A Sensitive Soul

I was born with a sensitive soul:
hurt covers me like icy water,
leaving me shaken and weak,
unable to walk, to function
as a human being.

I weep when others sniffle,
sob when some merely dab their eyes.
inside fires rage and water boils
with an intensity measured
by the Richter scale.

Pain strikes like an axe
falling hard on my furrowed brow,
bringing me to my knees
begging for the waves to pass
and peace to come.

While some quietly rage, I boil over,
spreading my doom and gloom
everywhere my eyes travel,
making my presence felt.
Uncomforting others.

Harboring my hurts
like a mother sheltering her young
I cradle them, caress them,
nurture them until splinters grow into
full-blown trees.

Letting go is not easy.
I preach forgiveness, but find
clinging vines cover my heart, blocking
my arteries, cutting off oxygen,
inhibiting rationality.

The good news is that time heals.
Good memories release pain
allowing stories to cry away the hurts.
New days begin with hope
for those like me, born with
a sensitive soul.

Not Just a Story


My mom seldom talked about her past, but when she did, her stories were riveting.
She was born a child of poverty, the second oldest amongst a passel of children. Her mother, my grandmother, stayed home and grew all different kinds of herbs, vegetables and flowers. She was a quiet woman who wore soft, well-washed cotton dresses up until the day she died. The only house that I knew my grandparents to live in was primitive. There was a wood-burning stove in the kitchen and a pump for water. A tin cup hung by the pump for anyone who was thirsty. Heat was a coal pot-belly stove in the main room. It terrified me. One time an uncle picked me up and threatened to throw me in. I screamed and cried and so finally he put me down.

My grandmother made lace and sewed by hand. She made quilts, and one time when my brother smashed my doll to pieces, she made it a body, slip, underpants and a dress. I still have that doll today.

My grandfather was a tenant farmer who moved his family around to wherever he found work. Mostly they lived in southern Ohio, near a town called Gallipolis. Sometimes they crossed over the Ohio River into Virginia. My grandfather knew how to hitch a mule to a wagon and how to grow crops, mostly corn. He never spoke in my presence. His house overlooked the river and if you leaned forward far enough, you could watch boats going through the locks.

I never understood why my grandparents weren’t more loving, even after my mom explained that they were embarrassed because they could not read or write. My grandfather understood weights and measures, though. Every day he would walk down the road to the store and buy whatever they needed. He watched as things were measured and packaged to make sure he was not cheated. When things started being canned and bottled, he was dismayed. One time he made the store owner open the can of coffee and weigh the contents. Only then would he bring it home.

My mom did get to go to school. She was not the best student, but she enjoyed her time in the one-room school. Often she had to walk through deep snow wearing only a thin coat, cotton dress and leather shoes. When the weather was better, she walked barefoot, her shoes tied and dangling over her shoulder. It was important to take care of shoes, for without them you could not go to school. When she completed eighth grade, her parents did not have the money to send her away for high school, so my mom repeated that grade three times.

By that time she was old enough to move into the city to live with a sister. She got a job at Woolworth’s, a five-and-dime store, and worked there for many years. When World War II started, my mom enlisted in the Army. At one post, in Florida, her main job was to carry buckets of water to palm trees. Eventually she learned to be a phone operator, which meant connecting calls using cords that plugged from one hole into another. She must have been good at it, for that remained her job until her enlistment was over.

One night, as my mom slept on her cot in the barracks, she awoke to a feeling that something was crawling up her leg. In panic, she bent her leg at the hip, a poor choice, since she pinched a black widow spider. Of course, it bit her. She fell violently ill and, according to her, nearly died. Once she recovered, she was sent home in her uniform, which she wore proudly.

My mom moved back in with her sister. There was a USO in town that frequently held dances for the servicemen, even after the war ended. It was at one such dance where she met a handsome man. They danced and talked and then she brought him home to meet her sister. The man was hungry, so he went to the pantry and took out the last can of food, opened it, and ate it all by himself. The sister was angry at the man’s arrogance. My mom was intrigued.

