Close to Christmas time, my 5’4″ towered over Iris Durfee, the smiling squat Princess of Treasure Mountain Junior High School — a veteran teacher filled with creativity, passion, and love. Mrs. Durfee was a force in the classroom. Students learned and they loved learning. Mrs. Durfee inspired teachers to teach better and students to learn more.
During passing periods, teachers stood in the crowded hallways to monitor behavior. Some complained. I loved it. Not only did I get to interact with students outside my classroom, I got to chat it up with colleagues, like the Princess.
“I went to Salt Lake last night to pick up my car,” I shared. “Jeff had it waiting for me at his house. When I got there, he handed me the keys and said, ‘I put new tires on it.'”
“Wha—at? How?” I asked, knowing that tires are expensive.
Charlie, our mechanic fixed everything that was wrong on my Subaru. The charge to my credit card was over $3,000.
Jeff explained, “When I was driving it, it didn’t feel right. I looked at the tires and knew my sister couldn’t drive on these. Merry Christmas.”
“I wish I had a brother like yours,” said Iris Durfee with tears in the corner of her eye when I finished my story.
That’s when I realized that not everyone has a Jeff.
With 65 days until Christmas, take the time to consider how to be the ONE who gives what someone NEEDS.
Growing up, my momma told me about sitting in the living room, listening to the radio with Nana, Aunt Barbara, and Uncle Lawrence. She and Uncle Lawrence were children. Together, in the early 1940’s the family of women and children listened for news and worried about Uncle Bob and Uncle Dick – both, on the front lines.
At home, in Salt Lake City, rations were in place. When mom’s pet goose was hit by a car on 1300 East, the neighbor offered to take care of her and asked Nana if his family could . . . mom has a difficult time telling this story . . . eat the pet. Nana said “yes.”
I grew up hearing stories about brave Uncle Bob crawling on his belly to bring his injured men back across the lines. I grew up knowing that Uncle Dick worked the radio communications on the front lines. I grew up knowing that Uncle Bob did not speak about the war. I grew up knowing that inside Uncle Bob’s office in the basement of his home was the helmet of a German soldier. I grew up knowing Uncle Bob was one of the first Americans to enter Dachau. Of course, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t speak of the horrors.
Years later, I met my Grandpa Mac, a Chief Petty Officer, and my Grandma Evelyn, a nurse. They told stories about the Pacific Theater of WW II.
When I started teaching, we read about the Holocaust. In the late 1990’s, my students still knew family members like my uncles and grandparents.
Teaching eighth graders, we read the dramatization of Anne Frank and I told the story of my mother’s goose, Cornelia. I showed pictures of the ration book I saw when I was in Cuba.
By the time I taught world literature in sophomore English, my students did not have primary sources, relatives, from the WW II era.
Reading books like Night, required an extra day to build background about the Holocaust.
Each time I taught one of these texts, I wondered about my momma listening to the radio. How did we, and I mean the United States, not know about the atrocities.
Five years ago, when I taught An Ordinary Man, I was surprised to learn about the Rwandan Genocide. The only way to teach it was with a docudrama, Beyond the Gates, originally Shooting Dogs.
I lived through the genocide and, essentially, missed it. Bill Clinton was our POTUS and OJ Simpson was on trial. I was focused on pop culture, not the world.
I am the one watching PBS NewsHour and thinking, “if we know, why aren’t we doing something now?”
Years ago, and I mean Y E A R S – Dwight and Margaret were newlyweds so it must’ve been 1950-ish, they moved into a new home. They had each other, two twenty-year-olds; Dwight’s sisters and brother, Chuck, Sheila, and Mary; and, their own baby, Linda.
Unpacking and unloading, Mary overheard the neighbors call them, “A family of children.” I know this because Dwight told me and I promised to keep and share his memories.
Now, 70 years later, I have a family of children, too.
Each year, I have about 150; I’m a teacher.
Teaching concurrent enrollment courses with Utah Valley University puts the magic in learning.
