First Day of School – 1950s Style

Columnist:  Bob Grafe

One of the advantages of being a “senior” citizen is the ability to reflect back over at least a half-century of real time — and to finally be truthful about it!

About 55 years ago, my fifth-grade elementary school teacher, Mrs. Rumbleheart, was welcoming her new class of students back to school after our summer vacation.  She met us at the classroom door with her new class roster in one hand and, “Whack,” her 18-inch ruler gripped confidently in the other.

“Welcome back.” she said with her all-knowing voice.  Most of the girls smiled and said something nice in return while most of us boys just looked down to avoid that familiar teacher’s glare of suspicion.  

In those days we didn’t return to school until after Labor Day was celebrated.  Well, celebrated wasn’t exactly the way we looked at it.  We kids weren’t ever really sure what Labor Day was all about anyway; except we all knew that we were about to return to “slave labor” in that big building called a school where they made us “practice” all kinds of stuff like reading, writing … and that other one as soon as Labor Day was over.

We knew from experience that our only break from true forced “labor” at school was when we were allowed out for recess into “the yard,” complete with concrete flooring and a “protective” (very tall) cyclone fence all around — with school teacher “guards” at every gate.

Modern-day prisons have a resemblance to many earlier-day schools.

The first day back to school was always bad.  But, this one seemed particularly bad.

The teachers, Mrs. Rumbleheart included, were everywhere when we went out for that first recess.  My friend Bruce secretly showed us guys some cigarettes and matches that he brought from home.  Unfortunately, he also unknowingly displayed them in a way that Mr. Kling, the vice principal, could also see them.

A couple of hours later I saw Bruce and his parents leaving Mr. Kling’s office at the end of our hallway.  Mrs. Rumbleheart never called out Bruce’s name for the remainder of that day … or the next day for that matter.  It wouldn’t have made any difference since Bruce didn’t come back to school for a couple of days.  When he came back to school he said that Mr. Kling sent him home to “think about” smoking. 

That didn’t make any sense to us.  He could have thought about smoking while at school.  That way, we guys wouldn’t have had to choose a girl to be on our dodge-ball team since Bruce wasn’t there.

Soon, it was time for our first lunch.  My mother had paid some money so that on “special days,” like the first day of school, I could eat a “hot” lunch at school.  Usually, I would bring a bag lunch with a hand-sliced piece of bologna on thin white bread with mayonnaise and a leaf of Iceberg head lettuce sandwich in a brown bag with a cookie.

My brown bag had my name written on it and would sit proudly on one of the shelves in the overly warm cloak room until it was time to go to lunch.  The school provided a “free” carton of milk for all of us brown-baggers.

I think my mother let me have a hot lunch in the school cafeteria on occasion just to make those bologna sandwiches seem better.  I don’t know if the school cooks only knew how to heat up spaghetti or not; but, it seemed as if every time I ate the school’s lunch it was spaghetti and they always added way too much water to the sauce.

After lunch it was back to the books in Mrs. Rumbleheart’s class.  She told us that we would have a different teacher than her for music and art classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that we “Best be good!” or she would hear about it … and so would we … from “Whack!”

Before the first day of school was over, Mrs. Rumbleheart had us read out-loud some pages from a book so she could check our reading ability.  We all read from the book except for Donald and Doreen.  Neither one of them ever said much in class either.  They had a really funny sounding last name.

After the reading time, we had to write some sentences about what we had just heard.  All I could remember was a couple of guys chuckling when I couldn’t pronounce some big word correctly when it was my time to read.  So, I wrote about them.  Mrs. Rumbleheart was not amused.

Finally, as the end of the first day of school was approaching, Mrs. Rumbleheart handed out a paper to everyone with a whole bunch of numbers on it in various forms and fashions with lines and strange looking symbols. 

“We still have some time to do a little math.” she announced.  Her voice had the same friendly ring to it as does the guard’s voice on death-row asking “Sir, what would you like to enjoy for your last meal with us?”

