Birds and Bees

When I was a high school freshman In 1977, the P.E. teacher encouraged me to take what she called a health class. Since I was always interested in the subject, I agreed to give it a try. It turned out to be a class for girls only, and when I walked into the room, someone snickered and said, “So you want to learn about sex, huh?”

For the first couple of days, the instructor covered basic health issues. On the third day, she gave us THE DEFINITION. I remember her words as she spoke and wrote them on the black board. “Sexual intercourse is the insertion of the penis into the vagina.” I was mortified. I never returned to that class.

Later, Dad told me and my younger brother Andy that sexual intercourse was something done by a man and a woman who love each other, and that’s how we were created. When I was a senior, I was studying Spanish. It occurred to me that song lyrics didn’t provide graphic descriptions of love making. I decided to write a song using the dreadful words I learned during my freshman year but put them in Spanish and have the rest of the song in English. When I broached the subject with Andy, he said, “You’d better be careful what you say. Somebody might think you’re telling him to put his penis on the end of a fork.”

The next day at school, I set to work. To my disappointment, I couldn’t find the words penis or vagina in my Braille English/Spanish dictionary. What was I to do now? Since I didn’t feel comfortable asking my male Spanish teacher for help, I came up with an alternate plan. Instead of writing in Spanish, “Put your penis in my vagina, my darling,” I would write in Spanish, “I don’t want to be a virgin.”

My dictionary had the word virgin so I wrote my first line, but that’s as far as it went. It didn’t sound as romantic as “Put your penis in my vagina, my darling.” If I couldn’t write that in English or Spanish, I wouldn’t write a love song at all. Although my parents would have helped me find those words in Spanish, I didn’t tell them or anyone about my project. It was too embarrassing. I realize now that wouldn’t have been nearly as humiliating as if I actually did it and got pregnant.

I recently discovered the Spanish translation of the words penis (penne) and vagina. (vagina)But over the decades, I have matured from a curious teen-ager to a sensible woman. I am happily married, and my husband and I have discussed sexual intercourse. Since I take sex seriously, I doubt I’ll write that Spanish love song.

What were your experiences with sex education? Did you take a class? Did your parents give you the facts of life? Have you ever written a love song? Please tell me about it. I’d love to hear from you.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome


This was our first full year in Sheridan, Wyoming, where we moved from Tucson, Arizona, during the summer of 1973. I was twelve years old, and my younger brother Andy was five. Grandpa Johnson died a couple of years earlier, and Dad felt obligated to run the family’s coin-operated machine business. After staying with Grandma for a couple of months, we found a house, just in time for us to start school.

The two-bedroom white structure was at the top of a hill, and Linden School was at the bottom. For the first time in my life, I could walk to and from school. In the past, I’d been driven, and I’d read stories about other kids walking and wished I were one of them. Now, I was, and it gave me a great sense of independence. I often walked to and from school with friends, and at other times, I walked alone. I rarely walked with Andy because he had his own friends who accompanied him to and from school every day.

In the winter, I slid down the hill, often landing on my rear end, but like any other kid, I got to my feet, dusted the snow off my pants, and continued walking. Andy often sledded down the hill with his friends. I tried it once or twice, but I wasn’t impressed because I was afraid of falling off the sled. In January of 1974, we were sent off to school wearing new coats, hats, mittens, and boots that we’d received for Christmas.

I got two other gifts that year that I really liked. One was a remote control box that Dad installed in my room and connected, along with a speaker, to a jukebox in the basement. Unlike the jukeboxes he serviced, this one was rigged so I wouldn’t have to put any money in it. I could play it any time I wanted.

My friends and I listened to such songs as “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Seasons in the sun,” and “The Streak.” Andy and I took “The Streak” a bit further. We ran through the house naked yelling, “Ethel, don’t look!”

The other gift I received was an electric blanket. My room was once part of the garage, and it was chilly during the winter. Although there was a heat register, it didn’t always work. It was nice to climb into a warm bed on those cold winter nights.

It was in 1974 that I first developed an ambition to be a singer. I started singing and accompanying myself on the piano. In February, I entered a local talent competition where I sang “El Condor Pasa”. I didn’t win, but I didn’t give up. I entered the contest every year and finally won first place during my sophomore year in high school.

Andy’s room was in the basement, and it contained, among other things, bunk beds. One night during the winter of 1974, he fell off the top bunk and cut his head. Mother and Dad rushed him to the hospital, leaving me alone with my imagination. What would happen to him? Would they cut off his head and give him a new one? What would his brain be like?

When they returned home with Andy, he was sleeping peacefully in Mother’s arms. A white bandage encircled his head. Mother said he had six stitches, and that was that.

