Thursday, August 8, 2013

Retired Caro teacher pens book about her 55 Septembers in a classroom

story by janet i. martineau

For 55 of her 63 years, Michele Hile was in a school classroom -- first as a student and then as a teacher.

So no small wonder she ended up penning a self-published book titled “My Journey of 55 Septembers -- A Teacher’s Story.”

Michele Hile
On Tuesday (Aug. 13), the Caro resident will talk about her journey and her book during one of the “In  Poet’s Backyard” picnics taking place this summer at the Theodore Roethke Home Museum, 1805 Gratiot in Saginaw.

Titled “One Person’s Path to Becoming an Author,” her presentation runs from noon to 2:30pm and includes a lunch catered by Crumbs.

The inspiration for the book came from a fellow teacher.

“I retired from teaching at the end of the 2009-2010 school year,” says Hile, “and during the general staff information meeting held at the beginning of that school year a teacher across from me noted that her mentor had retired and asked if I would be her mentor.”

At the time, Hile said, she had not yet planned to retire after teaching 38 years for the Caro schools. 

“I asked if she was serious, and she replied that she was. So for each day of that school year, until Memorial Day, I had in her mailbox at the day's beginning a paragraph to two pages of something that worked for me, what my teachers meant to me, perspectives I believed teachers should have, and various items about my school years. 

“In October, another teacher told me she also wanted what that teacher was getting each day. I complied. By April, both were telling me that I needed to write a book using the ideas given them.”

And so she did.

Its 208 pages contain 141 vignettes in four sections: My Mother's Vision (9); My Early Years (18); Things Learned While Teaching (90); and Odds and Ends (24). It was published in the spring 2013. 

While the book is aimed at educators, Hile says she is receiving favorable reviews from people in all walks of life. 

“I am being told, ‘We all went to school, and we can relate to so much of what your write.’ It is also about achieving and living your dreams.” 

Hile primarily taught seventh and eighth grades, science and reading. For the first six years of her career, she taught various high school science classes. And from 1993-2001, she taught  summer school to elementary students in grades 2-6. 

Her family moved to the farm where she still lives in 1960, when she was 10.

Hile has not retired yet from a  second job which she has held for the past 18 years -- as an interfaith minister. 

“Currently, I am the interim pastor for the Fraser and Cass City First Presbyterian Churches. They are seeking a full time pastor since theirs retired a little over a year ago. In a recent nine-week stretch, I officiated eight weddings and have nine more booked.”

And from 1972 to 1974) she  was the charter secretary of the Watrousville-Caro Area Historical Society.

Hile will have copies of her book, priced at $20, for sale at the Tuesday event. Reservations are required by calling (989) 928-0430 or emailing 

Following is an excerpt from her book, a vignette titled “The Rat”:

One mid-winter day, my first-hour science class was working at the counters on an assignment. I looked up from my desk to see a foot-long brown rat ambling down the aisle between the second and third rows. I assumed it had somehow come in from the cold by the poorly insulated, very drafty heat conduits under the windows, finding an opening large enough to allow its wiggling entry. I quietly told my cadet to go get the custodian.

Meanwhile, I calmly (like any good science teacher) told the students that we had a visitor and to remain at their stations. Several gasped, others’ eyes popped open like sewer lids, and all except one remained in place exactly as I had asked. 

This boy was walking toward the rat. I loudly restated that everyone should remain where they were. He, a normally cooperative, nice kid, kept walking toward the rat. I pointed my finger and screamed at him, “Stay where you are!” as I continued to gaze at the rat. He took another step forward. I just could not figure out why this normally congenial boy was being so defiant of my direct order, especially under these unusual circumstances. 

I was about to yell again when I looked at his face. “Oh,” I said, “you two know each other.” He then slinked to the rat noticeably relieved, picked it up, and went to his seat before I sent him to the office. It seems his pet rat had unexpectedly hitched a ride to school in his backpack.

The office secretary later told me that after I had sent him from class to the office that he had stood at her desk opposite her with his hands behind his back. When she questioned him, he told her that Mrs. Hile had “kicked him out” of class. This rather surprised the secretary as I very rarely sent students to the office for discipline, especially one as mild-mannered and nice as this young man. 

When she inquired as to specifically why I had sent him, he plopped the rat on her blotter. Immediately, she understood. I was told that while he waited for his mother to come to retrieve his rat that he sat in the principal’s office with it cozily wrapped around his neck.

There was never a dull moment teaching middle school.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

SVSU's "Sylvia" finds a dog outwitted by an actor in three roles

A man and his doting dog (Isaac Wood and Cassidy Morey) in "Sylvia"

review and photos by janet i. martineau

So, the play “Sylvia” is about a who talks to her owner and he to her in human words,  one who gets really agitated and profane when a cat crosses her path, and one who hates that “roll over” trick command.

And you know what they say about sharing a stage with kids or dogs.

Well, not always.

In the Saginaw Valley State University production of  the A.R. Gurney play, deftly directed by Tommy Wedge and running 7:30pm Wednesday through Friday (Aug. 7-9), watch out for scene-stealer Jordan Stafford in a triple role.

