Archive for May 2021

Rearview Life Laughter

May 31, 2021

I was talking to my long-time friend, and Best Man, Dave “Hugo” Hughes last night. We’re now separated by five states, but still good friends. We took a European river cruise together two years ago. Our wives came, too!

In the midst of our conversation, he made a statement that stuck in my head like a slow-melting chocolate Whopper. He said, “You know, life is a lot funnier in the rearview mirror.” It was a comment stated by a father who lost his oldest son four years ago this week, and a guy who, along with his wife, battled COVID-19, and a friend who has dealt with the drama, death, and dilemmas over the years.

Other situations have happened over the years that caused momentary stress, but looking back at it now cause a reaction of belly-chuckling. Like the time Dave and I were returning to Ohio from a visit with our high school friend, Mike Fairchild, who had moved to Rochester, New York for his first job. We had taken my parents’ Chrysler, gotten a mustard stain on the front seat that my mom would remind me of for the next 30 years, but also encountered the problem of the vehicles cruise control sticking. I’m riding the break and we’re still going 85! We were coming up on a rest area and Dave told me to throw it into neutral and head into the rest area. I did…but didn’t! Instead of neutral I threw the car into reverse. Not a good thing when you’re going 85, but my friend’s quick thinking saved us. He reached over, moved the gear shift into neutral, and we coasted into the rest area, two twenty-year-olds sweating profusely.

And now we laugh at that memory. We laugh at my cluelessness, our sudden brush with death, and my mom’s focus on a mustard stain and disregard of the mechanical disaster we faced.

So much of life is funny…after the fact! Like the time in college when I was trying to flatter a young lady toward as our first date was coming to an end. I made a statement that was meant to communicate how nicely proportioned her body was (Never a good thing to do!) and she came away with the idea that I was saying she was fat in certain areas and lean in others.

There was not a second date!

I chuckle as I remember that evening conversation, but still mutter to myself “What an idiotic thing to say!”

Maybe my tendency to chuckle about the past has resulted in more of a lighter view of the present. Some people get stressed out by there still being milk after its expiration date, or a coffee spot on their pants. There are a handful of life situations to take seriously, like a diagnosis of cancer, the death or serious illness of a child, someone’s spiritual condition, and broken relationships. But a boatload of life should be viewed with the perspective of how we will see it a few years down the road in the rearview mirror.

I conducted a basketball camp last week for middle schoolers. One of the things we taught and worked on was left-handed layups. I found myself saying several times to a few kids reluctant to use their left hands, “What’s the worst that can happen? You miss it? Is that the worst?” My elderly rationale broke through the anxiety for many of them and they tried their left hand. I applauded their step into the scariness of the undiscovered. Maybe twenty years from now they will look back at the basketball coach who encouraged them to discover that their left hand wasn’t useless.

Teaching language arts to seventh graders this past year has amplified the volume of my humor. Most of them enjoyed my unpredictability, whether it was donning a blond wig, greasing my hair back as we read the book The Outsiders, or bringing in a multitude of stuffed animal “replacement students.” One class of over-achievers, in my opinion, had become too concerned about their grades. One day I had a talk with them about doing their best but also enjoying the journey. I said this to them: “Life is more than a letter grade on an academic record. It’s about people, friendships, family, and things that last forever. It’s about the joy of laughter and the memories that stay with us.”

And then I gave each of them a roll of Smarties. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll remember that sweet conversation on down the road when they look in the rearview mirror.

Recognizing Vaccinated People

May 29, 2021

I received a few strange stares from people as I walked into King Soopers Supermarket a few days ago. I was wearing a mask. It was something I had been doing for the past year, even to the point of moving my eyeglasses to the top of my head because they had steamed up. Hiding half your face with a mask while sporting glasses perched on the top of your head is a bit unusual.

There were other people in the store who weren’t wearing masks and they seemed undisturbed by their radicalism. It wasn’t until I exited the store that I noticed the sign that said “Masks are optional for vaccinated people.”

Optional…huh! Those strange looks were actually coming from people who were probably thinking I was a non-conformist. The suspicious stares were because they thought I was the one who was going against all those public service announcements. Actually, my second vaccination was in early March. I just hadn’t gotten the memo about optional masks.

But isn’t it a bit presumptuous to assume someone has been vaccinated just because they are mask-less? Or, on the other side of the mask, assuming quite a bit that someone hasn’t been vaccinated just because they ARE wearing a mask?

Knowing how many self-absorbed, entitled, self-centered people there are these days, I can’t assume too much. Also, there is plenty of nosey folks who think they have a right to question someone’s status or intelligence. In Walmart the other day one of my wife’s cousins was wearing a mask. A stranger walked up to him and said, Why are you wearing a mask? Aren’t you going to get vaccinated?” There was a hint of judgmentalism in his voice. Carol’s cousin replied that he had been vaccinated.

“Well, why are you still wearing a mask then?” came the crotchety response.

“Because…I want to!”

We have entered a new phase of confusion. We aren’t sure of anyone’s status. Thus, we make judgments on appearances.

“He’s not wearing a mask, but he just doesn’t look like someone who would get vaccinated.”

“She’s wearing a mask. Probably has tested positive! Better stay away from her.”

Hey! I’ve done the same thing with Sunday morning people. If the family at the next table in Cracker Barrel is dressed up I assume they are church people. However, I go to the next step in my analysis. I make a determination on what flavor of church they’ve attended. I’m pretty good, I think, at spotting conservative Baptists and downtown Presbyterians. I even go so far as to make a guess on the type of worship service they’ve been to…traditional, Pentecostal, contemporary, Catholic mass, Christian Science lecture, or Mormon ritual.

True confession! I have even judged a few people on the road to Hell because of their scruffy, non-repentant appearances.

Yes, Jesus had whispered to me about the fact that the log in my eye might distort my vision of the speck on the other guy’s eyeglass lens. I…okay, we…have a tendency to make judgments on the unknown. When I came home from college one Christmas break with long hair parted in the middle, my mom thought I had gone over to the dark side, maybe even been smoking some of that “funny weed”. A haircut two days later at Morris’s Barber Shop instantly moved me back into the land of the Lord’s!

It’s how we are. Crazy, isn’t it, how a mask in a supermarket or a nice dress worn in a restaurant on a Sunday can cause us to make leaping assumptions.

Earning Your Grade, Expecting Grace

May 23, 2021

My 7th-grade language arts adventure ended on Friday with weeping, rejoicing, clock-watching, and writing in numerous yearbooks of my munchkins. The adventure had begun last August 18 when the principal summoned my assistance for the beginning of the school year and, like a one-month house remodeling project that keeps getting extended into a yet-to-be-determined finish date, it just kept going.

Similar to the week before our last Parent-Teacher Conferences, the last week of the school year was punctuated with comatose students who had suddenly awoken to the reality of their abysmal academic performance. More precisely, their grade! Students who have ‘A’s’ don’t need to be shaken. They’ve been in the driver’s seat all along. But there are others who have been playing video games in the backseat “Fortnite” so long they have to be reminded of which class they are traveling in.

When the fear of the repercussions of receiving a D or an F for the academic quarter suddenly hits them, they pause their game long enough to seek “grade grace”. They’ve redefined grace to be an expectation. They’ve come to believe that the last several weeks of inattention can receive a pardon from the instructor. They believe their performance, which resembles a weed patch, will suddenly be transformed into a rose garden.

Where does such a warped sense of grace come from? Does the fact that I kept warning them of the fact that Wednesday of the last school week would be the deadline for handing in any assignments count for anything? Or was Mr. Wolfe simply a grown-up version of the boy who kept crying “Wolf”?

“But, Mr. Wolfe, it was a difficult year! Hybrid, remote, in-person, quarantines…there was no consistency for the students!”

True! That’s why I, and other teachers, expected less from them. It’s why we may have lowered the bar to an easily achievable height. Sometimes, however, when less is expected “less than the less” is returned, and if a good number of students are able to do what is asked of them, put in the time and effort, is it fair to reward those who have disregarded the expectations? Would that be an example of “scholastic socialism”?

