Sunday, March 24, 2013

# 416 - Pass the Bottle

When I was an elementary student, I had a WONDERFUL language arts teacher who had the most oddball way of forcing his students into WANTING to write.

Even the boys. The boys who mistakenly thought they couldn't or shouldn't write. He taught them that most incredible cooks, artists, writers, architects and so on...were boys who became men who could communicate through their talent.

With that fact tackled, this teacher encouraged writing by putting a pile of pictures onto a desk and instructing the classroom to pick a picture, then to write a story about it. No real grade, other than for him to know we were using our imagination with our inspiration dictated by one of the pictures he provided.

I recall pictures of a starry night, of an old truck, of a massive tree, a space ship, a tarantula and so on.

It worked.

A photo of an INCREDIBLE creature/insect/moth we came across
this past week while looking at mini-cabins in the country.

Within a few weeks into the year, as he'd lay out pictures, always with new ones in the mix, the students eventually got to the point of nearly killing each other to get first choice at the pile. It was ridiculous.

All we had to do was to record the reference number of the picture at the top of the paper with our name, then write. And the teacher would rave about our stories. I think this teaching genius created a classroom of students who would love to read and write, with enthusiasm.

I am mesmerized and don't want to move from
this spot of a beauty in the rough.

Later, he explained that our lives were like those pictures. He magically helped us to realize that our brains kept mental snapshots and provided an unlimited resource of stories attached to each image. Even more so, the images you think about will be the stories you turn your focus upon. He encourage us to face the uncomfortable shift from using the pictures on the desk as inspiration and he helped us practice closing our eyes to think about a life event, then to write about it. As he said, true life helped to create stories that would be even better than those pictures.

The shift was difficult, but we trusted him. It helped that he kept the pile of pictures nearby, just in case, since everyone needs extra inspiration here and there.

By the end of the year, our classroom was adept at not having to dig through the pictures in the pile because we would use the three minutes he gave us to close our eyes to think of a life-picture for our story. That class was the quietest class I've ever taken. We were serious about our stories and if you finished, you sat quietly and could draw or read each other's stories. Such a brilliant fourth grade teacher.

So, with blogging, I've seen a couple of people who write that they feel their material for writing is limited. And I say, take a picture, look at it and be inspired. If you don't know what to write about, select a photo and think about what it means to you.

Our life-material is truly unlimited.

I had Deputy Dave put up his hand to give
a estimation to the size of this moth.
But, his hand is rather huge;
I wish my hand would
have been up there, then you could see
how BIG this thing was!
It's all about perspective!

NO ONE lives a boring life, our imagination just gets bored.


Today, Deputy Dave and I went to Lowe's to check out some building material costs. We're trying to weigh the options for our moving dilemmas.

Since the country town we're moving to decided to build a Lowe's a few years ago, which shocked the crude out of us, we are sticking to that store for run-of-the-mill items.

Of course, we are looking to build this guest cabin with as few $$$ as possible. However, it becomes painfully evident as we are going down each aisle that raw construction from the ground up requires a lot of $$$.

It makes me really like my tent. But, I know that rainy days are not fun in the tent and my house in the suburbs is extra roomy and cushy, so I need to focus on building something in the middle for our country cabin. We've got to have housing that's in between tent and luxury.

And with my attention-deficit-disorder mindset, I am reminded of the woman who squatted on land a few blocks away from my parents' house in the hills of Austin. She had breast-cancer and no one to live with, but she refused to go anywhere because she valued her freedom and her beloved dogs. Actually, I think the land belonged to her brother, but I can't remember the details in that regard.

My mother, always the lover of the most unusual characters, would often stop by this woman's tent-zone to give a shout out and to give the woman fruit, bread and bottled water. Who would've thought that my mother would die from breast cancer just a few years later? It is most odd to me to recall this as I write, but there you go.

My brother-in-law took this shot of my mom, shortly
before she died. I treasure this photo; she truly did her
best to keep smiling, for the most part, up until the end.
Most fabulous woman I've ever known is smiling back right here.

I think about that wilderness-woman as my husband and I camp out on our acreage, and I can't imagine how she made it through all those years in such rough conditions in an area of Austin that was still rather secluded due to the large lots and heavy greenery. And, the woman worked. She put on a security uniform every day and worked for a business in the area, in spite of her overwhelming hurdles. My mother would remark about the woman's tenacity to go to the laundry-mat each week to prepare her uniforms. Again, I don't know how she did it.

I know of a three-year time period that the woman lived in that tent in the hills outside of Austin. Makes me stop to take a deep breath and to realize how blessed my family truly is to have each other. And I am blessed that my parents were not hell-raisers, that they believed in the motto, "Live and Let Live." They respected that woman and didn't feel the urge to do anything but help and protect her rights to live free, for as long as she could.

Unfortunately, as that neighborhood began to construct TRUE mansions, that woman's freedom began to shrink. Snooty-types wanted her OUTTA THERE!

The time came when my parents would move back to their house in the Greater Houston area. They had enjoyed three years of retirement. Sweet, sweet years of beauty, peacefulness and all the good things in life. Three years of irreplaceable memories.

My mom and dad.
Don't ask the reason for their goofy expressions.
You probably don't want to know.

My parents bought that Austin house when I was in my early 30's and it was a WONDERFUL place for our family to gather, frequently, for about a five-year time-frame. After my mother passed away, we never had another gathering at the Austin house.

Recently, my dad sold this second house about two months ago, then consoled himself of the loss by buying his Mustang.

That house had been amazing. They bought it from a doctor in Austin. It was a custom home that sat on a hilltop with about an acre of land, with a gorgeous view of the lake and surrounding Austin landscape.

