Friday, September 28, 2007

Little Ditties

I just remembered a few silly ditties (how often does one get to use a word like “ditties?) from my childhood. It is amazing what stays lurking in your memory.

A brown calf
Walked a mile and a half
To take a bath.

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one.
But if I saw one anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

Be kind to your web footed friends,
For a duck may be somebody’s brother.
Be kind to your friends in the swamp,

Because it’s very very damp.

Then the duck ditty led me to remember this joke:

Why do ducks have webbed feet? To stamp out forest fires.
Why to elephants have flat feet? To stamp out burning ducks

These memories are more pleasurable than the ones I have of math class or some other drudgery. So why is it people look at me slightly askance (another great work, “askance”) when I recite such ditties? For example, at the soccer game last night I was telling pirate jokes in honor of last week’s National Talk like a Pirate Day (which I totally missed). Julie Ziegler looked at me like I was nuts until I explained that at 53 I should damn well be able to say or sing whatever I want whenever I want. (I also told her about the Skittles Rabbit song. If you don’t know what that is just “Google” Skittles Rabbit commercial) Here are a few pirate jokes:

“What is a pirate’s favorite country? Arrrrrrrrgentina”
“What is a pirate’s favorite kind of sock? Arrrrrrgyle”
“What does a pirate pay for corn on the cob? A buccaneer.”

I like these pirate poems….they may be simplistic and silly but there isn’t enough simple and silly in the world. So rather than worrying about global warming, gas prices, the Iraqi conflict, and my cholesterol level, silly ditties and pirate jokes are a fine diversion.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cherry Ames, Student Nurse

As I was looking through the bookcase for my poetry books I ran across my Cherry Ames books. When I was growing up there wasn’t much young adult literature available; The Bobsy Twins, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys were the standard reading series, but I loved the Cherry Ames series. As a child I wanted to be a nurse, and Cherry Ames was a nurse. She was a nurse who had a lot of job variety and a nurse who solved mysteries. The series started with Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and after her graduation she becomes Cherry Ames, Army Nurse. Whether Ms. Ames had a short attention span or had an awesome networking system, each book is based on her new nursing position. She was Camp Nurse, Flight Nurse, Private Duty Nurse, Visiting Nurse, Cruise Nurse, Mountaineer Nurse, and Night Supervisor. There were more in the set, but these are the only titles I can remember.

I loved every book and very much wanted to be a nurse. Cherry was pretty, perky, and popular, and I wanted to be that, too. The books were set in a time when nurses wore the traditional white cap, white uniform, white stockings, and white shoes. I coveted that white cap. Actually, I think I wanted to be a nurse just so I could wear the cap and uniform! I was so enthralled with this character and wanting to be a nurse that I can remember the first time I met an actual living, breathing, working nurse. I almost swooned!

When I outgrew the series my parents encouraged me to be altruistic and donate the books to the school library. At the time I was proud to do so, but in hind site I wish I still had those books. A few years ago I stumbled across a copy of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse in an antique store in Stillwater, Minnesota, and scooped it up. After reading it I ordered a few others I found on I discovered (is it discovering when I don’t remember the detail or is it rediscovering because I must have known the information when originally reading the book?) the first books were set during World War II!! I knew the books would be dated but hadn’t remembered them being that “old.”

I did not become a nurse. My mother pointed out that I didn’t have the “nurse” qualities of empathy and patience and at the time, that was true. I was not bothered by blood, could handle emergency situations, was intelligent, but I was not patient. To continually listen to people complain about aches and pains, to listen to their demands and remain a compassionate caregiver would have been a stretch for me. But, damn, I sure would have looked good in that white cap!
Literature has come a long way. When I graduated from high school women became nurses, teachers, or secretaries. In today’s world young women have endless career opportunities and the literature available for young readers reflects this. But, even though I didn’t become a nurse, and didn’t have many literary role models, Cherry Ames was an assertive, intelligent, independent woman (always surrounded by attentive males, she followed her career rather than a man) who allowed me to dream about a worthy career. And the stories are able to hold my attention upon rereading them 40 years later; a history lesson, a visit to my childhood, a fictional character who still pops up in my adult life.

Monday, September 24, 2007


I enjoy poetry. I enjoyed teaching poetry. It is a genre that expresses strong feeling in fewer words than other genres and is open for interpretation. In 9th grade English I had to memorize two poems. I picked “Two Roads Diverged” by Robert Frost because I liked it and “I’m Nobody” by Emily Dickinson because it was easy. I like Robert Frost’s poetry but don’t care for 90% of Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

I’ve always thought being able to recite poems or quotes from memory impressive. My father was always able to do that. Unfortunately, I am unable to recite full poems, just snippets from a few. Of course, I can recite the entire “I’m Nobody” poem – figures that the one I don’t like is the one I remember. While I don’t remember much of “Two Roads Diverged” I can recite most of “Stopping in Snowy Woods” by Frost.

As a person who likes “good” poetry I find it interesting that the only poems I know by heart are goofy poems. Shel Silverstein wrote poetry for children and it is entertaining, and I used it in my introduction to poetry for 9th graders. A bit simplistic but it was a lighthearted way to begin.

Teddy said it was a hat
So I put it on.
Now Daddy's asking where the heck
The toilet plunger’s gone?

My father was a fan of the Little Willy poems:

Little Willie
In his thirst for gore
Nailed his sister to the door.
His mother in her way so quaint
Said, “Willie, dear, you’ve spoiled the paint.”

Willie on the tracks one day
Hey, look out here comes the Santa Fe.
Wille gave just one less utter,
Before he was made into peanut butter.

Ogden Nash was a poet who was famous for his rhyming poetry. My father had a collection of his poems I now own. The only Nash poem I know by heart is

Candy is dandy
But liquor is quicker.

One poem introduction I love reciting is “Jabberwocky” from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Saw by Lewis Carroll.

Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe

I probably haven’t memorized more poetry because I prefer unrhymed poems and they might be more challenging to memorize.

On a more serious note, the last two lines from poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley are ones I firmly believe and their message of accountability is sorely lacking in today’s society.

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

To show how poems are open to interpretation, Timothy McVeigh recited the entire poem “Invictus” as his final statement immediately prior to his execution.

Since one of the recommendations for keeping the maturing mind healthy is to exercise it, memorizing a poem here and there might be a worthwhile endeavor.