I recall turning in the paper empty to Mrs. Rumbleheart; and then, years later, having to re-take college algebra three times to finally graduate.

And, so ended another miserable first day back to school after completing a perfectly wonderful summer vacation. 

How long until Memorial Day?

Some things in life really never change … now, do they!

Kingston Trio Comfort Music Continues

By:  Columnist Bob Grafe

When I mention to friends that I grew up along the banks of San Francisco Bay, I have to be careful these days how I mention that I was always attracted to the goings-on at the hungry i (or as people referred to it then as “the eye”) night club in North Beach, San Francisco.

At that time, the club was located in the basement of the International Hotel at Kearny and Jackson streets. The club only sat about 300 people around its three-sided stage and would usually run a couple of shows each night — frequently offering up yet-to-be-discovered talent appearing on stage just before the headline act.

During my youth, the hungry i (the club’s name remains a mystery with some thinking the lower-case “i” was meant to represent “intellectual” while the club’s owner, Enrico Banducci always claimed that it was Freudian and short for “the hungry id.”) was one of “the city’s” hot spots to launch a performing arts career.

Today, however, (and this is why I have to be careful how I tell this story today) the hungry i has relocated from its original location to Broadway Street and is now a topless strip bar operated by Déjà Vu beginning their business venture after the original club closed its doors in the very late 1960s and the “hungry i” name was sold off separately.

What I think about most from those “early” days of my race to adulthood, is the music that was generated from within the walls of the hungry i from the likes of The Limeliters, jazz legend Vince Guaraldi, master folk singer Glenn Yarborough, a young Barbra Streisand and my favorite folk group, The Kingston Trio.

I could hardly wait for the moment when I was actually old enough to enter into the depths of the club to actually see and hear “in person” The Kingston Trio.

No longer would I be relegated to standing next to a side door of the club where I could actually hear Trio member Bob Shane knock out his favorite rendition of Scotch and Soda or Trio member Nick Reynolds verbally play with the audience while singing his story of The M.T.A. or Tom Dooley.

By the time I actually made it “legally” through the doors of “the Eye” the original Kingston Trio had dropped (via an expensive buy-out) singer/banjo player Dave Guard from its ranks and welcomed in John Stewart, a 21-year-old member of the folk group Cumberland Three.

Over the years, I have been a side-line follower of the Kingston Trio collecting bits and pieces of their history as I could — intended to enhance the listening pleasure that I have always received from them during most of my life. From written biographies of the original and subsequent members of the Trio, to song books, to albums to tapes and now to CDs.

Now, after 50+ years of being a true “fan” of this singing group, it finally dawned on me, and I reluctantly accepted the fact, that “they” wouldn’t be around forever to share their musical talents with us.

Original Trio members Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds have already passed on and Bob Shane resides relatively quietly in Arizona fighting an uphill battle with chronic health problems.

At that same time, I pondered just how much time “I” (not to be confused with “i”) would have left as I phase into the early years of senior citizenship, how I would miss the actual live performances of the Kingston Trio that I’ve attended or viewed electronically over the years, and I questioned how I could keep their “comfort” music for me going on forever during the remainder of my life.

While today three new members of the Trio continue performance tours as a tribute to the original and later Kingston Trio members, it just is not quite the “same” as it was originally.

In a deliberate rather than a desperate effort, I began to search out ways that I could still enjoy the original Kingston Trio performances and the other musical skills of many wonderful performers who have provided me with a variety of musical enjoyment excellence over the years.

When I searched the Internet for my personal selections of “comfort” music, I really hit a treasure trove. Not only did the Internet sites offer access to the lyrics of most of the music that I was interested in, but many sites actually offered full or abbreviated sheet music — especially for piano and guitar.

But, when I searched http://www.youtube.com for the Kingston Trio and hundreds of other performing artists, I was absolutely amazed at how many films from actual live performances and musical movie excerpts were available to me.

