Life Memoirs school teaching writing

Fifth Grade Follies

It was in the fifth grade that I began writing stories. I don’t recall exactly what I wrote but I shared my work with friends, and at one time, my teacher. Any feedback they might have given me is not in my memory banks, so maybe it wasn’t that good? I don’t know. I do know that I began to consider myself a writer at that age.

That is when I discovered the book Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I must have checked it out of the school library a dozen times. I identified with little Harriet, although I didn’t consider myself a spy. She spied on people, even sneaked into their homes, to gather information to write about, until one of her schoolmates stole her notebook. It was devastating to have her innermost thoughts and feelings revealed to the world. I was very careful about what I wrote in my own notebook, and the only spying I did was on my family. But the book got me writing.

Fifth grade was still a part of J.E. Rhodes Elementary but our classes were separated from the younger grades. I changed classes for math and reading, probably, I don’t recall. My granddaughter attends J.E. Rhodes Elementary now, although not in the same building. The original building was destroyed by a tornado several years ago, so she goes to school in my old high school building. Of course, it’s all been renovated so it is unrecognizable as the old high school. I just attended her kindergarten graduation in the auditorium that I graduated in 45 years ago! How can that be? At least it’s air-conditioned now!

One memory I have that stands out is one time when we were in class sitting in desks that had been pushed together to make a large group. It was after lunch and I had been bitten by the witty bug and couldn’t keep my mouth closed in my efforts to entertain my classmates. Mrs. Pittman jumped all over me, telling me in front of the class how disappointed she was in my behavior. I’m telling you that stopped it once and for all. I was so ashamed of myself I wished I could disappear. I wish it was that easy to make kids behave today.

Fifth grade. The cusp of preteen-hood. Not quite a baby, not quite a teen, still a kid, but a big one. Next time: a visit to Neiman Marcus for an embarrassing visit with Santa.

My fifth grade school picture.
The pixie haircut grew out!

Do you have any standout memories of fifth grade? Do tell!




Everybody in Texas seems to have a tornado story. They’ve either been in one, seen one, or know someone who has. I haven’t had the terrifying experience of actually being in a tornado, but as a kid I came close enough.

Grandpa and Grandma Irwin were visiting from central Texas, and when the weather turned bad and the wind got up, Grandpa insisted on piling everyone in the car and getting out, not realizing that being in a car is the worst place you can be in a tornado. He had been in a tornado once and he didn’t intend to repeat the experience.

Our little house in the country didn’t have a garage, so we had to brave the wind and rain to get to the car. It’s a pretty frightening thing to be six years old and barely able to walk in the wind. Fortunately I hadn’t read The Wizard of Oz yet.

Daddy drove all of us–mama, us four kids, one an infant, and Grandma and Grandpa to Tyler where we parked on the downtown square and waited for the storm to pass, two adults and two children in the front, and two adults and two children in the back. No carseats or seatbelt laws back then! When Daddy and Grandpa agreed it was safe to return, we drove home, no doubt happy to see everything still in its place.

Grandpa and Grandma Irwin

I grew up convinced that a tornado had been nearby as we ran to the car that night. My parents believed there was. This was back in the day when there was no such thing as Doppler radar or today’s sophisticated weather technology.

I’ve never been one to take tornado watches and warnings with a shrug. I have a “windowless interior room” that I retreat to with the dog, (hubby wouldn’t go in there unless he heard it coming!) and if I’m out and about I find shelter. No close personal encounters for me, no thank you.

What about you? Have you had an experience with a tornado?  Check out Keeper II: The Storm for Jolie’s terrifying encounter!



From Keeper II: The Storm

     Molly yelled at the lion, waving her arms frantically as she ran toward her car. The lion’s head had pushed through the broken windshield into the car. She could hear its growling and worried what she might find when she reached the car. She pushed herself harder, unconcerned with what might happen to her. Is that Toni screaming?

     Toni had come to and was pushing as hard as her ebbing strength would allow, trying to keep the crazed lion from reaching Connor in the floorboard. The lion seemed unaware of her and focused on the wailing baby. She was losing the battle, though. The lion had almost made it completely inside the car. She hadn’t realized she was screaming until now. 

Want to see what happens?  Click here!


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My Love/Hate Relationship with Spring

Ah, spring.  I would bet thousands of poems have been written extolling the virtues of spring, the beautiful flowers, budding trees, warmer temperatures, singing birds, and frisky wildlife.  Who doesn’t enjoy all those things?

Unfortunately, here in East Texas, spring brings some unpleasantness with it as well.  Yes, I know, you people up north get snow into the summer.  And when I looked at the weather in Silverton, Colorado just now–because I love that town–they are under a winter weather advisory with 60% chance of snow.

Here?  Right now we have 74% humidity, an expected high of 85 degrees, and a 20 to 45% chance of thunderstorms.  Two weeks ago the area just west of me experienced four tornadoes which spread havoc across fifty miles.  You may have heard something in the news about the EF4 tornado that hit Canton, Texas.  The tornado missed the First Monday Trade Days grounds or there would have been many more casualties than there were.  Four people were killed that day.

