The One Thing I Guess I Never Told You


A message to my daughters:

All these years…I thought you understood, what I wanted you to understand. I was no martyr, making mistakes so I could later pass them on as some armor against your own. I’m no one’s savior. So many times I couldn’t even save myself.

As a young girl, I made my mistakes with no one to tell. Can’t tell your parents…they’d didn’t make these mistakes when they were young. Don’t talk to your grandparents, it’ll upset them. As for friends…there were none that lasted through the years. I’d moved too often to ever learn the knack of making lifelong friends. With no one to talk to, I had to become my own friend. I wrote in my journals every day, determined that someday my children would know that I knew what it was like to be young and unsure…to feel desire, and doubt, and anger, and shame…that I understood them and that they could talk to me.

It was in a fit of fear (and shame) that I didn’t hold on to the very record I’d always meant to share. I pulled them from their hiding place in the floor of my room (have I ever shown you?) and burned them all…7 notebooks full…in the burn barrel that sat in the grove across from my parents house. And since then, I’ve never relearned the habit.

As you grew, I always regreted that act. I tried to make up for it by sharing what I remembered about my own struggle to make sense of who I was and who I wanted to be. Alot of people told me it was a mistake to so frankly share my past with my girls…that it would imply permission and even encouragement that they make some of these same mistakes. I didn’t much care what those people thought of my honesty, I just knew that my girls would know that I had been a real person with real feelings and that I understood theirs. I wanted my children to know that they could trust me with their problems and their hearts.

How sad it makes me now, knowing that with all I told you that somehow you didn’t hear the message of WHY I told you. “I didn’t want to disappoint you that I didn’t learn from your mistakes,” you’ve told me. But it wasn’t that I didn’t expect you to make mistakes. Heaven knows, I’ve continued all my own life to make them.

I guess I never told you that what I wanted was for you to trust me…trust me WITH your mistakes.

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Slow Goodbyes at the Aase Place…



For my tenth birthday, my aunt gave me a copy of Mandy, by Julie Edwards (a.k.a. Julie Andrews, of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music).  The story embraces a young girl who lives in an English orphanage where she is treated well and enjoys the friendship of other girls.  But Mandy wants a home of her own.  When she slips beyond the walls of the orphanage to discover a tiny cottage with an enchanting garden and shell encrusted walls, Mandy begins to imagine the cottage as her own.

The book spoke to me, my young life having been spent living in and moving between military housing units.  The only permanency I could claim lay in the small rural community of Spink, South Dakota, where my grandparents and mother’s extended family lived.   Less than a year after I read Mandy, my parents purchased a farm there…in preparation of my father’s military retirement.

We moved to South Dakota in June of my eleventh year. There were only a couple of short years left to my childhood when we arrived.  I filled them with a rich fantasy life. I often imagined our new (old) farmhouse as a “little house on the praire,” homesteaded and all our own … a real “home” for my family.  All I needed to complete the picture was a playhouse.

During the mid 1970′s, in the rural midwest, farmers were consolidating land (larger equipment allowed for larger farms) and recently abandoned farmhouses dotted the landscape.  My older brother, David, along with his friend Steve, adopted the Locke place — down the hill from the church, along the creek bottom where Steve’s uncle farmed.  Reached most easily by motorbike, the place was, in any case, off limits to little sisters.  But closer down the road, about a 1/2 mile, sat another recently abandon house…the Aase Place. With it’s victorian charm, octagonal floor-plan, and dumbwaiter to the cellar, the house was magical.  Sometimes alone and sometimes with other neighboorhood kids, I dug treasures from the “burn pile.” and set up house. I had found my cottage, just like Mandy.

Over the years, the Aase place has remained “mine,” although I don’t technically have any ownership rights.  I left South Dakota at eighteen to take up my own transient life. In almost thirty years, I’ve never lived in any home longer than the seven that I lived in Spink. Regardless of distance, I’ve come home often to visit, and as often as I have come home, I have visited the Aase place–weather allowing–documenting, with my camera, it’s decline.