In terms of family, the last two years have been, in particular, FANTASTIC – even in a pandemic. About half of my students are repeat performers meaning they were in my AP Lang class as juniors. It is easy to include the newbies in in-jokes and build a class culture because there is already trust.
Last week, as my students presented their slide presentations, I pulled them up on my computer that was projecting in Canvas, our online classroom management system where they were submitted. Some did not have hot links in the submission.
For those, I copied, dragged my “mouse” up to “EDIT,” “COPIED,” then “PASTED.”
My students were shocked and somewhat horrified.
“You don’t use COMMAND C and V?” they shouted and questioned.
“I never really understood it. Why V?”
Jess said, “Velcro. It stands for velcro.”
Someone else, “Seriously?”
Jess, “No. But, it makes it so you can remember it.”
For the next presentation, the entire class walked me through it.
I’m now a COMMAND C and V-er thanks to my family of children.
This morning, I was thinking about all of the things my mom can’t do with technology and I realized that I’m just like her.
I’ve been COVID-tining. That means that since Wednesday afternoon when our school nurse caught me with a fever while I was rapid testing for the vid, I’ve been down. Not down in a good way. DOWN.
That means I’ve spent too much time scrolling through Instagram and Facebook along with too much time watching TV. (By TV, I mean Netflix and HBO Max.) In my defense, until today my eyes were scratchy and it was hard to focus. Yep. I’m rationalizing the wasted time I spent on my sofa.
Yesterday, Jim posted a question on his Facebook page: Who is the most famous person you’ve ever spoken to?
I didn’t reply. But, I thought about it.
Robert Redford? No. There was that unfortunate conversation when he thought I was married to the neighbor, Bobby. I explained, “I’m Julie HOOKER. I’m Dwight’s wife.” Bob looked puzzled. When I told Dwight about it, Dwight said, “Bob’s eyes aren’t very good.”
Jonny Depp? No. Everyone spoke to him when we filmed Pirates of the Caribbean on Grand Bahama Island.
Oh, Pierce Brosnan’s hair stylist? That was funny. And, no. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember him talking about his box rental. (I never understood how a hair dryer made as much in box rental as a semi truck trailer filled with special effects equipment.) I asked. He explained, “You have no idea how difficult it is to go from a wet scene to a dry scene.” Yeah. . .that’s rough. Thank God for Conair. I mean, seriously, during a 6-week shoot, you wouldn’t even need a haircut.
Dennis Hopper? No. We didn’t actually speak. He just saw me naked in the window. That’s another chapter.
Peter Gabriel is the most famous person I’ve spoken to.
Peter Gabriel’s daughter had a private art exhibit at Sundance. I was working in Mountain Operations running the kids’ camp. That meant my office was in the bike shop. It must’ve been in the early 2000’s (which still seems like yesterday) because I used a VHS tape to record the legs of The Tour de France each day and we’d play them on the TV.
The boys in the bike shop were fabulous. They did everything for me from changing my flats to catching and releasing mice.
Late one afternoon, I mentioned I was going to the exhibit. Brian, kinda’ a chunky patroller, asked me with wide eyes, “will Peter Gabriel be there?”
“I think so,” I replied. I’d met Peter the night before at a dinner party.
“Can I please go with you?”
Brian, Dwight and I went to the exhibit. Brian played guitar and wanted more than anything to meet Peter Gabriel. When I introduced them, I said, “This is Brian. He plays guitar and is on the bike patrol here.”
Brian started asking questions about music, but Peter Gabriel changed the subject. He said, “Tell me about bike patrol. What do you do?”
I was charmed. To have someone so famous switch the focus from his accomplishments to a fan was magic.
I was invited to celebrate Christmas Eve with old friends in my old neighborhood. For years, well, forever, I’ve been guilty of getting into a relationship, putting all of my energy into that, and neglecting the friends that really love me.
I didn’t make it to Christmas Eve at Jodi’s last year.
