Lessons with Love: Tales of Teaching and Learning in a Small-Town High School, by Sandpoint author Marianne Love, is available at (http://www.keokeebooks.com/LessonsWithLove.html) and at (www.amazon.com).
To learn more about this book and Love's first two titles, visit the website (www.mariannelove.com). To contact the author directly, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about this book and Love's first two titles, visit the website (www.mariannelove.com). To contact the author directly, write to her at email@example.com.
The following is an unedited selection from Lessons with Love.
Emmel’s May Day Smiles
It started with a single yellow violet, firmly secured in a small plastic baggy full of water. The anonymous floral offering sat on my desk as I entered the room to begin second period English on May 1, 1981. Its sweet simplicity touched me as I picked it up and displayed it before the class of sophomores.
“I don’t know who did this,” I announced, “but thank you.” As I surveyed the room, one proud male face with twinkling eyes smiled back at me. I kept our secret and did not reveal his identity to the rest of the class. Later, I thanked him in the hallway for the May Day offering. He shrugged his shoulders with a “Aw gosh” manner and went on his way.
A year later on May Day, 1982, I boarded a bus at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in San Francisco and prepared for the long ride home to Sandpoint. I had accompanied the journalism students to a Journalism Education Association (JEA) National Convention. With many of them also serving on my yearbook staff, I thought it would be good to go along and take in some of the yearbook offerings. San Francisco sounded nice too. Our mode of transportation to the convention would be the Silver Eagle, an older red-and-white diesel bus, purchased by the Sandpoint High Athletic Department and its community supporters for away games and other school activities.
Since Bob Hamilton, the journalism adviser, also coached basketball, he had clout with the powers-that-be who determined when and where the bus would go. In fact, his influence as the school’s athletic historian netted our group the bus and three drivers, including the athletic director, Al Jacobson and two Bulldog Bench members, Rod Thurlow and Bobby Moore. They all brought their wives. With three drivers, our trip to and from San Francisco with about 30 aspiring journalists moved almost nonstop except for occasional highway rest breaks. Following that schedule, the 1,000-mile trip to and from San Francisco clocked in at about 23 hours.
I was totally amazed early in our journey to learn that these well-seasoned drivers didn’t even stop the bus to spell each other off. While cruising at 65 mph down the freeway, a “switch-your-partner” dance would ensue. Those were the days before relic buses, like the Silver Eagle, featured the option of cruise control. The new driver would carefully maneuver behind the driver’s seat on the left side while his partner carefully held his foot on the gas and one hand on the steering while moving out of the seat to his right. Almost like magicians, one would let go and take a seat at the front of the bus while the other assumed driving duties.
With this much dedication toward seeing that we wasted no time getting down the road, I was surprised when, on the return trip, we actually stopped just outside San Francisco to visit a Golden Gate viewpoint looking back over the bay. After all, we’d been on the road from the Hilton for a mere half hour, but the kids had been promised a few tourist stops for their good behavior. Everyone filed off the bus and strolled in their respective klatches to various parts of the park and admired the breath-taking view toward the beautiful city where we had learned a little journalism and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know San Francisco.
We’d gone up and down those hills, filled with awe while riding the street cars. We’d ridden escalators in big department stores like Macy’s where I’d endured giddy behavior from certain students. The anonymity of the moment while visiting the big faraway city with their teacher drove favorites like Kari Daarstad and Jeralyn Lewis to tease me relentlessly in very public arenas. On this trip, they abandoned the usual moniker of “Emmel” (blend of “M” and “L”) they had earlier attached to me in favor of “MOM.” While headed down the escalator opposite my “upward” track, they delighted in pretending to be my slightly undisciplined progeny whose self-contrived version of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) was getting the best of them as “MOM” tried in vain to shop and escape their presence.
“MOM, wait for us,” one would yell. “We want to be with you, MOM.” Then, thankfully, they’d disappear from view as my escalator continued to ascend.
“Ah, I’m rid of them,” I thought, stepping off and quickly jogging to a far corner of the new floor in hopes of ditching my teen-aged pursuers. Just as I’d settle in to studying sale items, my concentration would be abruptly distracted.
