Friday, June 26, 2009

June 25th is a significant day

It’s June 25th. (By the time I post this, it will be June 26th, but that’s because I’m at camp, where we don’t have internet access.)

June 25th is a significant day.

Both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died today. If, like me, you came of age in the 1970s (a decade that my high school friend Lynn calls “the most socially retarded time in history”), it didn't really matter if you were actually a fan of “Charlie's Angels” and The Jackson 5 or not, because, like it or not, they were two of the most ubiquitous pop culture phenomena of the time.

I only occasionally watched “Charlie's Angels,” and I never owned a Jackson 5 album, or any of Michael's solo albums (I think I'm one of about five people born in 1959 who never bought his “Thriller” album). I wasn't much of a fan of pop music in general, and I don't ever remember listening to Michael on purpose, but that doesn't mean I didn't spend several thousand hours of my adolescence hearing his music. As Donna said, it really was “the soundtrack of our youth.”

As for Farrah, like many people, when I hear her name, I always think first of her famous hair. I never paid much attention to her career after “Charlie's Angels” or her personal life, but I confess to being very touched by Ryan O'Neal's constant presence at her bedside during her last months, and the fact that he had asked her to marry him. It also makes me feel very sad, in a mom kind of way, that their son is in jail on drug charges and wasn't able to be with her when she was dying.

This morning on the way to work I listened to The Writer’s Almanac, and learned that today is the birthday of Yann Martel (The Life of Pi), Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar), and George Orwell. It’s also the birthday of George Abbott, who wrote the play Damn Yankees and, according to Garrison Keillor, revised and directed its revival on Broadway…when he was 99 years old!

Apparently it’s a big day for 99-year-olds, because on the front page of today’s Bethel Citizen there is an article about 99-year-old Edna York, who just received Bethel’s Boston Post Cane. Edna went to work part-time at the Bethel Library in 1983, when she was 74 years old, and retired two years ago (at 97) when the library switched to a computer data base. (The Citizen article says: “Had she been young—in her early 80s, she suggests—'I would have taken a class and learned computers,’ she said. ‘I love a challenge.’”) Before the records were kept electronically, her job was to go through the cards for books that had been checked out and were more than a week overdue, and call the offending patrons. Her first reminders were always relatively gentle (and yes, I know this from personal experience), but if another week went by and the book still wasn’t returned, she became a bit more insistent, wanting to know just when you thought you might be able to get that book back to the library. Edna has been living in senior housing—though not an assisted living facility—for the past couple of years, but she finds the quarters somewhat cramped, so she’s about to move into her own little house close to her daughter’s home, a few miles out of town.

Today, June 25th, is the 99th birthday of our dear former neighbor, “Aunt Bertha.” She didn’t have any kids of her own, but our kids were very fond of her, even though Tony told them she was a witch (she played along, and even dressed up as a witch to answer the door on Halloween). She lived across the street, in the oldest house in Greenwood, until about ten years ago, when the state bought her out and tore her house down to make the corner safer. She was none too pleased about it at the time, but her relatives were relieved that she’d be moving into senior housing in South Paris. She’s in a nursing home now, but still “as sharp as ever,” as they say.

Twenty-seven years ago, on June 25, 1982, my mother wrote, in the journal she had started three days earlier, as she prepared to retire and leave Connecticut for Maine for the last time: “Friday—Last day of school!! …I turned over the gavel and office key to Lucy, said goodbye, and took off in my very loaded car by 11:30. Nice day to drive up I-91, and I took my time, stopping at Globe in Littleton for curtains for my new bedroom. Got to camp about 7:30 p.m.—too tired to stop at Eden Lane tonight. Amy came down soon after I arrived, and Greg arrived before dark. Too cool here to open windows tonight!”

And on June 25, 1989, 20 years ago today, Tony and I had our very first date. I came to his house (now our house) on a Sunday afternoon to watch the Red Sox game. We ate Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, he showed me his vegetable garden, and we talked for hours. Eight weeks later we got married...and, given the chance, I’d do it all over again.

June 25th is a significant day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

To Sir, With Love

It’s Father’s Day weekend. Later today Will and Tony and I will go to Lewiston-Auburn, an hour or so away, to buy Will a couple of pairs of pants and shirts (he’s leaving on Monday for five days in Quebec with his French class) and Tony some socks and a belt, and me a new bra or two and some lemons for iced tea. We’ll have a late lunch at Applebee’s; this will be our Father’s Day outing, because Will has a late graduation party to go to tomorrow. Back at camp this evening we’ll probably play Scrabble while we listen to the Sox game, and tomorrow morning I’ll make bacon and eggs for a Father’s Day breakfast. (I think I’ve also promised to make a carrot cake tomorrow; there were long faces when I made one for a coworker’s birthday earlier this week and didn’t make so much as an extra cupcake for the guys.)

