All Behavior is Not Equal

By Suzy Barile

As if having her parents divorce when she was in second grade and her Granny die when she was in third weren’t enough to ruin elementary school for my daughter, as a fourth grader, she had the teacher students referred to as “Ms. Satan.” It rhymed with her last name.

Each afternoon when I picked up Jen from the Hillsborough Street YMCA in Raleigh and asked how her day had gone, she gave one of two answers: “I got my name on the board” or “I didn’t get my name on the board.” That was the punishment for most wrongdoings in “Ms. Satan’s” class, from talking and hitting others to not having one’s homework folder. While I am certain this long-time educator saw it as a deterrent to future poor behavior – though those who really misbehaved started collecting checkmarks beside their names -- in our family it became a matter of self-esteem.

Now, I wasn’t one of those moms who ran to the principal each time something didn’t sit right with my child. As the daughter of a U.S. Navy officer, I learned to follow rules, and that is what I expected of my own. But when an elementary school student gauges her day on whether her name has been put on the board, the time has come to take action.

First I talked to a friend who taught kindergarten and was using positive reinforcement in her classroom. She found it worked beautifully, so I made an appointment with the teacher and told her of our problem, of how my child was embarrassed by having her name posted on the board where everyone else could see. What if, I suggested, every child started out each week with a certain amount of play money, and for each wrongdoing, a portion of it had to be paid to the teacher. At the end of the week, the children with money left could “shop” for stickers, a piece of candy, or some other trinket. As long as the teacher used discretion in allowing her students to “shop,” there would be no need for embarrassment.

“Ms. Satan” looked at me like I was from another planet and thanked me for stopping by. End of conversation. What could a mother possibly know about disciplining fourth graders?

My next stop was the school office, where I was handed over to the assistant principal who listened, acknowledged my position, asked me to serve on a committee to discuss various punishment options for the following year, and sent me on my way. You guessed it. No call inviting me to committee meetings ever came. We were thrilled when fourth grade ended!

Thankfully the year with “Ms. Satan” was just that – a school year. And somehow we survived. Today my daughter is a well-adjusted 24-year-old professional who seems NOT to have been harmed by the way in which retribution was meted out. But how I wish Dixie Frazier of Reedy Creek Elementary or Laurel Crissman of Apex Elementary had been her principal.

In these progressive settings, Frazier and Crissman and their staffs are joining educators in 12 other Wake County schools and across the nation trying to improve classroom conduct by teaching students how to behave, then rewarding them for their appropriate actions. The official mission, the school system says, is "to empower teachers and other adults with the skills needed to improve overall classroom and school climate to achieve higher academic performance for all students." In essence, they are teaching children to “do to the right thing,” as one parent has so aptly put it.

This idea was introduced 20 years ago by professors at the University of Oregon working with students in special-education classes and focusing on what they should be doing. Now this approach is reportedly being used in 5,000 schools in 38 states. By 2011, all Wake County schools will employ it.

At Apex Elementary, students have been earning stickers and filling up Compliment Cards under the program they call P.A.W.S. – Practice responsibility, Act kind and respectful, Work hard, Stay safe. Reedy Creek students have spent the last two years learning about positive choices and being accountable for their actions. Good choices include following directions, exhibiting good sportsmanship, and showing respect to adults and peers.

In applauding these undertakings, I think of the what-ifs of a long-ago school year: What if “Ms. Satan” had accepted my ideas in 1991 – five years after Positive Behavior Support was pioneered? What if she had used modeling of good behavior and rewarded it? What if Jen had learned it was far more enjoyable to have play money left at the end of the week to buy a sticker than to be embarrassed by her name on the board?

What if? What a wonderful fourth grade experience we could have had!

(Copyright 2007)

* * *

Scars of a Different Nature

By Suzy Barile

Fourth grade was a memorable school year – both a boy and a dog bit me, leaving two quite different scars.

Along the hairline on the left side of my forehead is a barely distinguishable spot that is compliments of my classmate Frank, who ran into me during a game of Red Rover on the playground of Cranston-Calvert Elementary School in Newport, RI. His two front teeth broke open my skin, leaving a small gash that required several stitches.

The other scar, from the dog who ran up behind me as I headed home from Rosie’s Corner Store with Popsicles for my siblings on the last day of school, was lasting: To this day, I am terrified of dogs.

