Monday, March 17, 2014

All I Ever Wanted To Do Was Wear my Sandals...

          I subscribe to a Facebook page called Badass Teachers and I love it. I've actually found a group of teachers who are more militant than myself. A few days ago I came across a contest about hwy you became a teacher. The prize was a $700 Amazon gift card so how could I say no? 
          This is my entry which as usual I wrote on the fly. While I am not expecting to win in the least (my competition is pretty good), I am kinda psyched that I've entered my first writing contest. "First step in a larger world and all that, hopefully. 
           Anyway, while I watch the St Patrick's day Parade on the TV, Roni, Jude and I are loungin" about enjoying our last day of Spring Break. This might be the most productive result of that. 

            I got into to teaching for two reasons: 1. I was burned out in my current job and wanted to do something new  2. The person who talked me into it convinced me that I’d get to wear my beloved sandals to work every day.
            The person who shared this tidbit was Robyn Rice. Robyn and I were working at an Adults w/ Disabilities Program. Working directly with the guys was awesome but I had grown very tired of the program director and the politics involved in running the program. It was time for a change.
            Robyn was working alongside me as she finished her Masters in special education. She often tried to tell me how much happier I’d be in a classroom and how awesome I’d be with the kids. As much as I enjoyed having my ego stroked, I kept resisting. Looking back, I knew I was afraid. I knew teaching was a serious commitment and I just wasn’t sure I had it in me.
            But Robyn was relentless and eventually I caved. When I had spare time during the summer of 2002, I canvassed the Atlanta area trying to get my foot in the door. I figured I’d be able to start off as a parapro and work my way up. Nobody was hiring.
            By some stroke of luck I ended up in an interview through several strands of friends of friends. It was a middle school in Gwinnett County. I assumed I was there for the para pro job but in reality the principal, Ms. Malone, l was interviewing me for a Special Ed resource teacher.
            I have never been a religious man but higher forces were at work because I was hired after a 30 min interview to be a classroom sped teacher. Without a teaching certificate. This was a fact I was very upfront about but Ms. Malone explained there were in dire need and my background made me more than qualified. Besides GA had an accelerated teaching certificate program and she could get me in. A certificate would be about a year away with a little hard work. I walked into that middle school hoping to be a parapro. I walked out a 7th grade Geography sped resource teacher.
            My father always told me the story of how his father taught him how to swim. It involved being tossed into the river and hoping for the best. My first year was a lot like this but somehow I adapted and found that I liked being a teacher. I’d spent years working with a variety of adults dealing with their disabilities in day-today life. Switching over to children had its moments but also provided so many rewards.
         
   My imagination was on fire trying to get these kids fired up about World Geography. Through the use of duct tape, discarded household items, and loads of imagination, I took my class on an archaeological dig in China, made up a class song when we built Africa drums out of coffee cans, and even created our own Egyptian burial chambers complete with Hieroglyphics describing our lives,. My favorite was the kid who had Spider-Man and Wolverine duking it over his kingdom.
            Education isn’t just what I did as a teacher, I quickly discovered. I also had other roles. I was a traffic director during bus call. Police negotiator during conflicts in the hall with class dismissal. Curriculum expert as I sorted through the textbooks to figure out how to scaffold my lessons. Testing expert at the end of the year when we doled out all the standardized tests. And I also learned I had to listen.
            Middle school is a rough time for a kid’s self-esteem. Being a sped student almost doubles that. Student feel singled sharing some classes then having to switch. We spent almost as much time processing that as learning about the economies of certain countries.
            Over time my time my classroom, which my students nicknamed “The Hobbit Hole”, gelled and my confidence in being called a teacher began to grow. I figure I made plenty of mistakes but I also felt like I learned from them. I wish I could say that every student I had in my seven periods of World Geography passed but they didn’t. I do believe they left my class at the end of May knowing they were just as valid as regular ed students and had the coping skills to be just as successful.
            Ms. Malone was good on her word and got me hooked up with that accelerated teaching program. Unfortunately, my math skills were badly out of practice and I didn’t score high enough on the Praxis Math portion to obtain a provisional certificate. My contract was not renewed even though I missed passing by one point.
            It was a bitter pill to swallow and I spent a few months upset with the world. Eventually that bitterness turned into something positive and I found myself studying harder than I ever had before and passing the Math portion of the Praxis. With my provisional in hand I eventually got hired at another middle school and went right back to work.
            The next few years would be a series of ups and downs as I tried to find a school which would be the right fit for me ideologically. I got married, divorced, and discovered I had end stage kidney disease but somehow got through all that and finally got my teaching certificate in 2009 when I earned my Masters in Special Education.  
            I am happy to report that I’ve spent the past 8 years teaching at the same high school my parents went to and even met at. I co-teach social studies and Literature and have never been happier. Even with all the controversy in merit pay and Common Core Curriculum, I look still enjoy this second career and still swell with pride when people asked me what I did for a living.

            I’m a special ed teacher. And I’ve still never worked at a school that would let me wear my sandals to work. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Making Choices, Seeing New Paths, and Philosophy of Thomas Magnum, P.I.

                            

           
            The Big Guy and rarely agreed on television viewing preferences but due to the unofficial Richardson Family Hierarchy, my voice normally didn’t matter. One show we did agree on was Magnum P.I. Looking back; I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the Big Guy set his work schedule around 8pm on Thursday nights on CBS. I couldn’t blame him. The show sucked me right in too. Private investigator solving crimes in Hawaii with shirts that obviously influence my wardrobe choices? I’m in.  
          