In the spring, Andy was playing with matches near an abandoned shack when the structure caught fire. The police picked him up on suspicion of arson, and Mother and Dad had to bail him out. Dad asked the police to put Andy in a cell for a while. In the meantime, I was home alone, again a victim of my imagination. I pictured Andy being handcuffed and tossed into the back of a police car and thrown into a jail cell. I developed the idea that they might arrest me for being his sister. Since this happened during the day, I called my friends next door, two girls about my age, and they came and stayed with me until Mother and Dad came home with Andy. My brother told me that in the jail cell, besides a couple of bunk beds, there was a rotten peanut butter sandwich. I used this story later on in my novel, We Shall Overcome.

My sixth grade year at Linden School was different from any of my years in Arizona. All the grades, except for kindergarten, had two classrooms, each with their own teachers. Mr. Mathis, my homeroom teacher, taught English, spelling, and social studies and read to us each day. Mr. Smith taught math and science. The last period of each day was set aside for studying.

A Braille writer was set up in the hall outside Mr. Mathis’s classroom, and I used this to do written assignments during the school day. At home, I read the assignments to either Mother or Dad who wrote them in print, and I gave them to the teachers the next day. Some of my textbooks were in Braille, and other materials were read to me either by another student at school or by Mother or Dad at home.

Soon after I started the sixth grade, the school board bought me a closed-circuit television reading machine which was set up in Mr. Mathis’s classroom, and I used it to read printed material. I hated it at first because my eyes kept getting tired, but once I got used to it, I loved it. The first book I read was The Wizard of Oz, still one of my favorite stories today.

At Linden School, book learning was supplemented with hands on activities. In Mr. Mathis’s English class, we produced a yearly school newspaper. I was assigned to interview the kindergarten teacher, along with another student, and write an article about what her class was doing. To be more frank, I volunteered for this job so I could check up on Andy, but I didn’t see him because the interview took place while his class was at recess. When I introduced myself to his teacher, she asked, “Are you Andy’s sister?”

“Yes,” I answered, but I wasn’t surprised when she said no more about him.

In Mr. Smith’s science class, we built rockets and launched them. We assembled the rockets in teams of two. I was paired with Robert who was glad to do all the work while I observed. I felt inept when it came to building things, and I wasn’t encouraged to help with the process.

In the spring of 1974, we took an all-day field trip to some point outside of town to shoot the rockets. Mr. Smith rigged some sort of launching apparatus that was connected to his pick-up truck. Although other teams’ rockets soared above the field, ours never left the ground. Several times, we yelled, “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, blast off!” I pushed the button on the apparatus. Nothing happened.

The sixth grade had weekly business meetings which incorporated officers. I was elected secretary. I used a cassette machine to record meetings, wrote the minutes in Braille, and read them aloud.

When I look back on 1974, I smile. It was the year of my first walk in the snow, my first attempts at journalism and rocketry, and my first job as a secretary. It was also the year of Andy’s first incarceration and his first visit to a hospital emergency room. It was a memorable year because it was the first year of our new life in Sheridan, Wyoming.

After my husband suffered his first stroke, we moved into a house down the street from Linden School. A child development center now takes its place, but the hill is still there, and in the winter, we occasionally hear the happy cries of sledding children. My life has turned a full circle.

What were you doing in 1974? Did you have any favorite songs or activities? What was school like for you? Tell me about it. I’d love to hear from you.

I leave you now with a link to a recording of me singing “El Condor Pasa”. The link will only be available for about a week so enjoy!

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

Mr. Smith’s Mistake

During the 1940’s when my mother was in the eighth grade, her teacher, Mrs. Gammel, was fond of terrorizing her class with a ruler. When I was in the sixth grade in a public school in Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1974, one of my teachers, whom I’ll call Mr. Smith, taught math, not my best subject. Instead of trying to help me understand long division and other mathematical concepts, he threatened that if I didn’t improve, he would hit me with an eighteen-inch ruler.

One day, he kept me after school to work on some problems. When I ran into trouble, I asked him for help. “Maybe I should hit you right now,” he said, as he reached into his desk drawer.

At that moment, the school secretary entered the room. “Abbie, your mother’s on the phone,” she said. Relieved, I followed her to the office. After that, Mr. Smith never threatened me again.

He left the elementary school in Sheridan after my sixth grade year. I heard he was driving a truck. He eventually ascended to the position of principal at a school in Casper, Wyoming, approximately 150 miles south of Sheridan.

Years later, an article about me appeared in a newsletter that was produced by the Wyoming Department of Education and distributed to schools and visually impaired people living in the state. At the time, I was working as an activities assistant in a nursing home. I received a letter from Mr. Smith. I was surprised because it was the first time I’d heard from him since the sixth grade.

