Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Thank the Lord, these school supplies are make-believe

I haven’t bought glue and pencils in more than 20 years.

I remember as a child looking forward to school supply shopping. I didn’t care for school all that much, but something about that aisle of paper and folders was so hopeful. The year was beginning, we were starting anew. Things had a chance to be different. We were advancing - and were one year closer to graduation. Hallelujah.

Not to mention, the aspect of shopping for brand-new things. My chosen vocation requires me to replenish pens and paper somewhat frequently and I admit to being one of those people that gets a little heady looking at 20 different varieties of post-it notes and stationery. Yes, my name is Jennifer, and I’m an office supplies geek.

Last week, however, my trip to the school supplies aisle was all business. Tasked with pricing the supplies to send the average kindergardener to school starting Friday, I hit my nearest retailer with a shopping list purloined from one of the elementary schools, and a deadline. I needed to get home - my neighbor was making dinner and I offered to get a couple of the ingredients while I was out.

I’d like to say shopping for pencils, glue sticks and washable markers, the stuff of kindergarten life, brought back memories. It did not. It did raise a few questions. One: what does a kindergardener need with a highlighter? I didn’t use those until at least junior high; a neon, NON-washable marker in the hands of a 5- or 6-year-old just seems dangerous. My neighbor, who is raising a toddler of her very own, agreed with me.

But everything else on the list made sense, even the teacher’s “wish list” consisting of Ziplock bags, Kleenex and the omni-present hand sanitizer. This particular teacher requested three 12-oz. bottles to get the year started; swine flu be damned in this classroom.

The whole list, required items and wish list stuff, came to around $30. Not bad, but I couldn’t help but be glad I wasn’t actually buying the stuff.

Thirty dollars for the basics is doable, but I don’t have to tell those who are parents, there’s many, many more expenses. For instance, I’ve yet to put a stitch of clothing on this imaginary child and a book bag wasn’t on the list. Sticking to the “basic” items alone, I’ll be sending this child off to school naked, with pencils, markers and hand sanitizer balanced in his arms. Someone should call social services.

Obviously, I wouldn’t do that, even to my imaginary kid. But it makes me glad I don’t have children. Children are expensive, between the supplies, the clothes, the shoes and the other “must-have” items of the season. While the teacher’s “wish list” probably shrinks, the child’s gets longer as they get older and discover things like, God forbid, Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. Surely that child will be blackballed from kickball and traumatized for life without the correct pop culture reference on his or her T-shirt and back pack. What’s a college fund? I’ll just start socking cash away for future psychiatric treatment.

Yeah, I think I’ll stick to dogs for the foreseeable future. They’re just easier. When my mother came to visit, she accused me of “spoiling” my dog. I told her, “This is his life. He’s not going to have to get up one day and go to ‘dog work.’ “

I won’t ever have to send him to school, either, and thank God for that.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I'm a sucker for a daddy's girl

With three simple yet wrenching sentences, Paris Katherine Jackson broke my heart. 

No matter how you felt about her dad, Michael – as a man, as a performer, what he did or didn’t do or even how he acquired his children – Paris, at 11, brought it all home. At the end of the day, there are three children in the world who lost their dad. 

From one Daddy’s girl to another, I can relate. I was 25, not 11, but it was sudden and devastating and still was too soon. And my dad was not the King of Pop, but I’ll be dammed if he wasn’t the King in our family. He was the best father you could ever have.

Conversing on facebook after the service, I said that years from now, Paris will be proud of herself for getting up and taking part in her dad’s memorial celebration. I wrote and delivered my dad’s eulogy. As a writer, I read it now and there’s dozens of changes I’d make, so much more I want to say. But like Paris, my grief was still raw. It was what was on my mind at the time. Standing up next to Dad’s casket, in front of a much smaller gathering of people on a cold winter day and memorializing him remains one of my proudest moments. 

We were in a unique situation with my dad, who wasn’t exactly a church-going man. We wound up using the preacher on call at the time of his death in the hospital. As horrifying a prospect as that was, it went about as good as one could hope. It was obvious, just in the short time the preacher had spent with my mom and dad before his emergency surgery for an aneurysm, he “got” my parents. 

But no one knew him like his family. And I wanted people to know. Dad didn’t rate a celebrity funeral or massive news coverage of his death, but he was well known in our small hometown community. Other than a stint in the Air Force and his college years, he’d never lived anywhere else. I waffled between wanting to call the newspaper to shout his accomplishments to the rooftops, and knowing that, even as a reporter myself, if someone called I was likely to tell them to bugger off and let us be alone in our grief.

Dad was a private person. But I wanted people to know what a great Dad, and a great man, he was. So I wrote his eulogy. It started with his words, actually, a short story I found he’d written about when the cat died, about how we’d been a tight family unit and that was our first loss. He wondered when it would happen again. 

I wrote about how after I’d moved to North Carolina, Dad called me daily, literally you could set your watch by it. About how, when I got home to deal with the funeral and arrangements, I kept waiting to hear his key in the door, his feet on the steps. Something. Anything. 

I don’t know if Paris had planned or thought about what she’d say today, at the end of her dad’s more than two hour service. But something in her, after sitting like a trooper through all the tributes and accolades and celebrations, wanted people to know that the man they all were saying good-bye to was her dad. 

