The Teacher

For all you teachers. Thank you for what you give us. It is priceless.

The neighborhood kids got together and built a snowman. When he was good and done, they gave him a hat and a pipe, two button eyes and a nose and a smile. Just as they finished him up, Miss Morgan called the kids into her house for hot chocolate and  treats. Miss Morgan always made the bestest of treats and her hot chocolate was heavenly. Marshmallows and pieces of chocolate melting in the hot milk.

Miss Morgan never had kids of her own. She had been a fifth grade teacher. One of the best at her school. She did fifty years there and then retired. When she retired, kids and parents and grandparents came to the ceremony. And the whole school turned out. There were so many that they moved the event to the town’s theater. It was packed.

Many of the attendees had tears in their eyes. She was so beloved. It was a two-hour ceremony.

First there was the choral society, singing several of her favorite songs. Then a fifth grader came up, gave her a hug and said a few words of praise. Then an eighth grader. Then a senior. Then a young woman in her twenties. Then a man in his thirties. Then a woman in her forties. Then one of her first students stepped up to the podium.

“I became a teacher,” Maggie Heller said. “And now I am finishing my thirty-fifth year. I’ve loved every minute of it. You may not remember me but I stole some money from your purse. Instead of punishing me, you told me that you brought the money just for me.” Maggie started to cry. The principal of the school went over to her and comforted her, then she continued. “That forgiveness has carried me through so many hard things. When I saw the look in your eyes, it wasn’t of disappointment. It was with love. If you could love me even though I did what I did, I could love myself. And your final hug that year. I will never ever forget that. Thank you, Miss Morgan. For teaching me how to be a good human being.”

Finally the superintendent of schools walked to the podium. “Miss Morgan….you know I don’t even know your first name. HR has kept it a state secret all these years.” Tears filled his eyes. He had been a Miss Morgan student too. Then he swiped them away and continued. “Your name is famous throughout the state. For your excellence in teaching and for the quality you have brought to our children. In your name, we have created a scholarship fund and now we have a special surprise. Miss Morgan, please step up here.”

The Teacher rose from her seat and walked to the podium. Standing beside the superintendent, she turned to the man who was once her student. He said, “As our gift to you, we have an all-expense around-the-world cruise. Thank you for all you have given us and will continue to give us.” He hugged her, then handed her a dozen roses and the envelope with the details for the trip.

Miss Morgan looked out at the filled auditorium. Tears were in her eyes too, but she held them back and gave her friends a smile. All she could get out was, “Thank you, And I love you all. Each and everyone of you.”

She spent a year seeing the world. Then she returned to her house on Green Street. Each afternoon one child or another dropped by for tutoring or a story or some advice. On the weekends, the neighborhood kids came to her house for treats. Her door was never closed to a child.

The neighborhood kids gathered in her dining room and consumed their treats. Miss Morgan looked at them all gathered around the dining room table, laughing and swapping jokes and jabbering away as children do. She poured a cup of hot chocolate, then she sneaked outside and went over to the snowman. His smile had fallen into a frown.

“Well, Irving,” she said as she sat the chocolate and cookies in front of him. “Your name is Irving, isn’t it? Of course, it is.”

The snowman stood there all silent.

Miss Morgan brushed some dirt from his shoulder. “You know, you’re a handsome fellow. If I was a snowgirl, I would date you. I bet you’re a good dancer. I love to dance.”

She stood there for fifteen or so minutes. Then she kissed him on the cheek and returned to the children.

As he melted later in the month, Irving remembered Miss Morgan’s final words. “Oh,” she whispered, her whisper so quiet no one else in the whole wide world could hear her. “Just between you and me. My name is Roberta.”

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In memory of those who stopped along their way

As 2017 closes, I’ve been thinking of all those who stopped along their way and reached out to me. Those outside of family who made an impact of me.

Of those teachers who gave me a little extra. My fourth-grade-speech teacher, Mrs. Hennis, who saw potential in me when no one else did. Mrs. Duke who sold me on the Greeks. The conservative Mr. Norton who believed that democracy required honest debate and that no one side had all the answers. Mr. Hickman, who gave me a chance to read books that stretched my imagination.

Of my high school friends, David Ruhlman, Dave Dupuy, Bobbie Ann Ward, Warren Walter, who came to my rescue when I needed it most. Of Kay Hines who taught me what it meant to be gay. Of Wendell and Ruth Rieck who were the very image of hospitality. Of Ray Armstrong and Mary Ellen Barret whose lives were examples of faith and wisdom.  And of George Rieck, the best of friends.