Music has always been a comfort for me throughout my life. Now, as a slower-than-I-used-to-be senior citizen, I really appreciate the skill and knowledge of computer geniuses that now allows us to access literally unlimited musical forms — right in the comfort of our own homes.

I guess if I ever return to my city-by-the-bay — San Francisco — there won’t be the pull to once again stand by the side door of the hungry i with my ear near the opening attempting to pick up on any new musical numbers.

And, I certainly won’t be trying to get a peek in the door to see any new talent!

Flag Day – A Time To Salute The American Flag

By:  Columnist Bob Grafe

Flag Day has always been one of my favorite days of reflection. As a native born citizen of the United States of America, the flag brings back many positive memories as I look back over the years.

My earliest recollection of the American flag having special meaning came during my elementary school days when I stood at attention each school day morning and recited my Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

As I recall, I did not then, nor would I ever, pledge “allegiance” to any other country’s flag; I knew in my heart that I was a part of a very special “republic” for which the flag stands; I gave many thanks that I was a part of one nation “under God” that was indivisible, a group of like-minded mostly righteous men and women from the various states; and that I was proud to live in a land allowing liberty, free from the tyranny of an unfettered government, and a land where justice for all of its citizens was a common goal.

I can remember many of my public school teachers explaining the history of the flag and sharing the inspirational story of Betsy Ross, the woman who sewed the original stars and stripes flag for the United States in her Philadelphia upholstery shop under the direction of George Washington and others.

Also, I can remember back to the time when I was so proud to become a Cub Scout at the age of 8 years old. With two fingers extended I was able to actually salute the American flag when I was in uniform as I recited the Pledge of Allegiance. That salute to my flag has continued as I progressed through life as a Boy Scout (a three-fingered salute), as a member of the United States military (a full-hand salute), and today as a member of the American Legion.

During all of those experiences, the American Flag was never far from sight — often being displayed on my various uniforms, at various schools of learning, at my place of employment, at my place of worship, and at my home.

For the vast majority of citizens of the United States, the American flag represents all that is good about our country.

However, occasionally, there are anti-American flag burners who catch their brief moment of notoriety with some media coverage — but, the incidents are few and are dramatically over-shadowed by the showing of strong American pride by the majority of citizens throughout the year.

Perhaps the most flagrant disregard and lack of respect for our nation’s flag has come recently from visitors to our home country who choose to display another country’s flag in place of our American flag in an effort to gain attention to their various political causes.

Those who use the American flag in disrespectful ways to further perpetrate their frequently anti-American causes should be strongly reminded that if they are legal citizens of the country they should be ashamed; and if they are “visitors” to our country perhaps they should re-think how they would react if American citizens came to their country, took down their country’s flag, and then replaced it with our Old Glory.

Bad manners regarding our flag should not be tolerated regardless of who is being disrespectful to it. The patriotic and rightful use of our American flag belongs to the legal citizens of the United States — not to anyone else.

The American flag is our country’s most precious symbol. It is a strong part of what binds us together as a nation of those who believe strongly that our Constitution was written by men of God through divine inspiration.

As we approach another Flag Day in this great country, let us not forget that the flag deserves our constant respect, attention and protection. And, when the cloth of our nation’s flag no longer has the physical strength to withstand the burdens of the wind, the sun and other natural elements let us remember to retire the American flag with the dignity and respect that it has so dutifully earned.

A look at the law regarding respect for our Old Glory … our Stars and Stripes … our American Flag:

Federal law stipulates many aspects of flag etiquette. The section of law dealing with American Flag etiquette is generally referred to as the Flag Code. Some general guidelines from the Flag Code answer many of the most common questions:

The flag should be lighted at all times, either by sunlight or by an appropriate light source.

The flag should be flown in fair weather, unless the flag is designed for inclement weather use.

The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.

The flag should not be used for any decoration in general. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.

The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.

The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, fireman, policeman and members of patriotic organizations.

