The Promise

Note: I wrote this essay four years ago. Today, April 2, 2018, Fred would be 77. For the first time since 1993, I will not  be sharing Shaving by reading it to a group of students or friends. I share its story now, the story of a story, with any readers.


Were he alive,  Fred Templeton would turn 73 on April 2. However, he died of lung cancer in August 1992–too young for him, his wife, and his two children. A young 51,  he was a fine English teacher at Surrattsville High School where he was also an outstanding coach of soccer and baseball.  He also coached youth soccer,,basketball, and softball in the Rec League of Alexandria, where he lived.  As a teacher at St. Stephens/St. Agnes, the school his children attended, I casually knew Fred and his wife Sarah, but when his son Michael  enrolled in my freshman English class, he and I forged a bond cemented around Leslie Norris’ short story Shaving.

During the late 1980’s, I had good results teaching Norris’  Shaving, the story of  17-year-old Barry whose father is dying from cancer. Coming home from a rugby match,  Barry is told by his mother that his father, lying in the family dining room turned into a sick room, is uncomfortable because of his unshaven face. After drinking a glass of milk, Barry announces to his mother, “I’ll shave him.” He does, and in such a way that all students who read the story are moved in profound ways. Because of the positive results, I always taught Shaving until the news spread around school about Fred’s cancer. For the school year of 1991-’92, I chose not to use Shaving because Michael would be in my class, and I thought that would be too difficult for him. That year the school community watched in awe as Fred, who had taken a leave of absence from Surrattsville, continued to coach his Rec League teams while showing us how to live life at its fullest.  However, as he lived and battled, the cancer advanced in such a manner that in late August, 1992, as preparations for the coming school year were being made, the news spread that Fred was home,  the family dining room having been turned into his sick room, and that if any of us at school wanted to see him, we should come quickly as his lungs were filling with fluid, and his death was imminent. My friend and fellow administrator, Roger Bowen, asked me to accompany him to visit Fred on a hot, late August morning. I declined, not wanting to see Fred in such a state. Little did I know, but when Roger Bowen returned from his visit with Fred and his family, he gave me an envelope and said, “Fred asked me to give you this.” Asking him what it was, he answered, “I don’t know, it’s sealed.” Going to my office, I opened the envelope and saw a  copy of Shaving, and a note in Sarah’s hand that read, “Fred wants you to have a copy of this story, one of his favorites.” Stunned,  I immediately called her asking for a chance to see Fred, which she managed to give me that afternoon.

Going into their townhouse, I saw Fred lying in the hospital bed that had been placed in what had been the dining room, just like in the story. I told him my story about Shaving and how I had chosen not to use it for Michael’s year in my class, and he told me how, when Michael had begun to give him his shots for pain, he was reminded of a story he had taught long ago. He sent his family looking through all his books, and his sister had found it, Shaving. Liking it, he wanted me to have a copy. As my time with Fred waned, I promised him that I would always teach Shaving and asked him if he had a particular date that he would like. He said, “Teach it today, the day I died.” I reminded him that school was not in session in late August, but then asked him when was his birthday. “April 2,” he answered. We then agreed on the teaching of Shaving on each April 2 and since it was his birthday, as the story was being read, cake would be served to the students. So, every April, since 1993, cake has been served while students listen to my reading of Shaving. That first year, his daughter Kate sat in my class, ate cake, and heard the story that is so much like her father and brother.

In April, 2005 I ran across a reference to Leslie Norris, who was living and teaching in the Midwest. I emailed him my account of his story and he responded, telling me that as a young boy growing up in Wales, he had shaved his father who was dying from cancer. He told how he had put off writing the story, but finally did. His father’s birthday was April 5, so since 2005 I have felt as if I read it for both fathers and their sons. It was a promise.




Still Struggling

Three recent articles in the news are of interest. One, in the Christian Century on-line magazine, reports on the 50th anniversary of the Kenner Commission. Another, in The Charlotte Observer, is a short article on the death of Ms. Linda Brown, and the third is a special article to the Observer by Mr. Frank Martin.          All three articles deal, in one way or another, with public education and our segregated society.