  Toward the end of the series, the writers came up with this cliffhanger where Magnum had been shot and spent the whole episode in a limbo style paradise with his old, long dead side-kick, Mack. As Magnum tries to figure out the limbo process, Mack plays the guide role. At one point Mack eats a jelly doughnut, seemingly out of nowhere. When Magnum asks about where the doughnut came from, Mack replies, “Time has little to do with infinity and Jelly doughnuts.” Shortly after, we watch Thomas Magnum stroll without a care in the world, through some bad 80s blue-screen as he walks off to heaven. Season cliffhanger! Will he return?
            Being a TV and movie junkie, there are many lines that take up room in my head that probably should have gone to something useful like algebra. I didn’t write much in those days but I guess my subconscious could recognize something good and store it away for later.  That line has resonated with me for some reason since I first heard it in the bottom of Sharp Hall in 1987.
            Other than it was just a clever line to move along a script, it never held any meaning until the other night. It was Tuesday morning around 3 am after I had pulled my needles from my nightly treatments. Usually I roll over to sleep like a baby but not that night. It was my first night back from my unexpected hospital trip. I was home next to Kim in our bed in our room. It smelled the same and felt the same. Kim had straightened up our room a bit but everything was safe and familiar.
            That was when I started crying. I have never broken down like that before. I was crying because I was happy to be here next to my wife who I love more than anything. Yet, a few minutes later I‘d start crying again because I was scared. I had just come the closest I ever have to dying and never get to be around my wife and children. I kept remembering what the doctor said right before he said they had to restart my heart with the paddles.
            He tried to smile to reassure me, “It’s going to hurt like hell but you have to have this if you want to see your family again.”
            I just nodded because I had already decided in the ambulance, no matter what, I was staying with Kim and the kids. The jolt felt like I was kicked by a few mules but it worked and my heart slowed down from the 278 beats per minute to a normal rhythm.
            For the next few hours that Tuesday morning, I would cry for a bit and then just sit there and think about everything that had just happened to me. No disrespect to the ladies but I honestly felt like I had the male version of a period for a short bit, I ran all the major emotions. I’d be thankful then get angry because I wish I’d gone to the doctor. I’d turn sad because I knew I scared Kim badly. The worst was remembering how scared I had been after the doctor shocked me and then I remembered.
            I was lying on the stretcher and I could finally breathe. Everything was settling down and I had been just starting to feel like I was in the clear. Everyone was back in the room including Kim. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her and she kept smiling at me.
            Around that time, I began to feel something but I couldn’t see it. I can’t explain why I know this but I just knew that if I looked at the door to my room where there was a large window to look in, I’d see my Dad.
I knew he’d be there in his blue short sleeve shirt with all the pens in the pocket, Mary and I saw him wear to work a zillion times. I knew I’d see his red hair which was getting peppered with gray. I knew Dad was there on the other side of that door and if I looked at him, he’d tell me it was time to go.
I wanted to see him so bad. I miss Dad so damn much it hurts. Over the past few years, I often wish I had just one more chance to talk to him and ask him questions about being a father and a good husband. I wanted to bury my face in his gigantic chest one last time and fell that bear hug no one can replicate and hear him tell me that it’s all ok. But I also knew that if I acknowledged him that was it. I talk fast but I could never talk my Dad out of something when he was on a mission.
So I didn’t look at the door and I just looked at Kim and focused on her.
And he left.
Fortunately, I had a therapy appointment yesterday and we talked at great lengths about this. My therapist, Kim (wild coincidence, huh?) said sometimes when we are that close, people tend to visualize the next step as a place or in my case as a person. I visualized heaven as my Dad. I have no idea how true this is but it makes sense to me and I feel satisfied with leaving it that way. I do want to see the Big Guy again badly and when we do, it’s going to be a lot of laughing and hugging. Just not anytime soon.
With the exception of my immediate family, I have three individuals that I value more dearly than myself. I plan on being around for a long, long time. There are too many stories left to write and to tell. There are too many hugs and kisses to be shared and too much laughter for me to miss out on with Kim, Roni, and Jude.
Season 8 was the final season on Magnum P.I. and it picked right up where the finale ended. Magnum was headed off to heaven when he realized he had unfinished business and came back. For the first half of the episode Thomas was a bit comatose and refused to acknowledge Rick, TC, or Higgins. At the 27 minute mark, , Magnum broke his silence and just said,” Time has little to do with infinity and jelly doughnuts.”  Cue car chase….
The past couple of weeks have gotten under my skin both personally and professionally. That’s on me for letting the idiots get under my skin. The past few weeks, my emotions have controlled me rather than the other way around. I think that jolt did more than restart my ticker; it shocked a little sense back into me. I am going to spend a little more time focusing on those around me and being the best Dad and husband I can be and a little less on letting those whose opinions don’t matter affect my family.
 I don’t think I want to leave teaching as planned but rather work towards being a better teacher and maybe even trying to find a way to become an advocate. The past few weeks have got me excited about my profession and the realization that maybe I can do something about the rut GA seems to be stuck in.
I didn’t find Jesus or Allah or give the Richardson Family Mint fortune to that tele-evangelist in Texas but I feel like I have figured out myself enough to know what I want to accomplish for the next few years. For the first time a very long time, my path feels very concrete and in front of me rather than the muddled mess I often find myself in. I am very excited about the future and what it will bring as I get to be around a bit longer to watch my kids grow up and my wife just keep getting more beautiful.
This is where I am going to be for a very long time....
As far as much how time I left before the Big Guy comes back for me, I have no idea nor am I going to dwell on this anymore. There’s a lot of living left to do and I plan to be around for a very long time for Roni and Jude, and Kim. Besides, if I’ve learned anything from Magnum, P.I.,  “Time has little to do with infinity and jelly doughnuts.”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Firewood, the Big Guy, and a Poem

            The Big Guy has been heavy in my head of late. Over the past decade, I’ve gotten very comfortable with hearing his words bellow out of my mouth. The wincing has stopped and most of the time I am either chuckling or actually agreeing whole heartedly with whatever wisdom I have shared on the behalf of the Big Guy.
            Every now and then though, an instance or a moment passes where I swear somehow he’s pulling the strings to remind me of his lumberjack presence. It happened today during my 2nd block Brit Lit class with Elizabeth Henderson.
            I’ll come back to that but first let me backtrack to the beginning.
            Last Tues as the snows came to settle on GA, I had raced home to purchase a trunkful of wood from Mr. Ricky. My only concern about all the potential weather would be bad icing and power outages. The infamous Xmas Ice Storm of ’81 holds special reckoning in the Richardson Histories due to the 3 days without heat or power. So long as we had some wood, I knew Kim and the kids would be fine.
            As I pull into the driveway, I can tell the temp has dropped about 5-10 degrees and the wind has picked up. It’s not nice outside but the wood has to go from the trunk to the front porch. Suddenly, I am reminded inside is another set of small hands that need to be helping. Jude was not amused.
            The next twenty minutes is a series of hemming and hawing back and forth. Jude is throwing every excuse at me to be excused. He has sniffles, there are bugs in the wood, and it’s too cold. My replies grow curt and angrier at each comment. Finally I snap and then the Big Guy comes out.
            “Son, we have to get this unloaded. We need this wood. Your mother and sister need this wood so they don’t freeze if we lose power. I am just as cold and tired as you but we don’t go in until this chore is done.”
            Jude and I worked mostly in silence but it we got the job done. He did a good job with stacking the wood once I showed him how and was helpful running out to bring in more as the next few days passed.
            It’s a week later and I am still fixated on that whole interchange. My We-Need-Wood Speech actually cracks me up at this point. It hit me a few hours later during my defrost mode why all those words came so easily to me.
I had heard them before.
            This whole interchange between Jude and myself had happened numerous times before up in Young Harris during the early 80s only it was a six foot seven inch librarian/wood cutter having it out with his thirteen year old artistic son/free labor. History is all a circle.
            Bear with me while I explain how Ms. Henderson ties into my Brit Lit class. As much as I love teaching Literature, I hate, hate, and hate poetry. It just doesn’t make connections in my brain.  
            Fortunately, I am co-teaching with Elizabeth Henderson. This lady is the real deal when it comes to understanding Lit and I have learned so much working with her. She is also great for suggesting new bands and authors so I am digging my 2nd block with her. I just wish our students would appreciate it. Lol
            We are working our way through the Romantic Poets which is such a snooze fest for me. Ms. Henderson shared a poem out the Brit Lit book about chimney sweeps which led me to share about the most dreaded day of the year at my house where the Big Guy and I had to sweep out the chimney. I am not even sure if my students believed me but I had fun going over a forgotten memory.
            Afterwards, Henderson and I started talking more about the joys of wood heat and laughing. Always the Lit Teacher, she recommended a poem by Robert Hayden. I politely listened out of respect to Henderson but its poetry so, you know. She was kind enough to print me a copy and I am very thankful she did. This may be the first time I have actually connected to a piece of poetry. Here it is

