Where Your Treasure Is…

I’ve spent something like 25 years of my life officially wearing the label student (albeit often part-time), but I hated primary school.

I defy you to find a child who can enjoy an educational experience when it’s delivered by an angry nun with a yardstick in her hand, one end of which is stained red–with magic marker I presume– because that’s hilarious to a six year old?

Junior high and high school were a little better, because by then the damage was done. I’d learned that if you behave and get good grades, the authorities mostly leave you in peace, and that is the best outcome you can hope for from adults in power.

Not exactly readin’ ,writin’ and ‘rithematic.

By the time I hit junior high, though, I had also crossed paths with Mrs. Karolyn Louise Miller Rossi. She was tiny–four foot ten–had a booming voice, big hands, and a tremendous affection for young people. She was a first-rate musician, and because she took me on as piano student, I had a lifeline to hold onto from the age of eleven onward. My horse was a lifeline (thank you Mom, and the whole McCarthy family), books were a lifeline.

These joys safeguarded my spirit. They were my passions, and as I sit here half a century later, don’t ask me about the Pythagorean Theorem (something about square roots and a hippopotamus?), though I still know 90 percent of the music theory I learned, as well as the music history. The motor skills have gone, but the love of music is as strong as ever.

I am still riding horses, and when I can no longer ride them, I will doubtless go to the barn for groom-and-graze therapy.

I am still in love with books and the power they have to connect, comfort, and entertain.

As I listen with growing trepidation to the whole debate about what we should teach our kids in school, I’m also wondering about how we teach them. We forget the overwhelming majority of what’s driven into our temporary storage buffers in the classroom, but we don’t forget what got us excited, we don’t forget our passions. I recall my father railing at me as I nom-nommed through an undergrad degree in music history, “But you need real skills in this life! How will you support yourself as a musician?!”

At the time, I was paying all my bills and my tuition playing the piano. I quit piano shortly after that–I wasn’t a competent classical performer–and added a political science degree to my syllabus. I switched from accompanying ballet classes to pay my rent to dipping ice cream in the university creamery and washing glassware in the food science labs.

In the eyes of those around me, my passions–the things that have sustained and defined me for a lifetime– were tolerated little hobbies, side hustles at best.

Why don’t we respect passion, especially the passions of women and children? Why don’t we support them? Why is the periodic table of the elements (I defy to you to list the noble gases) more important than devising your own brownie recipe?

All of which is to say, your passions–Sue’s dogs, Teenie Marie’s music, Tina’s cooking, somebody else’s houseplants or scrapbooks or fridge magnets–all have my respect and appreciation. Thank you for making the world a more interesting and worthwhile place and for persisting in what matters to you.

Who or what safeguarded your spirit growing up, or in recent years? Any regrets or do-overs come to mind on the topic of your passions?



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

15 comments on “Where Your Treasure Is…

  1. My school years especially the very early ones were very un-eventful.I struggled at first and it took ages for me to relax in the classroom.Living on a farm and having a freedom of sorts to wander and play with other farm kids and learn about everything on the farm from veg growing to raising pigs,chickens.Picking fruit etc.By the time I reached eight years old however one teacher a miss Markey spent a lot of time getting my reading and writing skills to a standard that I produced good stories and would be asked to read them to the class on a Friday afternoon.Her reminder to me was “If you don’t succeed at first try and try again”.I still enjoy books and story telling to the young ones and even great grandchildren in the near future.Thank you Miss Markey.Thank you Grace for keeping it all alive with your books and story telling.We are having extreme not weather here and we are to be careful when out and about.I’m off to Liverpool on Monday and it’s suppose to be the hottest so plenty of water and Sun hat whilst on the coach.Keep safe everyone.

    • You ARE getting a heat wave–more like a heat tsunami. I’ve never seen temps like that in the UK, and yes… rest, hydration, fans, AC… stay cool!

  2. Am writing my answer from Vermont where Laci & I have traveled to s 4 day dog show event.
    I drove 4 hours to get here hoping for a major win for Laci.

    So far, no luck.

