Walking to School

One thing on many parents’ minds is how their children will get to and from school now that classes are in full swing. Some students take the bus while others are driven, but how many children walk to school anymore?

During the first six years of my education in the 1960’s and early 70’s, we were living in Tucson, Arizona. Because of my visual impairment, I spent the first five and a half years at a state school for the blind before being mainstreamed into a public school. Because these facilities were too far to walk, and there was no bus, my parents drove me to and from school each day. However, I read stories about other children walking to and from school and longed to be able to do that.

When we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1973, my wish came true. For the first couple of years we lived there, our house was at the top of a hill, and the elementary school my brother and I attended was at the bottom. During sixth-grade, I delighted in walking to and from school with other kids.
When I started seventh grade, the junior high school was farther away. Dad wanted me to walk, but Mother prevailed, and I took the bus. I did walk half a mile to and from the bus stop each day, and that was fun.

In the spring of my eighth grade year, we moved to another house that was not within a school bus route. This time, Dad said I could walk, and Mother didn’t argue. It was a mile, the longest I’d ever walked. The route took me through downtown, so when Dad walked with me, he showed me how to cross busy streets with traffic lights by listening and watching the direction the vehicles were traveling.

Once I got the hang of it, I loved the long walk to and from school. I often stopped downtown, either at Brown Drug or The Palace Café, and had a milkshake. That was my after-school snack.

High school was a different matter. My main obstacle was a busy street with no four-way stop sign or light. At this point, I was given a cane that I held in front of me while standing at the corner in the hope that someone would stop. Hardly anyone did, and I often waited a long time for a break in traffic before dashing across.

After that, it was smooth sailing, through the park and up the hill. Thanks to that intersection, though, I soon lost interest in walking, especially in winter when the boardwalk up the hill was slick with snow and ice, and there was no railing. I was only too happy when my parents started driving me to and from school each day, although I could tell my father was disappointed.

I understand his disappointment. Because he had to walk to school every day as a kid, it was only fair that his children should do the same. I wish I’d continued to brave that intersection. Better yet, I could have taken a longer route.

In the good old days, many children in rural areas walked over a mile to and from school each day. I remember reading in The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder about Laura and her sister walking home from school one day during a raging blizard.

Nowadays, I see children getting off of school buses every day but rarely encounter them walking to or from school. Because of security concerns, real or imagined, many parents are too over-protective. This is sad. Whatever happened to the good old days?

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
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Whitney Common (Poetry)

I wrote the following poem years ago, inspired by a park I still enjoy walking through today. I posted it this here in 2010 when it was published in Serendipity Poets Journal. Now, it appears in the summer print edition of The Avocet. Click below to hear me read it.

 

 

 

Whitney Common

 

 

I walk along the smooth sidewalk

surrounded by lush, green lawns, benches,

trees in the first stages of growth,

the scent of newly mown grass,

cries of children as they swing, slide,

play in the gurgling fountain,

inviting on a hot summer day.

I’d rather walk here than through the streets.

 

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Holiday Review: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving by Janet Evanovich. Copyright 2006.

 

In Williamsburg, Virginia, when Megan, a potter, and Pat a pediatrician, meet unexpectedly, it’s love at first sight. However, after one botched engagement and a second man leaving her at the altar, Megan is determined never to marry. Pat develops cold feet when he realizes the financial difficulty involved in supporting a family. Add a rabbit, a baby, Thanksgiving dinner with two families who barely know each other, the former boyfriend who left Megan at the altar, and a pregnant horse, and you have an intriguing story with a predictable end.

I used to enjoy romances like this one. Now, I may have outgrown love at first sight, orgasm over bread, and the long, agonizing scenario of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. I downloaded this book from Audible, and C.J. Critt, the narrator, does an excellent job giving each character a distinct voice. I especially liked her portrayal of the former boyfriend, and one of my favorite scenes is when he’s playing darts with Pat in a bar, and Pat throws a dart that hits him right where it counts. This audiobook is only about five hours long, but it seems like an eternity until the resolution. The humor interjected in the story helps. I recommend this book to anyone who likes romance, babies, animals, and a funny holiday story. To learn more about Janet Evanovich and her books go to http://www.evanovich.com/ .

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

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Philomena

In 1952, you’re a teen-aged girl in Ireland. After a romantic encounter with a man you meet at a fair, you become pregnant. In shame, your family sends you away to a convent.

It’s a breech birth. The nuns have little or no medical training. Other women and children have died during childbirth there and are buried in unmarked graves nearby. The mother superior believes that the pain of childbirth is God’s punishment for carnal sin so no drugs are administered. In agony, as the nun removes the baby with forceps, you beg her not to “let them put him in the ground.” Miraculously, you give birth to a healthy baby boy. Thus begins the story of Philomena, a book I’ve read and a movie I’ve seen.

Martin Sixsmith, the author of The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, (2009) and Philomena, with Dame Judi Dench, (2013) is a British author, Russian scholar, BBC presenter, and former advisor to the government in the United Kingdom. He has written about Russian history, the scandal surrounding the adoption of Irish children by American parents, and other current events. Besides two books about Philomena Lee, the Irish mother forced to give up her child for adoption, his other work includes Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East, (2012) and Spin. (2005) In his writing, he has also focused on political communication in government. To read more about him, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Sixsmith .

In Philomena, after a short introduction by Dame Judi Dench, the actress who portrayed her in the movie, Martin Sixsmith starts by describing the details of the birth of Philomena’s son Anthony and their lives afterward in the convent. Philomena and other girls who had babies out of wedlock were virtual prisoners at the convent for four years, working to pay off the cost of their care, so to speak. She worked in the laundry seven days a week and by night, she and the other girls sewed clothes for their children who stayed in the convent until they were adopted. The mothers were allowed daily contact with their children and naturally, they developed close bonds.

Sixsmith also touches on the sale of Irish children to American families by the Catholic Church. He describes how some Irish government officials tried to block such adoptions but were thwarted by the Catholic Church. In 1955, Philomena was forced to sign papers giving Anthony up for adoption, and he was taken to the U.S. to live with a family in Missouri. Mary, a little girl at the convent about the same age who developed a close friendship with Anthony, was also taken by the same family who didn’t want to separate the children.

The remainder of Martin Sixsmith’s book is devoted primarily to Anthony’s story. The family who adopted him and Mary changed his name to Michael, and Sixsmith describes his life growing up in Missouri and Iowa. The friendship between Michael and Mary grew stronger in America, and in later years, Mary was the only one in the family who supported him. All through his life, Michael wondered about his natural mother. His adoptive parents, who knew the truth, thought it better to tell him that his mother abandoned him.

Sixsmith explains how Michael first realized he was gay as a teen-ager. A priest at Notre Dame University told Michael that homosexuality is a sin and encouraged him to purge himself of his desires. Michael tried but found himself becoming more and more involved in such activities.

In the 1970’s after graduating from Notre Dame and receiving a law degree from George Washington University, Michael worked for the National Republican Committee in D.C. and eventually became the chief counsel for the White House. Sixsmith pinpoints the irony of a gay man working for the Republican Party during the Reagan and Bush eras when homosexuality was considered taboo and Republicans blocked funding for AIDS research. This, combined with feelings of abandonment Michael harbored from his childhood, caused mood swings and bouts of drinking and engaging in sadomasochistic activities. Most of his relationships didn’t last long.

In the 1970’s Michael and Mary made a trip to Ireland in an attempt to find their mothers but were told by the nuns at the convent that they had no records. In the 1990’s, after Michael developed AIDS, he made a second trip to Ireland with his partner, Pete Nelson, and was told that records from the 1950’s were destroyed in a fire. They later learned at the bed and breakfast where they were staying that the nuns deliberately set the fire because of an investigation into the Catholic Church’s practice of selling Irish children to American families for adoption. Michael died a year or so later, never knowing about his mother. At his request, he was buried at the convent in Ireland where he was born.

At the end of the book, Martin Sixsmith devotes a couple of chapters to Philomena after Anthony was taken from her in 1955. I would like to have read more about her, but she may not have wanted her life revealed in such detail. After Anthony left the convent, bound for the U.S., the nuns sent Philomena to work at a school for boys in England, and she eventually became a nurse. She married twice and had several children and grandchildren. She made frequent trips to the convent in Ireland to inquire about her son but was rebuffed by the nuns every time. She kept the secret of Anthony’s birth from her family for fifty years.

After she finally broke down and told them, her daughter introduced her to Sixsmith, and the three of them visited the convent in Ireland. By this time, there were different nuns with more liberal views, and through other channels, they were able to learn of Anthony’s life in America and that he passed away and was buried at the convent.

I liked Martin Sixsmith’s style of writing this book. Besides giving us a journalistic rundown of all the events and when they happened, he takes us into the lives of the main characters, telling us what they were feeling and thinking. The book was written like fiction, and I was compelled to keep reading to the end.

On the other hand, the movie doesn’t tell the whole story and uses some artistic license. After Sixsmith meets Philomena’s daughter at a party, he is introduced to her mother, and the two of them travel to Ireland to inquire about Anthony. The nuns tell them their records from the 1950’s were destroyed in a fire and show Philomena the contract she signed, giving Anthony up for adoption that stated she agreed not to try to contact him. Sixsmith later learns from locals in a pub that the nuns started the fire.

The search for Anthony takes Martin and Philomena to Washington, D.C. where they learn of his life and passing. After talking with Mary and Pete Nelson, they learn of Michael’s burial at the convent in Ireland. Upon their return, Martin becomes confrontational with one of the nuns and Philomena finds her son’s grave and says goodbye. I enjoyed the performances of Dame Judi Dench and the other actors, but the movie left a lot to be desired, compared to the book.

