Daily Archives: December 29, 2006

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Janet Shields, humorist; Sheldon McGuire, teacher

A few posts ago I wrote of a recently-discovered letter from my father written over sixty years ago. While preparing for a visit by our children, my wife went through some of our papers and came across some of my old report cards from elementary school that go back over fifty years.

They include my mother’s comments, some of which I hadn’t read before or only now can fully appreciate.

It’s a long-standing joke in the Shields clan that no one has ever accused me of having good handwriting. Indeed, I suspect that the availability of line printers — machines that could present my work in legible form — may be the main reason I went into computing.

The report cards in those days had three categories: S for Satisfactory, I for needs Improvement, and U for Unsatisfactory. I almost always got S’s, except for the occasional U and I in handwriting, as was the case in sixth grade, when I got a “U” for “writing legibly” in the first report period. This resulted in the following exchange between my teacher, Sheldon McGuire, and my mother, Janet Shields:

Janet Shields:

David’s report card has many S’s
But his writing a sad mess is.
Let’s hope he has planned
With less scribbly left hand
Next quarter to really surprise us.

Sheldon McGuire:

David has continued doing good school work. His enthusiasm is a joy. His writing is much improved. (We appreciated and enjoyed your verse.)

Janet Shields:

A very fine report. Makes me very glad for David.

Sheldon McGuire:

David has continued doing good work. He is surely a capable person. David has been a good class president.

Janet Shields:

Maybe he should write with his right hand. But on the other hand this is a very fine report. Very glad for David.

Janet Shields. May her memory — and her sense of humor — be a blessing.

Mr McGuire. You were a blessing, too. I think that you, more than any of my other elementary school teachers, emphasized writing.

The New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

It’s been a special time in the Shields household these past few days. All our children and grandchildren have been visiting us, and it’s the first time in several years we have all been together. Today we all attended an event I had never heard of until yesterday, when a relative recommended we go. It was so wonderful I want to tell you a bit about it.

It is the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show. It combines a number of special treasures into a special experience.

First, it takes place in the New York Botanical Garden. This is one of New York’s — and the world’s — treasures. I can’t do it justice here, but will just remark that it is a good place to mark the start of Spring at the “hill of daffodils,” that the height of that season is best marked amidst a wondrous grove of cherry trees on the eastern edge of the park, and that to get to that grove you get to walk through one of the last known “old growth” forests in the New York area, meaning none of the trees therein have been cut down since the land was first settled almost three hundred years ago.

Second, it takes place in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the jewel in the garden’s crown, a Victorian-structure with thousands of glass panels that let in light year-around so that tropical plants can be grown even in the winter months, as can desert plants such as cacti and agave.

Though the above two treasure are always there, the remaining two define the experience.

Third, that in the conservatory during the Holiday Train Show, beginning in the desert part, you will find model trains going to and fro, sometimes above your head on specially-mounted tracks, and more often on the ground amidst the plants within the conservatory. The trains are larger than “O” gauge; they are known as “museum gauge.” Perhaps they were built just for this event.

Fourth, amidst the trains and plants there are a number of unique structures, each made by hand and all of natural materials such as bark, fragments of woods, nuts, cones, pods, shells, seeds, and so forth. Each is based on some building or structure in the New York area, some of which were demolished decades ago. My favorites included Boscobel, the Brooklyn Bridge, the High Bridge that was a key part of the the NYC water system, and the Little Red Lighthouse (itself the subject of a children’s book).

The overall effect is special indeed, one of those only-in-New-York experiences that made the city so special when I lived in it and still make me happy that I live not too far away.

The event is especially suitable for children six and under, though it does bring out the child in all of us.

Fifth, though this is not on the official Botanical Garden map, after the Train Show we repaired to the nearby neighborhood known as “Arthur Avenue.” Those who bring knowledge of this area to this blog are already salivating at the mention of Arthur Avenue, as I trust those who read on soon will.

Arthur Avenue is an area with many well-known Italian bakeries, stores, markets, and restaurants. For example, in much of Westchester one does not ask for “Italian bread” but “Arthur Avenue bread.” Our personal favorite eateries had been Dominic’s and Rigoletto. We planned to eat at Dominic’s, but it was quite busy so we wound up at another we had recently heard about, called Roberto’s. It was also excellent. (Zagat gives it 27 for food, at $47/person, but it’s much more reasonable for lunch). Dominic’s remains our favorite, but now we have three favorite eateries.

The food at all these places is very good, most notably so due to its simplicity. One of the best meals my wife and I shared in recent memory was during a lunch at Dominic’s — a salad and the three vegetables they had that day: asparagus, broccoli rabe, and green beans.

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