Turkey for you, turkey for me

Call a person a turkey, and you might be using fighting words. But I can make an exception and even construe the moniker as a compliment.

Let me explain:

My mother, Marie, served two two-year terms as San Miguel County Treasurer back in the early ‘60s. It was customary (maybe it still is) for bankers to gift elected officials on Thanksgiving for their services.

Mom died early this century and is therefore unable to explain things in detail. But suffice to say that the three main banks in Las Vegas customarily delivered a frozen turkey for Mom and her family to enjoy. I assume other elected county officials also dined on gifted turkeys for the occasion.

Mom and my dad, J.D., would have been thrilled to have greeted the generous bankers bearing gifts and would have demanded they sit down and join us for homemade tamales — the kind only Mom could make. Continue reading

Executing the ‘J.D. Slam’

A simple act of closing a car door inspired this column. Even I find it hard to have so many memories conjured up from this basic action. Let me explain:

Cars built this century generally have door-closing mechanisms that require only the slightest bit of energy to assure a tight seal. Cars built last century ­ ­— and that covers a wide span — often failed to close completely on the first try.

Well, in my family, the first car we owned was built in the first half of the past century, but it behaved as if Ben Hur himself had been on the assembly line and in the driver’s seat. In the ‘50s, neither men nor women needed gym memberships, as the effort expended in closing a car door helped develop bulging biceps and bigger triceps.

Let’s be more specific: My sister-in-law, Gina, came up with the term “The J.D. Slam,” in honor of my dad, who owned those initials, and who almost never shut a car door quietly or gently. The ‘49 DeSoto we owned routinely sprung back open each time I tried to close it; it was as if there were nothing to make it latch on to the car body. Nothing. Continue reading

A great memory for names

One of my dreams as a teacher was to be able to greet students years after they’d moved on, and to be able to address them by their names, not just “Hi, there.”

That lasted through the first week of my 8 a.m. class at Highlands University. As hard as I tried, there’d always be a set of twins with almost identical names and looks, or a Señor Muy Tarde who either failed to show up most of the time or signed his name illegibly or failed to articulate.

In the 30 years that I wore my teacher hat, I didn’t have much luck earning the praise of students who I hoped would marvel at my ability to remember names.

If you’ve taken classes or worked at Highlands, you probably know where this is going. You see, not only was Dr. Robert (Bob) Amai a superior college professor but he also had that kind of memory that could recall names.

Amai died earlier this month, leaving his wife, Pat, and daughter Wendy. Continue reading

Don’t ask us any questions

A half dozen of us sat nervously in the advanced English classroom of Mrs. Ruth Shafer, a veteran teacher who, many had heard, ran her students through the paces.

Mrs. Shafer, wherever she is would probably fault me for using such a cliché (“through the paces”), but even as I write this, I think back more than five decades to the favorable impressions she left on us.

Let me explain:

I believe I saw Mrs. Shafer for the first time the quarter I graduated from Highlands. She was never my teacher, as I attended Immaculate Conception School, where my English task master was Sister Mary Correcta Grammatica. In order to complete a major in English education at Highlands, in the ‘60s, we needed to report on a half dozen class observations of teachers in our discipline. Continue reading

A disappointing eclipse

We wuz robbed!” Or, as my English teacher at Immaculate Conception School, Sister Mas Grammatica, would have said, back in the ‘50s, “We were robbed!”

And if my sixth-grade homeroom teacher were still around, how would she react to this question, relevant this month? The question is: “What does a London barber do? Answer: Eclipse

On the robbery matter, I believe many of us missed a chance to view the much-touted eclipse, which apparently came by around noon last Monday. The biggest to-do about eclipses in general came when I worked for a large newspaper in Aurora, Ill., in the early ‘60s.

The entire staff, of about 50, gathered on an elevated lawn, at the Aurora Beacon-News. Some spent more than an hour viewing the once-in-a-sometime phenom.

I recall that most of the newspaper crowd stood facing the eclipse but used a newspaper, a baseball cap, or their hand to shield their eyes. I never learned whether any of the newspaper staff suffered ill effects from their Trump-style imitations (remember, the presidency gives The Donald amazing powers, including immunity from eye damage from staring at an eclipse). Continue reading

Common school breaks help

Only a few months ago, Bonnie and I flew to Iceland to join our son, Stan, his wife and two daughters, for a dip into their many hot lakes and to see first-hand what the country has done to maximize solar power.

It was surprising that for a land so far north; we sweated in some of the many steaming swimming areas. We’d read about the geothermal and hydraulic energy, geysers and volcanoes.

We’d flown to a city called Reykjavik, where we discovered that their late-winter temperatures were comparable to those in Las Vegas. Although we need to wrap ourselves in light jackets, we never felt overly chilled. And we’ll do it again, as Iceland is a convenient mid-point between New Mexico and Denmark, where our son’s family lives. We usually trade visits each year.

What impressed us considerably was the organized way in which the Icelanders plan schedules. And it seemed as the entire city — much smaller than Albuquerque — was on a simultaneous break.

Let me explain: Continue reading

A year with Asian students

For now, let’s simply call them “Kitty” and “Tookta,” the second name pronounced with a long “o,” as in Tuke-tah.” We Trujillos have done it again; we’ve accepted two more foreign exchange students whom we understand are the only two such students in Las Vegas.

Two years ago we took Phaedra, from Belgium, and Ana, from Spain, into our home and “adopted” them for 10 months while they completed their 10th and 12th school grades, respectively, at West Las Vegas High School.

Each time we’ve dealt with their sponsoring agency, AFS-USA, Bonnie and I have wondered, “Why are we among the few in town to host foreign exchange students? It is so much fun and so enlightening, and besides it keeps us in touch with the school community.”

We’re proud of the caliber of students who’ve joined us. Yet we continue to wonder why geography has been scratched from the curriculum almost everywhere. Ana and Phaedra were surprised to learn that several students regarded them as sisters even after being told that they were from different countries and ethnic groups. Continue reading

What’s the opposite of fiction?

Back in fifth or sixth grade at Immaculate Conception School, Sister Mary Espantosa, ran us through the reading curriculum by telling us that books are generally divided into two classes: fiction and non-fiction. We’d wonder: Is that all? Either it’s fiction or it’s not?

Well, literature in the form of short stories, usually in prose, and consisting of “made-up” stuff, constitutes a mammoth genre. And what is the counterpart of fiction? It’s non-fiction. How many geniuses sat around a table coming up with a label that covers just about everything else?

There’s biography, historic literature, drama, essays, memoirs, science fiction, poetry and much more to the literary canon. And all we can come up with is made-up stuff or non-fiction?

Let’s say we’re discussing things we’ve been reading. Someone says, “I loved the role of Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.” Most will recognize the work by F. Scott Fitzgerald as fiction: it’s something Scotty made up, about some fast-living, free-flowing, fun-loving, fool-hardy, fancy-dressing, financially fit friends and philanderers in the early 1900s. Continue reading

But it’s in black and white

Back in the olden days, in the era of black-and-white movies and TV-less households, the weekend highlight for many Las Vegans was going to see a Western, or at least something with lots of action, but no romance.

We had three movie houses in Las Vegas: The SERF, which has been transformed into a dance-dining hall but still retains its marquee; the Kiva, closed for decades, on Bridge Street, whose favorite flicks were in Spanish; and the Coronado, at Sixth and University. The building stands but no movie has been shown in decades.

I have a somewhat fuzzy recollection of a black-and-white movie about a newspaper mogul, possibly William Randolph Hearst, whose favorite line seemed to be “I only believe what I read in the newspapers.” Continue reading

Never ever double-space — ever

Doing research through old microfilms of the Optic, at Highlands’ Donnelly Library, I soon thought of abandoning the project — for several reasons.

For years, a laboratory somewhere would take each issue of the Optic, photograph it and convert it to a 35mm reel of film that contained the days’ news. But that didn’t make things perfect. Too often, there were pages out of order, pages that simply didn’t copy well, and lots of blotches that forced us to guess the content therein.

The microfilm machines — considered high tech in the ‘50s — were big, bulky, hot, noisy and fuzzy. But the main problem was magnifying the page sufficiently to make it legible. The manufacturers, it seemed, had removed the bottoms of Coke bottles and used them as lenses for the microfilm machines.

I examined some of the original copies we had at the Optic building on Lincoln Avenue and discovered that much of the material needed to be examined through a strong pair of eyeglasses, or a magnifying glass. Continue reading