They married within months, but continued to live with the sister until they found a place of their own. Within eight months my brother was born. Interestingly enough, my mother claimed that the pregnancy was full term, that he was not born prematurely, yet she also was not pregnant when they married. I know little about that time except that my mom stayed home with the baby.

A year and a half later I came along. My earliest memories are of a home in what my mother called the projects. It was a small house, with only two bedrooms, but a porch that stretched across the front. My mom did not work outside of the home, but being a housewife then was hard work. We were lucky enough to have a washing machine, but it was the old-fashioned type with a huge bowl and a ringer that terrified me. I hated watching my mom feed clothes into the ringers, fearing that her fingers would get caught and fall off.

By the time I was old enough to go to school, we had moved to a larger house in the outskirts of downtown Dayton. There was a large backyard, big enough for a swing set, a dog house and a garden. It was here that my mom learned how to drive. She had to, if she wanted me to go to Kindergarten. My mom decided that I was a slow learner, a backward child, who wouldn’t succeed in school without help. This was a difficult decision, as kindergarten was not free back then, and so it placed a financial hardship on the family. But my mom thought it was important, and so she drove me to school every day, even when the roads were deep with snow.

When I started first grade, my mom returned to work as a telephone operator at a hospital in downtown. She left for work about the same time that my brother and I headed off for school, and didn’t come home until after my dad. She fixed dinner, did the dishes, made sure we were clean and tidy and took care of the house. That’s what women did then, all the housework with no help from the man. My mom was not the best cook, but there was always food on the table.

When I was seven my sister was born. It was a rough time. We were told that my mom had had a nervous breakdown and that we had to keep quiet so as to not upset her. Thank goodness it was summer, so my brother and I spent hours outside. We were not allowed in the house from morning until evening for fear of disturbing her sleep. I saw very little of my sister during that time as she stayed in the room with my mom.

We moved again when I finished fourth grade, this time to a house in Beavercreek, Ohio. It was a rural area, far from the city. Nevertheless, my mom drove us into town so that we could attend the Catholic elementary school. She also took us to the library, all the time driving an old, flat-black business coup that had no backseat.

One time, just as we pulled into the library parking lot, flames shot out from the hood. My mom seemed to know what to do. While my brother and I went inside and searched for books, my mom sat in the car, letting it cool down. When it was time to leave, she got out, opened the hood, tweaked a few things, then started the engine. It worked! She drove us all the way home, probably smiling with pride.

That house also used a septic tank for waste disposal. The tank sometimes developed problems. After watching my dad dig into the dirt to reveal the lid, remove it, and treat it, my mom knew what to do. So the next time it backed up, she took a shovel and went to work. She bragged about digging up the septic tank for many years. It was something to be proud of, for it showed her determination and independent spirit.

During my freshman year of high school, my mom’s health went downhill. I didn’t understand what was happening, just that sometimes she seemed unable to breathe. Her doctor said that we had to move, that she had asthma that was triggered by the humidity,and so my dad sold everything and drove us to California.

Somewhere in the desert we developed car trouble and we stopped at a little service station. It was blisteringly hot and we had nothing to drink. We also had no money to buy water, so we sat in the car, waiting for help from a mechanic. The store owner came out to the car more than once, offering water, but my mom would not take it. She did not want to feel obliged.

Considering her humble beginnings, my mom did quite well in the working world. Once we settled in, she got a job at a little store and within a few years became the weekend manager. She kept track of register receipts, placed orders, and conducted inventory. When the store closed due to competition from bigger stores, my mom quickly found a job at a pharmacy, but it was a longer drive from home. She had to go by freeway, and that terrified her, especially in the fog and rain.

Her next job was with the federal government as a phone operator. Once again, she rose through the ranks and became a trainer. This was about the time that equal employment forced agencies to hire minorities and the disabled. Her office hired a blind man to be trained as an operator.

