Mrs. Garza! he whisper-yells hand raised, tests await commands to start You got a baby trash can? Trash can? I moved it to the front hand sanitizer box of tissues bathroom sign-out sheet He mumbles, looks around making sure no one hears or at least he tries I walk to his desk You got a baby trash can? a little tiny trash can? You see, I got sunflower seeds eat em when I'm bored I don't wanna put em all over the table, you know... Yeah, I know, spit I get it I eat them on long road trips so I don't fall asleep while I'm driving Testing binder in hand I walk to my office looking over my shoulder letting everyone know I'm sort of watching Yank, yank, yank, yank Use paper towels that's all I've got take a bathroom break if you need more Psst... Mrs. Garza thank you He sets his desk as if breaking bread computer plugged in- he forgot to charge it a bag of sunflower seeds slouches agains the testing divider paper towels stacked and ready pencil scratch paper testing ticket Today you'll be taking... Crack! He snaps the first seed
Spring’s second day brings a storm. Just like that, didn’t even have time to completely let it in. I rush out the door, vowing to squeeze in a quick walk before the rain comes down. If it decides not to stand us up. The air is heavy and thick with humidity, the scent of rain wafts around me. I remember when I’d run away from storms, and now I’m walking out the door to possibly meet one.
I’m listening to my audiobook, but thunder rumbles and growls, distracting me from the story. No point in trying to listen. Large storm filled raindrops plop ahead of me. I quicken my pace. I can probably make it home without getting drenched. My husband, always a storm tracker, but not never a storm chaser sends me a message. “I’m near the Little Free Library, not too far,” I reply. “There’s lightning, I’m coming to get you.”
So much for my walk, I’ll do some yoga later. My husband paces from one room to another, phone in hand, like an expectant father waiting for the sky to deliver. Sure enough, sheets of heavy rain start coming down, the wind picking up and slamming the windows wet. I sit down to write, I’m feeling a poem today. About the weather.
The rain has stopped, and the sun stands tall, saluting as the rain exits. I notice, but work with words stirring up in my head, until…
“At around 6:01 pm the national weather service reported a tornado on the ground near Jarrell…” my husband reads from his phone.
I keep writing.
He continues, “A confirmed tornado was reported over the I-35 flyover…” Not far from where my son works.
“He probably didn’t even notice,” I mumble.
“Call him to see if he’s okay.”
“I’m writing, you have your phone in your hand, you call him.”
He didn’t say it, but he was planning to go back to the radar that lives on his phone. He calls to check. “Are you okay?”
Nope, he didn’t, notice. Just a gust of wind and loss of power. Going home early.
We watch the news replay. It was right there. Close call, too close. It went right over his building.
“Are we going to die? We should totally go coffin shopping. I want my coffin to be long, the taller the coffin, the taller people think you are,” ‘tween interjects.
And, as quickly as those sheets of rain came down, the sun came out, and the storm went by, my words disappeared with them.
I stopped shopping at malls years ago. Too cumbersome. I got an Amazon Prime membership, so that’s where I’ve been since. My shopping trips usually consist of the grocery store, Target, Costco, occasionally Old Navy, and book stores. That’s about it. I hate shopping. My daughter gets lots of hand me downs from her older cousin and she isn’t into many of the current fashion trends. She prefers thrift stores.
A few weeks ago she requested a trip to Hot Topic to spend a gift card she received for her birthday last June. That’s how often we shop, almost a year later, and I haven’t taken her to use it. We browsed where she wanted to browse.
I knew better than to look for anything for myself, other than popping in to get my freebie from Bath & Body Works along with a scented candle. I bought her mall pretzels, stopped at a shop for a bag of crystals which will wind up strewn all over her desk, pairing up with the the other crystals of the same sort she already owns, and left.
I could use a new workdrobe, a new wardrobe I can wear to work. I’m getting tired of the same clothes. I look behind me and decide to come alone another time so I can have some peace and quiet while I dig into clearance racks.
