NOVEMBER 22, 1963- THE DAY THE ICONS DIED

I am not usually a scene setter in my story telling tomes.  For some reason, there is no way that I can describe this part of my life without giving you some sort of background.

I had taught in NYC schools for two years and then married my sweetheart of three years in the summer of 1963. Carol had been going to Beaver College in suburban Philly for those three years and I spent my weekends travelling down to see her. All of that was ending as we moved into a small apartment a few miles from her school.

I was lucky enough to find a job close to where we lived and very close to Beaver College. Carol had one year to go before graduating and getting her teacher’s certificate. I got a job in the Cheltenham School District teaching 8th grade English and social studies. Eventually, I taught at the Thomas Williams Junior High School for three years.

If you look for that building on Church road, you will not see it there. It was torn down in the late 60’s to make way for a new Cedarbrook Junior High School.

As I look back at those years, I am pleased to report that they were very happy. Other than the fact that, in the first year, we lived as paupers. I was making 4,800 dollars and we counted every penny. I mean we actually counted every penny. I still have the log book in which we wrote down every single expense.

The students of Thomas Williams Junior High School included children from ancient monied WASPS and newly minted Jewish Wealth. It was a good combination along with some kids from the other side of the tracks. They were a ball to teach. You could kid around with them and get them to study things that no other students that I had later would want to do.

Once I told them that I was not going to be teaching the battles of World War I. They were disappointed.  “You mean no Baron Von Richthofen?” How many students anywhere today would rightly point to the Red Baron’s real name? They all suggested that they take a piece of WWI and do a project on it. I was astounded and certainly allowed them to do it.

Can you imagine the research that went on in the library and more probably at home in an era without the internet? The projects were amazing and we were asked to present them in front of the whole school. They were a success,

The faculty, other than my friend John, was a crew of kind of ordinary folks, not given to friendships or discussions in the faculty room. They were not distant. They just were not there. They consisted of people like Sleepy John, who was unaware of a student masturbating in his class. There was Jim, the art teacher, who personified the gay artist and also had five children. There was Kay who had her children help her when she laid her head on the desk and complained about being sick. There was Herb, the math teacher, who kept his windows open in the dead of winter to keep people on their toes. There was Big Ted who taught Phys Ed and taught the kids some other things. Who knew that John, the assistant principal was banging the Home Ec. teacher at lunch time? Then there was Bill the snitch who reports all happenings in the school to the Dragon Lady who ran the secondary schools.

Finally, there came Ernie, the principal. Ernie was a tall Ichabod Crane looking guy who was a deacon in his church. He played everything close to the vest and rarely said anything more than good morning. I felt his wrath one day when he observed my class. He said nothing to me about how things went, but his written observation was even more commanding. It read, “Mr. Hillman had prepared his lesson well. Students seemed to be paying attention. However, one should not take the lord’s name in vain by saying, “God, Bob, cut that out.”

Ernie is a major player in the November 22nd 1963 tableau. I will now tell you that my birthday is November 22nd. When I awoke that morning, I was 25 years old. Carol had promised me a chocolate cake for dessert and much merry making. I was kind of looking forward to it. It was my first birthday as a married man. It was a good day. It was also a Friday, so that we could so some other birthday kinds of things on our limited budget.

As usual we got up, we ate breakfast, and I drove Carol to school and got to work soon after. I actually did not have one single room that I could call my own. I had to drag a book cart and other materials around to a few different rooms. At lunch time there was some news about the President landing at the airbase outside of Dallas and driving into the city. Frankly, I did not pay too much attention to it. My next class was happening and I had to get myself together and prepare. My next class ended about 1:00. By that time, there were all kinds of rumors about shots being fired at the President’s limo. I perked up my ears to listen. Someone in the school, maybe a few had a transistor radio and there was evidently a plugged in radio somewhere in the building.

