Writer’s Workshop: Life in Catholic School

I spent eight years in Catholic grammar school, and I think I only got hit once, and that was by a lay teacher. Our nuns, the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, weren’t generally a bunch of hitters. They used psychological warfare. I guess life as a Bride of Christ can get pretty boring sometimes, and I just had this vision when I was in school of them sitting up at night figuring out how to make our lives a living hell.

Sometimes it wasn’t so much psychological warfare as just getting a bee in their wimple about something. The nun we had in third grade, for example, was from somewhere in either New York or Pennsylvania, where, apparently, they had a different pronunciation for merry, Mary, and marry. In Chicago, we didn’t waste our time with that, because we could figure out which one it was based on the context. If we were to say "I’ll be merry when I marry Mary" we would know that the first was an adjective, the second a verb, and the third a proper noun.

To Sister J’s way of thinking, that was just wrong with a capital R. The way she spoke, merry was pronounced in a way that sounded like murray, marry sounded like MAH-ree, and I can’t remember how she pronounced Mary, but it wasn’t pronounced like it rhymed with "fairy," which is the way we said all three. So, one convenient afternoon, she decided to waste most of it by trying to teach us the correct (i.e. her) way of pronouncing each. When, after spending most of the afternoon on this folderol, we still said it wrong, she mercifully let it go.

Writer’s Workshop: The Dancing Fiddler

Write a blog post inspired by the word: boots

The other day I started making a list of all the artists that I’ve been introduced to on YouTube. There are quite a few, including Hillary Klug, "The Dancing Fiddler." Hillary plays Appalachian and Celtic tunes on the fiddle (occasionally singing them, too) and buck dances while she plays. "Buck Dancing" is similar to clogging, but instead of clogs, she wears boots. Here she plays and dances to "The Arkansas Traveler," an old-time fiddle tune. She’s accompanied by her mentor, Jim Wood, on banjo.

Hillary also says that she’s been learning some Irish dance steps, though they’re pretty hard to execute in boots. Here she plays two Irish jigs, "Monaghan Jig" and "Blarney Pilgrim."

This blew my mind: here she plays (and sings) "Cotton Eyed Joe," with two copies of herself. The choreography is remarkable, and the amount of work that went into making this video took a talented video editor.

Here’s another "triple": "Swallowtail Jig." This was made two years after the previous videos, and you can see she’s gotten quite good at the Irish dance steps. The video was made in a hot yoga studio, so she might look a little flushed.

When Hillary was learning to play and dance, she watched an Irish fiddler and dancer named Mairead Nesbitt. They finally got a chance to meet a couple of years ago, and made this video, where they play (and dance to) "Miss McLeod’s Hop High Ladies."

This guest appearance on Huckabee includes a segment on how she got started and how it’s grown from there.

Her website has links to her social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube) and is also where you can purchase her two CD’s, her eponymous 2018 debut and her latest, Howdy Y’All. You can buy digital copies at iTunes and Amazon Music. She has a Patreon page as well.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Hillary as much as I have.

Writer’s Workshop: Fire Drill!

Tell us about a time you were waiting nervously for something.

A time? I can think of 64 times (more or less) that I waited nervously for something: the monthly fire drill at school.

I understand the need for fire drills. Yesterday was the 63rd anniversary of the Our Lady Of The Angels School fire, where, due to lack of proper preparation and instruction, 82 children and 3 nuns perished. It led to a complete overhaul of the standards set by the school and the fire department. For one thing, it led to fire alarms being routed from schools immediately to the nearest fire station. For another, once a month, a lieutenant of the Chicago Fire Department would show up, and within half an hour, the fire alarm would sound and we would all demonstrate how well we walked out of the building and onto Loyola Avenue or Lakewood Avenue, well out of the path of fire trucks showing up.

