Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way
Walnut Room? This way, please.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's been a week...

...since my little possum friend visited the trash bin, and I had time or energy to post.  Monday was a busy day...
 I was scheduled for first...but, unfortunately, they gave away my operating room.  Now, it is not like I was not there early, and they could have taken me back in my own little spot.  You know these things are just not really on the list of fun ways to spend a Monday morning anyway, so, it is somewhat disconcerting to have to wait 3 additional hours on top of the 2 I had already been waiting.  But, I made the best of it and took a nap while R went to get some lunch.  I had my personal secretary (R gets that job, too) notify my list of contacts that I was delayed by 7 hours because everyone was already texting, "are you out yet?" when I had not even been in yet.  Wait 3 hours for the other patient's surgery to get done, and then the 3-4 hours of my own, and an hour of recovery and it was going to be a long day...as in I was going in when I should have been coming out.  So, I have clarified that, right?  That they gave away my operating room and thus I had to wait in a somewhat anxious state for an additional 3 hours?  Because my doctor asked me to be sure to mention that; he was not happy either.
 Amazingly, however, except for the little fainting episode (which I have never in my life ever done before), this has been a remarkably uncomplicated "after."  My BP was a little low post-surgery which created something of a sinking spell (literally) when I got up to walk the first time.  Fortunately, I was sitting at the moment of fainting as I had felt woozy and the PTs were prepared already with the chair.  It is good to know what you are doing, isn't it?  My PT was very young, and I asked her a question once, "Are you sure?"  She smiled and said, "Yes, I am.  I went to school to learn to do this."  I had to laugh.
 My friend Debra checked in frequently, and while she did not bring me a pig ear sandwich, I am pretty sure she would have if I had requested one.  She is probably the world's most consistent person in taking care of sick people, folks in the hospital, asking about family members, and taking food and going to funerals.  Thank goodness she did not need to do any of those things for me--especially that going to funerals part, although she offered repeatedly--food, errands, help, not having a funeral.  I reminded her I use those rare occasions when I need a little help to get my money's worth from R and J.

My friend Jane from Unalaska shipped a big ole cooler of frozen meals.  Oxford only gets second day air from NYC so that was no easy feat from Alaska!  Now, if I could get R or J to microwave one of them for me!  I had hoped that her executive chef husband had taken pity on me and whipped up some of his pretty and delicious food, but I will never look a gift jarred food in the mouth, regardless of my highest regard for Chef Rich's culinary skills.
 Mom and Dad and Sis checked in and sent good wishes, along with some flowers.  I count on my regular updates from Sis as to how everything is back home and it makes me feel connected while I cannot be there. 
I am walking with only the cane (no walker!) and have had minimal pain.  I am beyond amazed, and can now look at R with a knowing smirk when he voiced the opinion that I and my surgeon were being a little too optimistic.  I just love getting to be right.  Now, granted, it is because of the type of procedure, and that I am so "young" (yes, I know, young is relative at this point, as in "not 80" as the doctor said).  So, since I am totally bored and one can only play Candy Crush so many times in one day, and one can only walk down the hall and back so many times in one day, and one can only read Chinua Achebe so many times in one day, it seemed like a good thing to do to complain about the wait for my operating arena and proclaim the so far great outcome.

Tomorrow, I will do some real work!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Possum in the trash can

You might think it has been a slow news week here in Lottabusha County, what with the headline story today being a possum in a trash can.  Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth, but it is just the most benign news story around these parts this week.  Right now in Lottabusha, benign is a rare thing, so when it happens, I have to leap on it.

Three of my colleagues and I are hip deep in a rapid revision of an article for potential publication, with a short turnaround time before my hip surgery Monday.  In the midst of this critically important work for the four of us, it has been, shall we say euphemistically, a difficult week emotionally in terms of disturbing things happening.  Some of those disturbing things are public and in the news, so if you at all keep up with ignorance, bias, and the inane behavior and comments of people who are reluctant or hostile to moving into an era of civility, let alone equality, you already know what I am talking about.

I went out yesterday morning to put out a bag of trash and just as I was about to drop it in the bin, a wad of fur caught my eye.  J had obviously cleaned out his old sock drawer and there was a pile of socks in the bin…with a ball of fur on top of it.  It appeared to be a ball of dead fur…and I am wondering how a dead possum got in the trash bin, when I noticed it was not dead, but curled up, sleeping.

Not being one to want a critter to suffer a horrible death from dehydration or starvation or having bags of trash dropped on its unsuspecting head, I turned the bin on its side so the possum would be able to get out.  Now, honestly, I am annoyed with the possums and raccoons who wreak havoc in my yard, eating the cat food, dragging the bird feeders out of the tree--no matter how securely I think I have attached them--and dragging the trash out of the bin ad infinitum (and yes, lids would work, but about 2 weeks with the trash crew and lids that are attached to the bins are no longer attached, and/or have been tossed into the drainage ditch and/or backed over by the trash truck on turnaround, but that is another saga of life here in Lottabusha County).

So, said annoyance and desire that possums not occupy my personal space does not translate into leaving it at the bottom of a trash bin to die.  A possum is a nocturnal critter, and this one appeared to be quite young.  It opened its eyes, staring rather blindly around in confusion.  I retreated into the house, but came out in a bit to check--nope still in there, albeit burrowed under the socks.  At 5:30, it was still burrowed under the socks, waiting for dark.  This morning, there is a little round imprint in the pile of socks where it had slept all day, the only reminder of my little unwelcome visitor.





Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Stuck behind the bus of life

 Ever noticed how there are times when life is just one big extreme to the other?  Last week as I was on my way to work, which is increasingly harder directly in relationship to the increase in construction, I was stuck for a good 20 minutes, on a hill, behind a bus, with traffic piling up behind me, and none of us had anywhere to go.  Now that is not bad in and of itself--not being able to get somewhere you need to go, and I really try to do the chill thing and just hang out--in this case, texting photos of the bus in front of me and chatting with my friend who was securely inside the building.

I also generally refrain from criticizing poor performance from workers--unless we are standing in their work boots, or in this case, sitting in the cab of his truck trying to back a trailer, we might not have adequate understanding of the situation.  Now, noted, I think if a road is going to be blocked for 20 minutes, one should do it at the end of the block so people have an option, rather than in the center of the block where there is none, but hey, they probably didn't know it was going to take that long to back a load of bricks into a parking lot with a 12 inch gate opening.

This guy clearly was not the truck backer that my Bro is.  Bless his heart, he backed, pulled forward, backed, pulled forward, [insert as many times as you want, he will still be trying to back that trailer].  He jackknifed the trailer, which understandably took him a while to undo.  Now, it did not take me long to just turn off my car, set the brake, and enjoy the diesel fumes from the bus at the top of the hill--and yeah, we are doing all of this on a hill, which is why I set my brake.

You know how testy some folks can get when in a situation with no control.  Rather than "pulling leather" they want to stomp on the horse...and any other horses nearby who are not actually out of control.  I confess to a moment of wondering just how much trouble I would get in for pulling onto the wide sidewalk that runs up to the opposite road, my little car would fit on it, but it was not even a serious thought.  Of course, meanwhile, back down the hill behind me, vehicles were actually pulling out of line, turning around and driving back down a one-way street that is already blocked with construction, construction debris, temporary buildings, and a number of construction vehicles.

Finally, the poor guy was able to maneuver enough to get most of his truck out of the way of the bus, but only after some of his co-workers removed a couple of sections of the fence--probably not a good morning for him either, what with the undoubted humiliation and ragging by his co-workers.  The bus eased on by and cleared the top of the hill.

I, meanwhile, who have been sitting in the car had stiffened up (you know, the knee, hip thing going on these days) and could not get my knee bent to release the brake.  It had taken exactly a half nano second for the bus to start to move and me to start to find my brake, but yes, let the honking begin!  Now we are talking less than a second here, we are talking immediately, so it did not do a lot to improve my mood--right folks, I want to continue sitting here longer, so I am just eating my lunch and having a cup of coffee.

In another 2 seconds, I released the brake and started the car.  The Lexus has a slap shifter (and yes, I wanted to slap something besides my shifter at that moment) and as I would put it into forward, the car would start to move backward--not from being on the hill and rolling but because apparently on the hill, it wouldn't let the transmission shift into forward...and the honking is continuing.  I thought I had opened the sunroof and put my arm up to do a "stop" motion because all the honking was frustrating me, and instead, slammed my hand into the glass--I had only opened it partway.

Take a deep breath.  Honking at me does not influence me to move any faster when the problem is that I cannot move at all.  However, it did influence me (yes, picture me with a tiny little smile here) when I finally got the car to move forward, to do so at a snail's pace...up to the top of the hill....and down to the end of the block to the closest handicapped parking space for my building...and slowly pull into said space.  The resulting wind from the vehicles rushing past me (uhm, excuse me folks, but there is currently a 15 mph speedlimit around construction sites) wafted my scarf out behind me, no doubt creating a striking image as I leaned on my cane and bid them all a good rest of the day.