Happy Father’s Day!

Father’s Day was a non-event for me when I was growing up. I remember telling anyone who asked about my father (and it was something people asked little kids about a lot back then, especially in suburban Connecticut, where virtually every family looked the same: two parents, an older or younger sibling or two, a family dog or cat), “My father died before I was born.” Teachers and other adults would murmur quiet, sympathetic words; other kids mostly looked confused—they weren’t sure that was even possible—and made a mental note to ask their parents about it.

I didn’t feel in the least deprived. I had (and still have) three wonderful much-older brothers, who, while they were not my fathers (or even fatherly, exactly), were (and still sometimes are) fierce protectors, fearless leaders, and thoughtful mentors. My mother had three fine brothers, my uncles, each the head of a unique, loving, more or less traditional family. I had a grandfather who, although he was rather gruff and reserved, told me stories about the Maine woods, lifted me up to pet the deer head on which he hung his hats, and taught me to play croquet in his backyard.

My friends’ fathers—as far as I could see—worked a lot, came home tired, watched TV, carved the roast on Sundays, fixed the occasional dripping faucet, grilled hamburgers, and disapproved of their daughters’ clothing choices. My mother could do all of that and more—she built shelves, repaired the lawn mower, installed a toilet, and rewired lamps. She had been a member of the riflery team in college, and she occasionally took target practice with my brothers, shooting at tin cans in the woods behind the camp. She emptied mousetraps without flinching. She showed me the official way to keep score of the Red Sox games, and took me to Fenway Park. She also baited fishhooks, took hapless sunfish off the hook, and cleaned the occasional white perch or brook trout.

Never having known my own father, and never having had to forgo traditionally father-led adventures like camping, fishing, hiking, and baseball, I honestly never thought I had missed out on anything.

But for about a year, when I was a teenager, I was privileged to have a wonderful, special relationship with a short, rumpled, absent-minded-professor-type with shaggy hair and a trench coat. (No, I’m not talking about the detective, Columbo, although I was a big fan of Peter Falk, too, and some people commented on the resemblance.)

Mr. Saboeiro was my sophomore biology teacher, and hands-down my favorite teacher of all time. Funny, quirky, thoughtful, and sensitive, he made science, a subject which had never held much interest for me, suddenly seem fascinating and essential. He filled every class with bits of his own unique anecdotes and world view, and taught us all much more than the life cycle of a fruit fly and how to dissect an earthworm.

I called him “Sir,” like Sidney Poitier in “To Sir, With Love.” I think he liked that.

My high school had a tiny Portuguese custodian named Gemma, who appeared in the halls late every afternoon with a bucket and mop. I don’t think she spoke English, and I don’t think any of the students ever bothered to do more than nod to her. In fact, we barely noticed her. But whenever he saw her, Mr. Saboeiro, who spoke fluent Portuguese, made a point to stop and speak with her. He may have been the only person at the school who did.

As a teacher, he was fair, engaging, open-minded, philosophical, and wise.

My junior year, I had chemistry with the dreaded Mrs. McCann, and I hadn’t made it more than two or three weeks into the class when I realized that I was in way over my head. Mrs. McCann was known for homework overload, challenging classes, killer tests, and a lack of patience. I was terrified of her.

Finally, after a particularly frustrating chem lab, when I was in, as my mother would have said, “a bit of a snit,” I decided to drop the class. After all, knowledge of chemistry was nothing I was ever going to need—I already knew I was going to be a liberal arts major in college. I needed one more science credit, but the physics teacher, Mrs. Nicholson, was known to be an easy A, so I figured I’d just skip science my junior year and take physics as a senior.

When I saw Mr. Saboeiro, whose classroom was across the hall from my homeroom, I mentioned that I was going to the guidance office to drop chemistry.

“No, you’re not,” he said.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“No, you’re not,” he said.

“Yes, I am!” I said. “I don’t understand anything about it, and everyone else gets it but me. I’m going to flunk the class anyway, so I might as well drop it.”

“Don’t go to the guidance office now,” he said. “Come to my classroom after school.”

When I got to his room after school, he took my chemistry textbook, a sheet of paper, and a pencil, sat me down at a lab table, and I’ll be damned if I can remember now anything he did or said—all I know is that it was absolute teaching sorcery. It was as if I had been trying to read that chemistry book upside down in the dark, and now it was right-side up, under a bright light. In a large-print edition.

