Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Tar and Feather Justice"

*This article appeared in newspapers across the country in July of 1902.  Evidently, back in those days folks administered their own brand of justice.

Sterling, Illinois- “An incident that is probably without a parallel in the history of the world transpired near here today, delaying a funeral and causing the biggest sensation ever known in this state.

“Two days ago Mrs. John Seibert of Morris, after being nursed through a long illness by her husband, John Seibert, and her sister, Mrs. Theodore Wolf, died and all preparations were made for the funeral at 1 o’clock this afternoon.

“Shortly before the funeral cortege was to leave the house and while those who had gathered to accompany the remains to the church and the cemetery were taking their last look at Mrs. Siebert’s remains , one of the mourners happened to enter the private apartment of Mr. Siebert and found him hugging and kissing Mrs. Wolf, the dead woman’s sister.

“Within an hour the cortege started to the church and it was while on the way to the sanctuary that the discoverer ventured to tell of his discovery.  There was an outburst of indignation from the occupants of the vehicle.  The procession was halted and other mourners were told. 

“The result was that the whole cortege was delayed while the guilty man and woman were taken into a neighboring corn field and a coat of tar and feathers administered to them.  They were then driven from the village and ordered never to return, after which the funeral procession wended its way to the church and the obsequies were conducted as quietly as the state of excitement into which everyone had been thrown, would admit. 

“The dead woman was highly respected and her husband and sister had never been suspected of sustaining other than proper relations.”

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Back to School at 65

Recently I read an article in which the author argued that folks can actually slow the aging process if they stay active.  That is why, despite arthritic joints, each day I take enough steps to cover five miles.  All this exercise has indeed kept my legs slim and muscular, but it has done little for my stomach, which over the years has gotten bigger and rounder.  Maybe I should change my walking route so that I will no longer be passing by a certain wonderful doughnut shop! 

There are some studies that argue for an inverse correlation between actively using your brain and getting some form of dementia.  It’s the old “use it or lose it” argument.  So taking these studies into consideration, I decided at the age of 65 to go back to school.

Ohio has a wonderful program in which senior citizens 60 years and older may take classes for free at state supported colleges as long as those classes are not full.  Having been a history teacher for thirty years, I began looking at the nearby branch college’s offerings.  One that caught my eye was an American history course that begins with Reconstruction and ends in the present time.

After applying I had to wait a few months, but the professor graciously allowed me to be part of the class.  Here’s the good news: I don’t have to take the tests or do the projects! 

My wife warned me to more or less keep my big mouth shut: “You do not want to take over his class,” she exclaimed.  “Just watch, listen, and enjoy.”  That’s great advice, but I must admit that so far there have been several times when I wanted to put in my two cents or lead the discussion into another direction, but my wife’s command has kept me in line.

During my teaching days I found that many 7th and 8th graders cared nothing about social studies in general and history in particular.  I had to “con” them into liking it by developing an American “living history” course.  We played sports as they were initially created.  We had musicians come to our school to play the music that was most popular during the era we were studying.  During the study of the 1950s we had a sock hop.  The master of ceremonies was none other than Elvis Presley (well, actually it was one of our teachers dressed in a wild jump suit). The students read old newspaper articles and picked period clothing from old catalogues.  We ate popular foods from each era; the students especially liked our Depression era soup kitchen.

So naturally, I was eager to discover if college kids, unlike my middle school crew, would take an interest in history.  One of the students is quite knowledgeable and is constantly involved in the discussions.  Another three or four occasionally put in their two cents’ worth.  The others do not speak much unless they are asked a question, but they answer intelligently. 

There must be some level of interest here, for I have not seen a single student play with his cell phone, doodle on his paper, or stare out the window, and unlike during certain church sermons, no one has yawned or fallen asleep.

For my part, I’m having a ball.  Of course, there’s a downside; I’m being reminded that not all things in our history are positive.  For example, the treatment of Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese immigrants and other minority groups is rather shameful. 

Yet, this class also reminds me that in many ways, at our best this nation can be a positive role model for mankind.  Even as an old person it is a good thing to remember our nation’s ideals and to keep reaching for them. 

My wife playfully suggested that next semester I should take a sewing class.  Somewhere down below will freeze over before that happens, but I might be interested in a woodworking or photography class.  Just so I keep using those little gray cells.  And I’ll try to stay away from that doughnut shop.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dad's Words of Wisdom

Dad did not have much formal education, but he graduated “from the school of hard knocks,” as he so often said.  Somewhat of an earthy philosopher, he had many sayings that I still vividly remember.

