Monthly Archives: October 2012

3rd hour, at Teton Middle School

On this, the second of four days subbing for a couple English teachers in Teton School District #401, I once again come face to face with how difficult this job really is.

Each class consists of such a wide range of students! Some are diligent, paying attention, following directions, engaged; others just couldn’t care less. At best, these other kids seem lost in another world; at the worst, they’re actively distracting their neighbor at the next desk.

Boys at age 12 and 13 are especially “touchy,” slugging one another and horsing around. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have brothers that this behavior bothers me more than it should as I stand in front of the room and seek to maintain some semblance of order.  Not that I’m unfamiliar with it — it just doesn’t form a big part of my own memories growing up.

Hmm. I must have been one of those who just ignored all that…

These seventh-graders seem so smart and grown-up in so many ways. In other ways, they are just so young, so undeveloped, so ripe to be influenced by a positive word or simple recognition.

I didn’t sleep well last night, for thinking about today’s classes (and yesterday’s as well).  I struck on the desire to read one of my favorite bits of writing of all time: three  paragraphs from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

I have been pleased that at least this seems to be reaching them. (If you don’t know the story, in 1995, Bauby suffered a stroke at a young age and composed his memoir by blinking the only part of his body, besides his brain, that worked — his left eye. )

The section of text that I love starts on page 83, with this simple sentence: “I receive remarkable letters.” It ends:  “I hoard all these letters like treasure. One day I hope to fasten them end to end in a half-mile streamer, to float in the wind like a banner raised to the glory of friendship. It will keep the vultures at bay.”

As one of the paras said, you could have heard a pin drop while I was reading. Full of strong sentence structure, clear images (a hushed and holy ceremony, roses picked at dusk, small gusts of happiness, the vultures, etc.), it’s exactly what the lesson plan covers. Written by such a vivid character, I’m hoping it will inspire at least of these students today as they try to compose their own “memoir stories.”

One thing’s for sure: Substitute-teaching keeps one humble.


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Filed under Around the Valley, Journeys...

On another mom’s death

I heard a couple days ago from Alice Barrett Clement that Norma Bell Morris, a true matriarch of Cheyenne and the mom of classmate Karen Morris Gowdy, had passed away.

Now Mrs. Morris was a beautiful, inspiring woman. A former Miss Frontier, she was the Gator Bowl Queen when the University of Wyoming played there in 1950, She was married to a real cowboy (the original “Marlboro Man,” as I recall) and their three daughters — Karen, Betsy, who is about Joan’s age, and the youngest one Marcy, always seemed more perfect than is possible.

Even when just in grade school, Karen was talented and oh-so-pretty, too.  When she (and many other friends) left St. Mary’s to attend McCormick Junior High, I felt abandoned, and we were never again as close.  But in high school, I watched with pride when she became America’s Junior Miss. I’ll never forget the way she sang “Let there be peace on earth” and accompanied herself, so confidently, on the guitar, on national TV. (This is the way I think of her — the photo of Karen is from her Junior Miss year, 1974.) 

The last time our paths crossed must have been one of the summers I worked for the contract acts committee at Cheyenne Frontier Days — maybe 1979? — when she and her oh-so-handsome husband (Curt Gowdy, Jr. — son of one of the most famous men to ever claim Wyoming as home) came out to broadcast the rodeo. We joked about pageanting (this was after my stint as Miss Wyoming) and she told me a bit about acting; her then-current spot was on the soap opera Ryan’s Hope, a role she’d play for about a decade.

Well, a lot of water has flown under the bridge since then (as my own mother might have said), but those vivid memories of the Morris family haven’t diminished over the years.

When I saw Norma’s obituary, I learned that she, too, like my mom and so many parents of friends, suffered at the end from Alzheimer’s. We know firsthand how difficult a struggle this poses for loved ones.

I sincerely hope the Morris family will find, like we have, that when that challenge is finally over, the good memories far outweigh (and ultimately crowd out) the less-than-ideal.  My sympathies are with them all as they endure this difficult time.

The message I already wrote on the funeral home memories page seems paltry. As a firm believer in the power of the snail-mailed note (and the way it can cross years and miles), I’ll be sending one to Karen, too. But on this sunny but cool autumn afternoon in the Tetons, this blog post seems like the right way to say goodbye to the beautiful Norma Morris.

A side note, about the 1950 Gator Bowl: taking a plane full of football fans to it was among my parents’ first charter trips after they began their travel agency in Cheyenne. Rooting around one time while I was in college, I found a couple of tickets to that football game hidden away in a cigar box of memorabilia in the basement at my folks’ house. When I asked my mom why they were downstairs after all those years, she answered in her most pragmatic way, “Well, honey, we had to eat those tickets.  We learned a lot from that experience.  I’ve hung onto them ever since.” Maybe that’s why I too like to carry momentos of difficult lessons.

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Filed under Matters of the heart