This was a real dilemma, for at this time, lines were still connected by moving cords from one lighted hole to the next. How was a blind man going to see the lights? My mom thought about this for a long time and played around with various creations. Eventually she designed a tool that allowed him to do the job. She received not just a certificate honoring her invention, but a little bonus. She was so proud. In fact, that was probably her proudest moment.

My mom’s story was probably not that unusual during that time. She was unskilled, with limited education, but with great determination and foresight. She was hard-working and willing to do any job, even the most degrading.

Her last regular job was exactly that. After phone operators were no longer needed, my mom got a job washing pots and pans at the local school district. It was not full time work, so she also worked at a community college. It was hard on her back, leaning over a deep sink, day in, day out, scrubbing out remnants of food. Her hands turned bright red and the skin peeled off, even though she wore thick gloves. Soap got into her eyes, causing burning and intense pain. Even so, she kept at it until physically she was unable to perform the job. By this time she was well past retirement age.

My mom did have one last part time job after her seventieth birthday. She discovered that she could get paid for delivering phone books. So during that season, she and my dad got up early in the morning, loaded up his truck with books, then spent the day putting them on porches and doorsteps. It was an exhausting, poorly-paid job, but she did it with pride and determination.

Once my mom was no longer able to work, she collapsed physically and emotionally. Dementia set in, robbing her of her memory and her will to fight. She died in her sleep, a fitting ending to a life lived in extremes.

A Strange Revelation


“Hell found me.”

“What did you say?” Stan’s fork froze in mid-air. Spaghetti slowly oozed onto his plate, unnoticed.

“Hell found me,” repeated Grandpa Ellis. He leaned back in his chair, crossed his hands behind his head, and looked at the ceiling as if seeing a ghost.

“I don’t understand.” Stan pushed his long, brown hair off his forehead.

“For years now I’ve been waitin’ for Hell to catch up with me. I’d gotten pretty lazy, thinkin’ I’d outfoxed him. Last night he paid a call. Now I have to pay him back.”

Stan’s face took on the startled-hare look. He lowered his fork to his plate, picked up his napkin, and attempted to wipe sauce and noodles off his once clean shirt. Unsuccessful, he got up and went into the kitchen, his large boots reverberating with each step. “Let’s get this straight. Hell came to see you last night.”

“Yep, that’s right.”

“You owed him for something and now you’ve got to repay the debt,” Stan said as he dabbed a wet napkin on the stain.

“Yep,” Grandpa Ellis said. Dropping his arms on to the tabletop, his body deflated like a punctured balloon. “An’ I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

“What kind of a debt do you owe?” Stan turned to face his grandfather. Frightened by the posture of defeat, something he’d never seen on his proud guardian, Stan rushed to the chair and knelt nearby. “Grandpa, start over. Tell me the story, please? Maybe I can help.”

“There’s nothin’ you can do. Nothin’ you can do. I lost. Hell said he’d catch up with me sometime. Now he’s here an’ there’s nothin’ I can do.” Silent sobs shook his shoulders. He buried his face in his large, calloused hands. “I’ve got to do this by myself, but you’re the one who’ll pay the price.”

Stan gently placed his right arm around his grandfather’s back, an action his grandfather had used when Stan was a small boy. “We can work it out, whatever it is. There is nothing that can break us up, and that’s all that matters. You’ve told me that a million times. Family is what counts in the world.”

Grandpa Ellis raised his tear-streaked face and looked deeply into his grandson’s eyes. “Let’s go sit on the porch so I can smoke. I’ll tell you the story.”

Both men stood and turned to walk outside. From the back, there was little difference between them, except for the grandfather’s head of white hair. Broad shoulders, trim torsos and muscular legs defined them as workingmen: ranching men. They even dressed in a similar manner: dusty jeans, plaid shirts, cowboy boots with spurs, and bandanas tied about the neck.

Not a word was said as they crossed the living room. Grandpa Ellis stopped to pick up his pipe, tobacco pouch, and a book of matches. Stan retrieved his whittling stick from the sideboard.

