Artists Paint with Pictures; Writers Paint with Words

Remembrance: For Dad

There was a time of sadness,

when all my thoughts were taken up

with missing you,

when the hurt was very new

and deep within me.

Now

there is mostly

fond remembrance,

snapshots

of your caring, sentimental,

understanding ways,

although you are gone

and a part of me—the child—

is no more.

But many things—

a jaunty hat with feather trim,

rosy cheeks,

a glimpse of twinkling eye,

can conjure up your image

in a minute.

I see you—and am sad.

In Memory of Copper

You always were a runner.

That’s how we met. You were running away from something, and it landed you in the SPCA after the dog catcher on Onondaga Hill found you. Your face was scratched and your ear had a small hole in it…

Always a survivor.

How many times I wished I could have asked you: tell me about your former owners. I don’t think they were kind to you, because you put your tail between your legs way too often. When I approached you to pat your head, you rolled over submissively on your back, tummy up, with your legs in the air. You shook at the slightest sound of thunder. That always made me think you had been an outside dog.

Anyway, you found your moment to escape. I’m glad you did…for both of us.

Mine was my French teacher at St. Mary’s High School in New Haven, Connecticut.  Sister Pierre was tall, charming, beautiful, and “word on the street” was that she had been Miss Michigan in the Miss America pageant  before she became a nun.
I loved her because she made me feel brilliant in French—she believed in us all so much, and gave us incredible confidence to believe in ourselves, and the desire to love French and the French culture. By the second or third year, we spoke only French during class.
She made us feel special.
Beyond a wonderful classroom experience, Sister Pierre “gifted” me with a lifelong love of French artists like Monet and Degas, Debussy’s music, haute couture, and French food.
With my classes, I have always sought to emulate Sister Pierre’s love for, and confidence in, her students.

Always in my heart . . .

No teacher should ever have to experience the death of a student. . .

In my life’s work of teaching, I have experienced it, though,— four times.

In my first year of teaching, Dawn was my classroom and after-school helper. She and I both benefited from the relationship.  We spent many afternoons together, after the rest of the students had left for the day—she, cleaning the chalk boards and straightening the room, me, grading the latest set of social studies tests and English journals.  Sometimes we’d chat, sometimes we’d enjoy a companionable silence. I’d drive her home afterwards.  You could do things like that back then.

I married the next year and moved far away from that Connecticut town.  One day my mother called me on the phone and reported that Dawn’s body had been found in a field, halfway between school and home.  Murdered.

Robin entered my life at an exclusive private school in Tennessee. She loved to write, especially poetry, and she wrote beautifully.  Robin was small and frail, suffering from cystic fibrosis. We all knew that her life, even at age 13, had a finite end. It came the second year I knew her.  Her poetry lived on.

Bree didn’t begin school that year with the rest of her 7th grade classmates. She was in New York City, being treated for the cancer that had first been diagnosed when she was in second grade. A valiant fighter, she attended school that year from time to time (maybe 8 or 10 days in all), whenever her health and treatments allowed. She always asked what work she had missed, and how she could make it up. I always told her.

One of my colleagues said he didn’t want to get to really know her, as death seemed inevitable, and might come soon, and that would be too hard to take.

We all grieve, and prepare for grief, in different ways.

For me, on the few days she did attend school, I bent down and looked fully into her sparkling brown eyes.  I wanted her to be someone I’d never forget–that, in part, would be the measure of her young life–my knowing her, my remembering her.

Bree didn’t die that year.  She fought the cancer valiantly for two more years.  In her short life, she inspired her teachers and her peers.

Watching TV one morning, I heard a name, a name unusual enough that I thought it HAD to be one of my former students. He’d been in an altercation outside a restaurant, called to the scene by his girlfriend, who felt she was being harassed by another patron. Soon his high school graduation picture flashed on the screen, the handsome, grown-up version of the little second grader I’d loved, confirmed. It was Wes. Stabbed to death at 18.

A great kid, a star athlete, a good student, a kind person –that’s what the reporters were saying. I was thinking — a wonderful little guy with great style, especially for a 7 year old, beaming smile, beautiful blue eyes, eager to learn all there was to learn, a beloved only child, adored by his parents.

I stood in line for three hours to pay my respects.   There were that many people there to honor him.  When I reached his parents, I thought I’d need to introduce myself. To my surprise, his mom reached out and hugged me, saying, “Wes always loved you.”

I responded, “I always loved Wes.”

That’s the way it is…they take away a piece of our hearts.

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