Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In Praise of Toilets

 I vaguely remember, as a very young child, having to use a chamber pot on a cold night -- probably at my grandmother's house. 

And I remember the cold walk onto her back porch in Porterdale, Georgia, where a cold little room had been added, with the cold seat.

I remember the path from the back door of our neat little parsonage in Dunkinsville, Ohio, out to the tiny smelly little shed with the bench punctuated by a couple of oval holes cut into it. And similar little sheds with crescent moons cut in their doors at little country churches like the one at Cartecay, Georgia. I remember Boy Scout camping trips and the temporary latrines we dug with our little camp shovels. I remember getting out the camp shovel again when our well went dry out in Booger Hollow, after Sheila and I were married, and finding a private spot in the woods near our little log cabin.

Well, folks, I have moved uptown. For Christmas this year I have purchased and installed an American Standard, Cadet 3, Dual Flush, Elongated Bowl, Water-efficient toilet: the very lap of luxury. Thanks to Deena (not her real name) this was not a blind choice.

You see, I am a card-carrying member and a director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative. This is the premiere environmental group in northwest Georgia. The CRBI mission is to conserve and protect the water resources of our wonderfully diverse watershed. And, I have to admit, for years, Sheila and I have wasted great amounts of water every day through our relatively new but highly inefficient toilets. Two flushes have been necessary as often as not, and each flush was using a couple of gallons of formerly pure water. So when we needed to call in a plumber to repair a toilet, we decided to use the opportunity to upgrade. I headed out to the a local big-box home supply store to find an efficient replacement and found Deena.
I had located the row of toilets and ascertained that the store carried two dual-flush models. Each offered a choice of one gallon or 1.6 gallon flushes and proclaimed itself wonderfully efficient in evacuating whatever contents necessary. Both were "chair" or "comfort" height. The pricetags were were the only obvious difference: one was $99, the other $198. The enthusiastically helpful Deena was johnny-on-the-spot (pun-intended, of course) to help me reach the right decision for my family. 

"Now, Mr. Shaw, both of these are good toilets. But the Cadet 3 here has a stronger flush, and you know what that means. If there's something left in the bowl, now what do you do?"

"Well," I sadly admitted, "I flush again."

"That's right, Mr. Shaw, and there goes the water savings right down the toilet. With the Cadet 3, one flush will do. Use the button on the left there for Number 1, and the one on right for Number 2. That's all it takes."

I was a little concerned about the height of the bowl. After all we have used a standard height bowl all these years. Would we find the higher seat uncomfortable?

"Well, now Mr. Shaw, we can put your mind right at ease about that. I think you'll find the 'comfort-height' just right. Just step right on over to our displays on the main aisle and try it out."

Deena led me to the busy main aisle, pointed to one of the "comfort-height" models, pulled out her tape measure to demonstrate its exact height, and then with a sweeping gesture invited me to sit and test it out. She observed with folded arms as I nestled my nether regions onto the porcelain throne, while assorted Romans with bemused expressions pushed their buggies past us. I expressed my approval of the comfort afforded by the increased height as a young family strolled by and the Daddy greeted me with "Hey, Mr. Shaw! I'm Jackie, remember me?" 

I laughed with Jacky awhile and explained that I was "trying out toilets". He reminisced about witnessing a pre-school child trying one out more completely at a different big-box store. 

"Oh, yes," Deena exclaimed, "we've had that happen right here. We have to cordon off the area, put up hazardous material tape, and call in a team in rubber gloves and masks to clean it up!"

Despite that disturbing image I was sold. Deena called in a young man to lift the 100 lb. box onto a flat cart, and I bought my 2011 Christmas present for myself. I got it up the stairs at home all by my self - no small feat. It is now installed and, I must say, flushing beautifully.

And I went online to sing Deena's praises at www.bigboxhomesupply.com -- I may not have gotten that link exactly right.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Rest in peace, Harry Morgan

Seventy Years Ago

(December 8, 1941)

To the Congress of the United States:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Thank you Mr. President

I continue to be very proud of my vote in 2008. Thank you Mr. President for your efforts to unite us, despite the stonewalling of the opposition party and the name-calling and pettiness that you have encountered day-after-day. Thank you for living up to the overwhelming majority of your promises despite the stubborn recession that turned out to be even worse than any of us realized in 2008. After a fight of 100 years beginning with Teddy Roosevelt, you have helped us achieve, as you promised you would, a universal healthcare program. It is among the most conservative programs of its type in the world, but it is a vast improvement over the system it replaced.

