Mr. U’s Worm Juice

Somehow my early morning pre-standing thoughts jumped from William Styron’s suicide to the miracle of putting the first Chester Park Elementary School Carnival together. Our old principal was Mr. O. to the kids including my son and daughter. Yesterday I had another one initialed principal give me a tour of his school, Larry Udeson or “Mr. U. to the kids at Stowe School.

Its Harriet Beecher Stowe School really. I find that very gratifying with my love for Lincoln and all things Civil War. She was the woman to whom Abe allegedly said upon his introduction to her, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this Great War?” She was also Mark Twain’s next door neighbor in Hartford, Connecticut a home we saw when visiting Twain’s residence.

Its nestled in Gary and New Duluth where ironically blacks had begun settling during and immediately after WW I as cheap labor during the war. They mostly made a hasty exit after the infamous lynching that was no doubt pushed along by the Depression Mr. Grant writes about mentioned in the post before this.

But enough of my discursiveness, on to Mr. U.

I’ve been remiss in visiting our schools. I made a tour of all the schools immediately upon my election back in 1995. I had an odd reputation back then too and wanted to allay fears that I was some sort of problem. I didn’t do that after last year’s election. I figured that getting to know the school board members was more important and working on our working relationships. Besides, I was fearful that because of my terrible ranting about the Red Plan I might make teachers and administrators worry to be seen with me lest they be reported on. I know that sounds completely paranoid but as another old Board member and I used to say to each other: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean folks aren’t out to get you!” I think I’ve mentioned that before.

Well, for the start of the school year I decided its time to get to the buildings I haven’t really had a chance to tour and meet the staff. Stowe was an old favorite of mine. I was fond of two of its last principals, Terry Cottingham and Larry Johnson. Johnson was the chief judge for at least ten Spelling Bees in a row for which I acted as the word pronouncer. Larry Udeson has taken over and he was at the last school board meeting accepting an award for the school. We have always gotten along well and I decided that if anyone wouldn’t get the heebie jeebies upon my entry into their school it would be Larry.

While someone behind the front desk went to retrieve him I sat down and looked at a book with all the classroom pictures. I only got up to about the third grade before Larry returned and was gratified to see that the number of kids in the early grade classes was between 22 and 26. Those are very good and much smaller than I had imagined.

It was clear upon our walk through the corridors that the kids liked “Mr. U.” When they saw him coming they would wave. He stopped to help one zip up a sweatshirt. As we walked along he introduced me to the staff members who walked by. One remembered me from Washington Junior in 1984 and told me she had told me how to use the coffee maker in the teacher’s lounge. I almost remember that but I saw a lot of teacher’s lounges in those years so I can’t be sure. I told her I’d moved on to a french press to impress her with my advancement.

I asked Larry for a history of this work. He had been a social worker who had been tapped in the Mark Myles years to be given administrative training. He’d been in both elementary and middle schools and we talked about how kids change as they move through the grades and have changed since he began teaching. He mentioned some good advice given him by Superintendent Dixon. I suspected that he quietly wanted to let me know that he got along well with my old nemesis. If so, that was just fine. Dixon had mad people skills. I think in contemporary usage “mad” means really good. I have no quarrel with anyone who learned and benefited from the old Superintendent’s good side and frankly, that will be a lot of the current staff in our schools. I trust they will overlook my preoccupation with Keith’s bad side as I will be grappling with its after affects for as long as I serve on the school board.

Like most of the other schools I’ve walked through my sense was that Stowe was a lovely school and pretty orderly. That was reassuring. I suspect I’ll find the same as I make unannounced stops at other schools in the coming month. There are a few principals I have yet to meet.

Half way through our travels he answered my inquiry about whether the school still had red worms with a stop in the worm shed. He showed me the five bins full of food waste and the happy worms busy composting it all. Below each bin was a dark oily pail under a faucet. “Worm excrement” he called it and from then on “worm juice.” He said he really ought to be selling it as a fund raiser to gardeners. Then he asked me if I’d like some and I couldn’t turn him down. Dilute it with water 20 to 1 or you will burn out your house plants. I’ve got a schefflera I can’t wait to fertilize. Larry assures me this stuff will do wonders with our plants.

I carried the bottle around with me in a brown paper sack for the remainder of the tour like illegal hooch.

The sun has just risen over the horizon and is lighting up my corner as my blog writing gas is running out. I’ll be back with more soon.

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