Those Winter Sundays
  by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

            Change out Sunday to Saturday and you have how the wood gathering, splitting and hauling process went at 5 Old Bald Mountain Road, Young Harris GA 301582.
As I folded up the poem to put in my pocket, it hit me what day it is.
I have been so absorbed in dealing with all the stupidity from my wife’s crazy ex, trying to keep one of my students from dropping out with four months left, and all the other noise in my life, I forgot about today.   It snuck right up on me.
I miss you, Old Man. Doesn’t feel like 15 years and it’s still not fair. It may not hurt as much but your absence is still noted. I tell your grandkids about you daily and they love to giggle at how you kept Mary and me on the run.
Thanks for making me get up all those mornings to learn my lesson of how to keep my family warm even at my own discomfort. Thanks for not letting me get away with any the strange maladies I seemed to come down with right before going out to cut a load of wood. But I think the biggest thanks goes to using (of all the ways to reach out to me today) a goddamned poem to remind me that you are gone but you are always looking over my shoulder.
15 years and you are still teaching me. The poem is awesome

Thanks. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

It's Time For a MONTAGE!!!!!! How the TRAGIC Movement Relates to Every Mid 80s Action Movie

            By the time the mid 8os hit, I was deep into my formative high school years and the advent of the greatest movie plot device known to man. I am speaking of the Montage.  Rocky IV, The Karate Kid, and Revenge of the Nerds taught me the valuable lesson of how I can accomplish any heroic task like David and Goliath if I just huddle with my friends and work hard all while set to anthem style 80s music with quick editing cuts, flashbacks and parachute pants.


            This past week feels like that first few minutes in a montage as I have started to battle against my new HRA insurance plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield courtesy of the State Health Benefit Plan folks. I won’t waste your time in backtracking and explaining the current healthcare situation, if you are new to this then click on this link to explain: www.tragicga.com
            To continue my movie metaphor in this blog, it’s felt much like the third reel in any movie where I set out to accomplish my task , fail miserably, then find that inspiration  go on swinging as I take on the Bad Guy who I am obviously out matched with no chance to win. My Bad Guy is the insurance empire of Blue Cross Blue Shield.
            My issue is two-fold.
                1)   Not only am I in serious financial peril because under their insurance plan BCBS won’t pick up any costs until I meet my $1500 deductible. (I picked the Gold Tier which is the highest. Had I gone Bronze, it would $3000, but wait because it gets better for my case) This means anyone under the new state health plan doesn’t have a co-pay and has to pay out-of-pocket to their doctor until the deductible is met. Oh, prescriptions do not count either. People are reporting on our web page how they’ve gone from $50 co-pays to up to $300 for visits. Everyone under this plan is screwed especially folks living with chronic illness like me.
2)      2)          DSI, Savannah doesn’t have a contract with BCBS under the HRA plan. DSI also happens to be the only place in the region which offers my form of treatment, nocturnal home hemo dialysis. It’s a wordy way to say I do all my own dialysis treatments in my own home as I sleep six times a week. Do I really need this? Take a look at the before and after pics of me especially my color and the bags under my eyes then decide.

2009 Before Nocturnal Home Hemo Dilalysis  At Pirate's House w/ my best buddy


Fall 2013  First day of School  3 years of NHH Dialysis Treatment


My BCBS rep told me on Tues that I had 60 days to find a new center in their networks. After a nerve wracking conference call on Thursday, I found that BCBS will grant me out-of-network benefits so I can stay but my deductible is now $3000 instead of the Gold Plan which I  signed up for. What frustrates me is that is not much for BCBS to have to cover. I am eligible for medicaid due to teh kidney disease diagnosis. This means BCBS only has to cover 20% of the expense. Greedy much? So much for taking my family on a summer vacation up to the North GA Mountains where I grew up to bore them about the good ol’ days…
Read the Tragic Facebook page or the webpage. My story is not unusual. Many of my colleagues are having horrible issues to where they have to choose whether to go to the doctor or pay their bills. Some of us are in a bad way. I cried yesterday when I read about a teacher that was months away from getting her kidney under our former healthcare plan. She has yet to hear anything form BCBS.
A 5 month pregnant teacher posted that her weekly doctor visits have shot up from $40 to $360. This doesn’t include blood work, imaging, etc. She will be close to $5000 before the baby even comes and then she has the hospital bill. Mid wives stand to make a bundle this year in GA.
The word is getting out. Melissa McCoy is a fellow teacher with me here in Savannah. Click on WSAV to see when we were interviewed at WSAV on this situation.  Melissa has been a great advocate for the cause and an eloquent speaker even though she is quite shy and reserved in real life. My long standing respect for her has grown in leaps and bounds over the past week. She has rocked it.
      Working with Melissa on the TRAGIC campaign also leads me to my next point of this not a conservative versus liberal thing. Obamacare and the ACA have nothing to do with our current state health benefit problem.
It’s about working in a state where the many of our elected representatives including Governor Nathan Deal have continuously made billions of cuts in education over the past six years. Ironically, when it comes to the political spectrum, Melissa and I are so far away from each other on that line. I’m the liberal to Melissa’s card caring Libertarian yet somehow we both can see the non-partisan ship of this issue. If only our Congress could work like this.
The amount of finger pointing and placing of blame has been outstanding to the point of comical. Of, course out Governor, man of the people, has said United Health Care is to blame for getting the teachers riled up. (They lost the contract for this year in GA). I do hold Governor Deal accountable because “The Buck Stops Here.”  Yet I look around for accountability and see another guilty party.
Myself.
      Even though I didn’t vote for Deal, I honestly have not made my voice of what I expect from my representatives. With the exception of one e-mail to Jack Kingston regarding student loan forgiveness, I have never contacted any of my representatives nor seriously read up on them to see what they are about until this past week.
 I am a bit ashamed of myself because I teach U.S. Government to my students but really haven’t followed the process as much as I should have. Even though I vote religiously, I don’t read about each issue and every candidate like I should. Let me assure you, this is about to change.
courtesy of TheFrustratedTeacher.com
The past several years have made it quite unappealing to go into teaching. Frankly, I am rearranging my 10 year plan because I just don’t see lasting much longer if current circumstances continue. The sad thing is that I love working with my fellow teachers and students It’s a powerful moment to watch the kids when the lesson finally hits home. Sadly, the past years have made it hard for teachers to not only do their jobs but now it’s just coming down to basic cost effectiveness.
 I already hold two jobs to make ends meet on top of all my health issues and being with my family. How much farther can I be spread out?  How many teachers are starting to ask themselves the same question? My guess is quite a bit more than in past years.

It’s been an exciting few weeks being a teacher for me. Up until the start of 2014, complacency had set in and I didn’t do much except complain about my current job situation. Lately, I honestly do hear some of those old 80s soundtracks (I was a soundtrack junkie in my younger years musically) in the background as I contact ally my state reps and local news media sources. Gotta admit it’s been great because it’s been sometime since I’ve dusted off my Rocky IV soundtrack and tormented my kids during car-line.
Some folks have been asking me if I honestly believe whether the TRAGIC movement can make a difference. Is it possible for a special ed teacher in Savannah, GA with bum kidneys to actually get a major insurance company and a Red State legislature headed up by a Governor with more than a few ethics violations to take note?
Yes.
Oh, it is very possible. Because it's is not just me. There is 8,999 other teachers including other state employees who can’t afford to maintain their current health plans. And we are growing, and writing, and speaking out. I believe The Dude said it best in The Big Lebowski with, “This will not stand” 
So if you will be so kind as to excuse me, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Governor Deal. Both of your pictures are taped to my bathroom mirror and there’s a large ass cart of rocks to work on lifting. Let the montage continue…….