Here is an Op-ed from the LA Times:
In Praise of "Obamacare"

Friday, December 02, 2011

You Done Lost Yo' Apples

Yesterday a Facebook friend admitted to falling through her ceiling. I had to tell her this story, famous among the Shaws.

My Uncle Bill was an electrician. This day his baby brother Jack was his assistant. When they arrived at the house their knock was answered by a prim older lady who sweetly and with great condescension explained that, "If you boys do a good job and don't leave a mess..." (in her upscale spotless Atlanta home) "...I'll give y'all a big bag of apples to take with you."

Later while Bill worked on the outlet in the bedroom below and Jack snaked a new wire across the attic, Jack lost his balance. Suddenly Bill was covered with dust and and debris and, looking up, saw Jack's legs dangling from a tangle of insulation, sheetrock, and wiring. Without a pause he looked into Jack's frightened eyes peering down through the dust cloud, shook his head sadly, and chuckled these immortal words, "You done lost yo' apples."

In the forty-five or so years since then, every mess-up in our family has elicited that retort: "You done lost yo' apples."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Terrorism Tightrope

Ten years ago.

I was walking around a classroom filled with 9 and 10-year-olds, 26 or 27 of them. I don’t remember what the lesson was. I do remember glancing through the hallway window and noticing my assistant principal -- the principal was out that day -- talking earnestly with the teacher across the hall. I stepped out of my fourth-grade classroom to see what was up.

The AP just said there were reports of a possible terrorist attack. We'd avoid upsetting the kids with any announcement, but she wanted us to be aware. By the time my planning time rolled around I had gathered the gist of what was happening from quick forays into the hall and whispered snips of conversation with other teachers. I walked into my neighbor teacher's classroom where she had the news on, now that the kids were at PE. I saw the smoke rising from the towers, several teachers were crying. And then the unthinkable happened. A tower collapsed. And soon the other. It turned out I was watching a tape: the others teachers assumed I had known. I don't think any image has ever affected me so dramatically.

The rest of the day was frightening and awkward. I wanted to communicate with my own children and Sheila. Brannon was newly away from home as a college freshman. But I needed to help get these school kids through the day and was proscribed from preparing them for the tumult they would face when they got home. Somehow a few managed to pick up hints, during lunch and recess, that there was something terrible happening.  Child after child was called to the front to go home.

You, dear Reader, also know exactly where you were and what you were doing that day, I'll bet.

Of course, the terrorists had made a horrible mistake. They had succeeded in inflicting great pain and sorrow, but if we were terrorized we were also galvanized. No action could have united our divided country so completely or garnered us more allies around the world. Firefighters and police officers of both parties and no party fought side by side to save the occupants of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Passengers of a miscellany of political stripes rushed the hijackers on the fourth plane and forced it down before it could hit one of our national shrines. Leaders of both major parties worked to give the executive the authority it needed to bring the terrorists to justice.

Soldiers of all races, religions, and parties risked their lives, and some gave their lives, to take the fight to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Those of us still bitter over the debacle of the election of 2000 immediately put partisanship on the back burner and gave wholehearted support to our national leadership. No one was concerned about red vs. blue any more, we were concerned for the Red, White, and Blue.

I was saddened and angered early this morning to see that some, on Facebook, are using this anniversary to divide us again. That dredged up the rage I felt nearly ten-years ago, when some used the terrorist attacks as an occasion to casually demean their political opponents.

So I did not want to go to church this morning. I wanted to watch and listen to the moving memorials on TV and radio. I wanted to write about my memories, my love for my country, and my disgust for the far-right-wing Arabs and far-right-wing Americans. But Sheila was ready to go, and I managed to get there. I am so glad I did.

I was in the cross hairs from prelude to benediction.

The opening hymn was one of my very favorites and somehow especially appropriate for this day: “Morning Has Broken”. And I thought of God’s re-creation of 3652 new days since that one. Our anthem was “God Bless America”. We did not have choir practice on Wednesday because of the youth concert, so we were a little rusty but still I love that song and enjoyed singing it on this special anniversary. We sang “America” as the hymn of preparation. 