The flag should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind placed on it, or attached to it.

The flag should never be used for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.

When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.

The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.

When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.

A Pop Quiz On The U.S. Constitution

By:  Columnist Bob Grafe

Most senior citizens living in the United States are familiar with the country’s Constitution. In fact, many of us have actually read it “cover to cover.”

Remembering what year in elementary or high school that we actually read it may be difficult to accurately recall. However, we do remember reading it … don’t we?

Therefore, we can declare with all honesty that we have “read” the Constitution!

Can we state with that same honesty that we also comprehend the Constitution? That may be much more of a “stretch” for us to answer in the affirmative.

The Constitution actually only contains 4,543 words in the original, unamended Constitution, including the signatures. Average English readers, reading for comprehension, will average reading between 200 — 400 words-per-minute.

Even using the slower rate of the “average” results in the total time to read the Constitution with comprehension to less than 23 minutes. If you throw in reading the amendments to the Constitution as well that pushes the total time commitment to actually read the entire Constitution to 30 minutes or less for the average English reader.

Interestingly, if you are a legal immigrant to the United States you had to pass a naturalization test in order to be granted citizenship — including some questions pertaining to the Constitution.

Here are a couple of questions (and correct answers) from the actual United States naturalization test which is administered in the English language:

Q: What is the supreme law of the land?

A: The Constitution.

Q: What does the Constitution do?

A: Sets up the government; defines the government; and protects basic rights of Americans.

Q: The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?

A: We the People.

Q: What is an amendment?

A: A change or an addition to the Constitution.

Q: What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?

A: The Bill of Rights.

Q: What is one right or freedom (of several) from the First Amendment?

A: Speech, religion, assembly, press and/or petition the government.

Those questions require some limited recall, but other parts of our Constitution require much more thought process to fully grasp the real significance of the document keeping in mind the prophetic wisdom of John Adams who stated “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Perhaps it is time that senior citizens and others dust off their copy of the Constitution (or just go online and Google “United States Constitution text”) and take a few minutes to regain familiarity with that document that permeates all aspects of our American way of life.

If we just look at the opening words of the Constitution we realize how important this document is to our very existence as a sovereign country and society.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union …”

Our founders had the vision for all of us that we should continually strive to better ourselves and others. This perfect “union” of the states took many drafts and many revisions to the Constitution before it was adopted. Not everyone got everything they wanted in the document; but, everyone involved had a place at the negotiating table during those 116 days during the hot summer of 1787 when the Constitutional Convention took place.

“ … establish justice …”

Even with all of its warts, our judicial system is still the envy of the world thanks to the judicial foundations laid out in the Constitution.

“ … insure domestic Tranquility … ”

This goal continues to be a work in progress as the Constitution seems to mandate that our country’s leaders strive to provide a peaceful atmosphere for its citizens to dwell within — something that is occasionally illusive.

“ … provide for the common defense …”

If not “the” most important provision in the Constitution, it certainly ranks near the top.

“… promote the general Welfare … ”

The founders never intended that a corruption of this concept into today’s “welfare system” would exist.

“ … and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity … ”

The Constitution clearly sets forth the responsibility of each generation to “secure” the blessings of liberty for both the current generation and for the generations to follow. The strict reading of this would suggest that it was intended to apply to citizens of the United States as stated in the closing words which are:

“… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

If Thomas Jefferson were alive today he would probably challenge all senior citizens and others to reacquaint themselves with their Constitution. He might even repeat this admonition that he stated while he walked among us: “Say … whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government, or information to the people. This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

“New” Immigration Law In Arizona – Full Text

Please check out our “link” to the “New” immigration law passed by the Arizona State Legislature in April 2010 and signed into law.  The document is only 19 pages in length and is quickly read.  It is unclear why the President of the United States (Obama) and his Attorney General have not found the time to read the legislation even though both have found ample time to criticise the new law that is fashioned after the long-standing federal law of the same subject.  Please ask yourself why the federal “gang” is going after Arizona!  Link:  http://azleg.gov/alispdfs/council/SB1070-HB2162.PDF

Social Security Administration Needs Severe Budget Cuts – Thomas Jefferson

By:  Columnist Bob Grafe

As a mellow senior citizen and admirer of Thomas Jefferson, I usually give my fellows at the “commons” (property owned or leased by the government for the benefit of “the public”) the benefit of the doubt by not jumping to too many quick negative conclusions about them.