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's a kinda T.R.A.G.I.C.....

      
                                                      Sorry, for the Queen Lyric Pun


My insurance has recently switched over to a HRA plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield. It has become something which I am very worry about seeing that in addition to my  wacky adventures I write about, I am also living with Kidney disease and the joys of Dialysis. It just does not affect myself and my other teachers but all state employees.  A teacher up in North GA has started a group called TRAGIC which stands for Teachers Rallying Against GA Insurance Changes. They have requested letter of testimonials. This is mine. Sorry if preachy. I am getting a bit frustrated at how I am being treated as a teacher. I love the job just tired of the climate......





I became a teacher in 2002 after about 15 years working in the Mental Health/Disabled field. My reasons for leaving were a combination of hitting that proverbial glass ceiling and tired of feeling ineffective. Going into the career change, I knew the bureaucracy would be just as silly as before but one thing I always knew was that at the very least, teachers got great benefits and I knew I’d love working with kids again.
            During my 12 years, I’ve had to deal with No Child Left Behind, Standards Changes, Highly Qualified, even Common Core Curriculum and now any possible raises based on student performance which means I’ll never see another raise again.  
No sweat. It’s just a matter of outlasting the current flavor of the month until some other guy in a higher tax bracket than me gets Congress’s ear and new educational objectives are rolled. My previous career prepared me for the silliness.
            In 2006, I was diagnosed with End Stage Kidney disease which is a fancy way of saying, “Welcome to Dialysis.” Thanks to good insurance and an even better Treatment Center, I can do my daily treatments at home and still be able to teach. Many people, even my own health care folks, have urged me to consider going on disability but I refuse. Why? Because even though I am what those around refer to me as being “sick,” I don’t feel sick.

I usually feel like this unless it's EOCT testing week.


I am a young teacher at 45, have a family, and even work a second job because I am teacher after all. I was raised that you go on Disability when you cannot work anymore. I have many, many good years left in me. I want to work. I need to work as an example to my kids and my students.
I am able to do both jobs, take my boy to karate, my daughter to her art club and fight car line pickups because not only do I take care of myself but so far, my benefits have allowed to me maintain a high quality of life which I deserve.
Best Day of my Life

I was in the beginning stages of looking for a kidney. Now that I have a wife whom I love dearly along with two step kids that have changed how I view this world, I want to be here for as long as possible. While, I have no real issues with my health care so far, I am very concerned with all that I am reading and hearing from my colleagues as they are having their own issues in the State Health Care Plan. My anxiety is rising because later this month  I have to get all my prescriptions refilled. Based on what I am hearing, it doesn’t bode well for my wallet
I am tired of this.
Twelve years ago I started teaching and have seen a general decline in how we are treated professionally. I love to see how valued teachers are during election year but our budgets are cut to the point of insult afterwards. I got my first raise in seven years this past August and I wasn’t happy because every teacher knows that any raise simply means their insurance rates will just increase a few months later. And mine did….again to the point I have lost any $$$ gained. 
Being a teacher used to have special ring to it. Sure we were underpaid but we were also respected. Parents had out backs; administrators helped us to shape the next wave of our country’s future. We had money for supplies and text books. Now it’s about furloughs, being careful who goes to ISS to keep our numbers down, keeping parents from going down to a school board.  Oh, and testing. Don’t forget teaching to a test.
As seen in every counselor's office....

I don’t bring up these things to be the stereotypical teacher who complains then does nothing. I bring up these points to illustrate that in spite of these bumps in the road. I still get up each morning at 6am to go into work as does all of my colleagues who, in my eyes, even better at this than I’ll ever be which is why I keep going. I don’t want to let them down. At the very least I owe them that. Nobody else seems to have our backs anymore.
We don’t have to put up with this. One of the best lessons I ever taught was to a Social Skills class at an Alternative School in rural GA. The idea of it was you allow yourself to be treated as well or as poorly as you allow it. I am tired of not being respected as an educator and I am ready to do something about it. According to our politicians during their election years, we are professionals afterall. 
 Does anybody remember Roy Barnes when he was Governor? Pretty much the only thing Ol’ Roy is remembered for is ticking off the teachers and that was the end of him. I am not saying to we must oust Gov. Deal or anything like that. This is not being political so much as advocating for ourselves. We need to rally and have our voices heard. We can be heard and we can make a change.  Ask Roy Barnes.
Why just one term?

This is a great chance to model to our students on how to affect a positive change. Don’t just call your State Rep, but write him. Speak to you Professional Organizations. I can tell you my PAGE rep is about to get an earful. Get other state employees involved. This insurance affects them as well.
We don’t have to put up with so why should we? Let’s stay very positive and professional and do something about this. Together, people. we got our backs.

Well, not literally...



  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Mary's Christmas Story

            I haven't been writing much at all lately due to a broken laptop. Inspiration struck night before last when this story popped into my head and wouldn't go away until I wrote it. It's rough and needs serious re-editing and corrections but I knew this needed to be done for Xmas morning.
             I'm spending my first Xmas without my little sister and I miss her terribly. I am very happy for her because I know she curled in the arms of her awesome and loving wife yet Xmas just isn't Xmas unless the two of us are getting into some form of trouble. lol.  I wish Mary & Christine were both here but maybe next year...(Joelle too). 
            This story is probably the closest  glimpse I could ever describe as the chaos we put ourselves through at that tiny house on 2619 Salcedo Ave during the holidays. I did take some liberties seeing that it's written from the point of view of an eight year girl which suffice to say, is something I don't have a lot of experience with. (Sorry Mary, I hope did try to stay close to the source material.) 
           It's also a bit long for a blog but hey, I had to put it up somewhere. Consider it peek into my first of several editions of collected works. 
           I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and I hope Santa and his many elves treat y'all wonderfully. 

              



