Just to be is a blessing;
Just to live is holy.
It was a long drive back from Iowa City where I had Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt Alaire's home, and as I neared Algona I thought to myself that it was good to be back home. When I first came here, I never imagined that I would ever come to think of this out-of-the-way place--hundreds of miles from anywhere--as home, but I'm now approaching my eighth holiday season here, and it's more than coincidental that I'm still around.
It's been a good year overall. Perhaps best of all I should say that my health has actually been good all year long. . . . knock on wood. I still fight occasional allergies, but after reading over all the medical problems I described in last year's letter, those are nothing at all. This summer I got a clean bill of health from the surgeon who did my artificial eardrum, and I haven't been to a doctor--or had a fight with my insurance company--since. Let's hope things will stay that way for a while.
I am still teaching math at Garrigan High School. I've got a new class this fall, Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry. I can't say I particularly enjoy that class. I thought it was the most boring class I took in high school, and I'm reacting about the same way teaching it. The kids I have make up for the class, though. We have a wonderful group of students at Garrigan right now--literally some of the best in the nation according to their test scores. They're not just smart, though; they are also fun to teach--the two do not always go together. I've taught this year's juniors for three straight years now, and their personalities mesh very nicely with mine.
My outside duties have shifted a bit this year. I'm no longer working with group speech (and in my mind that alone is enough reason why I should be feeling healthier), although I still direct individual speech and judge at contests. This fall I offered to work with the Quiz Bowl team. This is an academic competition not unlike what those smart kids on the TV show "Head of the Class" do. Both Steve and I were in that when we were in high school. We went up to Davenport, where they taped the matches for TV. They don't do quiz bowl on TV around here, but we will be going to two meets, and I think we stand a chance of doing reasonably well.
The big job at school has been preparing for an evaluation we'll be going through this winter. I headed up the math committee, and my word processor has certainly been getting a workout. The biggest result of all this work is a new program for our brightest students, which really seems to be working splendidly. That alone is worth the effort.
I was nominated for a bunch of awards this past year. I don't know what's magical about 1990, but I guess my number came up this year. Former students, parents, co-workers, and administrators honored me in a variety of ways. What's more, my former department head at U.N.I. nominated me for a major office in the Iowa Council of Teachers of Mathematics. I'm not exactly holding my breath until the election is over, but I certainly won't decline if I win.
This was a strange year weather-wise. Algona had much less rain than most of Iowa, but we still had more than our fair share. We had the snowiest winter in some years, followed by a stormy spring. One bad hail storm damaged numerous cars at Garrigan--including mine. The insurance company gave me the choice of having the car fixed or applying the money to my loan. I chose the second option, so I now own a dented car free and clear.
I put a lot of miles on that car this summer. I spent three weeks driving all over the South--to New Orleans, Atlanta, Charleston, and Nashville. It's the furthest I've ever driven by myself, but I really did enjoy almost every minute of it. I particularly liked the Mississippi Gulf Coast and almost everything I saw in Missouri. It was a pricey trip, but it was definitely fun.
Later in the summer I made a weekend trip out to the Badlands in South Dakota. I hiked nearly forty miles in two days and again enjoyed myself immensely. The scenery was totally different in the Badlands this year; all the rain made the landscape (which is normally red) ablaze with wildflowers. It was really beautiful.
A friend and I took two brief workshop classes this summer about directing speech. I can't say we learned anything that we didn't already know, but we did earn two hours of straight-A credit.
RAGBRAI (the Register's Great Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa) came to Algona last summer, and I served as a "hospitality host" for the Chamber of Commerce. That amounted to being a tour guide on a bus that made the same loop around Algona again and again and again. The ride was dull, but it was fun to meet the cyclists.
I also did some tutoring this summer. A local doctor has two children who are truly gifted, and their mother wanted them to do some work over the summer. It was a challenge coming up with material that both a high school sophomore and an eighth-grader could do that wouldn't duplicate what either of them would be doing the following year. I did come up with some things, though, and the kids seemed to enjoy things--at least as much as anyone can enjoy doing school work in summer.
