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I may have posted these before, but now is a good time to share again, between Father's Day and Dad's death anniversary. It just occurred to me that he would have been 100 this year!

My father never learned to drive a car.
His pockets rattled with loose change, not keys
Whenever he gave armchair pony rides,
Four giggling children on two jiggling knees.
Coins came in handy for his magazines,
Tobacco, tickets on the daily bus,
Occasional ice cream cones or Bounty bars
And favorite weekly comic books for us.
How could I then, how could I even think
Of acting on my friend Georgina’s dare
To help myself? She did it all the time,
Stole from her mother’s purse without a care.
I spied Dad’s trousers hanging on the door,
Dipped in and found a dozen pennies bright;
But guilt sank to my stomach like a stone.
I slid them back, and oh, my heart was light
When Dad came home; he twirled me, jingling loud,
Then after supper tucked me up in bed.
He told us made-up tales of Harold Hare
And slipped a coin beneath each pillowed head.

© Hazel Spire
Homeward Tracks 2004
First published in a Christian Writers booklet, UK


O father, my mentor, our crossing’s nearly done,
Taking my widowed mother home to the Island.
I twenty-two, she forty-four, you fifty-five:
Don’t you love poetic irony? The rain that kept
Fishers ashore lashes the ferry windows.
We sit below in the crowded tea bar,
Tourists’ voices grating on our ears.
Stop! Wait! How can the world
Go on its merry way
When Dad lies on a mortuary slab?

Captain of our family, for you the organ groans
As we gather in your name, bright floral tributes
Filling Bob’s black Daimler. “We’ll do our best job
For you,” he says in gentle local brogue.
“Can’t be early for his own funeral,” quips his son.
“Drive around the block another time.” You’d
Appreciate the humor, you who ran for trains and buses.
The crematory mechanism judders, transporting you
Behind red velvet curtains. No! Too soon!

O father, writer, friend, you could not swim, but strolled
Along the pier at night reciting Shakespeare to the waves.
For you the gulls are keening as the sea keeps rolling in.
When the paper is put to bed this week, the press
Will run again. But stop—the chief reporter’s dead.
Did you who taught the Girls’ Brigade to triple-tongue
Hear a bugle call from distant shores?
My brothers still play soccer, but long legs
That showed them dribble, kick, and GOAL
Have crossed the line to our eternal home.

© Hazel Spire
Tapestry of Time, 2006 Read More 

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Farthest temporary move: England to Iran

Biggest regret about living in Iran: Not taking the time to really learn Farsi. Not seeing prettier towns like Shiraz and Isfahan.

Farthest permanent move: England to America

Worst homesickness: First weeks of college at 18. First months in Florida at 28.

Hardest adjustments on arrival in the US: Different words for things, or the same words with different meanings. Driving on the other side of the road, changing lanes in fast traffic, and turning left. Too much choice at the grocery store, unfamiliar items. How to feed a new husband?

Shocks: My husband chewing gum when we opened a bank account and a deacon’s wife chewing gum in church - both frowned on where I came from.

Reasons to move: Romance. Divorce. Adventure. Job opportunity. Be close to the city. Get away from the city. Be close to family. Get away from “bloomin’ relations.”

Unusual finds: Someone had dropped a molar, halfway up the stairs. I put it under my pillow for the tooth fairy, and she left me a tinfoil sixpence! The attic of that house was filled with cherub paintings and floral chamber pots that went to the auction rooms.

Welcome gifts: In Iran, home-made pizza from the American students’ moms, who also lent us clothes, because our luggage had been misplaced. In Florida, a home-grown avocado from our Dutch neighbor.

Most refreshing moving-day gift: Six bottles of ginger beer (non-alcoholic) from a Canadian couple at our church in Texas.

Surprises: Mexican dinners for the Ex-Pat community, made by the US Army cook in Iran. Transatlantic Brides & Parents Association in Dallas. Meeting Nona, who’d taught in Iran the same year as I did. British shows on PBS. Radio 4 on the Internet. Golden Oldies at the grocery store in Kansas. Lakes and rivers whenever I missed the sea.

Mother’s response to news of Mark’s job transfer to Surrey: “Oh Hazel, that’s wonderful - and you’ll be near Linda!”

Care packages: Candy corn, Blow Pops, and Kool-Aid from US to UK. Easter eggs, Yorkshire tea, and Christmas pudding from UK to US.

Hardest adjustments on relocation to the UK: Driving on the other side of the road. Figuring out the coins while jet-lagged. Gloomy grey sky for days on end in winter.