All dogs fit in this category, including our own, which we adopted from the SPCA when she was 2-months-old. Even as a puppy, she could move me to tears with her growling, such as the morning I attempted to get her to come inside while leaving outside a nasty something-or-other she’d found on the ground.

Now 11-1/2-years-old and with arthritis in all four legs, Sandy hardly seems a threat, unless you try to take food away from her and elicit that ferocious growl, or you pull onto our street. Then she begins barking like there’s no tomorrow, warning us that “danger” is near. That danger includes our long-time neighbors arriving home from anywhere, delivery trucks with such loads as furniture, pizza and packages, fire and rescue vehicles, the town’s trash and recycling collectors, visitors, other dogs, and us.

Quite frankly, I think Sandy is near-sighted, for it isn’t until my husband or I get closer that her franticness turns into a yelp of recognition. And it’s clear to us that whoever first owned her wore a baseball cap, and abused her, for the approach of someone in one sends her over the edge.

When strangers reach our front door, they do a double-take at a scene reminiscent of a guard dog protecting its owners’ possessions, then back away while we put her safely upstairs behind a gate, where she continues barking. Once she is comfortable, she calms down to a whimper as if to say, “Ok, now I want to join in the fun.”

As the victim of a childhood bite, I fully understand how people passing by on the greenway behind our house are sometimes taken aback when a loudly barking dog runs towards them – until her 25-feet of leash stops her abruptly. If I am anywhere near, I tell her to quiet down and bring her inside. And when we are on her daily walk and someone approaches, whether with dog or without, I make certain her leash is reined in tightly so she won’t jump – her favorite greeting for those she doesn’t consider a threat.

What I do not comprehend, also because I am the victim of a childhood dog bite, is those folks who feel free to let their pets run loose on the greenway. A family with one small and three large dogs keeps only the small one on a leash. Whether the husband, the wife, or the son is with them, they stroll along with the smaller dog while the other three wander into nearby back yards or sniff along the edge of the creek that runs beside the path.

If Sandy and I are walking and see them coming, I take one of several tacts: I turn and head the other way, because I want nothing to do with loose dogs. Or I stop until the three large ones are hooked to leashes, then stay put until they pass. Only once have I remarked that there is a leash law in Cary. That was a big mistake. I was told in no uncertain terms that some dogs behave quite well when off a leash, and it obviously isn’t mine.

Such a response reminded me of the day a young woman who frequently runs with her dog trotting alongside suddenly noticed her pet gone, bounding across the creek. No matter which commanding entreaty she made, it was clear her obedient pet had no intention of returning until he had finished with whatever he was doing. At the training school Sandy attended but did not graduate from, the instructor reminded us that dogs are animals and they won’t always respond to a command.

Another time when I was chatting with our neighbor as Sandy pulled and tugged at the leash, signaling she was ready for us to go, I glimpsed a woman approaching out of the corner of my eye, then saw her dog several yards ahead, and off its leash.

“Will you please put your dog on the leash?” I asked.

She called me a b----, told me hers’ was well-behaved, and walked on.

I was as speechless then as the day Sandy and I encountered a large Labrador retriever barreling towards us. Stopping in my tracks, I hollered, “Call your dog, please call your dog.”

When the owner finally did so, he also called me a few unsavory names and continued on his way.

Perhaps I am too cautious. Perhaps I need to take the same chances with my dog that another neighbor did the afternoon she was talking on a cell phone as her pet tore across a large, grassy expanse towards us, then stopped, took one sniff of Sandy, and lunged at her.

“Call your dog! Call your dog!” I cried frantically as I tried to pull mine away from the biting teeth of hers.

She was speechless and motionless, taken aback by the scene taking place.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she said, as she got her dog under control.

I merely nodded and reminded her, “That’s why there’s a leash law.”

Sometimes I wish it were the mark on my soul that is indistinguishable, not the one on my forehead that has faded with the years. But surely I am not the only one who wants dog owners to remember that the town’s leash law pertains to all of Cary, not just its public areas.

Though a greenway or play area might be owned and maintained by the subdivision it is part of, the town’s leash law applies: All dogs must be on a leash or lead if they are not on the owner’s property.

(Copyright 2000)

* * *

Graduation Special For All

By Suzy Barile

I knew from the start Sandy wouldn't graduate.

Sitting in the classroom during orientation, listening as the instructor went over the goals of the course, the daily homework assignments and the different learning approaches to the material, I couldn't imagine how she'd make it successfully through the next eight weeks.

