My mother passed away on this day back in 2002 at the age of 69. Below is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral. You are gone but not forgotten, Mom.
One night back in 1984, Mom and I went to the movies and we saw the film PLACES IN THE HEART starring Sally Field. Mom really enjoyed that movie because she saw a lot of parallels between the story of Sally Field as a widow trying to get through the Depression, and her own childhood on the farm. And as we were driving home, Mom said, kind of out of nowhere (as we all know she had the habit of doing), "You know, if they ever make a movie of my life, I'd like Sally Field to play me."
And ever since then, I've had a very difficult time because every time I see Sally Field up there on the screen, I can't help thinking of her as Mom. And that connection was further cemented a couple years back when the movie FORREST GUMP came out, and there was Sally Field playing a spunky, resourceful mother, not unlike Mom. She even kind of looked like Mom. Now I don't know if that makes me Forrest Gump....Maybe in some ways it does.
All of us have phrases or sayings in times like this from which we draw comfort. Some of us find them in the Bible. I tend to find them in movies and, ironically, in FORREST GUMP particularly. And one of those phrases is spoken kind of late in the movie by Forrest shortly after his mother has passed. He says, "Momma always said dying was part of living. I sure wish it wasn't." But it is.....and we are here today to celebrate the life of our mother.
Each of us serves many different relations in the lives of the people around us. I have had the honor of being Dorothy's son. And as I look around the room today, I see friends and relatives to whom my mother served as sister, wife, mother, teacher and grandmother.
So many different images of my mother are coursing through my mind this morning:
I see a little farm girl shirking her chores and playing in the fields. A girl who spit in her brother's face, and tossed a cat in Stone Lake to see if it could swim or not. And then running all the way back home when she feared that the cat was going to get her.
I see a pretty teenage girl, whom I just found out yesterday was a cheerleader, and who once confessed that maybe she flirted "a little too much back then."
I see an 18 year old woman on the threshold of adulthood who went to see "Show Boat" over and over during the summer of 1951 and fantasized of meeting Howard Keel and sailing down the Mississippi River into the sunset.
I see a thirty year old mother in go-go boots & fishnet stockings playing Twister with her friends.
I see a mature woman sitting in a lawn chair - and proudly holding her first grandchild on her lap.
All of these images are facets of the jewel that was Dorothy Rothrock.
Without a doubt, she had her quirks and endearing qualities: just like all of us. If you don't think you have them, just ask your spouse, or your best friend. They'll be happy to tell you.
With Mom, there are 3 in particular which come to mind.
When Pat, Pam and I were children, we spent a lot of time with our Hagerty cousins, Scott and Terry and Kim, and we spent a lot of time going to amusement parks together. And all of us would ride just about anything: roller coasters and tilt-a-whirls and bumper cars. You name it, we rode it. But not Mom and not Aunt Donna. They spent a lot of time sitting on the benches, waiting for us to come back.
And they did this with such regularity that we took to calling them "The Chicken Sisters". And we even got to the point where, one year at Cedar Point, we even bought them matching plates with a chicken on it. And they each hung their plate in their kitchen as a proud member of "The Chicken Sisters".
The second one not a lot of people know about. When I was in high school, Pat and Pam were already grown and out on their own. We were living in West Virginia at the time but Dad had taken a job up in Michigan as we got ready to move up there. So during the week, Mom and I would be the only ones at home, and a lot of times, my day would start with the sound of Mom coming down the hall to my room, singing in that voice which you heard earlier, "School day, school day, good old golden rule day!"
I look back nostalgically on that now but when you're 17 years old, that's just about the last thing you want to hear.
And the last one I thought about yesterday because it would always happen at every funeral we attended. I would be standing there chatting with Tonya or some cousin that I hadn't seen in a long time. And Mom would come walking up with some elderly person on her arm. And she'd have that looked on her face. You know which one. And she'd say, "Do you remember this person?"
And we'd have to say, "No."
And then Mom would smile triumphantly as she delivered her zinger: "She used to change your diapers."
I really missed that yesterday. I guess now we'll have to continue those traditions with our kids.
But she had so many gifts and warmth and love that any quirks she may have had are overshadowed.
One thing for sure, She had a special kind of way with children.
She never spoke much about her job as a special education teacher at Will Rogers Elementary School in Pontiac MI, but I do know that she had a powerful influence on many of her students. Several of them came from broken homes and they gravitated toward her. Some even called her "the Mom they wish they'd had".
She never really understood irony or sarcasm, ever. Even in her final days, we'd be kidding her and she just wouldn't get it. She preferred everything simple and straight-forward and genuine.
She could be stubborn but you knew she was trying to do good. She could be exasperating but you always knew she was doing it out of love. Most of the time, she was simply looking out for you in the way she knew best because, more than anything else, family was the most important thing to her.
She was never happier than in the time right before someone was coming to visit. I remember being home and watching her speed around the house in the days before they arrived. She'd be cleaning and cooking and hurrying around getting everything ready. As you know, her house was never quite clean enough. But she'd be excited because family was coming soon.
And when everything was ready, she would literally stand at the window and watch until she saw the car turn in at the driveway, and she'd hurry down to the door so she'd be the first to give you a big hug when you walked in.
She loved being a wife. She loved being a mother. She loved being a grandmother. She reveled in all of these roles.
When my son Ben was born, and she was still living in Michigan, she'd drive down on Sunday afternoons just so she could sit in the rocker for hours and just hold him.
She loved the summers that her grandchildren, Jennifer and Chris, spent at her house back when they were little.
A few weeks ago, Jennifer and Chris reminded me about how in those summers, she'd give them an allowance and, to earn it, they'd be responsible for certain chores they had to do around the house, and if they didn't do one, she'd deduct a nickel for each one. So if she saw dirty dishes on the table, she'd say, "I see a nickel." And Jennifer and Chris would hurry to clean it up. And, of course, she never got around to deducting any nickels from that allowance.
She taught most of us, both the children and the grandchildren, how to ride a bike.
She taught us how to swing.
She taught us how to cook.
She taught my son Ben how to play hide and seek.
She taught us too much to summarize here.
The last few years, I've just sat back and smiled watching Ben. Because when he would hear that Grandma was coming to visit, he would hurry around the house and plan out all the things he wanted to do with Grandma and then watch for that moment when she would come up the driveway, so he could run to the door and wait for her hug.
Just two months ago, as Betsy and Ben and I were getting ready to travel down to spend Easter with her, Ben told me, "I love Grandma." and then he took me aside and said, "She's my girlfriend, you know."
One thing is for sure: she had a special kind of way with children.
And I know that those are the things that will live on as we continue our life's journey without her.
There's a scene late in "Forrest Gump" where Forrest is chatting with his girl Jenny, whom he's loved all his life but circumstances prevent them from getting together until late in the movie. And she's asking him about all the beautiful things he's seen in his life.
And Forrest talks about the stars in Vietnam, and the beauty of the sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, and the sight of the dawn coming up in the western desert, and how it is so beautiful that he has a hard time trying to decide where Earth ends and Heaven begins.
And Jenny gets all wistful and sad and says, "I wish I could have been there."
And he looks at her with all this love and wonder on his face, then says simply, "You were."
And that's how I'm thinking about Mom today. She hasn't really gone away, because she's always going to be here in our minds and in our hearts.
She'll be there we when we think of home-made cookies and summers by the lake.
She'll be there in how we wake up in the morning.
She'll be there in the way we raise our children and our grandchildren.
And I have no doubt that, several years down the line, when Chris back there is raising his child, Mom's first great-grandchild, that he'll be halfway through saying something to his son, and then he'll realize that they are the same words that his grandma used to say to him when he was a boy. And which he SWORE he would never say to his child.
There are so many things to celebrate about my mother. And to thank her for......and so I want to stand up here today and thank you, Mom.......
......Thank you....... for letting Pat and Pam and I have cats when we knew she really couldn't stand the smell.
......Thank you....... for all the slipcovers and sewing and repair work you did on Puppy. My constant companion when I was Ben's age....and maybe a few years beyond that. I still remember the day Puppy fell in the toilet and Mom had to hand wash him. And all the anxious moments I had as he hung out there drying on the clothesline.
......Thank you......for letting me setup my Hot Wheels cars in the middle of the living room and the Major Matt Mason moon base on the stair landing, even though I knew that she preferred her houses to be neat and tidy.
......Thank you......for giving us strict bedtimes, but letting them slide when there was a show or movie on that we just HAD to see.
