The House on Fifth Street

Some of my happiest early childhood memories were spent with my paternal relatives, especially at the home of my grandparents-Nellie Hoots and Henry Hoots, Sr. They were affectionately called Mama (or Granny) Hoots and Daddy Hoots.  My grandparents lived in a two-story, two-bedroom house, with a cellar, on 5th Street in Rankin- a borough in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.  Mama Hoots and Daddy Hoots passed away many years ago, but the house they lived in still stands and the rich memories that were created in that house span several generations.

If I were an accomplished painter I would capture on canvas the cheerful moments I spent at my grandparent’s home.  I am not a painter but the wonderful experiences I had there are etched on the folds of my memory. I remember Granny Hoots wearing an apron and spectacles, moving around the kitchen, lying in bed; sitting on the front porch, or sitting in the living room. If memory serves me right, she was often sick, first with asthma. Later she suffered with the almost unbearable pains of cancer. She, like my maternal grandmother, was a devout Christian woman and a homemaker. Recently, one of my aunts described Granny Hoots as “A true stay-at-home-mom.” But to me, she was just sweet old Mama Hoots.

Thinking about the house on 5th Street, brings to mind fond memories of my paternal grandparents, and the sound of clanging streetcars lumbering on the tracks that ran right in front of their house. I think warmheartedly of the front porch, where in summer the adults and older kids gathered to relax, laugh, and talk. I remember the little store down the street where we bought Uneeda Biscuits for Granny Hoots. The smell and taste of Daddy Hoots’ Whole Cake bread is intertwined with other cherished childhood memories. (Whole Cake bread is one large biscuit fried on top of the stove.)

But my fondest memories of visiting my grandparent’s home stems from the time I spent with three of my father’s seven sisters: Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Iris, and Aunt Alice (Aunt Aggie).   When I was a very young girl, they were unmarried, didn’t have children, and lived at home-Aunt Aggie and Aunt Iris were just school girls.  They were: beautiful, smart, interesting, and fun. I loved being with them and  I loved eating at their house. Two of my favorite dishes that they made were soupy-runny-grits (I don’t recall whether the grits were served with butter or like a cereal with milk and sugar). The other dish was pasta served with Alaga Syrup. It was delicious! They made homemade ice-cream too.

My aunts shared a room and when I slept over I slept in their bedroom. The room was located on the second floor in the front of the house. It overlooked the street. At night, from their room I listened for the familiar soothing, rhythmic clanging of streetcars lumbering up and down the tracks that ran right in front of the house.  I remember clean linen and beds that had been made; the sound of giggling girls and happy talk- not gossiping or people bashing. I loved my aunts. They were all three nice to me.

When thinking of the house on Fifth Street, it is impossible for me not to think specifically and tenderly of Aunt Dorothy. She was a physically attractive and petite woman whose laughter, speaking voice, and presence permeated a space. Her laughter was warm and soulful, like it came from deep within. Her contralto speaking voice was melodious, like a pebble skipping effortlessly over still, clear water in a small space of a peaceful forest. Her presence was warm and welcoming. Aunt Dorothy was a hugger and a kisser and she was kind and just. She made me feel good and valuable. (My sister Sandy has often described Aunt Dorothy as compassionate.)  She shared stories with us about her own childhood and life experiences. She affirmed, comforted, and encouraged my sister Sandy and me, and she always seemed in good spirits. Aunt Dorothy passed away in the 1990s. Her presence is greatly missed and her absence is deeply felt.

As fate had it, after the separation of my parents I had very little contact with my father’s side of the family. But the quality time that I spent with them during my very early years created memories that helped shape and sustain me through the unpredictable turbulence that later became a routine part of my childhood.

Than God for the good memories created in the house on Fifth Street!

Math: A Lifelong Nemesis

Math is my least favorite subject. It is also the only academic discipline that I have had little interest in and found limited value in studying.  In school I learned only as much about math as was necessary to achieve passing scores on tests and to get to the next level.  During my senior year of undergraduate school I was informed by the registrar that I needed an additional upper-level math course to graduate. For a few moments after receiving the news, I became distraught because I thought my graduation would be delayed.  I had worked hard to complete the math, accounting, and economic courses my major required. So, when I applied for graduation I thought I was through with the formal study of mathematics. I was mistaken.

Luckily, I found a professor who graciously agreed to conduct an independent study that would satisfy the remaining math requirement. If I passed, I would graduate as planned.

I enrolled in the course; but, I was ill prepared for the rigor the course demanded. During that term I spent many an evening racking and taxing my brain to recall concepts and procedures I had previously memorized, practiced, and purposely forgotten, wrongfully thinking I would not need them again. Fortunately, I passed the course and graduated as planned.

The following September, during my first few weeks of graduate school a nonprofit organization was on campus recruiting volunteer tutors to work in an adult literacy program. I enthusiastically signed up. During the interview, the recruiter told me she needed a math tutor and explained why she thought I was the perfect candidate. I explained that I was mathematically challenged; but said I would gladly tutor any other subject. It was as though she hadn’t heard me. To my dismay the interviewer focused solely on trying to convince me that I was the right person for the math position.

Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t just end the interview. I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t planning on remaining in the area after graduation; the position was unpaid; the work did not satisfy any academic requirement, and I was not interested in teaching math.  Yet, I sat through the interview like an obedient schoolgirl dutifully listening to an academic advisor extolling the benefits of majoring in Mathematics to an English Literature or Fine Arts major.   At the conclusion of the interview, I told the recruiter I would spend the weekend praying about whether to accept the position.  She thanked me and said she looked forward to hearing from me.

As promised, I prayed and sought legitimate reasons for refusing the position. I didn’t come up with a single one. So, the following week I told the recruiter I would tutor math. I also told her that she should not count on either me or the students experiencing much success. Secretly, I was hoping and praying that after a careful review of my transcripts and resume she would offer me a different position. Instead, she thanked me for my willingness to serve and told me where to pick up the material.

Shortly afterwards I began working with two women. One was preparing to take a national nurses examination. The other was studying for the General Educational Development (G.E.D.) test. I felt inept to tutor either. However, I delved into the material and outlined learning objectives and lesson plans. As I prepared for the challenge, I drew strength from meditating upon Philippians 4:13,   “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Thankfully, I experienced relative success. The G.E.D. candidate passed the exam. The other woman stopped attending class a few weeks into the term (I don’t know why).

Subsequently, I taught math to adults only once. Later I became a Newark [New Jersey] Public Schools Teacher where for several years, among other subjects, I taught math to elementary and middle school students. February 1, 2014, I retired from teaching. I plan to have as little as possible to do with math. However, in light of my past experiences I’m not ruling out anything.