And so the sounds you may have been hearing the last couple of days may lead you to believe they are the sirens of paramedics and fire engines, but in reality, they’re just the echoes of a number of seventh-graders weeping loudly into the wind!

The Last Week of School

May 16, 2021

The chalkboard in my classroom displays an over-sized “5” on it! It’s an announcement, a hope, an applauding encourager to indicate that the finish line is in sight. Five more days of school, which could be slimmed down to say there are two more days of instruction and three days of throwing water on thoughts of student dumbness sparking.

Like runners facing the last mile of a marathon foot race while being chased by a herd of confused gerbils, teachers head toward the finish. In the coming few days as they say goodbye to kids who they have bonded with in various ways the last nine months, there will be relief, revelation, and regret.

The relief will come in knowing that a school year like no other is concluding. That is, the trail of the past school year has had as many switchbacks as Barr Trail that leads hikers up Pike’s Peak. The direction and directives then back of one week would be switched for the next week and the other direction the next. Virtual learning, hybrid, remote, quarantines, teachers in quarantine and students in person, cohorts, cafeteria divisions…mercy! it resembled a passenger on Frontier Airlines trying to get to Florida by way of Phoenix, Las Vegas, Houston, Charlotte, and Memphis. Most teachers have adjusted well to the numerous changes, but the mental, physical, and emotional fatigue has begun to show itself. Relief is coming in the form of ten weeks of a different schedule that will be distinguished by fishing destinations, relaxed reading while sitting on a porch swing, lawn mowing, and wondering what in the world to do on an event-less June afternoon?

Revelation will take different forms. It will include revelations of understanding what was and who he/she really was, and revelations about what will be. I’ve discovered that as I ponder each of my students. Some of them have become heartbreakers as I’ve become more familiar with their family situations and home chaos. The school struggles of some and the academic apathy of others are simply ripple effects of what and who have shaped their lives. I can use the safety and coursework of a classroom to try to distract them, but the pain of their brokenness is an ongoing weight on their shoulders. The sobering realization that I can’t have an effect on every student grieves me.

But there’s also the revelation that Johnny Junior, who seemed to annoy you on Day 1, is simply proficient at being annoying. It wasn’t a mistake or miscalculation. Your first-day perception was dead-on! He has pushed your buttons so many times it’s permanently pressed in. He’s Dennis the Menace times ten! In regards to him, you started counting down the days last August. You may already be writing sympathy notes to whoever his eighth-grade teachers are going to be.

And then there are those students who are revelations of hope. On the days that have seemed a week-long, they have brought a grin to your groans, and optimism about their potential. They are the kids who say thank you each day when they leave class and appreciate their teachers’ efforts, the ones who seem to already have a grasp on what is important and what is excess.

Finally, there are the regrets. The list is long and, in some ways, guilt-producing. I regret not understanding my students’ culture more, a dinosaur living in the land of Minecraft. The verbiage sometimes was incomprehensible to my AARP brain. It brought back memories, weird as it sounds, of the semester during my seminary years when I took Hebrew…a square student in a round language hole.

I regret not helping struggling students through the times of remote learning. When I say help I mean being able to come alongside them in their emotional and mental distress, their social isolation. Learning how to organize an essay doesn’t seem very important or pertinent to a student who feels she is in the midst of a long, dark tunnel with no sign of light to indicate its end.

I regret having to say goodbye to the students I bantered with daily, the end of handing out awarded or begged-for Smarties, and the laughter of my teaching team. Our team of four celebrated birthdays, gained pounds by eating our science teacher’s quarter-pounder cookies, saw the social studies teacher learn new teaching tricks, and marveled at our math teacher’s increasing collection of moose-related accessories. I’ll miss them as I fade off into the sunset. And I’ll really, really miss the daily strategizing with and instruction of my South African-accented, long-tenured, and multi-talented co-teacher. We played a rendition of “Good Cop-Bad-Cop”, I being the counselor and she the boot camp drill sergeant. I brought laughter to her daily school life and she brought a new education to one who is more knowledgeable about Tinker Toys than teaching apps!

