Though I questioned our tight-lipped instructor’s teaching methods, I recognized the wisdom of her mini-lecture.
Why did you sit next to me?
My pretty friend Linda tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear and said, “There are too many options; I can’t make myself commit.” She wasn’t talking about choosing an ideal mate, finding her dream home or planning the perfect vacation. She was buying a vacuum. And I understood her frustration.
I grew up thinking only irritable farm boys — provoked by their daybreak milking of stubborn, manure-dropping, tail-slapping cows — administered hurtful pinches on St. Patrick’s Day. So I yelped when I entered a faculty lounge and a hand with long red nails snaked out and pinched my forearm with clear intent to harm.
On Nov. 17, I walked through the tender light of dawn beneath a misty moon and dusky sky. Leafless trees wearing coats of earth-toned bark marked my passage, cool air stirred around me and leaves crunched to the rhythm of my stride. Watched by cautious deer, I followed a zigzagging trail up a hill west of my home. At the top, I turned to see Craig stretched below, hushed and expectant, as though awaiting an event of import.
In early 2015, an online hubbub erupted over a researcher’s claim that 36 specific questions, answered seriously, could create intimacy and cause two people to fall in love. It’s that easy? I must have wasted my time entertaining butterflies in my stomach, losing my ability to concentrate and feeling insanely happy. Silly me. I could have skipped periods of bliss and moments of uncertainty of by answering 36 questions and listening to a possible partner do the same.
I should quit thumbing through the magazines in doctors’ waiting rooms. The out-of-date publications harbor germs from sneezing, sick people and tempt me to read stuff I’d ignore if I weren’t trying to distract myself from the reason I’m in a doctor’s office.
On Jan. 20, 1953, my fifth-grade class, suffering from frozen noses and wild excitement, climbed from the back of a farm truck after an open-air, arctic ride to Barney Cornaby’s house. Barney had invited us to his home, which held one of the few TVs in Lake Shore, to watch the inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Whatever that was.
I exited the meeting for new teachers with the words of the dictatorial principal, Mr. Bailey, ringing in my ears: “Remember no gum, no slacks, no mini-skirts. Never be late for recess or lunch duty. And I will check your lesson plans every Friday for their adherence to your grade-level curriculum.”
The Christmas homes of my childhood and adolescence were never the glossy homes of Christmas advertising: imposing structures lit by evenly-spaced lights filled with artistically decorated rooms inhabited by smiling families with color-coordinated clothing and perfect teeth.
My mother sometimes asked her children to express gratitude for something meaningful before they indulged their Thanksgiving appetites. If I had mentioned my gratitude for the raisins she put in her homemade cinnamon rolls, she would have looked at me with disapproval. But, to me, a cinnamon roll without raisins wasn’t worth chewing. I know many folks disagree, but I’ve never met a raisin I didn’t like, and I’m grateful for them.
Growing up in a rural area in the years following World War II, my friends and I quickly absorbed the behaviors deemed appropriate for boys and girls; behaviors we learned from picture books, movies, parents, peers and siblings.
If we pay attention, life teaches us useful lessons: Refuse to cross a raging mountain stream on a fallen log when your hiking companions who claim it’s safe are standing beside you. Never befriend a barking dog or a growling librarian; and boycott turtlenecks so tight that pulling them off hurls your earrings, hearing aids and equanimity into space.
Last summer, during one of my Sunday morning walks, a power outage undid my husband, Joel. When I arrived home, I found him in the alley, looking beleaguered and whacking a hedge. With waving shears, he beckoned me near and then began a tale of woe: “You won’t believe what happened. When I started to fix my breakfast, the power went out, so no bacon and eggs. Then my coffee was cold, so I thought I’d reheat it. Nope. No microwave. I couldn’t even defrost blueberries to eat with cereal.”
Problems persist in Craig. On every block, small black-and-white signs, “Coal: It Keeps Our Lights On,” reflect our threatened economy. Too many houses stand empty, too many small businesses struggle, and too many families worry about making ends meet. But Craig is where I choose to live. After Joel and I retired, we frequently heard, “When will you be leaving?” We won’t. Here are some of the reasons why.
I’m happy in Craig. I enjoy its scenic surroundings, distinctive seasons and slow pace. This summer, a thickheaded relative reminded me of additional attractions our town possesses.
When I hear about the latest, greatest, sure-fire innovation to increase student learning, I feel weary.
I still remember the day I studied older children diving into a swimming pool, then perched on the pool’s edge, propelled my body out and down — and gave up belly flopping forever. Maybe you remember teaching the family dog to roll over, learning to roller skate on your own, or making your friends laugh with your first successful joke.