*  “That guy couldn’t poor whiskey out of a boot with instructions on the heel. “  Since women and children might be reading this I’ve cleaned it up a little.  Basically, he’s saying that some guy  isn’t very intelligent or competent.

* “If you could buy him for what he’s worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth, you’d make a fortune.”  This is a case of an individual vastly overestimating his abilities and skills.

* “His opinion and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee.”  The guy’s opinions are worthless.

* “ He isn’t worth the powder to blow himself up.”  He’s lazy and thus worthless as a worker.

* “They’d be further ahead by paying him to stay home.”  He is such a lazy, negative influence around the workplace that it makes sense to pay him to stay away.

* “She has a face that could stop a clock.”  The lady is not exactly a raving beauty.

* “She has a face only a mother could love.”  Ditto.

* “He’s not the brightest bulb in the pack.”  He isn’t very smart.

* “He waits for  others like a pig waits for others”  He’s selfish and has no manners.

* “All politicians are crooks, but thankfully, not all crooks are politicians.”  Self-explanatory.

* “Democrats care about the average man; Republicans care about their rich buddies.” Not quite true, but Dad was a die-hard Democrat.

* “He puts his pants on one leg at a time.”  Although rich, famous, and powerful,  he is just like each of us-a fallible human being.

* “You’re a little too big for your britches.”  You are a little too full of yourself.

* “He doesn’t have the good sense that God gave a goose.”  He doesn’t have any common sense.

* “Common sense is not so common.”  If it’s so common, then why do so many of us lack it?

* “In this house we will all work together, and then we will all play together.”  Somehow, I can’t recall the playing times.

* “He’s the south end of a north-bound horse.” In other words, he’s a horse’s rear end.

Friday, August 12, 2016

School Daze

The folks in charge at our middle school decided that all staff members should have elementary certification.  Today, with an emphasis on state testing, school officials want expertise in each subject area.  Back then, however, the idea was for each teacher to know a little about every subject (and not a lot about any?).

Therefore, three of us were given a certain amount of time to get recertified.  Several courses and several dollars later, I did indeed have a new certificate.  Unfortunately, none of my newly acquired knowledge had anything to do with what I was teaching. 

One of the first subjects  I took was  a statistics class .  The instructor, a cranky old man if there ever was one, informed the students that he was there to flunk as many of us as possible.  For some reason, I had assumed that he was there to help us learn the subject matter. Go figure.

When the professor finally gave us a break I headed for the exit.  At eighteen I would have put up with such nonsense; at thirty-something I no longer suffered fools so easily.   Instead, I took the same class at another university and passed with flying colors.  Sadly, I NEVER used my newly acquired  statistical knowledge in the classroom.

Art class was fun.  We made face masks, hanging baskets, and clay pots.  Of course, back in my classroom we never made face masks, hanging baskets, or clay pots, but supposedly wiser heads believed that I needed these skills (I still proudly display the basket in my house).

In children’s literature we made storybooks for the young ones.  Evidently the teacher didn’t particularly like my story; I thought it was quite funny. Somehow I passed the course, but unfortunately, this children’s literature class didn’t offer much when it came to teaching middle school children.

The state said I needed one course for teaching music.  The instructor at the local university, when informed that I could neither read music nor play a musical instrument, said that I would need to take two “remedial” courses before I could take the one class that the state said I needed.

Once again I took my talents to another university.  There the professor  agreed that there was no way I could pass the course without taking the two prerequisite classes.  After much haggling, however, he agreed to let me try. 

We would have four evaluations in the class.  The first three grades would come from teaching musical concepts to kindergartners, second graders, and fourth graders.  At first I was at a disadvantage; I simply didn’t understand anything about music.

Going to the library, however, I would pick a concept and then teach it to myself.  Once I understood the material,  the other students were at a disadvantage.  I knew how to prepare a lesson  and I knew  how to teach it.

After the three lessons were taught, I had the best grade in the class.  The final exam, however, was a written test that contained many musical concepts that were way beyond my comprehension.  The professor suggested that I skip the final; I’d still get a “C’’ and pass the course.  Neither the state nor my school cared about my grade so long as I passed.

However, I was too stubborn and perhaps too proud.  Going to the library, I checked out several books on the “nuts and bolts” of music.  That night I tried to learn what should have taken at least a year or so.  Evidently I learned something that night, for I received an A- in a class that the “experts” said I couldn’t pass.  Oh, by the way, did I tell you that I never used these newly acquired musical skills in my classroom?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

In the Country or the Suburbs?