I had no problem with the intention. I hated the bell. It was a very loud buzzer that would start out of nowhere and startle me. Which, when you come right down to it, was exactly what it was supposed to do. It probably wouldn’t bother me much if they just got on with it and sounded the alarm, but if it was cold out (which it was half the year), the principal would announce that we would be having a fire drill and that we should put on our coats. Then, it seemed to take an eternity, because the kids in the lower grades would take forever to get their coats on. I’d be sitting there, palms sweating, chewing at my nails (which on more than one occasion led to painful hangnails), waiting for the damn fire alarm.

In eighth grade, two guys were designated to assist the lieutenant. I always knew we were going to have a fire drill when they left the room. I wanted the job of the guy that turned off the connection to the fire department, then turned it back on and reset the system. The connnection was under the stage in the theater, where the fire alarm was inaudible…

When I got to high school, they had the same fire alarms. The difference was there was no way we could see the Fire Department officer, so we didn’t know it was coming. It didn’t bother me then….

Writer’s Workshop: Silly Me…

Image by P Tate from Pixabay

I managed to break my right arm twice before I turned 10, and I was to blame both times.

We lived in Indianapolis in the late ’50’s, so I would have been around 3 at the time. Half of our basement was finished: It had some tall cabinets (about 8 feet) at one end, with a shorter (about 6 feet) cabinet in the middle, and the floor was finished in hexagonal tile. I used to climb up on the shorter cabinet and from there up to the top of one of the taller ones and stay up there for a while before climbing back down.

Now, before you ask: I don’t remember exactly how I was able to do this. When you’re 3 years old, you do a lot of things and can’t explain how (and more importantly, why) you did them. Anyway…

One day I was in the basement with one of the kids in the neighborhood, and we were climbing the cabinets. I got to the top first, and when he tried to get up on the cabinet himself, he knocked me off. (I’m sure it was an accident, though there’s an apocryphal story that I stood up there and declared "I’M SUPERMAN!" and my friend wanted to see if I could fly.) Anyway, I fell 8 feet, landed on my right arm and broke it. I spent a couple of months in a cast.

The second time, I was in first grade. Jim, Kip, and I were horsing around shortly before bed, which involved running around the apartment. We were told on several occasions not to run around the apartment, and of course we ignored it, because we were kids and thus very stupid. On one of the trips, I slipped on a throw rug and went down on my arm. Hard.

My parents were, of course, very angry with me, not only because I had disobeyed them and maimed myself in the process, but because they had better things to do than sit at the Emergency Room at St. Francis Hospital on a Tuesday night, which, as everybody knows, was when The Red Skelton Show was on TV.

I loike to think that was the reason my parents never had any more kids…

Writer’s Workshop: Dream and King

When Mary and I first moved to Georgia, the area in which we lived was still pretty "country": most of the roads around us were two lanes and a significant amount of land in this area was dedicated to raising horses. There was an animal hospital near us that was dedicated to taking care of creatures great and small called the Horse & Hound Hopital, where they took care of dogs and cats as well as horses and other large animals. They had an enclosure on the property that you could see into from the road.

Not long after we moved here, we were driving past, and Mary starts shouting "John! There’s a Brahma bull at the Horse & Hound Hospital!" And she was right, there was the bull, hump and all. As we started passing it on a regular basis, we noticed that there was a horse that pretty much always with the bull in the enclosure. We talked to some of our neighbors, and learned that the bull’s name was King (after Martin Luther King, who lived in Atlanta), and the horse’s name was Dream (after Martin Luther King’s famous "I have a dream" speech).

Dream and King were practically inseparable, so much so that, when King accidentally gored Dream with one of his horns, he stood outside the room where the vet was taking care of Dream, clearly upset that he had hurt his buddy. It actually made national news (I had it posted to Facebook, but I ccan’t find it, nor can I find it using DuckDuckGo, so you’ll just have to take my word for it).

The Horse & Hound Hospital shut down around 10-15 years ago, and the land was sold to a developer who used it to build senior housing. I have no idea what happened to Dream and King; given the amount of time that’s passed since the hospital closed and the average life expectancy of a horse and a Brahma bull, I would guess that they’re now grazing in that great enclosure in the sky.

(The pictures above are stock images, since I couldn’t find an actual picture of them.)