A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Reading For Fun

When I was a kid, the standard punishment if you misbehaved in school was to make you do extra reading. And it sent a clear message: Reading is a drag.
But times have changed. These days at Glenview Elementary School in Oakland, reading is treated as a reward. And the message is equally clear: Reading is fun.
On March 1 (Dr. Seuss's birthday), Glenview will celebrate its 15th annual Read-a-Thon. For one day the kids will be allowed to put aside their schoolwork and do nothing but read for pleasure.
Some kids will bring their favorite books from home; others will choose books from the school library.
Many of the youngest ones will come to school in their pajamas, dragging their teddy bears, sleeping bags and books behind them. They'll make "forts" in the middle of the classroom out of blankets and chairs, then climb inside and read, read, read to their little hearts' content. It's beyond cute.
Every year some outsiders, including Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll and me, are invited to come in and read aloud to the children; although if truth be told, the kids are far more impressed by the people they consider REAL celebrities: Oakland firefighters and paramedics (who bring their search-and-rescue dogs for the kids to pet) and student-athletes from Cal.
 As usual, I'll read from one of my Freddy the Pig books, which I consider to be on a par with "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little," only not as dark. (Nobody dies in a Freddy book.)
The Read-a-Thon is the culmination a two-week period that starts now, during which the kids will fan out through the surrounding neighborhood and ask people to sponsor them by making donations to the school PTA. The kids will keep careful logs of how much they read each night, and the sponsors will donate accordingly.
Every effort is made to protect the kids' safety: They must be accompanied by an adult they know personally, and they can only knock on doors of people they know personally.
Once again, third grade teacher John Miller is offering his students an extra incentive: If every kid in the class reads at least 30 minutes a day, and if the class as a whole raises at least $3,000 for the PTA, he'll let them watch while he gets his head shaved.
And once again, several neighborhood businesses are rallying around the Read-a-Thon. On Sunday, Feb. 24, Ultimate Grounds will give away free coffee and a bagel to anyone who makes a donation. And Savemore Market will sell coffee at the school during the Monday morning drop-offs and donate the proceeds to Glenview.
The fundraiser is more desperately needed than ever this year because the school district has just announced that it's going to cut Glenview's budget by $124,000.
That would eliminate such vital programs as music, drama, science, physical education, field trips, computer upgrades, playground supervision and emergency preparedness, unless the PTA can come up with enough money to fill the gap.
It's a shame our kids have to beg for money to fund their education. But that's what happens when you starve the schools, as we have since 1978, when Prop. 13 was enacted and California's public schools went from the best in the country to among the worst.

Love Stories

(Above: Sarah and John Churchill, the first Duke and Duchess of Marlborough)

I really like Valentine's Day. I mean, how cool is it that we have a holiday that celebrates romantic love?
Love is the most powerful emotion there is. When it's going right, it can send you to the heights of exaltation. When it isn't, it can send you to the depths of despair.
For some people, love lasts only a moment. But for the lucky ones, it can last a lifetime.
Take John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough (and ancestor of Winston Churchill), and his Duchess, Sarah Jennings Churchill. They were the original power couple: He was the greatest military hero of his day, and she was the queen's best friend.
They fell madly in love the instant they met in 1655 and stayed that way until the Duke's death 50 years later, their passion undiminished. After the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, when they had been married for more than 30 years, Sarah wrote in her diary, "The Duke returned from the wars today and did pleasure me in his top-boots."
He couldn't even wait to take his boots off!
Then there was Harry Truman and his beloved Bess. In 1945, shortly after the Nazi surrender, Truman held a summit conference with Churchill and Stalin in Potsdam, Germany. After one session, the president got in his car to ride back to the castle where he was staying, and he gave a lift to a young Army public relations officer.
The officer said, "Mr. President, if there's anything you need, just let me know. Anything, you know, like women."
Truman glared at him and said, " Listen, son. I married my sweetheart. She doesn't run around on me, and I don't run around on her. I want that understood. Don’t ever mention that kind of stuff to me again."
"By the time we got home," remembered the driver, "he got out of the car and never even said goodbye to the guy!"
Another faithful husband was Paul Newman, who explained why he never cheated on his wife, Joanne Woodward: "Why go out for hamburger when you can get steak at home?"
Ditto for 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who remarked to his wife, Mary Ann, on their 25th anniversary, "My dear, you've always been more of a mistress to me than a wife."
And I have a special place in my heart for American colonial poet Anne Broadstreet and her husband, Simon. In 1678 she wrote this poem:
If ever two were one, then surely we,
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If every wife was happy with a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
But my favorite pair of lovers is Jerry and Betty Ford. One night, a few years after Betty kicked her longtime alcohol addiction and founded the Betty Ford Clinic, Jerry came home from a plane trip.
 "A nightcap will help relax you," she said. "Let me make you one."
"No thanks," he said.
"No, really, I don't mind," she said.
"I don't want one," he repeated.
"But we always used to have a nightcap before we went to bed," she reminded him.
"Yeah, and I never enjoyed it."
"Then why did you do it?" she asked, puzzled.
"Because," he said, "I didn't want you to drink alone."