According to Sixsmith, Michael requested that “Danny Boy” be sung at his funeral in Washington, D.C. before he was taken to Ireland for burial. This is a song I’ve sung many times in the fifteen years I worked as a music therapist in a nursing home. I can’t think of a better way to end this post. Please click on the link below to hear me sing the song one more time.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/danny%20boy.mp3

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Helicopter Aunt

A year ago last March while I was visiting my brother and his family in Florida, my little nieces begged me to take them to the community pool one day. No other adults were around, and they couldn’t swim by themselves because the pool had no lifeguard. I’d just woken up from a nap and was settling myself on the living room couch with a can of Dr. Pepper and my Victor stream to listen to a good book while awaiting the return of the girls’ parents. The last thing I wanted to do was go swimming. When I hesitated, eight-year-old Isabella said, “You don’t have to swim. You can just watch us.”

“We know how to swim,” said nine-year-old Lauren. “We won’t drown.”

I agreed to accompany them, thinking this wouldn’t be any harder than transferring my late husband to the toilet, then wiping him and swinging him back into his wheelchair after he finished his business. The girls dawned their aquatic finery, and we were soon on our way.

The community pool was located only a couple of blocks from my brother’s house, but it might as well have been a mile. When my brother and I were kids and walked the short distance to the park to swim, all we carried were our towels. In this day and age, besides the obligatory towels, we had to haul a multitude of pool accessories including but not limited to kick boards, noodles, and a variety of inflatable animals that were used as floatation devices.

As we trekked to the pool, our equipment in tow, a disturbing thought crossed my mind. With no lifeguard, there would be the ever present danger of helicopter moms, women who hovered over their children, worried about any little thing that might harm them, and criticizing other parents for not doing the same. Earlier that day at a street festival in downtown Jupiter, we encountered such a mom, and my brother felt compelled to be a helicopter dad while his little girl was playing with her little girl.

I didn’t think to bring my Victor and headphones so I could listen to my book while the girls swam, but even so, with my limited vision, I would be easy prey. “You should be watching those girls. They’re in the deep end of the pool. I know they’re using rubber duckies, but those could deflate, and the girls might sink. You should be keeping an eye on them.”

“Oh my, isn’t that your little Susie who just went under?” I would say.

To my relief, the pool looked deserted, not a single helicopter mom in sight, at least none that I could see. Just to be safe, I said, “It looks like no one else is here.”

“Yeah, we have the whole pool to ourselves,” said Isabella before both girls plummeted into the pristine blueness.

I wasn’t sure which was the deep end, but as long as I wasn’t planning to get in, it didn’t matter. I found a lawn chair in the shade and settled down to watch them frolic in the water with their little floaty toys. I tried to keep my eyes on them as best I could, holding my breath as little heads disappeared underwater but popped back up.

 

As I relaxed, I almost wished I’d put on my swimming suit. I remembered the time a couple of years earlier when my brother had his own pool. Isabella and I had a great time tossing a ball back and forth in the water while Biance’s “Single Ladies” blasted from the stereo. Now, there was no ball and no Biance, but at least there were no helicopter moms, and the girls were having fun. That was the only important thing. I liked making my nieces happy. Maybe that’s why I was inspired to write poems about them. You can read these poems at https://abbiescorner.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/poems-for-my-nieces/ .

This post was inspired by one I read on a blog called The Writing Bug at http://www.writingbugncw.com/2014/08/helicopter-mom.html . Are you a helicopter mom? If not, have you ever met such parents? How did you deal with them?

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

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On the Good Ship…

I didn’t know who Shirley Temple was when I drank my first beverage by that name, a concoction of Coke and cherry juice. I was only ten at the time and didn’t particularly care for the drink. I preferred straight Coke.

I found out who Shirley Temple was when I was in college. I watched The Little Princess on television. I’d started reading the book as a kid but didn’t finish it because it was too depressing.

A little girl living in India is sent to a boarding school in London during the 19th century. Years later, her father dies, leaving her alone and penniless, reduced to a servant at the school.

After seeing the movie, I decided to finish the book and discovered that it and the movie have different endings. I’ll say no more in case you want to read the book or see the movie. They’re both good.

Shirley Temple was born on April 23rd, 1928 in Santa Monica, California. As you know, she died last week on February 10th in Woodside, California. She was educated by private tutors and attended high school at the Westlake School for Girls from 1940 to 1945.

 She was a film actress from 1932 to 1950. She entertained television audiences from 1958 to 1965. She was a public servant from 1969 to 1992.

She is known for her roles in such films as Bright Eyes, The Little Colonel, and Curly Top. Her television programs included Shirley Temple Storybook and The Shirley Temple Show. She had two husbands: John Agar, whom she married in 1945 and divorced in 1950 with one child, and Charles Alden Black, whom she married in 1950. He died in 2005, and this marriage produced two more children. In her lifetime, she received Juvenile Academy Awards, Kennedy Center Honors, and a Screen actors Guild Life Achievement Award. You can learn more about her and purchase memorabilia here.

One of Shirley Temple’s popular songs was “On the Good Ship Lollypop.” I’ve never been crazy about candy, not even as a kid, but if there was a Good Ship Hot Fudge Sundae in the harbor, I’d get on board and travel to an island where I could consume all the ice cream, cake, French silk pie, and Dr. Pepper I wanted without getting a tummy ache or gaining weight. Maybe that will happen when I die. What would your good ship be?

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver