new, places of  beauty and interest right here in Michiana.  I have set a goal of 5000 steps a day as recorded on my iPhone app--which does mean that I get many more steps when my iPhone is not on my person.

My intention is to record some of these places that I have walked in the last few weeks in some extraordinarily good fall weather--and great fall color. 

Yesterday's walk with Jim was along the East Race from the former St. Joe High School's parking lot to downtown and back.

My friend Maggie and I walked north from the Darden Bridge, past Healthwin Hospital, to River Commons  on a footpath bordering the St. Joseph River.

My neighbor Nancy and I walked on the McCoy Creek Trail in Buchanan while our husbands played golf--which I consider, along with Mark Twain ,  a good walk spoiled.

And it's always a lovely walk around the lakes at Notre Dame.