Friday, July 30, 2010

I MAY LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT, BUT I FEEL LIKE A KING!

Coming Soon!

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!

There is maybe no sadder sight than to see a fellow human being who has been beaten up and then beaten down by life. Kicked in the stomach, dealt a raw deal, hit over the head, call it what you will. Left by the side of the road.

My Grandfather Norbo was one of those people. You could see it in his hollow eyes, hear it in his voice, observe it in the way he walked and carried himself. Sometimes you could catch it in his vacant stare as he sat in his old brown rocker in the living room. You could almost smell the fear. An unspoken desperation hung like a cloud over the very fabric of life itself. His gaunt face and twisted body told a tale. There was an underlying, unspoken sadness that permeated his very being. It was like he was always looking over his shoulder. For what or whom I didn't know, but I had the sense even as a young boy that there was more to the story. Much more. You see, my Grandpa Norbo had a past life. A past that would haunt him until the day he died . . . to be continued . . .

www.prairieboy.com

WALKING ON GRADE 8 TURF

Fridays were a big deal when I was growing up. Not just because it signaled the weekend, but because it usually meant that it was Film Day. Film Day wouldn't have been such a monumental event, but in a community where the watching of television and attendance at the movie theatre was strictly forbidden, we looked forward with great anticipation to this activity.

Class by class we would file to the main auditorium and for a couple of hours, watch a selection of 16 millimeter films. The variety was immense, with titles ranging from science, history, human interest and the odd humorous piece. A great human tragedy would occur should you miss Film Day and be made to study as a result of unfinished homework, slumping grades or some type of misbehavior.

The source for most of these films was the National Film Board of Canada. Every week a large carton of movies, pre-selected by the teachers, would arrive at the school. One of the benefits of a "socialist" country was that in certain eras a great deal of money was spent on the arts. In 1939, The National Film Board of Canada was established to produce and distribute audio-visual works which would provoke discussion and debate on subjects of interest to Canadian audiences and foreign markets. Exploring the creative potential of the audio-visual media, it would achieve recognition by Canadians and others for excellence, relevance and innovation.

I will never forget a certain Friday when we were in grade 8. We all filed down to the auditorium after lunch, ready for a good afternoon of film watching. Our teacher, Arthur Freeman, had already threaded the film projector by the time we arrived. The lights were turned off, the machine started rattling away and we were off. One of the films that day was entitled "Walking". I'm sure when Mr. Freeman ordered it, he thought that it was a short film extolling the benefits of good healthy exercise. As it turned out, it probably was. Animator Ryan Larkin used an artist's sensibility to illustrate the way people walk. He employed a variety of techniques - line drawing, color wash, etc. - to catch and reproduce the motion of people afoot. The springing gait of youth, the mincing step of the high-heeled female, the doddering amble of the elderly - all were registered with humor and individuality to the accompaniment of a special sound track, without words. Released in 1968, the 5 minute short film begins with a silhouette of a man cast against the strains of a nylon string guitar. The film had some very current music, sounds which we would not have heard much in those days.

After the movie began, Mr. Freeman would often leave his post at the projector and walk to the back of the auditorium. This was a much better vantage point from which to survey the entire class and watch for any disturbances that might occur. At about the minute and a half mark, as the soundtrack started to gather steam, a male walker entered the screen from the left. One of this particular fellow's distinctives was that he had not one stitch of clothing on. There he was, fully nude, pendulum swinging in the breeze, nothing on but a smile on his face. Let me assure you that by now every person in that room was paying very close attention! At this point Mr. Freeman began running towards the projector. He arrived just after a female participant had made her appearance from the right hand side of the frame. In a similar state of undress, large headlights proudly announcing her entrance, she bounced across the screen. Even though the movie was an early form of animation, there was still enough detail for us to get the point. Reaching the projector, Mr. Freeman quickly covered the lens with his hand. The darkened room masked his ever reddening face as he blurted out, "I think we have had enough walking for today . . . class dismissed . . . you can all go home."

We sat there a little stunned. He was obviously embarrassed that this film had slipped by on his watch and more than a little flustered. Nudity was not something that we saw everyday on the screen at Prairie and while we were more than happy to get the rest of the day off, more than one of us was left wondering how the rest of the movie might have unfolded. It was unusual to see Mr. Freeman rattled, but it wasn't the first time.

Arthur Freeman and his family moved to Prairie in the summer of 1960, from Bridgeton, New Jersey, to teach at Prairie High School. Born in the Boston, Massachusetts area, he met his wife Katherine at Gordon College in Wenham, MA. Teaching first in the High School and later becoming principal, Arthur's love for his students was evident from his very first class. He later accepted the position of teaching English, Language Arts, Social Studies and Bible to Grade Seven and Eight.