“There she is! Oh, MOM, here we are! We missed you,” Jeralyn would yell as she grabbed my arm from behind, embracing me wildly as if we’d been separated for years. Within seconds, both young women were verbally and physically smothering me with a rapturous affection that would send even the most love-starved critter on a dead run. The store clerks displayed visible amazement with the passion of these teen-aged overgrown kids who so loved their MOM. Though somewhat flattered with their wacky attention, I couldn’t help feeling just a bit embarrassed with the melodramatic PDA’s. No matter the strategy, I seldom escaped these unruly department-store scenes in the midst of the sophisticated air of this wonderful city. Somehow, its sophistication would not rub off on me nor my students.
But San Francisco’s many quirky and alluring offerings on the shelves of its fascinating novelty shops—hardly available at the time in Sandpoint---meant entertaining times ahead for the teens during their stay in the hotel and especially when they returned home. Among the favorite purchases was the whoopie cushion selected by that very same sweet young man who had left the yellow violet on my desk the year before. Within hours of reaching the city, Jeff Gustaveson, then a junior and a member of my yearbook staff, was already putting his purchase to good use in hotel elevators crammed with adrenalin-charged student journalists from all over the West. I hate to guess how many times he rode that elevator, but he always employed the same strategy:
Hide cushion in back pocket. Step inside. Stand at the back. Pull cushion from pocket. Place firmly behind back. Wait ‘til elevator fills and door closes. Once the mass of crowded humanity begins its upward or downward journey, press cushion firmly. Once the crowded humanity starts looking around to see who did it, smile with definite expression of fulfilled pleasure. Watch how fast occupants leave elevator when door opens.
It was great fun for Jeff and for any “in-the-know” friends who accompanied him on his up-and-down shows. The cushion also helped pass time on this long bus ride home--as if a fake-fart cushion were even needed as bodies stuffed with chips, soda, sweets and other flatulence-inducing treats sat curled up in their seats for all those hours. The entire experience had meant a good time for all of us, including the bus drivers’ wives who had shopped ‘til they dropped during the three-day visit. So, on this beautiful May Day while walking back to the Silver Eagle and enjoying one more look at the city, many of us agreed we’ve have to come back some day. But now, we had to get home.
Taking my time moseying back to the bus, I admired the explosion of colorful California poppies and other wildflowers adorning the hillsides and deep green plots of lawn around the park. It would be a month or so before we’d see such color in North Idaho, so I savored the scenes as long as possible before climbing up the steps and heading toward my seat. When I arrived to plop back down for the next leg of the journey, a large bouquet of those wildflowers awaited me. At first, I figured that someone else had inadvertently claimed my seat and left them there while chatting with friends in another part of the bus.
“Do these gorgeous flowers belong to anyone here?” I asked while holding up the bouquet. Nobody responded, so I yelled a little louder. “Whose flowers are these?” The bus was loaded by now. Still, nobody answered.
“Somebody must have picked these flowers. They’re beautiful. Come and get ‘em,” I announced louder than before. No takers. Nobody seemed to know anything about them. Most kids just kept on chatting, oblivious of my persistent quest to find the owner.
“Well, I guess I’ll just enjoy them myself then,” I said, sitting down. I relaxed for a moment admiring the bright wine-colored poppies mixed with an assortment of yellow and deep blue wildflowers. Then, my detective skills kicked in. Today was May 1----May Day---the flower-basket day---last May Day someone left that yellow violet on my desk. AND, that someone was on the bus.
I whirled around, holding the bouquet and met eye to eye with the whoopie cushion technician, Jeff Gustaveson. Again, those green eyes twinkled----a satisfied smile gave him away. Again, I spared him any potential embarrassment and quietly mouthed a “thank you” amidst the din of chatter and giggles on the bus. The flowers wilted fairly quickly during our 23-hour trip home, but I cherished the thoughtfulness of this slightly impish student as we cruised through Northern California, Oregon, Washington and eventually across the Long Bridge spanning beautiful Lake Pend Oreille to Sandpoint.
Jeff Gustaveson came to my English class as a sophomore. I’d met him a few years before when he was an aspiring junior-high actor helping with a local production. His mother worked as a local radio announcer at the time, and I’d taught two older brothers, Dan and Darrell, and his sister, Tina. Teaching the fourth member of one family was definitely a novelty for me in 1980-81. I’d been at Sandpoint High School for eleven years and had occasionally seen up to three siblings from one household, but teaching four Gustavesons was definitely launching into new territory in a career that eventually saw that number grow to eight when the Rust family came through our high school during the ‘80s and ‘90s.