......Thank you......for family dinners around the table and insisting that we eat what you cooked, but always fixing me a separate meal when you realized just how much I hated ham pot pie.
......Thank you......for the warm cookies and the cold milk which would be waiting for us when we got home from school.
......Thank you......for Christmases where I didn't always get everything I wanted, but I always got the thing I most wanted that year.
......Thank you......for a terrific childhood. Sure I regret a couple things. The fights Pat and I used to get into each week when the new TV Guide arrived come to mind. And if it was the Fall Preview issue, man, fists flew. Mom's solution, by the way, was to have us get two subscriptions to TV Guide, one for each of us. But over all, our childhood was great.
......Thank you......for letting us be children as long as possible. When we became teenagers and we started asking if we could take summer jobs, she'd say, "You'll spend the rest of your life working. Enjoy yourself." And she was right. And those lazy summers when I was young keep looking better and better, the older that I get.
......Thank you......for the surprise party on my 17th birthday where you managed to get all my high school friends over shortly before we had to move away.
......Thank you......for that last 1986 vacation you and I took on Mackinac Island, where we biked and ate ice cream cones and sat out and watched the sunsets until it was dark.
......Thank you......for always having an open front door to your house so that when we were grown, no matter what had been the setback, whether it was financial or maybe we were just lonely at holiday-time, we could always come home again.
......Thank you......for my two sisters. Its true that we don't always see eye to eye, but today, right here, I do want to stand up and say that, whatever our disagreements in both the past and the future, that I do and always will love each of you.
........and lastly I thank Mom for my strong and vibrant faith in God and Jesus Christ, and the recognition of his continuing hand in our lives both here on Earth, and in the hereafter. Because it is the only thing that gets us through times like this.
And leaves me with no doubt that Mom may be gone from our lives right now but it is not a departure. It is just a vacation.
And wherever she is right now, I know Mom is cleaning and cooking and excited and hurrying around getting everything ready because family will be coming soon.
And I have no doubt that, when everything is ready, she will be watching at the window so she can hurry down to the door, ready to give us a big hug,
And welcome us home again.
Brad Bird’s TOMORROWLAND opens this Friday and it has got me thinking about the original Tomorrowland. No, not the section of Disney’s parks where you used to be able to catch glimpses of the future. I’m talking about EPCOT, the real EPCOT, not the Epcot amusement park in Walt Disney World. I am talking about the original EPCOT, Walt Disney’s city of the future – his real reason for building Disney World. (It only became Walt Disney World after he died).
I am just old enough to remember Walt Disney. He remains one of my personal heroes and I think one of the genuine geniuses of the 20th century. My earliest childhood memories are of watching him host his Sunday night TV show on NBC. I loved all the episodes but I particularly loved the episodes set in Disneyland. Walt's park seemed like a dreamland made real. When he announced plans to build a new park in Florida, I could not wait.
In the fall of 1966 Walt started talking about what he wanted to do in Disney World. Sure, there would be a Magic Kingdom theme park like Disneyland but the heart of his new Florida project was the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) where people could live and work in a city that would always be 20 years in the future. It would serve as a laboratory to solve the problems of society. The designs and the sketches looked amazing; the technology and plans appropriately futuristic. To a kid growing up in Michigan, it seemed the stuff of science fiction about to become reality. (Check out more details in my EPCOT essay at the bottom of the page).
People wondered if Walt had finally gone off the deep end. Model cities were always great on paper, not so much in execution. Their failures littered the 19th and 20th century landscape. And yet, when you heard Disney talk about it, it sound really exciting – and very possible. Especially in an era when we were regularly blasting off into space and aiming for the moon. When Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) seemed a realistic prediction of where we would be in 35 years time. When we were living in an era when anything seemed possible – and our leaders encouraged us to believe. I only saw snippets of the complete EPCOT film as a child. You can watch the whole thing HERE. Walt hoped to break ground in 1967 and open the doors in 1969.
But then right before Christmas 1966, only a few weeks after he shared his dream, Walt Disney unexpectedly succumbed to lung cancer. The world went into mourning. His passing is one of the earliest bad memories that I have. I can still remember the shock. But I have never forgotten about EPCOT.
If I could choose to live anywhere in space and time, I would live in Walt Disney’s EPCOT. Work at home in one of those futuristic 1960s houses that still look cool. Take a walk or ride a bike in the neighborhood park.