However, as Thomas Jefferson once warned and my personal observation has confirmed about dealing with the Social Security Administration, “Experience hath shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

That said, the “commons” at my local Social Security Administration office have become a wee bit too familiar to the federal government employee clerical help and contract armed guards who dwell very comfortably at that office — an office building which is currently appraised by the local tax office at nearly $1 million.  

At that local Social Security office, their posted work hours “available” to the public are 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily; of course except on holidays, sick days, annual leave days, military leave days, family leave days, training days, weather days, federal holidays, other “approved” holidays, Saturdays and Sundays, or when there are special union organizing meetings or when the sun sets in the west.

I wonder if the armed guards on duty who “protect” the paper-shuffling staff and their building get time off to go to the range to “qualify” … just in case!  After all, you just never know about those very dangerous senior citizens who need to occasionally frequent the Social Security Office.

The history of the “camel’s nose under the tent” syndrome in my little semi-rural community is a study in government run amuck.

Thirty years ago, the Social Security office was located in a rented non-descript building that had previously served as a third-tier retail business and infrequently rented office space.

When the feds rented this otherwise difficult-to-rent building, this helped the local economy by generating rental funds and by keeping the property regularly occupied.

A few years later, the federal bureaucrats decided that the “staff” needed more space and the office operation was relocated to another third-tier building.  The building seemed adequate to this observer for both the staff and the public who needed to visit the local Social Security office at the time.

Now, the local Social Security Administration office building, parking lot, grounds, security fences, electronic gates and cameras rank among one of the costliest “first-tier” buildings in town — most certainly when looked at on a cost per employee basis who are actually physically there on-site and actually working.

Perhaps my little town is a microcosm of what is happening on the national level regarding the possibility of “tampering” with the bulging costs of this Social Security sacred cow.

It seems that President Obama’s recently created “Debt Commission” has Social Security and other fiscal “drains” on the discussion table to see if there are any savings that can be made by creating a more efficient “SS” administration.

Well, the Commission could start in my town by moving the Social Security office to a more appropriate (much less costly) work environment for federal government employees, by reducing staff, by eliminating extravagant employee benefits, and by taking effective measures to make sure that illegal aliens and other “illegals” are not robbing our Social Security funds through fraudulent means.

Thomas Jefferson must have envisioned both the IRS and the Social Security Administration when he admonished “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

Perhaps Jefferson was aware that a future “Debt Commission” would suggest creating a national sales tax to increase “needed” revenues to continue to pay for the wasted spending in the federal government.  That revenue-increasing “idea” is currently on the Debt Commission’s table.

Then again, perhaps Debt Commission Co-Chairman Erskine Bowles meant what he said recently that when it comes to the idea of entitlement program cuts, “If we’re going to be serious about balancing the federal budget and righting this fiscal ship, then we have got to have everything on the table, and that includes the entitlement programs.”

Recognizing the evils of debt, including a national debt, Thomas Jefferson suggested “It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes.  A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”

Had we followed Jefferson’s advice, we probably would not be in the fiscal mess we are in today as a nation.

If Jefferson was correct when he said “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.” then it probably is time to drastically cut federal government program costs, jobs and “inside the castle wall” employee benefits — and keeping the Social Security Administration at the top of the heap for cuts is the correct approach.

Senior citizens and others alike need to speak out about the waste that is observed at all levels of government — not just about Social Security.  Jefferson said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”