Saturday, April 14, 2018

On Becoming A Teacher

2018 Recreation of Toy Caterpillar
I haven’t always been a teacher, though I have been for most of my life. I can date my entrance into the ranks of professional teachers to 1965, but I became a teacher much earlier. I suppose I became a teacher the day I learned how to make a caterpillar toy from an empty wooden spool that once had sewing thread wound around it. Until then I was a learner, but having learned, I wanted to share my knowledge with others. Who knew, a simple homemade toy would jumpstart my desire to teach others?
I didn’t hold classes in toy making as a child, but whenever I learned how to make a kite, a sling, a slingshot, a willow whistle, or whatever else amused me, I wanted to show others how to do the same.
I have a lot of friends who don’t know I was once a real teacher.  Even those who know I was once a math teacher perhaps do not know that teaching was a part of God’s plan for my life. I must admit, I did not know I was “predestined” to become a teacher, either, but clearly I was.
Something about science has always intrigued me. Maybe my 8th grade science teacher, Coach Carl Lowry (yes some coaches teach subjects other than history) played a role in my developing scientific interest. I surely learned a lot of general science in his class. By the end of high school, I had taken all the science and math courses offered at Pontotoc High School.
I left high school with a burning desire to become a chemist. That was before I ran into a stone wall as a college junior, something called Advanced Organic Chemistry.  Organic Chemistry was bad enough, but Advanced Organic did me in. I took a WF (withdrawn failing) just to get of that class, one I had no hope of ever passing. Well, maybe had funds been unlimited I could have passed after a half-dozen or so attempts, but I was in college to get a job to make money after graduation, so I changed college majors from Chemistry to Math, something I could pass and one day get a degree. The result of changing my major was that I graduated roughly a semester later than I planned, and it was in August when I received my diploma. 
Math degrees sometimes command jobs with high salaries, but that’s usually reserved for persons who graduated with high grade-point averages in Math. My math grades were at best mediocre. I know that revelation will disappoint my grandkids, who think I’m the smartest man alive. Sorry.
I mention graduation to note that at the end of September I was still looking for a job. My dad was co-owner and head butcher at the grocery store he ran.  Among the many salesmen who stopped by for orders each week was a representative from Krey Meat Packing Co. who happened to be on the board of trustees at South Tippah High School, Ripley, MS.  I regret I can’t recall his name right now.  I suppose he knew my dad’s family well enough and had probably heard I was majoring in math at Ole Miss. The story, as my dad related it to me, was something like this:
Salesman: Didn’t your son graduate with a math degree?
Dad: “Yes, a little over a month ago, but he doesn’t have a job.”
Salesman: “We need a math teacher really bad in Ripley, and there seems to be a shortage of math teachers, statewide. Send him up there to talk to E. O. Rutherford.”
Dad: “Okay, but he didn’t major in Education, he has a Science degree.”
Salesman: “I don’t think that’s a problem.  Please ask him to talk to the principal.”
I wasn’t too keen on interviewing for a teaching position in October of 1965, as I had taken no college subjects specifically needed by teachers. Nonetheless, I heeded my dad’s advice and acted on the suggestion by the board member and made my way to the Principal’s office that Friday.
I’m sure the board member had notified the Principal that a math teacher had been found in Pontotoc, as Mr. Rutherford was overjoyed when I arrived.