I don't remember too much about the older Freeman children, but I do have a memory of an infamous story which has gone down in Prairie lore. Evidently, the Freeman boys ran their own brewing company. The liquid which was the object of this endeavor was none other than Hires Root Beer (or root pop as Cathy's Grandpa referred to it) The staff store sold kits for brewing your own root beer and the Freeman lads took it to one more level. Mixing up the ingredients in the bathtub, Joel and Steve would bottle the elixir, placing a raisin in the bottom to aid in the aging process and give the liquid refreshment a little extra oomph. One year, my Father, who was Principal at the time, received one of the bottles as a gift. The bottle in question must have contained a powerful concoction, because to Mr. Freeman's great embarrassment, and to his boys perverse delight the bootleg bottle exploded in our pantry.

In life we all encounter people who define us in some way, either for good or bad. I, along with countless of his former students, consider Arthur Freeman to be one of those teachers who helped shape me in a powerful way. He had the philosophy that if a student treated him with respect, he would treat you the same way; a novel concept! One of his oft heard quotes was, "Abuse a privilege; lose a privilege.” The rules were strict, but always fair. His daughter Beth was in our class and she received the same treatment as the rest of us; no special privileges. He had a "no gum chewing" rule and if he spotted a chomping offender, he would walk over to the corner, pick up the trash can, and not even skipping a beat in the flow of his teaching he would bring it over to the student. Holding it under their chin he would demand, "Spit!"

Arthur kept a couple of large bulletin boards which he would continually update with newspaper and magazine clippings of current world events. His grasp of history, as well as the present day, allowed him to teach with a balance few teachers seemed to possess. He, along with my own Father, instilled in me a love of news and current affairs and fostered a desire to create an expansive world view. Just because we were from a small town in the middle of the prairies didn't mean we shouldn't and couldn't know what was going on in the world. He would engage us in intelligent adult level conversation, always expressing interest in what was going on in the rest of our lives. He loved to have fun and his quick wit and sharp mind made his classes a great experience. There were limits however, as there should be, and we learned very quickly that there were certain lines that you dare not cross.

This was brought home to us very early in Grade Seven when an enterprising student, or perhaps an art hopeful, spent a good deal of time modifying the cover of one of our textbooks. The book in question was entitled, "Words Are Important" and this student had taken great care in trying to match the font color and style and re-christened his book, "Words Aren't Important". Arthur did not find this amusing in the very least. To him, words were very important and he knew that they would be some of the tools and building blocks we would use later in life to carve out our futures. He went on a tear in front of the whole class on the disrespect this student had shown, not only to school property, but to the very ethos of words. I will never forget the passion with which he delivered that speech!



In Grade Eight, one of our assignments was to write 4 separate, 2500 word papers on the major world religions; Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. This was a daunting assignment and for some very strange reason I took to this like a duck to water. I went into major research mode searching out books at the Prairie and Town libraries. Dad helped me find relevant books from his own personal library. I scratched out the assignments on ruled loose leaf paper and my Mother did her best to interpret my hieroglyphics, kindly typing them out, giving them a professional, polished look. Papers handed in, I was astonished to receive an A+ on each one, due in no small part to the neat presentation I'm sure. One of the aspects that stands out was the encouraging words that Mr. Freeman scrawled at the top of the papers in his red pen. His writing alone took some deciphering, looking something like a doctor's scribble. Handing me one of the papers and looking me square in the eye, he said, "Steve, you can really write . . . and then he paused . . . when you apply yourself." With a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face, he moved on to the next student. For the remainder of my school years, it was the applying of oneself that became my Achilles heel, but in some ways I always found comfort and felt some degree of confidence in those life affirming words from Mr. Freeman. Utilizing the classic Plain English Handbook, his careful teaching on grammar, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, and proper punctuation have helped me in writing ad copy, multi-media scripts and marketing materials over the years, and given countless students a solid foundation as they went on in further studies and occupations.

Arthur loved colorful posters and would decorate the classroom according to season. He would allow us to order posters from a company called Giant Posters. Animal, sports and scenic shots in all kinds of sizes could be ordered several times a year. He would handle all the paper work and distribute the posters when they arrived. I remember ordering a giant Minnesota Vikings poster and presenting it to my Grandpa Norbo as a Christmas present. In either a show of love for me, or as an indication of his great loyalty to the Vikings, he hung that poster up in his bedroom where it remained for another 15 years until his death.