Several months ago Bev and I were excited to hear that our son Todd was bringing home his girlfriend for us to meet.  It didn’t take long to realize that she is intelligent, personable, and very pretty.  However, we also discovered that Todd and Julia have different definitions of just what it means to be “living out in the country.”

Bev and I reside in a quiet community nestled along a meandering, medium-sized river.  We are exactly 4 1/2 miles from a town of no more than 25,000 folks.  When Julia asked Todd if his parents lived in the country, he answered: “No.  They live just outside of town in the suburbs.” Since Julia has lived her life in and around Atlanta, it’s not surprising that her definition of “living in the country”  differs from Todd’s. 

When the couple got to within a half mile of our house Julia’s sense of smell was assaulted by the rather pungent aroma of a pig farm.  Let me tell you, nothing will clean out one’s sinuses like the smell of pig poop. 

“I thought you said your folks lived in the suburbs,” Julia stated.

“They do,” Todd responded.

“I’ve been in Atlanta’s suburbs many times, and I’ve never been hit with a smell like that!” she exclaimed.

While still in our driveway Julia  gathered more evidence that she was now indeed in the middle of nowhere.  “Todd, I hear a cow mooing!”

“We border a large farm, but we don’t live on a a farm.  Notice that we don’t have a barn, a tractor, or any animals with the exception of four cats,” was his rejoinder.

Strolling to the backyard, she was amazed to see what looked like a never-ending field of corn.  Todd explained: “That corn is not on our property.  As you can see, we live in a housing development.”

After dinner Todd fired up his “baby” - a 2000 Mustang - and took Julia for a ride.  Among other things, he showed her his old high school and the best place in town to eat pizza.  While driving through the nearby town Julia found additional ammunition for her argument; a farmer was driving his tractor slowly down one of the main streets.

“You won’t find any farmer driving his tractor down any streets in Atlanta,” she proclaimed.

Todd looked at her and smiled before saying, “You’re right.  The poor guy would get run over!”

So Julia is convinced that Todd’s old folks live out in the country, while Todd still argues that we are typical suburbanites.  I do know this: it’s home and I like it.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Many Adults Hated (and feared) Elvis

Although in the mid-1950s this nation faced communist aggression around the world, and here at home African Americans were still treated as second-class citizens, many adults believed that the biggest problem we faced was one greasy-haired, hip-swiveling young man from Memphis.  Here are a few comments about the man who would eventually earn the title of “King of Rock n’ Roll”:

1. “Elvis Presley is morally insane.  By his actions he’s leading other young people to the same end.”

2. Elvis  “… makes up for vocal shortcomings with the weirdest and plainly suggestive animation short of an aborigine’s mating dance.”

3. Elvis has “… achieved a new low in spiritual degeneracy.”

4. “I don’t like Elvis Presley.  If he was my kid. I’d smack that sneer off his face and send him out for a haircut.”

5. “You ain’t going nowhere, son.  You may as well stick to driving a truck.”

6. “When I was a boy, if a person had done things like this he would have found himself in jail.”

7. Presley is “… undermining the youth of America.”

8. “The guest performer, Elvis Presley, presented such a demonstration which was in execrable taste, burdening on obscenity.  The gyrations of this young man were such an assault on the senses as to repel even the most tolerant observer.”

9. “On stage, Elvis, you were nothing but a male burlesque dancer. Your gyrations were straight from strip-tease alley.  Happily, you did leave your clothes on.”

10. “Elvis can’t sing, can’t play the guitar, and can’t dance.  Yet two thousand idiots per show yelp every time he opens his mouth, plucks a guitar string, or shakes his pelvis like any striptease babe in town.”

11. Presley is a “… definite danger to the security of the United States.”

12. “The last appearance of this unspeakably untalented and vulgar young entertainer brought forth such a storm of complaints both from the press and public that I imagine any entertainer would hesitate to try him again on television.”

13. “Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability.”

14. “If I had a daughter who said everybody was stupid who didn’t like Elvis, I’d take her to the woodshed.  When I got through she would understand other people have a right to their opinion, also.”

15. “Some new manners of dancing and a throwback to tribalism in recreation cannot be tolerated for Catholic youths.”

16. “Beware of Elvis Presley.”

