Always a Teacher

When I retired, I wondered aloud to my high school students, “What will I be when I’m not a teacher anymore?” Being a teacher was my identity; teaching was my way of life. One of the young men replied, “Mrs. Dougherty, don’t worry about it. You will always be a teacher.”

So many years later I realized the truth of his statement. One of my good friends, who has never been a cook, wanted to host Easter dinner and make everything herself. Since I had promised her cooking lessons as a Christmas present several years ago, she asked me to teach her the basics of pot roast with root vegetables. I demonstrated, I guided, she practiced, and it turned out beautifully.

On the big day she followed the plan and even tweaked it to add grilled vegetables to the menu as well as deviled eggs and rice. The meas was a success. She called me Monday to say that she would never have had the courage to cook for guests if it hadn’t been for the lessons.

That’s what teaching is all about. Not only do teachers demonstrate, but we encourage, we give our students the fundamentals and also the means to move forward in a positive way. I’m not sure my former student meant, “Mrs. Dougherty, you will always be a teacher,” as a compliment, but I decided to take it as one. Being a teacher isn’t something one can eliminate from one’s biography.


I Confess

In March I sliced about my outrage at the persistence of coarse language in our society today. Well…

My writing partner Lynne and I attended the MRA Conference in Quincy, MA last week.  I enjoyed it very much. From Irene Fountas to Jack Gantos to Chris Tovani, I learned, I mingled, I met new people, I reconnected with old friends and acquaintances. At dinner one evening, I met a woman who, it turns out, had spent summers in my home town in Northeastern, PA. She said, “You’ve probably never heard of it. It’s so small.” We were both surprised that I not only heard of it, it was my home for the first 18 years of my life.

It was a great conference.

I had driven from Southeastern Pennsylvania to the conference in Massachusetts. Lynne and I presented on Friday, and left the hotel at 3:00 p.m. for the ride home. What were we thinking? Why didn’t we stay and leave on Saturday morning? Why didn’t we have dinner and leave later in the evening? Well, we did not. Instead, with all the optimism of the unwashed, we hit the road. Things were fine at first. Aren’t they always “fine at first”? Then, I made the first of many mistakes: I entered I-95 South. Instead of the route taking me across the Tappen Zee, I was on route to the George Washington Bridge. “Oh, well,” we thought, “how bad can it be?”

I had my GPS going, and Lynne had her Google Maps App also giving directions. Siri said, “There is a 2-hour delay ahead. Would you like a faster route?” Would we! Why ask? Thus began the battle of the GPS’s. As I followed Siri, my GPS recalculated. By this time it was raining just enough for poor visibility but not enough for the crazy drivers who will tailgate and pass on the left or the right no matter the conditions.

As we approached NY City, the GPS’s began battling. I followed Siri into the city, where the lane to turn left was blocked by a city vehicle surrounded by police cars. I turned left at the next spot and made a U-turn, which was incorrect. I started following my GPS then. Back to the fray and the beginning of my use of much coarse language. There was traffic — Surprise! There was construction — Shock! There were lane blockages — Amazing! There were drivers who wouldn’t let me merge — Astonishing! You don’t want to hear the epithets I shouted.

However, in my defense, there were no children present.

So, I confess that I am no stranger to coarse language. Forgive me.


Forget about it

I read a piece in yesterday’s NY Times about the positive effects of forgetting. We all have events, mistakes, gaffes that haunt us. I, myself, when I think of my first years teaching, can recall many “Wish I hadn’t done that!” moments. When those memories surface, I feel regret and even shame. I want to go back and find that young lady to whom I said, “I don’t need YOU to tell me where the paper is,” when I clearly DID need her to tell me, and apologize to her. But she probably has no recollection of the incident.

The premise of the article is that memory can be a trouble maker. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for some to forgive themselves or others, when the incident remains so firmly in the forefront of their minds.  If remembering, they say, is a dynamic process, then forgetting, too, requires effort. If we wish to intentionally forget, to put unpleasant memories behind us, we need to  intentionally relegate those memories to oblivion. So says the author of the article.

For most of us, for me anyway, that is easier said than done. I can forgive and forget slights done to me, but I have an impossible task trying to forget the wrongs done to my children. My daughter says that she doesn’t need to hold grudges because I never forget any of them. (That’s not something I’m proud of, by the way.) I also have a difficult, if not impossible task, trying to forget my own embarrassing blunders. There was the time I introduced Charles Dickens’ novel “The Sail of Two Titties,” to a class of 10th graders. I laugh now, but not too loudly.