She requested another trip to the mall this week. She’s enjoying shopping now, but thrift stores are her favorite. This time she requested a trip not to Hot Topic, but to Build-a-Bear. Yes, the ‘tween wants to go to Build-a-Bear. To build a frog.
“Didn’t you get rid of that Disney princess pup you got when you were five? Didn’t you say that place is so lame and only for toddlers and kindergarteners? You’ll probably toss it into the Goodwill pile in a few weeks.”
“Well, they didn’t have frogs back then. Bears are lame. Frogs are cool. And I will not put it in the Goodwill pile. It will be my emotional support frog.”
Before I listed a million reasons why she has no need for another stuffed critter, I reconsidered. It’s spring break. She’s been working so hard the past two years. She missed out on her end of fifth grade field trip and end of year celebration. She started middle school without her friend group January of last year following a rough semester of trying to learn from home. There wasn’t much learning going on.
What’s one more stuffed critter? I invited her best friend since kindergarten. Both had already researched the frog. I thought it was only available online, but that’s the blue tie dyed version. The green spring frog is what they wanted. Apparently, these are a hot item with teens right now. Sure enough, we arrived and there was a pair of middle school aged friends watching their frogs get stitched.
“We can go to a thrift store to buy the clothes because these are overpriced,” she explains to her friend. I’m teaching her valuable life skills. We made our way to get pretzels and made a pit stop at Hot Topic. More 80’s style pins, but of Moth Man. I didn’t even ask. On the way home, we found a Savers tucked a few blocks away from the mall, a blink and you’ll miss it type of location. We stopped and she found newborn sized clothes for the frog.
And that’s day one of Spring Break ’22. I can handle one more stuffed frog. It’s the trip there with a friend that counts.
As I worked with a small group of students using the button maker, another student came in, hunting me down. What’s so urgent?
“Mrs. Garza! I have to show you this!”
She holds a folded red bandana. Usually students either show me their own copies of a book I recently added to our collection. A published piece of writing from language arts class. A LEGO mini-figure. A new mani. A second ear piercing.
Walking toward the desk, she slowly unwrapped the bandana. “Look what I have. I need to be careful or it’ll break. It’s over a hundred years old.” Leaving the bandana on the table, she cradled it. A book, but not one I recently added to the collection. It was old. Over a hundred years old. A yellow envelope peeked out from underneath the front cover. I almost didn’t want to touch it, but I couldn’t wait to hold it.
Leather. Old leather, with pieces so worn they had fallen off. I needed gloves to handle it and here she was, brining it to school wrapped in a bandana and plopped into a backpack. Our new library bound books can barely take the brunt of a middle schooler’s backpack. “Where…”
“I got it at a garage sale! The lady gave it to me. I didn’t even have to pay for it. She said it belonged to her grandfather.” Another story about an hour after the previous grandfather story. Must’ve been National Grandfathers Leave Something Special to a Loved One Day and I didn’t get the memo. “Look at the letter!” she exclaims excitedly. “It has actual writing from the 1800’s.” Definitely an artifact because it’s actual writing. Opening the cover, she explains how the page had fallen out, or rather, broken out. There it was, a note with actual writing on it.
I tried not to gasp. I’m not sure if the book is worth anything, but the page was glued onto a sheet of paper which was glued onto an envelope. Yikes! I’m not an archivist, but this one may or may not be worth taking to an archivist. Wanting to check the publication date, I tried to open the next page to find information. It was too brittle. Not wanting to damage it, I opened pages that wanted to be opened. The print is still in decent condition.
I imagine I would’ve fallen in love with this book had I been able to see it back in the 1800s. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. I saved the title for last. A book of poems by John Milton. I spoke a little of what I remember about John Milton, which isn’t much, and his famous Paradise Lost. I asked for permission to take pictures. I suggested she check into having an expert take a look at it. What thrilled her most was the note written inside and the fact she got it free. At a garage sale.
This was a second story to add to my collection in the same day. My campus was without a librarian last year and library activities halted. It’s taken me a while to get the flow of it, get to know the teachers, and get to know the students. They are coming in more frequently now, teachers and students. And they’re sharing their stories with me. Even if they were free from a garage sale. I call that a win.