In 1963 a book was published, entitled The Cross And The Switchblade. It told the true story of David Wilkerson's first five years in New York where he ministered to disillusioned youth, encouraging them to turn away from the drugs and gang violence they were involved with. The book became a best seller, with more than 15 million copies distributed in over 30 languages. In 1970, a film adaptation was released, starring Pat Boone as David Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz, the teen gang member whose life was transformed by Wilkerson's work. By the time we hit grade 8, many of us had either read the book, seen the movie or both. While the point of the story is one of redemption and transformation, I think there were a number of us boys who were quite enamored with the portrayal of gang culture and the whole underbelly of the story. Whether this was the impetus for what happened next, I can't be sure, but it was certainly in our consciousness.

One day some of the "tougher" guys in our class decided it was time that we as the big kids on the block do something to assert this lofty position. During the morning recess, several guys manned the door of the boy's bathroom and would only allow other grade eight students in to use the facilities. I'm not sure exactly where we thought the underclassmen would find relief, but the tactic seemed to work and we all returned to class as the bell sounded. That afternoon, the "gang" resumed its terrorism tactics and the guards took their positions on the inside of the bathroom, once again only allowing grade eight boys access. Towards the end of recess, there was a knock on the door. "Who is it? . . . Grade 8 turf", was the response from the inside. The knock had now turned into pounding and the same call was issued. "Grade 8 turf . . . who is it?" In an instant the door burst open. There stood Arthur Freeman, veins bursting out of his skull, nose as red as Rudolf's, sweat dripping down his face, fire flashing in his eyes, demanding to know exactly what was going on. He had simply needed to use the facilities himself before class resumed and had encountered resistance when he tried to open the door. To say all hell broke loose would be a gross understatement. Every one of us grade eight boys were rounded up and ordered into a separate classroom. We were then given what can only be described as a well deserved tongue lashing about respect, abuse of younger students, rebellion, selfishness, disobedience and anything else that came to his mind; all things we needed to hear! I'm reminded of the scripture which makes reference to righteous anger. We saw some of it that day. Punishment was meted out and the short lived flirtation of a bunch of grade eight students with the gang life came to an abrupt end.

Arthur Freeman had one other quality for which I have the deepest respect. On the birthday of every one of his former students, he would send an envelope containing a bookmark with a personalized greeting and verse. He did this until the student got married or turned 21. When I think about this, it still boggles my mind. Talk about being faithful in the little things!

The world needs more teachers like Arthur Freeman. Teachers who know what their role is in a students life. Teachers who are not afraid to uphold principles. Teachers who instill personal responsibility and a love of learning in their students. Teachers who will not back down from what they know to be right.

Arthur Freeman passed away on March 19th, 2009 at the age of 91, 33 days after the passing of his loving wife of 65 years. I don't claim to know a lot about heaven and what it may or may not be like. There is one thing I do know however, and that is this; The streets of gold that Arthur Freeman now walks on . . . are not Grade 8 turf!

www.prairieboy.com
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

BUY THE BOOK!

It is said that if you were to line up every book in the main library in Oxford, England, end to end, they would extend the entire length of Great Britain. Established around 1096, Oxford is comprised of forty colleges and halls, each with it's own collection. With over 10 million volumes in it's main library, Oxford's central research library is the Bodleian, founded by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1598 and opened in 1602. Housed on 117 miles (188 km) of shelving, it is the second-largest library in the UK, after the British Library. It is a legal deposit library, which means that it is entitled to request a free copy of every book published in the UK. As such, its collection is growing at a rate of over three miles (5 km) of shelving every year. A great town in which to browse, buy books or carry out research, the history that is found in this small area is remarkable. The collection of rare books and manuscripts is one of the most important in the entire world possibly rivaled only by the Vatican.

I don't remember a day that books did not play a significant role in my life. From the plastic picture and alphabet books of my early childhood to books of a more weighty variety, they have always been present. Hardly a meal went by at our house where Dad and Mom would not discuss authors, cover designs, fonts, publishers, and the marketing of books around the little kitchen table. I would share with them in the joy of a manuscript's acceptance and the disappointment of the rejection letter. Dad's extensive library provided research material for many reports and essays throughout school. In addition, he received about 40 magazines a month. US News and World Report, Time, Newsweek, Macleans, as well as religious periodicals and journals crammed his small office. Dad felt that it was important to know what was going on in the larger world. We may have been landlocked in a tiny town on the Canadian Prairies, but Dad's world view was global. He felt as a teacher, writer and a leader he owed it to his students and to himself to be informed. He did this with intention and passion. Discussions at our round table covered religion, politics, current and world events, culture, entertainment and sports.

When Cathy and I had our children, just like our parents had, we felt it important to read to them. This became a part of our nightly routine. Even after our kids could read for themselves, they still loved to snuggle up on the couch as one of us would read to them. There is something about being read to that is comforting and speaks of stability.