After a successful experience in A Christmas Carol last winter, I decided to try out for another community theatre show this fall, and I was cast in a major role in their production of The Nerd. It was fun to do, and the production came off excellently. I was especially pleased that Margaret, John, and Janet came over to see the show.
Almost on a whim I decided to go to my 10-year high school reunion this fall. Having been anything but Mr. Popularity when I was at MPHS, I had very low expectations for the evening. As it turned out, I rather enjoyed myself. I met some old friends I hadn't seen since graduation day, and the people who had been rude and obnoxious to me in school were polite and civil. I guess people do grow up. It surprised me how many teachers came out of the Class of 1980 (the only job with more takers was prison guard), and it was even more intriguing that three of us, two Methodists and a Presbyterian, all ended up teaching in Catholic schools.
That same weekend I visited my old friends Rusty Martin and Diane Finnerty (and Rusty's wife and their children) in Iowa City. I hadn't seen them since college, and it was great to renew our friendship. Earlier in the year I had been to the 25th anniversary in the ministry for Bob Ellis, the campus minister at Wesley Foundation who worked with all of us in the UNI student government, so this was another chance to reminisce about those old UNISA days.
The weekend after the reunion I was back in Mount Pleasant. I visited Paul and Nancy and their kids, and the five of us went down to the Old Threshers celebration. It was the first time I had been to Old Threshers since my father died, and it was fun.
It was good to see Paul and Nancy--it's been literally years since I've been down that way, although I talk to them fairly regularly on the phone. They built a new family room onto their house this fall, and it is lovely. The kids are doing well. Rachel is in the second grade now, and she seems to enjoy school for the most part. Timothy is still in pre-school, but he is growing fast--and he seems to have a fun sense of humor.
Margaret's house is finally nearing completion. This year the garage, driveway, and deck were completed, and now it definitely looks more like a home rather than a homestead. After a bad group of kids last year, Margaret really seems to enjoy teaching this fall. Several times she has remarked about how different things are this year.
Margaret's step-son Paul graduated last spring, and several of us went to Lake Mills for the event. Paul toured Europe with a group of honor musicians last summer, and he is now studying at NIACC in Mason City--and engaged.
Life has changed for Steve and Terry this year. The apartment complex they were managing changed ownership, and they were relieved of their duties. They used that as an excuse to move to a much nicer place--a gorgeous old brick house on the south side of Decorah. The rent is just slightly more than they paid for their cramped apartment, and it's a far nicer home. I was there for their housewarming in November, and it amazed me how quickly they got everything settled in.
Terry is now working in a law office, Steve is a student at Luther, and their son Chris is a very typical sophomore in high school--who adores playing music on his guitar. All three of them also work at a combination theater/video store in downtown Decorah. They hosted an exchange student from Northern Ireland this summer, and both they and the student really seemed to have a good time.
John and Janet are busy as always. I was over in Maquoketa this fall to visit them and to see Andrew High School's fall play. It amazed me that tiny Andrew draws as many people to a one-night performance as we get over two or three nights at most of our plays. That alone tells you the quality of the productions John puts on, though. Janet is no longer president of the Chamber of Commerce, but she still was overworked as she almost single-handedly planned Maquoketa's Oktoberfest band festival. The two of them will be flying to London right after Christmas. John is taking a theatre class that primarily involves watching shows on the London stage. Both he and Janet are taking off work for a week to make this into a winter vacation as well as a class.
Most of my family will be visiting their spouses' parents this Christmas, but Margaret will be coming over here for the holidays. I really enjoyed it when we spent Christmas together two years ago, and I hope this will be as nice. I also hope that your Christmas is pleasant, and that 1991 may be a year of peace, joy, and happiness for all of you.
The background music on this page is the seasonal favorite "Deck the Halls".