Saturday, December 6, 2014

THE WRITER’S LIFE, A CHRISTMAS MEMOIR from COLLEGE AND EIGHTH by Herbert Hyde



This holiday season we offer a chapter from Herbert Hyde’s memoir, College and Eighth, in which he has retrieved a moving Christmas memory viewed through the eyes of a young boy in a family of ten children. Matt Graves has said of this book, “Hyde’s book is an insightful and nostalgic return to a middle America when home delivery milkmen, horse-drawn bread wagons and 15-cent movies were familiar. His story of growing up poor and white in what was once a vital industrial city is an alarming reflection of the… profile for so many American cities...” Herb Hyde is a retired autoworker, union activist, avid college hockey fan, and local history buff.

College and Eighth can be purchased as an e-book from Amazon/Kindle books. Paperback copies can be ordered by contacting the Troy Bookmakers or the author at hhyde@nycap.rr.com. Herbert Hyde’s follow-up memoir to College and Eighth will be released in mid-February to early March, 2015. This chapter is included here by permission of the author.
           
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I Guess We Are Poor

            A few years earlier my sister Dorothy dragged me and my younger sisters down to the Salvation Army for their annual Christmas party. I think Cliff was away at Vanderhyden Hall that year and Patty refused to go. This was the first and only time I remember us going to that party. Apparently, this was one of the bleakest Christmases we ever had, because Dad had not gotten much work, and when he did, he drank away most of the money. Plus, Grandma and Grandpa Davenport were in a financial crisis. Sales had slowed and they didn't have much extra money that year. (I learned later that my grandparents were the ones who always made sure we had Christmas gifts under the tree. They were our "Santa and Mrs. Claus.")

            Ma was silently crying at the kitchen table that day because things had gotten so bad. She knew we wouldn't have any gifts under the tree. "What's the matter, Ma?" I asked innocently.

            Looking up at me with tears running down her cheeks, she smiled, then hugged me and said, "Oh it's nothing, honey, I'm just feeling the blues. I'm OK now." With that she wiped her eyes with her dish towel and went back to drying the dishes.

            An hour later, Dorothy came into the parlor where we were playing and told us all to make sure we were dressed. "Why?" Patty complained.

            "Because Ma said we all just got invited to a Christmas party down at the Salvation Army, and Santa is going to be there." Ma had been getting invitations for several years now but never sent us, because that would be an admission that we were poor and that she couldn't provide us a proper Christmas. However, this year was different. She was desperate and truly believed that going to this year's party would be our Christmas, providing us the only presents we'd get.

            "Really," Brenda said gleefully. She loved parties and loved to dress up, while the thought of seeing Santa Claus sent chills of excitement up my spine. "Can we get dressed up special?" Brenda asked Dorothy.

            "Nope. Just wear what you have on. It's going to start in about a half hour, so we got to get moving, get your coats on, now!" Of course, we didn't have many special clothes.  Come to find out, most of our "new" clothes were actually used clothes from the Salvation Army. As kids, we could have cared less where we got them, because they were always new to us.

            "Well, I'm not going!" Patty sniped. "I don't want to be with all them kids. I don't want to be like them." Dorothy didn't want to argue with her because she knew time was running close. Patty stayed home in her room that day.

            We soon began the long trek down the RPI Approach to Broadway, making sure we stayed on the opposite side of the street from Gaynor's Gay spot. At Fourth Street and the Post Office, we turned north into the freezing cold winds and snow flurries that were buffeting the city that brutal December day. Just north of Fulton Street, Dorothy ordered us to stand behind a group of grungy looking kids, dressed in tattered clothes like ours. They had been waiting patiently for the door to open.

            We shivered in the freezing cold for about fifteen minutes, when a volunteer finally opened the door. She counted each laughing kid as they raced gleefully past her and up the creaky wooden stairs. As Dorothy reached the front of the line, she said, regretfully, "I'm sorry, I think we're full up."

            I know this poor girl must have felt terrible seeing the sadness in Dorothy's eyes and us little kids shivering behind her. With tears welling in her eyes, Dorothy pleaded, "Can you please see if you can find room for us? My little brother and sisters have been standing in the cold for a long time, and they haven't had a real meal in days."