Call me crazy, but given the choice between a fine meal and a fine book, I would probably choose the book. Nine out of ten times I would rather read the book than watch the movie that it was based on. Nothing against movies, as I have the utmost respect for well crafted films and the process by which they are made. Books ask questions, provide answers, transport you to another place, make you laugh or cry. Shelves of books beckon me to pick them up and explore the contents beneath their covers. I love the feel of the paper, a well designed dust jacket, and a quality binding. Somehow an e-book, kindle or ipad is just not the same, although it will be interesting to see how these technologies will impact reading and learning. Much of my work is with songwriters, and I often tell them, "Good readers make good writers". I often wonder about the back story of those books. What motivated the authors to write them? What sacrifices were made? What risks were taken? Why does one book become a best seller when a book on a similar topic, perhaps even better written, bombs?

It was a chilly fall day in 1970 and that Monday morning when I arrived at school there was a distinct buzz in the air. Dwight Jack had learned a new word that weekend and was eager to share his newfound knowledge with some of the boys in our class. The word in question was quite simple really, but when you think about it, carried a fair amount of weight. The little three letter word was . . . bra. The abbreviation of the formal word brassiere. More importantly, Dwight had also learned the definition. It seems that the item in question was a piece of woman's clothing which housed, in the words of the biblical writer Solomon, the "two fawns, twins of the gazelle".

Don't think for a second that old blues singers like Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightning Hawkins or the new crop of rappers like Jay Z, Missy Elliot, P Diddy or Dr. Dre are the only ones to have come up with code names and slang terms for special parts of the body. A cursory read of the holy scriptures would indicate that the writers of old were on to this technique a very long time ago. Solomon was particularly adept at his use of the creative double entendre. A more careful study and examination will clearly show why young Jewish boys were not allowed to read the Song of Solomon until they were at least thirteen years old.

We looked at Dwight to see if he was pulling our leg. He seemed quite serious, which was unusual for Dwight. I think it was Phil Callaway who was pretty sure that the word in question didn't really exist, and if it did, surely it couldn't mean that? Phil had been diligently studying three letter words and had moved on to the four letter variety. Intrigued, we all agreed that further research was in order. Class was about to begin and we would have to wait until recess to pick up on our discussion.

As the bell rang for recess, like any good team of researchers would do, we hurried to the library. The library was housed in a separate room in the school which was just down the hallway from our grade four classroom. Presided over by Miss Verla Gale, the rules of no talking and orderly behavior were strictly enforced. Toward the back of the room, in the far corner, were kept the dictionaries, encyclopedias and other research materials. We made our way to the corner and proceeded with our research project. It was decided that we should divide and conquer and so a group of us went for the Webster's Dictionary and the other group turned to the World Book. Some of the boys had difficulty finding the B's, but eventually we all got on the same page.

Lo and behold, there it was, large as life; bra (bra) n., complete with a brief definition and a black and white illustration which looked more like a medieval slingshot of some type than an undergarment. Amidst some giggling and gawking the definition was read in hushed tones to the group. Dwight beamed as if to say, "told you so" and Phil was able to add another word to his vocabulary. Raydean Keller, Steve Porr, Stan Kirk and myself were left wondering what this new information meant and exactly how it applied to us. Miss Gale must have wondered why in the world this group of grade four boys had taken such a keen interest in higher learning. If only she had known, she would have gotten out her large black felt pen.

There were lots of books in our little grade school library that had been the recipient of Miss Gale's felt pen. Words like gee, gosh, golly and darn were all dutifully blacked out, less they corrupt our young, impressionable minds. Not to be easily fooled, we found that we could hold the books up to the light or to the window and make out what the word had been by the difference in the shade of blacks. Miss Gale must have been exposed to a fair amount of corruption in her day, judging by the frequency of these marks in the volumes that lined the shelves. If there were any illustrations, of human anatomy for instance, that had been decided were unacceptable, Miss Gale, like a renaissance artist of old, being ordered by the pope to put clothes on some of the world's great artwork, would draw in the equivalent of a black fig leaf where she deemed it appropriate. Miss Verla Gale had actually taught my Mom back in the day and I thought she was absolutely ancient!

By Grade four, I was a voracious reader and had devoured all of the Thornton W. Burgess, Danny Orlis, and Sugar Creek Gang books in our small library. A particular favorite of mine was the Silver Chief series, in which an RCMP officer owned a wolf, Siberian husky cross and together they performed heroic feats in the wild Canadian north. I could just imagine myself riding along on that dog sled, tracking and bringing in the fugitives to justice.