Out the front door the silent procession continued. Grandpa turned to the right, as usual, and settled into his accustomed chair. Stan turned to the left and sat on the porch swing.

After lighting his pipe and taking the first draw, Grandpa blew a huge smoke ring into the air. “A long time ago, before you were born, I was a rough man. I gambled, drank, an’ participated in shootin’ matches. I was mean as a rattler, an’ ornery as that old donkey out back. I loved my women, an’ ran with a tough crowd. We all acted like we was warriors, an’ I guess we were.

“One day we rode into a dusty little town. Big Ben, one of my friends, got it in his head to rob the bank. It was the manly thing to do, I guess. Now I want you to know I was against it from the start. I might have pushed the law a bit, but I’d never done nothin’ that would of landed me in jail.”

Grandpa blew a series of rings into the air and watched them rise, higher and higher until they disappeared into the porch roof.

“Did Big Ben rob the bank?”

“I’m a gettin’ there.” He drew again on his pipe, held the smoke for what seemed like an eternity, and then pushed out the tainted air with a whoosh. “Big Ben was big, but not too bright. Once he thought it’d be fun to walk acrost that train bridge over the Missouri, where it crosses Crag’s Canyon. He got halfway acrost when the train comes. He had to jump into the river below. He never got hurt with his crazy schemes, but his reputation was that of an idiot who could shoot like the dickens.

“So he sees this little ol’ bank, an’ says that it would be easy to break in. He says that he knows the sheriff is a fat ol’ man who’d rather sleep than chase crooks. He says that the banker goes home at five an’ nobody comes back ‘til early morn.

“So we go into the saloon acrost the street an’ buy ourselves a beer. We tell jokes, play cards, smoke a few, all the time keepin’ our eyes on that bank. This town is so small that no more than five folks walked past the window, an’ there’s only two other customers in the bar an’ they’re both cold drunk.

“Right on time, that banker comes out, closes the door, pulls a key out of his pocket, an’ locks the door. He walks away without lookin’ back. Within minutes the streets are empty. Nothin’ but dust and flies.

“By now we’ve put down a few beers an’ are feelin’ pretty powerful. It’s funny how drink does that to a guy. Blows him up an’ makes him feel like he can do anything.

“The sun goes down, like it’s doin’ now. Pretty as can be. Sky all orange and red an’ purple. Things get mighty quiet. The bartender wakes up the drunks an’ walks them out a the saloon. He tells us to pay up an’ leave, so we do.

“We walk around a bit, up an’ down the streets, checkin’ out the bank from all sides. Randy, the real bandit in our gang, figures out a way to break in. There’s a little window in the back, about ten feet up. Since I was the lightest, Randy’s idea was for Big Ben to lift me up on his shoulders, an’ then I’d open that window an’ go in. Once in, I’d run to the front an’ unlock the door. The guys would come in an’ lock the door behind them. Then we’d break into the vault an’ get the money.”

As darkness fell, Stan watched an airplane traverse the ranch, heading toward the airport at Billings. The red lights blinked a warning signal, telling other planes to stay away. “So what happened? Did the plan work?”

“No. Shortly after Big Ben lifted me up, there was a thumping noise from inside the building. We froze, thinkin’ someone was in there. There was another thump, an’ then an even louder one. Pretty soon that window opened, seemingly by magic. Big Ben dropped me like I was a hot cob a corn an’ took two steps back. I scrambled out of the dirt on all fours. Randy squealed like a little girl an’ took off down the street.

“As I was runnin’ away, a voice called to me. It nearly sacred me to death, it did.”

“What did it say?”

“It said, ‘Hell is callin’ and you’d better answer,’ in a gravely voice that sent chills runnin’ down my spine. I had no idea what this meant or who was speakin’, but I was interested. Those beers had numbed my senses a bit, an’ so my brain wasn’t thinkin’ clearly. So I stumbled back to the building an’ look up. Out of that window stuck a head wearin’ a black hat. Black whickers covered the face.