The Kerner Commission was a presidential one charged by President Johnson to explain the racial unrest during the summer of 1967. It found that the country was, in fact, “two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”  “Fred Harris, the lone surviving member of the Kerner Commission, recalls that he and his colleagues operated with a simple assumption: ‘Everyone does better when everyone does better.’” The Commission gave suggestions to change the content of our society, but fifty years later, we still struggle with the same issues.

Many Americans may have heard of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in 1954 concerning Brown vs. Board of Education and how it overturned the policy of “separate but equal.” However, how many Americans know that the collective case centered around a nine-year old black girl who only wanted to attend the Topeka, Kansa school a few blocks from her home?  I suspect that Ms. Brown, like so many white and black pioneers, are only abstract names, not real people like several professional athletes are to so many.

In the third article, Mr. Frank Martin, the chairman of the board for Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte, writes a thoughtful article on how Sugar Creek Charter School, along with other charter schools in North Carolina, is educating its “high poverty, all-minority school” students. To paraphrase Mr. Martin, the schools he mentions have three fundamental strategies: The belief that all students will succeed; that intangible life skills along with academics must be taught; and each school must emphasize instructional excellence. Mr. Martin concludes with the thought that public education can end poverty in the lives of students and change communities.

Ms. Brown and her parents lent their name and energy and wish to Mr. Thurgood Marshall and his team of attorneys to fight for a basic right. Mr. Harris and the other members of the Kenner Commission shared a basic, human belief. Mr. Martin writes of three basic expectations for our schools. Yet, here we are these many years later still struggling with the same issue of separate and unequal.

Ms. Brown and her family are an important thread in the fabric of our county. They, like others, were real people who strove for equality. We need to know their history in order to understand the influence they had on ours, just as we need to know all the general history of our country so that we can appreciate where we are today. This means that we need to know the work of such groups as the Kenner Commission and what they produced.  Through that study we will encounter such members as Mr. Harris and his words concerning the commission and what they still can mean for us today. And all of this study and learning can only be done through education. Thus, we come to Mr. Martin and the successful work with the poor students of Sugar Creek Charter School.

Having grown up food deprived (hungry) in a single parent home with five siblings, I have a sense of the struggle of many of today’s children. I remember still, over sixty years later, of being denied because of my name and lack of my status in a white world. However, I was fortunate to have some teachers such as Ms. Cheryl Turner, the director of Sugar Creek. I also had a mother who loved me but demanded of me.  The teachers and parent in my life changed the course of it, and if we follow Mr. Martin’s “three fundamental strategies” for educating every child, our country will be what the Kenner Commission desired. Our children will know and value the work of such families as the Browns and work to make the words of Mr. Harris a reality.





Morning’s Gingerbread



Many years ago I spent a few days in Cape May, N. J. I had not gone for the beach, but to see the historical town and its Victorian houses. One afternoon I joined a walking tour of the town and the knowledgeable guide told the history of many houses and pointed out all the details of each. I remember him telling the group the purpose of the intricate gingerbread was not only to decorate the eaves and porches, but also to cast shadows of its various shapes onto the house. Skeptical of his interpretation for the finely turned gingerbread, I took a walk-through town when the sun was lower in the sky, and I found the treasures that he had described. Before that afternoon I had only seen the gingerbread of any house in one dimension. It was just a good decoration on various parts of a house, but that afternoon walking the quiet streets of Cape May I saw another reel of the past film.

