Monday, February 23, 2015

Whatta Day. And It's Only 3:00 PM

Somehow, after running errands I found myself at Subway for a quick roast beef sandwich. I had settled into my booth, ready to attack the day's crossword puzzle. Now...mind you I looked like a hot mess. Hurriedly I had thrown on my youngest son's old corduroy jacket from his middle school days, skipped make-up and had slipped my feet into 'comfy but ugly' shoes. I did not appear to the general public to be anyone who had much on the ball.  Who would have thought that  I held two college degrees, an aerospace endorsement, and knew that an APU stood for 'auxiliary power unit' and MECO was NASA-speak for 'main engine cut off'. Impressed? Let me tell you this: only minutes earlier I was befuddled on how to get the battery and memory disk out of my digital camera. It is still not back in correctly. And, about two months ago, my son-in-law watched as I was confused by their salt and pepper shakers. His comment, "And you wanted to go into space?" shook the room with laughter. My point is this: as Winnie the Pooh says, "I am a bear of little brain."

Back to my roast beef sandwich. I was surely minding my own business when a gal walks in with a big smile and asks the employee if she can just sit down and charge her phone. Permission granted. She plugged into the outlet, pulled up her hoodie, placed her head on her big purse, and appeared to go to sleep. If you are thinking, "I thought you said you were minding my own business..." Umm, I was. That's as close as it gets for me. I like to think I am a scientist always observing human behavior. My sister says I'm just plain nosey. Sigh.

Soon, I could tell the girl was sobbing. Yet she did so as privately as one could. Knowing that I had tissues in my purse (my mother's good example) I slid out of my booth and offered her several. I then realized I had put my arm around her and was asking why she was so sad. Her reply?
                                                      "I'm just tired of living."
Haven't we all known that hopeless, helpless vortex of despair? If not, you are living a golden existence. I asked her age and when she said, "I'm almost twenty-one" I replied that she was too young to give up yet. However, after buying her lunch and listening to her story, I thought, "Nope. Your twenty-one years makes my fifty plus years look like fluff." You know what she lacked in her life? Someone who loved her, valued her, and worried if she even woke up. Pretty big stuff for this young gal. It was obvious that she was smart, articulate,  knew how to avoid unsafe situations, and accepted her lot as "It is what it is." She laughed at herself for not being able to donate plasma due to a cut on her hand. She should have known better before she walked several miles to the donation center. I asked her the going rate for plasma centers: they base it on your weight--the first time you get $25 and the second time you are paid $45 and you can donate twice a week. I did not mention that I too, had considered this type of income after my divorce.

I brainstormed ways I could help her and discussed options for housing; this is an essential first step to get on your feet. Without an address, social services--especially interventions for physical and mental illness are hard to come by. I took her by my church to show her where our Thrift Store was located, and we exchanged numbers. I offered her my home to shower, rest, but after discussions, we decided that the best thing was a ride to 38th Street. She was not real sure she wanted to meet my two dogs! I laughed at that.

But, before we left Subway, another lost lamb sought us out. As we sat there, this guy approached my new pal and asked if he could use her cell phone. She was anxious to help him out. He slid in next to me and his story unraveled. With tattoos covering his face, she asked him why he had 'tatts' on his face? He replied that his mother had asked him the same thing when he got home from prison. The musical notes on his temple, were kind of cute, the big cross on his cheekbone a bit overdone, but the phrase emblazoned on his forehead, "I trust no bitches" was truly a conversational piece. He placed a call to his mother (begging her for food) and explained to my new friend, that he got that tattoo to get back at a girl that broke his heart. I looked at him and said, "Dude...I hate to say it, but she got the last laugh on that one." He smiled and said, "Yeah that is what my probation officer said. I can't get a job or anything." Sure am betting he will not get any new girlfriends either. Soon, he was off and my new lunch companion resumed our conversation.

By now, it was 12:00. You may think that this was a crazy day...but for me it just is kind of typical. So many emotions, situations, pop-ups from the past, questions for the future. And maybe...a little hope in a small corner of Subway. So, I have made a new friend. Or possibly, taken on someone else to care for. But seeing that young girl privately crying reminded me of my own children who have been standing on the ledge. I could not ignore it. Perhaps this is why my mother taught me to carry kleenex and band aids in my purse. To befriend the stranger.

After I had taken to her requested location, I was heading back down Emerson Avenue to my home. That is when the dog caught my eye. On the porch of a deserted house, he looked like my former pup, Atticus. Awwww. But this pup was in luck! I had gone to Family Dollar and had dog food in my car.
Using a nice plastic bag that said, 'Pacific Whale Foundation/ (which matched the t-shirt I was wearing---my son's girlfriend's gift from Maui where she does indeed work with whales), I loaded it up with dog food. This was Atticus' look-alike's lucky day. He barked but did not lunge. He came close as I dumped it out on the driveway. Ever thankful that I did not get shot at or bitten, I returned to my car. My work was done.

Whatta day.

No Ordinary Book on the Shelf

You already know that I brake for thrift stores. There's nothing better than roaming down the aisles looking at odd items and seeing how I can 're-purpose' them or finding gems that adorned my grandparents' homes back in the day. There is something about seeing potential in another person's cast-offs that gets my creative neurons all aglow. But this story is one for the books. Truly.

So, here I am searching for a certain Golden Book of my childhood, when I see a reading textbook that I LOVED teaching from. Every now and then a seasoned educator will latch onto a publisher that amazingly hits the standards and objectives with a great array of solid material. Such was the case of this reading text I had used with fifth graders at Southport Elementary. As I spied that beloved series, I smiled and automatically the titles, characters, themes, genres began parading through my head. So many stories, such little time. I grabbed the book off the shelf, wondering how this old text had found its way here. Then the magic began. 

I opened the book to see "Mrs. Hall" scrawled in pencil on the facing page. What?? I'm a 'Mrs. Hall' and I was about to remark, "Hey, you had me at 'hello' but it gets better! I look on the inside cover and there were the names of 10-12 of my former students! My classroom number of 45 was written in the appropriate box, and there were 'my kids' and the year that they belonged to me. I was under their spell once again. I stood in that thrift store as if I were adrift in the ocean...taking attendance and seeing each of my kiddos raising their hands, smiling their quirky smiles, and making me earn my pay. 

I held that book as if it were a holy thing, and took account of each child who had obediently written their name in the book. After purchasing the book and babbling on about how I had taught from this very book and these were my very students---boring everyone who had to listen to me carry on--I went home and sat on my porch and went through the names of ten year olds who had suddenly morphed into adults. Believe it or not, one girl's name who used that book for an entire school year is a Facebook friend of  mine; she is married, has a daughter, and lives in Florida. One young man is now a highly acclaimed high school educator himself---and I just saw him in May-- when we both were honored by graduating seniors! One gal had played the part of 'Clara' in the Nutcracker Ballet at Clowes Hall, on the campus of Butler University. Yeah...she had played that part when she was MY fifth grader---that's how good of a dancer she was then. Perhaps Google will lead me to her.

I know that the Disney tune, "It's a Small, Small World" fits this blog perfectly. How that book from 1990-2002 made it to me is unknown. But it truly warmed this teacher's heart to 're-unite' with likes of:
Tommy M., Courtney W., Delaina W., Daniel J., Jermaine J., Zac E., Kristen M., Chris P., Liz J, Tiffany S., Andy E., and Sara C.

I said a prayer for each of you, and my heart smiled as the classroom memories spilled out of that book. May each of you enjoy chasing your dreams and living out the ongoing stories of your souls.

Oh...the title of this textbook? DreamChasers. An ordinary book on the shelf that made this teacher's day extraordinary.