    The positives- it’s beautiful in Vermont- hills, farms and watch for moose signs dot the landscape. Have had fun with friends & had a creamie -soft serve maple ice cream- it was delicious!

    My support system is my teacher Barb who is so positive and encouraging. We have texted all weekend. Showing and training dogs keeps me busy and active.

    Early class and hotel check out- send good thoughts to me and Laci!

    • Show weekends… while you are in Vermont, a lot of my horse barn buddies are in southern VA, hoping to earn scores sufficient to qualify them for year-end championships. It’s a labor of love, a huge exertion, and no little expense.
      But it’s your passion, and that makes it all worthwhile!
      Best of luck to you and Laci, and like Brenda says, sometimes you have to try, try again!

  3. I recognize those braids & glasses! Mine were tortoiseshell & Mom insisted on those hair bobbles with the huge plastic balls you didn’t want to forget & lean back on.

    I loved school up until I got bored to tears after “experts” stopped letting me get double promotions to sufficiently challenging material. By then I was already 2 years younger than my classmates & socially doomed, so they could’ve gone ahead & not wasted a decade of my life staring into space in the back of the classroom waiting for the rest of the class. Sigh…

    I am forever grateful to Mrs Breslin for teaching me the joys of fountain pens & allowing me to use any color ink I wanted (Peacock Blue & Emerald Green) so long as I wrote. Her class gave me a break from my mother endlessly ripping up my “fantasy pads” (I was a born writer from the moment I learned how to hold one of those fat school pencils.)

    Dad finally released me from the purgatory of “experts” after I got such a record score on my AP English test in 10th grade despite receiving a D in that class from an “expert”, that I was excused from having to take the standard freshman year of college English. He told me a degree was merely a piece of paper that could be taken away & no one cares where you got it from after you got your first job, so I was free to take as many classes as he could afford to pay for as “knowledge is something no one can ever take away from you.” Then, once my core classes were done & I’d reached the 4 year point, I was to pick whatever subject I had enough credits to receive a degree in & GRADUATE.

    Bless my father for rekindling my love of learning & giving me such a breadth of both academic & life lessons that I’ve been able to cruise across assorted career paths & fields in my lifetime. His motto of “you only stop learning when you’re dead” trained me for success in surviving a fast-changing world regardless of the challenges thrown at me.

    I still go ballistic any time I hear of anyone being held back for whatever excuse “experts” are pushing at the moment. Holding people back doesn’t make the other folks any brighter or smarter or faster or more successful. All it does is make the talented people miserable. When the expletive deleted will we learn to get out of people’s way & let them excel at whatever it is they’re good at?!

    • Never, I’m afraid. I also firmly believe that children should be encouraged to follow what they are interested in. As far as I am concerned, if they learn to read well and write – even if it is hen scratching – then that is the important stuff. Communicating through typing is a blessing. Most schools manage to bore kids to death.

      • @Pam – I so agree! Once you can read & write & are both allowed & encouraged to exercise your inbuilt curiosity, you can educate yourself with minimal guidance. Which is how it used to be before “experts” dumbed down schooling. I was so shocked when I saw high school textbooks from the late 19th & early 20th century & realized students back then who were in 8th grade were doing work I had to wait until college to learn!

  4. My Great-Aunt Rena–and we called her *Rena*, no reason to use the Great-Aunt part of her name as far as she was concerned. Rena was my grandma’s older sister and she knew the score on everyone. Rena had been an opera costume designer and kept her family (her mother and younger siblings)afloat during the depression by designing costumes (using what she had around–tin foil, fabric from her work)and entering them in masquerade costume contests. In Chicago, many unions would have masquerade balls during the depression. She’d use her siblings–you’d make a good queen of hearts, king of hearts, shepherdess etc–and if they won with her designs, the money and earnings (china sets, sets of flatware, hams, turkeys etc) were put in the kitty and shared with everyone. There were times her costumes would win at three or four different contests during ONE NIGHT!

    Rena was funny and strong and she loved me. She died right before my 8th birthday but my short time with her influenced me for the rest of my life. She made me believe I could do anything and, as another *Oldest* told me to never let that fact run my life.