My next class was in Jim’s art room. By the time I got there, the students were really nervous looking. I saw one of them with his ear on a small radio plugged into the wall near Jim’s desk. His face had a look of horror and he spoke to the rest of the kids surrounding him. I called to him, “Phillip, turn off the radio and get to you seats everyone.” Phillip complied and said, “Mr Hillman, the president has been shot.” I was dumbfounded. Just at that moment, John, the assistant principal came into the room and beckoned me to the back. “Don’t tell them Arnold, let them find out when they get home.” I answered with a nod. These were the orders of Ernie the principal. I certainly did not want to disobey such an order.

I asked Phillip to turn the radio on, so that we could all hear. I am not sure who did the broadcasting, but at 1:30 the voice was clear for us to hear that JFK was dead. I then told Phillip to turn off the radio. The students were in shock. I figured that they had so many questions to ask, but did not know if it was o.k. I began by telling them that the progression if a president died was the vice president would then take over. That led to an avalanche of questions.

I still believe that withholding the news would have been a bad thing. Yes, I know that it is the responsibility of the family to take care of such announcements of family deaths and so on. However, this was a nationwide and worldwide occurrence. Parents might have even been happy that it was done. As a matter of fact, I did get a call from a parent thanking me for telling their son in such a way that he understood that everything was going to be o.k.

I left school at the usual time and went to pick up Carol at school. She had already heard the news. There were tears from both of us. Kennedy was our generation’s hero. His election augured better times for all of us. Strange, that it was then Lyndon Johnson who carried out most of JFK’s promises.

There was no birthday celebration that night. There was no chocolate cake. We watched t.v. and saw the nation beginning a period of mourning. One icon had died that day along with two more of our personal icons; C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley. The Day the Icons Died.

 

 

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THE SOUP CONFLICT

With my current Gluten free and Fod Map diets (no lactose, not legumes), I am a bear to cook for. Going out to a restaurant is always an adventure. The way things are going with gluten free food on menus, that’s one down and one to go. Milk and soft cheeses are pretty simple to avoid. However, even in the best restaurants, greens are often things I cannot eat.

This brings me back to my loving wife and her lifelong ambition to lose 5 lbs. and eat healthy. She always kind of glares at me when we come off a vacation and I have lost weight and she has gained. She tolerates my strange behaviors and eating habit.

You must understand that Carol is a very good cook. She doesn’t think so, but I do. I grew up in a household with women who had no idea how to cook. My grandmother would put cut up chicken potatoes, carrots and sometimes prunes in a pressure cooker for 8 hours or more. I was always afraid that it would blow. It never happened. Do you know what happens when you do that? You come out with long strings of chicken, which I have always referred to as SPOOL CHICKEN>

Carol’s mom taught her almost nothing about cooking. She had to learn on her own. Her first year’s cooking, because she was in her senior year in college was limited to shepherd’s pie. Her second year was mostly roast chicken and on and. She seemed to experiment with desserts, including the time she used Peach Schnapps instead of water in orange Jello. It was her most successful dessert because everyone got drunk.

As the years went by, she became expert. Our daughter and granddaughter are darned good cooks. They each have their own specialties. At this point in our lives, down here in Adult Disneyworld, Carol spends less time on cooking than ever before. Actually, she insisted that we purchase a house with a micro sized kitchen.

Once in a while Carol will get this yearning to create something new. She shares her creation with some of her friends, who also share their creations with us. When we have a gathering of our friends, there is usually enough food left over to feed all of the Marines at Parris Island.

Recently, Carol got a recipe for lentil soup. She does search out interesting recipes that are low in calories, have no gluten and are fod map free. She worked hard at creating this soup. She made quarts of it, s that she could share it with our friends. Our first meal with the soup as the first course was exciting. Love to sample new creations.

I have had lentil soup before and it is o.k., not one of my favorites. Carol told me that this was different. It even looked different; an amalgam of spinach looking stuff, a dark green color with little pieces of dark green in the mix. I raised my spoon to my mouth and ingested the soup. I did not get any taste at first, but as I swallowed, it kind of bit the back of my tongue. It was kind of how you taste wine as it goes down your gullet.

Carol saw the look on my face. She said nothing at the time. I finished the soup and went to the main course. At the end of dinner, Carol asked me about the soup. I am always honest with her. I did not like it. She suggested that I put in condiments to my taste. I told her that I would do that. I have not done it yet.

She gave the soup to one of our friends, who liked it, but suggested that she has to put salt and pepper in it. That’s the thing with Carol. She does not like anything spicy, or condiment laden. In most foods, that is fine. With soup, it may not be.

Carol was not too happy with me. Her response was to feed me carrot soup, which was made by a friend, offer me our favorite soup that she makes and that’s Gazpacho. She is also terrific with matzoh ball soup. Her matzoh balls are the best I have ever tasted. They literally fly off the plate.

There had to be redemption in this activity. Fortunately, we come from an area in Harrisburg, where people seem to drown in cabbage soup. Carol and her Harrisburg friends share recipes. The lentil soup fracas has been ameliorated by a large helping of cabbage soup and a great steak served piping hot with veggies. Bring on the next new soup.

NUCLEAR ANNHILATION OR, MINE IS BIGGER THAN YOURS

Whatever you have, I have something that is bigger, more wonderful and certainly greater than anything that you have. For those of us of a certain age, those words sound vaguely familiar. As a kid during and after and after World War II, that set of words could almost always be heard between boys on the playground or in school.

It went something like this. My dad brought home a Japanese flag. Next boy would say that his dad brought home a swastika arm band. The next boy crowed that his dad brought home a samurai sword. Next came that my dad brought home a German luger pistol

This went on forever. Those boasts were probably not true. However, the final brag was always, “My dad brought home an atomic bomb.” Let’s see, “My button is bigger than your button.”

THE GREATEST GAME I HAVE EVER SEEN

I have been a basketball aficionado since age four. I have played, coached, been athletic director and even refed once in a while Last night was the best game that I have ever seen high school, college or pro. Maybe because I do really know many of the players from our work at the Ridgeland Hardeeville High School in Jasper County, South Carolina.

I have seen the young men play for the past three years. The coaching is excellent. Coach Faber has won over five hundred games and is still going strong. He is a master of instilling a winning spirit among his players. He talks about commitment and the guys do understand what he means. Last night was an example of how the team puts forth a super human effort to win.

Each Christmas Season there is a holiday tournament in Beaufort County. That’s right next to Jasper. While Jasper County is the 3rd poorest county in SC. Beaufort is the third wealthiest. This is a round robin tourney with six teams. Two of the teams were from the Charlotte, North Carolina area and the other teams were from the host Beaufort County.

Ridgeland Hardeeville played their first game against Piedmont High School, one of the NC schools. We had been told ahead of time that this team was really good and that they had some exceptionally tall players. When Piedmont came out for warmups, the predictions were all true. You could see that the players were skilled AND tall. One of the guys was about six foot seven, and as we learned later was given an athletic basketball scholarship to Clemson.

Most of the Piedmont starting squad was seniors. The RHHS players were pretty much juniors. However, they had not lost a game since the beginning of the season. Most folks do not realize that RHHS had to play in a school division, based on number of students, where they were up against much larger schools. That was because they were not able to get schools of their size to play them in non-conference games.

When the RHHS team came out to practice, you could see how much smaller they were than their opponents. The first part of the game was what might have been predicted. The Piedmont boys rebounded, scored threes from all over the court. Even with a full court press, Piedmont was overwhelming the guys from RHHS.

In the first half Piedmont had leads of both eleven and thirteen points. You could see both the players and Coach Faber being frustrated with their inability to break through. The RHHS team saw the very tall player on Piedmont throw down some “thunder” dunks that excited the crowd. At no time did the RHHS team have a lead. By the beginning of the second half, the Piedmont players seemed to be bothered more by the full court press. There were more interceptions, more infractions, and more fouls on the Piedmont team.

One could see a diminution in the frustration of the RHHS team as the second half proceeded. There was now somewhat of a formula in stopping the tall player, as he was boxed into corners by the RHHS guys.

Coach Faber exhorted his team to play defense and substituted liberally from an offensive mode to a defensive one. The Piedmont coach did not substitute as freely. As a casual observer, I understood that all of the tongue hanging out practices of Coach Faber were now having a positive result. One can always tell when a player is “gassed,” when you see them with their hands on their hips.