The last regret is that I’ll be done. Sounds weird…counting down the days, but then having regrets about the school year coming to an end. Sounds more mixed up than a seventh-grader trying to figure out the difference between an idiom, a metaphor, and hyperbole.

The Day Your Oldest Grandchild Hits 13!

May 9, 2021

It’s Mother’s Day! That’s not a revelation to anyone…well, most everyone! I noticed several men rushing into the supermarket this morning at 7:00, passing other rushing males running back out with bouquets of flowers in their hands. The revelation came late for a few, but hopefully before the “shes” woke up!

In our family, however, it’s also the birthday of our oldest grandchild, Jesse Dean Hodges. It is the first day of his emergence into teenager-dom. It culminates “birthday week” for our family: May 5 for me, May 8 for Jesse’s dad, Kevin, and May 9 for “the kid”. Hopefully, Kecia Wolfe Hodges does not feel slighted this year by sharing Mother’s day with a newly-arrived teenager.

Jesse is the reincarnation of his Granddad Wolfe. When I was a 7th grader I stood about 4’6″. I grew to 4’10” by the time I arrived in high school, easily overlooked at Maysville High School and in fear daily of being stuffed into a hallway locker. Likewise, Jesse is not a threat yet to reach something on a top shelf. He’s about 4’8″, a couple of inches ahead of his granddad’s height pace. My growth spurt didn’t come until around my junior year of high school and, suddenly, I was a lanky 5’8″!

Like his granddad, Jesse also has endless energy. Think tree-climbing, fence-bounding squirrel! I met one of his teachers about a week ago in Culver’s (Butterburger, please!). She had been his assessment testing proctor that week and mentioned the chair that Jesse was sitting in that, unfortunately, had wheels on it. In case you don’t understand, a student with limitless energy sitting in a chair with wheels is a bad idea for a testing environment.

At church camp, Jesse is known for his sudden bursts of uninhibited dancing that causes my body to ache just watching. His creativity is a reflection of his mom who used to videotape herself doing made-up monologues dressed as an old lady or an extremely pregnant twenty-something. Jesse’s creativity comes out in sudden brain bursts filled with movement and expression.

Like me now, but unlike me when I was his age, he is an avid reader, consuming books like candy. His reading level is far above most of his classmates. That can be attributed to his mom who is an elementary teacher, who has always stressed reading with her kids.

Like me, Jesse has always been involved in a church fellowship. He’s a follower of Jesus and in the midst of figuring out what that means and how it looks for a middle school kid in a world where there is limited absolute truth. The challenges ahead will be many, but he’s planted into a well-grounded family that has a good balance of guidance, loving concern, and discipline.

This summer I’ll be his camp pastor, something that causes my eyebrows to raise more than it concerns him. Can I let him be himself, not just my grandson? Can I let him be “me” five decades ago? Can I let him breakdance in the midst of singing praise music? Can I let him pass gas and not scold? I think I can, and if I become too much like a stern granddad he can straighten me out.

Happy birthday, Jesse Dean! I hope your entry into the world of teenagers is awesome. I have to admit, however, that the idea of you driving three years from now causes me to quiver!

Middle School Track Meet

May 2, 2021

This past Thursday we had our first middle school track meet since two years ago. In other words, none of our runners, jumpers, and throwers had experienced a meet before. They were all rookies as they surveyed the competition who were in the same boat.

The nerves were quivering at hyper-speed. The hurdles took on the size of eight-foot electric fences. The discus seemed to weigh a ton. Long-jumpers felt like they had lead in their feet.

“Hey! Let’s go out there and have fun! Don’t worry! Just go and do your best and then we’ll have something to go on as we establish goals for our next meet.”

“Coach Wolfe, I’ve never thrown the shot put!” whimpered one girl.

“Neither have I!”, I replied. Her eyes got big. Was I being empathetic or sarcastic? “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“I could lose!”

“No. The worst that could happen is that you never try. Just don’t drop the weight on your foot, remember which direction you’re supposed to throw it, and you’ll do fine.” She nodded her head in partial agreement still halfway in doubt.