Hardest thing on returning to the US after three years in England: Teenage daughter leaving a close-knit bunch of classmates there, discovering her old friends had moved on to different pursuits. Sorting out academic credits with the HS registrar.

Most humbling requirement for a teaching certificate: After my degree from TWU, one semester of student teaching, in spite of seven years’ experience overseas.

Funniest requirement for US citizenship: Having to prove my grasp of the English language by writing the sentence, “They could not find the dog.”

How to feel at home: Get a library card, volunteer at a school, join a church, and seek out arty, crafty people. They are everywhere!

Ice-breakers: Dogs and children

Number of trips taken by husband and dog from TX to KS with a load: Nine.

Unusual send-off: Texas tea with ladies in gloves, jeans, and lampshade hats.

What helped sell our house fast: Decluttering, a bowl of fruit, and location.

Number of boxes unpacked in KS after all the giving, selling, pitching, and ditching: Too many to count. Some are still in the attic.

Number of moves in my life: Thirteen, not counting temporary rentals.

Number of times I want to move again: Zero. But you never know…

How to keep in touch with roots: Facebook, and fly back for one fortnight a year. Read More 

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Crabby's Classroom, Fag Cards, and the Lollipop Man

Surfing the Net one night, I came upon an article about a Victorian building in my hometown in England, scheduled for demolition. The high windows and natural stone in the photo triggered a memory of boys from Crabby Jones's class crouching in short grey trousers on the asphalt below and flicking "fag" cards. Without any other connotation in 1950s England, this was their term for collector cards issued by certain cigarette brands. The boys never shared their game, or marbles, or football with us girls. Around the corner in a separate playground, we had other amusements: cartwheels, trading beads, knitting with bobbins, French skipping with elastic bands around our ankles, and variations of tag.

This was Sandown C.E. Junior School, renamed the Broadway Centre, where I attended from ages 7 to 11, the equivalent of US grades 2-5. A nearby building housed the Infants, ages 5 and 6. Beyond the green gate, our "lollipop man" - so called for the shape of his official sign - escorted us across one of the town's main arteries, The Broadway, before and after school and at lunchtime. (Like most pupils, my sister and I walked about a quarter of a mile each way; very few arrived by car.) I'd remembered his name as Mr. Hunnicutt. Then I found an entry about him, complete with yellow-uniformed portrait, in an old exercise book. (See column on left.) It was Mr. Hunnywood.

I could fill a book with my Island childhood. I vowed to do just that as I jumped the waves in Sandown Bay at the age of 10. Birthday parties, carnivals, fetes, even shoplifting, already appear in my published works (ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD, HOMEWARD TRACKS, TAPESTRY OF TIME, AREOPAGUS MAGAZINE, FRISCO POETS ANTHOLOGY). Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, I write to keep alive the people and places I love. Writing pins down fleeting impressions of tactile experiences for family, myself, and perhaps a wider audience.

Fortunately, the decision about demolition of our old school has been deferred. But even if it goes ahead, no one can steal our memories - as I told my first "bosom buddy" Susan in a recent e-mail. Certain details are imprinted in our minds like indelible ink, though they may be different for each of us.

I like to think we could re-enter that building and hear the echoes of morning hymns, of multiplication tables and folk songs, of a teacher reading to us from Kipling and Twain. The two schools, along with Christ Church up the hill, where we performed our nativity plays and carol services, should all be preserved together. To me they are holy ground. Read More 

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[In England, the first single person of the opposite sex who spoke to you on Feb 14 would be your Valentine, but it was too late after 12 noon. This poem is dedicated to the memory of Brian Kemp. RIP]

St. Valentine’s Day. No card through my door,
but if I play my cards right Brian will be mine by noon.
Saturday, no school. I stroll along the beach.
Is he at the Sea Scouts’ hut? No. Must try his house.
Boarding the bus I think, So far so good, no male
has spoken to me yet. What about the conductor?
Fares please! It’s Chris from India. He doesn’t count,
being already married to the girl next door. No sign
of Brian, as I linger at his gate in Lake Green Road.
His mum comes up the street with a shopping bag.
She eyes me suspiciously under her headscarf
before going inside—to cook his lunch, I presume.
The church clock strikes eleven, twelve. Too late.
I’ve got no Valentine, unless you count Chris.
He is quite dishy. Or has Brian been at my house
hand-delivering my card? Fat chance! Still,
you never know. Last week at school he said
hello and put his bike in the rack next to mine.