In his letter, he said that after reading the article, he admired me and hoped that I remembered him. I wrote him back and said that yes, I definitely remembered the eighteen-inch ruler, After putting the letter in the mail, I thought that would be the end of it.

To my astonishment, he replied, saying that through the years, he realized that he hadn’t been a good teacher. “Corporal punishment isn’t always the answer,” he said. “I hope you’ll forgive me.”

Since he didn’t have my home address, he sent his first letter to me in care of the nursing home mentioned in the article. I had a great relationship with Joan, my supervisor, and since I didn’t want her to think I was in the habit of receiving personal mail at work, I mentioned our correspondence. Jean, one of my co-workers, happened to be in the office when we were talking, and she said, “I’ve never heard of an eighteen-inch ruler. I don’t think there is such a thing.”

“Oh, that’s just too funny,” said Joan. “Maybe the next time I have to go to Casper, you can come with me, and I can drop you off at his school.”

“That’s a great idea,” I said. “I could walk into his office and say, ‘Okay, Mr. Smith, I see your eighteen-inch ruler and raise you a forty-six inch white cane’”We all laughed.

But after giving the issue some thought, I came to the conclusion that teachers make mistakes like everyone else. Mr. Smith never followed through with his threat to hit me with the ruler. Since I didn’t see it, it may not have existed.

On the other hand, my mother was a victim in the eighth grade. I wonder if Mrs. Gammel ever saw the error of her ways.

Is there such a thing as an eighteen-inch ruler? Do you have memories of being taught reading, writing, and math with the help of a hickory stick or other implement? Are you a teacher who used corporal punishment and now regrets it? Tell me about it. I’d love to hear from you

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

Leaving Comments

Some have had difficulty leaving comments on my blog, and this has been a constant source of aggravation for months. Finally, a friend who also has a blog on this site figured it out with the help of a tech guru. My blog is now set up so anyone can leave comments. After typing your comment in the appropriate field, select “Anonymous” from the drop-down list and then press the Submit button. You may need to press this button several times before the comment goes through. If you have a Google or other account in the drop-down list, you can select that option, but for some reason, it doesn’t always work. Of course, if you select “Anonymous,” when your comment is displayed, it will say, “Anonymous wrote…” But if you sign your name in the comment field, I’ll know who you are and in some cases where you live.

So give it a try. Talk to me about your favorite soft drink, or share your thoughts on corporal punishment, or comment on any of my other posts. I’ve also set up my blog so I’ll receive e-mail messages when someone leaves a comment, and I’ll respond to comments as quickly as possible. If you still have trouble with the comment form, please e-mail me. I’d love to hear from you.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author ofWe Shall Overcome

Moxie Versus Dr. Pepper

I learned something new this week. Every year, the town of Lisbon Falls, Maine, holds an annual festival to celebrate moxie. This carbonated beverage is only regionally popular so that’s why I’ve never heard of it. One of the first soft drinks to be mass-produced in the United States, it was introduced in 1876. It’s not as sweet as most soft drinks. Some people think it’s bitter. It became the official soft drink of Maine on May 10th, 2005.

On the other hand, Dr. Pepper, my favorite soft drink, was introduced in 1885 and was first marketed in the U.S. in 1904 and is sold in Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America. As far as I know, it’s not the official beverage of any state, and there’s no festival to celebrate it. If you haven’t drunk Dr. Pepper, I can’t tell you what it tastes like because the flavor is so unique.

The 2011 Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine, was held July 8th through the 10th. Activities included a fireworks display, parade, and a Moxie chugging contest, to name a few. According to Maine author Jim Baumer’s blog, this year’s festival might be the last. It’s no wonder since it attracts twenty to thirty thousand people, and only a handful of volunteers put it on every year.

I wish Dr. Pepper could be designated Wyoming’s official beverage, and a Dr. Pepper festival could be held here inSheridan. However, I don’t have the time and energy to coordinate such a festival so I’ll be content to just drink it. I love Dr. Pepper so much that I’m going to post a poem I wrote about it.


I love to swallow its cold carbonation,

feel it come back into my mouth in the form of a belch.

Oh, that feels so good!

I drink it in mid afternoon.

It helps me get through the day.

I sometimes consume it in the evening,

when I’m sleepy, and it’s too early for bed.

In the good old days,

I drank a lot of it,

just what the doctor ordered.

Now, the doctor says it has too much sugar

so I limit my consumption to one or two cans a day.

What would I do without it?

Do you have a favorite soft drink? Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I’d love to hear from you.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome