Things About A Great Man

I met Pop Bob when I moved into Northport. I was leaving behind a lot of baggage, including a broken marriage and a lot of damaged relationships. Only 7 miles behind, but it was behind me. I was starting a new life in the tiny town, working at the hardware store and figuring out what life was all about, with a fresh-faced new boyfriend sporting a chew in his lip and a herd of tiny girls.

I remember Bob leaning on the counter at Northport Hardware and asking me questions. Not light, fluffy, nice grandpa questions, but hard questions, about where we were headed next, how we were gonna do it, and just life. Bob knew how to cut to the chase in a conversation but still make you feel like you were talking about the weather when the topics were actually life altering. The smile behind his eyes remained through the toughest conversations and the unspoken understanding that he offered. The best thing about Bob, though, was that in the end of every conversation, he had a way. A way to fix the worst problems. Not with tools and books and recommendations, but with a worldview. An outlook on life: nothing was too big to overcome, and there's always a way.

There isn't a kid who has grown up in Northport in the last 20 years that couldn't learn the value of a good rake, a working lawn mower, a happy dog, fishing or family from Bob Long. Cruising around town from the wee hours of the morning in his little blue pickup, Bob was an icon of community spirit and removing everybody's excuse for not being a decent human being.

Bob was born in Red Lodge Montana on November 8th, 1932. In 1951 he graduated from Red Lodge High School, and a year later married the love of his life Connie Babcock. They had five children while Bob worked as a rancher and in the oil industry for the next couple of decades. In 1970, they relocated to Washington State, where they lived in Colville, while he worked at Vaagen Brothers Lumber. Two years later moved his family to Northport and worked for a limestone company, before he returned to Montana to work  for Carbon County.

After a brief time back in Montana, Bob retired in 1995 and he and Connie moved back to Northport, where they have lived for over 20 years, surrounded by their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Beyond a pillar in the community, Bob was a dedicated member of his church wherever he went, and perhaps an even more devoted believer in the power of a good day fishing. After raising his own children, Bob continued to pour into the generations following, taking his grandchildren under his wing and mentoring many local young people in the pathway of community service and hard work that were Bob's mainstay.

Pop Bob and Herc

Delivering meals, maintaining yards and running errands for elderly shut-ins around town were only a handful of the mountains of work that Bob did to care-take his town. In the words of his pastor: "If anyone could earn their way into heaven by good works, it was Bob Long." When he wasn’t serving his neighbors, you could find Bob down by his beloved river with a fishing pole in his hand and his big golden retriever Hercules by his side.

On March 26th, Bob passed away unexpectedly surrounded by his large family and community. More than a father and grandfather, Bob was a friend to generations of people in both Montana and Washington, and they overwhelmed the high school gymnasium in Northport at his memorial on April 23rd in testimony to his great heart.

Men like Pop Bob are few and far between, with that gap ever widening as the generations that understand the importance of moral integrity, honesty and kindness seem to be fading. But Bob diligently passed along these values to the ones that would listen, that would take the time to go down to the river and fish, or drop off dinner for a lonely neighbor. If you had the time for Bob, he had the way for you. Often it was the things that Bob knew he didn't need to say that had the most effect.  A knowing look, with those smiling eyes and it was like Bob was highlighting the path that you already knew. Countless family members, neighbors, church friends have all told me that Bob was one of their closest friends, because that's how Bob lived: making the person he was with the most important one in the world. He could communicate worlds with the shake of his head and the twinkle in his eye.

When I met Bob Long, he reminded me that there are good people in the world. He taught me that being humble and kind were far better than being bitter and frozen. And that bad things are exactly what you make out of them - a chance to learn and grow and be a better person. Obstacles and struggles aren't the end of the world - you just have to find a way around them, and there's always a way.

Things That Aren't Even Things

Ok, so here I go waxing all political which I keep swearing I will not do again, and will certainly live to regret, but I have to get this off my chest: All of this transgender/gender neutral bathroom garbage is a non issue. It's an excuse to vent prejudices and propaganda from camps on both sides of the gender identity issue line, and it's nothing but a lot of hot air, distracting from all the Real Issues in this crazy mixed up world. So here I am, adding my voice to the clamoring din, trying to make it stop.

Let me tell you why this whole conversation is an exercise in vanity:

1) You won't know when a transgender person is sharing your bathroom, because DUH, they look like you. This is where a lot of ignorance comes to play in this issue, because apparently when people hear transgender they think drag queen and assume she-men will be sneaking into the stalls of innocent young girls. Wrong. There will be women in the women's room and men in the men's room, and unless some of y'all want to be the genital checking police (which STILL won't guarantee biologically assigned gender identification), you won't even know when you bump into each other going in and out the door. Unless you spend your entire life in Northport, Washington, I guarantee that you have peed next to a transgender person and not only did you survive, Y'ALL DIDNT EVEN KNOW.