Then take the People Mover into the internationally themed downtown. Maybe shop and have dinner. Thrill in the new advances whether they be at home, at work, or on the go.
Hop on the monorail and ride up to the Magic Kingdom park.
The Disney organization did build the Magic Kingdom but they never got around to building EPCOT. They did build something call Epcot on the very site Walt selected but that is where the similarity ends. Walt's EPCOT model became an unidentified display on the Disney World People Mover ride in Tomorrowland (see left).
And it has always seemed to me that that moment when Walt died and we all collectively turned away from EPCOT was a turning point in our expectations for the future. Over the next few years, we went to the moon then succumbed to the naysayers who wondered why we were wasting our money on space (as if the money has been better spent since here on earth).
The future stopped being about creating a “great big beautiful tomorrow” (the theme song of Disney’s “Carousel of Progress” ride) where life was always getting better and moving forward. It became instead more about the dark cynical dystopias of endless movies like SOYLENT GREEN (1973) and BLADE RUNNER (1982). “Making a change” got replaced by “nothing will ever change so why even try?”
Most of my adult life I have been listening to people telling me that the future will be worse than the past. And yet I have also lived long enough to know that you will have the future you dream. If you think it is going to suck, it will suck. If you think that anything is possible, it will be. That is true about both people and societies.
Which is why I am so excited about TOMORROWLAND (I suspect Brad Bird is an EPCOTer too!). Because it seems to me that what we need as a society is a capacity to believe again. To think we can make a change. That nothing is impossible. To believe again what we used to take for granted in our collective memory.
Which is why I choose to still believe in the possible. I cannot live in the real EPCOT but I try to live there every day in my mind. I prefer to believe in a “great big beautiful tomorrow.” Which is why I continue to say with great pride:
Ich bin ein EPCOTer -- I am an EPCOTer.
You can read more about EPCOT in these fabulous books:
Walt and the Promise of Progress City
By Sam Gennawey
Ayefour Publishing, 2011
Walt Disney and the Quest for Community
By Steve Mannheim
Ashgate Publishing, 2002
Read My 2008 EPCOT essay for Salem Press
I have been attending the Indianapolis 500 almost every year since 1977. It is THE sporting event in the world for me. The Super Bowl, World Series, and Olympics all rolled into one. It is the largest single day sporting event in the world. More people attend this event than anything else on planet Earth. How many? For the duration of the race, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway becomes the 24th largest city in the USA. It is the ultimate expression of humans testing their limits with the ultimate price of risk and reward on the table. To quote Ernest Hemingway: "There are only two sports in the world: auto racing and bullfighting. The rest are just games."
This weekend, the Indy 500 will run for the 99th time. Below are the five best finishes I have personally witnessed:
Emerson Fittipaldi led almost all day but got held up by lapped cars in the final ten laps. Al Unser Jr. managed to pass him with 5 laps to go. They then engaged in one of the tightest dogfights in Speedway history. It ended with wheel to wheel contact right in front of us in Turn 3 with a little over a lap to go. Unser went into the wall and Fittipaldi took the checkered flag.
Sam Hornish stalled his car on his final pit stop. His chances of winning seemed over but he still managed to run down rookie Marco Andretti in the closing laps. It seemed impossible but Hornish managed to draw even with Andretti coming down for the checkered flag. No matter how long the odds, never give up!
Nobody remembers that Danica Patrick almost won that day (for the 2nd time) but she had to make a pit stop while leading with ten laps to go. That gave the lead to rookie J.R. Hildebrand who just had to bring it home. Instead, he hit the wall on the last turn of the last lap and Dan Wheldon came through to claim his second 500 win driving for a team that had never won a race before. It was a fairy tale finish for everyone but Hildebrand.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves went wheel to wheel over the final 6 laps, trading the lead back and forth and back and forth. Hunter-Reay just managed to hold him off at the finish line. It is now the second closest finish in history.
Michael Andretti dominated the day only to have his car break with 11 laps to go. That set up a dogfight between Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear (Goodyear had started 33th and last in the field). For 10 laps Goodyear tried everything he could to get around. He almost did it at the line but came up just short in a near photo finish. It remains the closest finish to date. FYI, that day was also the coldest 500 in history: only 38 degrees. We weren’t feeling the cold over those final ten laps!