The pastor at our church has political beliefs that are far different from mine. But still somehow God manages to use his wonderful, thoughtful, biblically sound sermons to convict me on a regular basis.

Today his topic is forgiveness.

Matthew 18: 21-22
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The sermon is not on the podcast list yet, but check back later and listen to it:

I know well the folks I need to forgive. If the pastor could have seen the anger in my heart this morning, he could not have spoken more clearly to me. He called his message: Tightrope.

Rhetorically he questioned us about the tension between forgiveness and accountability, between citizenship in our democracy and citizenship in the Kingdom of God, between doing our duty to country and our duty to God.

And he told of his experience of meeting with Iraqi Christians in Baghdad while he was stationed there as a chaplain early in the Iraq War. He was shocked to find that they were prepared to forgive even Saddam Hussein. They understood that forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. Or as that old reprobate, Mark Twain, has said: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

So, on this sobering anniversary, I can forgive those who hate me for my beliefs. I will strive to hold those folk accountable for their words and actions when I can. I will try to correct their errors through my own writing when I can. But I will also try to remember my own fallible nature. I will avoid speaking or writing in anger. I will not use ad hominem arguments.

I was moved both by President Bush's reading of Lincoln's letter and President Obama's reading of Psalm 46. They each struck the right note of unity by keeping to brief quotations adding the prestige of the Presidency to a national day of commemoration while remembering that the event is not about them.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Monday, June 06, 2011

National Debt Quiz

Here's a little history quiz for our Tea Party friends. For each pair of Presidential terms choose the one during which the National Debt rose as a percentage of GDP:

Nixon/Ford 1973-77 or Johnson 1965-69
Reagan 1981-85 or Carter 1977-81
GHW Bush 1989-93 or Clinton 1993-97
GW Bush 2001-2005 or Clinton 1997-2001

In all cases the Republican increased the percentage of debt and the Democrat decreased it. Fact: Reagan and the two Bushes (with a little help from Nixon/Ford) are responsible for ALL of the increase in the percentage of debt compared to GDP between 1945 and 2009.

President Obama inherited the worst economy since the depression and had to institute emergency measures which, exaserbated of the refusal of Republicans to allow tax breaks for the wealthy to expire as scheduled, will increase the percentage of debt further.

But if you are mad about the debt, be mad at the right folks, those who cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans while financing spending increases on the backs of our children - Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush. Remember it was Bush's VP, Dick Cheney who said, "Reagan proved, deficits don't matter."

Here's the whole chart:
National Debt Chart 1945-2009

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Didelphis virginiana

As newlyweds Sheila and I used to live at a Cave Spring address... Rt 2 Cave Spring... downtown Chubbtown in a little log cabin on Lake Creek a full mile from the nearest pavement.  It was the middle of nowhere in 1971.

Our first Saturday night in that cabin was a new moon night. When I clicked off the bedside lamp that evening I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The screech owls whinnied in the woods. The cicadas and crickets and treefrogs filled the night with sound till we drifted into sleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night I fought my way to consciousness as I felt Sheila shaking my shoulders and whispering in my ear, “There’s someone on the porch!” I jerked up, and listened to the night sounds... those crickets and frogs and even a truck on US 27 a couple of miles away to the south, and my heart pounding, I thought, audibly. Then there it was ... sniff---sniff --- just a quiet little post-nasal drip.

The murderer had allergies, I guessed.

But I was absolutely sure now that my beautiful wife was wrong. The evil intruder ... sniff ... even now readying his knife to strike ... sniff ... was not on the porch. He was in the room with us!

My mind raced. ... sniff ... How could I save myself and my beloved? I’d been working down by the creek that afternoon, fighting the never-ending battle against invasive species  ... sniff ...  chinese privet and Japanese honeysuckle ... sniff ... with a machete my father had given me. It was leaning against the wall near the chest of drawers. If I could reach it  ... sniff ... before he struck maybe we’d have a fighting chance.  ... sniff ...

I inched my right hand toward the lamp as my left gripped the hem of our covers.  ... sniff ...  My heart pounded.  ... sniff ...

Click! I threw off the covers and swung my feet to the floor as the lamp illuminated the burglar...

