Where have you readers been all this time, you little Dickenses?

The title is a paraphrase of something my daughter’s first daycare provider told me she heard another child’s Mother say.

Joyce from across the street no only took in children like ours but also took in children that the county sent her on an emergency basis. One such child was found abandoned and brought to Joyce for overnight care. The next day the Mother showed up having been told by the County, after spending the night away from home, where they had taken her child. The Mother bent down to her frightened child and said teasingly, “Where have you been all night you little Dickens?”

Its been six or so weeks since I last posted. Its not a great way to keep one’s readership going. Nevermind the millions of posts one can plumb by leafing through the extensive column to the right showing entries going back to 2006. Internet readers want fresh meat and I’ve not provided it. I may not provide much more for a while leaving this short explanation until I find my fingers again.

I’ve been enjoying one of those fertile periods of mind where lots of information is playing around between my ears. I’ve read several books and put two of them on my old webpage’s page for the books I’ve read from cover to cover. I started doing this in 1999 and could do it because I’d been keeping track of such reading since my third year of marriage after I’d lost my first teaching job. (There’s a story there. Can’t recall whether I’ve ever written it up in a post)

One of the two new editions I read out loud to Claudia, The Book Thief. Its the second book by Zusak I’ve read to her. I don’t think I listed the first, “The Messenger” on my book list because I’ve not included young adult fiction like, for instance, the seven Harry Potter books I’ve also read out loud to my wife. Neither did I include another such book by Jack Gantos which I also read out loud this Winter. I did include the Messenger because its clearly a book that straddles the fence between adult lit and books about young people. Hell, the narrator of the book is Death himself, and a jolly grim story teller he is. He was very busy during the years of the Second World War. It brought tears to my eyes at the end for a show of humanity which always has a good chance to paralyze my reading voice as I wipe my dripping cheek.

I’ve cheated a little on the second addition, The Barbarous Years by Bernard Bailyn. I stopped reading it a month ago as I busied myself with another project and had a heck of a time motivating myself to finish the last 60 pages. I still have thirty to go, one last chapter, but I’ve swatted away half that yesterday and today. The last chapter promises to be a good summing up of the founding of British America and the last bit of the chapter I concluded at 4AM this morning (couldn’t sleep) was about the beginning of the infamous “triangle trade” that put Godly puritans on a path to flood America with African slaves.

That’s a subject I’ve never been able to step away from for long. I’ve got the newly purchased “The Warmth of Other Suns” sitting on the reading table next to me but it has been pushed back on my menu by another book that I just started reading to Claudia.

We traveled to St. Louis last week to see my Brother’s family. It wasn’t just to renew family ties but to scout out the digs where my son will soon be moving to pursue a doctorate Degree. Yes, my school hating son, graduation averse son has nearly completed a masters degree and has secured a post in the prestigious Washington University. If you are a long time reader you may dimly recall this ancient column on my publicity shy offspring.

I thought I ought to find a new book to read out loud while we traveled south and Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” came to mind. I knew it was one of my Grandfather Robb’s favorite books. He was a great admirer of Twain and he was contemptuous when the NAACP attempted to have it banned from some libraries because it had the “N” word in it.

Claudia did most of the driving down and back and I managed to finish almost half of the book. It should be the next one I add to my webpage reading list. I have enjoyed reading it and it has piqued my interest again in Mark Twain. On the second day I discovered an interesting old book mark. It was the stub of a ticket dated 1984 for the Six Flags Over Mid America theme park in St. Louis. We had bought the ticket 29 years ago on the same trip where I’d stopped to visit Twain’s old home in Hannibal, Missouri.

While there I’d purchased “Life…” but set it aside unread for nearly three decades. I had to go hunting to relocate it before our latest trip to St. Looey. The first trip was three months after the birth of our son. It had been a cold winter and Claudia was near the end of her three months of maternity leave. We wanted to “find spring” so we decided to take a trip down the Mississippi to find it in the more inviting Missouri environment. We must have regaled our three year old daughter with tales of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer on that trip because she came back to Duluth convinced that her real parents were Becky Thatcher and Jesus’s Father Joseph.