Okay, I was not really as calm as all that, because frankly, I was angry.  Not at the truck driver who could not back his truck and created the jam in the first place, but at people's impatience at something that could not be helped by impatience and rudeness.  It is as irrational to honk at me when I cannot move my car as it was to be angry with the truck driver because he could not back his truck--although to be honest here, if you drive a truck for a living, you should probably be required to know how to back it up including in difficult spaces.  None the less, the whole thing was a reminder of how impatient people are these days in a time of expected instant gratification.  And, I know my little pique did not teach one person behind me that there are consequences to one's choices, it just temporarily gave me a feeling of control of something.

Meanwhile, halfway down the difficult trudge downhill, the poor truck driver has finally been able to back the trailer into the lot enough and suddenly, someone yells "stop! stop!" followed by the sound of a boom as metal hit metal.  Yep, he had "done gone and backed too far" and hit a storage pod.  I reached the bottom of the hill and one of the young workers (the one who always has to crawl into the sewer space when they need that done) was working in his customary sewer space.  He looked up at me, smiled and said, "Good morning, how are you?"  I smiled back, genuinely, and said, "I'm good, how are you?"  He grinned the width of his face and said, "I am great--it's Friday!"  What a lesson, folks.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weems Elementary School in Taylor

A few weeks ago, my friend Debra and I were talking about segregation, integration, and consolidation of schools in Mississippi.  I had commented about some recent research that turned up an article describing the effects on consolidation, and in particular, to the Taylor community:
While providing little benefit for blacks, the consolidation of white schools created additional burdens for black schools and black taxpayers.  In some places, county officials actually moved black schools to make way for the new, larger white schools.  In the northeast Mississippi community of Taylor, for example, the local black school 'was pushed out of the town limits' in the early 1930s to make room for a white consolidated school. (Bolton, C. C. (2000). Mississippi's school equalization program, 1945-1954: A last gasp to try to maintain a segregated educational system. The Journal of Southern History, 66(4), 781-814)
In 1926, Taylor built a "modern school...down by the tracks" (http://www.taylorms.org/history.html) which was closed in the late 1960s.  Mississippi Department of History and Archives, Historic Resources Inventory database identified the Administration building as 1926, White School in 1930, Cafeteria in 1946, and teacher's house in 1948.

From the Taylor website history:
The African American community of Taylor boasts a proud educational tradition that ran parallel with the segregated white schools....In 1936, the community galvanized to build a proper school.
The Taylor Vocational High School, a 5-room "model of excellence in the state" was completed at the site of the current community center in Taylor.  MDAH indicated the Taylor school for African American students was constructed as a classroom and library in 1936, and the cafeteria in 1946.  This school also operated until the 1960s according to the Taylor history.
So what then is the story of the Weems Elementary School, constructed in 1960, outside the town limits?  Debra had informed me when I was sharing the story that the abandoned building was located past the old school site where the community center is currently located.
This new school was constructed in 1960, in the section of the Taylor community where African Americans lived and still live, and operated until at least 1966 it would appear.  Mississippi did not begin to integrate schools until at least 1970 when finally forced to do so, and based on Debra's information, this school was constructed for use by African American children in Taylor.

Weyeneth (2005) discussed at length the role space played in segregation in The Architecture of Racial Segregation in the creation of
 a distinctive architectural form.  We know much about segregation as a political, legal, and social institution but relatively little about it as a spatial system. (p. 11).
 
Weyeneth stated his analysis was intended to:
...analyze the spatial strategies of white supremacy during the Jim Crow era....the two major ways that the races were separated architecturally--isolation and partitioning--and offers examples of the types of spaces that resulted. (p. 12)
He added:
The discussion then turns to the means by which these forms were created....looks at the response to these imposed spaces.  It examines how African Americans actually used these places and how blacks were able to construct alternative spaces. (p. 12)

African Americans, in Taylor as in the rest of Mississippi, struggled against almost impossible, and sometimes, totally impossible, circumstances to educate themselves and their children, and in spite of those circumstances, carried on in doing an excellent job, and for that, they should be proud.  It, however, seems something of a stretch to me to call it "a proud...tradition that ran parallel with the segregated white schools."  As the history section of the Taylor website explained:
Black schools did not receive the same tax revenue as the white schools, so the students' parents provided wood to heat the makeshift school house.
In reality, African American students' parents provided far more than wood for heating, or else their children did without.  Michael Fuquay (2002) presented a far more compelling explanation of the tax revenues and school equity and governance:
In this respect, private schools were simply a new strategy in an ongoing contest over school desegregation.  More importantly, this essay demonstrates that Mississippi's private school system was built using public funds, both legally and illegally....White Mississippians had long used their public schools to promote their racial ideology, while at the same time reinforcing it by severely limiting the educational opportunities available to black children....Prior to 1965, local control in Mississippi had been synonymous with white control.  (Civil Rights and the Private School Movement in Mississippi, 1964-1971, History of Education Quarterly, 42(2), p. 160)
When Debra said the new school had been abandoned, I was picturing the crumbling ruins of some small little structure.  I was not expecting, and indeed, was quite taken aback with, the sheer size of the Weems Elementary School.  From the photographs, one cannot really get an understanding of how large this building is.  If I recall accurately, there were 12 classrooms along the above wing of the building and 8 on the other end. 

I was reminded when I saw this huge school--albeit with the deteriorated roof--of the new Woodson High School in Abilene which had been constructed for African American students just prior to the enforced integration of schools.  After years of poorly equipped schools, the students finally had a brand new school, state of the art (Texas' attempts at legally maintaining separate but equal to challenge and resist integration), and rather than permit white students to attend school in a black neighborhood or black school through integration, the school was closed and black students were bussed to the white high school.  The building was later converted for use as, and still used as, the "alternative school" for students with "behavioral issues."

In the case of Weems, the building was clearly allowed to deteriorate, and stands empty and abandoned. 

The Weems Elementary School was designed by architects James C. Lee and Harold C. Brumfield.


Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine's Day Surprise

 I did not think yesterday could get any better--the sun was shining, the sky was blue, it was not freezing, I finally felt better...and then my phone tweeted...and my heart smiled so big I could feel it.
 Just yesterday afternoon I had been looking at the movie I took of Rio when I was home at Christmas, and how I had hoped when the spring came that Dad would be able to get down to the barn to see him.  We have been waiting on the horse hoof fixer for a while now, as Rio needed a hoof trimmed.  He was finally able to get there yesterday, and it was sunny and pleasant.  Frankie did the next best thing to Dad being able to get to the barn to see Rio; he brought Rio to the house to see Dad.

Rio is all fixed up now, and Sis said Dad smiled the whole time he was holding Rio.  I am still smiling. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Yes, that is sunshine and blue skies

 This is an honest-to-goodness unretouched iPhone photo out my back door this morning when I went to let the dog in.  I know, after these past few weeks, I don't believe it either.  I was standing there in total awe at the blueness of the sky contrasted against the vivid green of the pine tree...even all the dead kudzu could not dampen my spirits.
 And what's this?  It feels warm out here...pleasant...am I still in Mississippi?
 Even the cats are out and about stretching and napping in the sunshine instead of piled into their little house.

Unfortunately, the ice did not take down the rest of the tree still lingering on from last year's ice storm, but hey, I will settle for the sunshine today.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What to do when your dog has a stuffy nose

Every once in a blue moon, Libby takes a notion to chew up a box of Kleenex, typically, a new box that has just been opened.  It seems to occur when she is feeling slighted about being by herself, yet I can never quite predict what sets it off.  She was in here calmly lying on the bed with her spotted cow when I went down the hall to start supper.  A few minutes later, I came back in to get something, and an entire box of Kleenex was in shreds all over the floor and bed.

Now, these days, the act of bending over to pick up all that Kleenex (believe me, an entire box of 160 2-ply tissues is a lot of shredded Kleenex) is just too difficult.  Thankfully, Rando picked them up for me, although in a nod to exchange theory, I was cooking dinner at the time.  He told Libby the Kleenex was coming out of her treat allowance.  While she appeared to fathom (from the contrite look on her face) that he was displeased at the moment, I doubt she entertained the thought very long.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tom Lea's Comanches

Used with permission of the United States Postal Service
 Tom Lea became assistant to Chicago muralist John Norton in 1927 (Tom Lea papers, 1905-2001, MS476, C. L. Sonnichen Special Collections Department, the University of Texas at El Paso Library).  Lea
…won commissions to paint murals in government buildings for the United States Department of the Treasury and the WPA. (p. 3)
Lea was contracted in 1941 to paint the mural Comanches for the newly constructed 1940 Seymour post office.  He selected the early life of the Baylor County area, when Comanche Indians lived there.  The cost of the mural was $950 and it was installed in 1942 (cityofSeymour.org).
The post office remains in use, and was renovated to add handicap access, and a new service window and counter.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pulling Leather