Can't wait for Sunday!
This is a repost from two years ago.
I don’t have a brother. I have two older sisters. But today is the birthday of my unofficial brother, my cousin Terry. I’m not sure why but when we were kids, Terry took me under his wing and made it a point of exposing me to all kinds of things regarding life and the movies.
On his bedroom walls he had a King Kong poster (see above) that used to scared me at night when the lights were off, a Humphrey Bogart poster from Casablanca, and a W.C. Fields poster (on the left) with the quote: “Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and we had to live on nothing but food and water for several days.”
When we visited his house, Terry used to grab me and sit me down and say things like, “You need to watch this movie.” “You need to read this book.” When he started acting in community theater, he took me along and I used to hang out doing minor things with the crew while they rehearsed. He exposed me to sophistication and bawdy humor, to classic movies and European cool. Terry single-handedly turned me on to:
Acquire (board game)
Around the World In 80 Days
Clue (board game)
Cruising with the top down
Drive In Movies
Edgar Allan Poe
Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers
Going to the Beach
Grand Prix racing
Herbie Goes Bananas
I Love Lucy
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Laurel & Hardy
Masterpiece (board game)
Mille Bornes (card game)
Mr. President (board game)
My Fair Lady
1776 (the movie, not the year)
Sunset Blvd (the street, not the movie)
The Addams Family
The Adventures of Superman
The Bozo Show
The Bride of Frankenstein
The Dick Van Dyke Show
The Great Escape
The Guns of Navarone
The Maltese Falcon
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The Marx Brothers
The Mickey Mouse Club
The Wild Wild West
War and Peace (the Russian movie)
World War II
You Bet Your Life
I am sure I am missing a few but you get the idea.
I remember seeing him play a perfect Charlie Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. He made a funny Barnaby in The Matchmaker. He wrote the funniest spec screenplay I’ve ever read, Joseph the Carpenter.
Because he wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be a writer.
I would definitely not be the man I am today if not for him. And my life would be a lot sadder if I’d never been exposed to the things he shared. So thank you, Terry.
And Happy Birthday, cousin!
PS. While out in California last December visiting my gravely ill father, Terry put me up at his apartment, shared lots of TV and conversation at impossibly late hours, and exposed me to yet another film I had not yet seen: THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964) starring the late great James Garner & Julie Andrews and written by the brilliant Paddy Chayesfsky. See? He is still exposing me to new things.
By the early 1970s, my family had moved to Weirton, West Virginia. Dad was now Assistant Superintendent of Hancock County Schools. His office was located in the school system’s downtown warehouse. First floor had textbooks and supplies for all the grades for all the schools piled onto large pallets. The second floor contained district offices: personnel and data processing and financial. Dad’s office was in the back. His windows afforded a "breathtaking" view of the alley in back.
After dinner, I was still going to work with him. Sometimes, my sister Pam would come along. Often times, not. The Chevy Impala was long gone, replaced by a green four-door 1969 Pontiac Catalina sedan. Dad always parked at the loading dock in back and we entered through the back door. Since the place was dark, I stayed close to Dad as he walked around and turned on just the necessary amount of lights. Then he turned me loose to do what I wanted.
Many times, I would head straight down to the first floor. I was in elementary school by then and, being a first class nerd, I loved the fact that I could read through the textbooks for the grades ahead of mine. They were all piled up in a row so I just had to grab one, curl up in a corner, and start reading. Often, after a couple visits, I had read a whole year or two ahead. I remember Mom going to a parent teacher conference where my third grade teacher, Mrs. Obrysko, complained that I seemed bored and disinterested in the lessons. How could I tell her that I was disinterested because I had read these same books a year ago down at the warehouse?
When I wasn’t reading, I was checking out the cool machines in the offices. The personnel office had something called a Xerox copy machine. It was great for making copies of your hands and your face. Contrary to popular belief, it never occurred to me to make a copy of my butt.
The data processing office had an IBM punch card machine. That was a blast! I just loaded a dozen IBM punch cards into the machine and then typed whatever I wanted onto the card. I loved hitting the buttons and watching the machine do its thing. It was how I first learned to type. And I got to take the cards home with me at the end of the day!
