Learning from our Grandmothers: Memories of my Granny Ellis (1918-2012)

Papa and Granny Ellis with me after high school graduation in 1995.

Early Monday morning, I received an unexpected phone call from my Dad. Obviously upset, he told me that my Granny Ellis had passed away during the night. It was hard to wrap my head around this fact. She was 94 years old, and she marshaled on despite numerous health problems–especially later in life. She was from “old stock,” a heartier stock that could weather setbacks and troubles without much complaint or fuss.

She was my last grandparent to pass away. I am very fortunate to have had so much time to spend and learn from my grandparents. Wilma, Papa Gerald, Papa Ellis, and Granny Ellis contributed in so many ways to my emergence as the person that I am today. I feel somewhat disconnected now from the past anchored by my grandparents–grandparents who I spent time with every day, every week, every summer when I was younger and who I called once a week no matter where I might be in: in Atlanta, Liverpool, or Ohio.

There are  a couple of things that immediately come to mind in remembering Granny Ellis. The first has to do with food and the second has to do with the surprising power of memory.

When I was younger, I would usually spend Wednesday afternoons and some weekends with my Granny and Papa Ellis. More often than not, I wanted to “play” with my Legos or other toys, but what no one knew–even myself–was that I was learning. I was modeling. I was thinking through narrative. I was thinking about the possibilities in social interaction, engineering, and creativity.

Granny Ellis let me explore through my play without interruption–except when it was necessary, as she would remind me, to eat. She believed in making sure that I was well fed. With energy stores fulfilled, she would release me from an empty bowl of chili or a now barren plate where once sat made-from-scratch biscuits to return to my building, my thinking, my “play.” In her own way, I believe that she recognized that I needed to do those things to make sense of a world far different from the one she was born into so many years before. She recognized that even play is an important part of learning.

Then, many years after those afternoons on the carpeted floor hunting for the right brick, Granny Ellis developed neurological problems. Papa Ellis would need to guide Granny around. It was like she was there, trapped behind her eyes, unable to express herself as she had when I was younger. However, her doctors began experimenting with different medicines to combat what were ultimately long undiagnosed micro-seizures and dementia, she regained to some extent her old self. You could speak with her once again and she could recall the past remarkably well. Unfortunately, her short term memory was impaired–she could not remember from day-to-day or even minute-by-minute on most occasions.

Due to Granny Ellis’ trouble with short term memory, I expected her to not remember my wife Yufang after I introduced her. To my overwhelming joy, Granny Ellis not only remembered that I was married to a beautiful girl named Yufang, but she also remembered to ask how Y and I were doing. Granny’s face would light up when she saw Y on the too few occasions that we could both travel to Brunswick to visit. Despite these few encounters, Granny Ellis overcame her brain’s degenerative hurdles to hold on to that memory. Did her love for Y and me play some role in her brain’s ability to build a lasting long term memory from her short term memory? This question deserves further investigation. In the meantime, I believe that she expressed her love through her memory of Y, and I am glad that I now have that memory to hold onto in my life.

Our friends and family (and especially our grandmothers) have a lot to teach us. We can learn from them and our experiences. We can reflect on what they did–how they demonstrated solid pedagogical practices for learning and enabling learning–in our own thinking about the theory and practice of teaching.

Notes from Taiwan, More on Food

Y, her family, and her friends have all been introducing me to many wonderful foods during my visit in Taiwan.

Yesterday, Y and I joined her high school friends at a popular vegetarian restaurant between Taoyaun and Jhongli. This was a very peaceful setting for our lunch, because it was a traditional style house imported from China. The owner loved the house so much that he bought it, had it disassembled, and then reassembled in Taiwan complete with Buddhist statues. There is no menu at the restaurant. Instead, they prepare a number of different courses each day. Much of the food was spicy including a tiny salad with wasabi and spicy cabbage that we ate with purple rice. I particularly enjoyed the sweet and raw tofu.

