Dear Momma

This letter was written by Gabrielle Holmes, one of my students, as a tribute to her mother.

Dear Momma,

I want to let you know how thankful I am to still have you in my life considering all the obstacles we have faced in life. Since Pawpaw died, you have stepped up and really showed me there is life at the end of the tunnel.

mother-429157_1280I want to thank you, Momma, for helping me with my children even though I know it’s a hassle for you. I want to thank you, Momma, for always inviting me and the kids over for dinner even though you don’t have to. Thank you, Momma, for being my biggest fan through every single stage of my life. I just want you to know I couldn’t have ask for a better cheerleader.

Thank you for becoming my best friend and being my biggest confidant. You always answer your phone with the same friendly attitude every time I call no matter if I call ten times in a row. You have shown me how to respect people and treat everyone with kindness no mater what. You let me know it wasn’t okay to judge people at a young age, and I respect you for that.

You have been my rock through breakups, life decisions, and new chapters. Thank you for teaching me the importance of hard work and the importance of getting your education so  I can have something in life. You have always told me if I wanted something in life, I have to work for it. Thank you for making me independent and telling me to never rely on anyone. Every single day I become more confident in myself.

My hope this Christmas season is for you to find joy, peace, and happiness, and let’s not forget to still cook! I just want to say I love you and thank you for being my backbone.

-Gabrielle

The gifts that make a difference

Today’s post is written by my student, Jordan Fryman, who wrote this essay in response to the question, “What are three gifts you’ve received in 2013, and why are they significant to you?”

gift-givingGrowing up I have received several gifts, both tangible and  intangible, but the older I get I have realized that the gifts I cannot physically hold are the ones that make the most difference in my life. This year has been full of many gifts that have changed my life in huge and very important ways, and I am extremely thankful for them. The gifts that I have been most thankful for this year are having more independence and freedom from my parents, the privilege of starting a college education, and my new Ford F-150 truck.

Since turning eighteen this year and having graduated from high school, my parents have started to give me a lot more freedom to make my own choices and do the things that I want. I have always been more of an independent kind of person and like to make my own decisions, so this is a gift that I really appreciate. I can now go out and spend time with my friends and do as I please because my parents trust that I will still be responsible. My parents have always been the more strict type of parents and like to know what I’m doing at all times, so to know that they believe I’ll do what’s right without them making me means a lot to me. They still continue to put more and more trust in me today, and that is something that I am very grateful for.

Graduating from high school was a great achievement that I was very proud of, but I knew I wanted to achieve more to reach my future goals and get a higher education at a four year school. I had plans of moving off to another town like Jonesboro or Conway as soon as the fall started, but the only thing that kept me from that was not having the financial requirements to go. I had received quite a bit of money from financial aid and scholarships that I had applied for, but it wasn’t half of the amount I needed to go to a four year school right away. My parents left me completely responsible for paying for college on my own, so after I realized I wasn’t able to afford moving off I decided to stay here in Batesville and go to UACCB. Here, my financial aid was enough to pay for all of my classes and books with money even left over for me to use each semester. I am extremely thankful for UACCB providing me with the financial aid I needed and the help of my classes and giving me the privilege of a college education.

The first type of truck I ever bought was a 1996 Dodge Dakota, and it was definitely not the best looking vehicle in the high school student parking lot. It cost me a little over a thousand dollars, but it was the only kind of vehicle I could afford at the time. My friends and my brother especially would always kindly pick on me about the truck and how it would always cause me problems. While driving, the headlights would sometimes go out and come back on again by themselves which was a problem no one could fix, and sometimes even got me pulled over. Also the truck was pretty old; it still had a tape player in it, but there was a tape that was jammed into it that we could never get out. Any time I got tired of the radio and switched it to the tape player, it would play the song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which is still stuck in my head to this day.