            It was the day before Xmas in the Richardson family and the Savannah house bustled almost with a nervous energy of anticipation and close quarters. Little Mary coughed. It was Xmas which meant she was sick again. For her past eight years, somehow Mary always blessed the family with getting sick around the holidays. “It would be her gift to us,” joked her father to a very tired mother. At least this year, Mary just had a cold as compared to her various aliments of strep throat.
            Mary walked down the hallway into the kitchen which always seemed the nerve center of her grandparent’s house on the Savannah marsh. Her grandmother was over the sink heading shrimp while Uncle Billy stood by her with a glass of red wine in his hand. They were arguing over it being too early to start drinking.
            “Honestly, Billy, I understand you do things differently out in California but it just seems too early to start,” said Grandma with a slight bit of indignation.
            “Mother, you need to just relax. Cooking is an art and should be enjoyed. Here.” Billy poured his mother a small glass of sherry.
“Well, if you going to pour that much may as well make it a bit more. It is the holidays,” laughed Grandma. Mother and son clinked their glasses and went back to cooking preparations that would turn the little house into series of delicious smells.
Mary got a little excited about the idea of Xmas eve dinner tonight. Grandma was making her famous Savannah Red Rice while she had no idea what creation Billy would make. He was a good cook but Mary recalled hearing her mother and father discuss many times how Billy had no idea what it was like to cook with two kids and an impatient grandfather waiting on dinner.
Mary strolled up to the sink, “Can I have a cookie?” Grandma and Uncle stopped their slicing’s and beheading of shrimp. Both smiled a little at the little girl.
Are you sure you won’t spoil your dinner, Mary?” asked Grandma as she wiped her hands on the dish worn Xmas towel she always kept beside the sink. Mary shook her head. “Go on. You know where they are.
Mary walked over to the pantry shelf and opened up the Tupperware containers which held a multitude of Xmas cookies. Some were made by Grandma; some by Mary’s own mother, and the rest were sugar cookies baked and decorated by Mary and her big brother, Robby.
Mary chose the sugar cookie for her and picked up the chocolate peppermint cookie for her brother. She knew he loved this cookie and came to look forward every Xmas for Grandma to bake them. It was a small sugar cookie laced with bits of peppermint cane candy. On the top was always Hershey’s kiss. Mary knew she’d need to heavy artillery to persuade her brother who claimed to be wrapping gifts but, in actuality, was just watching TV in the living room.
A loud thud came from outside followed by a very familiar, “GO@D$%N!!!” Mary looked out the window to see her father loading up the Georgia Buggy’s trailer with lumber while Pop was in the driver’s chair giving directions.
The Georgia Buggy, as it was christened by her Dad, was actually just a Snapper lawn mower which Pop bought that always seemed to be used for everything else but mowing the grass. This afternoon, Mary’s Dad and Pop were taking some wood down to the dock for whatever repairs were always seemed to be needing to be done. The wood fell out the trailer which her Dad was quickly trying to stack back up while Pop belayed orders. “You’re doing it all wrong!” Leave some room on the sides so you can pack it in tight!”
“Dammit, Dad!” I think I got this! I have Masters and run a college library. I think I can figure out to stack some damned lumber in a trailer!” Dad went back to loading as Pop turned around with an indignant wave of his hand. Pop made his familiar, “Phew” sound which Mary recognized when her Grandfather got mad at something.
It always upset to see her Dad argue with her Pop but then she remembered her brother’s warning. “Don’t let it get you down, Kidney Bean.”
Mary’s brother always seemed to have a wide variety of nicknames for her which always frustrated her” Kidney Bean, Strudel, Half-Pint, even Handle-Bars which made fun of how her long curly hair wouldn’t lay down and would quite literally stood up on the sides of head. A fact which she wished her big brother would ignore but he was eighteen so Robby always seemed to notice and know everything. Another fact which was frustrating to an eight year old in a very small house.
Robby had explained long ago how Pop and Dad was too much alike to work well together but even though they argued like two bulldogs, they were actually quite happy being around each other but would never admit it to each other. This made no sense to Mary but she trusted Robby. Every now and then he said something that wasn’t stupid.
Mary loved to watch her father when they visited their Grandparents in Savannah. Dad always seemed a bit lighter and happier even though he’d spend most of the day tinkering on the Grandma and Pop’s house or down at the dock.
Her favorite were the occasions when she’d get to go with Pop and Dad down to the dock. Pop would spend the long stroll on down the walkway pointing out all things a “low country girl” needed to know like how to recognize where Fiddler crabs lived and the determine the difference between the droppings of a raccoon from possums. Sometimes it was a little gross listening to Pop but he always had a story about the water and the old man would seem to grow larger in stature from his small, older frame as he shared these tidbits with her.
Her Dad was always a little faster in pace and would always get down to the dock first. Inevitably, her father would always stand out the edge of the dock, hands on his hips, and stare out at the river. Mary always wondered what her Dad was thinking. She would ask him but her father would just tustle her long brown hair and say, “You’ll understand when you are older.”
When you are older. Everyone was always saying that and it would irritate Mary. Even though she was eight, everyone said how smart she was and how she acted much older than her age. So why wouldn’t people just answer her darn questions? Adults are frustrating….
About that time Mary was snapped out of her thoughts by the familiar sound of their 1986 Aerostar pulling up in the driveway. Her Mom had gone to Kroger to get some last minute groceries and hit the package store for tonight’s revelries. Mary suspected Mom liked to go alone to get away from all the madness and wished she could have gone off with her but Mom had said some last minute shopping had to be down without “peeking eyes.”
Sure enough Mom walked in with the telltale signs of many paper bags from Kroger loaded up with groceries. There was also a small white bag from her mother’s favorite fast-food place. Chick-fil-A.
“Well, hello, Miss Squirrel (another family nick name. This one from her dad), here help me with this,” said Mom as she handed a few groceries bags to Mary. Mary took the bags and placed them carefully on the Formica kitchen table, she turned around but her mother had gone out to the car for another load. Mary followed. She wanted to catch a glimpse of any bags from the Oglethorpe Mall which might give away potential Xmas presents.
Mom figured out Mary’s ploy and stopped right in her tracks. “I think I got this, Mary.” Said her mother. “Why don’t you go inside and help yourself to that last of my chicken sandwich. I couldn’t finish it all and thought you might want to help me out. Don’t tell your brother, though. I didn’t get him one.” Mary and Mom smiled.
As much fun as it was to visit Grandma and Pop’s house, it was small. They only had five rooms and it got pretty cramped at times. Mary had also noticed how both of her grandparents were getting older and harder to be around. Pop was still a lot of fun but some visits he seemed to have a harder time moving around. Her Grandma also seemed to always be forgetting things. She frequently called her big brother “Robert” instead of Robby.  Nobody ever called Robby that except on a few occasions when Robby got Mom really, really mad.
Grandma was also prone to acting irritable out of the blue. When this happened, Mom would need to Kroger and sometimes take Mary with her. They’d sneak over to the Mall and get Chick-fil-a sandwiches.
“Just us girls,” Mom would giggle with Mary as they’d attempt to clink their Diet Cokes together in a toast of Mother-Daughter confidence. Mary would take a large sip through her straw and feel content with the world which was making less and less sense as she was getting older.
Mary sat down at the kitchen table, opened the white and red bag and pulled out the half chicken sandwich. She opened the sandwich and pulled off the remaining pickles which Mary carefully placed on her Styrofoam plate then went back to eating the sandwich. Somehow the fact that she was eating something her big brother was being deprived of made the fried chicken sandwich as delicious as one of the gourmet meals Uncle Billy was always talking about like peasant under glass or something called Drunken Hens. Mary finished as Mom came and sat beside.
“How was the shopping?” Billy asked as he took another sip of wine. He pointed to his glass and then to Mom. Mary’s mom shook her head in an in emphatic gesture saying, “Yes.”
Mom replied, “It was crowded but what do you expect on Christmas Eve?” Grandma noticed Billy pouring another glass. She began to show disapproval when Billy distracted her by asking about where Grandma got the shrimp from.
“Oh, I got mine from over at Tuten’s. They seemed smaller yet still had no problem charging me 3.50 per pound. Can you believe?” Can you believe would always lead into some rant about how things are so pricey now-a-days. Mary’s mom indicated to pour more in her wine glass to Uncle Billy. He obliged and did the same to his when Grandma wasn’t looking.
 Mary went back to her sandwich and began scheming on how to convince her big brother to “do her bidding.” A phrase he repeated often about her. A plan was formulating when her Mom interrupted Mary’s thoughts.
Mary’s mother sat down beside at the table. “You feeling okay, Baby” You’re face seems a little flushed.” Mary’s mother lightly brushed some of Mary’s hair out of her face. Mary shook her head as if to say yes. Mom sipped her wine.
“You getting excited about Santa coming tonight?” Mom asked. Mary shook head again.
“Great, after dinner I am going to need your help getting Santa’s milk and cookies ready. You going to be up for that? “
Mary shook her head again to indicate she was.
Mom sipped her wine again and snuggled up a bit to her daughter and smiled as she asked, “Have you figured out what cookies to leave out for Santa? Oh, and use your napkin, dear. Crumbs are going everywhere.”
Mary wiped her face and carefully around her plate to catch all the Chick-fil-crumbles. They were tasty sandwiches but could sure make a mess. What cookies to leave out? This was a big decision. She knew she’d have to put out at least one peppermint chocolate cookie to shut her brother up but what else?