My most vivid remembrance of that trip was a stop on the way North to Galena, Illinois where US Grant had a home and had run a fallen on hard times as a Harry Truman-like small town merchant before saving the Union. The remembrance is aided by a photo of picnic we enjoyed under a cupola in a Galena Park. We’re all in the picture which must have been set for a delayed exposure so I could get in the frame with Robb nestled in a bassinet.

Nine years later we would take another trip down the Mighty Mississip with our kids in tow during a terrible flood year and make a second stop in Galena to look in Grant’s former home. Robb locked himself in the car at that stop telling us he didn’t want to “see the house of another dead President.” That just about killed my social studies teaching heart. Did I mention that he’s studying chemistry?

Well, back to cases… I’m enjoying Twain’s Life. It came to my head when MPR’s Cathy Wurzer mentioned that Twain had visited St. Paul 100 years ago to do research for his book about the Mississippi. I have heard no mention of Minnesota yet. I did turn the last couple of pages and saw St. Paul’s name leading me to wonder if our state was an afterthought. Twain was a pilot on the river from its most commercially important stretch between St. Louis and New Orleans.

Its about the Olden days long gone from before the Civil War and the ruination of commercial river traffic. Its a paean to passage of time that is easy for a sixty-year old guy like me to appreciate. Blacks are mentioned a couple of times in none to flattering a way although I can’t recall the offensive N word being used. That got me to thinking about how Twain ended up living next to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the little lady that Lincoln so famously claimed (maybe) “started” the Civil War. The book has me rethinking Twain and what he was up to. Perhaps, like LBJ, he spent a lifetime hiding behind a popular prejudice only to expend his later years blowing it to smithereens.

In the third of fourth chapter Twain announces to the reader that he has spent about five years writing a book (to become Huckleberry Finn) about characters from his youth and expects to spend another five years at it. This encouraged me because I’ve been sitting on a book for well over five years and can easily imagine it might take me that many more to actually finish it. It also gave me a chance to read a very funny selection from the book in progress which he inserts in this early chapter.

Suddenly I find myself wanting to pour through a chronology of this ex confederate writer who abandoned the sacred cause of the South early in the war to look for gold out west. Perhaps its also wetted my appetite for my own book writing as I’ve just dashed off a rough couple chapters of the very first book I started thinking about writing a quarter of a century ago when I’d made a hash out of my teaching career. I started writing “The Worst Teacher in the World” but gave it up when I couldn’t quite see how to proceed with it. I think I see that way now or at least its early stages and with a possible race for the school board to encourage me maybe I can crank it out in a hasty couple months. Unlike the book on Minnesota Politics that I’ve saddled myself with a book about my sorry teaching and school board career will require very little research. If I do undertake it the writing of it will undermine my immediate interest in writing for the blog.

Oh, its not that there haven’t been plenty of things for me to grouse about. I’ve resisted several juicy stories about the Duluth Schools. One was a remarkable admission that the energy savings weren’t all JCI cracked them up to be. I suspect that the story was built out of lies and that the energy savings are much worse than the story hinted at. Its primary contributor is already a notorious liar. Then there is the annoying news that Hermantown is proceeding with having JCI build it new schools, annoying in part because it seems Duluth’s new Super who bemoans the way things were handled in Duluth seems to have a wife on the Hermantown Board hell bent for leather to use JCI’s services in her community.

What intrigues me about being on the Duluth Board however, has very little to do with the Red Plan other than thinking our way around the disaster to once again offer a good education. It has occurred to me that the unfulfilled imaginings I had back when elected to the Board in 1995 might be a little more possible to do now that the District is desperate for some good news and since the terrible federal NCLB initiatives are being put to the side. What better time for me to tell the world how NOT to be a really bad teacher by avoiding the mistakes I made?

Even if I decide not to run for the School Board that wouldn’t be a bad motivation for writing a book.

(this post really should be proof read and edited but I’m really not into blog posting right now. I’ve got two books to finish reading another to commence and I haven’t even mentioned the herculean labor I’ve undertaken over the past month to organize a lifetime’s worth of family photos. I think there’s a book in them too!)

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