Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: December, 2014

Odd #10: Limited Perspective

photo of Santa hat hanging on a hat rack

A reminder of a very black day in my childhood

This topic of desks from Odd #8 and Odd #9, unlike my Best-Ever Christmas, reminds me of a very black day in my childhood.

My father’s desk was an ancient secretary from the 1700s, borrowed from Grandpa for a few years. It was quite tall, with hand-blown glass in the doors covering the top half’s bookshelves and solid wood doors covering the bottom half’s shelves. Its most wondrous feature (to my childish eyes) was the clever fall-front door in the middle which, when opened and supported by slides, became a desktop and revealed tantalizingly mysterious pigeonholes in the back.

The surface of the fall-front desktop was completely covered with inky numbers from generations of my frugal ancestors’ careful figuring. The pigeonholes were filled with my father’s desk accoutrements, like my hole punch and stapler except that he had a whole lot more. I used to tuck myself under that fall-front desktop and read a book right at his feet, absent-mindedly paying attention to his mutterings and self-talk, while he reconciled accounts and recorded crucial farm production figures.

It was during one of these cozy father-daughter experiences that I discovered the wealth being tossed into his wastebasket by my very own father. I was disappointed. Oh, let’s be honest: it went way beyond disappointment. I was shocked. Such heavy, high-quality paper being thrown away – with one side completely blank!

Mrs. Logan

By this time I’d just finished second grade, with fearsome Mrs. Logan at the helm – not someone I cared to cross. While Mrs. Logan was not only downright scary, even worse in my humble opinion was the fact that she was decidedly lacking in her knowledge of fashion and hair design. But I’ll say this for the old bat: she was stupendously ahead of her time in one arena.

By the end of the school term, she had whipped us all into shape when it came to PAPER. Few things could arouse her wrath more quickly than tossing a homework sheet with only one side used into the trash. Decades before the term recycling took on its current, politically correct meaning, she had drilled into my developing brain that one should NEVER place a piece of paper in the trash until BOTH sides were covered with #2 pencil smudgings. NEVER.

Though I didn’t much like her, I certainly did respect Mrs. Logan. And now here was someone I respected, liked, and loved showing an appalling lack of conservation.

It got worse, the deeper I dug. Everyone knows an envelope is way more expensive than a sheet of paper, and my father was throwing away tons of them. (Never mind that they were all self-addressed to unknown-to-me corporations.)

It got even worse.

Well, let me tell you I won’t soon forget The Black Day I found the carbon paper! Think Norman Rockwell’s gangly, wide-eyed boy with a Santa costume dangling from his hands in front of his parents’ open bureau drawer. Yes. THAT kind of astonishment. Even as an nine-year-old, I knew carbon paper was something special. I knew because you couldn’t just saunter into any old Woolworth’s Five & Dime and buy wads of it. I had, after all, accompanied my father to the stationery store solely to buy crisp, thin packets of carbon paper.

But what really hurt was that MY father – the one with frugal Scottish blood running thick and deep in his veins – was wantonly throwing it away. Even if it was just a sheet or two here and there from government forms, the ramifications were still staggering. Each precious sheet had only a few markings on it from whatever form it must’ve accompanied. That left plenty of carbon-y real estate for anyone writing something important enough that it needed to be repeated in duplicate, as I no doubt would be.

The Pay-Attention Bit

Truth is a funny thing. We think we want to know it, but sometimes what we accept as truth comes with itchy and uncomfortable revelations, à la my father’s disturbing penchant for throwing away perfectly good stationery – with both hands.

I truly was wounded when I discovered a seeming contradiction between my father’s values and his behavior. Of course, “seeming” is the operative word here, isn’t it? As a freshly minted nine-year-old, I didn’t know about some things (ID concerns and privacy) and why stuffing discarded mail in one’s own trash was the safest route to follow. (At least it was back then. Now, not so much.) 

I didn’t have all the facts. And isn’t that usually the case? Most of us are playing with less than a full hand when it comes to knowing why those around us behave as they do. They may, like my father, have perfectly rational reasons for their behavior. We just don’t happen to know what they are.

While I believe the Bible is inspired truth, I also believe that what we as mere men and women surmise to be Truth is very often overly influenced by our limited perspective.

Disclaimer: this is a pay-attention lesson I hope to learn by the time I die, because it’s looking more and more doubtful that it’ll happen much before then. I’m way past nine, but I’m still jumping to conclusions. Some of us are just slow learners. But some of us are just plain stubborn, hanging onto old habits when we know better. (I’ll leave it to you to decide into which category I fall.)

The oven timer just rang for Odd #11. In it, you’ll learn how a nine-year-old business prodigy started an entire corporation with the refuse “wantonly” and “carelessly” tossed out by someone not quite so creative.