“Maybe some of my cookies I made with Robby. Oh and some of Pop’s fudge.” Mary replied. Yeah, the fudge was a good idea. It was the only thing she ever saw her grandfather cook in the kitchen but it was amazing.
“How about some of our homemade fruitcake. You think Santa would like that?” asked Mom.
Mary thought to herself. What is it with adults and fruitcake? Every December about the time Mary’s dad would start baking all his Xmas breads, inevitably homemade fruitcakes would be made which Mary’s mom and dad would spend the remainder of the holidays trying to give away but to no avail. Besides the only person who ever ate that stuff was her father so why leave Santa any?
Mary shook her head wildly as she said, No. Just cookies.”
Her Mom smiled as if understanding where her daughter was thinking. “Okay, sweetie. I’ll get the Xmas plate down later and we can wash it off before dinner.”
Mary’s grandmother loved collector’s plates and had many from her travels with Pop around the country. Grandma would proudly display them on the bookshelf in the living room. There were plates form the Grand Canyon, New York City, someplace in Atlanta called the Wren’s Nest (Robby explained that was the house of the guy who wrote Uncle Remus), and of course the Xmas plate.
During their travels during a decade Mary could never quite place, Grandma and Pop and visited Santa Claus, IN. “It was the word’s first theme park!” Pop would always exclaim. Grandma and Pop had bought a bevy of souvenirs which was still around the house. Mary recalled the ashtray which sat on Grandma’s dresser even though she didn’t smoke. Grandma’s prize souvenir was the plate she bought from the Santa Claus Land gift shop.
Every Xmas, Mary’s father, who was the only one tall enough to reach the shelf without a chair (even though her brother said he could do yet Mary didn’t quite believe him), would reach up and pull down the dusty plate. Mary and her mother would go to the kitchen and gently hand wash then dry the plate. Nothing was too good for the Big Guy up North and Mary wanted to leave a good impression as only the best and the prettiest of the Xmas cookies would be left out for Santa to snack on.
Mary’s mother finished up her wine as Uncle Billy and Grandma went back to their cooking duties. Mom smiled as she kissed Mary on the forehead, “ I have some Xmas to wrap for your Dad and brother and maybe even something for a certain pretty little girl who’s under the weather so keep them away from my bedroom a bit, will you?”
Mary grinned as her mother left the kitchen. She threw away her plate and napkin and walked down the hallway into the living room with cookies in hand. Mary knew that she could probably get her brother to entertain her but it would probably now take both cookies to persuade him. Robby was always a sucker for cookies, especially Xmas cookies.
Grandma and Pop’s living room was the biggest room in the house. It was covered with a thick and ancient blue shag carpet which had an old but comforting smell whenever Mary would sprawl out in front of the ancient console television. At least it was in color. Robby currently occupied the prime viewing space on the floor. Wrapping paper was in an array behind him which Mary had to navigate to nudge him.    
“Whatcha doing, Big Brother,” Mary tried to coo sweetly in a combined effort to tame her brother into a compliant mood and gauge what secret weapons she’d need to pull her scheme off.
Robby answered his sister’s question with another question,” Is Dad around?’
Mary shook her head to indicate no.
“Well, in that case I am not wrapping presents but just killing time until Batman comes on Channel 28. And I am enjoying doing it alone.” Robby finished hoping to brush off his sister.
Mary quickly rerouted her attack plan. “Want to maybe watch a Xmas special while you wait?” Robby and her Dad had jury-rigged the back of the old TV to operate the family VCR which they had brought with them from their home in North Georgia. Various boxes of videotapes were scattered on the sofa nearby the TV. “Frosty might be fun and its short.”
“Naaah,” was the one word response from her big bro.  Mary walked around his resting body to examine the family Xmas tree. Xmas had some strange rules at her Grandparents. Grandma never wanted a real tree like the one Mary had at home which made the house smell like it was outside all the time. Grandma hated the needles falling on the floor.
Instead Grandma and Pop had a very old artificial tree she had bought with her two sisters one year down at Levy’s Department Store. Aunt Agnes and Aunt Ruby liked the tree so much that all three sisters bought identical trees and would always put them up on the same day and call each other. Both Agnes and Ruby had passed away long before Mary had been born.   Robby had explained it was special to Grandma because it was sentimental. It was an ugly tree but Mary had grown to find it special because it meant she was in Savannah and Santa would be coming soon.
Underneath the ancient tree was an even older Manger scene. This Manger was so much cooler than the one Mom and Dad had back home with just a lonely Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. Grandma and Pop’s Manger was bigger and everyone was there from several Shepherds, the Angel of the Lord which would hang on the Roof of the Manger, and even several attendants to the Three Wise men. Mary would spend hours arranging the right number of sheep around the shepherds and while adjusting the cows and the little donkey with a broken nose.
Mary began to adjust some of the toppled farm animals. Robby probably knocked them down while adjusting his wrapping area. Robby wasn’t taking any hints or the bait so a direct approach might work better.
Before she could say anything, Robby asked her without ever taking eye of the television. “What do you want Mary and how can I do it with as little time and effort as possible?”
“It’s Xmas Eve, you know what I want.”  Said Mary in a voice sounding much older than she was.
Still staring at an Andy Griffith rerun and never locking eyes with his younger sister,”Yeah, but we haven’t had dinner yet. You know the rules. No stories until after Xmas Eve dinner.”
“Robby, Uncle Billy is helping Grandma cook and he’s been drinking. We’ll be lucky if we eat Xmas Eve Dinner before tomorrow morning!” Mary shouted.
Mary’s older brother finally looked away from the TV and at his younger sister. He smiled as he said;” I guess you do have a point, Kidney Bean.”
“Quit calling me that! And for that matter I do want to hear the stories I’m bored. You’re not doing anything but trying to avoid working with Dad and Pop. And I brought you Xmas cookies!” Mary said in a last ditch effort of frustration as she thrust the cookies at her brother.
Robby looked upon the cookies near his face. His left eyebrow rose slowly which was always a sign to Mary that she had his attention. “That’s one of those Peppermint Cookies I like”, he said. 
“Is it?” as Mary started to walk away. “I just grabbed the first few I saw. You want one?” Mary started to smile. The bait was on the hook.
“You make it sound like a big deal, Mary. I can walk into the kitchen and get a cookie too, you know.” Robby said in an attempt to seem flippant.
“Oh, I know but Robby, you’d have to get up, walk in there and hope that Grandma won’t stop you from “ruining your dinner.” Mary countered and smiled. She had him.
Robby pondered while looking at the cookies, shrugged and said,” When you’re right, Mary, you’re right. It’s going to cost you both cookies though.”
“Yesss!” thought Mary. “Ok, if that’s what it takes.” Mary went back to thinking. To be so much older and smarter, yet so predictable. Shame really. Meanwhile Robby polished off the first cookie and started on the fabled peppermint one.
Robby started between bites, “OK, so Santa figured out early on that he needed some help with more than just making toys and….”
“No, not here. In the chair. “Mary pointed to their grandfather’s recliner back in the corner near the bookshelf laden with their grandmother’s prize plates. Pop’s chair was the most comfortable chair in the house. Many Saturday afternoons while watching UGA football, Mary had heard her Pop fall sleep and snore loudly. When he was out of the room, Mary often fought with Robby over who would sit in it. Sometimes they compromised and shared it. Mary would curl up in her brothers lap as he’d read comic books. She’d doze off while looking at the panels with Spider-man or Batman fighting the Joker or Doc Ock.
Robby sat down in the chair and Mary crawled into his lap. The siblings slowly reclined back and snuggled in together to get comfortable. Mary rested her head in the crook of Robby’s arm and coughed.
“You OK?” asked her big brother.
Mary said, “Yes, I’m fine. Please just start the story.” Growing a bit impatient.
Robby began once again, “Okaaay, so Santa figured out pretty quickly that he’d need more help than just making toys. Making the toys was the easy part. The trick was getting them all out to the good little girls and boys.”
“Is Tiny coming up?” Asked Mary hopefully.
Robby replied a little irritated at being interrupted, “Yes, of course Tiny is coming up but you’ve got to let me set up the story first, Mary. That’s how storytelling works.
“OK, so back in the old days it was easy for Santa to deliver toys. Times were simpler and people were more trusting. Santa could just drop down the chimney, fill the stockings and zip back up the flue to fly on to the next house. “
“I’m still waiting to hear all about Tiny,” Mary mentioned impatiently
“He’s coming, just chill, will ya?”  Robby continued the story.
“ The Twentieth Century got tricky. People began to think they were more sophisticated than they actually are. Houses with chimneys got radiators, Apartments, High rises, Kids staying up late watching The Tonight Show. It all got very complicated for a guy whose entire work schedule revolves around working in the middle of the night for one night only.
His first problem was to create a secure work space. Santa has got a lot to do in a home Not only does he have to make sure the right toys end up in the right stockings not to mention leaving out the properly assigned loose presents laid around for Xmas morning. Santa also has to drink that milk and eat all those cookies left out for him. He can’t very well do that if he has to keep looking over his shoulder for any kid who won’t go to bed. “
“Here comes Feiffer!” Mary exclaimed as she held back from clapping her hands.
Robby smiled at his little sister’s outburst. Her face was full of delight which tickled him. “Yep, enter our first special elf, Feiffer.