First there were the assignments: do them every day, build on what has been learned and don't be discouraged by setbacks, said the instructor.

Next, the class meetings. Seven o'clock on a Thursday night when everyone was cranky, ready for the day — and the week — to come to an end.

And finally, the instructor's prediction: only 80 percent of the students successfully complete the class. Well, there you have it, I thought, she'll be in that 20 percent that fails.

Sandy attended class unfailingly every week, though I watched as she often paid attention to everyone but the instructor. The slightest distraction was enough to bring her focus away from the exercises, and for other eyes — those of the other students, the instructor, and guests — to be upon her. She also had to contend with a broken leg at the start, something which also managed to get in the way of her concentration.

Each time she was distracted, I know I shuddered, wondering if the hour each week was being well-spent.

While Sandy's homework assignments weren't always completed — inevitably it was late in the day when she got started, and weariness already had set in — the intent was there. The instructor had said there would be setbacks, and she was right. There also were plateaus that were reached, and I wondered frequently if they could be overcome.

Midway into the eight weeks, I was heartened by the assistant instructor's remark that Sandy seemed to be showing some improvement. Although I couldn't see it as readily, others who saw her only once a week also were complimentary. I smiled my thanks.

As she came down to the wire, however, my original feelings crept back in. Going through the examination steps the sixth and seventh week, the instructor reminded everyone that repetition of the class wasn't unusual, and shouldn't be taken as failure.

"Failure," I thought. Would I consider Sandy a failure if she didn't pass?

The week before the final exam was crammed with everything but time for the homework assignment, and as we headed for the class that last night, I was resigned to Sandy being in the 20 percent unable to meet the requirements to move on.

That evening, two students failed to show up. Did they know, already, they were in that 20 percent? Were their families too embarrassed to attend the final class? Other students had family members there; I had brought my camera.

One by one the students went through the exercises they had practiced. Sandy was distracted frequently by the others, not used to the individual work being done — they had always practiced as a group. She wasn't good at sitting still, either, and that added to my nervousness.

I must say I was grateful when applause rang out as she finished the final assignment, the instructors and her colleagues letting her know they saw she had improved. As we shared refreshments and stories of the last eight weeks, I wondered what her certificate would say.

My curiosity was answered immediately; Sandy was first to receive her certificate.

Up to the front of the class she went, my daughter, Jennifer, in tow.

"We picked out something to say about each one of you," said the instructor. "Here is 'The Hardest Working Trainer."

Jennifer beamed. She had worked hard and earned that recognition. Sandy didn't seem to care. She was content to return to her seat — the spot on the floor beside Jennifer — and enjoy the crumbs left over from refreshment time.

As I looked over the certificate that acknowledged perfect attendance, I had to admit Sandy wasn't ready to be in that 80 percent of dogs that usually graduate from Puppy Training. In fact, the instructor had recommended she repeat the class.

But, there was pride as I watched the two of them — 13-year-old Jennifer and her young dog — for I knew the hard work that had gone into the last two months. It is Jennifer for whom Sandy sits, stays and lies down when prompted with a treat and praise. It is Jennifer who knows how to push her away with the "down" command and make it stick. And it was Jennifer who, on those hectic nights, worked to learn how to control a wild, wiry, eight-month-old puppy.

Now it's my turn. My turn to put away memories and long-standing fears from when I was 10-years-old and a dog ran up behind me and bit me. My turn to use the treats as enticements to sit, stay and lie down, so she knows she must learn to behave others, as well as Jennifer. My turn to work with this puppy that has eaten everything from Christmas elf salt and pepper shakers to a Graham Kerr cookbook, dinner candles, a bottle of Vitamin E and 12-inches of wall molding.

I didn't ever want a dog. My vote was a hesitant "OK" when the conversation about getting a dog came up. I'd never been around dogs and had found cats to be easy pets to care for. Alas, my husband is deathly allergic to cats. How convenient for him.

I laid down all the rules. Jennifer had to take the dog for a walk, feed her, clean up behind her. "I will, Mom," she promised.

The story is all too old. It is I who is first up, stooping down in the kitchen each morning to pet the dog, then let her outside and listening for when she is ready to come in.