... waddling with remarkable speed from under our bed between my legs.


A very young Didelphis virginiana, our only American marsupial, the Virginia Opossum.

We chased him with a broom and he ducked into the kitchen and scooted behind the stove. I left Sheila on guard with the broom while I went to get a flashlight so we could look under and behind the stove. As I turned toward the kitchen electric torch in hand, the night was split with blood-curdling screams!


I rushed into the kitchen to save my poor bride from some terrible monster and found her on all fours, nose to nose with a hissing little ‘possum, both of ‘em hysterical.

She had decided to pull the pots and pan drawer out of the stove so we could see behind it. She had gotten down close to it so she could peer behind it as it slid out. Well, that 'possum had taken refuge IN the drawer itself, curled into a bread basket, its sharp teeth bared, as surprised as she at finding itself nose to nose with a scary alien species.

Being me, I grabbed the old Minolta and snapped a few pictures before we put him out again.

We finally managed to make the little cabin Possum Proof, but he continued to hang around and we became kinda fond of the little guy and the bond seemed mutual. He made himself a nest under the eaves at the front of the house, and we left him scraps from our meals that he seemed to appreciate.

One Saturday morning I took my coffee and the latest Newsweek out the front door to one of the porch chairs to rock and read awhile. Lo and behold, that possum came down the corner logs and waddled right up onto the porch and climbed right up into the porch rocker next to mine.

We howdyed each other and enjoyed a little small talk. I asked his name and was surprised to find his mama and daddy must have known a little Latin, ‘cause he immediately identified himself as Didelphis Virginiana, but said most folks just called him Delphis, except of course, for his school buddies, who called him Doofus.

I finally worked the conversation around to the question that I guess just about anybody would want to ask a 'possum if they got the chance: just how it was that his tribe had acquired the ability to play 'possum?  He was ready for that one. He told me that his great granddaddy, who was generally called Brer Possum,  had told the story to Joel Chandler Harris a long time ago but ol’ Joel had got some of it wrong. Another fellow named David Holt had done a little better at telling the story. But now he had the chance to tell it, he hoped I’d take good notes and be sure to keep the facts straight.

I'll tell that story in another post.

Delphis the 'Possum, June 1972

© 2011 Terrell Shaw

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I should be writing about Uncle Tom today. It would be his 95th birthday if he were still with us. But others have that covered today. Thinking about him reminded me of someone else. 
And thinking of that someone made me think of one of my favorite gifts I ever had the pleasure of presenting to someone. I made it myself with great love and care for my Aunt Mary.

At that time my mother’s older unmarried sister lived with my grandmother in the little mill village, Porterdale. And she had a collection that fascinated the younger nieces and nephews. She had little china animals scampering about coffee tables and mantels in one room. Poodles and dalmations and miscellaneous cats, maybe even a skunk or raccoon -- a crowd of happy inexpensive miniatures to rival Noah’s living assortment. (If any of my siblings or cousins remember more specifically her animals I hope you will comment below. It seems like there may have been a jaguar or lion.)

Aunt Mary Baird Shepherd
Mrs. Matilda Brown introduced our class to papier mache in Griffin during my fourth grade year. Most of the students made foot-long brown bears or lions or giraffes. I tried to make mine very small and detailed because I thought it would be so neat to make something for Aunt Mary’s "animal" collection. My papier mache dog was about four or five inches long and was carefully painted gray with black spots. You’d have thought I’d given her a Faberge egg or a Tiffany lamp! She displayed my misshapen wrinkled “dog” as proudly as all the rest of her menagerie of miniatiure beasties.

Of course, if Aunt Mary knew we were coming that day, she would have baked my favorite -- strawberry cake. So I’m pretty sure I got a present, too. I was spoiled rotten. Christmas was never complete without Aunt Mary’s divinity and fudge.

In middle age Aunt Mary married Pierce Shepherd, a roly-poly jolly man. He and Aunt Mary continued to live in the corner house and Mama Baird moved across the strret into a smaller house that my parents owned.
 Aunt Mary with her brother, my uncle Tom Baird -- today would be his 95th birthday.
Widowed in her seventies, and her mother gone as well, Mary moved to Rockmart, another mill town, to live near her older sisters, Sis and Veek to their loved ones, Louise and Vera to the world at large.