This morning’s ride was the first since the spring equinox that occurred on March 20, two day ago. Because of the recent cloudy weather, and the earth’s tilt, the sunrise I witnessed was markedly different than the ones last week. Riding the stationary bike in the shadow of our home, the sun is out of sight as it rises over Lake Norman, but its rays show on the tall poplar across the road. The leafless branches of the tree hold streams of the sunlight before it moves on to lighten the shorter trees and lower trunks of the varied pines. Before too many minutes on the bike, I see that its light highlights the crepe myrtles in Brenda and Bill’s yard. Since their row of crepe myrtles have not been crepe murdered, their branches flow skyward in a graceful reach. Yet, I looked beyond the bare branches to see their shadows on the house and had another view of a day’s breaking and its gingerbread.

In Hold Everything Dear, John Berger writes, “A mountain stays in the same place, and can almost be considered immortal, but to those who are familiar with the mountain, it never repeats itself.” Since moving to Lake Norman and taking my morning rides on the driveway, I have become familiar with the pine trees, lake, road, sunrises, sunsets, and walking neighbors.  Like Berger’s mountain, they are not immortal and all are the same each day, but never repetitious.

Losing to Win

In the April 2018 issue of the Atlantic, is an article by Michael Gerson. After reading “The Last Temptation” I wanted to share it with a pastor friend of mine who is a supporter of President Trump. My friend came to visit and as I finished covering some book covers, I gave him the magazine and asked him to read the article. In a few minutes he closed the magazine and I asked why. “I’ve read enough,” he said. Seeing my surprise, he continued. “I read the first two paragraphs and he [Gerson] knows nothing of grace.” He went on to explain that what Gerson had written about President Trump could be written about anyone because we are all sinners.

Later after our lunch, I returned to the article and re-read the first two paragraphs. Gerson writes: “One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics-really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history-is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians.” Gerson continues to write that President Trump’s “background and beliefs do not follow traditional Christian models of life and leadership.” Gerson then goes on to point out some of President Trump’s more well known uses of language, lewd comments about his daughter, and other examples of non-Christian deeds. So, my friend quit reading after about one hundred words because he saw Gerson as being judgmental.

Grace! Such a varied word for Christians and non-Christians which ranges in meaning from personal charm to sanctification by God. That latter definition was how my friend was using grace, as in the “Divine love and protection bestowed freely on human beings.” In his mind, Gerson was not granting President Trump what he is given by God—recognition and forgiveness for his human frailty.  Thus, granted grace means we are loved and forgiven our sins by God and should, by His direction, give the same to our fellow humans.

But, I think my friend is mistaken in how he thinks we should grant grace and forgiveness as an extension of grace. We are told repeatedly in the Bible not to judge others. Proverbs 29:26, “Many seek the ruler’s favor; but every man’s judgment cometh from the LORD.” KJV I get that and work at being gracious to other humans. As Pastor Gibson often said, “We know God made him [a prickly/odd person], but we just don’t know why.” I remember that when I encounter a difficult person, and how the Disciple John tells us to love in deed and truth, not by our words. However, does being directed to love, grant grace, and forgive require us to ignore repeated violations of the Ten Commandments?

Some years ago I was involved in an immoral relationship. She was known by my family and friends who knew how unhappy my thirty-year marriage had been, and they were all truly glad for my happiness. During those four years not one person suggested to me that what I was doing was sinful. One long-time friend, a pastor, did comment that he and his wife were surprised by “your youthful friend.” She and I became an accepted couple until we were blown apart by Katrina. However, looking back, I wish that one of the people who loves me had told me in words “with grace, seasoned with salt” that I was deep in sin, “far from the distant shore.” I may not have heard the words, but I would have been told. Also, the reverse is true: I find it so difficult and even awkward to tell a friend or relative that she/he is wrong Biblically. To point out an error in grammar is easy for me, but not one from the Bible. And I think most of us feel this way. But, is this Christian behavior?

Throughout the Gospels, after Jesus heals or forgives someone, He tells she or he to go and sin no more.  That lesson seems to be what my friend is forgetting regarding President Trump. Yes, we should forgive. We should love. However, when a man repeatedly violates one or more of the Commandments, am I bound to accept his actions as “no worse than any other politician”?

