In Plain Engel-ish

My Canvass of Kansas

When my sister married and moved from Indianapolis to Los Angeles, Dad, Mom, and I drove out to visit the next summer. I was seventeen but had never been west of Chicago. I was really excited about this road trip. Crossing the Mississippi River was a big exclamation mark for me, as was Missouri with the Saint Louis Arch, which had just been completed the year before in 1965. More exclamation marks for the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, and Kansas City barbecue with its thick sweet sauce. The excitement petered out once we crossed into Kansas. We’d already driven...

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Why Fair Lady?

I was a good student, but that certainly did not mean I enjoyed tests. Of the four most common types in the 1960’s — true or false, multiple choice, fill In the blank, or essay — I was (surprise!) a specialist in the last of these, writing pages of blather, long on patter, short on matter. But in high school I discovered my crown jewel in the tiara of testing: the oral exam. I loved the oral exam because it was the only type of test that taught me more about being a future teacher than they did about how I performed...

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A Ribbon at a Time

A few years ago, I was cutting the lawn and saw something I didn’t recognize in the grass ahead of me. When I got down closer and discovered that it was a snake, I remember springing backward in surprise and fear.  Contrast that to the time on one of my speed-walks around the neighborhood that I tripped, fell forward, and did a header right onto the sidewalk. It happened so suddenly that I had no time to brace myself with my hands, which the physician’s assistant at Urgent Care assured me was why I didn’t break my wrists.  The previous...

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Naming Rights

In Ireland in 1880, there was a British landlord named Charles who rented to the tenant farmers who worked his land. The British would have called him “a nasty piece of work”; we Americans, always more direct, would have labeled him a jerk. There was a serious downturn in the Irish economy around that time, and the other landlords reduced their rent by twenty-five percent. But our odious Charles was having none of that. He not only refused to lower the rent, but he also began evicting his tenants. Of course, the remaining tenants could have gone on strike —...

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Pre-Email Pal

I remember as a kid how awful it was to sit in the waiting room of my pediatric dentist’s office, dreading my teeth cleaning or — oh, SO much worse! — a cavity filling. Dr. Howard tried to jolly the place up by having children’s magazines scattered about for his patients to glance through until being ushered into the Room Of Doom. Yeah, like I was going to be distracted by reading. But, actually, one time I was. He had a PEN PAL magazine on an end table, with listings of boys and girls all over the country who wanted...

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