Tribute to a Tough But Talented Teacher

Written by Braiden on November 29, 2012

Braiden’s sixth-grade photo, with Dr. Zucaro and 28 classmates; Braiden is in the back row, third from the right; Winky Miller Merrill is in the front row, right-hand side

When I came upon the faded, slightly dusty class photo from sixth grade, I knew that one day I’d have to write about it.

The Grade 6C photo was taken sometime in 1967-1968 in suburban Philadelphia at Gladwyne Elementary School, which still happily houses and educates 560 students from kindergarten to grade five.

Looking at this particular photo  brings back both pleasant and unpleasant memories. I was such a gangly and self-conscious youngster, often teased and even bullied by the other kids. Yet I loved going to school because I wanted so desperately to learn about new ideas, places, and things.

It’s so weird. . .I can’t remember what movie I saw last weekend or the person I had lunch with two weeks ago, but as I look at the young faces peering out from this photo, I can name practically every one.

There’s Betsy Fink (the flirt) and Tim Roach (the brain). Eddie Ludwick (the sensitive nerd) and Tina Waldo (“the frog”). Nancy Bowden (athletic and popular) and David Carey (hip). Sonya Villalba (quiet and beautifully ethnic) and Tony Cocoa (the bad boy). If memory serves, Tony (who was from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak) wore a black leather jacket and used to stand outside the gymnasium and beat up kids and smoke cigarettes. We all thought he was sinister and way cool.

Dr. Blaze Zucaro, a tough but talented teacher

Our teacher was Dr. Blaze Zucaro, a.k.a, Dr. Z. Other than our gym teacher, Mr. DiBatista (“Mr. DB” for short), Dr. Z was the only male teacher in the school and probably one of the few teachers who had earned his doctorate.

He was knowledgeable about every subject, but especially liked science and ancient history. One day he made us all stand outside in one of the playing fields while he drove by in his car honking his horn to prove the Doppler effect of sound.

He also taught us about Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Rosetta Stone. That world seemed so strange, foreign, and fascinating to my young mind.

He taught me so much and opened up my mind in so many ways. . .he was truly ahead of his time.

Dr. Z. knew a lot and expected a lot from the students in his class. A compulsive sort, and a chain smoker, I remember him always neatly dressed in a button-down white shirt and black pants. He was clean shaven with dark eyes and glasses; his curly hair was always neat and closely cropped.

When I e-mailed the only sixth-grade classmate I’ve remained in contact with over the years–Ella Warren Miller, a.k.a “Winky”–to tell her I was reminiscing and writing about Dr. Z., our memories were much the same:

“Here is what I do remember. He called me “Ella W.” I sat in the front row center (I was short) and Cathy Brandt sat behind me. He would pace across the front of the room and when he walked by me, he’d grab my nose between his index and middle finger. I used to worry that snot would come out on his hands!!

“We had Tina Waldo in our class and he kind of picked on her. He definitely played favorites and I was on his good side.

“He would brush his teeth in the sink in the back of the classroom after lunch. After tests, he had us read our grades out loud while he recorded them and we had to use Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog and Easy. Many kids were humiliated when they had to say their grades out loud.

“He taught us about Mesopotamia, and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. He loved ancient history. He was a hard teacher, but not if you took notes, studied (memorized), and paid attention. I got straight A’s that year from him – of course that changed when I hit seventh grade!

“I also remember him driving by leaning on his horn to demonstrate the Doppler effect. Do you remember that he had to leave school one day in an ambulance because he had a kidney stone? He had a bad back, too.

“We would come to school and ask one another, ‘Is Dr. Z. in a good mood or a bad mood?’

“We were totally tuned in to his ups and downs. When he was angry, he would ball up his fists by his sides and his eyes would bore into the offending person. He would yell and throw chalk when he was pissed.

“He had a great deep laugh, I remember him always wearing a white shirt and baggy pants like the Marx brothers. Mr. Fetter (the school’s principal) dealt him all of the troublesome boys because he was the only male teacher in the school except for Mr. DB.”

Dr. Z. married our dental hygienist, they had two sons, and later divorced.

Years later, I heard through the proverbial grapevine that Dr. Z. died of a brain tumor.

Sadly, I never got a chance to go back and thank him for being such a tough but talented teacher.

Do you have a Dr. Z. in your life, a favorite teacher who helped shape, guide, and inform the person you are today?

If so, isn’t it time to write a tribute to him or her. . and thank them for all they did in your life?

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Teacher

Families with a Missing Piece

Written by Braiden on November 19, 2012


Earlier this month, a wonderful article entitled, Families With a Missing Piece, ran in the Wall Street Journal. Several family members and friends forwarded it to me because the premise of the article was similar in so many ways to Five More Minutes With.

As the lead to the article says, “For adults who were children when their parents died, the question is hypothetical but heartbreaking: ‘Would you give up a year of your life to have one more day with your late mother or father?'”