I have cleaned up my share of messes, taken her for walks and tried to protect all of our belongings from this live wire who puts absolutely everything in her mouth. I bid her "night-night" as we turn out the lights, and give her that "quality" playtime in the evenings. She knows if I pull a chair out from the table and sit that it's time to play.

She knows the routine of going outside, of getting a treat, of a handful of cereal in her bowl each morning when I pour mine, of the hug she'll get once I hang up my coat.

Jennifer and my husband have their special times with her, as well, but for this fearful person who always cringed when any dog walked by or barked, I like to think our special times together are a tad more special.

In fact, with it being my turn to help with the homework assignments, the next time certificates are passed out, I hope they proclaim "Graduate."

(Copyright 1995)

* * *

Shared Dreams

By Suzy Barile

The evening after Coretta Scott King died, I discovered she and her husband were married on the day I was born. It struck me as odd that I, a trivia lover, had not known this, but it did remind me of the day I met her 10 years ago at a conference in Washington, D.C.

She was keynote speaker at a Women’s Action for New Direction (WAND) luncheon, and in a roomful of female activists, she addressed the difficulties facing women of all races and the importance of raising our children to be good leaders and respecters of others. Afterwards she posed for a photograph with conference attendees, and then for group shots – we North Carolinians gathered ’round proudly.

As a journalist, meeting famous people is part of the job. Go to an event, listen to a speech, ask a few questions, and write a story. Done. But something about that day stayed with me, though whether it was her quiet demeanor around her admirers, or the resolve with which she’d continued her husband’s work after his death, is unclear. Perhaps it was simply the difference in the color of our skin.

Attending Wake Technical Community College where I teach are students from all over the world -- Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Algiers, Mexico, Iran, Russia, Chile, Zaire – and what I learn about their countries and cultures is an education in itself. This interaction is worlds away from the one in which I was raised. The daughter of a U.S. Navy officer, I lived segregation. Though I don’t recall actually seeing restrooms and water fountains and schools and motels and lunch counters designated “colored,” these people of color worked for and served us.

Now, I did “know” black people: Mamie and Robert worked many years for my grandparents. She had large, rough hands made tough over years of helping others, but tender when she hugged my siblings and me. In a photograph taken of her a year or two before she died, she is seated in my great-uncle’s living room, surrounded by my smiling family. Notwithstanding that oneness, we still were different. The photo is of my family with Mamie.

We lived in Newport, R.I., while I was in elementary school. One cold day, two sisters died in a house fire. They were found in their bedroom closet, dressed in their Brownie Scout uniforms for a meeting that afternoon. Despite Newport being a small town, I did not know the little girls. Their Scout troop was the “colored” one.

By high school, a few black students were in my classes, for the late 1960s brought desegregation to Northern Virginia. My senior year, the Fairfax County school board assigned one of the first black principals to my predominantly white school -- as a test, we later learned. While there were problems at nearby Marshall High, so aptly portrayed in the film “Remember the Titans,” we got through the year at Madison High with no turmoil.

Next came junior college and classes with a young black woman. But she was “African,” we were told, not black. Two years later, on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus where I had transferred, the greater number of white-to-black students made it easy to remember those who excelled. For instance, Washington Post news editor Mae Israel was in my graduating class.

This trend of little-to-no exposure to minorities continued throughout much of my newspaper career, for newsrooms have never overflowed with diversity, unless you consider that, as a female reporter, I was a minority in 1975.

Not until motherhood, with my contribution to the “Y” Generation, did my world finally change. Considered the largest consumer group in our nation’s history, these babes born from the early-1980s to the mid-1990s made popular the term “Whatever,” demanded education be delivered in sound bites, and established multi-tasking as the norm. They seldom looked at color, merely taking differences for granted. As young adults, the members of this “Y” Generation are intermingling, intermarrying and integrating – celebrating their differences.

Following her husband’s assassination in 1968, King said she was more determined than ever that his dream be realized: “I have a dream that one day … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers,” he proclaimed.

Why did that meeting with Coretta Scott King stay with me? Perhaps my experiences over the intervening years played a part, for in that “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” moment when I discovered I shared a special date with this couple, the affirmation of their dream was somehow realized in me.

(Copyright 2006)

* * *

Finally -- Understanding Longing

By Suzy Barile

“Don’t answer right away,” my husband instructs, his voice breaking up over the miles and through a borrowed cell phone. “But there’s a lot more work to be done and I need to know if it’s OK with you for me to be gone another two weeks.”

My answer cannot wait.