These are folks that cared for me enough to touch my life in a special way. I’m sure each of you have someones who stopped for you. For just a few moments, close your eyes and remember them as you listen to Greg Lake’s “Footprints in the Snow”:

Near 500 words: The man in the glass booth

“Say what?” the man in the booth asked the woman. The mic he speaks into muffles his voice and the words come out garbled.

“Say what?” she asked. The words from her end come out garbled. It’s not the best of mics.

Neither heard everything the other said. Isn’t that like life these days? How much do we hear from another person? Before you know it, we’ve jumped to all sorts of conclusions. If this example of two strangers throwing their words at each other proves anything, it proves maybe we are losing our hearing. Unlike our ancestors.

Our ancestors heard everything. They had to. It was pure survival. But isn’t listening required for a good relationship. We get to the point with our partner that we think we already know what they will say. We’ve heard the pattern of the conversation from their end for so long that it has embedded into our brain. No wonder we have gone to texting.

Perhaps this is what hell is like. We approach someone there and we ask a question. Our voice is so muffled that the other person can’t understand us. “Say what?” they say.

“Say what?” we respond, thinking if we could only text. Our fingers are going crazy, making the motions of texting. Maybe. Maybe not.

If we could only listen. If we would only listen. Unfortunately there is so much noise going on in our brain. If haiku has taught me anything, it’s taught me this. How little I listen.

Oh, sure. I hear. My hearing ain’t that bad.

So what happens to the woman and the man in the ticket booth behind the glass at the train station? Or at the gas station?

The woman, instead of getting angry, stops and thinks, then she slows down her words and gives them voice. She smiles and says, “When’s the next drawing?”

The man behind the glass gets it. “At eleven tonight.”

She slips him a five-dollar bill. “One quick pick.”

Finally, he understands. The two of them have adjusted the tone of their voices to the mic and to the listener. He prints her a ticket and slides it through the window with her change.

She smiles, turns and walks away, putting the ticket to her dreams into her pocket.

A man, in his thirties, comes to the booth, asks when the next drawing will be.

“Say what?” the man behind the glass asks.

Thirty shakes his head and walks off. He’ll go elsewhere, perhaps to one of those vending machines for lottery tickets.

Denise

Denise had a cousin who was nothing if not a dreamer. Denise’s cousin died of a broken heart.

Denise decided that was not for her. She had big dreams. But nobody in the family believed her. Not her brother, not her sister. They went their separate ways, found spouses, settled down. Each had a son and a daughter. Her parents liked their children’s spouses. And when they had kids, they made her mom and dad so happy. They now had grand children to spoil.

Denise’s mother kept asking, “When are you going to get a husband and have kids. All those guys you hang out with are gay. They are not husband material. Find a guy. You’ll be a happy Mr. and Mrs.” Her dad said nothing. He wasn’t a talker.

Now Denise liked her sister-in-law well enough. They went shopping and laughed and gossiped the way women do. Her brother-in-law, Marvin, only talked politics. The president this. The president that. And he was loud about it. “Oh, that’s just Marvin,” her sister excused her husband. “He’s got a good heart and he cares about the world.”

Right, Denise thought.

The times she saw her brother and his wife became fewer and fewer. They seemed to drift away from the family. Denise thought it was because of Marvin. He was a hater. Little did she know that her brother’s father-in-law had cancer. Her brother and his wife were helping her mother.

Denise always liked her nieces and her nephews. They seemed like good eggs. Her brother’s daughter especially. She had big dreams like Denise. That was when Denise decided to be a role model and really pursue her dreams. She had talent. She knew she did.

So she was going to New York and become a Broadway set designer. It had been something she wanted since she could remember. When she was seven or eight, she watched a tv show and she wasn’t at all interested in the actors. She wondered how the sets were made.

Oh, sure she liked boys but they were never as handy dandy with a hammer as she was. She could drive a nail into a board, and she could drive it straight. When she went into high school, she joined the drama club. Her drama teacher was sure she had the goods to be a set designer par excellence.

After high school, she let go of her dream. Her mother convinced her that life was too scary. She had to make a living, everybody told her. So she went off to nursing school and became a nurse. It was the easy way out. Dreams were risky, and they were scary. The closest she came to Broadway was the Community Theater.

Now she was in her early thirties. She finally had her education loans paid off. It had been a hard scrimp. She saved and lived with her parents to do it.

Seeing her niece one day made up Denise’s mind. It was now or never. She decided it was time to grow up and prove she had the goods. Be the woman she was meant to be.