“Am I ever glad to see you,” he exclaimed when I told him who I was. “We’ve gone six weeks without a math teacher for our 8th and 9th grade students.  It’s hard to find enough substitutes to have classes. Can you start next Monday?”
“Mr. Rutherford, I’ve not had any classes to prepare me to teach.”
“Son, don’t worry about that.  You have a degree in mathematics. The State of Mississippi will grant you a certificate for one year. It can be renewed each year until you complete all the required educational courses for a teacher’s license.”
I “worked off” the education requirements by attending college courses over the next three or four summers, first at Blue Mountain College and then at Ole Miss.
You might find it interesting that after my third day of teaching, Mr. Rutherford brought a young lady to my room, Laura Grisham, a student at Blue Mountain College, and introduced us. She was to be a “practice teacher.”  She was there to observe my students and me for a fixed number of weeks and then to teach my students while I did the observing.  It wasn’t exactly a case of the blind leading the blind, but it was close. Luckily for Laura, she was able to observe and learn from Mr. Herman Clemmer, who taught the higher grades and had more than thirty years of teaching experience.
There’s a reason I stated in the beginning paragraphs of this story that I was predestined to become a teacher. I say this, not so much that teaching provided me with a living wage and my first job after my college years, but to note that as a teacher in the city of Ripley, MS, I was in the right place at the right time for me to meet the young woman whom God had selected to become my wife, Barbara Anne Crouch.
My career as a teacher was relatively short. I taught in Ripley for five years, one year at Algoma High School, Algoma, MS (the last year before Pontotoc County schools consolidated to form North Pontotoc and South Pontotoc attendance centers), and I wrapped up my career as a math teacher with a year at Pontotoc High School.
My professional teaching career ended in 1972, but opportunities to teach others continue to this day. In 1972 and 1973 I sold office machines and usually had to train business persons on the features and functions of electronic calculators, copiers, and electronic typewriters.
Starting in August of 1973 I re-entered the grocery world I had grown up in, and I became a butcher for a local supermarket and would soon become the manager of the Meat Department. Trust me, managers get to do a lot of teaching.
Nine years later, I was promoted to meat supervisor for a group of retail supermarkets supplied by SUPERVALU, Indianola, Mississippi.
By 1989, personal computers were becoming affordable for small businesses and individuals, and a position in Retail Technology opened at SUPERVALU.  I applied and was hired as manager of the Retail Technology department and had two individuals who reported to me. I was given a mandate to “learn the ropes” within six months; somehow I learned enough to continue in the department until my retirement in 2010, twenty-one years later.
My job with SUPERVALU was a mixture of sales and teaching.  Retailers were anxious to purchase technology in order to increasing pricing and labeling accuracy, and along with those purchases store personnel had to learn how to use the new technology, which went hand in hand with my background as a teacher.
As you can see, my teaching career has been long and varied, and I’ve not mentioned my years of teaching children, young people, and adults at First Baptist Church in Pontotoc, or my current job of teaching my grandchildren the important things in life such as, don’t mess with spiders and snakes, fire is hot, ice is cold, playing in the street is dangerous, etc. I considered starting a class, “Why Grandpa Is NOT The Smartest Man In The World,” but they’ll eventually figure it out on their own.
“Teaching is the mental equivalent of riding a bicycle, in that having done so, one never forgets how.” ~ Book of Wayne

Thursday, April 12, 2018

This Is My Story ~ When Jesus Came Into My Heart

Many years ago, a Baptist preacher and the father of a small boy were speculating what the future might hold for the youngster. The preacher suggested the lad might well have a future as a pastor, for he had noticed how attentive the boy was during church services and seemed to hang onto every word from the pulpit. The father of the boy was a grocery store manager and stated his desire to see the boy follow in his footsteps. Theirs was but a conservation, not an argument, as each had the child’s best interests at heart.
I know this to be true for the father in this story was my dad, Henry Carter and the pastor was reverend Troy Mohan, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Okolona. I may have heard them talking, but I’m not certain I did, and it could be simply the story passed down in my family.
It was during the Okolona years of my childhood, at around nine or ten years of age, that I first experienced the promptings of the Holy Spirt in my heart. In the next few years, I came to understand that God was convicting me of my sin and encouraging me to follow him.
My earliest memories of attending FBC, Pontotoc are of the morning Bible study classes, then called Sunday School and evening classes designed to equip children for the Christian walk. The latter program of study was termed, Training Union.
It was during my second summer of Vacation Bible School at FBC, Pontotoc that I was “invited” to the pastor’s study, a small corner room above the church’s baptistery. I already “had Jesus in my heart” at the time of my conversation with our pastor. I remember we talked of salvation and I was encouraged to make my Christian experience and decision public.
I’m not positive that it was the next Sunday or not, but I think it was the conclusion of a week of revival that I made my decision before the church.  It was “invitation time,” the time when the preacher asks persons who have made a decision to follow Christ to come forward. 
Blanche George was serving as Department Director of the Sunday School age group I was attending. She was standing in the row behind me, as we were singing.  She touched me on my left shoulder and asked me if I was ready.  Perhaps, our pastor had mentioned to her that he had spoken privately to me and others in Bible School. I nodded “Yes,” and stepped from the fourth row, front center, and walked the aisle to be greeted by our Pastor, Brother Tom Douglas. 
Several young people made professions of faith or recommitments that morning.  We were baptized the following Sunday night.
As a new Christian, I had great role models in my teachers and leaders at First Baptist.  Whether in the classroom or in their backyard for a class get together, I always felt loved by them.
Years later, I would have opportunities to work with children in both RAs and choir and to teach children in “Training Union” and to later teach young adults in Bible Study.  That I survived as a teacher/ leader is a testament to the Christ-like examples of those who taught me.
I wish I could say that in my walk with Jesus he has guided me every step of the way, but I have often veered from the pathway he chose for me. Still, as I recount my journey I can see how each time I drifted off course, he worked patiently with me to accomplish his will for my life. One of the truest statements I’ve ever heard is, “life must be lived forward but can only be understood looking backwards.”
I would like to say I’ve never doubted my salvation experience, but the truth is that there were multiple occasions when doubt plagued me. Each time I had doubts, either I searched the Bible for assurance or the Holy Spirit flooded my mind with scripture I had previously learned.
Finally, after reading John 20:30-31, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name,” those words soothed my soul with affirmation of my salvation.
I’m afraid I did not live up to the hopes of either my dad or of the pastor mentioned at the beginning of my story. I did not feel led to become a full-time minister or pastor; neither did I choose to become the manager or owner of a grocery story. I honestly think I could have done either one, especially with the Lord’s help.  However, I did grow in wisdom and stature and in favor of God and man, becoming a leader in the church that I have now been a member of for more than sixty years, and Dad made sure I learned the trade of meat cutting, which served me well and gave me a foothold in the grocery world, first in retail and later at wholesale.
In a sense, both my dad and his pastor were correct. I grew up to serve the Lord, and after my children were born, I settled on a career involving the grocery business. I have to think both men have by now greeted one another in Heaven and each has said to the other, “I told you so.”
wlc "Just and old sinner, saved by grace"

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Best Thing I Ever Ate ~ Fried Chicken

Did you ever eat a Reese’s peanut butter cup and wonder, “How can I make this better?” Probably not, as perfection is good enough for most of us. After eating fried chicken, I have often wondered why anybody would want it cooked any other way.  Honestly, I think I could eat fried chicken once a week for the rest of my days, and not miss it baked, barbequed, boiled, spun on a rotisserie, as chicken salad, in a casserole, or however else people prepare it.

In the early years of my marriage I tried to convince my wife that fried was the only way to eat chicken. I won't admit to having lost that battle, but I'll allow that I learned to eat it many other ways. Yet, there's an old saying which remains true, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion, still."

In my lifetime, two of my family members could cook the best fried chicken I ever ate. The two were my mother, Frances, and my dad's sister, Nettie Mae.

Both Mama and Aunt Nettie Mae bought whole fryers and cut them into pieces at home, unless, as in Mom's case, there was a butcher in the family who sometimes cut it up at the store.

Mama pulled the skin off the pieces of chicken before frying them, whereas Aunt Nettie Mae left the skin on the meat. Each had cooked with lard in their earlier years, but by the time I came alone they were using a vegetable shortening, most often the Crisco brand, and they pan-fried the chicken in either a cast iron skillet or a heavy aluminum pan. 

Before frying, Mama dipped the chicken pieces in a mixture of egg and milk and then dredged the pieces in flour. Aunt Nettie Mae simply dredged her chicken parts in flour. At some point in the process the chicken was seasoned with salt and/or pepper, but I don't remember when.

There was never enough "lard" in the skillet to deep-fry the chicken, as people often do today whether prepared at home or in restaurants, and I don't remember there being even a half-inch of melted shortening in the pan to start the frying process. Mama's chicken was always delicious with its soft flakey crust. Aunt Nettie Mae's chicken was equally delicious, though the exterior of the chicken pieces was crispy and crunchy.