2) In many places in All Over the Globe, bathrooms are shared/gender neutral. Human beings (boys and girls both) have been taking care of business in side by side, gender neutral fashion world wide since the first latrines were dug in the Garden of Eden. We do it all the time, 'Merica. Get real. Also: Why are you looking? EW. Really, the only place this seems to be a problem is at Target. Or Walmart, but I can think of far scarier people sharing my bathroom there.

3) Guarding gender specific bathroom rules like flipping nazis won't keep perverts and rapists out of ANYBODY'S stall any more than gun laws will keep guns out of criminal's hands. How can you possibly not see this argument that you are so keenly fond of? BAD GUYS DON'T FOLLOW RULES. Don't be dumb.

4) Do you really want a man, full on, bearded, muscular and swarthy, coming to pee next to your little girl, just because he was BORN A WOMAN? Think about what you're demanding. Furthermore do you want a woman in a micro mini skirt waltzing in to the men's room because she was once a boy? Is that somehow a solution? And again: HOW WILL YOU KNOW? GENITAL POLICE?!?!?!?!?

5) This is an issue in our schools because of A) ignorance based fear fed by parents and B) kids who grow up together witness the TRANSformation from one gender to another, which can be understandably confusing and certainly uncomfortable. High school is a rough enough time for every kid coming into their own, and transgender kids have an extra shitty experience figuring out how and where they fit. Locker rooms and bathrooms at school represent the crux of that process for many kids, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identification, or any other part of Becoming A Person. Why are we, as adults, trying to make it harder? It's like the fearmongers are all romanticizing the locker room experience when it used to be so friendly and kind... I was homeschooled but I still don't buy it. Why would it be so difficult to create a safe space? Whether you agree, disagree, support, condemn or feel Appointed By God to Call Down a Hellstorm of Judgement on transgender people, I think most of us can be thankful that YOU don't get to decide anybody's life but your own. So bug off.

6) This entire argument is mostly between people who don't know the difference between gay/transgender/cross-dressing and the people who really despise the people who don't know the difference between gay/transgender/cross-dressing. All y'all got your silly little drums to beat. Go use the bathroom you want to use and shut up about it. Again, NON-ISSUE.

7) If you continue to make Rules About Bathrooms, you should probably consider making gay people use the bathroom of the opposite sex, to avoid all those lustful restroom interludes where somebody who might be attracted to you in IN THE SAME BATHROOM! *GASP* So, all you lesbians, regardless of your girly status, don't put me or my daughters at risk by sharing our bathroom. And all y'all gay guys, trip on over to the ladies room so you aren't molesting the straight boys at the urinal... NONSENSE

8) Or what if we all just got over ourselves and our shame and our opinions and just let everybody else pee in peace. #yoursmineours #bewhoyouare LOVE>HATE

NOTE: For a brief and candid look at the history of gender specific bathrooms, check out : This Blog Post

Things That Are Fascinating

This morning a 9th grader, who seemed possessed with the imperative need to be on his computer before school started, was relating to me his new plan to develop atom transforming technology that can genetically modify cows, lakes, and heck, whole planets. He apparently had to get online to start researching the project. And play a video game or two. It will never cease to amaze me how some kids have endless creativity to either avoid work or circumvent rules, but when asked to apply the blossoming mind to actual academic pursuits, they are devoid of any artful thought or even basic brain function. Far be it from me to judge, the Master of All Math Avoidance. Heck, I guessed my way through a math exam to test out of all of future required classes in college and I lucked out. So here's to putting that developing brain to work, even if it frustrates the hell out of me during every period of the school day.

Yesterday I was informed by a senior that finishing her FASFA online was far more important than doing yoga in my PE class. Generally I would agree, except that I distinctly remember my high school senior last year doing her FASFA at home on her own time (check that - I think I actually did it for her), and if by 'doing yoga' she means getting that required PE credit in alternative fitness in order to graduate, then.... Perhaps we should reevaluate the statement. But again, A+ for creativity in Yoga Avoidance (yes it's so hard) and also, disrespect. Kids these days. Once again I cannot complain or judge as I recall a certain 17 year old all but cussing me out in front of a math class last year - a 17 year old that I had raised.