“I should of run away right then, but my curiosity was stronger than my sense, so I looks up an’ sees that there is now a rope danglin’ from that window. ‘Come on up,’ the man calls. So I grab a hold of that rope an’ climb. I’d never known I could climb so easy. Within seconds I was through that window an’ in the bank.

“It was pretty dark inside, but I could make out the figure of a man standin’ to my right. He was huge: bigger than Big Ben. ‘Welcome to my bank,’ he said as he grabbed my right hand an’ shook it. That man was so strong, I thought my arm was a gonna fall off.

“He turns, still holdin’ my arm, an’ walks me into the heart of the bank. ‘My name’s Hell. What’s yours?’ Without thinking, I tell him. Then he drags me over to the vault. ‘Hold this for me,’ he says an’ hands me the smallest lamp I’ve ever seen. Later I found out it was a miner’s lamp, but at the time, I was stupefied by its size.

“Well, to make a long story short, Hell broke the code to the vault on the first try, like he had it memorized or something. He pulled a cotton bag out of his pocket an’ filled it up with bundles of dollars. ‘Here. Take this. Thanks for helping me,’ he says. ‘Someday I’ll need your help again. I’ll find you, Ellis, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. You’ll help me then, just as you are now.’ With that he disappeared into the darkness, leaving me there holding the money.

“Considering that this had been my gang’s plan all along, I didn’t think much of it. Yes, I robbed a bank, but I figured all I’d done was hold the lamp. I felt pretty smug as I swaggered to the door an’ stepped onto the wooden sidewalk. Randy an’ Big Ben met me there an’ asked what had happened. I explained it all to them as we walked down the empty street. We mounted our horses an’ rode away. Later we divided up the money.”

“How much was there?” Stan had known that his grandfather had lived a rough life, but discovering that he had been a bank robber was a huge surprise.

“Somewhere near ten thousand dollars. That was a lot of money back then. Feelin’ kind of guilty, I only kept two thousand. It was enough that I could stop my roaming days an’ settle down. I bought this spread, built me a house, an’ bought some horses. Not the best stock, but as good as I could get. I figured with careful breedin’ I’d make out fine.”

Far off in the distance, a horse whinnied, followed by a chorus of others in response. The porch swing creaked as Stan rocked back and forth. After closing up his pocketknife that had never touched his carving, Stan sighed. “What does this guy Hell want?”

“He wants the money back. And not just what he stole, but a whole lot more. He wants twenty thousand. Hell says that with time, my share has grown in value. He says that unless I give him the money, he’ll go to the police an’ turn me in.”

“That was a long time ago, Grandpa. They can’t try you for a crime committed that many years back.”

“You don’t get it, boy. Hell’s a big-time lawyer in Billings now. He’s got all the politicians eating off his plate. He’s thinking about running for office and his platform is cleaning up old crimes. He says it’s me against him, an’ no one’d believe that he’d ever done something like rob a bank.” He stood, arched his back and stretched his arms over his head. He turned toward the front door.

“So what are you going to do?”

“I’m a gonna give him the money.”

Stan gasped. That money was his college fund, most of it from his inheritance when his parents died. Some was from selling breeding stock. It was earmarked for his tuition and fees at the University of Montana.

“Hell’s robbin’ you of your education, boy. I can’t think of nothin’ else to do. If’n I don’t give him the money, I might end up in jail. If’n I do give him the money, then you can’t go to college. Hell’s got me backed into a corner so tight it hurts. What do you think I should do?”

Stan stared into the black fields of the ranch. Grandpa Ellis stood silent, waiting to hear what his grandson had to say.

“Don’t give him the money yet. Mary’s father is a lawyer. I’ll ask him what the law says about crimes that old. He’s a good man and has done right by many of the ranchers out here. When’s Hell coming back?”

“He gave me a week. That was on Saturday.”

“We’ve got two days left. I’ll go over to Mary’s tomorrow morning before her dad leaves for work. He’ll help us out.” Stan stood and walked over to his grandfather. He grabbed hold of his guardian’s right arm and squeezed. “Let me try, anyway. If Mary’s dad can’t help, then we’ll give Hell the money. I’ll stay here and go to the community college.”