On her last night at home, she and her mother had a fight. The next morning her mother didn’t come down to wish her good luck. But her father gave her a ride. In the car, her handed her $1000. “Just in case,” he said.

She wanted to cry but she didn’t. She pushed back her tears.

“Call me at the office if you need help,” her father said. At one time, he’d had dreams. He had not had the courage to pursue them. So he knew what his daughter was doing and how hard it was. But it was the right thing to do.

They pulled up at the bus station and went inside. Her dad bought the ticket. It was a round trip ticket just in case. Denise refused it. So her dad paid for a one-way ride to the big city. Then they hugged.

He left her sitting on a bench waiting for the bus.

“Man, I can do it,” she told herself, caught the bus and left town. As she rode the bus, she thought about all the stages of her life. That was then. Now she had the future ahead of her. She was thirty-two and just starting. And she realized that it is never too late to pursue her dreams.

The Uglies

Let’s face it. We all have a bit of the Uglies in us. When I say Uglies, I mean Ug-a-lug-lies.

From time to time, those Uglies have to burst loose. There’s no two ways about it. Oh, sure. Later we’ll do a Flip Wilson and say, “The devil made me do it.” That’s ‘cause we’re embarrassed we let our dumbass show.

When we see others do the Uglies, we don’t let them off the hook that easy. We want them to get their just desserts. Either that or some of that instant karma John Lennon sang about.

This goes even more so for fairy tales. We want the Wicked Witch of the West to melt. We want the mirror to shatter on the Wicked Queen. She wanted Mr. Mirror to give her the fake news that she was the fairest in the land. We want He-who-must-not-be-named to have his name stamped on his rear-end. And not just stamped. Branded. Ouch! That’s got to hurt.

Nowhere along the way do we consider that they may not be villains and that they might have a bad case of the Uglies themselves. If we give them a chance, those Uglies might wear off and these folks might turn out to be decent human beings. Who is to say that Harry Potter didn’t have a very good press agent. Once Voldemort was branded with that He-who-must-not-named label, there was no getting off scot free for him.

It may be that Humpty Dumpty woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Or that the king had the Uglies and pushed Humpty off the wall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put the Dump back into Humpty Dumpty. At least, that’s what the king told the press. And we know the reason the Chicken crossed the road. She was run out of Dodge with her own set of Uglies.

Consider the Cinderella story. We want Cinderella’s wicked step mom to lose. And not just loose, but loose big time. After all, her daughters are real works of art. They’re haughty and persnickety. In fact, that’s their names, Haughty and Persnickety. And Step Mom is not interested in love. She’s only interested in the cash. Bet you’d kick the romantic out of your head if you were as poor as a dormouse and had four mouths to feed.

Let’s just consider Step Mom’s side of things. She marries a guy because he’s got a steady job. Her first husband ran off with the Spoon. He left her with two daughters who were always crying, “Feed me.” She met Cyndi’s dad at the local Parents Without Partners. They hit it off. Before you can say Abracadabra, they did a Vegas and wallah! Problem solved. Then Dad had to go and get himself hit by a truck. Of course, he didn’t have any life insurance. The only income Step Mom had coming in was the alimony payments from her first husband.

Since the girls were about to turn eighteen, Step Mom had to find a new source of income. She got herself a real estate agent certification and started flipping houses. Six months later, the floor fell out of the housing market. About that time, both of her daughters needed glasses.

On top of everything else, Cyndi was a handful with her “just wait till I tell my uncle” attitude. What was a mother to do? This was reason enough for Step Mom to let her Uglies burst lose. There was a ball and she was darned sure that one of her daughters was going to hook up with the prince. Come hell or highwater. And under no condition was she going to allow Cyndi to take their shine away.

For every nickel with a heads, there’s a tails to be considered. After all, it was a rich man who said, “Money can’t buy happiness.” The same fellow who said, “In God we trust. All others pay cash.”

If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it still may not be a duck. It may be an actor who takes his role as a duck seriously. What else can you expect from a method actor? You never know what a person is going through when they are acting out their Uglies.

And, for God’s sake, do not, under any condition, allow your Uglies to burst through the dam. Best thing is to get ready to duck. That guy, who passed you three seconds ago, may have stolen a leprechaun’s pot of gold. The lep is trying to run him down. If you chase him, you may regret it. He could burst your windshield or run you down.

Either that or he has a gub. “A gub?” you ask. “What’s a gub?” That is a whole ‘nother story.