After dealing with this truck for so long, I was ready for a new one and determined to get one by the time I started college. I worked as many hours as I could during the summer and saved up all the money I made until I had nearly five thousand dollars. I looked all through newspaper ads and went to several car lots until I finally found an extremely nice truck for a price that I could afford. It was a 2001 Ford F-150 that looked brand new, and it was for only four thousand dollars. I bought it and sold my old one that day. My new truck causes me no problems like my first one did, and I really enjoy driving it. I am still very thankful for it to this day because of all the hard work and saving I put in to be able to get it as a gift for myself

Whether the gifts are physical or not they still bring joy to my life and help to make me a happier person. These gifts have really changed my life in good ways, and I am extremely grateful to the people who have provided them for me and helped me to get them.

Day 22: Dear Mrs. McGrath

*It’s hard to believe Day 22 of the Dear Gratitude project has arrived! Only eight more days of letters from eight more wonderful guest writers. Today’s post is by LaDonna Busby, a friend and fellow church member.*

This thank you is long overdue, and it is going to someone long dead.  Why do we wait to express our gratitude to those who cross our paths in this life?  We need to remember to say thank you, even if we have to send letters read by someone other than the intended person.  So here goes:

Dear Mrs. McGrath,

1ST GRADEI wonder if you ever knew what a wonderful gift you gave me – something that I have cherished my whole life long.  You introduced me to READING!  For that great gift, I want to say thank you, and I am sorry it has taken me over 50 years to express this gratitude.

Oh, the people and places you enabled me to meet and visit.  I still remember you patiently helping us to learn “Look Jane, look.  See Spot run.  Oh, look Jane, see Spot.”

Thus began my adventures with some sweet characters, some not so sweet.  Many are like dear friends when I think of them.  Amy, Beth, Meg and Jo from Little Women – each one a different personality woven into a story that young girls can enjoy even today.  I still have a treasured copy of that book.  There were so many others – The Bobbsey Twins (Bert and Nan, Flossie and Freddie); Laura Ingalls;  Hester Prynne from “The Scarlet Letter”, Jane Eyre; David Copperfield; Romeo and Juliet; Tom Sawyer, and the list could go on and on.

Not only did I get to know some wonderful characters, but I also got to travel without even leaving my cozy chair. Through reading I have traveled the world over, learning many interesting things, seeing so many beautiful places – even if only in my mind and imagination.  Of course not all places are wonderful, but I traveled where the books took me.  Nowadays, a lot of my reading is about places of trouble and sadness.  Places of war, poverty and cruelty – but I read on filled with hope that some time I will read that things have improved for some country or its people.

Your gift has blessed my life in so many ways.  Reading is so important to me.  I have been able to read the letters sent by my brother when he was in Vietnam.  There have been cards – birthday, anniversary, get well, thank yous, invitations, and notes of sympathy.  Just think what I would have missed if I had not been able to read.

I am able to read the Bible.  Through my reading of scripture, I have become stronger in my faith.  My faith is so important to me, and I cannot imagine being unable to read the Word of God.  The Bible is filled with stories, characters and places.  You can read it over and over, each time getting something new and powerful from the reading.

I passed on this gift to my daughter, Susan, who loves to read.  I don’t quite like her choice of books – she loves the author Stephen King – but I am happy to see her read.  Now we are passing this love along to her sons.  The oldest had quite a struggle learning to read – but thanks to a compassionate and caring teacher, like you, he conquered that mountain and now loves to read.  So, you see your gift to me just keeps going and going.

I wish I had gone back to Mitchell Elementary and thanked you.  When we are young, we don’t think to do things like that; it is only as we begin to mature that we realize what has been given to us.  Thank you, Mrs. McGrath, for being my 1st Grade teacher.  You were a kind and gentle woman who helped many children to begin a journey that will last their whole lives.  Please know, there is at least this one student who will forever be grateful.

Fondly,

LaDonna Wittke Busby

Day 17: Chère Madame Douglas

*Day 17 comes to us from my friend, role model, and mentor Samantha Hartley, Founder/President of Enlightened Marketing. I’m thankful for her letter today and even more for her willingness to spend time with me and to share her insights and experience. Samantha, the answer to the question you ask in your letter is a resounding, “Yes.”*

Chère Madame Douglas,

I’ve thought of you often over the years, but never so much as this year when I turned the age you were when you died. I wonder if I’ve had on anyone the impact you had on me. I wonder if I’d only been given this many years and not another day, if I could look back on my life as complete.