© Hazel Spire



[In England, Valentine cards are not exchanged among friends or family members as in the U.S. They are sent anonymously to someone in whom you have a romantic interest.]

Someone sent me a valentine
With rhymed verse, design hand-painted.
“Who?” squealed jealous friends, guessing
Boys with whom we were acquainted.

“Christopher Nuckley!” they declared,
The brilliant artist in Class 2-D!”
“No, it can’t be him,” I insisted.
“He really isn’t the type for me.”

Back home, I admired my valentine,
Displayed it proudly on the shelf.
No one would know, and I wouldn’t tell,
I made and mailed that card myself.

© Hazel Spire


Like a leaky air mattress, the rumor squeaked
along the church hall floor at Girls’ Brigade camp:
Hazel’s got a boyfriend!
No. Who? Tell us all about him, Haze.
Heads drew close to listen
as the name rolled deliciously off my tongue:
Jeremy Knight, from Aylesbury.
Yeah? How d’ya meet him? the girls chorused
like the Shangri La singers in “Leader of the Pack.”
Well, you know my mum runs a B & B?
His family stayed with us this summer.
Oh. What’s he like then?
A year older than me, four inches taller,
sandy hair, fashionably long but not scruffy
and sea-green eyes.
Aah. Where did he take you?
Wight City Arcade. We rode on the dodgem cars.
And he kissed me goodnight.
Mmm. When we gonna meet him, Haze?

Incredulous voices,
yet why shouldn’t I have a boyfriend?
Granted I was only thirteen, but
if Celia could hold John’s hand in French class,
if Brian could chase Susan with a beach towel,
if Shirley could gaze at Peter under the stars at the fair,
wasn’t it my turn to fall in love?
Like a smelly gym shoe, the rumor flew
through the girls’ locker room at school:
Hazel’s got a boyfriend!
No. Who? How did ya meet him, Haze?
Tell us all about it.
Heads drew close to listen as I repeated—
embellished—my tale of romance.
Jeremy Knight. He’s gone home now,
but look. He sent this letter.

From an envelope with a smudged postmark
I produced the evidence—
a polite note telling how much the Knights
enjoyed their stay on the island,
especially my mum’s blackberry pie.
They took this snap of me and Jeremy at the station,
I added, brandishing a very dark photograph.
Fingers grabbed, mascara’d lashes blinked at it.
Can’t see a thing, said Frances, disappointed.
I sighed. No, it didn’t come out, for some reason.
So, when do we get to see him, Haze?
I don’t know. Perhaps in the half-term holiday?

But they never would meet Jeremy Knight,
once he was safe on that train to Aylesbury,
off to school on the mainland, living forever fresh,
flaxen-haired and lovable, but untouchable
in my over-zealous, ever-jealous,
febrile, fertile imagination.

© Hazel Spire Read More 

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Like generations before me beginning a new school year at Sandown Church of England Primary School, I lined up with the eight-year-olds near an inscription in the stone wall: A.D. 1853.

“I’ve seen Miss Wheeler lose her temper,” Jean-Ann whispered. “She goes as red as a beetroot!”

My knees knocked as the autumn wind sent sycamore leaves skittering across the playground. We followed our new teacher inside and hung up our coats and P.E. bags. Then we took our places at desks that smelled of ink and polish in Irene Wheeler’s room, sandwiched between Crabby Jones’ and Joey Brown’s. Ours must have been the only teacher in the school without a nickname.

A lock of gray hair, formerly black, jiggled as she called the thirty-four names on her roll.

“Hazel Longhurst?” Miss Wheeler’s eyes, blue as the knitted twin set she wore, twinkled behind thick glasses. A special smile for me.

“Present,” I answered.

Every day, the heavy wood-and-glass partitions were rolled back for morning assembly, and Miss Wheeler accompanied our hymn singing on the piano. I watched her play, fascinated, because I had just started taking piano lessons. Too shy to speak out in class, I sought private opportunities to show her my piano pieces, drawings, and a guitar made of rubber bands on a box. She always took time to listen and to offer helpful suggestions.

Miss Wheeler patiently steered the class through long division and sentence construction. On lazy Friday afternoons, she sparked my sense of adventure by reading from The Jungle Book and Gulliver’s Travels. She instilled a passion for words by reciting a range of poetry, from Hiawatha to The Owl and the Pussy Cat.