There is a difference though, in this generation of egalitarian youth who truly believe they are untouchable thanks to an overprotective, attachment-parenting society. My own daughter got school and social officials involved down in Oregon when she told her teachers that I would not provide her with lunch. The REAL story is that she spent all of the lunch money on her school account on treats and gatorades at the school snack bar and when I realized her account was empty I told her she could pack peanut butter sandwiches from home. Instead, she told her friends and teachers that I refused to feed her and her boyfriend's mom started sending lunches for her. Then the school counselor called me. We were tottering on the brink of a full-scale social services investigation, and the child that clearly needed a spanking had tied my hands completely. Thankfully that kid turned out ok and I think she's even seen the folly of her ways back then... We're a few syllables short of a full blown apology, But that's ok.

How to raise a child is a book that has never, and will never, be truthfully written, because there is no way to encapsulate the behavior of all children into one formula. Parents and educators and psychologists alike continue to chase the pink elephant of a one-size fits all approach to kids, and until we get the science of human cloning down, they'll be out of luck. I raised four daughters with slight variations of the same parenting style, evolving over time. Although each one will tell you they got a rawer deal than the next one, I have been the same mother - over emotional too often, angry sometimes, not nearly as sympathetic or affectionate as I should be - to all four of them. Their personalities, behaviors, flaws and strengths could not be more diverse if they had been raised on seperate continents. But the same creative genius for getting their way flows straight from my genetic makeup through them...

And then there is the 11th grade redneck kid who comes into my classroom every day during my prep period to sharpen his pencil for art class, trying to sneak so I can't see him. Sometimes he is tiptoeing silently behind my back. Sometimes he is plastered to the wall like a chameleon lizard, snaking his way to the pencil sharpener. Today he was slithering on the floor under the tables. The clonking of his cowboy boots on metal and the bright red stripes of his Garth Brooksian western shirt gave him away before he had entirely breached the door frame. I don't have him in any of my classes this term, but he is still hell bent on entertaining me whenever possible, and quite imaginatively. There are a few good ones left.

There is no limit to the human imagination but what age and social dignity call for. Luckily, some of us never find our behavior dictated by these norms, but live in our Peter Pan world - continually seeking out new ways to avoid the things we hate and attain the things we love in unorthodox and often impractical ways - if my four girls are consistent in anything it is this. I have succesfully taught them to believe that boundaries are the places that we learn to grow, to think critically and invent the rest of our story. In return, they have taught me the same thing. All of the most Impossible Things are done because they must be, limits be damned. And for what it's worth, I would consider that a win.

Things That Aren't Funny

Teaching school has done wonders for my sense of humor - in that it's pretty much completely obliterated. Things that I used to be able to find the funny in have lost all of their comedy.

This includes but is not limited to 9th grade health students with VERY QUESTIONABLE personal hygiene habits giving me sneak attack wet willies from behind. The old Liv would have laughed it off and made a snide remark. But 'Ms. Stecker' quickly explained to said freshman the legal definitition of battery (thanks to a study session with a BLEA recruit).

Once upon a time I could find the humor in coming home to an epic dog accident spread wall to wall in my 6x10 foot bathroom. Or finding dog hair a foot deep between cushions of the couch EVERY SINGLE DAY when I vaccuum. Or that my daughter now considers herself a "plunger ninja" - a title of great accord and importance in our flood-prone home. It used to be funny to me, all the little things. Not so much lately.

Not Funny. 

Also not funny is a renegade, 140 pound bloodhound hanging out with the state DOT road crew on the Columbia River Bridge. Or at the logging shop up the road. Or at the overprotective neighbors with three tiny children for hours on end. Or at the bar. Or at the school where I work. Or anywhere OTHER than the fence that I keep piling, twisting, pounding, digging and hiring teenagers to fix.

Riding with my 16 year old as she learns to drive, adventures in whiplash style, isn't funny to me. I haven't replaced the white knuckle fear for my life with hilarious anecdotes about will planning and why letting my teenagers learn to drive in different states AFTER they were out of the house is a much better idea.
Also Not Funny

Least funny of all is a 12 year old gagging over a bowl of delicious homemade pineapple curry which I felt represented a turning point in my 15 month hiatus from cooking anything interesting due to the aforementioned child's lack of culinary adventurism.

A few years ago, the antics of highschoolers in a classroom setting would have given me ample fuel for hilarious storytelling. Now I go home from alternative fitness without finding the humor in kids walking with their hoods up in 80 degree weather to hide the earbuds that have been clearly outlawed, or jumping in frigid river water on a $1 dare behind my back. Not funny you guys. Also not cool.

Ok. A little bit funny. 

I have turned into a fuddy-duddy. A stooge. A stick-in-the-mud. A geeze, as my mom and aunt would say in fond reference to the unamused old-man status of my dad and uncle. I don't laugh enough. I am not sure if I remember how. And while I blame the kids, I know that the problem rests with me. The funny is still there - the ridiculousness of every day life surrounded by adolescing idiots. I just forgot how to dig it up.

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