The RHHS starters played most of the second half with help from some of the substitutes. Coach Faber would call individual players over during foul shots and instruct them about the next play, either offensive or defensive.The RHHS players listened intently and then went about their plays as instructed.

As the second half proceeded, RHHS started to crawl down the necks of the Piedmont team. At no time did they lead the game, but the margin slowly crept lower and lower. With about 2 minutes left in the game, it was obvious that Piedmont was frustrated. They threw in some threes and blasted through the RHHS defense. However, RHHS always answered with their own shots and scores.

The last minute had my heart pounding. Either team could have won the game with either a foul shot or a two or three pointer. They did not. The score at the end of regulation was tied. However, there was a feeling, at least on my part, that the end of the overtime would be in the control of the RHHS team. The first few minutes of overtime were fairly even. However, as the defensive noose applied by the RHHS players descended on Piedmont, it was evident that the game had really ended before overtime.

The RHHS team extended its lead during overtime and won, going away 71-65. They were so excited, but retained their gentlemanly ways as they shook hands with the Piedmont players. This is a tradition at Ridgeland Hardeeville. Whether they win or lose, they are gentlemen. They are that way because Coach Faber trains them. He does not tolerate any arguments with refs or trash talk or disconsolate looks. Our kids just turn around and go on with their playing.

I cannot tell you how proud I was that a number of the players belong to the group that I work with, The Jasper Gentlemen. I know them and admire their successes, in academics, as well as on the basketball floor.

My wife Carol has become a basketball fan after all of these years. She enjoys the games because she knows some of the players and after the games; they usually come by our seats and shake hands with both of us, or sometimes hug us dripping with perspiration. At that point, who cares?

As an epilogue, the RHHS team won the tournament. Their next two games started off close, but ended in a rout. It was good to see many of the subs get into the game.

Carol and I have great respect for Coach Faber. Yes, he does all of the things most coaches do, but the players know that he loves them. He is very hard on them in practice and in the game. However, whether a win or a loss, he is always concerned for their welfare. I know this because of our conversations about his players both those he has now and former players. RHHS has been lucky to have him all of these 30+ years.

ANNUAL CHRISTMAS NEW YEAR’S LETTER FROM THE FELDSPARS

Well, another year has passed us by and I realized that we have had no communication with you’uns this entire time. We write these Christmas letters so that you will know what we have been doing and maybe get a card with money in it in return. That’s mostly from our families. Always good to ask. All they can say is no.

Lucky for us that we kept our jobs. Vance is still doing his two jobs of opening bottle caps at local bars and freezing off gum and the local movie theater. I am still at K-Mart being a greeter and helping disabled folks while they are in the bathroom. You meet such great people there because you get close to them as you help them take down their panties and then pull them up. Them poor folks just have no abilities to do that.

Our kids are doing real well. Honeybottom just graduated from 6th grade. She was the oldest kid in her class and she was so proud of that. Not often that a 15 year old is in 6th grade. That’s quite an accomplishment. She also has a job now after school and during the Summer. She works at the mall near here pumping up tires on baby strollers what needs it. She doesn’t really get paid, but gets tips from people who are passing by. Must be her personality that gets her all that money in the cigar box she has out front. Last week she made 15 dollars.

Piebrain, our son, has enlisted in the military. We are not sure which of the branches. He didn’t tell us before he went. He said he would write to us when he got stationed or something. I believe he will not be in this country after his training. He was told by his recruiting guy that he would probably be stationed permanently in someplace called North Korea. Never heard of the place, but it sounds exciting.

Did a bunch of traveling. Now that we have some extra money because we are working. Got some freebies in the mail advertising a free meal if you went to some kind of money management thing. Arrived at this motel and sat down with a bunch of people we didn’t know. The guys running this show were really friendly and asked us where our investments  were. We told them that we had most of our investments in our mattress . Probably shouldn’t have told them that. They looked kind of clean cut, but you never know.