“Everyone has a story to tell. All you have to do is write it. But it’s not that easy.”Frank McCourt
We received two shipments of delayed book orders I placed last semester. Supply chain issues. I’m new at my campus after spending my first five years as a librarian at an elementary school. I went back to the middle. What people don’t know is there are more steps to getting books onto the shelves than what meets they eye. “They already come with the barcodes, why can’t you just scan the book and check it out to me?” Not that easy. Not that quick.
First, I have to make sure I received everything. Publishers make mistakes, so I have to check that all of the pages-of the correct book-are in order, match the cover, match the correct series, match the genre. I load the records. Not only that, I have to go through each record to check for errors. This is the ELA teacher equivalent of grading papers. It’s time consuming. Sometimes I edit records and change genres to match what we have at our library. Example: mystery books are labeled suspense books on my campus. When everything is ready, I send the records to our district systems librarian so they are added to our catalog.
I lay my hands on each book, label them with corresponding genre stickers, print new call numbers if needed, stamp the inside with the date received and label them with our school’s address. Then I pay for them. Well, the district does, but I have to enter financial information on a program that never has liked me. Each book is inventoried and the final touch is a bright yellow NEW sticker above the call number.
They’re enticing. So much so that I want to check all of them out and keep them to myself.
These aren’t the only stories I get.
Yesterday, I chatted with a student while she worked on a 1,000 piece Harry Potter puzzle I set up in our maker space. “I love puzzles. I have so many at my house. And I love books. My mom does too. That’s why I love coming here.”
“What do you do with your puzzles when you finish them? Do you pull them apart and swap them out or do you display them?”
“Modge Podge. I pour Mod Podge on them and attach them to canvas so I can hang them in my room.”
“Cool,” I say, pointing to my Wonder Woman puzzle displayed above the graphic novels. “I do the same, but I use foam core on the back. Heat the blade of a box cutter and it slices right through to trim it.”
We continued with the conversation of books. She described a tattoo her mom wants to get: a girl holding a stack of books ascending a staircase with one side of her parted hair turning into a bookcase. I oohed and ahhed, imagining something similar to what I’ve pinned to my Pinterest boards. “My mom also has tattoos her grandfather drew. He would be my great grandfather. He escaped Germany during World War II and he drew a lot during that time. He came to the United States. I’m half Jewish.”
“Your great grandfather fled Germany during World War II?” I had collaborated with this student’s teacher to prepare them for a unit on the Holocaust. “Does your teacher know this?”
“Have you written this story? Have you told it?”
“You have an important story to tell.”
“Yeah, my mom says her tattoos tell stories. One arm is for the tattoos her grandfather drew. Her left arm is for her vacations. She loves fish and the beach. She has a mahi-mahi, a catfish, and a turtle. One time, we went to visit my grandfather in Oregon. We went in a red van so she has a red van on her arm too. I’m not sure where we’re going this summer, but I think she’ll add another fish.”
She continued adding pieces to the puzzle.
“Thanks for sharing. I think you have a good story you need to write.”
I went back to the third cart of books awaiting processing. Of all the new stories that made their way into the library this past week, this has been my favorite.
I’m so nerdy, subscribe to a sticker club. It’s like an ’80s sticker store, but in the mail. I purchased a year’s subscription for my mini-me two years ago as a birthday gift. I didn’t cancel the subscription, but decided to gift it to myself. Plus they offer a teacher discount, so how can I cancel? I’ve been hoarding stickers ever since. I don’t want to use them, but I totally need to use them. I have no business buying a sticker album either. Yes, they sell those too.
Every month, I receive a shiny holographic envelope with another sparkly zippered pouch packed with stickers. Oh happy day, snail mail, my favorite! I’m sure I can repurpose the envelopes, so I hoard them along with my stickers.
Last week, I received a badge machine I ordered for our library’s maker space. Bingo! I packed up my sticker stash and envelopes. I’ve never used one, so it was time to play. I cut out circles from the envelopes and the front page of the ‘zine that comes with each pack. The covers have fun prints, so I read them, rip the cover, and save them along with everything else.