    She wore an engagement ring on a chain around her neck but never married. I asked my grandma why she wore the ring and grandma explained she loved her Jim so much and when he died, she vowed to never marry and she never did. It wasn’t until our Pandemic my Dad explained Jim died in 1918 of the SPANISH FLU! I never knew and would have asked Grandma about it if I had known. Dad told me people were ashamed when their loved ones died of the Spanish Flu and most never spoke of it again. Something to think about!

  5. Those are interesting questions. I love to read, and that is something I can still do. If by chance I lost my sight, I’d switch to audiobooks. If I lost my hearing – well, let’s not go there as I doubt I would be successful with Braille. Books – when I was young I read a lot of science fiction and also historical fiction which opened my eyes to the past and possible futures.

    My balance is too bad to go fossil hunting anymore but I still love reading about fossils, past geologic ages, and looking at pictures. I have several boxes of aquatic fossils at home, since where I live used to be a shallow sea. I love looking at the landscape around me and imagining that sea. I am always thrilled when I spot ‘white dirt’ where you can find small ancient seashells, far inland. There is one such spot not far from my house.

    The only regret I have is that I didn’t travel more and have more adventures. I did what I could within my boundaries (40 hour workweek, marriage, child rearing, financial constraints, geographical location) so I have few regrets. In my mind, I’ve been to Mars.

    • @Pam One of the things I used to do with Mom was walk miles along the beach looking for fossils, from sharks teeth to turtle shells to camels’ teeth. When we visited her side of the family in Kentucky, there were treasures hidden in the hills from arrowheads to exploring caves & outcroppings to see what was buried in the rock.

  6. I had no safeguards as a child and into adulthood.
    But, these days, I have friends who champion me. They are precious resources!!!

  7. My father was very angry with me when I chose to become a physician, where I would have to PAY someone else in order for me to learn, instead of becoming an engineer, where they would PAY me (a pittance as a TA!) to get a PhD in engineering. Sheesh. Not the usual response when a child tells a parent they’re going to become a doctor! Until his dying day, my irascible dad stated that engineers knew more about how the heart works than cardiologists.

    Books and music safeguarded my soul, but fortunately both were encouraged by my mother and tolerated by by father. Don’t get me started on how women’s interested are belittled in this sucky patriarchy we live in.

    Grrr. I am clearly in a bad mood today, and would love to breath fire on men. Thank you for your kind and gracious words, though, Grace, and your questions that always make me think!

  8. No regrets or do-overs, particularly. I might have traveled more when I was younger, but I managed a fair bit. I find I like beds, showers and indoor plumbing these days. I also appreciate air conditioning, central heat and regular meals. Cell service and internet are bonuses.

    My parents didn’t understand the urge to go somewhere simply because I hadn’t been, but didn’t try to keep me home. I received a bedside clock for my 7th birthday and was shown where 7 am was as the earliest I could bother anyone, so in the summer it was on my bike and away. I chose education as a profession for the opportunity to do something else somewhere else part of the year as much as the fact that I could be done paying for school as opposed to being paid for it in the shortest amount of time.

    Now I do my running away in a book. Thank you for the HEAs, Grace.

  9. I guess exploring and learning are my passions that have sustained me. They have taken new forms over the last couple of years from covid necessity, but even very locally there is always something new.

  10. I would say that my aunt, Mom’s sister, provided an example of someone who cooked fearlessly. She was 7 years older than my Mom and had cooked for her dad & brothers when they had emigrated to the US before their Mom. Where my Mom nervously cooked every meal (because it was expected of her) my aunt was unflappable. A Visigoth Horde could have descended on my aunt’s house and within an hour she’d have fed the lot of them! She was my idol, whipping up pizza dough and homemade pasta effortlessly. I stayed with her family for a couple of weeks every summer and, though she didn’t give me formal cooking lessons, some of her enthusiasm and zeal must have rubbed off on me over time! I have aspired to be the kind of relaxed cook that she was, who could roll with whatever happens in the kitchen and I think I have succeeded. We throw lots of big parties and our friends rarely refuse an invitation.