“There’s brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk … so watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by.” So went a verse about contraband. Gleefully Miss Wheeler confessed that her ancestors had been notorious smugglers along the Isle of Wight’s west coast in the 19th century. She gave us glimpses into her personal life, like her first taste of octopus in Spain, and the time her mother had cried in the cupboard because Irene had upset her. We learned that hurting your parents is worse than making them angry.

I remembered Jean-Ann’s warning, but did not believe this sweet lady could ever lose her temper. One drizzly morning, she left our silent reading session to confer with Ginny Cassell in another classroom. The clunk of her heels on the wooden floor ten minutes later was almost drowned out by our hubbub. Half the class was swapping tea cards, the rest engaged in an inkwell-cover-polishing competition.

Miss Wheeler loomed in the doorway with a face redder than the spindle berries on our nature table. All trading ceased, the brass-buffers clutched wads of Duraglit with blackened fingers, and an eerie hush descended. She turned her thundercloud scowl in my direction.

“Bring me those cards in your hand, Hazel Longhurst!”

I obeyed the shrill command and gulped as she placed the entire British wildlife series in her drawer. While she stormed around the room confiscating everything in sight, I snickered behind my New Worlds to Conquer reader. I’d simply been admiring the cards. They belonged to Stephen Williams.

December drew near, and we crocodiled up the hill to the church to practice for the carol service. As our clear voices rang beneath the stone arches—“What can I give Him, poor as I am?”—a question echoed in my mind. What can I give my teacher for Christmas?

On the next dry Saturday I walked with my family along the cliff path to the nearest Woolworth’s, and decided to buy her a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate with sixpence from my own piggy bank. Back home, it looked a little smaller than usual. So I borrowed Daddy’s Bic ballpoint and printed the price on the wrapper, so that it could not be mistaken for a threepenny bar!

For me, Miss Wheeler’s greatest legacy is the repertoire of music she taught. We marched with the men of Harlech, danced at Marie’s wedding, and waited for Johnny to come home from the fair. We drowned with the jolly sailor boys who spied a mermaid on a Friday with a comb and a glass on her hand (sure signs of bad luck), and sped with a bonnie boat carrying the lad who was born to be king, over the sea to Skye. At parties we galloped up and down the parish hall to The Grand Old Duke of York. Fifty years on, another Prince Charles is destined for the throne, and Andrew has become Duke of York. Yet, poignant phrases reverberate down the halls of memory.

On her revolving blackboard, Miss Wheeler drew a body with a thick chalk line across the middle. She explained how the diaphragm could be controlled to produce a not-quite-so-flat note. I joined her choir and learned to sing alto. Spring arrived with soft pussy willow and yellow lamb’s tail catkins. The choir traveled by bus to the Island Music Festival, where Miss Wheeler waved her baton like a magic wand, a stray curl bobbing over her forehead. She beamed with pride at the announcement that we’d secured the First Place trophy for Sandown.

The following week Carol, Judith, and I entered the solo category. Despite our valiant attempts at "Tony Was a Turtle," the cup went to the girl from a posh private school who lifted her frilly frock in a curtsey after her performance. Still, I enjoyed that trip in Miss Wheeler’s Morris Standard. She was one of the few women drivers we knew back then, and a good one.

Summer swept in with garden parties, regattas, exams, and Sports Day. Our four teams or “houses”—bore the names of authors, Priestley (red), Tennyson (yellow), Keats (blue), and Milne (green). Eagerly I watched the sack-race finalists bounce over the sunny field toward the tape, hoping for a Priestley victory. I’d never suspected the teachers of being biased, and so I was mortified to hear Miss Wheeler scream from the sideline, “Tennyson! Tennyson!”

I forgave her at last, and asked her to write in my autograph book. Neatly she copied a poem about the steep path of life and the Guide who will see us through if we trust Him, and she signed it Irene Wheeler. Thrilled at the inclusion of her first name, I also appreciated the poem’s advice.

On my report card she wrote, “Hazel will go far.” My mother quoted these words a decade later, when I left for teacher training college on the mainland. Miss Wheeler died of cancer soon after I embarked on my career. Now that I share her faith, we’re on the same team. I look forward to singing with her in the heavenly choir, and she’ll find out how far I went—to America, by way of Iran!

Even if none of my thousand or so former students picks me as the best teacher they ever had, I hope they will think of me as someone who encouraged them to use their talents. They saw me explode on occasions too, but I wanted above all to be their friend, as Irene Wheeler was mine. Read More 
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