Yes, a cow boy has his troubles and he shore is out of luck,
Out a dozen miles from nowheres and his hoss begins to buck... 
 So you aim to keep a straddle and you'll ride him if you can,...
People say that pullin' leather don't show ridin' skill.  That's true.
But you'd like to stick togather till the argyment is through.
When yo're a slippin' and a slidin', you'll admit at all events
If it doesn't show good ridin' that it shows a heap of sense.
(Bruce Kiskaddon, 1947, as cited in Jan E. Roush and Lawrence Clayton (Eds.) Pulling Leather. (1988).  Glendo, WY: High Plains Press.)
Pulling leather is a term that means the rider has to grab some part of the saddle in order not to fall off the horse.  It is not a complimentary term, meaning that the rider is off-balance, or unskilled, and the horse is about to throw the rider.

In the past few days, I have been doing a lot of pulling leather, and as Kiskaddon said, it might not show skill, but it is smart.  Let's face it, when the horse is bucking out of control, in the words of another Bruce I know, you have to "hunker down, hold on, and ride it out."

If you have never been on a bucking horse, or an unknown horse that has its head and is running and paying the rider no mind, when you have no control of the situation, sometimes the only thing one can do is wrap the reins around one hand, grab the saddle horn with the other, lay low over the horse's neck, tuck your feet and legs in as tight as you can get them, and wait for the horse to get tired and slow down and you can finally rein it to a stop.

Granted, this sort of thing may not happen all that often these days, given that the whole horse riding/horse breaking thing is a bit different.  None the less, I think it an apt metaphor for some situations when you are "out a dozen miles from nowheres and your horse begins to buck."  At those times, it is not about the skill and how it looks, it is about living to ride another day…and that "...shows a heap of sense."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Populated Place or Post Office?

 Anyone in the South these past few weeks knows it is easy to get cabin fever, what with all the below freezing temps, wind, rain, ice, and snow, so when I saw sunshine and 72 yesterday, I was on the road!  I have developed a more organized approach to the New Deal research in Mississippi, as opposed to my usual "throw a rock and see where it lands" style, and I am now on county number two of testing this method.  So far, so good...until yesterday, but when it is sunshine and 72 on February 1 after weeks of the heating never shutting off once in 24 hours, I was okay with that.
 I was looking for a school that was supposed to be on the north side of Terza road.  Now, Terza is another one of those places that I always was "fixin' to" go see since 2003 that I had never gotten around to, even though it is about 15 minutes from my house.  I made a mental note of the church as I drove down Terza road, planning to catch it on the return trip (I know, usually, that means I don't).  And, given that I accidentally ended up in Sardis (imagine my surprise, as I had no idea the road I was on would take me there!), it is indeed a wonder that I made it back to Terza--or what once had been Terza, with enough time to spare.
While I brake for many things in my quest to smell the roses, two things that will usually lure me in without a second thought are old churches and old cemeteries.  In this case, I found the green stained glass in the front windows strikingly compelling, and I have noted similar windows in other rural churches in Mississippi.

The sign out front said the church was established in 1857, but it is not listed in my go-to Mississippi Department of Archives and History Historic Resources Inventory Database (say that fast 12 times) so I have been quite disappointed in the dearth of information.  Other than a few graves from the cemetery surrounding the church, I was able to locate two items about Terza, Mississippi:
Terza is a populated place in Panola County. (Mississippi Hometown Locator)
Terza, a postoffice in Panola county. (p. 773, Mississippi: Comprising Sketches of Towns, Events, Institutions, Volume II, edited by Dunbar Rowland, 1907, Atlanta: The Southern Historical Publishing Association)

Like many cemeteries that began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fences were used to define family plots and to protect the grave from cattle.
Early graves were also more unique.  One of the things that interests me is the ways children and infant graves were designed.  I do not recall having seen this design before--it was 1916-1917--but I have been unable to locate any information about the particular design or if it was common.  It makes me think of a cradle, though there were always a variety of curbed graves and could be just a variation on that theme.
Another unique stone was the arched double-grave stone. 
One of the things that does disturb me in cemeteries is the deterioration of headstones and the surrounding area.  Of course in rural areas, with declining populations and most likely, older congregations or residents, there are fewer and fewer of the kind of people who once saw to the upkeep of cemeteries.  As a child, I would go with my grandmother to tend to the graves of the family members buried in the rural cemeteries near our home.
Wind, rain, and other forms of weather affect both the stones themselves, and the stability of the ground around them.  In a way, it is rather symbolic of our time on this planet.