The massive barn (once the largest in Dakota Territory) burned twenty-some years ago and the still impressive foundation is now home to an “inside” forrest of trees and fallen timber. The silo houses a lake of rain water.  Scavengers have stripped the house of its stained glass and cornice molding (though, with permission, I have possession of a few ornaments they left behind).  A decaying roof and broken windows have allowed harsh winters and wet springs to ravage the interior….leaving the floors rotting and unsafe. About five years back, the beautiful front porch collapsed and now the elegantly curved front steps lead nowhere.  Experiencing the decline of my playhouse has been a bit like the bitter-sweet experience of life … of growing older.  I’ve held hands with her as she slipped away from me.

Less gentle will be the loss to come.  The “little house” where my parents still live sits in the shadow of a proposed Hyperion oil refinery…the first to be built in the U.S. in the thirty years since I left childhood.  The tiny community of Spink, grounded in agriculture, cannot survive the encroachment of industry.  At a time when my children are leaving me for lives of their own and my parents are aging, I can’t help knowing that this loss will be more heartbreaking, the impact more devastating, than the loss of my playhouse.

I continue to visit home … to document the “end to a way of life” many in the area refuse to see coming.  Today, my daughter had me take her down to the Aase place to shoot her “senior pictures.”  It’s an appropriate place to begin this documentary, I think. In just a year or so, the Aase place is sited to serve as the front gate to Hyperion’s refinery.

Change for a Dollar


“I put a dollar in one of those change machines. Nothing changed.” ~George Carlin

For several years now, I’ve worn a badge next to my Teacher’s ID card…”change agent.” I stand firmly in the belief that we must be flexible in our approach to educating our young people, willing to meet them and to teach them as actors in the world into which they are headed, rather than trying to instill in them a world which they have–in many ways–left behind. At the same time…I’m forced to accept: Change for the sake of change is little worth the effort. And change for the sake of personal gain, whether it be monetary or simply another “feather” in our own caps as “innovators” and “saviors” can be downright detrimental.

Tonight, I’ve found myself contemplating my family home…Spink, South Dakota…sitting on the edge of a change that will, as some believe, lead them forward, while at the same time, as others fear, will take them much farther backwards. 

Home Sweet Home

Spink Hyperion Project...

This is my childhood home — rich and fertile farmland –as it has been envisioned by Hyperion, in its bid to build the first oil refinery in the U.S. in over 30 years. It’s difficult for me to balance the economic advantages to the state against the lives of the people and the land that I have loved all my life. More difficult still, is the impact of this travesty on the future, not only of those few, but on a world that loses so much of it’s needed farmland in the name of “development” (2 acre/minute according to Farming on the Edge).    

...Home Sweet Home?

...Home Sweet Home?

In 1997, Parker Palmer of Beloit College wrote eloquently in The Courage to Teach of the importance of grass roots efforts in the process of change. Watching the rapid pace at which the resolution to permit the Hyperion project was pushed through the state legislature and referendum, and the manner in which many old friends and neighbors jumped aboard, despite the scarcity of information they had been given, has me thinking hard about the way in which we go about change in education.  

This is where I am left: I understand the need for school administration to sometimes nudge change into the foreground. I acknowledge the importance of administrative guidance in the process, itself. But when change is made too quickly, with little information for, and little input from the masses (teachers and students) that change may end up leading us more steps backwards than it does forward. The fact is: I have, myself, been guilty of this type of heavy-handed, “I know my field best,” sort of change.

Then…how to invite change without driving it? Perhaps its a matter of arming not just the grassroots leaders, but the masses, themselves, with the knowledge they need to implement change. And in the exercise of empowerment rather than power, we can begin: not ONLY to consider what is best “for” them, but also to see the best “in” them as an essential step in asking for the best “from” them.


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