Wishing to expand my own horizons and not wanting be held captive to the censorship whims of an octogenarian librarian, I had discovered that for 50 cents, I could purchase a library card at the Town Library. This opened up an entirely new world of reading opportunities. It was like discovering a special secret, a ticket if you will, to the future. I wasn't very eager to tell my friends, because they might go there and check out the latest Hardy Boy book that I had been waiting all week to get. Saturday afternoon would come and I would get on my bike and head to the library. I loved the smell of the library. A little bit dusty, musty and old, the library, with it's solid oak table and chairs and rows of shelves always greeted me with open arms as I bounded up the stairs ready to fill my bicycle basket with the coming week's entertainment.

I read every Hardy Boy, Tom Swift, Sr., and Tom Swift, Jr. book in the Three Hills Library. Having run out of those types of books, I moved on to the entire Nancy Drew series. Mrs. Helton and Mrs. Keenan were the quiet, gracious librarians who were always so helpful in locating books, answering questions and encouraging me to read. They would stamp the little card in the back of the book and send me on my way. I loved sports and between hockey, soccer, softball and reading, I had little time left for homework or piano lessons. Without the distraction of a television in the house, there was more time for reading. I always had a book in my hand or one close by. After Mom would turn off the light in our room at night, out would come the flashlight and the reading would continue. No wonder my eyes are shot!

I discovered that Dwight Jack also loved the Hardy Boy books and we both wanted to read the latest release. The problem was that there was only one copy. So, in the spirit of generous community and sharing, it was decided that we would read the book together at the same time. Sort of a one for two type of deal. In grade four I sat behind Dwight over against the wall. By holding the book forward and with Dwight looking to the side, we could both manage to see the pages. Off to an early start, we were actually working on perfecting our method before class began. As our teacher, Mr. Kowalsky, opened our day with a prayer, I accidentally dropped the book. Crash! Onto the floor it went. There were a few giggles from the girls and lots of heads turning and eyes opening to see what the commotion was about. The interruption prompted Mr. Kowlasky to wind up his prayer in short order and come over to see what exactly was causing all the fuss. Walking down the aisle and spying the blue cover of the book lying on the floor, it didn't take long for him to size up the situation. He asked that I give him the book which he would keep for a set amount of time. Dwight and I were sent to back of the classroom to stand in shame with our faces towards the bulletin board, where I promptly began to count how many pin holes I could see without moving my head. I think I was able to convince Mr. Kowalsky to give the book back before it was due and the fines would begin.

One Sunday morning, as we were getting ready for church, I was trying to finish a book. My brother Dave kept bugging me to hurry and I was ignoring him. Maybe he was threatening to take away my book. I don't really remember. Exasperated, I finally said, "Listen hear you little son of a b%&*". He looked at me as if to say, "What language are you speaking?". My father, who had no problem understanding what language I was speaking, heard me quite clearly from the kitchen where he was having his breakfast. Appearing at our bedroom door he said, "Stevie, what did I just hear you say?" I repeated what I had said. By the look on Dad's face, I realized that was not the smartest thing I had done that day and that I was not in his good books at that moment in time. "Son, do you have any idea what that means?" "No", I said, "I don't". "Where did you hear that?", he continued. I explained that I had just read it in one of my new acquisitions from the Three Hills Library. I think in that instant a light went on in Dad's head and he realized that I had moved on from Joe and Frank Hardy. I, of course, didn't realize that this term was not very respectful to my younger brother let alone my dear mother. Dad, in very sober tones, laid out for me a very clear definition that even I could understand. He then asked that I never use that term in his house again.

Prairie had a very strict policy on language and more than one student was trotted down the hall to have their mouths washed out with soap, the theory being that it would wash the dirty words away. To avoid trips down the hall accompanied by the teacher to meet Mr Ivory, we had our own version of a sanitized language. Sick, shoot, frick, crap, dang, and son of a tea biscuit peppered the halls and playgrounds of our school. We even paid special tribute to staff members Fritz Honecker and Hector Hannah. Fritz and Hec . . . tor were added to our vocabulary.

Words were very important around Prairie. What was said. How it was said. What was not said. People had mouths . . . they also had ears. Reporting on these violations was not seen by the authorities as squealing. You were simply helping the other person to stay accountable. We also learned that "real swears" could often be accompanied by hand signals which seemed to reinforce the delivery of said word.

We would take great delight in cornering an unsuspecting student and asking them to insert a finger in each side of their mouth, stretching it in a big horizontal oval and say the word "puck" When it turned out that pronouncing the P was nearly impossible and it invariably came out sounding like F, we would gloat that we had "caught" that person saying a bad word. Childish, I know, but it reinforces how important and scandalous words were.

Recently there has been much in the news about countries like China and North Korea trying to control the internet in their specific countries. It plays out well in the press, but I highly doubt that the leaders of China and Korea are really that interested in keeping their citizens from seeing naked people engaging in all manner of creative calisthenics on computer screens. No matter how much they insist that they don't want the corruption of the west to have a negative impact on "their" people, it is really about control of the many by the few. Have you read their history lately? Not exactly modicums of moral high ground are they?