This youngest Gustaveson found his way into my heart in that honors English class in spite of neglecting to turn in assignments-----a malady I found over the years to be more common than rare---especially with young men. Jeff’s assignment-challenged tendencies still baffled me at that point in my career, and as I’d done with many before and many afterward, I coerced, cajoled and connived to get him to do his work---often fruitlessly. His appreciation for literature, his kind, polite manner and his delightful sense of humor sealed a friendship.
Because of this charm and because of my recognition of the latent talent that surely lay within this budding renaissance man, I selected him to join the Monticola staff the following year.
Monticola (MonTICola) is the name of our school yearbook. Someone in the long-ago past of Sandpoint High School history decided to name the annual after Pinus Monticolas, a form of white pine which used to grow profusely throughout our North Idaho area. Other school publications like the Cedar Post newspaper and a creative writing magazine called Timberline followed the theme of our local North Idaho history so dominated by trees and mountains.
During Jeff’s involvement on the yearbook staff, the class took to their hearts the beautiful tree-covered mountains surrounding our town and lake. On weekends during fall months, the students often gathered at my house on Saturday mornings, loaded up in cars and headed to the mountains to hike Forest Service trails often leading to spectacular vistas.
Armed with cameras, of course, Jeff and his other talented photographer friends like Rocky Kenworthy, Brett Converse, Kari and Jeralyn shot dozens of rolls of film, hoping to capture dramatic nature images for the yearbook’s 240-plus pages.
These hikes forged close relationships among the group and led to plenty of outdoor playfulness. Jeff and his buddies, for example, delighted in quietly disappearing part way through the hike and pioneering a route of their own so they could hunker on a log or boulder up the trail and surprise the rest of the group, coming from behind and rounding a corner. Whether it was on hikes or during the endless hours of yearbook production, this group of kids connected to form a magical chemistry during Jeff’s first year on staff.
Though the yearbook work was demanding, Jeralyn, the editor, had a rare knack for maintaining a light and humorous tone as she delegated duties, making every staff member feel like his or her job was as important and as appreciated as anyone else’s. In this comfortable atmosphere, good-natured teasing was a staple. Removing and hiding the front seat from Jeralyn’s yellow suburban somewhere around the school seemed to be among the favorites for the ever-creative boys. Jeralyn’s exuberant semi-disgusted reaction to their impish vandalism never disappointed them. Sometimes, however, she sabotaged their efforts by riding her motorcycle to school. They usually left that vehicle alone.
During the school year, a couple of weeks of down time always followed our intense deadlines. Every time those 40 or so pages representing hours and hours of after-school and weekend work would finally land neatly-stacked in the mailing box bound for the yearbook company, we held a special ceremony to bid the project "adieu."
Out would come a tube of bright red lipstick. Most staff members happily joined in on the ritual of applying a healthy dose to their lips and then one by one---SMACK---they kissed the box, leaving the personal symbolic smooch of one more completed assignment. We always wondered what postal workers or the folks at the yearbook company thought when they first laid eyes on a mailer covered with 20 different sets of bright-red lip graphics.
During these down times from deadline pressure, the staff enjoyed spontaneous face-taping sessions where idle minds entertained themselves and the rest of the class with rolls of Scotch tape. The routine involved picking a victim and then taping up the face of this usually-willing staff member. The object was to see just how wretchedly deformed the kid could look. When the job was finished, clicking cameras faithfully recorded the results.
During these idle times, students also discovered innovative uses for rubber cement. Using the applicator and spreading cement on the palm of the hand can result in any number of recreational toys. One of their favorite crafted products took both perseverance and most of a class hour. Using nearly a full can of cement and following a continuous rolling and molding routine, they could build their own version of the famed Super Balls. Once the mass had been completed into a transparent sphere, a game of “catch-the-bouncing-ball” kept staff members occupied until the bell rang.