Grandpa Ellis nodded silently and walked into the house. He put away his pipe and pouch, and then climbed the stairs to his bedroom. Stan went into the kitchen to wash the dinner dishes. Once that task was complete, he, too, went to bed.

In the morning, Stan drove to his girlfriend’s house. Her father listened to the story, not interrupting until Stan was through.

“How long ago was this?”

“At least sixty years ago. Grandpa said he was a young man. He married my grandmother in his twenties, and this was well before then.”

“You’re right, Stan. There is a Statute of Limitations that keeps a man from being tried for old crimes. Even if there wasn’t, if Mr. Ellis is telling the truth, he wasn’t totally responsible for the break-in. He was an accomplice, true, but the circumstances were unusual. A voice out of nowhere, a man called Hell, and a mysterious rope falling.”

“So what does he tell this guy?”

Reaching into his coat pocket, Mary’s father pulled out his business card. “Give your grandfather this. Tell him to hand this card to Hell when he shows up. That should take care of it.”

Stan looked at the card and was surprised at what he saw. A host of silver angels danced across the top of the card, and a beam of golden light encircled the imprinted words.

Mary’s father laughed as he stood. “I work for Jesus Mendoza. He thought it made for an interesting business logo.”

‘Chase away your demons with Jesus’ law service’ floated just below the heavenly angels. In the bottom right hand corner, a red devil with pitchfork in hand, cowered in fear. “Hell might have found Mr. Ellis, but Jesus will be standing between the two of them. Jesus always wins his cases, and Hell knows this. Tell your grandfather that there will be no further trouble.”

Speechless, Stan stood and shook the man’s hand. He pocketed the card and followed Mary’s father out the door. He got into his car, started it up, cranked up the radio, and sang all the way home as he dreamt of college.

The Meaning of Friend

A true friend is a gift from God.
No more, no less.

Ears, eyes, heart
finely tuned
to every thought

A friend seeks balance,
craving only that which
is offered
and not one drop more

Giving, sharing
even the smallest things.
A warm hug,

A friend knows when
to step up
and when to step down.
Never pushing
or demanding

Reaching fingers
with open palm.
Electric energy
across the gap,
two strangers
into one compact unit.

A friend asks for nothing,
but is grateful
when something
drips into the heart,
warming the soul’s

Prayers offered
and heard.
Thanks given
for the smallest
of gestures

A friend is all
and more.

The Letter

When Carol Minton came home from work she brought in the mail. Just like any other day, she quickly scanned through it as she walked into the front room. Mostly junk. Advertisements for long term care plans, car repair, home improvement. And a letter from her school district office.
The last one intrigued her, as she was not expecting such a letter. There was nothing going on at work that she knew of. No personnel changes. No building construction. No illnesses of an administrator. So she dropped the letter on the kitchen counter and figured she’d read it later on.

Carol got busy with dinner preparations. She pulled out pots and pans, oil, a package of chicken breasts, veggies and a fruit salad she had made the night before. While she worked, she listened to the news. Another shooting. Gang violence. Another young man’s life taken before he accomplished much of anything.

Flooding in the south and blizzards in the Midwest. Politicians spouting nonsense. Another victory for the basketball team and a loss for the hockey team. The same old stuff.

Carol’s kids came home, loaded with stories of things that were going on at school. Her husband rushed in, changed clothes and poured himself a drink. They ate dinner and then dishes were cleared. Although everything was the same, Carol smiled with pleasure and pride. She loved the comfort of her home, her life, her family.

Her husband sorted through the mail. “You got a letter from the district.”
“I know. I’m sure it’s nothing important.”

“You should open it just in case. Maybe that administrator you don’t like is quitting.”

Carol opened the letter to satisfy her husband. She expected a form letter addressed to everyone in the district, so was a bit shocked when it was to her, personally. As she read, her heart began to pound furiously and breathing became laborious.