No, the real reason is that as people learn about freedom and what it means, they realize what they are missing and what their lives could become. They then begin to demand change. The governments of these countries are all about control and are desperately trying to prevent their people from having access to information that is not spun their way. The cat is out of the bag, the horse is out of the barn, the train has left the station. Information is now global and people worldwide are finding ways of accessing that information. Computers, PDA's, cell phones and whatever gadget is next are all being utilized to carry and distribute information. Is there bad information out there? Yes. Is there material that probably should not be there? Absolutely! This is the price of freedom. Freedom that allows people to make their own decision, to have choices. To worship and believe how they see fit. To receive an education. To make something better for themselves and their families and build for future generations. To have hope. Hope is such a big word isn't it?

Does there need to be regulation and protection for children and for those who are disenfranchised and the victims of another's power? Of course there does. How should that be implemented? I have no idea, but I am hopeful that this will be figured out. We know that both the church and the government have controlled, manipulated, censored and withheld plenty of information over the years. These practices are getting harder and harder to carry out. This is something we can be grateful for.

I have been reading several books on poverty and economics and highly recommend that anyone with an interest in this subject read: Banker To The Poor: Micro Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus. Another good read is Jeffrey Sachs excellent book: The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities For Our Time. I am more convinced than ever that the end of poverty will begin in part with literacy. Should we stop clothing the needy and feeding the hungry and just buy them books? Of course not!, but lets support those who are doing what they can to teach the world's less fortunate to read.

Diane Sawyer was featured in a special 20/20 documentary some time ago on the problem of illiteracy in Kentucky and other parts of the U.S. called, "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains." If you can find it on line, please watch it. Some of the rural school's library budgets for new books are less than a couple of rounds of golf and a good meal!

There are many adults in Canada and the US that can't read. - The numbers are shocking! If you know one of these people, please lovingly encourage them to read. There are wonderful adult learning programs that will help them. Start simply with a book that is in an area of interest to them. If they are a golfer, get them a golf book. If they are a car nut or fashion fan, start them there. Don't try and get them reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn or Fyodor Dostoevsky right off the start.

We have all heard the saying, "Knowledge is power". I would like to propose that knowledge is freedom. Maybe the pen is mightier than the sword? Another popular saying is, "What you don't know can't hurt you". The reality is that we live in a day where what you don't know could very well hurt you. As another biblical author has written and was often quoted by the Reverend Martin Luther King, "You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free." I would suggest that learning to read is the beginning of that truth.

Who is to say that a little boy in Africa won't discover the cure for cancer, because he learns to read. Maybe it will be that little girl tending goats in Afghanistan that will invent a super food that will solve the world's hunger problem, because she learned to read. It just might be that child in Kentucky who, because of a parent who was concerned enough that they should learn to read, will discover the cure for AIDS.

I am so thankful and blessed to have learned to read . . . bad words and all.

The next time you are tempted to reach for the remote or the mouse . . . buy the book!

Note: My loving wife says I have gone to preaching! If I lost you in the last three pages, I'm sorry!

www.prairieboy.com

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Monday, July 5, 2010

OH, YES, THEY CALLED HIM THE STREAK!

If ever there was a taste of heaven on planet earth when I was a kid, it would have been Pine Lake. Prairie owned 10 cabins on a small lake about 45 minutes drive from the campus, depending on who was driving! This 50 acre property provided a much needed getaway spot for both students and staff to unwind and relax. The cabins were all numbered and our family had some favorites that Mom would try and reserve for us each summer. Through the years, hundreds of folks took advantage of this quiet, private location. Sadly the school sold the property in the early 1990's and it has been greatly missed.

Every summer, Dad would load up our little red '63 Ford Falcon with his typewriter, stacks of books and research materials. If we could fit anything else in when he was done, we were welcome to bring it along. Fishing rods, model boats, walkie talkies, BB guns, sand pails and shovels were all deemed by us to be summer essentials and we found a way to squeeze most of it in for the trip to the lake. We would bring along whatever pet we had at the time. The cats would help keep the mice down. Mom HATED mice and made every effort to rid the cabin of the pests as soon as we arrived. The dogs would chase the cows and watch over the place. One year we smuggled Snowball, our fluffy white bunny with the pink eyes, into the car. Imagine Mom and Dad's surprise when we arrived and there was the rabbit. Of course, Mom had to fit in bedding, food, clothes and other essentials as well, but that seemed incidental to us at the time.