Paul writes that “evil communications corrupt good manners,” and that if we go to a sinning brother and tell him of his sin; and if he continues in his ways, to return with another brother as a witness. If the sinning brother continues, Paul tells us to stop any relationship with the sinner. Many Christians, such as my friend, seem to me to be overlooking the continuous sins of President Trump to gain some perceived political win or wins. However, they are in danger of allowing great damage to be done, in the words of Beth Moore quoted by Beth Moore, “when we sell our souls to buy our wins.”

President Trump is our elected leader, and that needs to be honored. However, he is also a false prophet who needs to be challenged for his constant, non-Christian words and deeds.



Poimen and Tekton


Robert Fitzgerald, the highly regarded translator of Homer, writes in his postscript of The Odyssey: “… It [The Odyssey] can no more be translated into English than rhododendron can be translated into dogwood. You must learn Greek if you want to experience Homer….” Not a reader of any foreign language, I am glad to have such a translator as Fitzgerald who admits that his craft is not sufficient to do justice to the original.  I recently encountered David Bentley Hart’s new translation of the New Testament which I enjoy and use. In our Sunday School, we are reading and studying The Forgotten Jesus by Robby Gallaty to better the Eastern Rabbi, Jesus.

Reared as a Southern Baptist, I grew up reading or hearing the KJV translation of the Bible. As an adult I wandered– sometimes a Catholic, a Lutheran, a Brethren, and sometimes a none. Yet, as an English teacher, I read and sometimes taught stories from the KJV. No translation I read had its poetry and grace. We memorized the 23rd Psalm and Lord’s Prayer and knew what the archaic words meant. And out of the KJV I held to certain beliefs, such as from Matthew 13:55: “Is not this [Jesus] the carpenter’s son?” Then last week I read in Gallaty this: “Read aloud Matthew 16:18; 21:24; and 1 Peter 2:4-5. If Jesus likely grew up working with stones as His father did, ….” I thought Gallaty had made a huge mistake or the printer did, but when I asked Pastor Steve about the passage, I learned that my understanding of Josephs’ craft was wrong and came to realize that I had been a lazy reader of Scripture who accepted Church tradition. As if to follow that experience, this past week in Wednesday night Bible study, Pastor Jerry taught about sheep and shepherd. Another enlightening followed by my friend Mike who directed me to my favorite commentator, William Barclay, and his view of Mark 6: 1-6.

I faced my arrogance and re-read and listened. I discovered the various meanings of tekton. I learned about the relationship between a 1st century shepherd {poimen) and his sheep, I felt like some of the disciples who asked Jesus to explain certain parables. For a brief and silly time, I felt as if I had been betrayed by my cherished KJV. But as I listened to my two Pastors, I came to realize that, just as I had told my students of literature, I had to be an active reader of my text and commentaries. I had to see the wisdom of Gallaty and his guidance into the life of an Eastern Rabbi during the 1st Century.  It was then that I came to see Joseph and Jesus as craftsmen (Hart and Barclay’s word) or carpenters, or handymen and could grasp the idea of Jesus as a shepherd over His flock. Then I came to a deeper understanding of foundations and shepherds.

And perhaps I will try to lean Greek. Then I will not be dependent on any translator.

Somebody in Your Life


Yesterday during lunch with my wife and two of my sisters, we talked about our growing years. Our ninety-nine-year-old mother lay in her near-by bedroom locked alone in Alzheimer’s disease. Safe, clean, and well-fed, she is as well, in some ways, as she ever has been. So, like siblings do, we chatted and shared with Mary Ann and each other.  Memories and stories flowed, but one story about our mother stuck: a single mother of six children who worked in Cannon Mills’ Plant One, a sister told how, one particularly bad winter, Mother went to “The Welfare” and asked for funds to buy heating oil.  She was told that in order to be granted the money, she would need to quit work (hemming washcloths) and “go on welfare.” Mother looked at the welfare worker and said, “If I did that, who would teach my children to work,” before leaving.