Cousin Becky remembers Aunt Nettie Mae would cover the skillet once all the pieces of chicken where in place, leaving the lid on during the cooking process and turning the chicken pieces only one.

When I first began teaching high school math, in Ripley, Mississippi, I boarded with Aunt Nettie Mae through the week and returned home to Pontotoc on the weekends, commuting sort of like my college years.  At that time two of my cousins were still at home with my aunt and uncle. On nights that fried chicken was served (about once a week), Cousin Becky and I would often "spar" over the crispy crumbles left of the serving platter.

Fried chicken, whether at home or at my aunt’s was always served with homemade biscuits. Mom’s biscuits were rolled out and cut with a biscuit cutter made from an empty Vienna sausage can. They were light and flakey and if left unattended would almost float off your plate. Aunt Nettie Mae’s homemade biscuits were choked-off and hand worked into the perfect size. Though her biscuits were much heavier than Mom’s, they were absolutely wonderful.

It’s not often in the world of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” there’s a tie, but with regard to fried chicken and biscuits, both Mama and Aunt Nettie Mae’s fried chicken and biscuits remain “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”

Monday, December 18, 2017

Mastering Divinity

My  mother claimed you could not make divinity candy except on a cold, dry day. I have, since, learned that Mom was wrong. A couple of years after Mom died, a lady in Indianola, Shelby Knight, shared her secret to making perfect divinity. She claimed her technique would work any time of the year, regardless of the temperature or humidity.

I figure if I can make this, you can too. I will share my mother's recipe since that is the one I use, along with Shelby's technique. Before giving the recipe, I will explain the technique.

Divinity is basically sugar and egg whites. Sugar, corn syrup, and water are boiled in a sauce pan until the boiling syrup reaches the proper state or stage.

The state of the boiling syrup is proper when the liquid syrup spins a thread This is tested by dipping a table spoon into the boiling syrup, raising it about a foot above the pan and watching the drops fall from the spoon. After the first drops fall, you will notice the last drops produce fine silk-like threads that almost float away in the rising vapor. When the syrup reaches this stage, it is said to spin a thread. At this point, pour about half the syrup into stiffly beaten egg whites and continue to beat them.

The remaining syrup is, immediately, placed back onto the burner and heated until the syrup forms a hard ball when dropped into cold or cool tap water. This can be done using a cup or shallow bowl with an inch or so of water.

Dip your spoon into the hot syrup and quickly raise it over the water, allowing a drop or two to fall into the cool water. You may or may not hear a cracking sound, but if you press a fingertip on the crystallized ball of syrup in the water, you can feel its hardness.
Had you performed this test when the liquid first began to spin a thread, you would have discovered the ball that is formed is soft (Note: This is called the soft ball stage). If you have never tested for the hard ball stage before, the soft ball test should be done so that when the syrup reaches the hard ball stage, you will know what to expect.

Note: Southern Cook and former TV Food Network star, Paula Dean, skips the soft ball stage and uses a candy thermometer to measure the hard ball stage at 255 degrees.

Once the syrup reaches the hard ball stage, pour the rest of the syrup into the egg whites and continue beating the mixture until it begins to stiffen. It should be stiff enough that it will hold most of its shape when you spoon it onto a waxed paper surface to cool. If it appears too runny, allow the mixture to cool a little more before dropping spoonfuls of divinity onto the paper.

Mom's Divinity Icing (also divinity candy)
2 1/4 Cups Sugar (Domino)
5 Tbs. Light Corn Syrup (white Karo)
3/4 Cup hot water
3 Egg whites (beaten)
1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract.

