Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Live from Houston - It's Hurricane Ike!


As I write this, I am sitting in my wife's office in Bellaire, Texas, working on my computer using her network. My house was undamaged by the hurricane, but my yard and my neighborhood is a mess. My school has a hole in one classroom roof, but my district is closed for the rest of this week. It will be a while before we have power due to the numerous trees that took down power lines and the power poles that were snapped like twigs.

I am considering myself extremely blessed to have come through all this without a scratch. When I think of all that could have happened, I can live without electricity for a while - especially with the wonderful cold front that came through yesterday.

But some tough questions remain...and I have decided not to settle for simplistic, bumper-sticker answers. Here we go:

1. Where is FEMA? That is the question on everyone's mind. The Salvation Army is working hard. So is the American Red Cross. Even the local churches are busy serving everyone. So where are the feds? They knew this storm was coming...but they still seem unprepared. Who are these people?
2. If we learned so much from Katrina and Rita, then why are the same stupid problems occurring again? Not enough gasoline in the right areas, local officials who seem to be "on their own," and people who ignored very direct warnings to evacuate and now have to be rescued. We are pretty predictable, aren't we?
3. Why oh why do the same fools (insurance spokesmen, FEMA reps, etc.) keep repeating their web sites on the radio? Most of the area doesn't have electricity - let alone Internet access. I have grown weary of counting the number of times the hosts of the talk-radio shows ask the person who is talking if he/she has a phone number instead of a web address. Get a clue! People need help, not some web site that is not attainable. And while you're so busy patting yourself on the back for having a working web site, how about having some more people to answer the phones? I haven't met anyone yet who can reach ANY of you on the phone numbers you eventually provide.
4. Why are the individual Americans always the ones who save the day? I'm talking about the people who just show up to cut up fallen trees, unload and pass out ice and water, or just set up their barbeque pits and start cooking for all the "first responders" who are trying to help us all out? I just love those people!! They are wonderful!! They aren't even organized and they do a better job than the feds.
5. One final question: if George W. can't even help out his own state, his own people, his own corner of the world, shouldn't folks who live in other places be worried?

I know I am angry right now, and I really don't care. I am so blessed - but I have not forgotten those who are struggling. My heart goes out to all of them, and this message is for them.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Testing!


Boy do I know how my students feel about testing now! And I don't mean the TAKS test either!
In my seminary class, I just finished taking the midterm exam. I studied and studied. I memorized all kinds of information (only because I knew the test contained lots of detail). I quizzed myself. I outlined nine chapters. I had my poor family members quiz me - including my son during a three hour car trip back from San Antonio.
And how did I do? I got a 73.5!
I was crushed. I came out of that test feeling like I had done well. I knew I had worked hard...but more importantly I also knew I had studied intelligently and with a plan.
All for a 73.5!
Since this test, I have told myself (and I have had others tell me) it is not the grade...it is what you learn. As a teacher I know that is true. I have certainly learned a lot. But there is something about a good grade when you work hard that is most satisfying. And some day when I can attend seminary full time, I would like a transcript that reflects hard work. And a 73.5 doesn't exactly tell the whole story.
So what to do? Well...I guess I will read even more carefully. I will take copious notes in class and review them. I will ask my fellow classmates for help. I will put myself into my research paper with my whole heart.
And when my own students tell me they really tried hard on a test I give them...and they fail it anyway...I will believe them!

P.S. - I got an A on the final in this class. I also got an A on my research paper. So even with the bad grade on the midterm, I still got an A- for the course...not too shabby!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Teacherpreacherscreecher

Okay...you see the name and you wonder why I chose it. Well, it reflects a large portion of my life plan.

First of all, I was a teacher for the past 29 years (wow...it seems like FOREVER).

Next, I am currently attending seminary part-time with the goal of someday soon finishing seminary and getting my own church. I already do some preaching at various churches who need a substitute.

Finally, I am too loud for my own good sometimes. The old people in church always compliment me that they had no trouble hearing my message. Same with the kids. Yet my big mouth and "bright" voice have gotten me in trouble more than once over the years. I am a screecher - and I need to work on it.  BUT...in our "can't-pay-attention-for-long" society, you gotta admit that sometimes a good screech is necessary to get people's attention!

Put it all together - teacherpreacherscreecher!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Teacher of the Year

For the 27th time, I was nominated for Teacher of the Year at my school. [Note: I didn't get nominated my first year because I was SO BAD!]

For the 27th time, I did not win.

I am little tired of this...as you can imagine.