At 2:18, Jodi messaged me:
Last year Juliann and Vanessa wore their mother’s fur coats to our cocktail hour. They are going to make a tradition out of it. Juliann is so excited. I only have a faux fur scarf, but if you have something like that, please wear it.
Being a vegetarian that tries to avoid animal products like leather or fur, I messaged back:
I will go full on Keeley in faux fur.
After getting dressed, I stood in front of Kenneth’s umbrella stand, the only full length mirror in my home.
Tucked up in the corner is the post-it note I made with his message to me: Calm down and get back in your groove.
Standing there, I thought, BOSS. ASS. BITCH.
A few months ago, two students painted a box pink and filled it with biscuits – just like on Ted Lasso. They wanted to have “biscuits with the boss” and considered me, “the boss.” What a compliment.
Moving into 2022, find your BOSS. ASS. BITCH. I recommend starting with faux fur.
For years, I’ve joked, in a not very funny way, that “I didn’t reproduce so I can put whatever I want in the landfill.” The ridiculous amount I consume and have delivered post/present pandemic, got to me this year.
In addition, I saw the toll my consumption takes on my mail carriers and delivery people.
I have a lot of excuses for my over consumption. At 5’4” and 110 pounds, the bag of kibble I use for croutons for five dogs is half of me. My knee still hurts. It is easier to have things like, dog beds, towels, books, laundry detergent, and cleaning supplies, delivered to my doorstep than carry it from a store to my car.
Now, I will also own that I loathe, truly loathe, visiting my local grocery store, Food Town, the Petri Dish. Both staff and patrons look at me like I’m speaking in tongues with snakes coming out of my head when I wear my mask and wipe down my cart. (To my great surprise, they do offer wipes which are, most often, full. I think I’m the only person who uses them and they’ve had the same bucket of wipes since 2018.)
In addition, the prices at Food Town, for the things I need – almond milk, organic almond butter, frozen vegetables for the dogs, and granola – are high. However, they are the ONE place that stocks fresh cut marrow bones.
At Food Town, I bag my own groceries because the children that work the cash registers and bag, snap their gum, eat Cheetos and Sour Patch Kids, sip giant sodas, and seem, generally perturbed that ringing up my items takes them away from their TikTok, Snapchat or whatever else they are doing on their phone.
I know, I sound like a grumpy old lady.
It’s not their fault. The management at the Petri Dish should step in and train them in the finer arts of basic human decency.
But, you get the idea. It is easier to click on my Amazon account, order and have items delivered.
Over the last several months, watching the Earth Club at school do more with recycling, I’ve considered my consumption and made real efforts to curb it – literally with my recycling, and figuratively with my habits.
Since I couldn’t find an electric snowblower at my local hardware store, I purchased a Greenworks corded blower. It arrived on Wednesday.
I dragged it into my home from the front porch to assemble it.
On Christmas Eve morning with a few inches of snow on the patio, I unboxed and built my new blower.
At the end, I realized the chute rod was missing.
Using my Amazon wizardry, I found the number for Greenworks. The website said they were open, but the message told me to “call during business hours.” I reached out to Amazon.
Both associates from India (yes, I had to go up the command chain), said the only solution was to send me an entirely new snowblower and have me send this one back. Parul even said, “when you receive the new one, take out the part you need and return it.”
I noted the irony and chatted with:
My solution is to wait for Greenworks to get back to me. I have to believe that someone will see the idiocy.
I am not defeated. I am committed to a greener 2022.
Remember that scene in A Chorus Line where the premiere dancer begs for the chance to “dance for you” because “I’m a dancer, a dancer dances?”
Well, years ago, when Bob O’Connor hired me back into the Park City School District it was because I told him, “I’m a teacher. A teacher teaches.”
Now, the morning after Winter Solstice 2021, the most difficult year of my teaching career – yep, harder than 2020; the most difficult year of my personal life – yep, harder than 1989 when my dad died; harder than getting a divorce; harder than Dwight dying in 2015, the sun is breaking through the pink clouds outside my window and I am getting started on the first of the intentions I set last night.
It’s hard to call myself a writer. It feels pretentious and like I’m playing dress up.
A few weeks ago, I wore a pair of red Pistola faux leather trousers with a beautiful Gucci blouse to school. My seniors in third period, walked in and complimented, “the fit.” Fit is the current term for outfit.
Lizzie, who happens to be kind, warm, gracious and intelligent, said, “You look like a writer. I don’t know what a writer looks like
Later, Lizzie asked, “Do you have a passion project?”
“I suppose I’d be a writer instead of just dressing like one.”
An old soul, Lizzie nodded. She understood.
Today, 12-22-2021, I’m a writer.
I mulled over ideas in my mind. I sat down with my rose gold MacBook Air next to the window that looks out over my almost an acre, past the horses in the neighbor’s corral, and over to the Uinta mountains.
I’m not dressed like a writer. Instead, I’m wearing a fuzzy gray onesie with “LOVE” embroidered in red plaid across the chest. A year ago, I wrapped up three matching onesies, including this one, with jammie bottoms for Ray and his children – the family Ray kept saying needed me.
Turns out, they didn’t need me and they really didn’t want me. But, that’s another story, another personal essay.
Since I will turn 52 in 2022, my intention is to write one essay each week. By next Winter Solstice, I’ll have 52.
This is the first.
Now, I’ll immerse myself in mentor texts from Ann Patchett and Dinty W. Moore (that appears to be his real name).
2021 put all of us on the defensive. Trying to navigate trauma — a pandemic, violence, racism, careers, and, of course, personal letdowns.
On January 14th, Bob O’Connor left our world. When I paid tribute to my principal, my friend, and my mentor on September 26th, I shared, “Eric Green said that losing a starting linebacker is like losing the heart and soul of your defense.”
With Bob in it, the world felt a little safer. We felt a little safer. Bob stood up for us — his teachers, his students, his staff, and his family.
Dwight Hooker died on January 3rd, 2015. A week later, there was a service for him in Salt Lake City. That’s when I saw Kenneth Thomason for the last time. Kenneth left just over 15 months later.
Not particularly welcome at the celebration for my first husband, I hid in a back room with Kenneth and my daughter-in-law, Bonnie, drinking High West whiskey. I remembered Kenneth, at 24-years-old, my age, kneeling next to Dwight after Tommy died. Kenneth spoke to Dwight with the wisdom of the ancients. They talked about “the black dog” of depression. Kenneth knew and communicated something I will never understand. He connected to Dwight. He was gracious.
On that Saturday at the funeral home, Kenneth told me about the cancer he’d been battling. He told me about his love, Cara. There was a lot left unsaid — no words about his father (who ultimately came into the back room to disrupt our conversation), his siblings, or, his life in between kneeling next to Dwight and January 10th, 2015.
Kenneth lives in my heart as the “kindest of the Thomason family.” Kenneth is the one that knelt beside Dwight and cried over the loss of Tommy. Kenneth is the one that saw my discomfort and sadness and tried to make it better. Kenneth is the one that showed up when no one else would for his sisters and his mother.
Now, at the end of 2021, the year that took the heart and soul of my defense, I’m here, in my home, with the treasures Kenneth left behind. Not the guitars, not the art, not the furniture — the real treasures, his words, his writing, his story. I am the keeper of his the portrait with him writing. It sits next to Jeff Metcalf’s silhouette and Dwight’s pictures.
Somehow, after 30 years and 34 months with the Thomason family, I am the keeper of Kenneth’s journals. I am the keeper of Donna’s photos. I am the keeper of the secrets.
I am the one who Kenneth trusted to tell his story, to tell the story of his “family.”
Just as I was both humbled and terrified to speak about Bob, I am both honored and afraid to be tasked with Kenneth’s story. After all, he was the writer.
But, rereading his farewell note, he promised, “I’m running defense on the other side.” Even for me, someone he knew very little, but saw at the most devastating moments, he ran defense — he pulled Dwight out of a depression and he made me feel like I mattered when no one else did.