Aunt Mary, in her old age, developed a cancer in her mouth. It required radical surgery.

After her surgery her face was horribly disfigured and it was very hard for her to talk. She went to the Methodist senior living complex Wesley Woods to attempt to recuperate. We wanted to visit her there, and we wanted to take Brannon, who was only two or three, because we felt it would be good for Aunt Mary to have a child visit her. We prepared Brannon for the visit as best we could, telling her that Aunt Mary’s face was hurt badly and that she would not be able to talk well. Brannon could not have responded better to Aunt Mary’s predicament. I believe we did the right thing. Children can be very accepting of things like that when they are prepared for it. And Aunt Mary’s eyes lit up at the sight and touch of a very loving child.

Aunt Mary never made it back to the mill village at Rockmart. She died a few weeks later surrounded by her kin.

On my last visit to Aunt Mary's house before her cancer surgery, I arrived in the Book-Mobile. As a summer job I drove it all over Polk and Floyd counties delivering best-sellers and Hardy Boys and Harlequins and Zane Greys by the box load. I persuaded my cohort to stop for just a few minutes since we were driving right by.  Mary was to have surgery in just a day or two.  While we were there Aunt Mary wanted to show me something in her bedroom.

And here is the precious gift she gave me, unawares.

I don’t remember the thing she took me in there to see. What I remember, with a catch in my throat every time, is that there on her bedroom wall was a framed 8 x 10  picture of a chubby, smiling, six-month old baby playing with a rattle: me.

The picture of yours truly that hung on Aunt Mary's wall.

Mary Baird Shepherd was a kind-hearted, humble, and loving woman. She never had children of her own, but she showered motherly love on all her nieces and nephews. We miss her still.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rest in Peace, Geraldine Ferraro

Many of us were inspired by Walter Mondale's choice of Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in 1984. Thank you, Congresswoman Ferraro, for your service to our country. And thank you Walter Mondale for inspiring little girls all over the country to aspire to serve our country in new ways.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Will you still need me?

Here's the question of the day!

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine?

If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oooo
You'll be older too, (ah ah ah ah ah)
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.

I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Botanical Break from Storytelling

During a break between story sessions at the Southern Order of Storytellers Winter Festival we wandered across the parking lot, of the Unitarian Church where the festival was held, to a tiny natural area sandwiched there between the church and tiny Fern Creek right next to I-85 and found a pocket of Spring arrived a couple of days early. (I've made my quick guesses. Now I'll ask Richard and Teresa Ware to correct my mistakes.)

 Wood Poppy
Stylophorum diphyllum

 Blue Violet
Viola sororia

 Sanguinaria  canadensis

 Toadshade Trillium (Sweet Betsy)
Trillium cuneatum

Yellow-eyed Grass???
 Slender Toothwort
Dentaria heterophylla


DYC (d#@%ed Yellow Composite)??

Friday, March 18, 2011

Home Sweet Home

The brightest little sparkle,
with the smaller barren Luna to its right,
is home to all of us,
and everyone we've ever known or heard of.
It is the home of all of human history;
of every ancestor of every human;
of every known insect,
or cartoon character;
of every human thought,
of every word ever spoken;
of every murder and all kindnesses; of every war and every turned cheek;
of every kiss;
of every curse;
Washington, Mao, Elizabeth I,
Hitler, Gaddafi, Herod,
Ceasar, Alexander, Monctezuma, Tutankhamun,
Curie, Einstein, Galileo,
Twain, Shakespeare, Aesop,
Jesus, Mohammed, Abraham,
Erickson, Columbus, Armstrong
... all romped on its surface as children.

The water planet.Our little blue oasis.
Home sweet home.

(The photo was taken May 6, 2010 by the Messenger spacecraft during its mission around the planet Mercury. Messenger is busy mapping Mercury and searching for asteroids in the inner solar system. It giving us the first new close-up information from Mercury since Mariner 10, thirty years ago.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How to Tell a Story

Mark Twain has it about right. Telling stories is a lot like acting. The teller/actor, however tall his tale, must believe it to his toes as he tells/acts it. Here's Twain's "How to Tell a Story". I trust it is out of copyright.