One student, who shall remain nameless, figured out how a tiny rolled-up mass of rubber cement can be molded to resemble a nasal booger. She then felt the urge to put her yucky discovery to entertaining use. Before heading next door to math class, she planted the green mass firmly at the lower opening of one of her nostrils. Before the tardy bell rang---cement-booger implant in full view---she walked up to her teacher, Cheryl Benjamin, with an urgent question about the algebra assignment. Cheryl did her best to answer and remain composed. Cheryl’s visible efforts at restraint turned out quite satisfying for that student who now teaches grade school and gets to witness the real deal on a daily basis with elementary kids during their perennial cold seasons.
Sometimes teasing among staff members backfired, as in the case when Jeff absconded with an “academic progress memo” from his junior English teacher Joy O’Donnell’s desk. He filled it out as if he were Mrs. O’Donnell, supposedly concerned about Kari Daarstad’s grades and general class attitude. Kari happened to be a 4.0 student and all-around leader, so Jeff felt confident that when Kari opened her mail and recognized Jeff’s handwriting, she’d certainly counter with the next practical joke and do a “gotcha” on Jeff.
The best-laid plans this time went sadly awry.
“I know there were several choices to make about a person’s “progress” via filling in boxes or blanks,” he recounted to me twenty years later. “Kind of the ‘multiple choice’ of report cards. I then proceeded to write some in anyway. Something along the lines of ‘Kari is completely unprepared in class, has not been doing homework, is sassy and unruly, is falling asleep in class . . . signed by Joy O’Donnell.
“I, of course did that in my own handwriting,” he told me, “for as you know, a practical joke is not as good unless the jokee suspects or knows who the joker is and the next round of practical jokes can then ensue. I addressed the envelope to Kari, sent it through the mail, and then waited gleefully for her reaction.”
Needless to say, there was no “joy” among certain Monticola staffers, the teacher or Kari’s parents when that happened. Kari’s parents intercepted the note when they picked up their mail and spotted the letter from Sandpoint High School. Jeff learned a lesson or two about practical jokes during the aftermath of that trick.
During Jeff’s senior year, the staff continued to suffer its ups and downs as additional conflicts unfolded among kids who knew each other like family. Maybe they knew each other too well.
Lesson: I saw similar situations over the years that helped me realize that no matter what one does to intervene or referee, teens---in even the best of circumstances---will not always get along. Their pride, their egos and their sensitivities often supersede good judgment at this time in their lives. And most, importantly, I often learned that no teen is immune from this possibility. Over the years, I eventually learned that sometimes they can never get along, no matter how nice they are or how well adjusted they may be as individuals. The key is recognizing this phenomenon with an understanding that regardless of their intelligence and apparent maturity (for their age), they’re still young adults testing the waters. A good coach, teacher or adviser learns to work around these conflicts. Easier said than done in many situations.
As the central figure responsible for maintaining harmony among my staff members, I found myself emotionally drained often during the 1982-83 school year when the magic of the remarkable previous year had diminished with the graduation of some key leaders.
Besides advising the yearbook at the time, I also taught four English classes and coordinated a major school-wide fundraiser. My two children were five and six at the time, so there was plenty to do at home. As if that were not enough, in a weak moment, I agreed to teach a night class during second semester. It didn’t sound too bad----three hours for one evening a week. I hadn’t thought of all the time needed to prepare for three hours of teaching a brand new class.
Needless to say, through a new predisposition toward severe insomnia triggered by constant worry of how to fit everything into my day and how to solve ongoing staff conflicts, I learned painfully that year that I was not a candidate for Superwoman.
During the spring semester, after two consecutive school nights without one drop of sleep, I realized something had to give. That something turned out to be advising the Monticola. After a tearful visit with my principal, Tom Keough, the morning after the second sleepless night, I made up my mind to finish what had to be completed for the school year and then eliminate the activity that had provided me such creative stimulation, personal pride, and ongoing challenges for 14 years.
Every year since the beginning of my teaching career in 1969, we’d taken the yearbook a few steps closer to a professional product. Together, with staff members, I’d honed my photography and darkroom skills. We’d worked on perfecting our graphic design, and we strived every year to tell our school-year story a little better in hopes that decades later, readers could gain a clear, well-reported history of those times at Sandpoint High.
In that effort, I had met and worked with dozens young people who would be considered a part of my extended family for the rest of my life. The 1992-83 school year, in spite of the occasional troubles, was no exception. Therefore, I faced an agonizing decision. Walking away from this significant dimension of my life was not going to be easy, but it had to happen. Like so many projects I’ve worked on over the years, the yearbook had slowly evolved into a second full-time job----and that job never stopped with the last school bell every year.