But I am also tired of not reading some names next to that title that I feel really deserve it.

So with your kind permission, I am going to award the Plunkett Version of Teacher of the Year to the following teachers:

My mother, Patricia Plunkett - my mom taught for over forty years in Colorado, Texas, and Tennessee. She taught every grade level from nursery school to graduate school. She worked in many different schools, with many different types of kids, and in many different areas. In all of them, she was the coolest teacher I ever saw. When I was a kid and attended the same elementary school where she taught, I noticed that the kids always wanted to be in her class; I couldn't figure it out because she was pretty tough. What I realized later was that she loved them unconditionally. Good quality for a teacher to have. Mom, you are a Teacher of the Year and I am proud of you.

My father, Bob Plunkett - my dad was the first computer teacher in the state of Texas...and he did this in 1965! He also taught business classes, coached wrestling and boxing, and even served as a referee. My dad was even stricter than my mother, but the kids loved him. Whenever they got in trouble - any type of trouble - they came to him for help. And he always helped them. He got out of teaching around 1968, and later he told me that not a September went by that he didn't "miss the ringing of the school bell." Dad, you are a Teacher of the Year, and I am proud of you.

Mary Matern, my fifth grade teacher - This was the toughest teacher I EVER saw, and she was my fifth grade teacher. On the first day of school, when I walked into her classroom, two things caught my attention: 1) the room was full of kids like me - smart but a little unfocused and way too talkative, and 2) she was in charge. She was fierce and she taught with a small wooden paddle in her hand. She wore out the side of her wooden desk tapping for our attention (and you better not be talking when she tapped the third time!). She taught us everything all by herself. She was endlessly cheerful and very hardworking. But her most amazing skill was the way she stayed cool even in a very warm room. She wore long sleeve dresses winter and summer. Whenever we got too wiggly, she would say, "okay, young people, let's go run a 600." This meant we had to run out of the room, head for the playground, run once around the track (and you better run, not walk) and then head back to her. She didn't care if it was hot, cold, wet, or dry - we ran! When the last day of school rolled around, all of us sat at our desks crying that we had to say goodbye to her. I never thanked her for all she did for me. She died of cancer a long time ago, and my prayer is that she watches me now and is proud of me. Mrs. Matern, you were the best elementary school teacher I ever had, you are a Teacher of the Year, and I am proud of you.

Helen Gurley, my 11th grade Trigonometry teacher - I was in high school in Hixson, Tennessee. The woman who started the year teaching us was really struggling to control the class, stay focused, and teach us anything. Finally, somebody complained and she was gone. The very next day this tiny dynamo of a woman appeared in our class...it was Mrs. Gurley. What a teacher! She had a very unusual voice, but there was nothing unusual about her style. She banged on the board to get our attention, taught clearly and concisely, and gave killer quizzes and tests. Funny thing...she really knew how to teach math. We found ourselves listening, learning, and even behaving. I got a C in that class, but I would have failed it without her. She told us that all of our bad grades that the other teacher gave us would have to stay; we would just have to work hard to bring it up. That was part of the reason I got a C, but it took me a while to believe in what she was doing. It was my biggest mistake in her class! She just retired last year, and I told my sister who still lives in Hixson to find her and tell her how much I appreciated what she did. So Mrs. Gurley, if you find this, you are a Teacher of the Year, and I am proud of you.

I am sure there are others. I will add them as I think of them. But these four deserve to stand alone in this article for a while. Not sure any of them ever got any award or any prize or any notice for the job they did teaching. Believe me...they all deserved whatever award we could think of. They made a difference in my own life, and I love and admire them all.



p.s. (February 3, 2009) - Wouldn't you know it! This year I had two former students nominate me for the Crystal Award! This is an award given to a handful of teachers who are nominated by their students. My teaching partner coordinated the project while I was gone for three days to district meetings! Now I will receive a Crystal Apple Award at a banquet on March 6th. There will also be an article in the Houston Chronicle about all this. What a thrill! And in my last semester of teaching! Thank you, everyone!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Two Wolves - A Cool Folktale

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is a pretty good book with an excellent message and some cool twists and turns. Late in the book, Jeremy receives an old letter (I won't spoil the book by telling you where the letter came from, how he got it, or who send it). The letter has a cool folktale that I am going to share with you. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it makes you think!

An old man is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old man replied simply, "The one you feed."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ben Stein's Last Column


"Ben Stein's Last Column"

How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?

As I begin to write this, I "slug" it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is "eonlineFINAL," and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end.

It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that "Splendor in the Grass" was a super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.

Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.

How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a "star" we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails.

They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer. A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.

A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.

A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.

We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.

I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big subject.

There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament...the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children; the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards.

Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse. Now you have my idea of a real hero.

I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best use as a human. I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin...or Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them.

But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.

Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will.

By Ben Stein

My Grandmother



My grandmother, Louise, died on my daughter's 15th birthday. This amazing woman was born on Leap Day when President Taft was in office!  I have been so lucky to have her in my life that I can hardly imagine life without her.

When I was growing up in Austin, she lived two blocks away. She and my grandfather were my protectors, my guides, and my extra set of parents. Whenever I was in trouble, I went over there and stayed with them for a while. They never let me off the hook - always made me tell them what was wrong - but they supported me. When my family had moved all over the country and settled in Tennessee, I returned to Texas for college and lived with them for the first year (she made me do my own laundry and was furious that I left home not knowing how to do it). Whenever I was dating someone, they were the first people who got to meet her. (So it was very important that they met my wife when we were only dating...in fact, Grandmother phoned me and said, "I'd like her as a granddaughter-in-law!")

She lived without my Grandaddy for the past ten years. In that time, she learned to be more independent and live on her own. How she did that I have no idea - they were married for 62 years and they were full partners.

She always told the most amazing stories, and I never tired of hearing them. This is a good skill she had considering she was a librarian. I always hoped my story-telling skills were half as good as hers.

Her yard was her pride and joy. I always told folks that my grandmother could grow corn in the driveway if she tried. This probably came from being raised on a farm in central Texas. She sure worked me hard when I was her yard boy for several years, but I sure know how to care for a yard today.

She was one cool lady. I will miss her as my mentor, my friend, my champion, and my grandmother. I wish you could have known her...you would have loved her too.

My Mentor

Mentor (definition): a loyal friend, a wise advisor; a teacher and guardian

Sometimes life is really hard, especially when you give it your best and it doesn't work out; or when a dream you have had for years is finally within your grasp and then the dream dies. It is hard to deal with when you have to do it alone.

It is somewhat easier when you have a mentor helping you along the way.

I have had many mentors in my life. I have several right now that I look up to as I teach or in my church life. But my favorite memory of a mentor was in high school football.

My dream was to play college football. The problem was that I was too small. When my family finally stopped moving around and I could try out for football, I was in the tenth grade, I was five feet five inches tall, and weighed 110 pounds. I remember my mother hesitating as she signed the permission slip so I could play.

It didn't take me long to realize that football would kill me if I kept playing. I was fast, but so were my teammates and the opposing players. I had some skills, but there were players who knew the game better than I did because they had played little league football and junior high football. I did not...tenth grade was my first try.

But on the first day of practice, I met someone very special. He was the third-string quarterback and a year ahead of me. He was no bigger than I was, but he played the game the way it should be played - with joyous abandon and absolutely no fear at all. In practices, he always seemed to throw me the passes that no one else could get to. In the drills, he always made the trickiest moves against me, but he winked at me before he did them (sure made me look good when I moved the right way...the coaches ALWAYS noticed!). He also made sure to call me "Fly" and not by the sorry nicknames that the "Meat Squad" players like me sometimes acquired; he told me I was "Fly" because of the way I flew down the field to catch his passes. When it was time to go in from practice, and the Meat Squad players had to pick up the equipment, he always made sure I carried the mesh bag with the footballs - sure was easier than moving the blocking dummies or the tires. He was very cool to me and he made me look good.

In the halls of the high school, I was beginning to meet people and beginning to learn who to stay away from. My mentor always made sure to smile and say hi to me - even if he had a pretty girl on his arm or another one by his side (and he ALWAYS had at least one around!) or if he was with his friends. I heard, "Hey Fly!" at least twice each day. It made me feel accepted at this new school, and that was a good thing for a sixteen year old kid who didn't even want to be at this particular high school in the first place.

I managed to survive the season without serious injury, but I knew that my dream was over. It was hard to accept, but my mentor made it a lot easier. I got my chance and I even looked good many times in practice...I simply did not know the game the way I should have. I did not have the skills I needed to be as good as I could be. And my allergies were killing me since we were rolling around in the grass for two hours every afternoon; my sinuses were so infected that it took the whole month of December for me to recover!

When I went to the coaches and told them I was quitting, they did not try to talk me out of it (surprise!)...they were really classy...they just thanked me for trying and wished me well. I thanked all of them for working with me. My mentor heard about it and found me. He asked me why I was quitting, but all I could admit was that the allergies were taking a toll...I couldn't admit I couldn't do it. He just smiled and patted me on the back. He told me to keep cheering for the team and he would see me around.