I believe that people come in and out of our lives, and each of them gives us a piece of the puzzle, or maybe they plant a seed. Sometimes they’re disguised as beggars or abusers or fools, so it isn’t obvious when they’ve blessed us. Certainly anyone who is a teacher is expected to give to their students.

Yes, you taught me literally, and taught me so much. But your impact came in the form of modeling a certain way of being: cultural immersion, passionate pursuit.

As a French teacher you moonlighted as a hostess at the French restaurant to perfect your language skills. You pursued your own career development (when?) and moved from the classroom to leadership in gifted programs. I was sorry that you left teaching but loved the dedication I saw in you. You even modeled the pursuit of unexpected hobbies, like belly dancing of all things.

Your intellectual diversity influenced me greatly. It’s amazing how much of my life can be traced back to seeds planted by you:

  • Gifted education and all the creative pursuits it opened up. I can’t imagine where I’d be had you not plucked me from the main stream and identified me as different.
  • French language and culture. Although my French is probably the worst of the languages I speak, I adore it. France has been a magical place to me and I trace my love of it all, including cuisine (which I actually studied formally in Paris) back to you.  Our visit with you to Restaurant Jacques et Suzanne created a little foodie-monster!
  • Metaphysics. No one in my life had ever talked about ideas, abstractions and philosophy as you did. It’s my whole life now, seeded by you.
  • Gandhi. You took us on a field trip to see the movie, which is my all-time favorite. Again, how is it that you are the one connected to something that changed my life? It’s uncanny.
  • Russia. Five years before I moved to Russia, a place of such transformation for me, you came to our classroom. I hadn’t seen you in ages and you were just back from Russia, full of wonder for the place and all its enchantment. Was that just to reinforce for me that I would go there?

What stands out to me about our relationship is that, as a teacher who nurtured and shaped my path more than any other, there are no gushing bursts of praise or affection. I always felt from you a kind of matter-of-fact endorsement of me as the best.  I wouldn’t be surprised if others felt that from you too.

You appeared in my life at pivotal moments with those seeds. Knowing this gives me such a strong sense of meaning and design, as if life isn’t random; as if there is a support system for me that swoops in just when I need it.

I saw you the last time just a year before your death. When I think of you there, acknowledging me with your quiet smile, I imagine you knew our exchange was completed. That you’d given all you had for me in this lifetime.

I believe we’ll meet again, Mrs. Douglas, and when we do, I’ll share my amazement at the complexity of your role in my life. You’ll laugh at how long it took me to realize how interwoven you were into the tiniest yet most significant details of my journey.

And I’ll thank you so much for launching me. I will thank you for blessing me with your warmth and confidence. And for whispering clues about what was to come.

Merci, Mme. Douglas. Thank you.

Merci et au revoir – until we meet again,

Samantha

Day 2: Dear darling boys

*Thanks to my generous and zany friend Amber Hood for serving as today’s contributor to my November “Dear Gratitude” letter writing project. Each day in November, a different writer will share a letter to someone or something she is thankful for.*

Darling boys in my class—

teenage boy for amber blogI have first hand knowledge of what it’s like to be a 7th grade girl. It isn’t easy, and now I know you all, and I love you all, and when I am not crazy mad at you for nearly poking someone’s eye out with a pencil (yes, I know he needed to borrow it, but that doesn’t mean throw it; that means pass it or hand it), then far too often my heart is breaking for you as I see you face your struggles.

When the girl you like laughs at you or when you say, “My uncle died last year, and sometimes I still get really sad about it,” I don’t know how to make it better. And it’s these times when I feel so unsure of my ability to teach you or to help you grow, but just when it gets really dark, I see you reach out to the new kid who is not very cool, and I see you boys take responsibility for your actions with more dignity than most grown men, and I know it isn’t my job to make you into the person you should be but to be your number one fan as you realize it on your own.