A huge deck upstairs allowed us to gather under the stars at night. And below, there was a large covered carport on the ground floor that we'd hang out under.

I have one particular memory of my odd-ball family passing around different liquor bottles, the bottles my dad coveted and kept hidden from us for most of our lives. The bottles that had been packed and moved with my parents to the Austin house. The bottles I never DARED to touch because I knew that dad had mentally recorded the fluid level in his brain and would beat us to death if a drop went missing.

Just back in America from Scotland, around 1979.
My sister, Robin.
My brother, Bubba.

However, one night, my dad shocked us all. With all his grown children at the Austin house and with my mother who NEVER touched a drop of alcohol we all sat under the carport, visiting, then he brought out those dusty bottles. He began to pass them around while saying they might as well be enjoyed while there was time to enjoy them. We knew this was a huge moment for dad.

I remember all of us becoming serious, "Whose dying?" Ahhh, no one was dying, it was trying a wacky gesture for the family to lighten up and enjoy ourselves.

So, we accepted the forbidden stuff that had been kept in a kitchen cabinet for over twenty years, each passing around one bottle after the next in a sudden taste-testing scenario that produced hysterical laughter. As each of us took the next bottle in line, we'd take a swig and pretend to be a hard-liquor expert with flowery words to describe the taste...smacking our lips, doing the one-eyed expression with the jaw pulled downward, and horrible hacking from the throat burn that comes with ancient alcohol.

Turns out, to my own shock and to those around me, I'm a Jack Daniels kind of girl, and apparently, I can't even taste the hardness of tequila.

And just so you know, my three years in Germany found me NEVER drinking a full beer, but I did take a sip from every beer my husband ordered, in each region we visited, just so I could SAY that I'd drank beer from all over Germany. Only one beer taste good and it had a name of "Kohls" or something like that --- a dark brew. Oh, never mind, that's a department store here in America. I'll get with you later on the name of that beer, it did start with a "K."

Oh my near 45 years of life, I've been the one who never drank. I have lived the life of being the perpetual designated driver. I just don't like the taste of alcohol. Well, I guess I could deal with Jack Daniels or some kind of tequila, if we get too technical, but I do admit to liking a frozen pina-colada during a rare run to a casino in Louisiana, and perhaps I did like those jello shots that I tried for the first time in my 30's, but other than that, I might as well be living in a dry-Texas-county which bans the sale of alcohol cause I could live without it.

But, that night in Austin, about ten years ago, under that carport, as each of us passed around my dad's extremely valuable liquor bottles, I began to see that life doesn't have to be in black and white. None of us three kids in my family are drinkers, but that night we got to pretend we were and it was inappropriately funny. Even my virgin-strawberry-daiquiri drinking mother was laughing so hard that we had to give her a so-called "potty break."

And now, at midnight, I sit here with my cup of tea, re-filled numerous times throughout the day, and I still can't believe my dad brought out those bottles of alcohol on that night. Is my dad conventional? Absolutely not. Did he raise us to know right from wrong? Yes, he did. Did my parents makes mistakes in raising us? Hell yes! And I learned that I would make my own mistakes with my children, but I'd also never forget they are PEOPLE.

My beautiful daughters when
they were little stinker-roos.

I learned that I might have been critical of my parents for not raising me the way that I, in my infinite wisdom, believed was the "correct" way of raising a child, but eventual clarity proved that NO ONE has the "right" recipe for that job. And any area of your own parents' weakness that you conveniently brain-wash yourself into believing that you will NEVER repeat with your own children, well, you are so consumed by that angle that you don't even realize that you're making your own set of mistakes. It's a guarantee. It's called being HUMAN. Most of us have that day of reckoning --- the day we realize we're immune to that condition.

Granted, for some, it takes longer than others to come to that comprehension. A few others wander through life being kind of clueless about that little secret. As me, my sister and my brother had those moments, I believe it pained my parents to some minor degree, yet they found solace in laughing about us behind our backs. There's no doubt, my parents gloated as my kids and my brother's kids provided pay-back entertainment for all the times we caused trouble.

So, that night in Austin helped to confirm to each of us, in a weird non-recommended manner, that we are each imperfect, yet eager to connect. Thankfully, none of us kids had chips on our shoulders so big to create obstacles in connecting with our family and those good attitudes have blessed us with the creation of beautiful memories. As we passed bottle after bottle, it was a wonderful thing to laugh, nervously at first, at the actions we would have been skinned alive for doing in the years we were being raised.

It was as if we were being accepted as adults, but the truth is...we were probably undergoing some warped, psychological test for our parents to be assured none of us had a drinking problem.

Ha ha hardy ha ha.

Of course, I believe dad was saving the Crown Royal or Royal Crown, blue bag stuff, for himself. I don't think that stuff ever collected dust.

So, I guess my story is...well, I don't know what it is, but I sure had a fun time remembering that night with my disturbed, yet adorable family in Austin, Texas. That beautiful moth hanging out on the porch reminded me of the beautiful times my family hung out together under the carport, getting slightly hammered. The lead me to that memory, it's an easy link.

It's funny how a picture can be inspirational.


LindaG said...

That was a big moth! I don't think Deputy Dave's had made it small, but helped to highlight its size.

And a quick Google search says maybe the beer was Köstritzer. Or Kostritzer if Google chokes on that.

Wonderful post. Have a blessed week!

Rae said...

Holy cow! I think that's a Luna moth. I have wanted to see one of those since I was a kid, but they weren't around where I grew up. Very cool!

Dreaming said...

I enjoyed your post, especially your summary showing all of the connections.
Boy, I wish more kids had teachers like the 4th grade teacher you describe! How wonderful. The next time I can't come up with something inspirational for my blog... I will go get a picture! Thanks for the suggestion!