Big Wheel Keeps on Turning

Big wheel keeps on turning, churning up snippets so long forgotten they might not be rightfully considered mine anymore. (Reading over that line, I'm feeling a little too much like Miss Daisy...better get some of that there "blueing shampoo." 

A name, in author and VCFA faculty advisor, Sharon Darrow's Write at Your Own Risk post, "The Imagination Has Its Orders," prompted the stop and pried the cage open this go round. Bonnie Riedinger, not even the correct name--off by one letter--but close enough. Yep, like horseshoes and hand grenades, memory works that way. 

Halloween, Junior Year, my BF Valerie is Alice. Get what that leaves me? We were having too much fun to graduate!

Halloween, Junior Year, my BF Valerie is Alice. Get what that leaves me? We were having too much fun to graduate!

My senior year of high school, I only had to take two required classes, Government and Senior English. I didn't need to take either really, could actually have graduated early, but why? I had a good paying job--school hours only, weekends and holidays off--in the Career Guidance Center, (I would have had to quit if I graduated.) My friends were all still in school. I wasn't ready to be big.

Instead, I padded my schedule with Volleyball P.E. with a plan to slide through my senior year.

A certain Huntington Beach High School English teacher named Mrs. Riedlinger (note the "l") was my is responsible for turning my slider into a home run. 

People ask why I became a writer.  It took reading that one-letter-wrong name all these years later for me to come up with an answer: Mrs. Riedlinger.  I doubt she'd remember me (even a year later.)  I wasn't that kind of student. But Mrs. Riedlinger was that kind of teacher.

Going round and round and round in the circle game. . .
— Joni Mitchell

Here's what I remember from Mrs. Riedlinger's class: We read the Odyssey AND Travels with Charlie. She taught poetry, by way of the classics--AND Dylan AND Elton AND Mick. Unheard of! (This was 1975-76, back before the age of reason.)

She assigned 10 SAT words a week. "Define them and use them each in a sentence."  

That name stopped me. I Googled my teacher and 2 yearbook pages popped up. Judith Riedlinger,  teaching at HBHS in 1971-1985.

That name stopped me. I Googled my teacher and 2 yearbook pages popped up. Judith Riedlinger,  teaching at HBHS in 1971-1985.

I raised my hand. "Do we have to write one sentence each?" I asked. "Or can we use more than one word in a sentence."

(The smart girl in the class, Deirdre, who by the end was my friend and still is, thought up the question. She was a sophomore who'd already skipped a grade or two, and unlike me, had every intention of graduating early.)

"Use as many as you like per sentence. Use them all in one sentence if you can. But," Mrs. Riedlinger challenged. "If you want it to count, it had better be a proper sentence."

Each week of that semester Deirdre and I went for it. Doing so took much more time, no doubt, but we managed to cut our sentence production. And at least once we succeeded in correctly using all 10 of that week's words in one sentence. If memory serves, two of those were sagacious and parsimonious

My story, of a passionate teacher changing a student's life, isn't unique. Still, it's lovely to know it happens--can still happen--especially as this brand new school year begins. Here's hoping our students connect with their Mrs. Riedlinger!

To keep the feel good going, here are my top 5 Favorite Teachers in Movies: 

  1. Danny Divito as Bill Rago in Renaissance Man
  2. Sidney Poitier as Mr. Thackeray in To Sir With Love 
  3. Michael Cane and Julie Waters in Educating Rita (not sure who's the teacher?)
  4. Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society
  5. Peter O’Toole as Mr. Chipping in Goodbye Mr. Chips 

If that's not enough, here's a list of MORE inspiring Teacher/Student Movies.

This blog's playlist: 

--Thanks for reading! 

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One Candle, My Ferris Wheel, a Potato

Marvelous the way memory works. I think of mine like a Ferris Wheel*. When the music starts, the squeaky wheel spins for a while, slows to a stop, the door on the little cage closest to the ground swings open to let someone--or some memory--out, the door closes, the wheel starts spinning, that cage swings up out of reach, another cage swings to a stop.

I know what's in the cages on either side. I can almost reach them . . . almost

As for those cages way up at the top? If I squint hard, I can see them. But danged if I know what's in them . . . 

A book review of Eve Bunting's One Candle, on Lori Norman's writer blog: StoryQuill conjured a cage that must have been so far up on my Ferris Wheel it was lost in the clouds. It's out of season. Random, totally. But, that's how my wheel rolls: 

The door swung open to a long ago Christmas Eve when in a panic, I pulled off the highway to call Ronnie because I'd forgotten the menorah.

I'd called from a gas station pay phone because we didn't' have cell phone back then. Rosie (as we called Lexi back then) and Max (ever Max) were especially excited because that year Hanukkah and Christmas Eve were on the same day, so we NEEDED a menorah!

With the last name of Goldman, everyone but the few acquainted with the prominent "Catholic Goldmans" of Tulsa, assumed we were Jewish, and I, a non-practicing anything, with two half-Jewish as possible--considering the Jewish half was not their mother's half--children was committed to upholding all traditions. Fortunately, my dear friend and writing partner, Ronnie, a full-blood Jewess and, as it happens the first women in Oklahoma to have a Bat Mitzvah.

 In addition to baking & decorating the best Hanukkah sugar cookies, was educated enough for both of us. 

 In addition to baking & decorating the best Hanukkah sugar cookies, was educated enough for both of us. 

"You can use a potato!" Ronnie told me. She went on to explain how during the Holocaust, because Jews were not allowed to keep traditions, were, in truth, imprisoned or killed if any religious accouterments were discovered in their possession, they improvised: thus the Dreidel game, a secret way to study the Torah; the common potato, a secret menorah.

We stopped at a grocery story before we stopped for the night. And that night and for the following seven nights, light our potato menorah, said prayers, and opened gifts. 

This photo is not mine, but this is including the birthday candles--sans the gold paint--what our menorah looked like.

This photo is not mine, but this is including the birthday candles--sans the gold paint--what our menorah looked like.

In One Candle, Eve Bunting shares another grandmother's potato menorah story. Hers wasn't a Piggly-Wiggly supermarket russet, hers was stolen from a Buchenwald prison kitchen. Here's a snippet of the review:

With a little stolen butter and a thread from Rose’s skirt placed in a hollow she’d carved out of the potato, and with a stolen match, they made a candle in their barracks on the first night of Hanukkah. ‘It lifted us to the stars,’Grandma says.
— http://storyquill.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/one-candle-a-review/

Up up up to the stars . . . And on the way, nudged my Ferris Wheel. The power of words: it takes so few to coax down a distant cage. 

*Wait! Before the music plays and the wheel spins again: Be sure to check out Dani Sneed's book, THE MAN WHO INVENTED THE FERRIS WHEEL. about George Ferris and his World's Fair Wonder! You and every kid you know will be glad you did.

 

 

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