            That was true. We had been eating watered-down, pea soup and stale bread for the past week. Ma had made the soup from a leftover ham-bone and a bag of dried green peas Winnie gave her the week before. She knew Ma had nothing left to eat in the house. Being the proud woman she was, Ma refused to add to the tab at Harry's. She was embarrassed because she couldn't pay him what she promised. She had been hoping that Dad would soon be home with some money. But he never came. He'd already been away for a week, supposedly cutting Christmas trees with Frank Lanquid. In past years, he'd sell them from an old ice fishing shanty he kept illegally on a vacant corner lot behind Helficks.

            Sensing our disappointment, the girl said to Dorothy, "Let me check and see if we can fit you in." She disappeared for what seemed an eternity as we continued to shiver in the cold. Just as we were about to leave, she returned to the door smiling. "We do have room. Quick, come in out of the cold and warm up."

            With tears of joy, Dorothy replied, "Thank you so much. You don't know how much this means to us." As it turns out, we were the last kids allowed into the party.

            As we reached the second floor, we heard the raucous laughter of dozens of kids and saw the festive lights shining out into the darkened hall where we were standing. As we warily entered the room, smiling volunteers dressed in the soldier-like garb of the Salvation Army and Santa hats handed each of us a colorful candy cane and a small cardboard box, decorated with snowflakes, a wreath, or pictures of Frosty the Snowman with hard candy inside. On the table were bowls filled with snacks--popcorn, pretzels and leftover candy corn from Halloween. Christmas carols were playing and a huge Christmas tree stood in the corner with piles of presents underneath.

            We had made it just in time because, as soon as we took our seats, the leader asked us all to stand and bow our heads as he led grace. The volunteers then began serving dinner. Of course, this turkey dinner wasn't as "delicious" as Ma's but it sure did fill the void in our empty stomachs. Just as we were finishing our meal, out came small dishes filled with colorful red and green Jell-O, topped with whipped cream and a cherry for dessert. That was yummy!

            After all the plates were cleared away, the sound of sleigh bells were heard and in came a jolly old man about six feet tall with a fake white beard, a pillow stuffed into his bright red costume, black leather belt and shiny black boots. He was accompanied by several colorfully dressed volunteers that looked like the Keebler Cookie elves.

            Each of us made our way forward to the front of the room to sit on the lap of this over-sized Santa. "I'm scared," I said to Dorothy as we got closer.

            "Oh, don't be afraid, Herbie. He's got a nice toy for you, I bet. You’ve been good, right?" Dorothy questioned with a smile on her face.

            "Oh, yes, I've been good," I fibbed. Knowing that I had done a few things that might get me disqualified, I hoped Santa would overlook them. Luckily, he did. When I was forced to sit on his lap and near tears, he immediately asked me that very question. Scared to death he wouldn't give me a toy, I was unable to speak or look him in the eye. I was frozen in place.

            Sensing I was petrified, he gratefully said, "I've heard from a good source that you've been pretty good this year." That's when he handed me a wooden train with a big smoke stack, huge wooden wheels and a coal car attached to the back of the engine by a tiny metal hook. I was thrilled to death as I jumped off his lap, running back to Dorothy, my train clutched safely in my arms. That Santa was so smart. He knew exactly what I wanted for Christmas. In turn, each of my sisters received little girl dolls with colorful dresses. They were so happy to have their wishes granted, just like me. It was amazing how Santa knew exactly what each of us wanted, even this gangly Santa.

            Strangely, it didn't feel quite as cold as we raced back home that afternoon, eager to show Ma what Santa had given us. We rushed into the kitchen, pushing and laughing to be the first to show Ma our goodies. She just stood there with a big smile on her face. Grateful to see us so happy, Ma hid a sense of melancholy that hung over her spirit. This was the first time I think she really doubted her worth as a mom, heartsick that we might not have food in our bellies or toys under our tree. Having to send us to that party broke her heart.

            Ironically, as bad as Christmas was destined to be that year, our Grandparents did manage to help out again and brought toys and clothes for under the tree. Later that night they'd make the long trek back to Bennington, secure that Santa and Mrs. Claus didn't forget us. Dad was able to sell some Christmas trees that year, and even gave Ma money to buy a ham for Christmas dinner before he managed to piss the rest away getting plastered down at Sticklemyer's Grill on Christmas Eve. But, at least Grandma and Grandpa were there, with Grandpa laughing and telling us jokes.

            A few hours later, we all awoke to a horrible crashing sound coming from the parlor. We rushed in to find Dad laughing on the floor, the tree tipped against the parlor window. He had staggered into the parlor and fallen on the tree, knocking it partially over and breaking some of the ornaments and lights. Tinsel was strewn everywhere.

            Of course, he lied to a horrified Ma about what happened, blaming our poor cat Mittens. He said he was trying to pull Mittens off the tree when he and the tree fell. Of course, Ma didn't buy his story and quietly seethed with anger, wondering how he could do such a thing on Christmas Eve.

            "Oh, I brought a case of bananas for you," he slurred, pointing to the broken cardboard box, bananas scattered across the floor.

            She knew he was plastered, but with all us kids awake at one o'clock in the morning, she didn't want a fight that would ruin our Christmas. Instead, she had us all help her straighten up the tree and put back the ornaments on our "Charlie Brown" tree.

            Once we had picked up the mess of tree and bruised bananas, we spotted all the presents that had been hiding under the tree. Now realizing Santa had come, Brenda and I screamed in unison, "Santa came, Santa came!" We then rushed to find our presents. That was the earliest we ever opened our presents. Even with all the mini-disasters we encountered, that Christmas stands out as one of the best I can ever remember.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

THE SAT ESSAY, MASTERY OF CONCRETE ILLUSTRATIONS TO SUPPORT ABSTRACT IDEAS



The SAT essay— a fully-developed, comprehensive essay written in 25 minutes— is one of the most daunting tasks that a college-bound student will face. Many educators feel that the task is unfair because, they argue, students will never be asked to produce a timed essay that quickly in real life. I disagree. Students face countless midterm and final exams where they will need to do just that— construct an airtight opinion and argue or explain it forcefully and quickly.

Nevertheless, we all feel that the task is onerous. In class, I ask students to practice creating substantive body paragraphs to illustrate or prove their thesis statements. By breaking down the complete task into a short introduction and limited conclusion, students will have sufficient time to put considerable energy into their body paragraphs. I tell them that the meat, their detailed examples, must be the important focus of their energy. They write nine-minute, timed body paragraphs a few times in class, as well as for homework, to demystify and deconstruct the chore.

From time to time, I will post examples of excellent SAT essays, written in just 25 minutes. Bravo to our wonderful student writers! Emily Risch is our debut writer of this task, and we are delighted to showcase her example of strong, interesting, richly argued prose.  

Writer: Emily Risch
Bethlehem Central High School
Delmar, NY

This essay is a response to the following question:

“Is conscience a more powerful motivator than money, fame, or power?”


            Conscience has been referred to as a more powerful motivator than money, fame, or power. I disagree with this principle because it has been demonstrated on many occasions that people strive to achieve success for their own personal benefit, more often than not ignoring their conscience. Even Thomas Jefferson believed that people are generally selfish and often only look out for their own self-interest. Two examples that prove this point are the reign of Louis XIV and Benedict Arnold’s betrayal of the Americans in the Revolutionary War.
           
            Often called the Sun King, Louis XIV inherited the throne of France at a very young age. Since he was too young to assume proper rule of the country, he used a Regent, his mother, to make decisions in his place. Once he came of age, it was almost as if he still wasn’t ruling over the French people. Instead of listening to what his conscience told him to do, Louis put France in an enormous amount of debt when he paid for the construction of the royal palace at Versailles. Louis used the palace as a public display of his prestige and power. In order to ensure the loyalty of his feudal nobles, he invited a few every month to stay at the palace and serve him. Louis did very little to benefit the French other than constructing a massive tourist attraction and creating an opportunity for national credit. Although Louis XIV was an extravagant spender, he didn’t betray his countrymen like Benedict Arnold did. 

