My Adventures in Special Education

I plan to write a memoir of my first years of teaching, in a small Louisiana town. That project is perhaps number three or four on my list. It was this class that watched The Legend of Boggy Creek that I wrote about last time.

I did not take the job offered to me on the day I’m writing about below, but I later decided to accept a position for the coming school year.

“You have had a Special Education class?” The principal rose about six inches out of his chair, his hands gripping the edge of his desk. I was startled, to say the least. read more

My Best Days Ever

There is absolutely, positively no way I could choose one day out of a life of sixty-five years to be My Best Day Ever. There have been so many, because I’ve been blessed my entire life. Sometimes when I read the traumas and heartaches that you folks share with us so eloquently, it makes me all too aware of how simple my life has been, how awesome has been my lot in life.

Now, I can look back and name a handful of days… None of them will be about becoming rich in worldly goods, or about meeting famous people, or about winning a lottery.

Drumroll, please, for some of the Best Days Ever in My Life: read more

How the Fouke Monster Made a Liar out of Me

I believe I suggested that part two of my monster tale would include something about how the movie made my students believe I was a liar. Guess I lied. This is part three. Here’s how that came about.

Charles B. Pierce brought his crew to my hometown, Fouke, Arkansas, to record for posterity (and to make a bit of money) the stories about the Fouke Monster that had been circulating for the past few years.

He didn’t have a very big budget. Make that a very small budget, actually. He did some bartering and bargaining, as I understand it, and figured out how to get this movie made. He had a great deal of help from some locals, but nobody was more helpful to him than J.E. (Smokey) Crabtree. In later years, the relationship between the two men deteriorated dramatically, but that is another story, and not mine to tell. I would refer you to books Smokey has written if you want his story.

One of the coolest things about how the movie was made was that Smokey let Pierce rig up his welding truck as a light source for night time scenes.

I remember the night Charles Pierce called my mother. We heard only her side of the conversation, of course. I was visiting with my folks while Bill was at work.
Daddy and I began to get the feeling Mother was in the middle of an unusual phone call. It was frustrating trying to figure out what was going on.

Daddy had turned down the television so we could listen in. The call lasted perhaps five minutes, and toward the end Mother began to say things like, “No, sir. No, I don’t think I’d be interested.” Finally Pierce gave up and Mother hung up. She turned to us with a look reminiscent of the one she’d worn the day she saw her creature.

“He wanted me to play myself in his movie and I just don’t feel comfortable with that. People made fun of me enough when it happened. I don’t want to go through that again.” After all this time, I sort of wish she’d done it. I’d have a lasting memory of Mother, and of Daddy and his hounds. Oh, sure, we laugh at the movie, but it would still be fun to see them on film.

Years later I became a teacher, most of the time having a self-contained special education class. My students tended to be labeled Learning Disabled, and in my first school they were like many others who didn’t get referred for testing but who would also have been far enough below grade level to be LD labeled. The difference? Kids who were trouble-makers got referred; quiet ones did not.

Just before Spring Break all teaching goes to pot. The kids want a break, the teachers want a break. So I decided to give us all a break and have a movie afternoon. I brought a copy of The Legend of Boggy Creek, we popped popcorn and brought in soft drinks, and the class of 9-13-year-olds settled down for a treat they had never experienced in school before. (I’m happy to say they had a number of positive “firsts” while I was there.)

I gave them a bit of background about the movie – how and why it came to be made. And then I started the tape. Five minutes in…there were whoops and squeals and cackles. Fifteen minutes in, and they were both scared and unbelieving. By then I had started a running commentary they simply couldn’t wrap their minds around:

“See this guy lighting a cigarette? He used to be my bus driver.”

And this place where Travis is camping by the water and it looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere? It’s right down in front of his nice brick house, and we used to go camping right there sometimes.

See where they are showing the dogs not chasing anything but acting scared instead? Well, that was supposed to be about what my mother saw, but she wouldn’t do it. So they changed the story.”

See this guy, and that guy there? Well, he’s in prison for killing him.”

My daddy hunts all over those woods. Duck hunting, deer hunting, coon hunting. He can find his way around in the dark and come out of the woods anywhere he wants to.