The article goes on to state that one in nine Americans lost a parent before the age of 20. When polled, 57% of adults who lost parents during childhood said they would give up a year of their lives; a whopping 73% said their lives would be “much better” if their parents hadn’t died young; and 66% said “they felt like they weren’t a kid anymore” after their parents’ death.

Luckily, there are support groups, such as Comfort Zone Camp, a nonprofit provider of childhood and adult bereavement camps, that can help people work through their grief.

“Touchstones”, such as writing memories of their parents in journals, listening to favorite music, and looking at old videos with surviving family members, were cathartic ways that adults who lost their parents while they were children use to cope with their loss.

More fuel for the fire that Five More Minutes With can be a useful way to process grief and help deal with the loss of a parent or other loved one.

So won’t you take the time to share your Five More Minutes With story today?

Grandmother Looper

Written by Braiden on November 15, 2012

Grandmother Looper Photo

That’s me at three years old, looking unimpressed by and a bit dubious about the arrival of my baby brother, Brad. Grandmother Looper gazes at the newborn adoringly, while my mother beams proudly after the arrival of her newborn son.

Inez Ellard Looper, my mother’s mother and my maternal grandmother, was a real Southern belle, described as a wonderful woman or a real ball buster, depending on which family member you get to reminiscing about her.

Afraid I didn’t know her well enough to form my own opinion. But I do know she and I shared something in common. . .our love for the kitchen.

As a little girl, I loved watching her in the kitchen when we’d visit her home in Georgia, after the long train ride all the way from Philadelphia.

Biscuits were her forte, ooh-ed and aah-ed over by friends and family alike. My poor mother never did pick up the knack, a fact long-lamented by my biscuit-lovin’ father.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see her arthritic right hand, the one with the same crooked index finger as I have, as it moved in and out over the biscuit dough, kneading gently and knowingly until it was just the right mix of butter, flour, and whole milk.

Her biscuits were light as the proverbial feather. She claimed that Clabber Girl Baking Powder was her secret, as she preferred that brand to Calumet. I think her real secret weapon was making her biscuits with lots of love.

I also remember my grandmother’s cornbread, the thick batter poured into well-seasoned and  -greased cast-iron pans. The molds in the pans were in the shape of corn cobs, so the cornbread sticks were especially fun to eat (with lots of butter, of course!).

My grandmother was also well known for her Japanese Seven-Layer Cake, her rendition of the popular Lady Baltimore Cake. Grandmother’s version featured spicy layer cake with raisins, boiled sugar icing, pineapple, and copious amounts of coconut. I wish I had a slice right now.

So what would I tell my grandmother if I had five more minutes with her? I’d tell her I wish I had known her better and that she’d lived longer so that we could have been friends. I’d tell her about how watching her as a child may have inspired my cookbook and food-writing career.

What would I ask my grandmother if I had five more minutes?

I’d ask her for her recipe box so I could continue her legacy of love in the kitchen.

Grandmother Looper Photo

Mom, Grandmother, and me–gotta love the pillbox hats and the mink stoles, as un-P.C. as they are today

Grandmother Looper Photo

My grandparents, brother Brad, and me in front of our house in suburban Philadelphia circa 1962

Braiden Rex-Johnson Second Birthday

Toddler Braiden swiping some icing off the big birthday cake at Grandmother’s home in Dalton, Georgia. I don’t know what happened to the sideboard, mirror, or framed botanical prints, but one of the pink vases still graces my office. . .a fond reminder of Grandmother and childhood visits to Georgia.

Why Write a Five More Minutes With Story?

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on November 12, 2012

On April 24 in my Editor’s Notes, I shared thoughts from Carole, a fellow food professional who’s also a fellow writer and friend. Carole submitted stories about her mother and her dog, and I shared her experience of writing for the site and the way it helped her release pent-up feelings about two pivotal departed loved ones.

Here are some further thoughts from Carole, which were just too good not to share.

“Your site is such a great idea, I imagine many people will have epiphanies as I did. Come to think of it, it was more therapeutic than all of the psychoanalysis I’ve done!

“I was reflecting how this came about. I first saw your tweet about the featured story of the adopted girl’s first dinner with her father. I read the story (the picture of her in her little high chair sooooo precious!), but didn’t realize the site was yours—I just read the “first dinner with dad” story/post and moved on.

“Then I saw another Tweet from you about, which took me to the site itself, where I read all about your story and your dinner with Spencer and Bo-Bo and the emergence of the idea for the site.

“It was so charming and such a wonderful idea, I posted the info on my “Cheap” blog, which you saw and thanked me for…to which I responded and told you I was thinking about a story—vaguely assuming that I’d get to it ‘someday.’

“You responded again and encouraged me to write.

“It’s like I was getting nagged by God/TheUniverse/Karma about the site, to the point where I had to drop everything and write my stories.

“And it all started with a Tweet! Who knew?