            At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold appeared as a promising commander who had potential to carry American infantries to victory. However, as the war progressed and the Americans’ chances looked slimmer and slimmer, Arnold began to question his loyalty. Surely the poorly uniformed, diseased, and malnourished troops were enough to convince him to leave his troops and join the British. Instead of maintaining integrity and conscience, Arnold wanted the power that would come with a victory, the power that he was sure the Americans would not achieve. At the Battle of Saratoga, he left his troops and joined the British forces, much to the satisfaction of his Loyalist wife. In the end, Arnold’s treason backfired when the Americans were victorious and he never tasted the power he so desired.

            Throughout history, important figures have shown a selfish tendency to ignore their conscience to seek money, fame and power. Most often, the evil in a person takes over his or her conscience when prestige presents itself.




Friday, October 31, 2014

GALWAY KINNELL, BELOVED POET, 2/1/27 - 10/28/14



Galway Kinnell has died at his home in Sheffield, Vermont at age 87. I adored his incantatory poetry born of his Irish/Scottish heritage, his preoccupation with love and loneliness, and his “unsettling emptiness.” Although he published a dozen books and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for his “Selected Poems” which gathered his best work from 25 years, I loved best the book When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone. In this book, a reader is steeped in the sensuality, loneliness, and longing of one separated from the beloved but still deeply connected to nature. This poem sequence reminds a reader of Kinnell’s other fine poems, more famous no doubt, “The Bear,” “Blackberry Eating,” and “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”.

I had the great pleasure of hearing Kinnell read two times, and I will never forget his ability to recite his poetry from memory, his song-making in the tradition of all bards. He cast a spell in the room, making me know I was in the presence of true genius.

The following is listed as poem #10 in his cycle poem, When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone. This slim volume is one of my treasured books.


When one has lived a long time alone,
and the hermit thrush calls and there is an answer,
and the bullfrog head half out of water utters
the cantillations he sang in his first spring,
and the snake lowers himself over the threshold
and creeps away among the stones, one sees
they all live to mate with their kind, and one knows,
after a long time of solitude, after the many steps taken
away from one's kind, toward these other kingdoms,
the hard prayer inside one's own singing
is to come back, if one can, to one's own,
a world almost lost, in the exile that deepens,
when one has lived a long time alone.   

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Lake Isle Of Innisfree, by William Butler Yeats


In honor of all of the Irish dears in my life-- one of my favorite poets--

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The WaterWheel = More time for Education of Girls





When Cynthia Koenig, a young social entrepreneur from New York, learned that millions of girls and women around the world spend hours each day collecting water from distant sources, she decided to create a new way to help people in poor communities transport water. Called the WaterWheel, it allows people to roll water in a 50-liter container versus carrying it in 5 gallon (19 liter) jugs. Koenig estimates that the WaterWheel can save women 35 hours per week in water transport time, as well as prevent the physical strain that comes from balancing 40 pounds of water on top of their heads for hours each day. Every day around the world, over 200 million hours are spent each day fetching water, often from water sources miles from home, and this task usually falls to women and girls. By freeing up valuable time, the WaterWheel allows women to spend time on income-generating activities that can help pull their families out of poverty. The time savings also means that there is a greater likelihood that girls will be allowed to stay in school, further reducing the rate of intergenerational poverty.

After receiving a $100,000 Grand Challenges Canada prize to develop the WaterWheel, Koenig founded a social enterprise company, Wello. The company is in an early stage of development and has been piloting the WaterWheel in rural communities in India. Koenig also plans on continuing to make the WaterWheel itself more useful by adding in filtration, drip irrigation kits, even a cell phone charger that uses the rotation of the wheel to charge the battery of the cell phone and give people more access to essentials like communication and education. To learn more about this invention and its potential to transform the lives of many girls and women around the world, check out Koenig's TED talk at http://bit.ly/1gBdpGt and you can read a recent article in The Guardian about her venture at http://bit.ly/1dMt7Mh. To learn more about how to support her work, visit Wello's website at http://wellowater.org/

For a wonderful book about more female innovators and inventors throughout history, check out “Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women” for readers 8 to 13 at http://www.amightygirl.com/girls-think-of-everything