After several failed attempts at making a badge and before deciding to send it back, reading the directions might help. I left out the important metal base. Went back to try again and alas, awesome, shiny, 80s style buttons. I decided to make a few for students to see if they’d like them. I wasn’t sure if they’d go over well. My idea of cool stuff is not their idea of cool stuff. Once spotted though, our regulars all wanted one.
Taking it a step further, I decided to make some donning the covers of popular books. The backgrounds aren’t shiny because we print them out, but sure enough, students are looking for their favorite titles. My library assistant made a template so all we have to do is place the image of the book cover on the circle templates, print, and cut them out. We have books on the 2022 Texas Lone Star Reading List ready to print. One of our student aides has learned how to make them and the task is now hers to supervise others.
I’m hoping these will motivate students to read. Even if they don’t, it will bring them through our doors so we can have a little bonding time, chatting. About books. Or stickers. Or about what it was like growing up in the 80s. (Hello, primary source, here.) And they’ll leave with a mark of library coolness.
Two students came in this morning to print flyers they made for next week’s Spirit Week, kicking off spring break ’22 (is it really that time already?). One of them is a student library helper that has taken on the task of checking out books to students so we can work on more pressing issues. Like making sure no one tries to bite a Chromebook. True story, but not under my watch.
One of the scheduled spirit days is “Dress as Your Favorite Decade.” They asked if I’d be participating. “Heck yes! Totally the 80s for me.” Then I began reminiscing. They asked what it was like and how I dressed. My answer? Pretty much like I do now, except everything was neon. Big hoop earrings. Side pony tails. Leg warmers. Fingerless gloves. Rectangular sunglasses. Rubber bracelets stacked from wrist to elbow. Miami Vice jackets with huge shoulder pads.
Miami Vice…my celebrity crush was Don Johnson, among many others. “Ooh, Ms. Garza, was he cute?” They proceeded to Google him. “No! Not yet! You can’t Google the Don Johnson now. You have to search for the 80s Miami Vice Don Johnson, they won’t look the same. Don’t do it!”
Too late. They give each other an odd look. Sure enough, it’s not the Miami Vice Don Johnson. We dig a little deeper and find one of Crockett and Tubbs donning their signature pastel t-shirt and suit combos. Sigh… “I know, he was way too old for me.” My library assistant chimes in, “But if it’s a celebrity crush, it doesn’t matter.” I mull it over. “True, but look at him now, ewww! It’s just ewww! He’s old enough to be my dad! Gross!” They agreed without having to agree with me. “Okay Ms. Garza, we’re going to come check out your outfit.”
“The flyer says you’re giving out candy if people participate. I’m totally going to get some candy!”
I print their flyers. We chat a little more about how we plan to dress up and other 80s celebrity crushes. For about ten minutes I was 13 again, swooning over a Google search instead of a poster in Teen Beat magazine.
I know, everyone is “celebrating” this once in a lifetime palindrome of a day. And I like palindromes, so much so I was fascinated with one of the characters in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, who spoke in palindromes. The character, one of the daughters in the story (her name escapes me-it’s been years since I’ve read it), renames Emily Dickinson no snikcidy lime, one of my favorite poets.
I found myself trying to make sense of today’s oddity. I like oddities. We tend to find each other frequently and sometimes, people find me, odd. Never mind them. It doesn’t bother me. Usually.
I had to walk back into the house twice this morning for forgotten items. My watch, oh grand teller of time. And my H20.
At work, we started day one of a two day testing session, the bane of my existence. No matter how far removed you are from the classroom, you still manage to get suckered in for testing.
During lunch, I messaged my husband and suggested we do something to celebrate. Maybe a dessert. Maybe something out of the ordinary for a weekday with the kids, but what, I wasn’t sure.