Earlier in the day, I’d finally understood what “longing” is about. The feeling had eluded me when I encountered it in the film “Truly, Madly, Deeply” as the main character, distraught by her lover’s unexpected death, tells a friend that she longs for him to return.

After two anxious days with no phone call, and too many hours of television reports about medics being fired upon as they tried to help victims stranded by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina, I longed to hear his voice, to have him home.

Once I teased him that his answering machine message of “hey, this is John, and thanks for calling” sent chills through my body. Sometimes I’d call simply to hear his voice and enjoy the surge that followed. But when I’d tried that technique several times over the last couple of days, it had not soothed me.

“Can you get home if there’s an emergency?” I ask, knowing that a fellow member of the national medical response team he is on had returned home early from Hurricane Dennis when a family crisis arose.

The emergency I have in mind is his mother, hospitalized for the last month and seemingly losing the desire to get better. If she doesn’t start eating more, her doctors say, she won’t have the strength to regain her ability to walk. And if she can’t walk, she can’t go home.

“Yes,” he says. “I’ll call you later tonight.”

But he doesn’t have to call me back.

Long before I entered his life, John was a caretaker of others. A volunteer firefighter and paramedic before being paid for both loves, he never didn’t respond when an alarm sounded. Many a meal had been left untouched at a restaurant; many a family event had been held in his absence.

“Where’s Uncle John,” my three-year-old nephew always asks when he sees me. Usually I reply that he’s at the fire station or working on the ambulance.

“I wish he didn’t have to work all the time,” Joseph laments.

“Me, too,” I say, knowing I could never ask him not to, though once I told him if I’d wanted to spend my life alone, I’d have married someone in the military.

My mother did just that when marrying my dad after they graduated from college. He had a Navy commission for four years; she had a journalism degree and a reporting job. But under a bridge in Washington, D.C., where their shadows – backlit by a streetlight -- fell across the road, she supported his decision to make the commission a career. He was gone for months at a time when on sea duty – I was born while he was in France, and only a castor oil and tomato juice cocktail that induced the birth of my youngest sister allowed his ship to sail without him.

Through those long months when he was in either “the Med” or the Middle East, my mother raised seven of us, took care of the house, paid the bills, was a Cub Scout and Girl Scout leader, a PTA volunteer, a trusted neighbor, a jack-of-all-trades. It mattered not how many postcards came in the mail, hers was a lonely marriage. And her promising career as a journalist was reduced to the stories she made up, such as “Ellie-belle” and “Suzy-belle,” the fairies who set out my sister’s and my clothes on the foot of our beds each night while we were sleeping. We never squabbled over what to wear to school!

For a few years, my mother seemed to live vicariously through me and my two youngest brothers – one a paramedic and the other a volunteer firefighter – with the scanner they bought her for Christmas. Whether at home and ever mindful of the location of rescue and fire calls, or at the high school where she listened and watched while a substitute teacher, she supplied hundreds of “hot tips” to our small-town newspaper where I was a reporter.

So here I am, a wife and a mother, a teacher and a writer, a trusted colleague and ardent volunteer, and a sister and an aunt and a daughter with an abundance of life around me, being asked if it’s OK for him to help those in need a bit longer than we’d anticipated.

I long for him to return. I long to reach for the kitchen towel to dry my hands and find it slung over his shoulder. I long to push him out of bed with one foot after his alarm has awakened me, not him. I long to hear him say he’s ready to go, then discover he still has to make his ever-present container of iced tea. I long to find a note on the coffee pot in the morning that says, “Just turn it on, my love,” and to feel his arms around me as he whispers those simple-yet-satisfying words, “I’m in love with you.”

I long for his return.

“You stay,” I say.

(Copyright 2005)

* * *

The Luckiest Boys

By Suzy Barile

"There's that funny lady," said 6-year-old Jack as he put his foot on the ground to steady his bike and bring it to a halt.

He and his brother Joseph, who was 4, were riding their bikes along the greenway behind their Aunt Suzy’s house while she walked her dog, Sandy.

Aunt Suzy looked over to where Jack pointed and saw her neighbor, Virginia, leaning over, her hands clasped behind her back, staring intently toward the ground.