But the weather isn’t the worst thing about spring.  Seasonal allergies top my list of dreaded things in spring.  At one point several years ago, my suffering reached such a severe level that I was ready to undergo allergy testing with all those needles and possibly have to give myself shots.  And I hate needles!  But my wise doctor prescribed three medications that changed my life:  Advair, Singulair, and Astelin.  Now I only take Flonase (generic) as needed, and an occasional Chlortab.

So the allergy part of my relationship with spring has improved.  But oh, those stickers.  Every May the ground produces a pretty little green plant with a nasty seed containing a poison thorn on one end.  We never had them before the 80’s, and I don’t know how they invaded East Texas, but you can get about 40 of the thorns in the bottom of your foot if you step on a good patch of them.  Not fun.  As kids we ran barefoot everywhere.  My children and grandchildren will never know that kind of bliss.

Then there are the wasps, bumblebees, and snakes.  These guys love warmer weather.  The other day my husband spotted a three-foot rat snake stretched across the front yard, probably in search of sunlight and food.  A smaller rat snake resides in his workshop, often stretched across one of the rafters waiting for a tasty mouse or rat.  I was riding on a golf cart with my daughter-in-law and grandson and we spotted a rat snake sticking his head out of the ground like a periscope, which totally blew her mind and surprised me.  I’ve never seen one do that, and I have lived here most of my life.

Wasps love to build nests under the eaves of the house and carport, so we are constantly spraying those while trying not to get stung.  Wasps seem to have a bad temper, and I have been stung many times, having grown up in the country.  It ain’t fun, let me tell you.

There you have it:  my love/hate relationship with spring.  I love it when the weather is perfect–about 55 at night and 75 during the day, when the thunderstorms don’t produce tornadoes, when the grass grows thick and green without thorns, and when the birds and bees sing and buzz without stinging.  I love the azaleas and hydrangeas and daffodils that bloom in my garden, and I love the wild Indian paintbrush, red clover, and black-eyed susans that grow in the fields and roadsides.

How do you like your spring?



Bad Weather is Good Weather

Disclaimer:  Before you read this, please understand that no disrespect is intended toward those who have been adversely affected by bad weather, and I’m sure if I had lost possessions or people because of the weather I would have a different opinion.  In fact, I did lose a brother-in-law, niece, and nephew in an accident in a snowstorm several years ago.  Nevertheless. . .
I love me some bad weather. (I’m not an English teacher any more, okay?)  Rain, fog, clouds, snow, sleet, thunderstorms, you name it, I prefer bad weather over sunny days any time.  And yes, I am serious.  This coming from the girl who stayed indoors at age 6 when the whole family was outdoors all day.  It was too windy.  I hate the wind.  Correction.  I don’t like being out in the wind.  I don’t mind a good howling wind if I can stay inside.
When stormy weather is forecast I get almost as giddy as the meteorologists on the local news stations.  I said, almost.  I really love thunderstorms.  I will open my front door and stand behind the storm door to watch the lightning play across the sky.  We are fortunate enough where I live to be able to see the horizon, unhidden by trees or buildings.  I will watch the cloud bank of an approaching cold front creep its way toward us.  Even when there are severe weather warnings I enjoy watching the lightning, thunder, and rain from the storm door.

I even have a hard time staying in the bathroom, which is our safe room, during a tornado warning.  I will usher my two dogs inside our guest bathroom because it is an inner room with no windows, and I will try and wait patiently for the threat to go away.  I keep my cell phone handy to check radar and receive weather updates, but inevitably in a few minutes I am sticking my head out the door or leaving altogether to watch weather updates on TV.  Of course, then the dogs run out and I have to corral them again.  Wouldn’t the smartest thing be to remain in the safe room until the threat passed?  My son says he does the same thing.  He wants to know what’s going on, at the risk of getting caught out in it.
Granted, since I live in East Texas where the weather is almost tropical most of the time,  I have no experience with severe snowstorms, but I do love the occasional ice storm.  The world becomes still and quiet and resplendent with icicles hanging from eaves, tree branches coated with ice frosting, and the ground completely white.  When I wake up after an ice or snow storm, the world is eerily quiet.  I relish getting outdoors as the snow or sleet is falling, even though it is too cold to stay out for long.  Again, as an East Texan, I am not used to freezing temperatures or frozen precipitation. . .

. . .which reminds me of icy roads that Texas drivers have no business driving on.  Texans go a little nuts when it snows or ices over.  We all rush to the grocery store, thinking we have to stock up on food, and we either refuse to slow down on the roads or creep along so slowly everyone else risks their lives to get around us.  Still, I love a good ice or snow storm.  It transforms everything and slows life down for a day or two.
You can have your sunny days.  I prefer the mystery, awe, and excitement of bad weather.