Archive for November, 2006


“Talk to your fingers,” was Mrs. Van Der Veer’s credo. She said it with such passion it became a catch phrase outside the classroom.  But she embraced her subject like a symphony. Frieda Van Der Veer taught typing. Like a orchestra conductor she strode around the room pumping her hands, wrists straight, with fingers doing a dance on an imaginary keyboard as we tried to keep up with her rhythm. Staccato, even strokes would grow from painfully slow into allegro with practice we were assured. Sometimes I’d get ahead of myself and work my fingers into a crescendo, a crescendo of miss-hit keys, knocking 5 words per minute off my score for each one.   

Her sweetness and innocence were disarming and the few boys in class weren’t sure how to handle her.  Most of the boys took typing hoping for an easy A.  They were not serious about getting to the head of the typing pool and sometimes got bored. On one such day, Johnny thrust his arm in the air and said, “Mrs. Van Der Veer, can Mac and Joe and I go over to Buncy’s and kill weeds?” We all laughed at that. All except Mrs. Van Der Veer.

“How sweet of you, ” she said, smiling her beatific smile, “Poor old Mr. Buncy works hard keeping his store open to sell you pencils, paper and candy, but he’s too old to pull weeds.” The room became quiet and I cut my eyes to non-verbally ask Pat, in the next desk if the teacher was putting us on. Mrs. Van Der Veer toddled back to her desk and began writing.

“Well, come on!” she waved the passes in the air while the stunned boys scooted sheepishly to the front of the classroom.  I’m not sure what they did with their free time, but I would guess they did “kill weeds” over at Mr. Buncy’s. I can only hope the bitter taste turned them off tobacco for good.

But back to what Mrs. Van Der Veer did best, make typists of us. Academic competitions were coming up and the best typists would get to go out of town to measure their skills against students from all over South Texas. I hoped I had a shot at it, and worked hard in our trials. My best scores topped out at over 100 wpm, and averaged in the 90’s.  I must interject here that we were using manual typewriters, old Underwoods like the ones you see in historic displays. Several of us hit that peak. The teacher was elated. So, we went on the bus, had a glorious day, got to hobnob with top science and math students and began to feel a little inferior. But when the time came, Mrs. Van Der Veer gave us her proud smile and reminded us to “talk to our fingers” and we would do just fine. The timing bell went off and we began to attack the strange material. My fingers wouldn’t listen, they began to crecsendo, hit all the wrong notes just to be beating out a rhythm. No other fingers listened either. We came in dead last. Our speed was incredible, but with 5 wpm deducted for each mistake, we looked bad. Mrs. Van Der Veer deserved more.

 So where ever you are, Mrs. Van Der Veer, you should know that I sit here fifty-four years later talking to my fingers on a computer keyboard and the strokes are even and mostly accurate and speedy, very speedy. They are something else, too; they fly at the speed of the Internet and now people all over the world  listen when I talk to my fingers. I hope that compensates in some way for us letting you down.

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lutheremma11-6-002.jpgI should have known the world was off kilter yesterday. The day was almost mystical–or mist-ical, as it turned out. The first unexplained occurrence happened right in this house on a cool, but sunny afternoon. I passed by the guest room and there on the bed only a few feet apart were Luther and Emma, our two cats. If you don’t think that is a scene out of la la land you don’t know Luther. We rescued Emma from the shelter to be a campanion to him, but later learned Pixie Bobs don’t want a companion except for their humans, and sometimes not even them. It’s been a case of “ewwwww, she’s giving me cooties” for the entire four years we’ve had our sweet little Persian. But yesterday, there they were, not exactly cuddling, but in proximity to each other on a bed. It was downright eerie.

 About nine in the evening I remembered I had not covered our Monarch caterpillar from the night’s cold. As I stepped out side with a sheet the rain was falling softly. It wasn’t supposed to rain, but there it was falling softly. My husband Jerry decided we didn’t need to cover the caterpillar. “Remember,” he said, “the nurserymen spray water to protect plants from the cold.” I came back in, relieved, after taking one backward glance at the rain falling in a peculiar way, some driving on down, others floating. The scene was forgotten until the eleven o-clock news. Weather-casters were leading the show, as they had not been able to do lately with our paucity of hurricanes. SNOW! Central Florida had experienced snow flurries! It had indeed been a strange day.