The Director of Human Resources was demanding her attendance at a meeting to be held on Tuesday night. Carol was puzzled. This was her twenty-eighth year in the district. She was recognized as the Teacher of the Year just four years ago. She had never been disciplined or called into the principal’s office for a talk. She had never had an altercation with another employee. As far as she knew, only people up for termination or being placed on administrative leave were called before the school board.

Carol did not sleep that night. Although she was exhausted, she went to work, just like any other day. Fortunately her students were calm and cooperative. Her lessons went well. During her prep period she walked over to the office, hoping to catch her supervisor. He was busy talking to a student. Carol hung around for several minutes, but when the student did not come out, she went back to her classroom.

At the end of the day, Carol went home and fixed dinner, just like always. Her teenagers cleaned up, thankfully, when she asked. She told her husband she was going to attend the school board meeting, and left without any further explanation.

When Carol arrived in the Board Room thirty minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin, she all seats were empty. She paced about, looking at without really seeing the student work on display. When the board members entered the room ten minutes later, she sat.

There was much shuffling of papers and quiet whispers. Lowered eyes and quick glances. Carol fidgeted, unable to pick up any vibes about why she had been summoned.

After five minutes or so, the president, John Winnters, asked Carol to approach the speaker’s podium. “Please state your full name and the school at which you work.”

Carol did so.

He coughed, clearing his throat. “Do you know why you are here?”


“A formal complaint has been filed regarding your teaching practices. Your curriculum. Are you aware of this?”

“No.” Carol looked at her principal who was seated to the left of Winters, but his eyes remained downcast.

“A group of parents filled a letter of complaint stating that your personal teaching philosophy interferes with their students’ ability to learn. They contend that no direct instruction takes place in your classroom. That students are assigned seat work which they are to complete independently after reading explanations in the text.” He shuffled papers in front of him, then looked up at Carol. “What do you say about these charges?”

Carol’s hands were trembling. How did she go from being the honored teacher to having her teaching practices challenged in less than four years? She had not gotten lazy or complacent. She had not forsaken tedious lesson planning. She had not resorted to free grades for little or no work done. But here she stood, being treated like she was incompetent. Like some of the older teachers at her school whose classrooms were supposedly nothing but party places.

“These accusations are false,” Carol said. “Direct instruction is an integral part of the curriculum.”

“Are you saying that students never work independently?”

“Of course there is independent work, but only after instruction and guided practice. Once I feel that students have the knowledge to work independently, then, and only then, is seatwork assigned.”

Carol heard noises behind her and turned sideways to try to identify the sources. Almost every seat was occupied. Carol recognized some faces. Parents she had seen and spoken to on Back to School Night. Others she met on Report Card Night. There were teachers from her school. In the back row she saw her union officials.

Now she didn’t know what to do. She was pretty sure that her rights were being violated. That her teaching practices were not to be challenged before an audience.

“Can I ask the purpose of my attendance here this evening?” she asked.

Winters glanced at her principal, nodded, then sat silently.

The principal spoke. “Carol, because you have tenure, you have not been evaluated the past three years. This is common practice and not a failure of your direct supervisor. Please note that such proceedings are not unusual when a teacher’s daily practices are being questioned in a letter of complaint. This constitutes a serious problem, which is why the board has convened and you have been asked to be in attendance.”

Carol looked down at the podium. She saw that she was gripping it tightly with both hands and willed herself to relax. “You are disciplining me in a public forum.”

“Not disciplining, no,” the principal stated, “but investigating. We are giving you a chance to answer the complaints before acting.”

“What action are you contemplating?”

“In such circumstances, the teacher is placed on administrative leave while an investigation commences.”

“You are placing me on administrative leave?”

“Yes.” The principal leaned over toward Winters and nodded. Winters nodded back.

Carol was speechless. She stood there, looking from the face of one board member to the next, hoping to see denial or shock or both. Instead she saw embarrassed glances, flushed cheeks, and nervous clasping of hands. She looked behind her and caught the eyes of her union president. He nodded encouragingly.