We also visited auntie Fern Farkas. We hadn’t seen her in a long while. What with all of her problems and time in jail for shoplifting in a Dick’s sporting goods store. She and her boy friend Needles Narishkeit seem to be doing well. They still live in half a mobile home near the town dump. They are pretty good at finding stuff there that they can use and sometimes sell.

They were so glad to see us. Fern is my mom’s sister from her father’s fifth wife (girlfriend). She has always been the closest to me in the family. Being as she is older than me, I always looked up to her, especially when she taught me things like lifting things from the dollar store and putting on clothes under your coat when you go into a changing room at a clothing store. Those lessons have really helped me through my life.

Yes, and our dancing has really improved. Vance and I turn on our Philco radio and wait for some old timey dance music and cut a rug (that’s what my grandma used to say). We are thinking of going onto one of those dancing shows on the t.v. We saw the program a couple of times when we walked past the appliance store. If things continue to go well, we might get a t.v. this next year.

Well, we hope that you’uns have a great new year and hope that we can link up with you sometime soon

Vance and Verna Feldspar

THE WEDDING BLOG

 

We just got back from Puerto Vallarta on the west coast of Mexico. The place has been a pleasant interlude in our lives for fifteen years. When we got there in 2002, we were struck with the people, the traditions and the real Mexican flavor of the area.

Why would I say that a Mexican city has a Mexican flavor? The old town, as it is called, is more in the Mexican tradition that the new giant hotel, Walmart, Costco part of the city. If you want to visit Mexico why go to the section of the city that is a duplicate of the U.S.? I can’t really answer.

We have three weeks of a time share in a place called Costa Sur. It has had other names, but that’s what it is known as. The people who work there treat us as family. It feels more like a second home than a tourist place. Their treatment of us is in stark contrast to the “Welcome Tourist” lines from other hotels and time shares. They have treated us properly and have been amazingly helpful.

Therefore, when we went there the first time, we were greeted by the salesperson with great thoughtfulness and equanimity. Hugo D’Alba became a friend of ours. When the property was sold, Hugo found himself out of a job. The new company had a different way of doing things and Hugo was not a fan of the high pressure sales.

We became friendly with Hugo and his two children, Alexei and Irina. Fifteen years ago they were twelve and ten. We visited with his family, went out to restaurants and made home visits. Later on, when the kids got older, we brought them up to PA and to New York City. They were so anxious to see snow.

Irina is a card, so we brought along two of our scholarship winners from rural areas to hang around with Irina. We knew that something was wrong the first day they were together. We had them ensconced in a hotel, while we slept in a hostel in Washington D.C. When we went to pick them up in the morning, Carol and I were informed that we were not going to the Air and Space Museum, but that we were going to an outlet mall. Irina needed jeans and they were so much less expensive here than in Mexico.

Through the years we visited with Hugo and his children. During the early part of our relationship, Hugo and his wife Connie separated and divorced. She had been going to law school and met a professor and got involved. Their relationship produced a son, Ian, who is now nine years old.

Of course Hugo was divested, as were the children. They continued to live in Puerto Vallarta, while Connie and her husband lived in Guadalhara, about five hours distant from PV. Eventually, things started evening themselves out, as Hugo got a job in a curio shop in town, run by some of his friends.

Hugo’s living conditions were less than acceptable. We visited him often and wondered why he and the kids were living there. We found out later that was because the house was owned by a friend who either did not charge rent or very little.

Hugo passed away about five years ago. We visited him at a time when he was not in good shape. Hugo was not accepting of any kind of help, but we insisted and took him shopping and suchlike. He hinted that we should keep an eye on the children when he was gone.

The kids lived with Hugo’s friends for a while and when their secondary schooling was done, they moved to Guadalajara and lived with their mom. We are still not clear about that time in their lives. We tried to help out with some resources and kept in touch with both Alexei and Irina.

Things worked out well for both of Hugo’s children. They completed what we would call a college education (so much less costly than in the U.S.). They now have great jobs; Alexei is a computer person who travels around for his company. Irina is an expert at medical equipment and advices hospitals and medical facilities about such things as MRI’s and other electronic gizmos.