After Christmas, I discovered that he moved away. His father got a really good job in another town. I never even got to say goodbye or thank you. But I have never forgotten him and the way he treated me. I still remember watching him go up against guys twice his size in blocking drills, trash-talking them with a big grin on his face, making them laugh before he took them on! I remember him outpassing our starting quarterback in every drill I ever watched. I remember how sneaky he was with the football when he ran the offense. But most of all, I remember how he showed all of us how to play the game: with joy, abandon, and with total effort - no matter your size.

And so...wherever you are Mac, thanks for everything!

And if you had sons of your own, I am pretty sure how they turned out.

The Teacher Bully


So by now you have started school. Maybe middle school is pleasant...maybe you hate it. Maybe you are picked on...maybe you do the bullying yourself.

Whatever your situation, this is a true story of the first day of junior high, gym class, and a teacher bully.

It was in Austin in 1970. I was in my first day of 7th grade at Burnet Junior High School. There were about 45 seventh grade boys in gym class for the first time. We all came into the gym, sat down on the floor, and waited for two ordinary-looking gym coaches to tell us what to do. The shorter one (I'll call him Coach Evil) waited until the bell rang. Then he took his whistle and blew the loudest noise a human being can make with a whistle. It actually HURT to be in the gym. It sure accomplished two things quickly: 1. we all quit talking; 2. we paid attention really quickly.

Coach Evil began yelling at us. He told us that we were supposed to have gym clothes by tomorrow. He told us what would happen if we forgot. He told us how we would be graded. He told us and told us and told us. Problem was...he didn't tell us anything...he SCREAMED everything at us. Then this strange little man actually asked if any of us had any questions...no one did (surprised?). Then he and the other coach (who was actually my gym teacher but I wasn't about to say anything) told us to sit quietly on the floor of the gym until the bell rang...35 minutes later. Then Coach Evil and the other coach left the gym...and left 45 seventh grade boys all alone in a huge empty gym.

We sat quietly and still for about 30 seconds. Then we VERY quietly began talking to each other. Then we began having normal conversations. Then we began moving around. It didn't take too long before we were running around and playing...not hurting anything...just being normal boys.

Five minutes before the end of the period, the coaches came back in the room. In Coach Evil's hand was the largest wooden paddle I had ever seen. Once again, he blew his whistle and all of us ran to sit down. He began screaming, "Who was running around and not following my directions?" No one answered him. He repeated himself. No one answered him.

Then he began going down the line of us and choosing "volunteers" for a demonstration. He lined us up, had us turn our backs on our fellow students, and grab our ankles. (Of course, I was one of the ones he chose.) He hit each of us just one time with that enormous paddle. He almost lifted me off the floor. I staggered back to my seat, but I didn't sit down. Then he told us, "That's what happens to people who don't listen to my rules." Then he and the other coach (who had been smiling all through the demonstration) left us alone again.

It is said that something good can come out of something bad. I began to understand that on that terrible day. Boys I had never even met before came over to me and made sure I was okay. Everyone checked on all the guys who had been paddled. Some of them were crying, but no one made fun of anyone. Instead, we had guys telling the crying boys, "It's okay" and "You were really brave" and stuff like that.

I had trouble sitting the rest of the day. To this day, I am totally against corporal punishment in schools (but I have no problems with parents spanking their children under CERTAIN conditions).

To this day, I still have a problem with bullies. I really hate them. I really hate people in authority who are bullies. I have been called loud, unusual, weird, and maybe even a little crazy...but I am NOT a bully (or at least I try not to abuse my authority).

One more thing...I NEVER told my parents what happened. I just kept it inside me forever. I wonder what would have happened if I had said something at dinner that night....

The First Day of School


When I was a kid (don't you just love it when someone OLD starts a story like that?), we didn't go to school until after Labor Day. I honestly believe the state of Texas could balance the state budget if they started school in September...just think of all the air conditioning money we could save. I know September is hot too, but August is MEAN.

Anyway, I have been thinking of the first day of school. I was remembering when I was in the fifth grade, and my first day of school that year. You see...my mother worked in the same school as I attended. In fact, I had her best friend for my fourth grade teacher and Mom was right next door! I was hoping for a better "situation" in fifth grade. I got to know this really nice fifth grade teacher, I let my mother know I wanted to be in that class. My mother would just smile and say, "we'll see." That began to worry me...especially since there was also a really FIERCE teacher in fifth grade, and I didn't want any part of her class.