“I demand union representation.”

“You have that right,” Winters said. “This meeting will be adjourned for fifteen minutes, giving you time to meet with your council.” The gavel was pounded and the board filed out.

Carol walked numbly to the back of the room. Her union president held her right arm and escorted her outside. “What’s going on?” Carol asked. “I’ve never been disciplined. I’ve never been in trouble.” Carol stumbled along like a little child. She was taken to a car and put into the passenger seat.

Two union officers got into the back. “First of all, we will not let this public charade continue. Do you understand?”


“There is nothing we can do about the administrative leave for now, but we will challenge that. We will attempt to arrange private meetings from now on. You are not to speak with anyone about this. Not a friend or colleague. Not an administrator or parent.”

“But does this mean that I can no longer teach?”

“Yes. Until this issue has been resolved.”

“Could I lose my job?”

“In a worst-case scenario, yes, but we won’t let that happen.”

“I’m so close to retirement. Would they really do this to me?”

The union president sighed. “Yes. It’s a way to force you out without full retirement. Believe me, we will fight this. There are procedures that should have been followed. Your case is a clear violation of your contract.”

“But how do I explain this to my husband? To my children? What will my students be told?”

“Your students will only know that you are out on leave.”

Carol snickered. “That’s not true. Parents brought these complaints against me, so their children know. You can’t keep this a secret. There are no secrets at school.”

“Trust us. We will see that the right thing is done.” He looked at his watch. “Time is up. When we go back inside, I will stand with you. Do not speak, even if questioned. Do not interact with any of the board members or any of the parents.”

Carol hated to return to the board room, but had no choice. She was humiliated. To be chastised, questioned, in public was a nightmare.
The next minutes went by in a buzz of talk that Carol would later try to process. On her way home, she planned what to say to her husband. She thought about the words she could use to soften the accusations.

It did not go easy. Her husband took the side of the parents. He said there must be some truth to their accusations or the board would not have acted in such a manner. That maybe she had gotten lazy.

Over the next several weeks Carol went through her days as if walking in a fog. She got up in the morning as if she were going to work. She researched activities on the Internet to support her lessons. She did laundry and read books. Sort of. It’s hard to hang onto plot when your mind is elsewhere.

She met with union representatives and discussed strategy. Fortunately they had been given access to her classroom and had picked up her lesson plan book. Detailed notes were taken. Charts created.

It seemed like a never-ending process. Finally the day came when Carol returned to the district offices and stood once again before the board. She was glad that she was not alone.

“After much consideration,” Winters said, “the board has decided to end your administrative leave and allow you to return to the classroom. You may return to duty on Monday.”

“We demand a public apology,” the union president said. “You have embarrassed our client and subjected her to unwarranted criticism. You have humiliated her in front of parents and colleagues. Her reputation as a respected teacher has been damaged.”

Winters blushed. “What do you expect us to do? A complaint was filed.”

“Not only do we demand a written apology, but one that is sent to all district employees and families before Carol returns to work on Monday. If this is not done, the union will file a formal complaint with the state offices.”

Carol watched in amazement as the board members shifted uncomfortably in their seats. She felt that each of them knew they had acted without warrant and that they had damaged her reputation within the community. She stood taller, with shoulders straighter. In a position of power.

“The board will consider your requests and contact you late this evening.”

A gavel was pounded and the meeting temporarily adjourned.

Carol fell into the nearest seat. She felt like a popped balloon. Empty of air, but ready to be filled again.

Thirty minutes later the board returned. The union president stood alone at the podium.

“The board has agreed to your terms. A notice will go out to all employees and school families with a statement clearing Carol of all charges.”

When Carol drove home, she wanted to cheer, but couldn’t. A letter would never completely undo the damage. From now on until she retired, her practices would be challenged. She would be evaluated every year and her actions scrutinized. Future parents would challenge every assignment and grade. As a professional, her career was over in all but time only.