There’s an old coffee mug on my desk full of pencils. Long pencils with full erasers, waiting to be selected. Short pencils with used-up erasers, waiting to be retired. But the pencils that interest me most are the variants. The long pencils with worn-out erasers. The short pencils with un-used erasers. They remind me of people I know.
People who, like long pencils with worn-out erasers, don’t say much and, even so, are constantly correcting themselves. Second-guessing and apologizing. I want to reassure them that their contribution is valuable, that no disclaimers are necessary.
Maybe they grew up with a critical parent or teacher who made them reluctant to speak their minds. I had a father like that. Maybe that’s why I’m fascinated by the short pencils with un-used erasers—people who never hesitate to speak up, no matter what the topic. Who never seem to doubt the rightness of their opinions, even when a review might have been beneficial. Sometimes I envy people with this much confidence—to go through life without erasing anything!
I reach for a pencil and select a long one with a full eraser. Starting over, again.
I’ve had a Christmas Cactus in my east window for a long while which blossoms about once a year—never on Christmas. It started out as one of those little grocery store plants that are always for sale at the holidays.
“Just today, a ninety-year-old woman brought in a little wicker rocker,” Bonnie Rickman says. “She had a photo of herself as a child standing by the rocker. She wants us to re-do it for her great granddaughter.”
Bonnie and her husband, Paul, run an antiques and refinishing business in Traverse City. “We started out buying antiques at garage sales and reselling them to dealers,” Bonnie says, “Then I said, “This piece would be real pretty if it was refinished.’”
Everywhere you look, people are loading big bags of sunflower seeds into their cars, signaling the season of bird feeding. In the past, I’ve enjoyed gazing out my kitchen window to watch chickadees, nut hatches and purple finches taking turns on our feeder.
Last year, however, the only turn was taken by an upside-down black squirrel—who could empty the cylinder in one day. At first my husband and I were optimistic we could outwit these rascally rodents. I mean, really, we are human beings—at the top of the food chain.
We’ll just move the feeder a little to the north. Well, maybe a little to the south. Maybe higher; maybe lower. The sound you hear is squirrels laughing their tails off. At each location it took the squirrels an hour or two max to figure out a new route from roof to branch to feast. It was humiliating to be outsmarted by a creature with a brain the size of a what—an acorn?
So, the question now is, how much are we willing to invest in whatever passes for a squirrel-proof feeder? Meanwhile, I no longer speak of being out-foxed; the correct term is out-squirreled.
Years ago my husband received a gift T-shirt that said, “Thank a Teacher.” Since it was too large, he offered the T-shirt to me and I have used it as summer sleepwear ever since. And every time I slip the worn-out shirt over my head, I think of the teacher whose name I cannot remember. A woman at Alger Elementary School in Grand Rapids taught me to read and I’ve never stopped.
No small thing, to give someone a skill they use every day. And although I cannot recall her name, I can see her classroom—the little wooden desks and chairs—and the Dick and Jane readers we used.
I know they’ve been discredited and replaced, those old readers, but I thought they were wonderful. Not because the stories were exciting or the characters convincing, but because on those pages—for the very first time—I got it that letters made sounds, made words.
It may be the only genuine epiphany I have ever had and I still feel the sense of discovery and joy. These kinds of discoveries are happening in classrooms today, of course, and in other places as well. Whatever their names, I thank the teachers.