Later, I got a message. My husband and my nineteen year old suggested we go out for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Dos Salsas, where two different salsas accompany your chips before your meal. To top it off, it’s also National Margarita Day. Margarita is my signature color and if I were to choose a middle name (my parents didn’t give me one), it would be Margarita. Why the heck not, I’ll have a margarita today, three days before the weekend officially starts.
No one complained about the choice of restaurant. We didn’t argue about the possibility of sharing oversized meals and this time I ordered what I wanted without thinking twice about adding a margarita. I didn’t balk at a shared dessert of fried ice cream-we rarely order dessert. The kids didn’t fight over the last bite of it either. We all got along and genuinely enjoyed our meal together.
And that’s the point. Being together. This felt like the first normal restaurant meal we’ve had in two years. We’ve been back, but someone always stayed home, and usually for pandemic reasons. I know we’re not “back to normal” yet, if that’s even a possibility, but it felt like we were all back today. 2/22/22. Two years (mostly) later. Two long, hard, bitter years.
Do we always do this? No. Have our dinners always turned out this way B.C.-Before Covid? No. But it sure did feel good to have my family back for a few hours. It’s giving me hope that we’re at a place where we can move forward and take all the things that got thrown at all of us and actually process them. For us adults, we had to put on our business as usual attire for the sake of our kids. But I think it’s important for them to know that it was far from business as usual.
I think today is a perfect day to use as a turning point. We can fully come out of where we have been and reflect on everything we’ve learned. We can share our gratitude about how it wasn’t worse even though it got rough. We can show how much we’ve changed and how much we’ve stayed the same.
Dos Salsas is still there. Mom still likes a good margarita. It’s okay not to split a meal, but totally okay to order dessert. Celebrate odd days such as these because they only come around once in a lifetime.
We only come around once in a lifetime.
No, I don’t have one, but I sure did hear Charlie Bucket singing about his golden ticket as soon as my son surprised me with a chocolate bar when I came home. A chocolate bar is always good, but one with a mystery ticket…
…a popular social media influencer by the name of MrBeast launched chocolate bar products recently. Four of the said bars were procured by a young man-child, Mr. Garza, in a world-wide mission to win a non-Willy Wonka mystery ticket, but certainly inspired by Mr. Wonka’s Golden Ticket (original concept by Roald Dahl). 21st century mystery tickets are not wrapped around a chocolate bar and tucked inside of a wrapper, but accessed via QR code. Enter the special code and “spin to win” a chance for one of these fabulous prizes: Visit Feastables.com for more details…
I’ll take chocolate any time. My son fills me in on possibilities, “1,000,000 in prizes and offers,” one being to compete in a video to win the chocolate factory. A Tesla, earbuds, a Beast Burger. I tap into my inner twelve year old and think of the possibilities. If I won the chocolate factory, I’d manufacture book shaped chocolate, educators get it free any time. And it wouldn’t be one of those BOGO deals we get during teacher appreciation week either. If I win the Tesla…heck, I’d be happy with a free burger.
I turn the chocolate bar and look at the little corner that instructs me to peel the label concealing the code, which will be entered onto a website with algorithmic robots controling my million dollar destiny. Or that with the value of a burger. Most likely the value of the chocolate bar. I still haven’t “played” the game. I’m wondering if the code is a distraction and there really is a golden ticket wrapped around the bar inside of the wrapper. It certainly isn’t too late for dessert.
I’m a first born. Responsible. But sneaky. My brain likes things that are precise, exact, perfect. Or close to it.
Being in charge of younger siblings while my parents worked, we had a lot of free time on our hands without someone constantly watching us. By the time I was in high school, I met the qualifications-whatever those were-to make sure everyone was looked after for a few hours after school and chunks of time on weekends while one parent made their way home and the other left for work.
One December, I decided to rearrange gifts so they looked like what my sister and I liked to call “commercial” worthy-what you’d see on TV. Our packages didn’t have large puffy fabric bows, but foil bows you got in a bag of twenty for a dollar. Our imaginations filled the void. It was important for us count them. How dare anyone have more than me. Size mattered too. If one of us had a larger gift, what could it be?