When our Hagerty cousins Terry and Kim came to visit, they would join my sisters and I going with Dad to the warehouse. One of the TV shows all of us loved to watch then was the spy show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (and its spin-off THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E.). Like all 1960s spy shows, it was a James Bond rip off but still done with a lot of class. The title of each episode always ended with the word "affair": "The Vulcan Affair" or "The Mad Mad Mad Tea Party Affair." My sisters and cousins would take turns being the secret agents on the show: Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum – now playing Mallard on "NCIS"), April Dancer (Stefanie Powers), and Mark Slate (Noel Harrison).
Unfortunately, I was five years younger than the rest of them and often viewed as the little kid they were forced to take along by their parents. On the night of our most memorable visit to the warehouse, they decided that I would play the role of U.N.C.L.E. chief Mr. Waverly (Leo G. Carroll). You know, the character who gave the agents their mission then waited for them to report back at the end of the show? It seemed like a promotion. I mean, after all, I was nine years old and now the head guy with an imaginary secretary!
Well, they got their mission and off they went. And I sat in my dad’s office (he was working downstairs in the computer room) and waited for my agents to return. And I waited. And I waited. And I waited. And waited. Nothing. And it finally dawned on me after a hour or so that my “promotion” was really just a way to cut me out of the action! Well, forget that!
I headed out of the office and went searching around the building for them. I found them hiding out in offices on the other side of the building. They immediately wanted to know what I was doing there threatening to ruin their stakeout. Not missing a beat, I replied that I had received no communications from them since they left so I had set out into the field to get an update. Now that I had found them, it was too dangerous to go back so I was staying with the team.
We ended up “chasing” enemy agents down to the main floor. A real life Weirton cop patrolling out on the sidewalk strolled by and we shadowed him, leaping from box to box and hiding from his view when he turned to look. I don’t think we would try that today!
But the moment that has lived in all our memories came when the pretend evil T.H.R.U.S.H. agents (U.N.C.L.E.’S nemesis) loaded us onto an actual conveyor belt running down into the basement. It was not turned on but once the collective weight of all five of us (between the ages of 16 and 9) were on the belt, it began turning on its own and the next thing we knew, we were all heading down into the dark dark basement. You’ve never seen five kids leap off a turning conveyor belt faster in your life!
When it was time to go, as usual, Dad would walk through the building yelling our names. That night, we were all a little shaken (not stirred) and more than happy to yell “U.N.C.L.E.” and head back home. It had proven to be the most “dangerous” mission of our pretend spy careers. Take that, ARGO!
I don’t have a lot of memories of kindergarten. I know I attended the morning session at Harrington Elementary School in Jackson, Michigan and my teacher was Miss Seward. The few things I remember about that year (1967-1968):
1) I had to ride the bus to school and back. I was fascinated by the bus’s manual stick shift and the way our female bus driver operated it. I made sure to sit on the aisle every morning so I could watch and I soon memorized the way she moved from first to second to third to fourth and the sound each gear made. When I rode in the family car, I pretended it was a stick and made the appropriate sounds when my parents drove.
2) We actually had nap time as part of the daily routine. Each student brought a rug from home and we rolled it up in our own cubbyhole. When nap time arrived, we took out our rugs, rolled them out on the floor, and lay down. Our teacher turned out the lights and we lay there till it was time to go. I kid you not!
3) My mother had to come in for a parent teacher conference because Miss Seward was concerned that I was not playing well with others. In fact, I wasn’t playing with anyone. When playtime came, I preferred to grab the toys that I liked (usually animals from Africa) and play alone in the corner. It wasn’t that I was anti-social. It was just that my classmates didn’t know how to play. They just wanted to run around and knock stuff over. They didn’t give a whit about story and characters. Yes, I kid you not: even then I had to have a storyline when I played.
4) I remember a field trip to a nearby farm where a baby horse had just been born. The local newspaper ran an article on it. I clipped it out and kept that article for years. For all I know, I might still have it buried in my archives somewhere.
5) As I wrote in a previous blog, one of my classmates died in a car crash that year, an event that has hung with me ever since and colored my view of the world. You can read about that HERE.
But the thing I most remember about kindergarten was receiving MY WEEKLY READER “SURPRISE!” starring Zip & Nip and pouring over its pages. Each week, the cover showed these two furry friends (one dog & one cat) engaged in some activity that looked so darn fun. I didn’t save every issue but I saved the ones I liked.