17. “If the agencies would stop handling such nauseating stuff, all the Presley’s of our land would soon be swallowed up in the oblivion they deserve.”

18. “It isn’t enough to say that Elvis is kind to his parents, sends money home, and is the same unspoiled kid he was before all the commotion began.  That still isn’t a free ticket to behave like a sex maniac in public.”

19. “His kind of music is deplorable, a rancid smelly aphrodisiac.  It fosters almost daily negative and destructive reactions in young people.”

20. “The belief of unholy pleasure has sent the morals of our nation down to rock bottom and the crowning addition to this day’s corruption is Elvis Presleyism.”

*My father was a member of the “Hate Elvis Club.”  However, after the Beatles came along he mellowed somewhat whenever the discussion of Presley came around: “Well, I guess if you don’t have to hear him or see him he would be okay.”

Monday, July 4, 2016

Hurrah for Cleveland!

Nearing the outbreak of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln offered Robert E. Lee a plumb job- the  commandment of the Northern troops.  Although he was surely flattered, after great thought he turned down the opportunity simply because his home state of Virginia claimed first place in his heart.

I can honestly say that I do not favor my state over my beloved country, but with that being said, I bristle somewhat when folks take potshots at Ohio or any part of it.  For years, Cleveland in particular has been a running joke in the media.  Being called “the mistake by the lake” is bad enough, but back in 1969 we Buckeyes had to put up with what seemed like millions of jokes about the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching on fire.

With such a reputation it’s no wonder that many athletes in baseball, football and basketball have declined to play there.  Just like the late Rodney Dangerfield, the city of Cleveland hasn’t been getting any respect.

The long-suffering Cleveland sports fans haven’t seen a World Series title since the Indians knocked off the Boston Braves in 1948.  Coming into this season, the Cavalier basketball team has never won a title.  The once-mighty Browns last won the NFL championship in 1964 when there was not yet such a thing as the Super Bowl.

There was a rush of excitement and optimism when the Cavaliers drafted LeBron James right out of high school.  A few years later the “Chosen One” led his teammates into the championship series, but they were wiped out in four straight games. 

In 2010 LeBron saddened and enraged Cleveland fans when he announced on an ESPN broadcast that he was taking his talents to Miami.   It has been said that there is a fine line between hate and love, and it was evident that the majority of fans had crossed that line.

But lo and behold, just two seasons ago LeBron once again shocked the world when he decided to return home, and furthermore, he promised to deliver a championship for the long-suffering Cleveland fans.  The team made the finals in 2015, but fell in six games to the mighty Golden State Warriors.  Despite injuries to the team’s two other stars-Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love- the determined James gave the Warriors all they could handle.

During the regular season this year the Warriors only needed capes to look like genuine super heroes, winning an NBA record 73 games during the regular season.  Not surprisingly, they reached the finals, taking a commanding three -games -to -one lead over the LeBron-led Cavaliers.  With the possible exception of Mr. James, the basketball world felt that for all practical purposes the series was over.  Of course, all of us should have listened to the words of that great philosopher and baseball star, Yogi Berra, who proclaimed that “It ain’t over ‘til  it’s over.” 

With their backs against the wall, the Cavs traveled to California to tangle once more with the defending champions.  This time LeBron didn’t need a cape to show off his super skills.  He scored 41 points while completely outplaying the Warriors’ star guard, Steph Curry.  If LeBron was Batman, then his sidekick, Kyrie Irving, was certainly Robin, as he also scorched the nets for 41. 

Game six in Cleveland went to the Cavs as James continued to be a man among boys.  Of course, most of the talking heads on TV and radio pointed out that game seven would be on the Warriors’ court, and that Curry and company would be ready to smash the “not-so-cool” hayseeds from the Midwest.

With the score tied at 89, the Warriors had what looked like an easy fast break goal, but as the shot was taken, seemingly out of nowhere came our superhero, LeBron, souring through the air to block the shot.  A while later Irving knocked down a three-point jumper over Curry and after a couple more futile shot attempts by the Warriors the game was over.  Basketball fans in California were stunned; Cleveland fans were literally dancing in the streets.

The long 52--year wait for a championship was over!  Finally once again Cleveland fans had something big to celebrate.  Since the late ‘60s the world has had its laughs at Cleveland’s expense, so no one should be offended while for a brief moment in history the Cleveland fans, the residents  of Cleveland, and just about every Ohioan stick a figurative thumb into the eye of their tormentors..  Go Cavs!  Go Cleveland! Go Ohio!