At my age though, I figured out the size of the gift didn’t equate the amount of money spent on it. I also had not quite learned that gifts weren’t the real reason for the season. Gifts were THE reason for the season and I wanted to know what I had coming. Periodically, we’d all choose a gift, give it a shake, and take turns guessing what was tucked inside.
This year, I had gifts that didn’t make much sound. Too old for boxes with a heaviness that slid from one end to the other-some sort of toy. I knew who had Barbies, skinny boxes with skinny perfectly-figured blonds on tiptoes inside. I outgrew those, but still helped French braiding their hair when no one was looking. And narrating their dates with Ken because the younger ones just didn’t understand how it really worked. I started watching Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless during school breaks, so I knew a thing or two. Those soundless packages only meant what every teen girl wanted: clothes.
But which clothes? Jordache jeans? A Guess? shirt or sweater? What had I drooled over at the mall recently? It could be anything. But I need to know which one in particular. While the younger ones played, I nonchalantly took a package after having made a picture-perfect TV commercial worthy set-up. No adults were home. I was the next “adult” in line. Fourteen wasn’t too far from eighteen. The younger ones played or watched TV. With three other siblings in a small house, the bathroom was the only place for privacy.
I took a beautifully wrapped package, from my grandma, and headed off to do my business. I turned the fan on so everyone would know it would be while before I was done. I took the package and turned it over and over wondering where it was from. The wrapping was fancy, not the K-Mart paper that wrapped the other gifts. My uncle was behind this one. They asked for wrapping from the store that sold it or he spent a little too much on wrapping paper without my grandma knowing it. Either way, this was the one that intrigued me most.
I turned the box over and found the tape at the bottom. I started picking at it with my fingernail, carefully, like picking at a Band-Aid that’s stuck on too tight. Surprisingly, the tape easily peeled away from the paper without leaving a mark. I sucked in my breath. No on had banged on the door yet. Breathe…I flipped it to the other end to try the other side. The tape easily peeled off again.
Stuck, I had to decide what to do next. If I kept unwrapping the box, would I be able to put it back without anyone suspecting it had been opened? What if I couldn’t get it back the way I found it? You know how you open a box and the contents just don’t fit the way they were packaged? What would happen then? Do I stop here and wait a few days like I’m supposed to?
Supposed to. I was tired of that. I usually do what I’m supposed to do. I’m in theater, I can act like I’m surprised even if I know what’s in the box. No one will ever know.
I kept going.
I completely unwrapped the box, being careful to leave the tape attached. I found a plain white shirt box. We usually used old boxes from around the house to wrap gifts. This one came from not Wal-Mart or K-Mart. As I lifted the top, I discovered more tape. I needed to hurry because someone would need to use the bathroom soon. My heart pounded when I accidentally ripped part of the box. Dang! The tape stuck to the box more than it did to the paper. I’m the only one who would see the box during the unwrapping chaos of Christmas morning, so I continued.
After removing the lid, I discovered neat, white tissue paper gently enclosing the gift, adhered with a round gold seal. Whoa! Super fancy. I knew that would tear, so I lifted everything out and slipped out the gift from one end. I drew in a breath. A pink collarless, button down shirt with mid-length sleeves and a pocket on the left side seemed to smile at me. It even smelled fancy. I could wear it with…everything! I loved it! I silently shouted, jumped for joy, and imagined myself squishing my grandma in thanksgiving. No one was around to relish my joy, but a party of one was enough for me.
With the fan still going, I didn’t have much time. I now faced the task of reversing my actions: folding the shirt where it creased, slipping it back into the tissue, placing it in the box, re-taping the lid, and re-wrapping the gift. It went much more quickly this time, I didn’t have a choice. I calmed myself down, flushed the toilet and washed my hands, all the while grinning as I glanced at the box. I got a sneak peek at my gift. With a little more time, I could open them all, but not today.
I walked back to the living room with the gift behind my back. I side-stepped toward the tree and dropped it back into the pile. No one noticed. I went back to rearranging them again. I picked up one of the skinny boxes, my youngest sister’s name on it. I called her over. “Want to know what you got for Christmas?”