He’s Tom, the streetwise macho man who ain’t gonna neuter his male dog NO WAY....he’s Phyllis, a very pregnant and refined visitor subjected to embarrassing sniffs and mounts via Sylvia...and he’s Leslie, the lisping therapist who takes great pride in making people wonder, male or female?

Stafford NAILS all three personas. Just nails them. In particular playing the he/she? Leslie right down the middle. He has the female walk and talk and sit down pat as Phyllis. And Tom swaggers from one side of the stage to the next, and smiles with cocky pride as his dog and Sylvia get it on (out of view of the audience, but the expressions on Stafford’s face tell the story).

But such praise does not diminish the rest of the cast -- Cassidy Morey as the talking dog, Isaac Wood as Sylvia’s smitten owner Greg, and Lexee Longwell as Greg’s dog-hating wife, Kate.

Greg and Kate have been married 22 years. His career is faltering. Hers on the rise. And when he brings the flea-ridden stray he found in a park home to stay, Kate is not amused (and often refers to Sylvia as saliva). 

Sylvia "rolls over" as Lexee Longwell and Jordan Stafford watch
Morey is wonderfully expressive, and physical, as Sylvia -- her movements just canine enough to convince but not over the top. 

She clings to Greg, pees on the floor, shouts hey hey in place of bark bark, pulls on her leash, rolls over with resignation, defies Kate when it comes to sitting on the couch, snores, and a million other doggie things that will bring smiles to audience members who have dogs.

And let’s face it....we all wonder what our dogs are thinking. Well, in this play Morey answers that question in a myriad of ways with a myriad of voice inflections punctuating Gurney’s words.

Longwell and Wood have the thankless roles as the straight guys to Morey and Stafford.

But they also bring the  “moral of the story” into a sharp and emotional focus.

Gurney’s play is a comedy yes. But it also speaks volumes about relationships, with humans and our canine friends. Greg and Kate evolve as a couple in its two hours, and Longwell and Wood make that totally convincing.

Longwell, Wood and Morey also sing “Everytime We Say Goodbye” as a trio and with the lyrics having different meanings for each. It is one of the emotional highlights.

Added on to that, Gurney has penned a literate play, with references to Shakespeare, Homer and a movie or two that adds to the fun. And it also has much to say about how a pet can help liberate a person.

Great show with great direction and a great cast.

For more pictures from the play: 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Workshop writes a collective ode to Theodore Roethke 50 years after his death

Poet Carol Sanford, standing, listens to some of the lines written by a workshop member

Two days before the 50th anniversary of Pulitzer-winning Theodore Roethke's death, an “In a Poet’s Backyard” workshop took place in the back yard of his boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot in Saginaw.

Led by poet Carol Sanford, the 12 participants listened to Sanford read some of Roethke’s nature-driven poems as the child of a greenhouse owner, took in the sights and sounds and smells of the yard and home, and then wrote their own lines evoking him, the atmosphere and their own thoughts.

Sanford took all the writings home and used them to shape the following collective poem.

To Theodore Roethke

by “The Eye Begins to See” Workshop Members
       Roethke Summer Picnic Series/July 30, 2013

1923 – The year your father died
In the foyer of your home you pass boy hands
over stately, polished, dark walnut pillars.
You hide secrets in hallway cupboards
and bend over the stairway railing
to feel the depth and plunge of it.
You lean to touch your forehead on the mirror
above the fireplace mantle.  Whose face?
You read voraciously, randomly
while the family Victrola scratches out music.
Almost fifteen, you take your father’s place
at the table, your mother’s silver and linen before you,
but her soups no longer thick with greenhouse vegetable
gathered from your lost world, your father’s.
You know the dark, dark side of growing things.

1958 – Five years before your death
The high windows of your back porch once looked out
on your father’s glassy fields of flowers.
Even now as you sit writing, their smells linger 
on your pen.  You get up, walk through the house, 
hear the familiar creak of floors.
You think of your boyhood, your Prussian father,
how he did not love you enough. Nor you him.
You still need his impossible praise
for your poems, your prizes, your fame, your life.

2013 – Fifty years after your death
Ted, we understand that you perceived
how the unbeautiful is beautiful: 
White roses hide needles, 
purple orchids thrive in dense, oppressive air.
You studied death while the greenhouse pulsed—
 the dripping panes, the spotted light, 
snow sliding from inclined glass;
saw how weeds entangle and extend us, 
must be pulled today, tomorrow.
We who think of you, who cherish your words,
now feel your quick breath through the backyard fence:
You, the wind that slowly, slowly erodes stone walls.

-- Members of the workshop, and contributors to joint poem: Katelynd Alexander, Mary Ellen Roethke, Maxine Harris, Carol Sanford, Cassidy Johnson, Glenn Sanford, Janet I. Martineau, Nan Spence, Don Nagler, Marion Tincknell, Nancy Nagler, Betty Van Ochten, Annie Ransford.  

For more pictures of the workshop in progress: