October, 2009 Archives
by Jan in Uncategorized
A golden chicken defined my childhood.
The Golden Chicken, in fact.
I grew up in a place where chickens – very ungolden ones – ruled the roost.
In those days, processing chickens was the only industry, and growing
chickens was the primary agricultural endeavor in Scott County,
In that sense, times haven’t changed much. Chickens are still the
driving force of the local economy. And, the Golden Chicken still
From my childhood perspective, it made complete sense to me that the
two biggest high schools in the county, Forest and Morton, played the
final football game of the season – and the winner of said game went
home with the spoils.
And the spoils, of course, were The Golden Chicken.
It was right that the school superintendent, a serious and
distinguished man named L.O. Atkins, started the Forest pep rally
holding the Golden Chicken and recounting his morning conversation
with said chicken. The Golden Chicken always started with, “Hello,
All of that was just the way it was supposed to be.
Questioning anything related to The Golden Chicken, even now, seems
With a faith I suppose is the essence of childhood, I believed in the
mystique and power of the Golden Chicken, sort of like a person
believes in God.
Every game was important. Since my dad was the coach, our family’s
mood was set by how 25 or so high school boys performed under the
lights on a Friday night.
Victories were sweet.
Losses were humbling and sorrowful.
It was Mudville, and there was no joy when Mighty Casey struck out.
I remember losing and thinking, “Somewhere bands are playing and
somewhere hearts are light.”
I remember winning and not thinking. I remember running. In total
euphoria. Middle of the field. Everyone hugging. Pom-poms glittering.
Trombones sliding. Football players dancing.
And at the center of it all, my dad.
With a smile that could stop time.
There is nothing like waking up on a Saturday morning after your team
wins one of those games. It’s a rare “All is right with the world”
Don’t get me wrong. Life is good now. But, how I wish I could wake up
on any given Saturday and feel that way again.
Forest and Morton.
Place names that resonate to the depths of my soul.
Each of those games mattered to everyone who mattered to me.
The word rival doesn’t begin to explain the relationship between
Forest and Morton.
The importance of that game went beyond a coach keeping his job. It
was about happiness, in general. It was about personal conviction.
Like believing could make a difference.
Maybe it did.
Decades later, I remember the scores of specific Forest-Morton games.
I remember particular plays. I remember double, even triple overtimes.
By the time you read this, one of those two teams will be basking in
the thrill of victory for another year. On Friday night, the Golden
Chicken went home to roost once again.
by Jan in Uncategorized
Long before the wedding invitation arrived, I knew the event would not
be “just another wedding.”
For one thing, it’s in Vermont, “in the nation’s oldest marble
quarry,” my friend explained. For another thing, the happy couple took
their engagement photographs in a graveyard. There’s a handmade voodoo
doll carefully stitched to the front of the invitation, complete with
a safety pin to the heart. The event, set for Halloween day will end
with a costume party/wedding reception.
Like I said, it should be interesting.
With all the effort going into its planning – and the costume my
friend is making and wearing to his wedding reception, I realized the
time had come for me to figure out what Halloween costume I would be
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend more on
Halloween preparations than any holiday except Christmas. The NRF
estimated Americans spent $5.77 billion on Halloween last year, adding
that the average person spent about $65 for their Halloween-related
Clearly, they didn’t speak with my mother. I’m certain her plans would
have brought the average down. She didn’t believe in going all out for
Halloween. Most years, I went dressed as hobo, and we never doled out
the fancy treats from our front door.
However, this year, I have to break with tradition and do something
different. I have to figure out a costume to wear for this grand
I asked friends for their suggestions.
My friend and local attorney, Matt Jones, had some clever ideas.
“You could go as the Health Care bill. That seems to scare lots of
people,” he wrote. “Or the swine flu? (I am thinking of a pig with a
stovepipe.) A toxic mortgage? The man in the moon with a Nasa rocket
sticking out of his head?”
Other friends had scary ideas for costumes, as well.
One friend suggested Octomom.
My husband suggested going as our 401K balance.
Another friend suggested attending the reception “as the ex-wife no
one knew about.”
The ex-wife costume would be a surprise for all involved. Chances are
I’ll do something subtle, but comfortable. I’m open to ideas, but know
that something subtle will work best. I can’t imagine surviving the
evening in some of the outrageous costumes I’ve seen others shed
incrementally as Halloween parties creep into the night.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my husband and children will be all
about Halloween. I hate to miss my girls on their big day – though
technically, I’m thinking that at 12, Greer won’t be trick-or-treating
too much. (However, she does have her first ever school dance and
costume contest to prepare for. Thankfully, I’ll be here for that
Our neighborhood is inspiration for anyone contemplating Halloween.
Several neighbors have full-scale crime scenes in their front yards –
like the set of CSI, with skeletons and bodies galore. Other neighbors
have giant blow-up pumpkins, complete with floating Halloween-inspired
These days, the “good candy” houses are easy to spot.
by Jan in Uncategorized
During the months I spent in employment limbo earlier this year, I
explored many possibilities. When the time came to get creative and
figure out how to make a living, my mind went in a lot of directions.
One of the areas I considered was the Foreign Service. Becoming a
Foreign Service Officer is not easy. The initial qualifying exam is a
bear. Jobs with the State Department working in an embassy somewhere
in this wide world are difficult to get.
Long, long ago, when I was much younger, I took the Foreign Service
Officer Exam and it blew my mind. What I remember from that experience
focuses on questions about the World Bank and my realization of how
little I knew about the way the world works.
The process of registering for the exam is comprehensive. I was
pleased to learn I had qualified to take the test.
Then I got a job teaching and have not had time to give thought the
rigors I knew to expect.
But it was too late to cancel and, besides, I really wanted to give it
a try. While some people go to Georgetown University to prepare for
the Foreign Service exam, I spent the weekend with a book on my sofa.
The preparation nearly overwhelmed me.
My study guide confirmed my worst memories of the test. The subject
matter was broad, detailed and varied. Study topics ranged from:
– What happens if the president is disabled and refuses to step
aside? (Does the Senate suspend him from office by a two-thirds vote
or does Congress pass a resolution adopted by a two-thirds vote to do
– What was President Chester A. Arthur’s most significant achievement
while in office back in 1883?
– In traditional Chinese political thinking, when can the Mandate of
Heaven be lost? (Is it if the emperor lacks virtue or dies without a
legitimate male heir?)
– Which of these is not a social variable of consumer buying behavior?
And they go on to include math, grammar and computers.
Plus, there’s a writing section. I wasn’t as concerned about the
writing section since I write as often as I do. I thought I’d be ready
and could handle what they threw in front of me on the essay section
of the exam.
That was the error of my ways.
I had 30 minutes to write an essay. My opinion on the political and
economical topic didn’t matter, but the presentation of my argument
did. I wrote a so-so piece as the timer ticked down. With a minute and
a half to go, I decided to edit the first sentence.
You can probably guess what happened next.
A clock counting backwards is not flexible.
The editing didn’t go as planned. The timer stopped with me in the
middle of a word. I’m quite certain I will not pass. And the moral of
this story is: Never take personal strengths for granted.
by Jan in Uncategorized
Sitting in his chair by his window, with a knife-sharpened pencil
sticking out the top of his overalls’ middle-bib pocket, my
grandfather would look up from the ancient Bible he was reading on
Most of the time when he was in that position, he was as still as a
statue. However, if I was sitting across the room pouting about
something, he’d make a point to look up.
Pouting was foreboden. And, in a quiet voice, he would look at me and
say, “I could walk to town on that lip.”
I knew then that if the pouting didn’t stop – and stop rather
immediately – things would take a sharp turn for the worse.
Of all the things my grandfather said to me when I was a child, when I
think of him, that phrase is the one that comes to mind. Maybe it’s
his perpetual joke on me – to limit my pouting these days.
Earlier this week, I thought of the staying power things grandparents
say to grandchildren have. I heard a fellow educator, who was
searching high and low for a notebook she had just had, say, “Ain’t
nothing right when your underwear’s tight — that’s what my
grandmother always said.”
Collecting other grandparent sayings from friends was easy:
– From a friend with Cajun roots, “Mais, what you frowning for? You
betta hope a Nort wind don’t pass and leave your face like dat!” and
“I went visit so-and-so, but I broke my nose.” Translated to mean that
Mawmaw went visit so-and-so, but they weren’t home.
– I’ll get on you like stink on a skunk. (Used by an adult about to
reprimand a child.)
– He sure is a huntiful looking thing! (Said by the husband of my
high school geometry teacher when referring to any man with a beard.)
– You make a better door than you do a window. (Said to a child
blocking someone’s view.)
– My friend, Mart Martin, said every time he was getting ready to
drive back home from his grandmother’s house she’d say, “Watch out for
those nuts comin’ out those side roads.” He and his sister and still
repeat the phrase – and I think I’ll use it too.
My husband’s family has their share of Spanish sayings. Long ago I
learned sayings from different languages most often ring just as true
– Nunca digas de esta agua no bebere. (Don’t ever say you won’t take
a certain path.)
– Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres (Tell me who you hang out
with, and I will tell you who you are.)
My husband said when someone commented on his mother’s age, she would
say, “Como tu te ves, yo me vi. Y como tu me ves, tu te veras.” (How
you are now, I used to be. How I am now, you will be.) These days,
that sentiment rings truer every day.
If you’ve got a good one, send it my way.