“So yes, definitely tell people these ‘back stories.’ It will help them—as it did me—to bring it to the surface. It’s a wonderful way to use modern communication technology to do an age-old thing. Share stories and pass them on.”

Is Five More Minutes With Your Cup of Tea?

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on November 8, 2012

Since officially launching this Web site on March 26, 2010, I’ve had many people reach out to tell me they think it’s really an interesting idea, but they just can’t see themselves submitting a story.

Fair enough. As I mentioned in a prior post, this will not be everybody’s cup of tea.

But for others, Five More Minutes With has proved a real tool to help them deal with, and ultimately overcome, their grief.

One of these people is Carole, my friend, fellow writer, and total food professional. Here’s what she said about her experience of writing not one, but two stories for FMMW.

“Truth-be-told, I’ve had these two stories rumbling around in my head for a few years—a fretting kind of thinking, troubled and unresolved. Your new project was just the impetus I needed to write them down.

“I completely understand the woman/friend and the relative/man you mentioned (in one of your posts) who don’t want to/can’t contribute. No doubt their memories are either painful or just too emotional. Writing them down isn’t always cathartic; it can really hurt. But in my case, writing the stories at this point in time is hugely therapeutic. You have no idea how huge.

“I am not exaggerating when I say that it’s like a light bulb went on or a stuck door opened or a spring rain poured down, and now the sun is out after a storm and the world seems fresh and new.

“Seriously. I probably could not have written these stories a year ago. It is nothing short of providence that brought you to me at the precise moment that I was ready to, and had a reason to, finally write these stories down.

“In fact, I almost blew it off on Monday figuring I’d get to it sometime next week until you responded in ALL CAPS that you WOULD LOVE THAT (if I sent them in).

“So I stopped what I was doing and wrote them down and I cried the whole time (happy tears, tears of understanding, tears of ‘ah-ha’ I-get-this-now, and I can put these thoughts away and stop fretting).

“Today it feels as if a heavy, heavy weight has been lifted.

“So if anyone needs to be thanked, it is me who needs to THANK YOU for allowing me the opportunity to get it all out.

“So thanks! And keep up the good work.”

More stories from: Editor's Notes,Featured Story

A Young Man with Curly, Light-Brown Hair

Written by JoAnn Looper on November 5, 2012

Lee Looper FMMW

Top Photo, Lee and his fiancé, Cathy.

My Darling Lee,

I have chosen you because you were one of the middle children of four.  You arrived early, weighing only 4 ½ pounds so you were rushed to Chattanooga Children’s Hospital to stay until you weighed 5 pounds.

I remember the dear Swedish nurse who taught me how to care for you before bringing you home.  You were the only child who looked like my side of the family.

Thank you dear Lee for having such a sweet spirit and caring heart.  You rescued so many hurt critters and brought them home to nurse them back to health.  The one I remember most vividly was the darling little raccoon that you named Bandit.  You were the only one who could touch him.

The last Christmas that you were home, you helped me take down the Christmas tree and store the ornaments. Then we chatted in the garage as you were getting ready to return to the University of South Carolina for your junior year in college.  I cherish those last moments and big hug before you drove away.

I could see you on the screen of my imagination returning to the little rented cottage on Lake Murray.  You were able to keep your little boat and trailer as well as your beloved dog, Buckshot.  Your love of nature was evident in the choices that you made.  That has made me appreciate our beautiful rivers, mountains, sunsets and all the wonders of our world even more.

I often see a little green car, a guitar, or a young man with curly light brown hair and think of you.  We found your camera filled with gorgeous snapshots of the rising and setting of the sun over Lake Murray.

You and Cathy were making wedding plans even though you were not quite 20 years old.  It was exciting to hear the two of you making plans for your future.

That same weekend, the Lord called you and sweet Glenn Home in a terrible boating accident.  Our world fell apart and my heart melted within me.

I would not have survived if God had not comforted me with His precious promises.  I remember the Apostle Paul writing, “ …absent from the body and present with the Lord”.

I believe that you and Glenn were escorted into the presence of the Lord by angels.

I can’t wait to see you again, as well as your Dad and brothers!  And there are so many others!

I understand more clearly now that children are a gift from the Lord.  You were such a special gift.

We were so blessed to have you almost 20 years. I shall love you forever.

Editor’s Note: This story has particular importance and meaning to me. Lee Looper was my cousin. Gone too soon.

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Son

On the Road for Some Inspiration and Refreshment

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on November 1, 2012

We skipped any sort of real summer vacation this year and, while manning the Five More Minutes With website is very rewarding. . .not to mention inspiring. . .it is a lot of hard work.

So over the next few weeks (beginning next Monday), while we are away from the computer, we’ll be reposting some of our very favorite stories and editor’s notes from FMMW’s first year in existence–items you might have missed or simply don’t remember.

Hope you enjoy them as much as I have, and continue to do!

Braiden Rex-Johnson, Editor/Founder of

More stories from: Featured Story