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Essays By Barbara

If You're Not Growing, You're Dying

1. History and Cows

2. The Pool Shark

3. Catherine the Great

4. Long Island's Lighthouses

5. Doctor House Calls

6. 1950 "Firsts"

7. Flying

8. Braces

9. Library

10. Mid-Life Crises

11. Loving Books


My history began around cows! Even Daddy, who bragged about his nine-month-old daughter's lack of fear around such big animals, couldn't have guessed that one day, I'd write a book about the history of a cow!

Holsteins, Jerseys, Guernseys... These were the cows who became my friends over 70 years ago on the farm where I was born in northeastern Connecticut. As I got little older, I didn't master the art of milking, but I did learn to squirt milk for the barn cats. At a time before milking machines, it was a challenge to get the correct grip on a cow's teat and to apply just the right amount of pressure for that warm, white magic to appear. The next challenge was to aim for the cat's mouth, not its eye!

Much later, on a different farm, I followed a veterinarian around trying to learn as much as I could about cattle. When a pregnant cow died from digesting hardware, I became the proud owner of a calf fetus. Mama was pleased the day I took my floating treasure in formaldehyde to a biology teacher. She was tired of seeing that little creature every time she opened the refrigerator door!

Moving around over the years, I learned about many breeds of cows... Angus, Belted Galloways, Brahmas, Shorthorns...The list goes on. But, it wasn't until I moved to Florida that I learned about the Cracker Cow. Once I learned about its amazing history, I was hooked.

Daddy, also a lover of bovines, would have loved my efforts to preserve this rare breed. I only wish he were here to read about the Cracker Cow.


1. Guernsey cows are originally from the British Channel Island of Guernsey. They provide more milk per unit of body weight than any other breed. Their unique milk is a golden color with a high content of beta carotene, buttermilk, and protein.

2. Belted Galloways are originally from Scotland. Known as the "Oreo Cookie Cows", they have short legs and a broad belt of white around their middles with solid black hair on both ends.

3. Cracker Cows are a small breed of cows, and the first to run wild in Florida. They are descendants of Andalusian cattle brought from Spain to Florida in 1521 by Juan Ponce de Leon.

The Pool Shark (2)

Recently one summer, while in Gloucester, MA at a writer's group, I met an 82-year-old woman whose positive attitude toward life inspired me to write a series of essays on my own life experiences. The lady had just started her third career! How great is that! But wait until you hear what she's dong! Her first job was a child photographer and her second was a real estate saleswoman. But, it is her third job that caught my attention...

This amazing octagenarian now spends her time in pool halls. Really and truly, she may not be a Short Stop yet, but she's winning many of her competitions. She's definitely the new hustler in town with some pretty fancy jump shots!

Her husband had always told her, "If You're Not Growing, You're Dying" So she decided to keep her brain active as well as her body. It was then that I decided to stretch not only myself , but also any readers who might be interested in Brain Training.


1. New England Artist Winslow Homer (1836-1910) started his watercolor career in 1873 at Gloucester, MA. He was already famous for his oils. If you're ever in Homosassa, FL, stop by the Florida Room at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and view some Homer prints. Homer loved vacationing in Homosassa where he fished and painted in the early 1900s.

2. Short Stop (in Pool Hall Jargon) means a very good local player who can compete at the low professional level.

3. Brain Training is a way to stimulate the brain. Adding rosemary to meat dishes can boost brain power, according to ancient Greeks who dubbed it "the herb of remembrance". Recent studies prove it ups alertness and memory by 15 per cent. According to a recent TV Health Report, rosemary also reduces carcinogens when barbecuing meats.

Catherine the Great (3)

This summer, just like every other summer for the past 20 years, I had a lunch date with "Catherine the Great". These annual events usually take place in my home state of Connecticut, but sometimes, Catherine and I extend our experience beyond the edibles to the educational, like the time we visited the Shaker Village at Hancock, Massachusetts.

Catherine is my old music teacher. And what a great teacher she is! (She's still giving private lessons at home for a mere pittance.) She never insisted that I stick to just one instrument, but instead encouraged me to always appreciate music. So I started with the violin in grade school, but later switched to that most beautiful of instruments, the cello. Even today, my favorite classical musicians are cellists.

But, in high school when I wanted to perform in both orchestra and band, Catherine suggested the bass fiddle. That way, I got to play the bass in concert band and cymbals in marching band. Becoming a member of a small combo group was the icing on the cake.

Thanks Catherine for helping me grow!


1. The "REAL" Catherine the Great was born a princess in Germany on April 21, 1729. She married the heir to the Russian Throne, the Grand Duke of Holstein, Grandson of Peter the Great. She died on November 17, 1796.

2. The Shakers (The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing) were led by Ann Lee, who came to America from Manchester, England in1774. (See

3. Cellist Pablo Casals (1876-1973) was a Spanish-born cellist, while Yo Yo Ma, probably the most recognized and famous cellist in the world is a native of China.

Long Island's Lighthouses (4)

I went to the mailbox the other day and there it was... the book I'd been waiting for... Long Island's Lighthouses, Past and Present by Robert Muller. I quickly turned to the index.

There in alphabetical order, I found their names, and reminisced about some special people. First, there was Uncle Bill Baker, who married Aunt Elsie and kept us in stitches with his great sense of humor. Then, there was Great Uncle Marvin Burnham, whose bushy moustache reminded me of Albert Einstein. Next came William Chapel, otherwise known to me as Uncle Willie. And finally, there was William Maynard Chapel, my beloved grandfather. All four of them were lighthouse keepers. 

No wonder lighthouses are in my blood. Literally! Grandpa Chapel was keeper at Plum Island Lighthouse where my mother lived until she was 13 years old.

It's funny how things turn out in life. Mom attended an Army school there on the island at Fort Terry. Many years later, I ended up teaching at, then retiring as principal from an Army school... not on an island, but on an isthmus... the Isthmus of Panama.

Today, like Mom, I love lighthouses, Army schools, and of course getting mail. Speaking of mail, it's time to get back to today's postal pleasures...

Brain Training Food... Did You Know?

1. There are 31 lighthouses, including one lightship along Florida's 1000+ mile coastline. (See Florida's Lighthouses by Kevin McCarthy with paintings by William L. Trotter and maps by Marjorie A. Niblack.

2. Albert Einstein, Physicist (1879-1955) The people of Guinness, Ireland's most famous brewery, estimate that in Great Britain alone, 92,749 liters of beer each year are lost in beer drinker's moustaches and beards. They estimate that each pint (approximately 1/2 liter) is raised 10 times, and each time, 0.56 ml is absorbed into facial hair.

3. The first mail was delivered by Pony Express on April 13, 1860 to Sacramento, CA from St. Louis, MO by Henry Wallace, who arrived with a congratulatory message from President Buchanan to the governor of CA.

Doctor House Calls (5)

Oh, for the good old days, when doctors made house calls. Of course, I don't remember Doctor Pierrot, but he was pretty special to my Mom.

"More fudge?" she would say. And the good doctor would savor his third piece of Mama's super-moist chocolate delight. Then, he'd nap awhile on the worn, but comfortable living room couch, and wait.

Mama was waiting too... for my arrival. It was cold outside, but toasty warm in that farmhouse in Pomfret, CT where I was born.

If I'd waited just two more days, I could have been a Leap Year Baby! Now, that would have been fun as I got older, but I was eager to see the outside world, just as I've been ever since that long-ago birthday in February, 1937.

So many years later, I can't help wondering... If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, would my fudge brownies entice one to make a house call? I can promise the good doctor that he won't be needing my living room couch!

Brain Training Food... Did You Know?

1. Pomfret, Connecticut's claim to fame is the Wolf Den, where Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam, crawled inside the wolf den in 1742 and killed the last she-wolf in Ct after it killed 70 of his sheep.

2. Leap Year (adding an extra day, February 29th every 4 years) is necessary so that the calendar is in alignment with the earth's motion around the sun.

3. In February, 1937, the "Prince Valiant" comic strip had its debut when Hal Foster used illustrated narrative (no speech balloons) to depict King Arthur legends.

1950 "Firsts" (6)

The year I graduated from elementary school in Hampton, CT was a year of FIRSTS for me. I graduated in 1950, one of six students from the first consolidated school in that small New England town. ( My cousin George was one of the six graduates! ) Before that, I'd attended one-room schoolhouses, an opportunity I cherish to this day. Despite the hardships of using rustic outhouses, hauling wood for the pot belly stove, and pumping water from a hand pump for a cool drink of well water, I loved the fact that the older kids helped the younger students, like a big family.

The closest I ever got to that experience in later life was teaching deaf children, ages 5-13, first in Seattle, WA, then in the Canal Zone in Panama. Again, I found older children helping younger students, just as we had so many years before. I wonder why we changed all that...

Another FIRST was the T.V. Daddy brought home that year. Inside a magic box with a mirrored lid, amazing pictures came to life, reflected from the screen below. After only radio programs, that T.V. experience was an exciting event at our house.

I met my first boyfriend that year too. Bruce Cleveland was a minister's son from a neighboring town. His father's services were long and often. I've never attended church as much as I did that year! But who knows, maybe that mid-week service and three services on Sundays helped me to become a better Sunday School teacher at my own church later on.

I also got my first job in 1950, riding Mr. Elmer Stone's hay baler with my sister Violet. We rode on the little bench in back, checking the twine on the bales. If one broke, we quickly knotted the twine so Mr. Stone didn't lose any bales. Although it was the dirtiest job I've ever had, that dust and hayseed were easily forgotten when Mrs. Stone delivered her super sandwiches on a hot summer day in the middle of a hayfield. And nothing over the years has ever tasted any better than a cold drink of strawberry Kool-Aid from Mrs.Stone's jug sitting at the end of that hay truck. 1950 was a good year!

Brain Training Food... Did You Know?

1. The nation's oldest one-room schoolhouse is the old Quasset School in Woodstock, CT. Third grade teachers and their students sign up for a week each year to dress in period clothes, adopt old-fashioned names, and learn the traditional way--- by rote and chalkboard.

2. Television was not invented by a single inventor, but instead by many people, some working together and some working alone. ( The period before1935 was called the Mechanical Television Era, while the Fully Electronic T.V. System evolved, and was perfected after 1935.

3. Kool-Aid, the artificially flavored soft drink made by Kraft was originally a liquid concentrate called Fruit-Smack, until 1927 when Edwin Perkins discovered a way to remove the liquid, leaving just powder. The powder was called Kool-Ade but later changed to Kool-Aid.


It's amazing how three little letters can bring back such fond memories. Capitalized, they could be ABC for those memorable moments in Miss Kittridge's kindergarten class in CT. But they're not. Or, they could be I.R.C. for my husband Ian Robert Cairns, who has made my days memorable ever since I first met him years ago in Bamberg, Germany. But they're not.

The three magical letters are ROO, pronounced AR-Double O, the call letters for a Cessna 140 I soloed in 1967. That was the year I taught at Goose Bay, Labrador. With very few outside activities in that snowy, frigid climate, I opted for flying lessons. My instructor must have questioned my sanity at times, like the time I asked permission of the control tower to taxi, while 1000 feet in the air.

But after only seven lessons instead of the usual ten, I had mastered my Touch and Goes, had taken my required physical exam from a Chinese doctor in the Inuit village of Happy Valley, and was ready for my Big Day.

As I looked over at the empty seat beside me, that solo flight was truly the most exciting thing I'd ever done, and perhaps ever will do. The fact that my landing was less than perfect that day made no difference. What mattered was learning that the emergency equipment waiting on the runway wasn't for me, but for a much larger aircraft coming in with only one engine.

For a long time after, I went to the ground school building to check the bulletin board. And there it was- a large piece of white fabric with my name attached. Along with the customary tacked-up blouse fragment which I'd worn during my initial solo were the Cessna's call letters, ROO.

Sometimes, I wonder whatever happened to that blouse with the big hole in the back. It just goes to prove that sometimes ruined things can bring lots of joy.


1. Labrador and New Foundland make up Canada's most easterly province. The mainland, Labrador, is a vast pristine wilderness where the northern lights flicker over the largest caribou herd in the world. (Since January 21, 2005, a large area of Labrador called Nunatsiavat, has been governed by Inuits.)

2. Touch and Goes help a pilot to practice a technique for an emergency go-around in case there's a runway hazard. They provide no time for a proper checklist, so the pilot relies on memory to accomplish the tasks of landing, reconfiguring the aircraft and taking off quickly and smoothly while managing all the power controls.

3. Inuits, of Labrador, once called Eskimos, are famous for their soapstone carving.


In September, 1959, my mother still called me Barbie, even though I was already a first-year teacher. Another BARBIE had her FIRST that year too. She wasn't a teacher but she taught little girls everywhere how to love her.

Believe me when I tell you that I've never been close to being or becoming a BARBIE DOLL. As a teenager, my aquiline nose screamed for surgery, but I was afraid of suffocating just thinking about those cotton wads stuck up my nose. Besides, my parents never would have permitted it even if they could have afforded it.

If they could have afforded any cosmetic care it would have been on my teeth, not my nose. My eye teeth hadn't had room to merge with my other front teeth, so I lived with fangs. That's what I called those two upper teeth that peeked out from above my other teeth every time I smiled. When I laughed, they sometimes got caught on my upper lip. But I laughed anyway. Having a sense of humor has continued to serve me well over the years.

As a young, new teacher, I was amused by many things that year, but nothing tickled me more than being refused a drink at Shakey's Pizza Parlor in downown Seattle. After spending my first paychecks geting my eye teeth removed and opting for braces, I quickly learned that adults wearing braces were a bit of a rarity in those days. Luckly, my I.D. was readily available that night.

Many nights and months later, I returned to Connecticut to visit my family, smiling broadly to show off my new teeth. Although others were quick to "oooh" and "aaah", my Uncle Bill's response surprised me.

"There never was anything wrong with your teeth. but, what in GOD's name have you done to your hair?"