“Hey! My college track team had 7 guys on it. We competed in all kinds of crazy events that were outside our comfort zone. I threw the javelin, high-jumped, long-jumped, triple-jumped, ran the mile, the hundred, and a leg of the two-mile relay. It was fun and I’m still alive to talk about it.”

“Will people be watching me when I run?” asked another young lady, hoping that all spectators would suddenly turn their backs and not view her attempt at running half a lap.

“Should I have our announcer ask people to not watch the girl in lane 4?”

“Can you do that?”


Smiles emerged from the others in the group. They knew such a request was asinine, the result of an eighth-grade girl’s confused wanting to be seen mixed together with her dread of being watched.

And they did fine! There was the one young lady who hit herself in the mouth with the baton as she ran, but other than that everyone was smiling when the meet finished a couple of hours later. Many of them surprised themselves with their times, jumps, and throws. They didn’t think they were capable, but they found out that their ability was greater than their apprehension.

The next day, one girl who had won every event she competed in wanted to know how many points she had scored for her team. She wasn’t trying to brag. It was actually a revelation to her to realize that there was something that defined her, something that she’s good at. Her older siblings each have their areas where they excel. She had been the uncertain and undefined youngest sibling, a bit discouraged at not standing out in any way. Now her new discovery had traced a smile on her face.

Friday was a day of giggles and the absence of anxiety. They had made it through and not felt out-of-place. They are happy and anxious for next Thursday’s meet. The one girl who was hoping no one would be watching is even okay with momentary glances as long as nobody stares!

The Maturing (Or Not) of Seventh Graders

May 1, 2021

Three weeks remain in the school year. That equals 15 days, or 60 class sessions, or 105 hours pinched in between the opening and closing bells. The students also know these facts. A wave of stupidity usually begins to flow in about this time of the year, sort of like the tide rolling in. It’s the school version of spring fever.

In teaching seventh grade this year I’ve noticed how many of the students have matured. Many have come to understand that they can do excellent work, comprehend what was once incomprehensible, and engage in discussions in ways that make me say “That’s a great point!”

On the flip side of the coin, there are the Goobers who are still committed to pirating the classroom ship and sailing it to the harbor of nonsense. They are the Timmy Little’s and Johnny Davis’s of my RED HOT novel series who cause some of their teachers to grind their teeth and chew on their fingernails.

Seventh grade seems to be the year where the gap widens between those who are growing up and those who aren’t ready to grow up. It’s amusing to me during these past few weeks to notice some of the girls beginning to roll their eyes at the actions of some of their male classmates. I prefer the rolling of the eyes versus the emerging “batting of their eyelashes” that seems to surface in eighth grade.

Some seventh graders have a hard time emerging from their goofiness stage. It’s as much a part of them as that hoodie they’ve worn to school, and throughout the school day, for the whole year. In fact, as a teacher you’ve come to associate the Mountain Dew hoodie with a certain student. At some point the evolution of goofiness into naturally funny or entertaining occurs, but it might not happen until the kid is halfway through high school. Until then, he still has to be reminded to tie his shoes, not pick his nose in class, and take all of his belongings with him when he exits the classroom.

Maturity, however, has arrived like a sunrise for some of my students. I have to admit, most of them, but not all, are females. They seem to find the path through the woods of our assignments easily and navigate without the help of their instructor. Their grades are proof. The girls in my class have a GPA of 2.96, just a good quiz away from a 3 point average. The boys have a GPA of 2.27. Perhaps…perhaps the boys are more proficient in math and science, but maybe their language skills are an indication of the reality of the moment.

Hey! I was one of those 2.27 kids myself when I was in seventh grade! In fact, their were a few report cards that a 2.27 would have been a welcomed great improvement. I matured about four years later…I think! Some days in class is almost like a reminiscing trip to Williamstown (WV) Junior High (7th Grade) and South Zanesville (Ohio) Junior High (8th Grade). We didn’t have cell phones back then, but we did have bored attitudes, restroom infractions, and incredible stupidity!

How might the wind blow the dingey of stupidity in these last fifteen days?