The first day of school, I walked down the fifth grade hall. On each door was a posted list of all the students in that class. First, I went to the nice teacher's door, but my name wasn't on her list. Then I went to all the other classroom doors, but my name wasn't on any of their lists either. I knew what that meant...because I had deliberately avoided checking the door of the fierce teacher. Sure enough...my name was on her door. I slowly walked in that room...several of my friends were in this room too, but no one was smiling. We knew all we needed to know.

That was the best year I ever had as a student. Mrs. Mary Matern was the best teacher I ever had. She WAS fierce...but she was also talented. She took a bunch of smart-alecks and made us behave, work, and (most importantly) learn. She was my model for the way I teach today...except that she also taught us to be ourselves.

Cancer took this wonderful woman many years ago, but I have never forgotten her. Sometimes when I stop and think about it, I wonder if she is watching me. If so, I hope she is proud of me. That would mean a lot.

Each year, as another school year approached, I always hoped none of my new students were afraid of me before you even got to know me. I am not as fierce as Mrs. Matern, but I will make you behave, work, and learn. If not, I would not be able to face myself. I would know Mrs. Matern would be disappointed.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Why is there a picture of President Kennedy in Mr. Plunkett's classroom?


Okay, Readers…stay with me…this will take some explaining.

First of all, I just like the picture.

Secondly, my father drew it. He drew it in early 1964 right after President Kennedy had been assassinated. The country was still in shock and trying to recover. We didn’t really know what had happened, rumors about plots were swirling around (that has never really stopped), and President Johnson (a distant cousin of mine) was doing his best to keep the country going.

But as the years have passed by, we have all learned new things about President Kennedy that we didn’t know when he was President. Much of what we know now makes President Kennedy look pretty bad. So why would I hang a picture of that type of President in my classroom?

Finally, we get to the answer…

I keep it in my room to remind myself that people and appearances can change, sometimes for the worse.  Many Americans now have nothing good to say about the president they once admired; instead, Kennedy's presidency is dismissed out of hand and most people remember nothing of the inspiration that Kennedy brought to much of the country. The image of President Kennedy has also changed over time; he went from being considered a youthful, healthy, vibrant energetic leader to a woman-chasing, physically ill, suspicious, confused, and sometimes even LUCKY man who was considered by many to be nothing more than in the right place at the right time. All the good he did or tried to do is gone and forgotten.

It could happen to me too. Do I really make a difference in my classroom? Do I truly reach my students or am I just a loud, clanging cymbal? Have I changed over time and has it been a change for the better? Am I still open-minded or do I just pretend to be?

I know what I THINK I am…but only time will tell if I am right.

Meantime, the picture hung in every classroom I have occupied during my teaching career. Hopefully, the reminder will stick with me.

Trouble!


I still remember it like it was yesterday...the worst trouble I ever got myself into when I was a kid.

My best friend, Gary, and I were hanging around his house one summer day. We had these two little cap guns that shot paper caps. Each cap was actually a strip of red paper with a tiny dot of firecracker gunpowder in it. We would squeeze the trigger and the gun would "fire" with a loud bang. It was great fun!

After a while, we were tired and bored. So we walked through the garage. In that garage, Gary's father had stored two old cars that leaked oil. The garage was empty...but those oil stains were everywhere.

For some reason, we got the bright idea to stretch the paper caps across the oil stains and light the paper with a match. When the paper burned across the oil stain, the gunpower would bang loudly and the oil stain would burn. We kept stamping out the fires with our sneakers. We were having a great time laughing and scorching our sneakers!!

After a while, I went home for lunch. When I came back later, Gary's mother met me at the door. I have never seen any adult that angry. I thought she was going to hit me! She told me she found the almost empty box of matches and that Gary had told her what we had done. She told me she was on her way to call my mother and that I had better head straight home. [Actually, at that moment, I thought about running away to Africa.]

When I got home, I ran straight to my mother to try and tell her the story first. Too late!! She was glaring at me and talking on the phone to Gary's mother.

We both got some pretty hard words from our fathers. We also got two weeks of being grounded...in the summer! In my family, "grounding" means no leaving the yard, no company, no phone calls, no TV, and I had to go to my room if relatives came over. I was bored out of my skull for those two weeks.

But I sure learned my lesson. And to this day I still wonder how we didn't blow up the garage or seriously hurt ourselves!

Hiding Behind the Technology

PCUSA Book of Order F-3.0105:  “… we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which people of good characters an...