With the night-time insomnia continuing to burden me emotionally and physically every day, I had to bite the bullet and make the decision to say good bye to Monticola deadlines and all the fun that went with them. My own kids at home needed more of my time, and I needed some breathing room.
Once the decision was made, I felt the relieved, knowing that life would get easier. This knowledge freed me from enough stress to enjoy the rest of the school year. Life continued to get a little easier when the North Idaho College night class ended in April. I also decided not to do that again, even though the experience of teaching adults who appreciated every tidbit I dished out to them, regarding the English language use, turned out to be one of the more satisfying segments of my career.
With April ending, the fun times of the school year lay ahead----Prom, Class Night for seniors, the much-anticipated arrival of the Monticola. Staff members who hadn’t gotten along so well during the school year were starting to realize that they would soon be parting. Their behavior toward each began to improve as we anticipated the last few weeks of memories.
On May Day, Jeff Gustaveson once more presented me with a bouquet of flowers, starting the month off with a sweet reminder that through it all, working with young people in extracurricular activities can reveal the deep layers of some beautiful budding souls. They may falter from time to time, and they may often test patience of those around them in strange ways. Remaining constant in one’s principles and working with these students for a common good, however, will usually win out.
And within this young man, who loved to seize any opportunity to tease or to enjoy a good practical joke, someone had instilled a sincere sense of chivalry that could melt the most stone-cold heart. At times, his impish behavior had done a good chill job on my inner pump. After getting to know Jeff over our three-year teacher-student tenure, I became convinced of his incurable romanticism. Beneath that frivolous, fun-loving outer layer beat a sensitive, caring and giving heart.
When the yearbooks finally arrived, we left the school during Monticola hour and drove to my house. The entire staff gathered on the deck to break the seal of the first shipping box, grab copies and thumb through the pages. Occasionally, someone would break the total silence to announce a mistake or comment about an effective page layout. Overall, the kids were justifiably proud of their book, and I was proud of them for overcoming most of the challenges that had risen throughout the year.
When May turned into June of 1983, the Monticola staff and their teacher left a successful yearbook program behind for someone else to guide. We all set off for new experiences.
In my case, my goal was to spend more time with my family, get some sleep and reclaim my life outside of school, vowing to never face deadlines again.
Lessons: Well-worn cliche of “never saying never” is true. In the 1990s, I experienced another weak moment when my mentor, Bob Hamilton, retired as the school newspaper adviser. In response to requests replace him, three times I vowed, “Never will I deal with kids and deadlines again. On the fourth, however, I waffled. Thinking about the exciting crop of young journalists with whom I’d be working overpowered my discipline to resist.
“Why not?” I finally reasoned to myself and signed on to another of the most demanding jobs a teacher can do, especially at the time when staffs were converting to full-time computer layout and production. I rationalized that advising the newspaper would serve as a new challenge in my own pursuit of learning and that with my own kids coming through the high school, the newspaper activities might provide some good opportunities for us to spend more time together. I kept that job for seven years before the next “Never” came along.
After Commencement, 1983, Brett headed off to the University of Idaho, where he earned a degree in engineering and eventually his doctorate from the University of California at Davis. He now works for a local engineering firm. Kari pursued her photographic dreams to Montana State as a film major---following in the footsteps of her father Erik who spent his career as a National Geographic cinematographer.
After working as a production assistant on film projects for several years, she returned to Sandpoint to rear her family and to work as a photo manager at Coldwater Creek Catalog Co.
Jeralyn had graduated the year before and made her mark as a student leader at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., where, during her senior year, she served as student body president. Her career in public relations took her to Phoenix and Los Angeles. Like Kari, she eventually found her way home, earned her Master’s in counseling, married and started a family. She works for the school district as a part-time elementary counselor.
Rocky eventually majored in photography at Spokane Falls Community College. He and Jeff, who had spent some time at the University of Idaho, eventually set off one day the late 1980s, with all their possessions in a tiny sports car, bound for adventure in the Big Apple. Jeff’s little yellow MG convertible got them there, and they’ve operated out of New York ever since.