Forty-seven years later, that other BARBIE shows up in hair of many colors, but I've never seen her in braces yet!

Brain Training- Did you Know?

1. The BARBIE DOLL was invented in 1959 by Ruth Handler, whose daughter was named Barbara. (Ruth Handler was co-founder of Mattel.)

2. Shakey's Pizza was the first important pizza chain restaurant in the U.S. Founded in Sacramento, CA in 1954 by Sherwood "Shakey" Johnson and Ed Plummer, it featured beer, pizza and Dixieland Jazz. Its early sign, "Ye Old Notice: Shakey made a deal with the bank. Shakey doesn't cash checks. The bank doesn't make pizza." was a favorite with Shakey's patrons.

3. Braces were first constructed by Pierre Fauchard in 1728. They consisted of flat strips of metal connected to the teeth by pieces of thread. Orthodonic brackets were invented by Edward Angle in 1915, which he modified in 1928. The brackets consisted of little hooks of metal attached to bands, which went around the teeth. (When those bands were tightened every week, I experienced severe headaches, but it was all worth it in the end.)

Library (9)

Often the birth of a project can mean almost as much as the birth of a baby.The labor pains are not the same of course, but they can be very real. The various stages of development can invoke many similar emotions and the end result can bring joy and happiness to many.

When my baby was conceived in 1975, I was overjoyed. She was conceived when I decided that every elementary school needed a library. At that time, I wrote a 32-page proposal to initiate such a project at the school where I was teaching.

When my baby was born, I was rewarded with a feeling of fulfillment. After much work preparing her layette, my library was born seven months later at Ft. Clayton Elementary School in the Canal Zone ,Republic of Panama. (I did not consider her premature.)

When my baby was given up to a foster home, I was depressed, but not overcome with guilt. Soon after the library opened in the bicentennial year of 1976, I took a Library Science course at the local college, preparing myself to become a better parent. But then circumstances prevented me from staying with my new baby. I was needed at a different school, so was transferred. My baby was left behind with teachers and volunteer mothers who lovingly cared for her.

When my baby was abandoned, I was numb with grief. At the beginning of the next school year, the library did not open. She was a handful, I will admit, but this knowledge did not assuage my pain.

When my baby entered another foster home, I was full of hope. Luckily for my baby, some new foster parents became interested in her welfare and survival. The library reopened late in the school year.

When my baby was allowed to bring joy to others, I was elated. Very unexpectedly and sadly, a teacher at the school died that year. My baby who was bringing much happiness to many by this time, was dedicated to this fellow colleague and friend in a lovely ceremony. A plaque was placed by the door for all to see.

When my baby was adopted, I was overjoyed knowing she'd be well cared for, not only in her formative years, but also as a teenager and beyond. In 1979, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools took over the Canal Zone schools after the Panma Treaty. My adopted baby became the first of many libraries in the military schools with an adoptive mother who was a qualified librarian. 

Brain-Training Food- Did you Know...?

1. The first of Andrew Carnegie's public libaries opened in Dunfermine, Scotland, his hometown, in 1883. His first library in the U.S. was built in 1889 in Braddock, PA, home to one of his steel mills.

2. It's estimated that 57 babies are abandoned in the U.S. each day. Sadly, it has become necessary to have Save Abandoned Babies Foundations established in several states.

3. DODDS also uses DODEA today, which stands for Department of Defense Education Activity, and is responsible for educating U.S. military children around the world. 


If one must gather a few wrinkles, let them gather about the neck, (I still call mine baby fat.) and eyes and forehead, but never let them mar one's sense of humor. I knew I'd reached mid-life when a friend of mine (who practiced smiling in front of a mirror to avoid wrinkles) had "crow's feet" that looked like tiny sparrows skipping by, while mine reminded me of buzzard tracks surrounding a dead carcass.

I knew I'd reached mid-life also when the book I'd been reading got out of hand... so far out that it seemed to leave my arm. As I inched the book farther and farther away from my eyes, indeed the letters ceased to transpose and I saw clearly again. Toward evening, I turned religious and found myself quoting from the Bible... "Let There Be Light!" as I tried to read the menu at some candle-lit restaurant. I love candles, but thank GOD for Thomas Alva Edison! It was not only scary, but also downright embarrassing not being able to read the choices OR the prices on the menu.

I knew I'd reached mid-life also when the book I'd been reading got out of hand... so far out that it seemed to leave my arm. As I inched the book farther and farther away from my eyes, indeed the letters ceased to transpose and I saw clearly again. Toward evening, I turned religious and found myself quoting from the Bible... "Let There Be Light!" as I tried to read the menu at some candle-lit restaurant. I love candles, but thank GOD for Thomas Alva Edison! It was not only scary, but also downright embarrassing not being able to read the choices OR the prices on the menu.

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