Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Teach Your Children Well

Proverbs 4:1, Give attention that you may gain understanding.

Do you like to read a lot, like I do? If I do not have a good book hanging on in my life, I feel a little lost. Usually, I have a fiction selection and a non-fiction thought provoker going on at the same time – which reminds me that I need to make a trip to the library or else I will spend some dollars through the amazing maze of wireless shopping to find a new nook-book. Who were the marketing geniuses who made up that name to sound sort of like a pacifier? Ok – I just broke down & did my online Barnes & Noble shopping – instant gratification: Seven Days in Utopia, Heaven Is For Real and That Used to Be Us. Distracting myself – stop it!

Part of my regular reading is actually education journals where I try to find the latest research reports to direct me to push my students in the right direction. Lately, the research is telling that so much more than content knowledge (my Papaw called this book learnin’) indicates continued academic progress. Character traits such as self-control, social awareness and perseverance appear to be strong predictors for future success. So how do I teach that????
Well, one way to teach it is to bring it up for discussion at every opportunity. In teaching math to 7th and 8th graders, believe it or not, there are a bajillion opportunities! When I give the “warm-up – challenge” problem to start class each day I am given the chance the encourage those who have the “Sit & stare at blank paper syndrome.” Learn from your peers who are chosen to share their work and explain the solution – look at their mark outs, erasures and changes – we talk often about persistence in problem solving. Now when I am redirecting behavior, they know the purpose is to support their future success. I just use the keys words to remind them, “Michael, social awareness,” reminds him to look around and be aware that his class mates are involved in a task & he needs to follow their lead. Or it might be, “Sara, self-control.” They are smart kids – they get it!

Lately, educational research has particularly commented about how this character growth has become especially difficult for children from affluent families (whom I happen to teach). Their parents while trying to actively support them in academic success are sometimes doing the exact opposite when they try to shield them from possible failure. In his recent article in New York Times Magazine, What if the secret to success is failure? Published: September 14, 2011, Paul Tough, quotes educational researchers and writers, Levin, Randolph and Levine listing the character traits that they find most supportive of success:  zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, persistence and curiosity.

Another way to teach character besides discussion is modeling. How do we show them to interact with others? How do we show them to find contentment and “success”? All of the necessary qualities seem to come back to the fruits of the spirit that God will give to us as we continually seek Him.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Trees Deeply Rooted

Family and Friends in the Fifties: My Life 1955-1960

One of the family treasures that helped us prepare for Darrell’s mom’s (Laverne Scott Green) recent memorial service was a handwritten book of memories. Our sister-in-law, Alyce Green, had printed out a list of interesting questions about life and asked her own parents and Laverne to fill it in. She said Laverne took about two years to complete the task and then Alyce made copies and bound it into a notebook to give us all as Christmas gifts in 2008. On the first page, the three questions were: what were your parents like, how did The Depression affect your family, and who were your childhood friends? This blog post answers modified versions of those questions for my “Memory Book”.

This is the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians; this is my prayer for my family and friends:

Ephesians 3:14-21, New International Version (NIV)

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

My preschool years were spent in Royse City TX, my parents’ hometown. Surrounded by much extended family, also residing in this small town were both sets of grandparents, the 5 great grandparents that were still living and Aunt Berniece and Uncle Jimmy Sladek. Uncle Wayne and Aunt Joyce lived nearby in Rockwall and Uncle Glenn lived in Dallas. My dad commuted to work in Dallas at Otis Engineering located on Mockingbird Lane, sharing the travel with his friend William Mantooth who worked for Braniff Airlines at Love Field. Having such a carefree, happy childhood, I had thought that my mother was always a stay at home housewife until she corrected me about her employment; she worked for the town doctor, Dr. Peters. While she was gone to work, I got to pal around with my grandmother (Mamaw) Lois Fisher. I was having such a good time that I guess I didn’t realize what my parents were doing with their hours away from me.

Those days at my grandparents’ house followed a comfortable routine. I played in their bedroom/den with a coffee can collection of buttons and sea shells. These were sorted into families and arranged into their imaginary houses and activities. Another favorite past time was using the Sears catalog and Better Homes and Gardens magazines to pick out imaginary families and the objects of their homes and lives. If I was lucky, these paper goods would become old enough that I could cut pictures out of them and sort out the imagined families in piles on the floor instead of keeping it all in my head. Mamaw also made me temporary doll babies by rolling up a towel and tying a string around it to separate the form into a head and body. When the whistle blew, I knew it was lunchtime and Papaw would come home to join us for a home cooked noon meal. She served on Fiesta ware and I always wanted the grey plate because they told me it was a silver platter like the fairy tale princesses. I also got to use the special Mickey Mouse spoon. Meals I remember were fried chicken, salmon croquettes and chicken and dumplings. Then I would take a nap in “Glenn’s room”, drifting off with the traffic sounds from the far off highway blowing in the wind that stirred the curtains. (Yes, Janene, it was on a chenille bedspread!)

Their yard held lots of opportunities for outside adventures. The big tree in the front had a little cubby hole at its base near the roots; this made a great place for an oven to bake leaves and twigs. Another tree near the driveway had lots of low branches providing great climbs and “rooms”. At the end of the driveway was a carport and carpenter’s shop. Papaw kept his tools and table saw in there. I loved to play there in the fresh sawdust with the wooden blocks that came from his scraps. The shop also housed the big wringer washer that was used regularly until the “little room” was built on the side of the house to hold the washer/dryer and Papaw’s office for his insurance business. His manual typewriter was an obsession with all the grandchildren and the reason we always wanted to play in the “little room”.

More interesting adventures were available in their neighborhood (Peterson St.) with the various families that lived nearby. In the house next door, the Baptist parsonage, various sons of the preacher families raised pigs and I could observe them through the fence that kept them penned up in that back yard. On the other side, lived the Fikes family (who were related on my dad’s side) and they tended a large back yard garden. Mrs. Fikes was often out there working in her faded sun bonnet and calling us over to give us vegetables. Across the street was the Vining family who had a teenage daughter that I idolized – she was so grown up and pretty with her perfect ponytail. Further down were Tince and Lottie Bell (the undertaker and his wife) who liked to entertain us with the musical organ in their living room. And sometimes we visited with Mrs. Nation (Aunt Joyce’s mother) who also lived a short walk down the street. This was one of those places where everyone knew everybody in town.

Church worship services were regular activities. Grandparents on the Kohn side (Nana and Papaw Bally) were members at a country church before they moved off the farm into town. I think it was called Graham Point Baptist Church. Nana was known for her great home cooking and she was often hosting the preacher’s family over to her house for a meal. Mamaw and Papaw were long time members at First Methodist in Royse City which is now a building recognized as a historic landmark. My parents and my dad’s parents were members at First Baptist Royse City where my dad was the music leader. I remember going to church in a storefront building on Main St. while the current sanctuary was being built. My dad also provided music for revival meetings at numerous country churches around Rockwall and Hunt counties and sometimes I went with him. So I learned the old traditional hymns from a very early age, sometimes mixing up the words. I remember singing, “bringing in the sheets” instead of “bringing in the sheaves,” thinking of my mom bringing in the washing from the outside clothes line. And I’m told that I also mixed up a pop song with Sunday school lessons and came out with, “Jesus standing on the corner watching all the girls go by…” My dad played guitar and would entertain us at home with Hank Williams songs, “Your cheatin’ heart…will tell on you.”

Recently reading The Help, a current best seller and a new movie, made me think about one of my childhood playmates. Pam Peters, the doctor’s daughter, often invited me to play at her house. The Help made me think of her family because they were the only people in town that I remember having “help”. Their maid’s name was Miss Gussie and Pam’s mother was named Evadean. Their help did the cooking, cleaning and watching after the child while Evadean played golf, read books, watched TV or went off to Dallas. It was fun to play there and I was so impressed that Pam had her bedroom and a separate play room. We were not allowed to mess up her pretty pink bedroom with the Felix the Cat clock and were confined to only play in the play room.

My best friend in those years was the girl across the street, Jan Claycomb. We had lots of fun playing together, mostly outside in the other neighbor’s yard. Mr. Carr was an elderly man who lived alone and still farmed part of his city property. He kept an old hay wagon parked under a weeping willow tree that made a perfect location for little girls to play “house”. He also had an old smokehouse and beehives on his lot. My sister is famous for beating the hives with a stick and then running home yelling, “The flies are after me!” Jan and I also liked to play at a place around the corner from our house that we called, “The Big Tree”. There was a lot of freedom for kids to wander around and play outside without worry in those days. I remember going on an exploring adventure with Jan, taking a walk down the dirt road next to Mr. Carr’s house just to see where it would go. Evidently, parents did panic when they couldn’t locate their kids because I recall getting in big trouble when we came home…we had travelled past our known zone and passed unknown workers in some fields.

 Jan was a year older than me and I was really sad when she went off to school with her older sisters and I was left to play with the younger ones during the day. By that time, my sister Gail was born and my mom was a stay at home mom who did home day care for our cousins Tammy and Donna Sladek. The best time of day was the afternoon when Jan got home from school. I would go over to her house and she would teach me what she learned that day and we would watch TV shows, Dobie Gillis and Our Miss Brooks. We loved a song that her sisters taught us, “She wore an itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny yellow polka dot bikini…”

She probably gave me a great head start to formally learning to read – thanks Jan! I haven’t seen her in years but have come across her mother Joann at various Royse City funerals. Jan graduated from Texas A & M during the early years of girls first being allowed to attend there; her dad and uncles were all Aggie alums. She married, raised a family and lives in Tyler TX, last I heard.

Imagery of large, strong trees keeps repeating in the haze of my memories. I liked to climb, hang from limbs and just sit and look at my world from a different perspective. I would play out the Bible story and children’s song of Zaccheas, climbing and waiting in a tree, waiting for Jesus to walk my way.

Psalm 1:3 …be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does, he prospers.

Waking up in the mornings, I remember loving to lie on the floor in the den in front of the space heater. I would be watching my dad leave for work with his metal lunch box and watching the kid TV show, Captain Kangaroo. Cereal was the breakfast preference, like Alpha-bits or Rice Krispies. I loved playing with coloring books, paper dolls, my toy sewing machine and my toy doll house, Colorforms, Slinky and Hula hoops…

My mom was a census taker in 1960 and I remember riding with her in the car as she drove to places in the country to record their information. She kept me occupied with a coloring book where you could paint on water with Q-tips and it would bring out color from the pages. I also remember the election – most local signs were for Nixon. People in small town northeast Texas were suspicious of the Irish - Catholic candidate.

Basically, living was easy…no worries, be happy! Maybe the prayers of my family gave me a blessed life in my early days! Thank you!

Hebrews 13:7, Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.