We had to watch it again the next day, just because of all my interruptions and their responses. I loved it.

But they still didn’t believe me…not really.

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My First Squirrel Camping Trip

From the time I was a toddler, my parents took me camping. My earliest memory is of being somewhere up in the Ark-Tex Hills with several sets of family members squirrel camping. Mother and Daddy went out early that morning hunting and I woke up alone in the back of the truck where we had slept.

Daddy had a homemade cattle frame on the back of his pickup for carrying cattle off to market and for hauling cotton from the field. As workers filled their cotton sacks, he’d hang the sack on a set of scales attached to a board sticking off the back of the truck frame and jot down how many pounds they had picked. He paid them off at the end of each day.

He didn’t leave those rails (a frame consisting of horizontal boards nailed to corner upright posts) on all the time, but they were on more often than not. As I got older, he would let me and my friends ride in the back of the truck, and we loved sticking our feet on the boards and hanging up in the corner of the frame, wind blowing in our hair, bugs catching in our eyes, our noses flattened back against our faces making it difficult to breathe.

Ah, the joys of being young in the country in the fifties.

Back to camping. Daddy would string up mosquito netting, tying it to the top corners of the truck frame with hay string or cotton twine he always had on hand for making fish hoop nets, they’d shove a feather bed mattress up in the truck bed, and off they’d go. At camp, Mother would crawl around in the back of the truck making up the bed and tucking the mosquito netting underneath the edges of the mattress.

When we got ready to go to bed, after the camp fire had died down and the stories had all been told for the night, they’d pull out a corner of the netting and we’d quickly crawl inside and tuck it back in place, hoping we hadn’t let any mosquitoes in with us.

On this particular morning, I woke up alone in the bed and crawled to the foot of the mattress to get out. But I couldn’t. I was too little to realize how things worked, and there I was, all alone, cold, scared, hungry. I yelled for somebody, anybody to come help me. I could hear voices, so I knew I wasn’t alone. But nobody came for me.

I started to cry. I couldn’t have been three…probably about two years seven months, calculating squirrel season’s opening date. I truly believe this is my very first memory. I suppose it’s only fitting that it involve squirrel camp, since that has always been such an important part of my family dynamic.

Eventually Aunt Elizabeth heard me and came to rescue me, and she cuddled me and fed me bacon and eggs for breakfast. Not too much later, Mother and Daddy made it back to camp and I was a happy little girl again. For the rest of the day I played around the camp with some of my cousins, always trailing behind them because I was several years younger than any of them.

I have one other memory from that camping trip, though I probably don’t have the facts exactly straight. It’s more an impression of fear – my mother’s fear – than anything else. I remember she was terrified, and that it was daytime, and that it involved wild hogs. I remember her scooping me into her arms and running for the truck, jerking the netting out of the way, and tossing me in on the mattress before she scrambled in herself.

Daddy, of course, had no fear. He thought Mother was being silly, but she didn’t care. No razorback hog was going to have a chance to hurt her little girl. She had waited a long, long time for me to be born, and she wasn’t taking any chances.

What is your earliest memory? Does it involve a family tradition? Leave me a comment and share it with us.

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Excerpt, “Murder by Any Other Name”

This is a scene between Becca & Jake as they wait for word on Jake’s aunt/Becca’s friend, Lucy, at the hospital. Jake is one of Becca’s suspects in the murder of her brother, but it was she who brought Lucy to the hospital. Jake has started talking about his early life in Vicksburg & can’t seem to stop.

“I was twelve when my daddy was killed,” Jake said, as if reciting facts about someone he barely knew. “The old man was what I’d call a ‘functioning alcoholic’ if there is such a thing. Thing is, he had a job in a body shop in downtown Vicksburg, kept the same job for years, and I don’t really know how. Come Friday afternoon, he headed straight to the liquor store or beer joint to stock up for the weekend. He’d be half gone by the time he showed up at the house, and we knew he’d had to drive right by to get to his booze, but it never failed. He was always more anxious to get to the liquor than to get home to us. Weekends weren’t much fun around our house. Or I should say our apartment. We lived in a rundown apartment house just about three blocks from the Mississippi, and I spent a lot of time hanging out on the bluffs overlooking the river, just wishing I were on one of the barges going past every day – I didn’t care which direction, just anywhere would have done.