I got through chemistry. Whenever I ran up against a wall, I hauled my textbook and lab notebook into Mr. Saboeiro’s room and he set me straight. Not only did he have me convinced that I could pass the course, he believed I could get an A, and I did. In the spring, he told me I could take the chemistry Achievement Test (now they call it the SAT 2) and do well, and I did. More than that, he convinced me that the study of science, all science, was valuable and interesting and even a little bit magical.

Pretty soon I was spending nearly every afternoon in Mr. Saboeiro’s classroom. Sometimes I brought along Maria or Donna, but often it was just the two of us. We talked about chemistry, of course, but also so much more—philosophy, religion, politics, the state of the world. I shared my adolescent angst with him, my brilliant analytical theories, my incredibly astute assessments of the world condition. As hackneyed and cliché as most of my ramblings must have been, he listened to all of them, and always made me feel that I had something interesting to say.

I wish I could remember the specifics of even one of our conversations, but I can’t. I only know that that year changed me for the better, in ways I’m still figuring out. It wasn’t that he taught me everything I needed to know—but more that he opened the door for me to learn everything with a whole new perspective.

If I am even a little bit wise, he deserves much of the credit.

I haven’t seen Mr. Saboeiro since 1975, when I was 16—he moved to Arizona after my junior year, and has since lived and taught all over the world—Brazil, Greece, Hong Kong, Portugal--but, incredibly, after all these years, we’ve kept in touch, though sometimes sporadically. Always a Darwin fan, he traveled to the Galapagos Islands—which I suppose is like going to the World Series if you’re a science guy—and when Annie was born he sent her a tiny Galapagos Islands t-shirt. Now 81, he lives in Florida, where, the last I knew, he was still teaching, substituting in every grade from kindergarten through twelfth.

There are men who born to be teachers…and fathers, mentors, philosophers, and friends…Mr. Saboeiro is one.

Happy Father’s Day to Sir, with love.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Post #19, in which I run for office, get elected, and have no more free time

I apologize to my legions of fans for the long lapse between blog posts. I hear that my international readership, in particular, has been complaining about the lack of updates (sorry, Katie R!) and I must resolve to do better.

To say it's been a busy spring would be an understatement. My time has been taken up with college tours, graduations (Katrina's from B.U. Law School and Will's from Telstar High School), and a lot of meetings. I promise to write soon about the graduation season and all its attendant hoopla, but today I'll write about my recent foray into municipal government.

In March, I allowed myself to be talked into running for selectman in the bustling little town where I live (population approximately 800). I'm not sure what I was thinking, except that I had been suspecting for a while now that, after living here for 20 years, it might be time to get more involved, and I had taken a strong interest in the current hot-button issue in town (implementing a land management standards [a.k.a. zoning] ordinance). Then there's the impending Empty Nest Syndrome that I'll be facing at the end of the summer, so all and all, taking up a new interest didn't seem like such a bad idea. Plus, I was flattered to be asked, and winning a three-way contest at the annual town meeting (where my town takes nominations from the floor and then votes right then and there) was actually pretty exciting.

You wouldn't think serving on the board of selectmen of a town the size of ours would take up too much time, especially since we have a wonderfully competent town manager who takes care of the vast majority of the pesky details, keeps the town office running smoothly, and monitors the ever-changing legal landscape of municipal government to keep us from getting ourselves into too much trouble. I know that's what I thought.

As it turns out, though, the twice-monthly selectmen's meetings are just the beginning; there are also Greenwood/Woodstock Transfer Station Committee meetings with the selectmen from the next town; Oxford County Municipal Officers' Association meetings with selectmen, town managers, and other official people from towns around the county; four-town Emergency Management meetings with our shared EMA director; planning board ordinance workshops; public hearings; and special town meetings. Add those to the occasional evening meetings I cover for work, and I find I'm away from home in the evenings quite a bit.

Still, I have to say that so far I'm really enjoying my new position, and I was surprised to find that I'm actually better at it than I expected. I was quietly overwhelmed for the first two or three meetings, but I'm starting to warm up now...I've even been quoted in the local paper a couple of times.

So far no one has egged my house, ambushed me in a dark alley (not that we have many dark alleys in Greenwood), or frolicked in a Speedo on a party boat in front of my camp (something with which members of our local planning board were recently threatened, but that's a long story). So apparently I must be saying the right things, or at least if anyone thinks I'm saying the wrong things, I must be doing it in a non-confrontational way that doesn't upset people much. So that's good, right?