How to Tell A Story
I do not claim that I can tell a story as it ought to be told. I only claim to know how a story ought to be told, for I have been almost daily in the company of the most expert storytellers for many years.

There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind--the humorous. I will talk mainly about that one. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.

The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst.

The humorous story is strictly a work of art,--high and delicate art,--and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it. The art of telling a humorous story--understand, I mean by word of mouth, not print--was created in America, and has remained at home.

The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the "nub" of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see.

Very often, of course, the rambling and disjointed humorous story finishes with a nub, point, snapper, or whatever you like to call it. Then the listener must be alert, for in many cases the teller will divert attention from that nub by dropping it in a carefully casual and indifferent way, with the pretense that he does not know it is a nub.

Artemus Ward used that trick a good deal; then when the belated audience presently caught the joke he would look up with innocent surprise, as if wondering what they had found to laugh at. Dan Setchell used it before him, Nye and Riley and others use it to-day.

But the teller of the comic story does not slur the nub; he shouts at you--every time. And when he prints it, in England, France, Germany and Italy, he italicises it, puts some whooping exclamation-points after it, and sometimes explains it in a parenthesis. All of which is very depressing, and makes one want to renounce joking and lead a better life ...

- Mark Twian
Twain goes on to give examples of the self-consciously "comic" tale and the longer, more genuine, "humorous" tale. You can look it up on the web and read the rest. I found it in a copy of`A Treasury of American Folklore I found in a thrift shop recently.

I collect my birthday present from Sheila this weekend -- a trip to the Southern Order of Storytellers Festival. We'll hear Carmen Deedy and her talented husband, John McCutcheon, as well as several lesser known Georgia storytellers. Can't wait!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

EEA Conference 2011

Notes from the EEA conference:
EEA Executive Director, Paul McLendon on the mission of the Environmental Education Allience of Georgia
"We want to build a statewide culture of environmental literacy and citizenship."

I'm with ya, Paul.

From songwriter Erica Wheeler (our entertainment at lunch):

"...see that moon out your window?
I'm under that same light.
Hear me whisper your name
- I'm prayin'
may our love be never-ending
as long as somewhere the wind still blows"

and (again thanks to Erica) a quote from a Georgia settler (no specific date given, but must have been early 1800s.):
"...I saw that interesting part of the state when all was
new-waters in the creeks and rivers as clear as crystal; rich valleys, hills . .
. . covered with thick forest. A land of beautiful flowers-white, pink, yellow
and red honeysuckle (azaleas), redbud, dog-wood blossoms, wild roses and many
others. The ground was covered with violets, sweet-williams (flocks), and other
beauties. There was plenty of wild game-deer, turkey, and other varieties. When
first seen, it was in lovely spring and I was nine years old."

Sean Beeching (from the website below.)

Best (and lamentably only) field walk: An after dark lichen walk with a UV flashlight led by Bob Hill of UGA. We saw the fluorescent lichens! Wow. Several lichen species give off a fluorescence when illuminated with these UV lights. You can tell the species by the color of fluorescence. The most fascinating thing was to listen to the incredible depth of knowledge exhibited by the wonderfully fascinated and articulate co-leader of the walk, Sean Beeching, as he discussed these widely ignored, strange, double organisms - part fungus, part algae. An amateur lichenologist, he has discovered previously undescribed species. Check out this link to see pics of Sean and his cohort at work play.

 Green Tree Frog (lifted from the internet)

It was good to enjoy again Tara Munez' presentation on amphibians. Our school has a special relationship with these critters  since our students  initiated the movement that resulted in the state adopting the Green Treefrog as the official Georgia Amphibian.

My Facebook friend and fellow "Triple Facilitator" Nikki Belmonte of the Atlanta Audobon Society taught a session on "Connecting Children and Communities to Birds". She led us through a little exercise that will be esy to use with our students to help them understand the odds our feathered friends face in their migrations. Unfortunately I had to leave the session briefly and realized when  I returned that I had missed the very thing I wanted from the session -- how to us the Backyard Bird Count with my students.

Eddie Anderson, an Atlanta videographer, presented some ideas for using technology in EE. He designed video podcasts for Arabia Mountain and Flat Rock Baptist and sared those with us.

Scott McMahan of Garden Hood gave advice on planting for school gardens.