As far back as I can remember, several weeks of every summer were spent at the lake. There was no running water, sewers or electricity and that suited us just fine. We hauled water from the ice cold spring, did our business in rickety old outhouses and lit coal oil lanterns at night. Our days were filled with fishing, boating in old wooden row boats and rafting on primitive structures that we lashed together. We would scour the rocks near the beach looking under them for bloodsuckers that we would use for fish bait. We fished for perch and northern pike. The perch were much better eating in my opinion. Dad would fillet them, coat them in corn meal and fry them over the fire in the old coal stove in the cabin. I remember Dad telling me when he first started fishing at Pine Lake, before there were limits, he pulled out over 100 perch in one day, many of them close to 14 inches in length. He has the pictures to prove it! At that time the water was so clear that you could see at least 10 feet down into the lake. If the fish approaching your hook was not to your liking you could just move it aside and choose another one.

The spring at Pine Lake was of particular note. Ice cold, crystal clear water would come up out of the ground. The water was piped to a large wooden storage locker where each cabin had it's own locked and numbered compartment. The water would flow in and around each compartment keeping fruit, vegetables, meat and milk cold. At one end of the locker was a spout from which we would fill up our water containers for hauling back to the cabin. This water was incredibly tasty and made the best coffee, tea and juice. Some distance from the spring an area was set up for cleaning fish. There was a large trough that we could store the fish in before they were cleaned, keeping them cold and firm.

When we were little, Mom would sit in her lawn chair on the porch of the old wooden boathouse and keep an eye on us. We would sail our big plastic boats, sit on the dock, build sandcastles and play on the swings. We would watch muskrats and beaver diving in and out of the water. Giant blue herons would nest in the reeds and ducks and geese would watch over their babies as they swam in a little row on the shallow, calm water. When we were tired of fishing and playing in the water and sand we would head up to the cabin for lunch. Mom brought special baking along and made considerable effort to have our favorite foods and drinks on hand for this vacation.

Dad would sit in the screened porch and study, read and type. We could hear the clickity clack of his manual typewriter down on the beach. In our early years, before we could row the heavy row boats, he would come out with us and be our oarsman. Sitting in the boat in his straw hat, he taught us how to bait a hook, set our bobber's and more importantly, how to get the fish off the hook once we caught it.

In the afternoons we would often go in search of wild strawberries, raspberries, saskatoon berries, gooseberries and Alberta wild roses for Mom. She would put them in a big bowl on the table, their fragrance filling the room. We would chase the cows, shoot gophers and build forts. It was as if time was frozen. If the weather was cooperative, we boys would spend the entire day just wearing cutoffs and were brown as berries by the end of the summer. Playing in the back woods we would sometimes hike out to sand and gravel pits that were on the property. We chopped wood, fetched water, hauled coal and cleaned fish. On Saturday, piling our laundry into the Falcon, back to town we would go. Mom went grocery shopping and we got all scrubbed up. On Sunday, after Dad had preached at Bethel, the small country church he pastored, we piled into the car and headed back to the lake for a repeat of the week before.

Many times we would see deer, rabbits, skunk and coyotes. Colorful birds would nest in the trees near the cabin and families of chipmunks and gophers would roam the grounds in search of some tasty morsels. Like silent sentinels, large gray owls would sit atop fence posts keeping a watch over us. Their heads seemed to spin around in a complete 360 degrees. Sometimes at dusk, we would observe a snowy white owl heading out on a hunt. The odd time we might spot a wolverine or badger slinking into the woods. Hawks nesting in the back trees would keep a wary eye out for lunch.

Directly to the north of the Prairie property there was small trailer park resort called Rushton's, named after the owners. A narrow winding trail went through the woods and came out at the resort. We would take family walks over to the little store to buy ice cream Revello's, and steal a listen to the jukebox out on the deck. Walking around on the docks and beach, admiring the gleaming boats, we would observe swimwear that was not quite in keeping with Prairie standards! Several families from the church had their camping trailers parked at the resort and we would stop in to say Hello and the adults would have a visit.

For supper we would sometimes build a roaring fire out in the fire pit and roast hot dogs, tinfoil dinners and marshmallows. A special favorite was smores, made up of roasted marshmallows and chunks of chocolate sandwiched between a couple of graham cracker wafers. As the night wore on and the smoke drifted skyward from the fire, bats would start to flit about eating mosquitos and other little bugs.

The evenings were full of family games, reading books by lantern and listening to Dad's little battery operated Sony transistor radio. Mom and Dad loved word games and would listen regularly to a rebroadcast on the CBC of a BBC program called My Word. As the evening cooled off, Dad would get a big fire blazing in the coal stove and then bank it up for the night. Before we turned in, he would read a chapter or two from a special book that he had saved for this purpose. One book in particular that I remember him reading was Where The Red Fern Grows.