After a visit to a local temple where I took many photographs, we all visited Anita’s flat in Taoyaun. After snacking on peacock cookies and shrimp flavored crisps, Anita brought us snacks from a local restaurant. This was my first time eating pork intestines with noodles, stinky tofu, chicken ass, chicken heart, and other fried chicken parts. Besides the smell of the stinky tofu, I loved it all. I am amazed at how we don’t enjoy these kinds of food in the States. There is much that we waste that we should eat. The Taiwanese do not waste their food–not because they are necessarily trying to be efficient, but because these American neglected food parts are so damn good.

Notes from Taiwan, and Blog Post 700

For my 700th post on dynamicsubspace.net, I wanted to include my initial notes on Y’s and my trip to visit my in-laws in Taiwan.

We flew Continental from Jacksonville to Houston to Narita, Japan to Taipei, Taiwan. I particularly enjoyed the flight to Narita, even though I was very tired at the end, because we flew on a Boeing 777 Dreamliner. We got back row seats (only 2 wide) and it was comfortable and relatively quiet–at least compared to the uncomfortable short leg room and noisy 747 between Narita and Taipei operated by United. I liked the individual on-demand video system on the 777. I got to watch The Crimson Rivers with Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel, and I watched part of the second Nodame Cantabile movie with Y. Also, I was pleasantly surpised by the quality of the food on our flights. We had beef with rice, chicken enchiladas, and a delicious egg breakfast. There was also a midflight desert of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream.

I have been eating very well at Y’s parents’ house. Ma and Ba make excellent food, and they are determined to make us gain weight. I have had the most excellent tofu, fish, and chicken as well as tasty vegetables and fruits that we cannot find back in the States.

Y’s parents’ house is located in a very nice part of Jongli outside of Taipei. We There are bakeries, department stores, a huge library, and 24 hour convenient stores everywhere. There are people everywhere and so many scooters. I wish that I could take a scooter around the city even though I would have to be very careful with how aggressive drivers here can be. I made a point of asking Y to show me around a 7-11 store around the corner.  It is so fascinating! Good food, many conveniences at much more reasonable prices, no dust on the goods, and video games for sale in the store (World of Warcraft Cataclysm is only about $2.50 here–I will have to find out what the subscription rate is). Also, you can order digital photos and pay your bills from the store.

Since my iPad died shortly after we arrived to Taiwan, I used Ba’s computer to rewrite my review of Tron: Legacy for the SFRA Review (my verdict: go see it before it leaves theaters despite some of its gendered stereotyped misgivings found in much cyberpunk).  In exchange, I wanted to super charge their older Acer Dual Core Pentium based computer. It also gave me an opportunity to work in a Traditional Chinese based install of Windows XP.  After completing a draft of my review last night, I did these things to their computer and I am amazed what a difference a little tuning did:

  1. uninstalled outdated Norton AV
  2. installed Microsoft Security Essentials
  3. ran scan–all okay
  4. updated Windows XP several times–lots of security updates
  5. uninstalled proprietary Acer software (except drivers)
  6. uninstalled all versions of Flash Player
  7. installed Firefox
  8. installed latest Flash Player
  9. installed latest nVidia driver
  10. moved all Desktop files to My Documents
  11. moved all Desktop shortcuts to Quick Launch Bar
  12. installed optional Windows XP updates including .Net Framework 4 Client
  13. made Desktop icons large
  14. disabled ADSL connection, configured through wireless Netgear router that Y and I brought with us to use with our iPads
  15. installed Internet Explorer 8
  16. installed AUSLogics Disk Defrag
  17. defragmented primary partition last night and rebooted this morning

After dinner last night, Y and I took a stroll around the neighborhood and through the park. We also picked up some slippers for me to wear in the house.

This morning I finished editing my review of Tron: Legacy and emailed the final copy to Ritch Calvin. Now, I am typing these notes of our visit on my blog.

I am looking forward to the rest of today. We are visiting a university that has a connection with Kent State University through its TESOL program for Ba’s work. I will have my camera with me, and I will post many pictures when we get back to Ohio.