Heat the Sugar, Corn Syrup, and water as described above. In a mixing bowl, beat the whites of 3 eggs until they become stiff. Once all the hot syrup is poured into the bowl, as described above, mix in the vanilla extract prior to shutting off the mixer and spooning up the divinity. (Note: A stand mixer works best; I use a KitchenAid brand mixer.) Add pecan halves to the tops of the pieces of divinity if desired

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Metrication Of America

Conversions Are Not Easy

Watching a TV commercial recently, I noticed Kroger had Kingsford charcoal on sale for $5.00. At first I thought it odd the bag weight was identified as 15.4 pounds.  In my younger days, bags of charcoal briquettes were sold principally in 5# and 10# bags, with even a 20# bag for the serious backyard grillers.  So, as I pondered how someone came up with a 15.4# bag weight, I suddenly remembered that most of the world doesn’t measure weight in pounds (#) but rather uses kilograms (kg).  

Eons ago, I learned a conversion unit for kilograms to pounds so I did a quick bit of mental math. Since 1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, it follows that 15.4/2.2 = 7.  Only, I did it in reverse by estimating the answer to the division problem to be 7 and mentally multiplying 7kg times 2.2lb/kg to get 15.4lb. 

I apologize for dragging you through a math lesson involving the metric system, but it’s crucial to my story.  I’ve been a fan of the metric system since I learned of its simplicity in my college days. The metric system is based on the decimal system.  All units of weights and measures are based on powers of 10. You remember, 100 is 1, 101 is 10, 102 is 100, 103 is 1,000, etc.  

Think about it, one meter is a measure of length and is about the same as the length of a yardstick.  While you and I learned a yardstick was made up of fractions of inches, inches, and feet, a meter is made up of millimeters (1/1,000) and centimeters (1/100).  We learned a yardstick was 36 inches long, or three feet long, that a foot was 12 inches, and inches were divided into complex units such as 1/16, 1/8, 3/16 1/4, 5/16, 3/8, 7/16,1/2…etc.

Elementary school teachers had to spend weeks, even months teaching us the complexities of measuring in feet and inches.  Sure, it all sounds simple to those of us who have used it all our lives.  We know about how long a mile is, and a few of us recall a mile is 5,280 feet.

The United States system of units of weights and measures is mind boggling, and I’ve only touched on linear measurements.  What about liquid measurements. That’s easy, right?  One ounce is a small liquid measure.  Four ounces make a half-pint.  Eight ounces comprise a pint, 32 ounces are a quart, 64 ounces are a half-gallon and 128 ounces constitute a gallon.  Cooks and chefs have to know such things and more.

Once someone learning the metric system understands powers of ten and the decimal system, the rest is a breeze.  Compare miles and kilometers (1,000 meters).  If someone asked you how many yards are in a mile, would you be able to recall 1760, or would you have to divide 5,280 by 3.  Yet, a person trained to use the metric system could calculate the number of meters in a kilometer by moving the decimal point for the number 1 to the right three places (1.0 to 1000).  By the way, the prefix kilo means 1000.
The simplicity of the metric system versus the US system is comparable to the days of horse drawn carriages versus travel by airplane.  There’s no contest.

There has been more than one attempt to convert the US to the metric system.  The last serious one was back in 1975 when Congress passed and President Gerald Ford signed into law, the Metric Conversion Act declaring the metric system "the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce."  Sadly, it has remained just that, “the preferred system” and the old system remains in widespread use.  

However, global trading agreements and corporations who sell American made products globally have greatly contributed to the metrification (metrication) of America.

My favorite soft drink is Coca Cola.  The plastic bottle Coca Colas I buy are 16.9 ounces.  Care to guess how many liters that is? If I told you it was 500 milliliters would you be able to convert it to .5 liters by moving the decimal three places to the left.  Good! That’s a half-liter. 

I’ll be among the first to admit that moving completely to metric system would be a headache for everyone who grew up under the US customary units.  It’s not easy changing from something you’ve used all your life, but when all things are metric, future generations of young folks will shake their heads at how archaic and primitive, not to mention ridiculous, our present system of weights and measurements really are.

Yes, it would also be extremely costly if the US were to adopt the metric system.  Still, once all the labeling gets changed, the gas pumps converted to liters instead of gallons, and a ton of other changes, it would surely be a lot simpler.  Anyway, we are closer to 100% usage of the metric system than we were back in 1975, and you now know far more than you care to about a 15.4# bag of charcoal.