Spring had finally come to Cary, North Carolina. And Aunt Suzy and her nephews were enjoying a sunny, warm afternoon. The azaleas were showing off their bright red, white, purple, fuchsia and tangerine blossoms. Small pink and white petals peeked out from pale green leaves on the dogwood trees. The scraggy pines – called loblollies, Aunt Suzy had said – had dropped yellow pollen over everything in sight, from the cars in the neighborhood to sidewalks and decks, even the wooden bridge over the creek.

Two weeks before when Jack and Joseph had helped take Sandy for a walk, Aunt Suzy had pointed out the small cones growing on the pine tree’s branches.

“See this miniature pine cone?” she asked, gently pulling a limb towards her nephews. “Let’s watch it grow when we take our walks. When they are finally big enough in October, they will fall to the ground.”

Joseph said, “I remember when we picked up the pine cones and put peanut butter on them and rolled them in birdseed and hung them up for the birds.”

The three turned their attention back to Virginia who was on the other side of the creek.

“Did she lose something?” Joseph asked.

Both boys now dropped their bikes to the ground to watch what she was doing.

“Maybe we should help,” Jack said.

Aunt Suzy laughed.

“What’s funny?” asked Jack.

“Virginia didn’t lose anything,” she said. “She’s looking for four-leaf clovers.”

The boys’ puzzled looks meant she had to tell them more.

“What is a four-leaf clover?” asked Joseph.

Aunt Suzy pulled on Sandy’s leash and brought the dog to her side as she knelt down and ran her right hand over a lush patch of green.

“Do you remember the shamrocks you colored green for St. Patrick’s Day”? she asked. “They had three leaflets.”

Jack nodded yes. And Joseph, who often was called “Repeat” by his cousins because he mimicked everything his big brother said or did, nodded in agreement.

“Well, a four-leaf clover is a shamrock with four leaflets and some people think they are lucky.”

“We want to be lucky,” cried Jack.

“Yeah, we want to be lucky,” echoed Joseph, and the two took off running across the bridge. They reached Virginia just she was standing. In her left hand was what looked like hundreds of four-leaf clovers.

“Wow,” said Jack. “How did you find all of those?”

“You will be very lucky,” said Joseph.

Virginia smiled. She remembered the first time she discovered this particular patch that always seemed to have an abundance of four and five and even six-leaf clovers.

“It’s really very easy,” she said. “Here’s what you do.”

Virginia squatted down in front of the clover patch. Jack and Joseph did the same.

“Now, look into this patch as hard as you can and try to see something unusual,” she said. “Since most clovers have just three-leaflets, it will be easy to see ones that have four.”

Sure enough, within seconds Jack had spotted the special clover.

“Look, Aunt Suzy, look what I found,” he said, holding his find high in the air.

Aunt Suzy walked over to her nephews.

“Hello, Virginia,” she said to her neighbor. “I see you are showing these two your special talent.”

To Jack she said, “Aren’t you lucky!”

Then she looked over at Joseph. He was seated on the ground, his head hanging down over his chest looking dejected.

“I am not lucky,” he said, holding up an empty hand as a tear rolled from the corner of his eye and down his cheek.

Before Aunt Suzy or Virginia had a chance to answer, Jack came over and held out his hand.

“Look, Joseph,” he said. “You are lucky. I found two four-leaf clovers and you can have one.”

Joseph wiped the tear from his chin with his hand as it started to fall onto his shirt.

“Thank you, Jack,” he said. “Look, Aunt Suzy. I am lucky.”

(Copyright 2006)

* * *

Chicken Palo ("puh-low")

By Suzy Barile

My mother was a child of the Depression and a wife and mother of the 50s – never allowed to experiment in the kitchen because food was a premium -- as she and her sister and parents lived with her widowed paternal grandmother, who had a cook, there wasn’t much cooking to be done. But as a young bride in 1951, she was pressed into the kitchen just as the instant food phenomenon hit grocery stores nationwide. My siblings and I grew up on recipes concocted with Campbell’s soup, and enjoying frozen and canned vegetables, and instant rice and mashed potatoes, and drinking Lipton’s instant iced tea. Desserts were created with instant pudding and Jello, and Betty Crocker cake and brownie mixes.

While she could a mean piece of meat, from a delicious Salisbury steak made in the pressure cooker to sesame seed baked chicken, meatloaf, leg of lamb, roast beef, orange-glazed pork shops, and golden-brown turkey, she didn’t learn how to cut up a chicken until I was in college and was taught by a boyfriend’s mother, then passed on this new skill to my Mom. In fact, when that same boyfriend’s mother instructed me to “go dig some potatoes for dinner,” I looked at her like she was from another planet. “Dig potatoes?” I asked. She handed me a spoon and directed me to the garden where I soon learned about making real mashed potatoes from real ones!