Feiffer actually started out as just a regular elf making toys. He did all right but it wasn’t really his thing. Instead Feiffer would often lead all the other elves into singing Xmas Carols to help pass the time. After a while, Feiffer got so good motivating the elf work force, he started playing assorted instruments. His favorite was the flute. All day long until it was quitting time, Feiffer would walk around the workshop, going up and down the aisles playing Xmas music on his flute.”
Mary closed her eyes and pictured Feiffer in her head as he strutted up and down the long rows of wooden tables filled with various toys. She always pictured Feiffer as being a little younger than the other elves with a brownish red beard and his elf hat drooping over his eyes. He’d also probably wear some bright elf clothes because musicians always wore crazy outfits. She had seen it on MTV.
Mary began to wonder what Santa’s elves really do look like. Do they look like the tiny pixyish elves she had seen in old copies of The Night Before Xmas or more like the cute funny elves in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? Her dad always said it didn’t matter and not to worry about it but how could she? These elves had a lot of responsibility and Mary wanted answers. She began to focus back on the story her brother was now very much into telling.
“Now Santa began having problems dropping into houses because kids were staying up late watching TV, or they were playing video games on their Atari 2600 which all good Big Brothers always get, or even worse, some tried to stay up to take snap a picture of Santa while he was working---“
Mary interrupted,”You know you’re not getting an Atari for Christmas.”
“I know but I can dream can’t I?”
Mary continued,” I think Dad is planning on giving you another kiddie game like last year for your state-of-the-art-video gaming system.” Mary raised her little fingers in air quotes as she said the video game part and began laughing.
“Stop it, it’s not funny.”
“Oh, it was. Your face was great.” Mary’s laughter began to grow. “You so fell for Dad’s trick. And the best part was how you had to act all grateful because Grandma and Pop were watching and they actually thought you had gotten a really cool toy. The best.” Mary’s laughter was now heightened to peals.
“Would you knock it off?” Robby was getting irritated.
Mary couldn’t stop, she was on a roll,” You deserved every bit of it especially after how mean you were to me on Xmas Eve.” More laughter from Mary, “Remember trying to convince me that one arm was longer than the other and everyone was nice by not saying anything?”
Robby began to chuckle a bit too,” I guess you’re right. It was a little funny. May I continue?”
Mary’s laugher died down and Robby started the story back. “So Santa needed a solution because he needed to get into those houses but he also couldn’t very well throw some knock out gas in there. The solution came along quite by accident.
One day Santa was on the workshop floor overseeing the toy making progress when he heard music. That’s when he saw our man, Feiffer playing up and down the aisles.”
Mary broke into the story,” Don’t forget the magic flute made from the special ice.”
Why don’t you tell the story if you know it so well?” was Robby’s response.
“Sorry, I’ll be quiet.”
“Anyway, Santa saw Feiffer playing that flute and he got this great idea. What if Feiffer came along and played soft music to lull the little kids to sleep? It was a perfect plan except for one thing.
As good as Feiffer was when he played the flute, it didn’t always work in testing trials so Santa decided to give his elf pal some help.”
“A magical ice flute that couldn’t melt.” Mary said.
Robby grinned a bit. He was having fun making his little sister happy. “That‘s right. Santa made a special flute from the magical ice up in the North pole. Because it was magical, the flute would never melt and the music would make the kids sleepy.
So when Santa arrives at your house and if you try to stay up, Don’t be surprised if you hear soft flute music playing, Greens leaves, which is Feiffer’s favorite song. Before the second verse, you’ll be fast asleep and when the morning comes—Presents courtesy of the North Pole. If you’re good.”
What do you get if you’re bad?” asked Mary, starting to giggle because she knew her brother’s answer.
“Reindeer poop. It’s cheaper than coal.” Both siblings broke into laughter as Robby pantomimed Santa collected reindeer poop from the stables. “Whoa, Rudolph, someone had Mexican last night! PeeYuu!!!!”
Mary broke in between laughing, “That’s a job for Stinky the Elf.”
Robby, laughing,” I like it. We’ll put him in next year.”
The laughter eventually died down after more poop jokes and finally Robby got back to business of telling his story to his little sister. “Well, there was another elf that Santa took notice too but not because he such a big help. Rather it was because this elf always seemed to cause more problems.”
Mary grew excited because she knew who was coming but knew better than to interrupt. Robby was in a good mood but better to not rock the boat.
“See this elf was very small and that’s saying something because elves really aren’t that big to begin with. Most elves are about the size of small children like kindergarteners. This guy was little.”
Mary had to ask because she loved the answer,” How little was he, Robby?”
 “Why, this little guy was three apples tall just like the—“
Mary broke in smiling, “Just like the smurfs.”
“Yep. Just like the smurfs.” Robby went on,” The elf’s name was actually Theodosius but that was hard for the elves to say especially when they were in a hurry being busy making all those toys and such so everyone started calling him, Tiny.”
Robby started in on a describing what Tiny looked like but Mary faded off. She knew this part by heart and begin to daydream on the white elf suit Robby would be talking about and how it was fringed in bits of red and gold. Tiny looked even younger than Feiffer but Mary guessed that was because Tiny didn’t have a beard. Her favorite part was coming.
Robby went on,” All the other elves liked Tiny very much even though he wasn’t very good at making toys. Matter-of-fact, it was always a disaster. But as the days went on Tiny would find tasks to do around the workshop. If a nail or a screw fell between the floor boards, Tiny could always reach it.
And he was always in good spirits or telling jokes to make the other elves laugh and pass the time. Their favorite would be when it was Break time and hot cocoa would be passed out.”
“And?” Mary asked hopefully.
“And, Tiny would make all the elves clap and laugh by jumping on the marshmallow and doing one of those log rolls on it. The elves thought that was hysterical.”
Robby?” asked Mary. “How did his feet not get sticky?”
Without breaking stride in the story, Robby responded,” Simple, elves wear special clothes that won’t get dirty. That’s how come they can make toys all day around paint and sawdust and varnish and not worry about washing their clothes.”
Mary nodded her head that would make a lot sense. If reindeer can fly and there’s magic flute, it would make perfect sense to have special elf clothes so as not to worry about laundry. A chore Mary hated almost as much as her brother. Their dryer had broken last summer and Dad had not replaced it yet so Robby and Mary had the job of hanging laundry on the clothes line outside. When it got cold, their Dad solved the problem by creating a series of clotheslines upstairs so the clothes wouldn’t freeze in the mountain air.
“So where did Tiny sleep?” asked Mary. This was the part she loved the most. The marshmallow was great but she loved picturing the next part of the story in her head.
Robby obliged,” Well, he started off sleeping on doll furniture and even had a little house with a bed and a recliner and even a little plastic TV but he got lonely. This was in the workshop and all the other elves had their own beds back in the bunk house. Tiny would get lonely and cry.
The other elves felt sorry for Tiny. It wasn’t his fault he was small so they took turns letting him sleep with them back in their bunks. Unfortunately, because Tiny was so small, the elves had to be careful because they could roll over and squish him.”
“So Tiny figured out he could sleep in their beard and be safe all snug as a bug in a rug,” Mary broke in. “ And sometimes when the elves would smoke their pipes, Tiny would entertain the elves by dancing around the smoke rings and through them. He was very acrobatic and graceful. “
Mary always loved this part and didn’t mean to interrupt Robby but she couldn’t help herself. She could always picture how Tiny would wrap himself up in an elves’ beard or dance like a gymnast through the blue haze of the pipe rings.    Mary could picture Tiny leaping off of the different elves’ noses and doing somersaults around and through the rings while all the other elves would laugh at how adorable Tiny was. Mary wished she hold Tiny and cuddle up with him.
Robby picked up the story again, “ Santa was having problems getting into houses now that chimneys were smaller because of furnaces and many places didn’t even have a chimney anymore like high rises.
One day Santa was laughing when Tiny was doing his magical flips through the smoke rings when the idea hit Ol’ Claus. “Why don’t I take Tiny with me to help out getting into those houses without chimneys?
Sure enough, Tiny was a whiz dropping down those tiny metal stove pipes and using all his acrobatic skills to open locked windows. In no time, Tiny became almost as important as Rudolph because of his knack of getting into tight places for Santa.
So every Xmas eve, as Santa loads up the sleigh he always leaves two very important slots for Feiffer and Tiny to ride along just in case they are needed. The end.”  
“The end.” As Mary clapped her hands while smiling dreamily. “I love Santa but I really love hearing about those elves. It’s almost like you should make a Xmas special, Robby.”
Robby thought about it for a minute, “Maybe I will one day, Mary. I do want to learn how to special effects in movies. It would be kinda cool to create one of those stop motion Xmas specials like the ones form Rankin Bass.”
Mary agreed, “Yeah, that would be awesome.”
“Robby?”
“Ummm?”
“Thanks for telling me the Elves story even though it’s not after dinner yet. It was fun.”
“No problem, Rug rat,” as big brother cradled his little sis in his arms. Mary leaned up and kissed him on his fuzzy cheek. Robby was perpetually attempting to grow his own beard yet it always seemed to sprout in patches.
“Robby?”
Yeah?”
“Promise me you’ll always tell me that story about the elves even when we get old and have kids.” Mary said.
“Of course, I’ll do it especially when that happens. Xmas is all about traditions just like Dad always says. I love telling you stories and I know it’ll be even more fun one day when we both have kids and spend Xmas right here in this living room. “ Robby commented.
“Yeah.” Mary commented as both kids stared off at the ancient Xmas tree. Their thoughts their own as they both contemplated what tomorrow would bring them. Mary tried to stifle another cough. She knew it would be a hard time falling asleep tonight.