My favorite moment in a workshop was the illustration by our teachers from the Atlanta Botanical Garden of the importance of going beyond simple identification in interpreting nature for students (or anyone). She exhibited a Mickey Mouse pocket watch and asked us to describe it. We did so in some detail - size, shape, material, etc.
 A similar watch lifted from hyperspace.

Then she told us the true story behind the watch, choking up a little, and bringing lumps to our throats as she described how her beloved father had come to be given that watch and the significance of the engraving on the reverse. It gave me chance to remind my student-teacher, who was sitting with me in the class, of why I put such emphasis on storytelling in teaching. However carefully and closely we examined that watch, I doubt any of us would be giving it any thought at all a day later had we not heard the story that goes with it.

And the awards...

• our own Kim Kilgore - Project Wild Facilitator of the Year
• The Georgia River Network, Environmental organization of the year (accepted by CRBI's Joe Cook.)

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Wet Nostalgia

Returning from a two-day workshop in Forsyth through... Atlanta... at... rush... hour... sounded like pure aggravation, so I decided to head cross-country this rainy afternoon. I saved no time - matter-of-fact rural outskirts of the big city are little no longer. In place of braving twelve lanes of bumper-to-bumper coagulated commuters, I pushed in and out of four, or three, or two lanes of equally clotted streets and formerly "country" roads.


Having no one with me to moderate my impractical impulses, I swerved onto the first exit off US41 into the south side of Griffin - following an ambulance that I figured was heading toward the hospital from the mangled vehicles I had just passed. I remembered that the hospital where two of my beloved little siblings had been born was not too far from the parsonage where I lived from 1954 till 1958, I thought I might be able to swing by 333 S. 9th St... formerly Home Sweet Home.

Lo and behold! There were the little airport and adjacent fairgrounds right where they had been 52 years ago. Lots of other stuff has grown like mold around them, but there they were. Midway Methodist used to have some sort of booth at that fair.

Then the hospital off to the left. Another minute and there's College Street. Left two blocks and our dilapidated old parsonage is sitting, tastefully rejuvenated in yellow with white trim, greenish black shutters, architectural shingles, and a bit of gingerbread that I don't remember.

Was the traffic light here in fifties. See the train tracks down College. 

And the little side yard animal cemetery. I remember conducting a solemn funeral for a songbird beneath this tree, a couple of small sisters as mourners.

My business partner of those days was Herbert Leach, Esquire. He was a man of more experience than myself, a sixth-grader maybe. He lived in this little house across the street -- now screened by a high privacy fence. We were first in the Coca-Cola business together. We collected stray empties from all over town in our wagon, then trudged across town to the Coke plant to redeem them. Later we diversified into the lawn maintenance business. 

Didn't mean to upload this one, but the rain has picked up. I'm getting wet. But I'm unwilling to go back to the car till I've had a good look.

The red beetle is parked at the back edge of what would have been, those years ago, a "big" field of kudzu. The gray truck is parked at its front edge, near where Daddy's one-room tiny outbuilding study/portal to Narnia would have . Well, not really Narnia, I didn't know about that land yet. But this is where we heard, gathered at my fathers feet, the tales of a mythical-seeming Milstead.

And the tracks! What an adventure to stare Death in the teeth and walk these tracks.

The red clay banks were a source of fascinating translucent sheets of mica. And here we enlarged a concave collapse of clay into a cave hideout. In retrospect, such an endeavor could have spared y'all these posts. Somehow we escaped childhood alive.

Standing at about the location of Daddy's little office looking up the line of mulberry trees, now only a memory. Tree climbing is still a delight of mine. It is the adventure of dreams to this day. Those little trees were the best I could do in this yard, but they gave an elevated perch from which to pester sisters, at the least.

Next I walked into the lobby of the medical building to pester the receptionist, my sisters being unavailable.  She says the medical building dates from 2007 and she's from Pike County and that's all she knows. I suggested she excavate under her desk. It is near the spot I buried treasure in a fruit jar about 1957. It was under a canopy of kudzu at the time. My buddies and I had formed a maze of tunnels in the kudzu winding from one itchy end of the little field to the other. 
Now a sentimental drive of the long path I took each day to Fourth Ward Elementary School.  Up 9th to Poplar and out Poplar to the school. I should have measured it. The route seems to have shrunk in the 50-odd years intervening. Has there been much work by scientists on the obvious general shrinkage of the Earth? A primary memory along the way is annual trick-or-treat excursions to the houses along the way and the big apartment building just across the tracks.