©2014, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth." – Marcus Aurelius

My nine-year old perspective was wonky.

ODD #9: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

photo of three much-loved children's books and some stale Christmas peppermints

Keep reading: I promise you’ll get it.

I don’t know or care who first used this now over-used phrase. Whatever that person (or ad campaign?) was originally referring to, I’ll bet it wasn’t really “the gift that keeps on giving.” I know for a fact that for some of us (who might be regarded as odd, odder, or oddest of all), a book is.

After The Best-Ever Christmas, school absorbed all my attention. But when the last school bell had rung on May 30th, the bus ride home turned into a truly depressing affair, as I resigned myself to what would undoubtedly be a long, boring, incredibly dull summer.

  • No reading classes exploring imaginary children’s exploits.
  • No sumptuous aromas of waxy crayons and pristine construction paper.
  • No excitement as the battered box of blunt-end scissors was passed around.
  • No sloppy pots of exotic-smelling paper paste.
  • No wondrous geography homework to delve into and foreign lands and exotic people to study.

I’d even miss the math flash-cards. This, in spite of the fact that I was – and still am – always a little confused about Math. Is it the one next to Venus or the one next to Pluto? I always ask myself. Small matter. With no academic exercises in the offing, even Math took on a certain, far-off desirability.

Grim. It’s going to be grim, I thought as I stepped off the school bus that last day of school and trudged up the walk to the Victorian gingerbread screen door. My thin little shoulders slumped as my bulging, red-and-yellow plaid schoolbag banged against my knobbly knees. An interminable summer of no learning and boredom-beyond-belief stretched before me.

Maybe not.

You’ll remember that in all my desk-moving frenzy after The Best-Ever Christmas, there had been no time for reading. First things first, you know. Indeed, all reading since then had been textbook reading. Just as I had resigned myself to a depressingly boring summer, I found the three-volume set from The Best-Ever Christmas that I’d squirreled away for just such a time as this. What glorious good luck!

There was more. With those books was a whole cache of very old peppermints, culled from my Christmas stocking. My father didn’t believe candy should set around in candy dishes all year long: special holidays were the only times candy made its appearance at our house. My six-month-old cache of stale candy would have to be my little secret. Heh, heh, heh. Oh, glorious, glorious, unbelievably good luck! I was set for the summer: something for my brain and something for my sweet tooth.

Of course, as every book-lover knows, a good book never lasts as long as you’d like. You’ve heard older generations’ stories about how they had to slave away at endless chores when they were children? Not in my house. Oh, sure, there was the occasional carry-out-the-trash kid chore but mostly, my parents reasoned, childhood was to be childhood. There would be plenty of time for work later, which explains why – with little to encroach on my reading time – I’d read all three novels by mid-June.

And what spectacular
two weeks they were.

Even today, when I smell peppermint candy, I’m transported back to those yellow-and-green-bound books and their characters, especially the poverty-stricken little family in Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, since I devoured the majority of the peppermints during that one. By the time I got to Heidi and certainly by the time Alcott’s Jo and her sisters entered my consciousness, the peppermints were gone. So Heidi, Jo, and her three sisters reside in my memory pretty much scent-free.

To what did I owe this gift
that kept on giving?

My Best-Ever Christmas was largely the result of my parents’ childless, CITY-shopping escapade, I’d just like to point out. However, I have to admit that the very best part of it – the desk – was strictly home-made on the farm by a farmer and his wife during a few spare winter afternoons. Not very glamorous. Not very sleek. Certainly not expensive, as it was made of pine and Masonite. But absolutely perfect.

Pay-Attention Tip
of the Day

How did they know that a home-made desk and all its accoutrements would turn an ordinary Christmas into The Best-Ever Christmas for their odd little girl? Funny you should ask, as I was just preparing to tell you: they were paying attention to their odd little girl’s innate aptitude and made their gift-giving plans accordingly.

Carefully thought-out gift giving, whether it’s a book or not, gives and gives and gives and gives…. Here I am, fifty-eight years later, still enjoying just reminiscing about my wonderful parents who assembled those very appropriate gifts for my Best-Ever Christmas. That’s some gift-giving!

Your carefully thought-out gift-giving will keep on giving and giving and giving to your friends and family, too. Knock yourself out this Christmas season. Just do a lot of thinking first – especially if you have a few odd characters on your list since, trust me, their gifts require a good deal more thinking.

Odd #10 is out of the cooker and ready for reading. Enjoy, but FYI, it begins with a naive nine-year-old’s perspective.

©2014, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: The heart of the giver makes the gift dear and precious. – Martin Luther

Luther nailed it way back in the early 1500s!

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