Alexei introduced us to his steady girl Daniela, a few years ago. She is a sweetie and is presently working toward her PhD. She is a perfect combination of kindness and gentleness and a wonderful intellect. She speaks English very well, as do Alexei and Irina.

Last year, Alexei notified us that he and Daniela were going to be married in December of 2017. We usually go to PV in March, but we changed our times and came down in December of 2017.

The wedding was at a beautiful place, trees and flowers and open air. We were delighted. Our appearance there seemed to be welcomed by both friends and family. There were about 80 folks there. The wedding was not religious (Hugo had always described himself as a heretic). It was done by a government official. Each wrote their own vows.

The most surprising thing, to us, was that we were seated at the family table with Alexei and Irina’s mother and step brother, aunts and uncles.  Carol spent most of the night talking to Connie, the kid’s mom. She was not with her professor anymore and when he showed up she kind of disregarded him. The bride and groom sat alone in the front of the gathering. We were introduced as Alexei and Irina’s god parents. That was a surprise to us.

The evening was a blast. There was lots of music, singing and dancing. At one point Alexei broke up when the DJ played “The Piano Man.” That was Hugo’s favorite song. His wife, sister and mom comforted him and he was o.k. after that.

We sat next to Irina and her friend, who was also an attorney. Irina is still the laughing silly person she was always been, with a mature veneer layer over. We love her dearly and invited her to come up and visit with us. We hope that we will continue our relationship with both of them.

 

 

 

 

THEY ARE DESTROYING OUR CHILDREN

Among the members of the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools (SCORS) . we no longer should think of ourselves as rural, poor and minority. We should not think of ourselves as the Corridor of Shame. Those sobriquets tend to make our children feel as if they are second class and repel those who would want to live there or even teach in those districts.

Evidently the current Supreme Court of the state of South Carolina has no trouble decimating our schools for the sake of some political purpose. The Abbeville equity case has gone on since 1993. It was finally decided in 2014 by a 3-2 vote affirming the plaintiff’s contention that the funding system is unfair and inequitable.

Now, in the last few months of 2017, having replaced two judges, the Supremes now say, by a 3-2 vote, that they are relinquishing control of the case and giving it back to the legislature to attend to. The court also praised the legislature for what they have already done. No one here can figure out what large things have been done to ameliorate the lack of resources and the lack of qualified teachers in rural school districts.

South Carolina educators have not been aggressive in their lobbying efforts. The Abbeville case was their greatest hope for a reversal of policies that always disadvantaged poor and rural schools. As a simple example: whenever funds are dispersed in some sort of novel way, the condition of dispersal is the number of children in the district. Therefore, a small rural district might get an increase of $100 per student and in the same distribution, a wealthy district would get the same amount per child.

Those are seen, by the legislature and the administration, as a bone to be given to the plaintiff districts. In South Carolina, the Superintendent of Education is an elected position. She does not have access to the strings that let loose of the purses of funds. That is left to the legislature.

It even goes further down the line to local legislators who have some control over what is happening in the schools. In a particularly poor county, funds to school districts at the local level are still based on the wealth of the county. I am sure that you can figure out what happens.

It is beyond the scope of my understanding what sense it makes to treat 35% of the children in the state’s public schools in this manner. There does not seem to be any understanding of  how the rest of the country looks at South Carolina. A number of ratings list South Carolina as the 50th state in the union in education. Don’t those in power understand that the future of the economy of the state rests with the generations now in school?

There is much happiness in the upper echelons of government that South Carolina is growing in retirement enclaves. That the newly retired baby boom generation will disappear soon and that the villages of retirement may wind up as Section 8 housing? Will we live off the large companies that dwell here because we are a “Right to Work,” state? When offshore countries, with even lower wages than SC,  attract the companies that reside here now? You may rmember the VW plant in New Stanton, Pa that left after getting a bunch of tax goodies to reside there. They are now gone.

These are such obvious things. How can we not know that we need to offer our children the right to choose what they will be in the future? Do we want them to continue their trail to low wage jobs in a service industry that will end soon enough? Or do we want to offer them the education and training so that they will be proud to be South Carolinians?