I remember many stories about Mother and her lessons for living she taught us, however, I didn’t know that one. Yet, I do remember cold days and nights on Applewood Street, but they are only markers now. They are not our “good old days,” just a shared experience. I doubt if the phrase “a teaching moment” was used when Mother told “The Welfare” no thanks, but she knew when and how to use such a moment. We six were her children, and she took that as a blessed responsibility, and she taught us how to and why to live righteous lives. We are not perfect adults, but we know what Mother taught us: that we could rise above our poverty.

Part of our lunch conversation was how, it seemed to the four of us, so many of our nation would rather go to “The Welfare” than work, and that this attitude crosses racial lines. The obvious question for me is, “How did some many in our nation lose their will to work?”

This morning I heard an interview on NPR with Dr. Tererai Trent. As she described her life in a mud hut in Zimbabwe, an eighteen-year-old mother of four children, she said, “I wanted to be somebody in my life.” As an English teacher and lover of language, I find her phrase powerful for several reasons: if we diagram it, we see that it is not the ordinary thought of “being somebody” which is too abstract to carry weight; Dr. Trent adds the adjective phrase, “in my life” which modifies the noun ‘somebody.’ So, we see that Dr. Trent’s desire was to be a part of her life, to achieve something of merit, which was for her a terminal degree. And that is remarkable for several reasons, but most of all because on the day she sat in a circle of women in her village and was asked by a stranger, “What is your dream?” she had only a second-grade education. She rose from a culture where an eleven-year-old girl would be traded for a milk cow to be an author, speaker, and role model known and admired by the world.

The English word inspire comes from the Latin root inspirare, in is into and spirare is to breathe.  Not long ago, many protesters wore shirts that read, “I Can’t Breathe,” and I offer that they were correct for the reason of police brutality which was being protested. However, I think that too many of our citizens can’t breathe for another reason, and we need people like Dr.Trent and my Mother to inspire and teach our young people that they can rise out of mud huts and cold homes. We need parents and individuals, not institutions, to inspire, to teach children how to breathe, how to live productive lives. Yes, work is a four-letter, dirty word; but it is also noble. Rise up and be somebody in your life.



Failed Foreign Policy



*According to the Southeast University Consortium, 21.4 percent of the children in Iredell County, North Carolina, live in “food insecure homes.”  (the county in which I reside)

*Across America, for lack of funds for trained police to be present, school districts are arming shooter qualified teachers in an effort to stop mass shootings.

*Mental health experts are asking for dollars to help prevent such sad events as the recent one in California’s VA facility and Lakeland, Florida.

*In 2017, the America Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure a grade of D+.

*Add your favorite here.

In 2001 immediately after 9/11, Gary Schroens, a C.I.A. officer, set up shop in the Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan. His task was to support the Northern Alliances’s drive on Kabul and search for Al Qaeda leaders. His men carried $10 million in boxed cash. Write that out: 10,000,000.00, and according to Steve Coll in Directorate S, “They handed our bundles like candy on Halloween.”  According to Coll, Schroens visited Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, a conservative mujaheddin leader who had once been close to Bin Laden. Schroens gave Sayyaf $100,000 in cash. Fast-forward to today, March 13, 2018 and Defense Secretary James Mattis is quoted as saying, “All wars come to an end,” and he says that some Taliban are ready to negotiate a peace settlement. Mattis warns that it is not all the Taliban, but enough to begin a serious discussion. It is his hope that little by little, more Taliban will be persuaded to quit fighting. All of this comes from a man who led the American forces in Afghanistan early on, and who, after seventeen years of war, over 2,400 lost lives of U.S.  soldiers, and who knows how much money, has the gall to say anything about our terrible ordeal in Afghanistan and Pakistan that he, others in our military, the C.I.A., State Department, and two Presidents are responsible for. Oh, and many others who led America on a lost quest. Yes, Bin Laden was killed, but is his death worth all the costs?