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sleepygirls.jpgWe in Central Florida went to bed last night with dire warnings of a ferocious storm and lamentation from TV weather people that woe are the viewers without tornado alarms. That would be ALL of us in FL. I woke about 5:30 waiting to make a dash for the enclosed bathroom, wondering if we’d be sucked up the skylight, then stayed awake an hour or two and all we got was a pretty good rain. I’m going to do an Elvis the next time those weather people start crying wolf. Don’t mess with my sleep. I think I could show them a storm.

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 Last week I am sitting at San Antonio Municipal Airport waiting for a flight. Directly behind me, two British men, one elderly, one middle aged, carried on a conversation.

“Look at those two women,” the elder said, “Talk, talk, women love to talk. They never stop.”

“What do you suppose they talk about?”

“Men, fashion and food.”

“In that order,” added the middle-aged man. And they laughed.

To my left a woman still hugged a cell phone to her ear. I had caught fragments of her conversation, “monthly report….resume….gave her a lead, it didn’t hurt us and she seemed competent.”

To my right two women discussed the hurricane that had hit one’s Key West home and the problems with selling now that they no longer wished to live there. She was flying back only to vote and try to sell the house.”

The two men continued to talk for the hour we waited to depart. The women settled back to read reports and books. I must have missed their conversations about men, fashion and food.

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If you read my blog you know I have a wildlife garden, and that includes plants attractive to butterflies. Not that I did all that digging and watering to attract a pretentious bug that gives me the willies when it flits anywhere near me. The purpose was to bring hummingbirds to the plants outside the kitchen windows—and it worked. They visit almost daily, circling the penta, porterweed, firebush and milkweed, spinning their tiny wings as they enjoy one nectar Slurpy after another.

All the gardening work was a success the minute the first hummer showed. Long before that, though, monarchs, zebras, swallowtails and other butterflies honed in on the wildflowers. I am careful to stay out of their way and none have landed on me, thankfully. I realize it is almost sacrilege to be afraid of butterflies. I do love Mom and apple pie, though. Honestly. I can only guess that cold chills prickle across my body in a butterfly’s presence because they move like bats. You could paint the most beautiful designs and colors on bats and many of us would still cover our heads and duck when they swooped by. It’s the best explanation I have.

They are a joy to watch out my window, and in their chubby, stripped caterpillar form, the monarchs stole my heart. When the count got to 21 at Christmas and milkweed leaves were almost gone, I transported some to a friend’s garden where they would survive. Many of mine lived to form stunning, bright-green cocoons, decorated with what appeared to be 24-K gold crowns. As the days went by and the cocoons became more transparent, the wings showed through. So fascinating was the process, I camped out with a camera as the moment of transformation was near and videoed the emerging monarch as it flew up over the roof. This happened several times and all were magical moments. I hoped I was making progress with my fears.

Forward to last week. My sister and I are speeding down Highway 181 in Texas and bugs are splattering on the windshield in great numbers. Suddenly my sister suspects she has left her meds back at home, so she pulls off the road into a tall stand of grass to check the trunk. Then I see them—thousands of butterflies filling the vast Texas skyline like the birds in a Hitchcock movie. They surround the hibiscus-red Mustang and one, the largest, flies in the door. I duck and yell for my sister to get back in the car and get out of there. We escape with no hitchhikers somehow. Later we heard a couple of explanations for the butterfly phenomenon. A migration to Mexico, says a cousin. Unexplained biological anomaly says a friend whose swimming pool is covered with the creatures. Me? I have a theory. Somewhere, in some pasture in the plains of Texas a depraved director is shooting a horror movie for next Halloween season.

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VOTE. But vote the candidates and issues you know. If you don’t know beans about a certain judge, leave that to those who do. Learn all you can, but vote with knowledge. What this country needs is thoughtful votes.

 And if you reside in Texas, don’t be afraid you’ll throw your vote away by voting for Kinky Friedman.  It’s not a contest to see if you can pick a winner in the voting booth. If enough Texans vote for the candidate who thinks most like them, I believe you will MAKE a winner in the voting booth–Governor Friedman. As Kinky says, “How hard can it be?” and “Why the hell not?”

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