I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Month: May, 2021

#65. The school board isn’t wanting to hear about adding social justice to their mission statement: we’re discouraged. But Elizabeth Warren has taught me to be persistent, no matter how improbable your chances of success. How about learning from Zack Greinke too?

The other day, the bank teller told Sam she’d give him a lollipop if he told her what he wanted to be when he grew up. Pop was with us—of course! We were withdrawing money from his account. I cringed at the question, Sam was dumbfounded; but Pop said, do you know, even at my age I have either no answer to that query or a different one from what I did choose. The teller gave us all lollipops and probably was glad to see us take the money and run.

Major League Pitcher Zack Greinke’s interviewer didn’t ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up, because, well, he was grown up. He got a related question: What are your goals for the season? Zack’s answer: The only milestone I’m attending to is joining the 10-10 Club.

When I read this in the sports column, I  laughed and laughed at his answer.

Walking home from cross country practice with Oliver, I told both stories, juxtaposing the one with the other.

Oliver is confused. I get why Pop said what he said, and I think I get why you coupled that story to Zack;  but why is what he said so funny? 

This isn’t my big point but…SIDEBAR! Oliver’s underwhelmedness is understandable. It has to do with file cabinets. 

Often when I’m perplexed it’s because I haven’t asked myself if I know anything about the perplexing item; I haven’t activated my background knowledge. Visualize an old-fashioned file cabinet. (Now we store info in the “cloud,” so file cabinets are not seen much, maybe only in Perry Mason reruns.) In order to know what’s in the file drawers—in the files—you need to physically PULL the drawer open. The habit of mind that is analogous to file drawer pulling is to actually ask, what do I know about this? Funnily enough, asking yourself the question opens the file. Activating the Schemata is how Mr Grim describes it.

Here’s the Knowledge that Oliver either needs to activate or add to his store of info: Greinke plays with the Astros, an American League team. Oliver, he’s in the league where the pitchers don’t hit. So, it’s a hard goal; he could have “settled.” I use hand quotes around the word settled

Settled? Whajamean, Isabel?

Well, “settled” is ironic, because it’s a hard goal, but when he gets 311 strikeouts, he’ll reach 3,000, putting him in the top 100. For starters.

I know a ton of baseball trivia, don’t I? Here’s why: Thus far I’ve lived in homes where sports was always part of our breakfast menu, along with cereal, Four-square,  politics, the crossword puzzle, the day’s events, etc. But always sports.  I know stuff.

In contrast, Oliver was deprived. First, he essentially had absentee parents; second, Zia cared for him up to the age of 8 and she doesn’t know much on this topic; and third, Oliver’s private school focused on non-competitive activities. That said, Oliver sorts my explanation out nicely by activating his prior knowledge, scant though it may be.

So, for Zeinke to join this 10-10 Club, he will have to count on interleague play? Say when the Astros play the Brewers? He’ll have to be the unicorn pitcher who can hit or get on base with a good eye? 

He has a file on this after all, doesn’t he?

Right! In the American League the pitchers get no practice at bat unless they’re playing with their kids in the backyard. Currently he’s got nine homers and nine steals. He’s had 22 starts since joining the Astros but only hit in one of them. He got a single and was thrown out trying to steal. If he reaches his 10-10 goal, it’ll be…(I grapple for a good word.)

…Amazing says Oliver. And he laughs.

I think we could grab inspiration from Zack when we go back to the School Board with our Scipio “monologue.” Maybe see if we can hit a few out of the ball park? Or at least steal second?

-Isabel Scheherazade 

#64 Muffins with secret ingredients, orange juice, science, and magic: If my story were a meal with many courses, this chapter is a palette cleanser.

On Tuesdays we don’t have cross country practice, so Oliver and I walk the twins home from school. We meander; it’s a scrum-then-scatter pace. Sam and Clyde skip ahead, yell over their shoulders about gym, race back, explain a recess game, stop to check the sidewalk cracks, explain their hot lunch choices, run ahead…repeat. But today, all of a sudden, as if we were joined at the hip, we come to a halt. Across the street, Belle the Barrister has emerged from Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe with her sandwich white board. The twins read it out loud in unison. They holler: GET ‘EM WHILE THEY’RE HOT: MORNING GLORY MUFFINS!  Laser-focused on the sign, we pivot, cross at the crosswalk, and give Belle hugs and kisses. While I use my cell phone to check in with Our People, we hoist ourselves up on the counter stools. I love this sort of serendipity.

A few notes on “cross country” and “cell phones:”

Cross Country: Our school has separate junior and senior cross country teams, but Mr Grim—my teacher—coaches both and we practice together. Oliver is on the senior team—he is very fast—and I’m on the junior team—I run a respectable 7 minute mile. On practice days, either Zia, Pop, or Mimi—or sometimes all three of them or combinations of them!!—pick the twins up. When there’s a meet, they come to cheer us on. (Being retired, they can center their entire lives around us; phenomenal for us at least.)

The Cell Phones: After the harassment incident, Mimi, Pop, and Zia leaped into the 21st Century with this statement: Oliver and Isabel should carry a cell phone for emergencies. And just like that we were cell-toting teens. When I showed it to my classmates, they were amazed that,number one,I hadn’t begged for it and, number two, it came with no tracking devices and parental  controls. Honestly I’ve been too preoccupied for the former and was ignorant of the latter. It’s not that I’m clueless; it’s that I’m “clued” in to other stuff.

Pop had a few rules: 1. No Pokémon GO in math class. (I think he was joking with this one.) 2. Answer when it’s Your People calling. 3. Check with them before downloading. 4. Don’t show it off. (I wasn’t flaunting it when I told my class about it; it just came out, literally: it fell out of my backpack.)  5. Do good with it, not evil. (I guess this would mean if we witness police brutality we video and broadcast it? But don’t be pulling it out and texting or taping and annoying and hurting and embarrassing? I sense that we need to mull #5 more.) 6. Our People have promised not to call or text us during the school day unless, needs must as I say.

Back to Morning Glory Muffins:

Belle doesn’t even have to heat them up. Straight out of the oven, you guys. Lots of secret ingredients today. Can you figure them out?

I pick out sunflower seeds and line them up to eat later. It looks like Belle’s tossed in some dark chocolate and cranberries (don’t like cranberries). The four of us sip orange juice and sort out the various chips and chunks in an effort to decode the recipe.

I meander down memory lane. ”Orange juice is a mixture of water, sugar, and citric acid,” is what Mom would say.

 I have the twins undivided attention. Mention Mom or Dad and they’re on you with unblinking eyes and quivering chins.

One time, before you were born, we were drinking OJ from those cartons with pictures of missing children on the side? Mom opened her notebook and wrote this: H20 + C12H22O11 + C6H807.

And I write the formula for orange juice on my placemat! The letters and numbers glow. My handwriting is unusually legible. I sense an energy—a presence—that hadn’t been here a few moments before.

Oliver, Sam, and Clyde look away from the equation and stare at me like I’m Harry Houdini.

How’d you do that, Isabel? asks Clyde as he pats my hand and hugs me. I’m his supergirl.

I pluck crumbs off his sweater. I pulled that memory out of a deep lagoon, Clydster.

 I am gobsmacked. How DID I remember this. 

Oliver is watching me carefully. Isabel Scheherazade. This is what you mean about your Mom and Dad sitting in the Way-Back Seat, isn’t it? Your Mom is, like, nearby?

I nod. I don’t want to scare the boys, but they’ve moved on to hugging. Sam is leaning over for a hug from his stool on my other side. He doesn’t like to be left out. He gestures to Oliver, You too, mister.

It’s a stretch for four people on counter stools to hug without an accident happening, so Oliver hops off his stool and gets behind all of us and squeezes. He and I are cheek to cheek and laughing. I like it. The boys squeal. Bella comes over to top off our OJs and check on how we’re doing on the ingredients. The hug lock is over, but I know my cheeks are still pink and I think Oliver is blushing. It’s hard to tell.

So far we have the following ingredients:

Brown sugar, dried raspberries (NOT sour cranberries, that’s why I liked them), coconut flakes, flax seed, cinnamon, shredded Granny Smith apple (that’s the green kind that’s sweet?), shredded carrots (you’ll never frown at a carrot again after eating these), crushed pineapple, applesauce, pecans, vanilla, and baking soda-salt-spelt flour-eggs. Oliver did a ski and bake winter break camp in Vermont before he came to be with Zia. He knows that probably all muffins have some arrangement of the hyphenated list of ingredients

He keeps staring at me like I’ve become a unicorn. Is it the up-close and personal cheek to cheek? Or the up-close and personal Mom mirage?

Bella sends us home with three whole muffins for Our People. She adds the OJ formula to the white board.

See what mean? Palette Cleanser.

Isabel Scheherazade


# 63 To what lengths and distances do living beings go to preserve or dissolve families? And shouldn’t someone be accountable?

Dear Honorable Judge Welch,

I am researching our town’s racial past. My friend Oliver—the same Oliver who asked to be emancipated a while back?—was racially harassed the other day and ENOUGH ALREADY. I am trying to understand how our country was ok with flourishing on the backs of enslaved and disenfranchised people. I know if I don’t learn the history I might help perpetuate the systemic racism that empowered Oliver’s attackers.

My research got me thinking about families and how they are preserved or dissolved. I’m astonished at the great lengths living beings go to in order to do this preserving and dissolving. The phrase “to go to great lengths” means to spend a long time or to take a lot of trouble to affect something or other. I see it also in terms of the DISTANCE it takes to dissolve or preserve. For instance:

5,000 miles: The distance 10 to 12 million enslaved peoples and their families were abducted across the Atlantic to the Americas from the 16th to the 19th century. To Dissolve.

8,000 miles: The distance the Upland Sandpiper flies from the Argentine Pampas to Alaska’s Upland tundra to mate, nest, and raise their young. To Preserve.

4,000 miles: The distance Arturo’s Tante traveled from Peru to cook and clean for her nephew and grandnephew after the Mama died. To Preserve.

3.2 miles. The distance Mom and Dad drove from our “nest” to the traffic light in time for Mr A. Spinoza Carlotto to run it. To Dissolve.

If my thoughts are Dad’s garden last Spring, then they are still germinating. Not to be morbid, but maybe this is where my metaphor is going:

Dad’s garden was almost ready to harvest when he and Mom were murdered. We decided to let it go to seed—like Peter Rowan’s song: if I die before you do, let the garden go to seed. We wanted nature to take its course. So nobody picked the beans, or plucked the tomatoes, or dug the potatoes; and next Spring the process will start all over again, without Dad. My immediate family is like Dad’s garden—butternut squashes, broccoli, kale—going to seed, rotting in the ground. Will it regenerate? Do I believe that?

Please do not think I am “turning a corner” and that my will for revenge is softening. I am not shrugging my shoulders and doing the teenage whatever.

I want to reiterate that Mr. A. Spinoza Carlotto needs serious jail time. Somebody has to pay. Right? Even though it doesn’t seem like anyone is “paying” in regard to the enslaved peoples; their descendants are still suffering and it’s been a few centuries.

Please don’t let your sentencing be influenced by this, Judge Welch.

Isabel Scheherazade

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