Coll’s book is a tomb, and in many sections it reads as a well-crafted novel; such as when he recounts the experiences of Darin Loftis and Lieutenant Tim Hopper. There are villains in Asia and the United States, but the waste and shoddy attempts to build a democracy in tribal lands sickens me. “No Taliban or other Afghans participated in the September 11 attacks. The hijackers were Saudis and other Arabs. Khalid Sheikn Mohammed, the plot’s mastermind, was a Pakistani,” writes Coll.

I tire of the lies and deception and waste of our government. Since the end of WW II, have been fed a series of lies: Korea, Vietnam, the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” debacle, and now these two countries that we tried to swindle into becoming democracies.

Money alone will not correct problems that we face. But, I wonder how far the $10 million in boxes would have gone to protect our students?



Rites of Spring


Yesterday afternoon Mary Ann, my wife, told me to quickly look on our patio next to the screen porch. Turning, I saw two Carolina Chickadees tussling on the concrete. Mary Ann and I watched what we thought was the spring mating rite, but when the two tiny bodies did not dis-engage but lay on the concrete next to each other, we asked, “Are they taking a cigarette break?” Watching them lay still but locked in an embrace, Mary Ann went to them and without any difficulty, picked the beating bodies in her hands and carefully separated them. One flew to the fence and the other soon chased it across the lawn towards the lake. Coming in, she told me how their small talons had become entangled in the other’s, and even in the other’s wings. Had she not seen them, we summarized that they would have died of exhaustion from the territorial battle. Death almost became an unintended consequence for both males.

Spring is viewed as a time of re-birth. The Ancient Greeks explained it as the time of Persephone’s return from the underworld to the earth. The time of dark winter, when she was in Hades is over, and the earth blooms and animals reproduce, and all living things are energized. It is a time of joy. A time of passion. A time of hope.

Yet, the fierce battle between the two tiny bodies, each no bigger than my thumb, is a reminder. Everything has another side, even your loving Aunt Mildred or favorite teacher or best friend. Nothing is everything we see or hope it to be, and nature is a good teacher of this life fact. However, it seems to this observer, that we have, as a society, tried to make life in general smoother and less negative. We grow berry producing plants that have no thorns. We manufacture products for easier living that never decompose.  GMO’s line our grocery shelves. We work hard at bending nature to fit our needs and wants.

In his poem Mother to Son, Langston Hughes compares life to a stairwell.  The mother in the poem describes the stairwell that she has climbed as one of loose boards, tacks, splinters, and sometimes dark. She tells how her journey has not been one of a “crystal stair,” but she tells how she has always reached landings and turned corners. She tells her son “Don’t you sit down on the steps/’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.”,

Some may say that the poem is a negative look at life and one not to be shared with our children. However, I read the poem as a realistic summary of living and one that is authentic. Life, any life, has splinters and tacks and loose board. But, we should keep on going, even when it is dark. The mother in the poem is an example for us all. She knows that as long as she turns corners and walks “through the valley of the shadow of death” she will see the sunlight and glory of life. It is our going through the dark stairwells and valleys of life, that make the ridges more beautiful.

Two small, male bodies fighting for breeding rights of our back yard during early spring teach that not all of this season is as we see it. However, that dark side does not negate the bright side of budding dogwoods, vibrant greens, and bird song filled air. It is a time of rebirth when some fledglings will fall from the nest. No GMOs will change that.




As I write this sentence the change from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time approaches.  The mornings will suddenly be darker, and the evenings will be lighter. The lake will not glimmer in the sun’s early glow but be restful in the waning light of day. Pow. We change the mechanics of the seasons.


Our concept of time is interesting. From an early age we are taught not to waste it, always to be busy and productive. A pithy saying many are taught at an early age is by Benjamin Franklin: “Time is money.” My, not only does that expression come from a Founding Father, but it makes sense for a while. But is it true? Perhaps, but maybe it is just another way of telling us to stick to the grindstone and work hard. For me, over my 70 years, I have found working smart is much more productive than working hard. However, if one wants to, follow Franklin’s words and let time be your money.


Back in the 1880’s when the railroads were coming into wide use, the need for a Standard Time arose. For example: when travel was by foot, horse, carriage, or canal, it was no matter that noon in Boston (as gaged by the sun’s position) was 24 minutes before noon in Washington. After all, the 24-minute difference would not matter when one rode a horse or drove a carriage from one city to the other. Yet, when trains with their marvelous speed came into general use, there was a true need for a standard time. So, in the 1880’s, the railroad barons created our time zones and gave each a Standard Time. Now, all would be uniform. With the advent of fast travel, it mattered to the barons and the traveling public. As one historian has observed, it was a way of building community. And commerce would flourish under this Standard Time, and by this accounting, Franklin’s definition of time would seem correct and best for all. Certainly, the distressed and overworked mother in Tillie Olsen’s short story, I Stand Here Ironing, sees time this way as she laments: “And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total?” For this overworked mother, time is a fleeting commodity, not a luxury.


Yet, this seems an injustice in our thinking of time. I appreciate and understand the need to be productive. After all, any farmer knows that the hay must be harvested when the weather is dry and to let a dry day go by courts disaster. But, it all seems like we are trying to control nature, and as John McPhee points out in The Control of Nature, we can try, but we can’t.


John Lennon, the singer and songwriter, observed that “Time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted.”

Now, that view is far from what Franklin wrote, but it has its place. And, the other quotation about time is by the Nobel playwright Dario Fo who wrote: “Know how to live the time that is given you.”


Perhaps if we mix Franklin with Lennon and Fo, we will not end up like the harried mother of Tillie Olsen—too tired to find any time. So, in this glorious season, take some time to study a red-orange leaf of a maple tree or the palette of color on your lake or mountain. Take a child on a walk through some woods to smell the tang of the season. Or just sit somewhere in the waning sun and enjoy what we have been given to enjoy. I promise you won’t miss it. It is yours, enjoy.







Nursery Rhymes and Authority

Nursery Rhymes and Authority


A father, unhappy with the sad endings of so many classic nursery rhymes revised one for his daughter. She liked it so much he revised more and now has millions of viewers on his Chu-Chu web site. Parents like the new versions of the rhymes because they have happy endings, and who would not like happy endings?

Many of the nursery rhymes we recite or dance to or sing have a rather dark history. For example, Ring Around the Rosie is likely about the plague of London in 1665. The “rosie” in the song may be the malodorous rash that suffers of the plague had, and the “a pocket full of posies” were needed to cover the stench of rotting flesh.  And since so many residents of London died from the plague, “we all fall down” [dead]. (thanks to BBC)

That is only one example, but it suffices as an example of an activity that countless children have learned from over the years. So many of the rhymes were originally a way for the disenfranchised to protest such actions as unfair taxes (Ba Ba Black Sheep) or a queen who killed for religious reasons (Mary Mary Quite Contrary). However, they evolved from a way of protest to a way of learning for later generations who did not suffer from such abuses.

Literature, and nursery rhymes are literature, is a safe way for children and all of us to learn. By reading or hearing or seeing well written words, we can experience a plot from the safety of our easy chair, desk, classroom, theatre, wherever we are. We can see and understand the violence or joy or humor safely. And, if we discuss the plot and characters and action of the literature, we benefit from the knowledge of others. Parents reading to or watching with their children is a great and secure way for the children to learn. But what the child is exposed to, I think, should be authentic.

And that, being authentic, leads me to question the revising of any literature in order to make it happier.  When we teach literature, we are becoming authorities, and the literature we expose our children to should be authentic as well, and so should be our interpretations of the literature. If what we offer our children is too sad or to happy, then when they grow and see that life is not too much of either, or they see that we gave them a wrong interpretation, then they may feel betrayed.

Yes, Humpty Dumpty was ruined, but in his ruin is a lesson for every child and the child’s teacher.