The April 10, 1968 issue had them painting Easter eggs under the Easter Bunny’s watchful eyes. According to the teacher guide at the bottom, the purpose is “to help children speak in sentences and relate a picture story to their own experiences.”
Inside, I learned what traffic signs meant. A special section chronicled life in Alaska. The science page portrayed mountains.
On the back was Zip’s Puzzle Page where we learned to identify letters of the alphabet.
The May 10 cover had Zip and Nip enjoying Spring and discovering a family of skunks.
The lesson is to “help children use gestures and exclamations in storytelling and to dramatize stories.”
Inside, we learned about being kind to animals and about plants.
Zip's Puzzle on the back helped us tell the difference between letters.
The May 15 issue was about Summer. Zip and Nip were shown camping with their family. The lesson was to "help children anticipate and tell about future fun, and to illustrate their ideas."
Inside, we learned about how Summer was about vacation and discovering new things.
Zip’s Puzzle taught us how to sound out words.
On the back, it says “Happy Summer! This is the last issue of WEEKLY READER for this school year. See you in September.”
Because none of us kindergarteners knew how to read yet (learning to read happened in 1st grade then), the stories were all told through pictures. Only now do I realize that this was the beginning of my learning visual storytelling, about how to communicate with others, and to share what was inside my head with the world. That dog and that cat opened up the world to me and made me see that it was a big beautiful and fascinating place. And they made me want to see it all!
Years later, when I was in elementary school, I used to gather all my stuffed animals together in my room and pretend I was teaching them. And our lesson always consisted of these yellowed issues of THE WEEKLY READER that I still hold in my hand. I had no idea I would end up as a teacher. There might even be a bit of Zip and Nip in my real life teaching today.
Do you have memories of THE WEEKLY READER and Zip & Nip?
My father was a workaholic. Most school days he was out the door before I came down for breakfast. He would return home in the late afternoon right before dinner then often go right back to work while we cleared the dishes. Saturday mornings, he would go back to the office. He claimed he got more done on Saturdays because “nobody was there to bug him.” So, in short, I learned early that if I wanted to spend time with my dad, I had to go to work with him. It quickly became our most common father son activity in my childhood years.
My earliest memory of doing this was when I was 2 or 3 and living in West Lafayette, Indiana. Dad worked at the time as the business manager for Bill DeFouw Chevrolet while earning his Master’s degree at Purdue University.
After dinner, he and I would get into his two door purple 1965 Chevrolet Impala provided by the dealer. It had bucket seats in the front. Even though it was the “dangerous” 1960s, my father refused to let me ride in the front seat. Instead, I stood on the hump in the back seat with my arms resting on the two front seats. I loved it! It allowed me to peer over the dashboard and see the world coming at us. This lasted until the day the entire family was out for a ride. Dad slammed on the brakes and I went flying forward between the seats. Only my mother’s adroit arms saved me from flying into the gearshift. I wasn’t allowed to stand on the hump after that.
Once Dad and I arrived at DeFouw”s, he would disappear into his office in the back. And three year old me would have the run of the place. Specifically, I could run around the showroom floor, crawl into any car I liked, and sit there pretending to drive. I remember enjoying the imaginary handling of the Chevy Corvair and feeling pretty darn special behind the wheel of the Chevy Chevelle.
But, by far, my favorite car of choice was the red 1965 Corvette Sting Ray. Even sitting still it looked fast. No keys in the ignition (this was prior to the introduction of the steering column lock) but I could still operate the gearshift and put it into gear. Don’t worry, it didn’t go anywhere. Even though it was an automatic, I liked to pretend it was a stick. With my hands on the wheel I would saw my arms back and forth and imagine tearing down a fast highway out west like Elvis Presley in VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964). I did not pretend that ultra-sexy Ann-Margret was sitting on the bucket seat beside me. For now, my three year old self was content to just be behind the wheel of a fast car. The fast women would come MUCH later.
Amazingly in that pre-video game, pre-cell phone, pre-computer era, hours would pass in blissful imagination. When Dad was done, he walked out of his office and yelled, “Rich, let’s go home.” And I would crawl out of whatever car I was in and home we would go.
Dad said he would chuckle the next day at work when the maintenance workers would be washing down the car seats in the showroom and wondering how all those child-sized footprints got onto the seats.