Oh my! The school building has disappeared. A 1960s wing of it remains but has been captured and occupied by the Griffin Police Department. The large playground, with its trees, out back is largely intact but partly paved and littered with assorted police vehicles and equipment. A public housing development surrounded by gated community-style fencing backs up to it now. Here is the front of the "school" taken through my windshield.

And another taken as I dodge standing puddles and my hat and jacket become further soaked.

One block toward town on Poplar  is “my crossing”. Here ten-year-old Terry Shaw stood duty with my white shoulder strap, belt, and badge, as a duly sworn officer of the School Patrol. The building at my crossing was a mom and pop neighborhood store that did a brisk after school business in penny candy, baseball-carded gum, Cokes, peanuts, and candy cigarettes. Someone has, I think, built hipped additions enlarging both sides of the once much simpler and smaller building. I look for Mrs. Brown's house in the next block, but I don't see it. There are several houses of that era, but hers was bigger and more obviously Victorian, as I recall. As I have written, I loved my cantankerous old fourth-grade teacher. I wonder if she ever imagined that "impudent" Terry Shaw would spend 31 years teaching elementary school.

I drive around several blocks and finally back "home" by College St., down the "big" hill (shrinkage is painfully obvious here, too) where I had my disastrous bike wreck when that blasted little dog distracted me, nipping at my ankles, and I hit a parked car.

My mother often walked us from home to Hawke's Free Children's Library, which was conveniently located directly across the street from a small bakery. It was a joy to munch on warm gingerbread men fresh from the oven while beginning a new adventure with Frank and Joe Hardy or reading the "true" stories of Robert E. Lee's or Thomas Jefferson's childhood. So I ended my side trip there. 

Caught a cup of stale coffee at Micky D's and rejoined the barely oozing circulation of rush-hour traffic.
My sentimental journey had only lasted thirty-minutes. Posting these pictures and comments, considerably longer!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

PTSW: Foul Shot

With nieces and nephews and students and former students and children of friends dribbling and passing and shooting, urging the big sphere through the netted hoop, I suppose it's time to trot out this moment captured by Edwin Hoey. It is taken that little text I taught from in 1970. If you want to reach a reader, push or pull or coax, lofting those verbs, nudging them to teeter and tremble and tumble into the world...

 Foul Shot 
With two 60’s on the scoreboard

And two seconds hanging on the clock,
The solemn boy in the center of eyes,
Squeezed by silence,
Seeks out the line with his feet
Soothes his hands along his uniform
Gently drums the ball against the floor,
Then measures the waiting net,
Raises the ball on his right hand,
Balances it with his left
Calms it with fingertips,
And then through a stretching of stillness,
Nudges it upward.

The ball

Slides up and out,
Plays it coy
Until every face begs with unsounding screams—

            And then
                                    And then
                                                            And then,
Right before ROAR-UP,

Dives down and through.

by Edwin Hoey

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords shot

Ariz. Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has been shot in the head at point blank range according to reports. We will endure a lot of inquiry and investigation. Perhaps this is a personal rather than a political attempted assassination. But given some of the rhetoric of the far right, one can't help speculating that we may have our first bloody victims of their hateful words.

Palin Puts Giffords in the Crosshairs

Her Opponents Campaign

1/14/11 Note: I have edited this post to remove an intemperate word of my own. The so-called "Tea Party" includes several organizations and people of a variety of conservative political beliefs. Some I would not hesitate to characterize as extremist, but many who identify themselves in general with the "Tea Party" movement do not qualify for that adjective.

[A totally unrelated tirade about grammar: 
I hesitate to use "extremist" as an adjective in the above sentence for fear it will be taken as a noun. There are in the body politick a large percentage who do not realize that the plural of a noun ending in "-ist" should end in "-ists". One Methodist, two Methodists. One extremist, two extremists. This is a constant aggravation to me. How many times have you read a comment during the last ten years about a bunch of "terrorist". Aaaiiiiiiaiiiiiiii!
I feel better now.]