All the activity during the day, combined with the water and heat, usually had us tuckered out before it got too late. After we hit the hay, Mom and Dad would have a game of Scrabble, which sometimes turned quite competitive! We would be awakened the next morning to the sound of Dad rummaging around in the kitchen, getting a fire started so that he could cook breakfast. The kindling crackled and sputtered as the larger wood caught fire. When there was enough heat, Dad would add big black chunks of coal. The cabin slowly warmed up and the day would begin.

In 1974, when I was 13, Ray Stevens recorded what was perhaps his most famous hit, "The Streak". The song poked fun at the early 1970's fad of running nude in public, known as streaking. It made No. 1 in both the UK and the USA and No. 3 on the country chart. This novelty song had the format of an action news reporter on the scene at various locations where the activity in question was occurring. It featured a crazy whistle sound, a plunky banjo and the sound of a crowd roaring their approval. There had been a little streaking done by some of the high school students back at the campus. No one got caught and no harm was done.

I thought this song was very funny and played it at the lake that summer for Mom and Dad. One night the song came on and I said somewhat jokingly that I was going to go streaking that very night. Dad said, "Knock yourself out son, just wait until we have gone to bed". I was a little shocked that my announcement was not met with any resistance. The more I thought about it, the better the idea became in my adolescent head. After everyone was in bed I announced to all in the little cabin that it was time for my adventure. In the pitch black everyone was giggling and wondering if I would really do the deed. I doffed my shorts and donned some sneakers, knowing I wouldn't be able to see much of the ground to avoid tree roots and rocks. I opened the door and was off. I got about halfway down the trail and began to freak out just a little.

There I was all alone and it seemed deathly quiet except for the occasional howl of a coyote. There were no street lights within miles and most of the other cabins on the property were already dark. The night was black except for the moon. As it glistened off the water I began to worry that who knows who might be in the bushes and could reach out and grab you know what. With this thought resonating in my brain and with fear in my heart, I quickened my pace. The more I thought of this impending danger, the faster my skinny little frame ran. I took a short cut from my initially intended circuit and rushed back to the cabin. This must have cured me, because I have never gone streaking since. I think Dad got the last laugh.

So, tonight, if you happen to see a full moon . . . rest assured, it won't be mine!

THE ROAD TO PINE LAKE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3S6q2oP1ZM

www.prairieboy.com

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

WARNING: SASQUATCH ON THE LOOSE!

Rick Lubrick, or Ricky as we knew him, was about 16 years older than I. Ricky's mother was Tilly Lubrick, who became famous for her running of the campus thrift shop. Dubbed the "Tilly Shop", it sold all manner of used clothing, household wares, shoes, hats and everything in between. There were usually line ups waiting for the little shop to open. Items were sold for a mere pittance which at the time seemed like a king's ransom to us. I'm sure that my first several pair of ice skates and possibly some of my hockey equipment were procured at the Tilly. I recall the skates having so little ankle support, if you didn't learn quickly to skate on the blades, you were scooting around on the inside of the boot. Hundreds, if not thousands of students, staff and staff kids were clothed from Tilly's domain.

Tilly was the summer cook at Camp Silversides. I first became acquainted with her when she insisted that I finish my porridge, which quite honestly, I didn't recognize as such. Haute cuisine aside, Tilly was another of those staff members who worked hard and had a true servant's heart. She and her husband Steve served on staff where he fixed small appliances and helped out in several other departments during their tenure on the campus.

Ricky was an outgoing, athletic type of a guy and as I recall, quite popular with the lady folk. He and some of the other college students ran a program for us young kids in the west gym of the campus. Someone must have recognized that there was a need among the dozens of young staff boys to have some type of outlet for all their energy. They organized a quasi Boy Scouts or Boys Brigade, type of club. We would meet once a week in the gym and play dodge ball, floor hockey, learn a little bit about wrestling, have some type of lesson and generally have a great time.

Ricky had something that no one else in our town had. He owned a monkey. A real live little monkey! This tiny primate who Rick christened, Buster, looked every bit like one you might see with a hurdy gurdy man. Cute as a button, with big eyes, little ears and a long tail, said monkey could be found much of the time sitting atop Ricky's shoulder. Some of the college girls even knitted Buster some sweaters in an attempt at keeping him warm in a foreign climate.

Several years ago, Rick's Dad and I were having a visit and I asked him what had become of the little monkey. Steve told me that one summer Rick had gone to the province of British Columbia to work in a lumber camp. Somehow the monkey got loose. A light bulb went on in my head and I believed I may have solved a long standing mystery.

I think what happened was the little monkey escaped into the forest, got some good meals under it's little belt and grew... and grew... and grew. In fact I believe it grew so big that if you ever happen upon what is known in British Columbia as the Sasquatch, it is non other than Buster, Rick's little monkey!

www.prairieboy.com

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.