Like most newly hatched garage-sale addicts, after a summer spent buying second-hand goods on Saturday and questioning my sanity on Sunday, I decided to have a garage sale of my own. I convinced a group of friends to co-host a sale in my back yard; the ladies who nurtured my garage-sale mania, Shirley and Eileen, agreed to lend their wisdom to our cause.
In my early 20s, with a job and readily available spending money for the first time since starting college, I succumbed to my mom’s genes, and became a collector, buying inexpensive items that appealed to me.
Cousins there were, too numerous to count. They arrived in bulging sedans for family reunions in the hot heart of summer and turned wild, as though they had no manners. They splashed in the off-limits creek, ran with sharp sticks meant for hot dogs, threw rocks willy-nilly and burned their marshmallows black. They shoved, taunted, threatened to tell and berated one another with scandalous words heard at school.
When I look in the mirror, I see Dad’s eyes looking back at me. I also have his height, frame, ears and hand gestures. I like the physical features I share with my dad, but I’m surprised when I display his behaviors — especially those I vowed to avoid when I was young, smug and critical.
On May 30, small flags will be planted; and those who remember will quietly gather in cemeteries across our land. Taps will soar, echo and fade. The names of men and women who died serving our country during times of war will be read, and crowds either large and small, but always attentive, will listen with gratitude to the roll call of our honored dead.
When I think of my mother, as I did on Mother’s Day, I see her in her mid-60s. She sits in her favorite rocking chair in a circle of lamplight that softens her wrinkles and highlights her brown hair. As she sews a button on one of Dad’s shirts, her wedding band, thinned by 50 years of wear, flashes in the lamp’s glow.
Mrs. Huff was noted for her monumental bosom and the hiccupping soprano. She used to teach my third-grade class the song “Far Away Places.” Singing lyrics about the alluring glamour of lands across the sea shaped my desire to visit “places with strange sounding names,” and motivated my collection of unusual words that describe travelers’ experiences or emotions. Some of my favorites follow.
Men have fewer fashion crises and quandaries than women. To be considered well dressed, a man buys a limited number of items: shirts, jackets, pants, underwear, shoes, socks, belts and a tie or two.
In September of 2015, ten scientists won the satirical Ig Nobel Prize for scientific studies of questionable worth. When I read about the tongue-in-cheek prize and the dubious research it rewarded, I felt better about my failed attempts to participate in an extra-curricular science fair in seventh grade.
Every year, since moving to Craig in 1996, I wait for the spring of Disney movies and picture books: birds swooping, squirrels frolicking, flowers blossoming along my path and colts auditioning new legs.
Gazing out the window at Craig’s snow-bound, January world, I remembered, chuckled and thought, “This is perfect snow-turtle weather.” I ran with my fourth-grade classmates as fast as I could across a playground of snow and ice. Reaching the turtle-building area first, I slid to a stop, knelt, and quickly began to shape a solid, knee-high mound of snow with my mittened hands, thinking maybe this time I would win.
When the first heavy snow fell, we expressed surprise and dismay as we shivered in thin jackets, stomped our sneakers free of flakes, and bought new snow shovels.
Another unending January indifferent to the discomforts and inconveniences caused by its weather. Noses run. Furnaces strain. Clumps of melting snow litter entryways, and glazed patches of ice glint with menace beneath a weak winter sun.
I have an unusual Christmas tradition. I watch for Cook Chevrolet’s annual newspaper ad: a list of events or circumstances that made the previous year a good one. For example, in 2014, the list included “We live in a beautiful place, surrounded by the nicest people in the world. Most of us have our good health. We slept inside last night. We ate yesterday, and we will eat again today.” The list finished with “The Broncos are in the playoffs.”
Years have passed without several of my important people, and I’ve lost some of the details that made them unique: their laughs, their intonations, their facial expressions. But Christmas helps me remember. As I bake cookies, hang ornaments, or listen to the gentle notes of carols, memories of those who shared my Christmases bring them back to me in their entirety.
My hair stood on end when I first heard the song “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Evidently, Santa knew if I’d been good or bad and cared. As I listened to Perry Como warbling on the radio, “So be good for goodness sake,” I filled with anxiety: “Christmas is four days away, and just this morning I hogged the bathroom, folded the corner of a library book, and sneaked a box of Jell-O from the kitchen — and ate all of it. I’m doomed.”
I used to read Shel Silverstein’s poetry to my students because it made them giggle. One of his poems described the persnickety Mary Hume who spent her life finding unforgiveable flaws in her birthday parties, boyfriends and pupils.
Courtesy lies on its deathbed, fading away unnoticed: no letters filled with love and gratitude, no phone calls expressing concern and caring, no bedside visitors with mournful eyes and soothing hands. The windowsills of Courtesy’s hushed chamber display no get-well cards or flowers, and no one has carried a casserole to Courtesy’s door.
When I skimmed a February 2013 feature in Parade Magazine, I recognized column material: The article consisted of a quiz on research-based techniques for reducing family fights from Bob Feiler’s book, The Secrets of Happy Families.
When I can’t sleep, it’s usually because I’m entertaining mind-boggling concerns: What if I my doctor tells me the bump on my big toe looks cancerous? I tried to call Barbara three times, and her line was busy; someone must have died. I’d like to walk to my meeting tomorrow; but if I do, I might be late; and if I’m late, everyone will look at me, and if they look at me, I’ll be sweaty and red-faced from walking.
I’m neither Oprah nor Dr. Phil; but, based on novels and personal ponderings, I’ve developed a blueprint for staying married long enough to finish the leftover wedding cake.
I watched in dismay as a fellow garage sale devotee purchased an item I spotted too late: a set of shiny aluminum tumblers like those that added cheer to my childhood. When filled with cold beverages, the tumblers frosted over like windshields on a sub-zero morning and made everything, even water, seem extra tasty.
All through my schooling, I tested well. When other students complained of sleepless nights, sweaty palms and nervous stomachs during finals week, I remained smugly silent. But lately, I, too, suffer from test anxiety because now a test means having my vein stuck with a turkey baster, my bottom exposed to strangers, or my bosom squeezed to a crepe.
Since the 2007 movie, “The Bucket List,” senior citizens occasionally make the news by celebrating their birthdays with daring exploits or unusual experiences. When I learn that former president George H.W. Bush jumped out of an airplane or that a gray-haired grandmother rode a camel across the Sahara, I think, “Oh, my, that was plucky.”
“Mom, where are my baby pictures?” I asked as I idly turned the pages of a family album. So far I’d found a studio portrait and numerous photographs of the first born, Lawrence, and several more snapshots labeled Carolyn or Bob, but no bald Bray baby called Janet. “Didn’t you take any of me?”
I listen to the national news, and it alarms me: crumbling infrastructure in sprawling cities, abused children in homes where they should be safe, unspeakable murders in peaceful towns, the weak apologies of elected officials involved in questionable acts, counter-claims of racism and police brutality, mentally ill or evil people wielding knives, guns, cars, fire, and poison to harm others.
I greet both the summer and winter solstice with enthusiasm, but for different reasons. December’s winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, motivates me to reflect, lose myself in memories, and appreciate the quiet pleasures of home and family. The summer solstice on the longest day of the year in June beckons me outdoors, fills me with energy, makes me feel happy and alive.
I was waiting to have my teeth cleaned and skimming through a magazine when a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert caught my attention: “I don’t have much fear of getting older, but I do fear that someday a wicked genie will make me go back and live my twenties over again.” I related to the lady’s words, though I had no idea who she was.
Craig Daily Press columnist Janet Sheridan shares beloved memories of her brother.
My grandchildren believe chips to be one of the USDA recommended food groups for healthy eating; so they strive mightily to eat an adequate amount each day, consuming any greased, salted, crunchy morsel available: fried, baked, seasoned, or stale. Though I‘ve warned them they’re eating Styrofoam peanuts dyed orange, they even eat cheese puffs. I’m appalled by their addiction and aghast when they wash the chips down with gigantic soft drinks and then munch cookies to refresh their palates. But I keep my thoughts to myself because I recently encountered one of my food obsessions at a funeral luncheon. And my loved ones noticed.
A shadow hovered over the United States in the early '60s. Its darkness lurked in the background as I married and graduated from college; it fell across the school where I taught fourth-grade children the intricacies of long division, comprehension skills of reading, and correct fingering for their flute-o-phones. Busy with my life, I didn’t notice the shadow blacken, move closer, threaten. I didn’t know it would envelope me.
First, my older brothers brainwashed me, then the speed and athleticism of the players and the changing rhythms of the game hooked me. I became a college basketball fan. Football caught my attention when I attended Utah State shortly after the glory days of Merlin Olsen. A knowledgeable guide in the person of my college boyfriend cemented my enjoyment of a game played by strong, quick athletes who mix it up, emerge battered and dirty, and come back the next week to do it again.