I am so grateful for you sweet boys for teaching me so much more than I could teach you.  Some days I think my life is pretty tough trying to help you fellows read better when you’d all rather bounce around my room, but I have these little moments, like when you make an A on your geography project, and I’m so proud of you not just because I know that class is hard but mostly because I know you probably walked to the dollar store and used your own money to get the poster board you needed.  I’m in awe of the way you treat the lady at the store on the corner with respect when you buy a coke and chips from her even though she scowls at you and watches you closely assuming you will steal from her because your skin is dark, and you look like a man even though you are only 13.

Thank you, my brave and clever and kind and funny and scrappy young men. You give purpose to my days and so much hope that we’re all going to be okay.

Want to support hard-working 7th grade readers? Please visit my classroom wish list. http://www.walmart.com/giftregistry/gr_detail.do?registryId=80522943011It’s no secret that teachers often spend their own money on what their children need. This is especially true in schools with a high poverty rate. Please consider spending a few dollars so that these young men (and my sweet girls, too) can have more books to read, more pencils to chew on, more after school snacks for those who need them, and more paper to create some of their first works of story and poetry. You’ll serve as an excellent reason for me to get them to learn how to write thank you notes.

 

 

My mother’s Emmy Award winning moment

*Special thanks to Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy for serving as today’s guest writer. Always a pleasure to read her work!*

          Timing was everything.  The sound of The Huntley-Brinkley Report emanating from the television in our living room was my ticking clock, each word a precious second flying by.  Night after night as they delivered the evening news to the nation, I sat at the chrome table with the marbled green top, the smell of spaghetti and meatballs, fried chicken, vegetable beef soup, or whatever my mother had cooked for supper that night lingering in the kitchen. I gripped the yellow No. 2 pencil, pressed my lips together, and tried to copy the elegantly formed letters of my mother’s handwriting.

   

Teresa with her sister, Liz Burns Glenn, and her mother, Madeline Norris Burns, at the Arkansas (now Lyon) College library

Teresa with her sister, Liz Burns Glenn, and her mother, Madeline Norris Burns, at the Arkansas (now Lyon) College library

  I was a third grader who had landed in the classroom of a teacher who routinely screamed at us, and, on one occasion, had tied an unruly student in her desk with a jump rope.  This teacher was rumored to have deliberately turned the stone of her ring palm-side in and slapped a former student’s face in order to make a more marked impression.  I believed that rumor, for she had once yanked me from my seat and whacked my bare leg so hard she left behind the imprint of her hand.  Just being in that teacher’s classroom caused my muscles to constrict and my palms to sweat.  Unfortunately, my constant state of unease led me to bear down too hard when I wrote, making my writing dark and prone to smudging.

     Up to this point in my schooling, I had never gotten a grade below a B on my report card.  That year, I received a steady string of C’s in penmanship.  My mother was typically a stickler for good grades, but when those C’s began appearing on my report card, she told me to do my best and not worry so much about the grade I got.  Even when the C’s dropped to a C- during one grading period, she didn’t reprimand me.

    “I don’t want to make a D,” I sobbed as I handed her the offending report card.

    “You won’t,” my mother reassured me.  “I’ve got a plan for improving your penmanship.”

   My mother’s plan was for me to copy her handwriting, five pages each weeknight for the next six weeks.  If I completed my work before my favorite television shows came on after the evening news, I could watch them.  If not, those Beverly Hillbillies would have to exasperate and outsmart the city folk without me.  The cast of Lost in Space would have to escape the villains of the cosmos without this small earthling cheering them on.  And worst of all, I would miss the antics of that adorable sheepdog in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.  Desperate to go to places where there were no mean third grade teachers, I filled up those five pages night after night as Chet Huntley and David Brinkley droned on about the escalating war in Vietnam and the rising racial tensions at home.

     When the report cards came out following my six weeks of diligent handwriting practice, I couldn’t wait to see how well I’d done in penmanship.  Certain that I had raised my grade to at least a B, I slid my card out of its manila envelope.  Next to the last grading period’s C- was a C+.  That afternoon, I trudged home, the air around me so heavy I could barely breathe.