EPILOGUE—Five Years later
            Thirteen year old Mary had just finished heading all the fresh shrimp Grandma had gotten for Xmas Eve dinner. Grandma had to sit down because she was tired.
            “Jan, I mean, Mary, do you  mind if we take a break for a few minutes before starting on tomorrow’s oyster dressing? I am just a little pooped.” Grandma asked.
            “No problem, Grandma, “ Mary said. “It works out perfect because I am a little tired too. You want me to pour you a glass of sherry? It’s the holidays.”
            “Just a little one, Jan, Mary,” as Grandma smiled sadly. They both looked at the empty chair across the table. It was their first Xmas without Pop and everyone was missing him terribly. Mary poured Grandma a drink in the Xmas glasses while trying to hold back her tears. Grandma sipped her sherry as she reached across the table for the Savannah Morning News.
            She said,” Mary, I think I just want to read the paper for a little bit. Do you mind? “
Mary hugged her tightly,” Not at all, Grandma. There is something I need to do.”  Mary walked over to the Tupperware containers and reached in for two Xmas cookies. She made sure to get a peppermint cookie with the Hershey kiss on top.
Mary walked down the hallway into the living room where her older brother laid prone on the floor in front of the ancient console television. He was lost in a rerun of The Golden Girls. Estelle Harris was making a smart ass quip when Robby turned around to see his little sister with two Xmas cookies in hand.
Mary nodded in the direction of Pop’s recliner, “Chair. Now.”

Robby looked at his baby sister and understood exactly what she was thinking. Without an argument or quip, the older brother got up to walk over to the chair and began his story,  “See Santa, figured out real early…….”