BETSY DEVOS? NEED A PENCIL? TAKE A NOTE: We do not teach and learn wisely and well if certain sturdy stances aren’t in our repertoire. This is a Listening-Conversing-Questioning-Routine from “my” high poverty-high achieving school.

Mrs. M: You’re going to write about your grandmother’s kitchen table, Milo?

Milo, his notebook closed, nods.

What’s the memory attached to the table?  (The 5th graders are writing stories connected to important objects in their lives.)

Milo shrugs. Don’t know. He slaps the notebook open and riffles through pages tagged with post-its.

Wow. You’ve marked all your notebook entries that relate to the table. You’ve got a lot!

Milo and Mrs. M go head-to-head and read the entries silently. Mrs. M learns that Milo lives with his Granny and Mom, how the light plays on the table from the window in the kitchen door, about the honey tones of the wood surface, and how Milo always sits at the same spot at the table.

You always sit at the same place?

Yup. He points to another flagged entry. I like how the sun comes in the door window and warms my back.

Cozy. What else?

I watch my Granny cook oatmeal every morning from my seat. Milo looks at his teacher and smiles. Earlier he’d read an entry to the class about how when he was little he could hardly wait for his Granny to finish stirring brown sugar and golden raisins into the thick, bumpy oatmeal. Once he was so excited he’d knocked his chair over.

Are you going to write about the time the chair tipped over with you in it?

Milo shakes his head.

Mrs. M waits.

I sit at the gash.

The gash?

Milo sits straight and points to the pencil groove on the desk. It’s about this long but deeper.

Is it an inlay table–you know with decorative carving on it?

It’s not a design. It’s from the knife.

It’s like Milo has dropped a fishing line into a memory lagoon and snagged onto something he’d forgotten.

It’s from a knife?

The carving knife.

A carving knife?

My Dad had it.

Was he carving the turkey, and it slipped?

Nah. He wasn’t carving no turkey!

What was he doing?

Fighting with my Mom. I was hiding.

Where were you hiding?

Behind the door. It was wide open. I could feel the cold on my feet.

What happened?

He’d burst into the kitchen and grabbed the knife. It was in that wooden knife holding thing on the counter.

Then what?

He chases Mom around the table.

With the knife?

He’s waving it. Mom’s screaming. Milo pauses. Then he sees me.

Behind the door?

I’m peeking. Through the window. On my tiptoes.

And he…?

He stabs the knife into the table. And runs out the door.

So the gash you always sit at…?

Milo nods. I sort of forgot how it got there ‘til now. He picks up his pencil.  I never saw him again. He turns to a clean notebook page. I put my pencils in it now. He makes a margin on the left side of the page. When I was little I stood my Lego men in it.

PATTY

Note from PATTY:I wrote this in 10/14/12 and feel it would be helpful for the new education czar to learn what it looks like in schools where, despite high-poverty, the students are high-achievers, where the teachers have finely tuned their skills at listening and questioning. You can’t teach a child until you know what he’s bringing to school with him besides his trapper keeper and empty lunch box. Teaching memoir as a genre is one way of helping kids get a handle on who they are and what they’ve got going for them to value and develop. 

Another Inquiry (not one Mr. Mueller need attend to though): Black-billed Cuckoos keep the destructive writhing Tent Caterpillars in check; how about our writhing PFN*? (a 420 character 9-liner)

 

Cuckoo

that I have unease on this glorious green day

full of birdsong and kid-laughter;

I’ve been hearing the Black billed Cuckoo sing all night now that it’s breeding season.

In fact, I feel like a Black billed Cuckoo who’s eaten too many spiny caterpillars

& the spines have stuck in my stomach lining.

She periodically sheds such to remove the spines;

perhaps our PFN* will be shed & with him my unease.

Cuckoo.

PATTY

*PFN=President for Now

http://northernwoodlands.org/outside_story/article/of-cuckoos-and-caterpillars

(For more info on the diet of this nearly foot-long bird see the above.)

Another Inquiry (not one Mr. Mueller need attend to though): Black-billed Cuckoos keep the destructive writhing Tent Caterpillars in check; how about our writhing PFN*? (a 420 character 9-liner)  (For more info on Mr. Mueller and his task see below.)

 

 

“There’s something special about a grandmother’s house. You never forget how it smells.” Fredrik Backman’s character says that in his book, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. Backman* is so much more than a writer. He’s a touchstone for humanity.

My grandmother married quite young and came straight to America.  Her disillusionment was profound.

Happy Mother’s Day, Nonna.  Thank you for buying a return ticket. ♥

I’m more curious than George about these two, wishing I had asked more questions and begged for more stories.

The Ticket

In the dank cellar on Oak Avenue,

she shovels coal into the firebox.

Outside, the hens squawk about their fate.

She misses the hill town in Piemonte,

where the earth drives you mad with the scent of growing things.

Here there is bread to bake and children to bear,

the ache in the small of her back

indifferent to her desire

for purses of gnocchi and fresh butter.

Here there are no clusters of purple grapes

ripening under an apricot sky,

just grey sheets to scrub

and a brown metal bed that lists.

She used to feast on music and laughter,

stories, tart and sweet,

but those days are done

and she is swallowed up

by black stockings, rolled down to just below her knees,

and shapeless dresses skirting hard-looking calves.

With a ragged moppeen,

she scrubs away sin and regret,

kneels on yellowed linoleum squares

in a house grown smaller in size.

She fingers the ticket in her pocket.

Will he remember the feel of her cheekbones?

the line of her hip under his hand?

She packs the one photograph of them.

That and the white silk dress on a wire hanger.

Toni 5/13/17

*Bachman’s books are not to be missed.

“Behind all your stories is always your (grand)mother’s story. Because hers is where yours begin. – Mitch Albom

Canada Warbler Photo by Alex Kearney: a thing of beauty is a joy forever as I (and John Keats) like to say.

Alex Kearney is one of the birders in the area. He is a marvelous photographer of birds. Many thanks, Alex!

Canada Warbler Photo by Alex Kearney: a thing of beauty is a joy forever as I (and John Keats) like to say.