It was hell for me to do what I did at 25. I can’t even begin to imagine it at 11. But I hope she’s proud of herself for representing her family. I know I still am. 

Monday, June 29, 2009

"Wildlife" on the farm

I’ve had some interesting experiences in my years as a reporter. Aside from the big stories - hurricanes, a presidential debate and various investigations - some things have been just plain weird.

In North Carolina, when a strip club opened up in the “extra-territorial jurisdiction,” meaning neither the city or county knew just what to do about zoning, the community went crazy and I told their stories. That led to a call from one of the female employees of the establishment, who chose to give me the what-for. It was one of those moments where you hang up and say to yourself, “I went to college for this?”

When I was still an intern in Illinois, I raced halfway across the state to a courthouse bombing and wound up running to the scene - which I do not recommend - so I could get there in time for a press conference. I made it.

Every job has had its moments, but the bear in Hogansville on June 18, not to mention the hours-long standoff and waves of spectators, ranked right up there.

A bear sighting in a mill village is unusual, but I guess to me it didn’t seem like the kind of event that should attract crowds. We live in Georgia. Bears live in Georgia. It makes sense then, that every so often, the two shall pass.

Maybe the “wildlife” I was exposed to as a child in Illinois desensitized me to bears. At our little house in the country, we had our fair share of animal visitors. Most numerous were field mice - we were surrounded by fields, after all, and our cat Sherman was scared of mice. Bless his heart.

There was the bat that took up residence on our porch for a number of days. I remember getting only one good look at it - all I knew about bats was that they shouldn’t be out in the daytime and the sight of that rat with wings scared me, I’ll be the first to admit.

Of course we had deer, birds, coyotes and rabbits - I now have the cast iron “Bunny Crossing” sign my dad had planted in the front yard.

But the most famous animal story in Shrader family lore wasn’t a wild animal at all. It was a farm animal from across the street.

Not only was our house surrounded by corn and bean fields, even though we didn’t farm, to the northwest of our house was a hog confinement operation. Yes, the smell is unmistakeable. Once I moved away for good after college, the only time I came home was during the winter, when the odor is tamped down some. The exception was the last trip I made to the old house for Mom’s auction in August 2005. It was hot. It was humid. The neighbors were on the lawn checking out the merchandise and the stink was in the air.

I turned to my best friend from high school and said, “Did it always smell like this?”

“Yes,” he laughed. He has a farm now, himself.

Maybe the smell disturbed me because it brought back memories of our “visitor” from the hog farm. I don’t remember how old I was, except I should say now that I was very young and I don’t react this way to farm animals as an adult. My parents had put an addition on to our antique shop (an attached garage on to the attached garage) and we were moving items from one side to the other.

With an armload of (thankfully not breakable) antiques, I came around the corner and smelled … that smell. As I kept walking, there was a giant sow standing in the doorway of our new garage. I did what any young child would do: dropped whatever was in my arms, ran into the other room, climbed up on a workbench and yelled, “PIG!!”

A pig in an antique shop is akin to a bull in a china shop, so dad hustled into the addition and slammed the garage door down on the sow before she made her way inside. Then he got on the phone to ask the neighbors to come and get their, uhh, investment.

We thought the situation would be resolved quickly. We were wrong. It was several hours before our neighbor called one of his hired hands, from more than 20 miles away, to lead the sow back across the road with a bucket of slop.

In the meantime, we were held hostage in our house as she had her way in our yard and left her indelible mark on our front windows, which wound up staying there for quite some time. Mom did not “do windows.”

Dad, who was a fairly decent shot, was angry with the sow and the neighbor and it’s lucky one never got loose after that day. It wouldn’t have ended well for the pig.

“If it happens again,” Dad said, “We’re going to be eating ham all winter.”

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hobie has a playdate!

It wasn't planned. When I took Hobie out Saturday afternoon, the little schnauzer from down the street – who is quite enamored with Hobie – was out. Her name is Zoey and she lives a couple houses down from me. We've met before, can you tell?

I allowed Zoey and Hobie to greet each other, then picked her up to return her to her house. Ironic that she lets me pick her up, since the only time I've ever been bit by a dog, it was a schnauzer (yes, Frankie, I haven't forgotten). Anyway, I took her to her house and no one was home.

Well, what to do now?

This is a very well cared for dog, she's always groomed and her behavior is great. She would not last long on the "mean streets" of LaGrange; she'd either get run over or someone would "adopt" her and take her home.

Which is exactly what I wound up doing. I would have left a note, but I don't really carry note-leaving materials with me when Hobie and I are out for his constitutional. 

I was very proud of Hobie, who can be ... possessive, shall we say? He didn't seem to mind her (too much) and they played well together. I gave them each a treat and wished I had a baby gate to "corral" them in one part of the house. Hobie marked his territory the first time I brought him home, I'm glad Zoey didn't do the same thing. 

Pretty soon I started to worry how long Hobie would stay tolerant of a visitor and frankly, I wanted a nap. I scooped up Zoey and took her back outside, looking for her owners, a spare key, a neighbor with a pen, anything. 

Nothing. But, I was standing on the sidewalk with Zoey in my arms when her owners drove down the street, they'd been out looking for her. They were happy to see us both.

I let them know since she's so enamored with Hobie that if she got out again, I'd grab her and they should check with me first!