“But I couldn’t leave my mama. She was a good woman. How she ended up with a louse like my old man I’ll never know. I never talked to her about that – don’t think I wanted to hear the ugly details.”

I shifted a bit in my seat, trying to keep my bottom from going to sleep, but Jake didn’t seem to notice. He kept right on talking. Absently I watched the comings and goings of the ER: nurses and doctors always in a rush, would-be patients waiting “patiently” or demanding help in agitated shouts, police officers filling out reports. Police officers…Richie…murders…

I jerked back to awareness as Jake was saying, “But it was the gambling that got Daddy in the end. After he’d been kicked out of every casino in town, he started looking for other places to gamble, and that put him out on the highway going from one truck stop casino to another. I guess then it was just a matter of time before the gambling and the drinking led to a bad car wreck.”

“One night just before I turned thirteen, the cops came knocking on the door and told Mama he wouldn’t be coming home again. She went off the deep end after that. First she stopped eating, or sleeping. Then one day I got home from school a few minutes before Hal, which was usually the case, thank goodness. Anyway, the house was real quiet. I knew before I went in something bad was inside. But I had to check it out before Hal got there.”

Jake’s eyes held a faraway look of pain and anguish, and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for what his childhood must have been like. I, who had never experienced any of those things, wondered how Richie and I would have turned out if our situations had been reversed.

“She wasn’t in the living room or kitchen,” Jake continued, “and the bathroom door was open but the room was empty. So I knocked on her bedroom door and got no answer. I went in. She was looking more comfortable than she had in years. I saw the pile of empty bottles on the table beside her. I checked her for a pulse, but she was already cold. She must have taken them all right after we left for school.” He was speaking in a monotone, as if telling someone else’s story.

“Oh, Jake…”

He went on as if he hadn’t heard me. “So I went outside and waited for Hal, took him down the hall to Mrs. Mason. She was always good to us. Hal had just turned nine. I knew we were in trouble when the woman in the black suit arrived. They packed us off to CPS while they started looking for any relatives we might have. While we waited, they put us in separate foster homes. I could see Hal was scared – I was too – but I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

How do you feel about the character of Jake? Leave me a comment here & I’ll sign you up for my monthly newsletter.


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I Wish I Was in the Land of Scotland, Part 2

In my last post I got as far as describing plans for making a trip to Scotland in 2000. After months of preparation, Bill and I, along with Bev and her husband Auby, flew out of DFW in the middle of a heat wave, even for Texas in July. Sustained days of 110 degrees and higher made us look forward with even more ardor for the cooling climes of Scotland. read more

I Wish I Was in the Land of Scotland, Part 1

Has anyone in the group read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series? When a friend introduced them to me in 1999, four books were out. Book number eight will be released in June 2014. The series has sold well over 25 million copies in various formats.

Whether or not you’re a fan, you can see that the series and Dr. Gabaldon (whom her fans sometimes call “Herself”) – she had a doctorate in marine biology, I think, and she’s a computer whiz – have been extremely successful. read more

Dads, Daughters, & TV Mounts

I’d venture a guess a conversation similar to this one has played out across the universe many times over.

“Whatcha doin’?”
“Ahh, well I was just gonna try to figure out what I’d need to do to put up this thing for your television.”
“What ‘thing’?”
“It was in this box.”
“Oh, yeah. That.”
“It doesn’t look too hard.”
“Well, maybe not, but I don’t want to put it up until tomorrow.”
“That’s okay. I’m just looking.”
“Well, I’m going to take a nap. My back is spazzing.” read more

Chasing the Fouke Monster

When I last wrote about my mother and the Fouke Monster, I got as far as the family gathering back at my Uncle Buster’s house. This was the assigned meeting place for our end of day regrouping after the hunts. On this day, Daddy arrived back at the house earlier than the other men, since he had walked his dogs through the woods to get the deer on the move. read more