According to the article, “bad” memories can be changed, less from erasing them and more from editing them. Like a piece of writing, we have the ability to revise memories, focusing on minor details and putting in the background the major incident. Sounds like a lot of work to me. At my age, just like the crow’s feet and the turkey neck, I think I’ll live with my past. After all, my experiences have made me who I am today. So, fuhgeddaboudit.

What Can I Say?

First, the opera yesterday was beyond words. It was an HD Live performance (available in some movie theaters across the country), and every singer was at top voice. It was a long day and a long sit, but except for my creaky old knees, I didn’t mind. In fact, being swept away by the music, I didn’t even notice until I tried to stand up!

Second, I want to thank all the slicers whose posts buoyed my spirits and and whose writing bolstered my determination to be better at writing daily. How did you all do it? How did you fit the time to write and share into your already packed days? How can I thank you for your thoughtful words of support? I am so grateful to you.

Third, I hope to see more posts in the coming months. This community of readers and writers has been significant. Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and the entire writing team for making this community possible.

And now

I say, “So long,”

I breathe a sigh,

As I write,

“That’s the end of my


I have nothing more to say.”





Today I’m off to New York to see the second opera of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Die Walkure. This s what’s in store for me

A stranger seeks refuge,

The lady of the house gives him water.

Their hands touch.

Something other than thirst

Needs quenching.

They are twins,

Separated at birth.

Incest, adultery, chaos


Wotan battles with Fricka.

Brunhilde defies her father.

A cuckholded husband

Demands revenge.

Father exiles daughter,

In a sleep spell

Behind a wall of fire.

Das Ende!

Desperate power.

More to come.

Mercy, Me

I am bothered by the coarseness of language in our society today. I’m no prude, and I’ve been known to utter an epithet or two, but it seems to me that profanity is becoming commonplace. Even my beloved NY Times puzzle had a clue this week that startled me: “Half —-” The answer couldn’t be what I first thought, could it? It was.

Recently I was in Trader Joe’s and heard a woman shout at her child to “Shut the F### up!” I had a hard time breathing; how was it possible that I just witnessed such a scene in a quiet suburban market in the middle of a bright, sunny afternoon? No one stared at her (well, I did), no one intervened (not even I), no one else seemed shocked.

Is this what we have come to? Politicians use blue language to rile up their “base.” TV sitcoms elicit laughs by having children talk back to their flummoxed parents. Cable shows have no restrictions regarding obscene language. In fact, that’s their attraction, I suppose.

I’m all for progress. I’m no old coot shouting, “Get off my lawn.” Still, I long for a gentler time. My mother’s expression of choice was, “Mercy, me.” When she said that, I knew she was bothered. If my father ever cursed (and I’m sure he did), it was not at home in front of the children.

My five-year-old grandson came home the other day and asked his mother what “crap” meant. He said he heard the bus driver say he was “sick of this crap.” He told his mother, “I don’t know what it means, but it must be bad.” Wouldn’t it be lovely if, as a society, we could share in his innocence? Words matter.

Nothing happens

There’s a simplicity to baseball. I’m not a big sports fan, but I’ve always liked the game. There’s a gentleness to it. Even the words that describe the action are benevolent home, safe, walk, catch, aboard, home run, grand slam.

Baseball was my father’s passion. He and my brother, Anthony, were Red Sox fans. They’d sit on the back porch with a transistor radio listening to Curt Gowdy’s play-by-play. As I recall, despite their enthusiasm for the team, they were often disappointed in the outcome. They cheered anyway, and I cheered with them on that back porch in the late afternoon sun. My mother tolerated the noise, and sometimes brought out popcorn, but she tried to discourage my participation. Baseball was not for girls.

When I was in high school, I attended every home baseball game played in the field beside the fire hall. Sometimes my dad would come with me and my best friend Marie. Those afternoons are precious memories. Tommy W. had a great backdoor slider and struck out one unsuspecting batter after another.

These days I watch the Phillies on television, but it’s been a long time since we’ve attended a game in person.  Once baseball was America’s pastime. I wonder if we would be better off as a society if it still were. Maybe not.