     “How’d you do?” my mother asked, meeting me at the door to our house, her brown eyes bright with anticipation.

      I handed her my report card.

     She looked at it, her face never displaying the disappointment she must have felt.

     “Oh, well,” she said with a shrug.  “I guess your teacher just thinks of a C as average, and she gave you a C+, so she must think of you as above average.”

    

Teresa's mother, Madeline Norris Burns, receiving the Lyon College Friend of Education Award, 1999

Teresa’s mother, Madeline Norris Burns, receiving the Lyon College Friend of Education Award, 1999

In that moment, the air was infinitely more breathable.  Without criticizing my teacher, my mother had taught me the vital lessons of tenacity and acceptance. I don’t believe any of my favorite television programs won Emmy Awards that year; but, if they gave Emmys to teachers, my mother would have gotten one for her performance that afternoon.  In fact, her mantel would be filled with awards for recognizing and responding to so many teachable moments both at home and in the junior high school classrooms where she taught for thirty years.

   The next year, I moved on to the classroom of a fourth grade teacher who read us Beverly Cleary books and played peppy music so we could do shoulder-wiggling/feet-jiggling exercises in our seats on rainy days. She often gave us assignments to write about things that occurred in our lives.  For one assignment, I wrote about my family’s vacation to California.  Though it would have been thrilling to have written about seeing one of my television heroes out in Hollywood, I’m sure I stuck to the real-life events of playing with my aunt and uncle’s Pekingese pups and riding in the teacups at Disneyland with my mother.      

     When the teacher returned my paper, she paused at my desk and said, “You have such beautiful handwriting.”

     At the top of the page was a fat red A followed by a comment that read, “Sounds like a lot of fun!”

     I raised my eyes to meet my teacher’s smiling face.

     “Thanks,” I said. “My mother taught me how to write like that.”

   

   

 

Talking her off the ledge

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

I remember the first semester of my freshman year of college. After a whirlwind week full of orientation activities, including dances, parties, receptions, matriculation, and workshops, I settled into my tiny dorm room with my roommate who had a real love for brewing beer and listening to opera music. I wanted to make friends, do well in my classes, work part-time to pay for necessities, and spend time with my boyfriend. But finding the time to do it all was difficult. Ultimately, I spent most of my first semester holed up in my dorm room or a study room on campus, cramming and memorizing and reading and writing. Having graduated from a less than stellar itsy bitsy high school, I knew I had a learning curve if I planned on maintaining a good GPA at the difficult, private, liberal arts college I’d selected to attend.

I couldn’t find the mean between extremes my first semester. I made all A’s, but I didn’t meet many new people. I didn’t have much time to relax. I don’t even recall going to many events on campus or watching a movie.

Second semester was a different story. The pendulum swung back toward the middle. I hung out with people on the weekends. I danced my heart out. I made friends with new people, sat around doing nothing in the quad but eating apples and watching grass grow, and skipped class a few times. I still kept my grades up, but I stopped obsessing about having a perfect GPA. I just lived my life as a college student and enjoyed it.

This morning I talked to my favorite college freshman. I heard my 18 year-old self in her desperate voice, trying to balance work, campus life, friends, family, and course work. I remembered the overwhelming feeling of having too much to do and never enough time to do it. I remembered the constant stress of feeling that my life could not possibly get busier.

This morning while my 9 month-old baby napped, I shared a little of what I have learned about balance, eating the elephant one bite at a time, making a budget and living below my means, learning to ask for help when it’s needed, prioritizing long-term educational success over short-term employment, lowering expectations, and making new friends.

But I tried to bite my tongue, too.

My experience has taught me that advice is ample. Ultimately, though, the lessons I have learned were learned by doing, not listening or talking. “Show, don’t tell” is not just a great writing tip I procured from Dr. Tebbetts in Advanced Composition. It’s a way of life.

Talking to someone who really listens is good. Praying with someone who loves you and lets you fall helplessly into the arms of a loving God is priceless.

Sometimes talking someone off the ledge doesn’t require many words.

Just outstretched hands.