Car trouble

It is deafening, the sound.

I turn to my husband: “What’s the matter with the car?”

He’s driving. He looks perplexed. “What do you mean?”

“That droning sound. It’s so loud.”

“Oh, that. It’s just the road.”

This is a man who once worked at a major auto parts store. Granted, he took the job because he needed one if we were going to get married, long, LONG ago, when he was twenty-three and I was just turning twenty…he jokes that all he knew about cars at the time is you put gas in them.

Ahem. How much has he learned since?

“It’s NOT just the road! My car doesn’t make this noise on this road! We’re not on a steel drawbridge or anything.” (Anyone who’s ever driven across a metal draw on a bridge will know what I mean. It’s a loud, hollow, wiggly sound, directly related to the sensation in one’s stomach).

This droning sound changes with acceleration and deceleration.

“I think it’s your tires.”

Eventually he checks his tires, after I say the noise is so unnerving that I won’t ride with him anywhere else until he does. I am imagining blowouts, being stranded on the roadside, swerving in traffic when anything could happen… although I looked at the tires myself and thought they had okay-looking treads (confession: I am clearly not a car-ish kinda person, either).

He gets four nice new tires.

I happily climb into the passenger side to ride with him to… I forget, actually…when:

drrrrooooOOOOOOOONNNNnne

“IT’S STILL MAKING THAT SOUND!” I exclaim (shout? holler?).

“Well, it’s not AS loud,” he says, driving right along.

“YES IT IS! Something’s not right. This sounds like go-carts I rode as a kid. Only louder.”

He then informs me his friend tells him it may be a hole in the muffler.

He still does not seem to be concerned about driving this car.

I do not understand it.

At all.

And by the way, the tire-changing establishment told him, when they loaded him up with the four nice new tires, that he needed some brake work also.

I am getting suspicious.

He gets the brake work done and mentions to the establishment that he (and in particular, his wife) still hears the droning sound.

The establishment says: It’s probably something in your transmission. We don’t do that kind of work. You will have to take it to a full-service auto repair.

But they fix up his brakes quite nicely, graciously throwing in a couple of coupons, which is akin to throwing a cup of water on a raging bonfire… moving on, however…

Of course the droning continues. I ride with my husband to the grocery store. This is when we encounter two beautiful, fly-masked horses trotting along the backroads, completely unattended, but that is another story. I’ve begun to feel like imagery of potential harm and disaster is practically screaming at me with every turn. We manage to get home (apparently the horses did, too, as we would have heard otherwise from friends…in the countryside, news travels fast, especially if it’s bad).

I look up all the possible things that could be making the droning sound.

One of them is bad wheel bearings.

“Did the tire-brake people ever say anything about your wheel bearings?” I ask.

“Oh yeah, they checked ’em. Said they were fine.”

Something is definitely NOT fine…and it better NOT be a bearing.

Today my husband takes the car to a full-service repair, local, privately-owned, folks who’ve been in the area forever. Reputable and reliable.

A few hours later, a call: It’s a bearing….

Alrighty then.

As soon as the bearing is repaired and we are allowed to get that car, I will be riding with my husband straight to the former tire-and-brake establishment to have, shall we say, a discussion.

And I better NOT hear the tiniest hint of droning along the way…

Car Trouble. Jan Tik.CC BY 2.0

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with thanks to the Two Writing Teachers community for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. Life is full of challenges, is it not. The writing challenge, at least, is a welcome one…

Horses on the fly

Sunny summer morning
driving home with groceries
along the winding backroads
past forests, clearings,
smatterings of houses

at the crossroads
where the tobacco field
gives way to pastures and pond
two horses, trotting
side-by-side

not uncommon, horses
being ridden
along these
country byways

except that these
are unsaddled
unbridled

riderless

in the left lane
headed toward us

moving in sync
at a lively pace
tossing their manes

faces covered
with fly masks

Look! cries my husband
who’s driving
immediately
slowing down
to a near stop

— no one’s with those horses!
And their eyes are covered
—they can’t see!

They can see,
I tell him
even though I know
next to nothing
about fly masks
and equine husbandry

I just know
by the certainty
of their movements
and their canter
that they can see

they are not blindfolded
to be led out of
a burning barn

but they’re here
on the road,
unattended

and drivers
who might be coming
from either direction
are unaware

and people drive
too fast
on these
winding backroads

how, how,
I wonder,
did they get loose

these magnificent beasts
that someone
surely values
and loves

—should we call 911?
—what can they do?
—remember, we did that once

when we saw the mule
strolling up the street
in our neighborhood
—yeah but the farmer
figured it out and got to it
before it got to the highway
—should we get out and…
—and what? Try to hold ’em?
They don’t know us.
We don’t know them.

We don’t know
how to handle horses…

by now, the carefree pair
on its merry jaunt
has passed us

and I can only hope
the owners have realized
and are on the way
or that someone who lives
in the nearby houses
knows to whom they belong

or that these creatures
will use their intuitive
horse sense
to go home

I cannot think
the thousand terrible things
crowding my brain

images of beautiful beings
taking newfound liberty
headlong, headstrong
toward what they cannot know
and others
who do not see

Photo: IMG_2703. thatsavagegirl. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

We didn’t hear any news of something terrible happening to the horses; living in a small community, we would have. I am pretty sure that, a few days later, I saw these same two horses, still fly-masked, safe in the fenced pasture beside that same tobacco field where we saw them on the loose. The initial feeling of awe mixed with horror is hard to shake, however. The image of these two riderless, fly-masked horses is now an indelible one in my mind for potential harm, needless loss and destruction, and feeling utterly helpless in the face of it.

Take heart

Written while waiting for word from the governor about schools re-opening.

Suspended animation

upended education

sense of desolation

facing the fall.

What school should be

we cannot see.

Ill winds still blowing

so much not-knowing.

Separate, there’s a cost.

So much is lost.

But not all

in one fall.

Until the surging tide

should subside

virtuality

may be reality.

Enduring

assuring

we will outlast

passing shadows cast

in empty halls

on empty walls.

By decrees

or degrees

a calling

for not falling

is conversely

full of mercy.

Choosing heartache

over heartbreak

choosing to be stronger

being a little longer

apart.

By whatever decrees

by whatever degrees

however they fall

however we start

dear ones, above all

—take heart.

Photo: Heart. Glenn Lascuna. CC BY

Mourning dove blues

Mourning doves are said to symbolize providence, grace, peace, safety, renewal, and moving forward. Their low-pitched song sounds sad or comforting, depending on the listener. I dedicate this lament to the dove outside my kitchen window, whose plaintive murmur I hear in the dark, just before sunrise.

grim gray morning

grim gray news

grim gray outlook

grim gray blues

time to shelter

time to snooze

time to waken

time to muse

dream to endure

dream to choose

dream to escape

dream . . . a ruse

morning to ponder

morning to lose

morning pours out in

mourning dove coos

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Photo: Nesting mourning dove. Katy Tegtmeyer. CC BY

Stayin’ alive

The master says it’s glorious thing to die for the Faith and Dad says it’s a glorious thing to die for Ireland and I wonder if there’s anyone in the world who would like us to live.

—Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes

A friends tells me she can’t turn on the news at home anymore because her first-grader is terrified of catching “the cronavirus.”

I remember that terror …

It began with nosebleeds. I had so many as a child that the pediatrician told my father the vessels in my nose might need to be cauterized.

“Carterized? What is that?”

“Burned.” Said my father, before thinking better of it.

Burned?

BURNED?

I lived in mortal terror of having another nosebleed, of having the inside of my nose burned.

I told my Sunday School teacher about it: “My nose might have to be carterized if I don’t stop having nosebleeds.”

“Well, it’s better to have a vessel burst in your nose than one in your head.”

A vessel can burst in my HEAD? What does that mean? What happens to you if a vessel bursts in your HEAD? Do you die?

My head felt weak. I tried not to move it very much.

“Why are you walking so stiff and hunched up?” snapped Mom.

And then there was the sign in the church stairwell:

FALLOUT SHELTER

“What’s a fallout shelter?” I wanted to know one evening after supper when our neighbor walked across the street to play Yahtzee.

“Oh, a place where people can go if there’s a nuclear bomb, to be safe from the radiation,” said Mom, taking a drag of her Salem.

“Yeah, and this is the first place that would be attacked,” said our neighbor, shaking the dice, “with all our military bases and being so near D.C.” The dice rolled across the table. “Damn! Nothin’! I guess I’ll have to take it on Chance.”

How will we get to the fallout shelter to be safe, if it’s blown apart?

Why do we live here?

Nuclear bombs… the vessels in my nose, the ones in my head … what’s gonna blow first? What will happen to me? How’m I gonna stay alive?

—Yes, I remember the terror. To this day.

—Remember the children.

Photo: Fallout. m anima. CC BY

Little girl blowing bubbles

Ever wish you could keep a small child safe and innocent forever? It’s a wish as ethereal as bubbles in the wind, drifting away like childhood itself. I took this photo last summer. It’s taken this long to figure out how to convey what I felt.

Little girl

blowing bubbles

in the sun

free of troubles

How they drift

on the breeze

turning, turning

as they please

Colors shimmer

ever bright

just a moment

in the light

Wave your wand

my temporary

iridescent

bubble fairy

All too soon

time shall pass

bubbles pop

in the grass

How I wish

things could stay

idyllic as

this summer day.

Trust

Child jumping

Едно, две, триии…(One, two, three…). Vladimir Petkov. CC BY-SA

I am eleven years old, standing at the end of a pier beside my uncle. He’s holding both of my toddler cousin’s hands as she jumps from the pier’s edge toward the murky green depths of the Piankatank River. She squeals with delight. Just as she dips, her father swings her back. She lands safely on the wooden slats, laughing. Over and over she jumps. Her feet never touch the water. 

I know the water is over her head. The biggest jellyfish I’ve ever seen are floating all around. We can’t even go swimming because of these ghostly orbs, larger than my head and so heavy that when I catch one in the crab net, it fills the net and I can barely lift it from the water. Hunks of the jellyfish ooze through the net, too, plopping back into the water.

I shudder.

I’ve composed a song in my head:

The Piankatank River 

Ain’t the place to swim

Because it’s full of jellyfish

And other things within.

I don’t even know what other things are within but I sense that they’re utterly treacherous. My toddler cousin’s reflection zooms out again over the shimmering, placid surface. Back she swings to safety.

“Why isn’t she scared?” I ask my uncle.

He smiles, holding tight to his daughter’s small hands. “She knows I won’t let her fall. She has no fear because she trusts me completely.”

My little cousin jumps once more, with wild abandon. Her face turns toward the sky as she swings backward, dangling from her father’s hands.

Her expression is one of absolute joy.

That image, that moment, has never left me.

He was enjoying her joy. Allowing her freedom to dare, to be a risk-taker, yet keeping her safe at the same time. Had he been less attentive, less vigilant . . . she might have gotten wet, or worse. I knew what dangers awaited, the harm that could come, and also that my uncle wouldn’t be doing this if he weren’t confident in his own strength. I marveled at his easy assurance and peace of mind. He wasn’t afraid, either.

Of myriad connections I can make out of this moment, the one that rises to the surface of my mind first is teaching. Creating the conditions for good learning to occur means letting children explore, dare, make choices, take risks, all stemming from a foundation of safety, an environment of trust. Children have to know they can take leaps and that their teachers will not let them fall, that they have nothing to fear.

For that to occur, we as teachers must  recognize our own strength and continuously strive on behalf of those entrusted to us. Teachers must be risk-takers, too. We must believe that we can get students safely from where they are to where they need to be, even beyond. Not just for now, this quarter, this year, this test – but by inspiring students to actively pursue learning for the rest of their lives.

It’s no small feat, when our own piers stand in the murkiest of depths. But we’re standing in the singular position that affects outcomes. What lies within us is greater than external forces. By far. We make the leap when we move from belief to action, from self-esteem to self-efficacy. Trusting others, trusting self, trusting in the safety of shared trust, strengthening one another, propelling each other forward. Professional trust isn’t holding on loosely; it’s everyone holding on tight, not letting go. When done with confidence, responsibility, and mindfulness, we develop a dynamic of grace, a synergy of poetry in motion – swinging out over the depths with our faces turned skyward.

The safe environment of will not let you fall. 

A paradox, really, that it takes a collective grasping of hands to experience the freedom, the joy.

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