Nonetheless, my six siblings and I never turned up our noses at Mom’s meals, and all still enjoy fixing dishes we grew up on: Blushing Bunny (tomato soup with cheese melted in it, then poured over saltine crackers), barbecue chicken, and spaghetti sauce that’s simmered all afternoon in an electric frying pan.

This recipe for Cherry-Almond Chicken probably was made with canned chicken, and I know when my Mom was in a hurry, she simply mixed the chicken and fruit cocktail together, heated it up, and served it over rice. I can’t imagine with 7 hungry mouths to feed (I am the oldest!) that she had time to make certain the cornstarch and broth made the perfect sauce before adding the other ingredients. When prepared that way, she called it “Chicken Palo” (pronounced “puh-low”). For this dish, I combined the two approaches – cutting up 2 cups of chicken breast but using the fruit cocktail from my youthful memory.

Cherry-Almond Chicken – Mom

1 can cherries, 1 can white grapes, 1 cup cling peaches – or use fruit cocktail

1/3 c. almonds

3 TBSP cornstarch

2 C. chicken broth

1-½ TBSP lemon juice

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. celery salt

2 C. chicken

Combine cornstarch with enough broth to make a paste. Add broth and cook until thick. Add lemon juice & salt & stir. Add the rest of the ingredients. Let simmer until chicken is cooked. Serve over rice mixed with cinnamon.

Copyright 2008

* * *

We Are All Hokies

By Suzy Barile

Last night before heading downstairs to my computer, I consciously closed and locked the front door, as well as the upstairs and downstairs sliding glass doors opening onto our deck. So uncharacteristic, I thought, but then I’d just read Newsweek’s coverage of the Virginia Tech killings and who knows what may lurk in the dark?

That thought left me undone and angry, however, for as long as we have lived in our house, I’ve kept the front door open – storm door locked, but front door open -- so I could enjoy the sunlight, the rain, the night sky, my neighborhood. Even after my husband’s truck was broken into, our front door remained open. Even nights when I am home alone, I leave the front door open. Yet the tale of a young man who felt so betrayed by his world that he would shoot 32 strangers is certainly enough to place fear in the minds of innocent people.

My response to that story made me stop and think of the many dangerous situations I had been in over the years when I was a full-time reporter: an armed bank robbery in Madison where the FBI agents allowed me to ride along as they interviewed witnesses and searched for the thief; a story involving a community college instructor who tried to get a union started and soon even I feared I was being followed; late-night drives from Morrisville to Raleigh when I covered that western Wake County’s town board for The Cary News. And I distinctly remember demanding my roommates promise never to tell my mother how often I drove Old Warrenton Road after covering activities in Warren County for the Henderson Daily Dispatch.

All those were times when something, anything, could have happened and there were no cell phones for emergencies and precious-few phone booths in the middle of rural North Carolina. Still I set out to cover each event with no fear. Why then did I feel compelled to lock my front door? After all, Cary is one of the safest places in America to live.

Perhaps it is the kindred-ness I feel with the Virginia Tech community. Children of friends, as well as those friends, have graduated from that university. The national headquarters of the sorority to which my daughter and I belong sent out email after the shootings to tell members around the world that all the sisters in that chapter were safely accounted for. The professional organization to which I have belonged for 20-some years notified its national membership that our Hokie-affiliated colleagues were fine, though extremely fatigued, both mentally and physically. And students of mine at Wake Tech have shared that their family members -- also Virginia Tech grads – are saddened and in shock.

Yet what I believe prompted that locked front door is the proclamation “We are all Hokies” which Americans were called on to adopt during the nation’s days of mourning. It wrapped its arms around me more tightly than the burnt-orange and Chicago-maroon ribbons I wore on my sweater and tied to the antenna of our car. Somehow the idea that “something could happen” is now more than a passing thought, if ever it had been one during my years of reporting.

Though my grief for what has happened is great, I know I will once again leave my front door open and not be afraid of the dark outdoors. But the students, faculty, staff, families and friends of Virginia Tech have much to deal with in the days ahead, and before true healing takes place, we all may have to remain Hokies a while longer.

Copyright 2007

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