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Independence Day, personally

Jun 28, 2012 By Betty Starks Case

Family changes led me to learn more of my strengths

July 4: Independence Day.

Have you ever considered honoring your personal independence along with our national celebration? Makes sense to me.

I love the traditional way of celebrating our country's freedom. I treasure memories of past events. And I'll enjoy the flags, parades and fireworks as much as anyone.

This year, however, I'm also celebrating my own strengths and a determination to learn as long as I live, although learning is likely to happen whether I'm ready or not.

Right now, I'm faced with more challenges than I planned .

I'm trying to learn my mate's new computer, and I don't see why they can't just make it simple. In addition, my personal computer guru (known as Son) has moved to Spokane, Wash., so now I must wing it.

That means continue making mistakes until I can fix them.

Does that make me independent or what?

Also, I had a cataract removed from my left eye more than a month ago, and because of problems throughout the process, I'm still trying to see through foggy vision and without proper eyeglasses for another week or 10 days. So if this story sounds a bit fuzzy to you, you'll know why.

When Son and Daughter decided to leave Riverton after seven years near us, we promised ourselves we would not be a burden or do anything to make them feel they should stay.

So while they were packing, I decided it was time to learn more about my own strengths.

I'd read in The Ranger that the University of Wyoming's Writing Project for the state's teachers was about to begin a workshop at CWC. Might they allow a non-teacher to attend?

I phoned Sheryl Lain, the current Wyoming Department of Education instruction leader, with whom I had a long-ago connection. Her husband, Gail, had lived next door to us in Riverton when he was about 16. He worked part-time for my husband, Ned, who managed the University of Wyoming Soils Laboratory here at the time.

As Forrest Gump would say, "And just like that I was enrolled."

The object of the Writers Project was to teach teachers how to teach children to write.

Maybe I could learn a few things, I thought, even if I'm not a teacher.

My fellow students were amazed that someone my age still wanted to learn.

I wasn't sure if I should be offended or flattered, but I was welcomed warmly and pulled into every aspect of the workshop. They accepted me as an equal in knowledge and ability, which I wasn't in that sense of the word. And yet, as a long-published writer and judge of various writing competitions, I suppose my work might be seen as the end product of many teachers' efforts through the years.

It's all about communication, after all. How do you express your ideas, your wishes, your anything, if you can't read and write in a way to make them known and understood by others?

The workshop was firmly structured, yet open to moments of laughter. Hoping to help my fellow students understand my peculiar (to them) need to know, I mentioned that my mother and two brothers were teachers. Colin, who teaches writing at UW, responded teasingly, "Betty, I have to wonder about your family. What ails them, anyway?"

I appreciated being welcomed so warmly into this important learning experience. It's exciting to know these teachers will now fan out across Wyoming to teach other teachers the important things they learned about writing in this workshop. I feel very good about where they're headed. And they fulfilled my need to associate with others who value literacy as I do.

They truly fed my soul.

It was a great week. I stayed out of the way of family movers, laughed instead of cried, and furthered my education.

My generous fellow students rewarded me with a brown paper bag filled with notes from everyone who said my participation was inspiring.

In return, I decided to try to clarify my peculiar (to them) persistence in learning.

"For one thing, I want to know what's going on in the world I live in," I explained.

Or maybe the need simply sifted down through the genes. I told them of the time I asked my mother's elderly cousin how long she thought she might live.

"I don't know," she said. "But I can't leave yet. I have to stay and see what else is going to happen."

Independence Day will feel a bit more personal this year.

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