Shhhhhh…

Listen, do you hear it? The proverbial pin drop that always describes ‘absolute quiet’?

Close your eyes and sniff! Do you smell it, the familiar scent of a room full of books?

It’s the library!

The branch library on Main Street had a special attraction for me, in my hometown of Worcester. If I close my eyes and conjure up that time in my life, I can easily picture it. And, yes, smell it, too!

From the large storefront windows that displayed books, to the sprawling checkout counter, I can see myself there now, kneeling on the carpeted floor, head angled forty-five degrees to the right, reading book spines in the hunt for exciting titles, in the ‘young readers’ section.

The bespectacled librarian, with her laser-like stare that could burn a hole right through you, and a well developed ‘Shhhhhhhh’ that blew through the room like a nor’easter, kept the library orderly and mum. She’s gone, of course, and I doubt the library is still there, more likely a nail salon now, with last year’s magazines. They’re everywhere, salons that is.

The Battle of Britain, Custer’s Last Stand, Ghengis Kahn and The Mongol Horde, as well as other Landmark titles were among my favorite books. I’d walk home with more than I could read in the allotted check-out time. Nevertheless, it was easy to pick one, settle down and get lost in adventure after adventure. Books can do that.

Sure, I have a Kindle and other electronic devices to download stories. And, yes, I can get books on tape, but there’s something special about patronizing a library. You’re among other readers for some quiet socializing, you’re moving for exercise and looking so sophisticated when walking about with your L.L.Bean ‘save the earth’ recyclable tote.

Of course, as a preteen, the library was a place to rendezvous with that ‘special love of your life’ where it was actually okay to say sweet nothings to each other, as long as they were whispered. You got to practice being a gentleman by carrying your love’s books home.

Reading was such a pleasure at that age but changes were about to happen. I hit middle school, then high school and reading books became a requirement for book reports, sometimes orally. The stress caused by a ‘requirement’ put the brakes on reading for pleasure. Landmark became ‘badmarks’ because once reading was required, I lost interest.

Fortunately, as an adult, I recaptured the pleasure of reading. My favorite genre is historical fiction and biographies. My town has a beautiful public library of its own where they have a great selection to satisfy anyone’s reading taste.

Do you enjoy reading? What is your favorite material to read and is there a book that stands out as your most enjoyable ever?

Mark Twain is credited with the following:

A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.’

My books are like trophies, they collect dust, but take me wherever I want to go and I proudly display them.

To Jennie and book lovers everywhere, and to Sheila and all librarians who have mastered the ‘Shhhhhh’…

Steve (srbottch.com)

January 2020

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: The ‘One Minute Teacher’

If you had one minute a day to spend with kids, what would you do with it, the one minute?

It’s not much time to make a positive impact, is it? Or, is it? Certainly, you’d start with some ‘greetings and salutations’*. That’s a positive. But what would you do with the other fifty-five seconds, or so?

Would you draw attention to the dawning of a new day with all its trimmings: a late full December moon hiding behind tall pines; the ‘morning star’, planet Venus, sparkling like a diamond until it surrenders to daylight; birds signaling réveille with chirping and tweeting? There is much to enjoy and learn by looking and listening, and we do that at the ‘Curbside Classroom’, even for just a minute

Maybe you’d tell them about a day in history, or a famous person? Try the remarkable story of Teddy Roosevelt’s brush with a would-be assassin in 1912. We did. Kids were amazed. Could you pique their interest in science with a story about a scientist? Or technology, if you talked about inventions?

Would you feel confident enough, yourself, to sing to teenagers about the beautiful morning, and mention Oklahoma and Broadway in the same breath? How about telling a joke? A brain teaser? Something to get them thinking and wondering.

A minute a day isn’t much time to discuss homonyms, homographs and homophones. But you’d try, wouldn’t you, because you have a snippet of time to do it. And one, or two, or ten youngsters are expecting something from you because you have KLOT, ‘knowledge learned over time’, and a lifetime of wisdom to share.

Could you make them laugh before the minute passes? Imagine the challenge and the fun that you could have with just one minute a day with a pack of kids.

As a school crossing guard, I have that one minute every day while we wait for the signal light that stops traffic before crossing, a pied piper, of sorts, in bright yellow with a precious minute to share something positive.

We cover a lot. The kids listen and respond. Affable would be a good adjective to describe them. Oh, yes, we mention adjectives and adverbs, synonyms and antonyms.

We unabashedly take a poll on who can whistle, and then we whistle. Braces can impede whistling, we learn. But they don’t impede smiling.

A minute is not much time but over time, it adds up and at the end of a school year, the kids have had a positive experience at the ‘Curbside Classroom’. You can do a lot with a minute!

But you start by learning their names!

Steve. (srbottch.com)

January 2020

ps. tomorrow’s topic, ‘take’ vs ‘bring’

*Charlotte’s Web (E.B.White)

All my stories, including more ‘Crossing Guard Chronicles’ are available on my blog site, ‘S’amusing’ on WordPress.com

Today, I Smell Gingerbread, A Holiday Story

The following story is one of my personal favorites. I originally wrote it a few years ago and reblog it now for your reading (and sensory) pleasure…

It’s not just the calendar that puts celebrators in the Christmas and Hannuka spirit. It’s a host of sights and sounds that makes these holidays special: the change to wintry weather; the hustle n’ bustle of gift shoppers; colorful decorations and lights illuminating neighborhoods, windows and shops; the gaiety of passersby offering holiday wishes; quiet moments spent in reflection and prayer. All help create a festive mood.

One of my favorites is the aroma of freshly baked desserts and treats filling our home and signaling the start of this special season. Yesterday, it was almond crescent cookies. The day before, I sniffed roasted walnuts and candied bark, white chocolate with craisins. Tomorrow will bring something new that tickles my senses and rewards my taste buds. But, today, I smell gingerbread.

What a pleasure to be awakened on a brisk winter morning with the smell of ‘just from the oven’ cranberry bread or molasses cookies wafting down the hall and finding me stubbornly stirring beneath the cover of a cozy quilt. My wife, an early riser, is eagerly preparing delicate desserts to be shared with friends and enjoyed with our meals. Yes, I know, I’m spoiled.

Later, the chilly air on a new December day welcomes those escaping kitchen aromas that intoxicate me with spices and sugars, as I finish some outside chores. My work can wait, I decide, and hurriedly make my way inside for some hot coffee and a sampling of today’s treats. Ahhh, I smell gingerbread.

These holidays have a ‘baking season’ like no other, where the kitchen is the arena and the clashing of the cookie sheets, muffin tins, bread pans and mixing bowls tells us that it’s ‘game on’, while the cook builds up to the highly anticipated call, ‘Bon Appetit’. It’s a race to blend, stir, beat and mix ahead of the beginning of the Hannukah and Christmas Day deadlines. The desserts and special dinners seemingly roll out of the kitchen and onto the dining table in a tsunami of meats and greens, biscuits and breads, truffles and spritz.

When the calendar turns to January, the cooking slows, the menus change, and the emphasis is on dietary needs to help our bodies recover and prepare for spring. Is that possible? Yet, through the dark, cold winter months, I still yearn for the smell of gingerbread.

Spring rains roll into summer heat, and a warm kitchen loses its appeal. Quite unnoticed, the oven begins a period of involuntary hibernation. Delicacies are not a priority and a cold beer on a hot day will suffice. But nature is a wonderful thing. In a matter of time, the baking season will return in all its glory, and, once more, I will savor the smell of gingerbread in our home…

srbottch (11/23/2015)

Dedicated to my wife, who keeps our shelves filled with wonderful desserts during the Christmas holiday, and to cooks in their kitchens, everywhere.

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: A Solemn Week

On Thanksgiving eve, our town mourned the passing of two residents, a nanny and her 9 year old ward, a student in the local elementary school. In a horrific auto/pedestrian accident, the lives of three families were changed, forever.

As often happens following a tragedy, towns people came together to mourn the losses. Some gathered in houses of worship, neighbors lined their streets with candles, and others likely took a moment in personal prayer and reflection in a demonstration of collective grieving.

Counselors were available in the school to comfort and support young children dealing with the challenge of reconciling the sudden loss of a friend.

A simple wooden cross was erected along the roadside, site of the tragedy, to serve as a solemn place for people to share their grief by leaving flowers and tokens of remembrance for the deceased.

The local school district coordinated with town police to post a crossing guard at the memorial sight, to assure the safety of children who might be want to cross the busy street and visit the memorial. As one of the town’s school crossing guards, I was assigned to this post.

This would be a different duty, very different.

With quiet respect, I stood stationary at the spot, my bright yellow uniform jacket drawing attention of passers-by to the memorial, by now flush with a potpourri of colorful flowers and trinkets laying against a dusting of fresh snow. Vehicles slowed, some waved, but many stared, mournfully and solemnly.

The near total absence of foot traffic gave me time to focus on the memorial, myself, offering a brief prayer for the deceased and their families. As the weekdays passed, I seemed to transition from a crossing guard to an honor guard.

A few neighbors stopped to express appreciation to the school district and police department for posting a crossing guard. By week’s end, there seemed to be a general sigh of relief on the faces of the same drivers who passed daily. People were beginning to accept what happened, as sad as it was.

Life moves on, doesn’t it?

An Eskimo Proverb

“Perhaps they are not stars,
but rather openings in heaven
where the love of our lost ones
pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they’re happy.”

Steve (srbottch.com)

December 2019

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: “Don’t You Mean ‘Ate’?”

The ‘Curbside Classroom’

Johnny Carson had Ed McMahon, Groucho Marks had George Fenneman. My ‘straight man’, here at the ‘curbside classroom’, was a middle schooler with a contagious laugh, perfect for the role.

Me, to a group of kids gathering at the crossing post: “Joe’s pizza is so good, I ‘et’ seven pieces!”

My ‘straight man’: “Don’t you mean ‘ate’?”

Me: “Hmmm, maybe it was ‘eight’ I ‘et’.” (drumroll, please)

Confused looks, then some smiles and an occasional, ‘oh, I get it’!

‘Get it’, or not, for me it was ‘mission accomplished’: a few smiles, some laughs, a language lesson and a feel good moment to start the school day.

The morning banter offers an opportunity for kids to communicate with an adult, me. For most, it’s easy, for some it’s awkward, and for a handful, it’s difficult. However, as days turn to weeks, weeks to months and the school year rolls along, a change is noticed, the awkward and the ‘difficult’ become less so and we become ‘comfortable’ with each other.

Early fall mornings have graced us with pristine skies and an opportunity for a new word at the ‘curbside classroom’, ‘contrails’. We watched planes zig-zag across the open spaces above and wondered aloud where they were going while marveling at the straight trailing lines behind each one, not exhaust, but vapor, these ‘contrails’.

It was a bit comical the following day to ask about another ‘trails’ word, ‘entrails’. And here, a couple of weeks later, the mention of either word caused upward glances for the former and disgusting looks for the latter.

Our ‘curbside classroom’ challenges me to find new material to share with these middle and high school students, careful in avoiding ‘overload’ yet satisfying appetites for those eager to hear something new, daily.

This week was the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and one girl accepted my challenge and memorized Lincoln’s epoch speech, overnight. No surprise, accepting challenges seems to be her forte. Another student brought this ‘curbside classroom’ lesson into school and reminded her social studies teacher of the speech. I think those efforts deserve an A for initiative.

More new words, more ‘days in history’, more questions about school activities, more, more and more. The ‘curbside classroom’ continues to be a bevy of conversation, fun and ‘wonder’! They wonder how I know so much. It comes down to three things, read, read, and read! If there’s a fourth, it’s life experience and there’s no shortage of that.

Today, November 22, was the 56th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy. We discussed the phrase, ‘it seems like yesterday’. Not too many ‘yesterdays’ for these kids, yet, but give them time…

Steve (srbottch.com)

November 2019)

Shout out to Audrey, Alice and Zoe

The Bar Chronicles: #26, ‘Old Dogs and Old Men’

Bar Night 2

In a bar on a hot summer night with three friends, presumably to ‘howl at the moon’, but we all knew better. Maybe years ago, but not now.

However, if we wanted to howl, it’s certain that we would have had good accompaniment. What is it about barroom dogs that they are always friendly, generally calm, and usually asleep, stretched out paw to paw, tail to nose, pressed hard on the beer stained hardwood? Our clinking glasses alerted them enough to stand and exchange pleasantries, sloppy maybe, but sincere.

Caverly’s Irish Pub, our usual spot, was relatively quiet. A baseball broadcaster was droning on about ERAs, RBIs and OBPs on the oversize flat screen TV in the corner, no one seemed interested.

I didn’t have to cup both ears to capture tonight’s conversation. Good thing, because tonight, our 26th Bar Night, we gravitated to a subject that was both riveting, spooky and mysterious. I know, that’s more than ‘both’, isn’t it? Drop spooky.

Are you a believer in ‘ETs’, extraterrestrials? A few years ago, you may have been mocked if you said ‘yes’. Today, not so much. Even the United States Navy has released documents that address sightings or engagements with, shall I say it, UFOs.

Governments are beginning to let the public in on their big secret, that something ‘may be watching us and we don’t know what it is’. Actually, we don’t know what it isn’t, either.

It’s becoming more mainstream to talk about ‘what’s out there’ without being considered ‘out there’. And this isn’t ‘Senior talk’, or four Seniors talk, as was the case tonight. And we were only halfway through our first beer (our first is our last, too).

Respected news outlets have written extensively about ETs and related incidents, the New York Times* and Popular Science**. There are clubs with respectable citizens and expert speakers meeting to talk about it. Really!

We finished our beers and stepped out to head home. What a brilliant sky, plenty of stars and other ‘stuff’, up there. It’s fun looking at the sky, but now it’s even more intriguing.

By the way, here’s a great phone app for sky viewing, ‘SkyView’. Hold it in any direction and see what’s in the sky at that moment. Here’s the view in the southeastern sky at 10:45 am, EST…Mercury, Venus and Mars, and Virgo, but no UFOs, darn…

Keep looking up…

Steve (August 2019 … ‘srbottch.com)

* Dec 8, 2017 ‘On the Trail of a Secret Pentagon U.F.O. Program’

** Fall Issue 2019 Popular Science on UFOs

For Robbie, a ‘big fan’ of ‘The Bar Chronicles’.

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: New School Year and The ‘Curbside Classroom’

I stood resolute at my post, the early morning calm about to be broken by the approaching din of young voices and squeaky bicycles, a familiar and welcoming sound. It’s the first day of the new school year in Brighton, New York.

I stood prepared, blue book in hand, to take names and review notes, notes to refresh my memory of ‘old faces’ and add new names for new faces. As a school crossing guard, these are ‘my kids’ for the next ten months, learning their names is important.

And the ‘Curbside Classroom’ is reopened for business.

“Pick a card! Point it in the direction according to its label: North, South, East or West!”

————————————–

That was the first day of school, a month ago, and I’m getting better with names, and the kids know we cross in an easterly direction.

It’s my job to see the kids make it safely across this section of busy roadway. A byproduct is to pick up a little knowledge along the way and start the day with a smile.

Students are familiar with my routine: expect questions, expect challenges, expect to learn something and expect to laugh. Remember, this spot along a busy roadway is a classroom, too, a ‘curbside classroom’.

In the month that has passed, we’ve discussed words and meanings (moot vs mute), the power of positive words (‘encouragement’…’some people have done more than they thought they could because others thought they could’…Zig Ziglar), setting lofty goals, like going to Mars (‘do you think we will land a person on Mars in your lifetime?’), and other sundry topics

A couple of boys have become teens since the first day, so we serenaded them with ‘Happy Birthday’. Remember being 13? There’s a gaggle of new middle school students whose confidence is growing. At the opposite pole are Seniors with pending decisions. Will it be college and the selection of a career path, or joining the workforce, maybe a military option? It’s nice to have plans but they’re still so very young.

Some things haven’t changed, though, since the end of the last school year, especially the smiles and the enthusiasm to learn or be challenged. So, pick a card and point it in the right direction. Directions are important, we need to know where we’re going in Life.

Together, we’ll go through the school year in heat, cold, rain and snow. We’ll cheer for ‘snow days’, high-five Fridays’, stress over exam days and continue to build strong foundations to support us when we finally ‘arrive at our destination’.

It all begins with a ‘good morning ‘ and a smile at our ‘Curbside Classroom’! Wish us well…

Steve (Oct 2019)

‘S’amusing’ blog at ‘srbottch.com’

Yes, You CAN Go Home, Again…

Reverend Higgins was his usual dry self as he delivered a solemn message to the Pilgrim Church congregation. I always found him a bit dull, but he had good intentions. After all, he was the parson.

I visited ‘the old neighborhood’ recently, and, surprisingly, it began with a Sunday morning service. My sister joined me, unexpectedly. Our father, who never attended service, encouraged us to attend church, made us go, actually.

We usually walked home together after service and today was no different. Like an earlier time, we were expecting mother had a traditional roast leg of lamb ready for Sunday dinner. Ohhh, the skin, always crunchy and tasty, but not so healthy, was a favorite part.

Lucky day, the aroma of cooked lamb guided us past the Boling sisters’ house and down the long blacktop driveway to the screened back door of our ‘three decker’ house. Our big yellow house stood out from others because dad maintained it well, scraping and painting wherever necessary, every summer. Three families lived here, the ‘landlord’ on one floor and renters on two and three. Dad was the ‘landlord’, the first floor was ours.

‘Three deckers’ were typical of New England and Hollywood Street was lined with them, like old ships cleated to the dock. Front porches and big backyards, long driveways and spinning clothes lines attached to the enclosed back porch, these houses were working class domiciles in every sense of the word.

A small market store anchored the our street to the corner. Fresh cold cuts and ground beef, ground on demand, were staples there. The red cooler, filled with ice cold water, always had a variety of tonics* bobbing for the taking. A quarter more than covered the cost. The proprietor was busy, so I’ll catch him next time…

While old neighbors were stirring about, it seemed odd that no one acknowledged me with anything more than eye contact. The Sullivans, a good Catholic family of six kids, a mother and grandmother, were coming home from church. The dad, would come later, from a bar, drunk as usual. Sad to see.

Next door, old man Gibson is going about his property, head down, probably still looking for evidence of last night’s disturbance when some kids threw firecrackers and it sounded like gunshots. A long string of crackers would do that.

There’s my father tending his small tomato garden alongside the neighbor’s fence. It’s Sunday evening, now, and he’s waiting for mother. They’re going bowling, something they enjoy together in their retiring years. I’d love to talk but don’t want to make them late. Next time, maybe…

I saw a lot more today than I could recall, I’m certain. They say we don’t remember all of our dreams. I realized that when I snapped awake in my bed this morning, hundreds of miles and many years removed from Hollywood Street and Worcester, Massachusetts.

It was an enjoyable ‘visit’ home, albeit short, but more nights and chances to dream await me. I’m excited about it. Maybe I’ll visit Beaver Brook Park where I saw the circus, played ball and went to summer day camp. I’ll do that the next time, maybe…

You know, I should call my sister…

Steve (August 2019)

srbottch.com

*a common New England word for soda, pop, etc.

The Bar Chronicles: #25, ‘How Fast Can Mosquitoes Fly?’

Bar Night 2

Mosquitoes! We talked about mosquitoes. Sober and provocative conversation has never been a priority at ‘Bar Night’. We’re just content to gather, wish each other well, have a cold beer, and talk about whatever! When we leave, we’re relaxed, a little smarter, happy and ready to sleep.

A warm July summer evening found us around a wobbly wooden table, by the screen door at Caverly’s Irish Pub. This was our 25th gathering and what began for two of us as a night to ‘howl at the moon’, two years ago, has become a relaxing evening of beer, brotherhood and BS for six of us, although only four tonight, a ‘quorum’.  We reached high to the center and touched our glasses in a toast, then began.

Sometimes, it’s a slow beginning. But we up the tempo a bit, find a topic, hash it around, then move on.

Books, underground cities, poetry, UFOs and the paranormal, Asian worms, ants, first jobs, wives (how we met them), and more, Aristotle, Fibonacci and recalling our favorite teacher. We’ve touched it all, but no politics. You might say that we’re an ‘eclectic’ group, but that would be presumptuous.

I’ve heard the same tale more than once with the same funny lines and same embellishment, nevertheless, we listen and drink. We’re Seniors, when telling and retelling is a right of passage.

As for Caverly’s, it’s become our favorite watering hole. Relatively quiet, if there’s such a thing for a bar, I like the intimacy. It’s small with old hardwood floors, old furniture and even old dogs. A perfect setting for old guys. I hope you visit it and are impressed with its wide assortment of beers and excellent prices.

House Dog

I had hoped to plan something more exciting than just picking up the guys, driving to the pub, ordering a round, talking and going home. However, we enjoy getting picked up, driving together, ordering a beer, talking and driving home. So, we kept the routine. Order and familiarity are comforting to Seniors.

As for the mosquitoes, well, it’s been a warm and buggy summer, lots of pesty insects and nasty bites. One of us* suggested a fan to repel them, after all, and here’s tonight’s takeaway, a mosquito’s top speed is ‘1 1/2 mph’.

Not too many can get excited about tonight’s adventure or this story, but I know a few who will…might.  Until next time, Happy 25th to my ‘Bar Night’ friends.

Steve (July 2019)

*reads The NY Times

My Father’s Overalls…

The more time I put between my youth and today, the more challenging it becomes to remember that youth and its many halcyon moments. But then something happens to jog my memory, filling it with vivid pictures from that time. People, places and events will flash through my mind with clarity and detail.

Summertime begets a beehive of activities in neighborhoods around town. The better weather invites folks outside to work on their grounds and homes, to beautify and repair. Recently, I saw a hired painter wearing the stock and trade white bib overalls of his profession, and I couldn’t help but recall my father, a painter himself, and how important his overalls were to him.

A businessperson wears a suit, a doctor dons scrubs, a teacher a tie, well, not as much nowadays. My father, a painter, wore bib overalls. He had several pair, and wore one proudly, every working day of his career, representing the company that bore his father’s name.

I remember him beginning the week on Monday mornings, on the job site in a clean, creased pair of the white bib overalls. Overalls are not worn as a fashion statement, mind you, they are utilitarian, functional, worn for a purpose, and comfortable. However, when my father put them on over a white, long sleeved button-down shirt, he presented a handsome, confident and professional figure.

Overalls, clean and creased? How? It was a process, a production. And it was a team effort, husband and wife. In the early days, she scrubbed them by hand over a scrub board, my sister recalls. Later, a washer with wringer and then a fully automatic washer. The smell of lye, the ‘secret’ ingredient added to the wash for whiter than white overalls, permeated the house on ‘overall wash days’.

Washing was followed by drying on an outside clothesline, even in winter. The crease was made by a taut wire frame inserted in each leg. When they dried, those overalls were almost too clean and ‘pressed’ to wear painting. but he wore them on every job.

A proper uniform, or suit, tells the world who you are and what you do. About a painter wearing anything less, he would scoff, sarcastically,

“Look at that guy! You want him painting your house?”

‘That guy’ would not work for my dad.

A former sales executive once mused to me,

“If you want to wear a sport coat, go work for someone else!” (Bob R)

Fortunately. I was wearing a suit that day. But the message is the same one my father would send by his own code: dress for success! And he did.

Do you?

Steve (July 2019)

srbottch.com

My sister and I enjoyed recalling the scenes around our household during our youth. ‘Overall’ wash day brought back wonderful memories of our parents on such an ‘important’ event. I hope you enjoy reading it and it tickles your own memory of good family affairs.