Rocky’s talents and persistence toward learning all he could about photography netted him some exciting gigs with Time and Rolling Stone magazines. In fact, he spent a couple of years, assisting famous photographer Mark Seligar on Rolling Stone covers. He also jetted around the Mideast and Africa assisting with photographing of the Time Men of the Year: Nelson Mandela, Jhitsak Rabin, Fredrik Willem De Klerk, and Yassa Arafat.
Meanwhile, in his day jobs, Jeff worked for banks and computer agencies. Pursuit of respective dreams with photography and acting has since taken both Rocky and Jeff around the country and on tours around the world.
Over the past two decades, Jeff, who now goes by the single name, “Mercury,” has performed in no fewer than 20 productions both on tour and in the New York area, many of them Shakespearean. He’s played Odysseus, Oedipus, Oberon, Theseus and Marc Antony. He’s also worked in film, on tour as a stage-hand, production assistant, director, videographer, road manager and sound technician.
Regardless of what he was doing or where he happened to be, every May First, he took the time to send or even deliver a bouquet of flowers to my home or my classroom. In a couple of cases, even in the midst of classroom lectures, this handsome young hunk would show up inside the classroom, flowers in hand, walk to the front and, while 30 sets of curious teenage eyes watched, would present the bouquet to me. As quickly as he had entered, Jeff exited. Sometimes I saw him later; sometimes not.
“What was that all about?” a student would pipe up.
“That’s all about thoughtfulness,” I’d answer. “It’s May First, and he’s been remembering me with flowers on May Day ever since 1981.” For a few minutes, the lecture was tabled while I’d launch off into who he was and how the tradition started. I’d tell about Jeff and his friends and the good times we had on hikes and special occasions when I advised the yearbook. For several days, thereafter, I’d walk into my empty classroom, smell the flowers and smile while thinking about how lucky I was to work with human beings like Mercury.
In 2001, no flowers arrived. My daughter, Annie, sent me a May Day basket that year, but I still felt a tinge of sadness that my annual connection with Jeff had apparently drawn to a close. I held out hope the following year that maybe there’d been a mixup. May 1, 2002, passed with no word from Jeff. And the same occurred in 2003. Occasionally, I’d receive a group email about an address change for Mercury, but still no word.
My touch of May Day sadness had nothing to do with the material aspect of an annual gift.
Instead, the flowers had symbolized something much more significant----a tie with a dynamic young man and his friends who had added a significant dimension to my life. With each arrival of the flowers, their faces would pop up in a montage of images in my mind.
A smiling Jeff resting on a boulder alongside a Forest Service trail in the Cabinet Mountains. Brett, Kari and Rocky, basking in the sun on a remote dock overlooking the waters of Lake Pend Oreille. Jeralyn, leading the Monticola crew through a forest of huge ancient cedars to remote Priest Lake, not far from the Canadian border.
Together, we had climbed mountains and stood triumphantly on their peaks in awe of the gorgeous world below. Together, we had strived for perfection with yearbook dreams and talked for long hours about life and the future. Every year, the May Day flowers took me back to those times as if they were yesterday.
After three years of receiving no flowers, I finally faced the reality that as life marches on, our priorities change. It seemed selfish for me to expect the annual bouquet. Certainly, Jeff had more important things on his mind. Nonetheless, I missed the gesture and felt like something special had slipped away.
When May Day, 2004, came, I had gotten past the disappointment. Besides, my mind was consumed with a thousand details----announcing the annual 4-H horse judging contest, getting home in time to watch the Kentucky Derby, packing for a nine-day road trip to California with my recently-widowed mother and my three brothers.
After watching underdog Smarty Jones from Philadelphia run away with the Derby, I pulled out my suitcase and began to pack. The dogs started barking. Someone in an unfamiliar car was coming down the driveway. The driver got out and handed me a beautiful bouquet.
“Who’s this from?” I asked.
“Can’t remember,” she said.
“Oh, I know----I bet it’s from my daughter-----thank you,” I said as she backed out of the driveway.
I walked back into the house and put the vase on the kitchen counter, lamenting the fact that with trip ahead, I’d be missing these flowers at their best. I opened the unsigned card.
“Sorry I missed a few,” the note read. “Have a nice May Day.”
It needed no signature. I smiled while enjoying the sweet fragrance of the bouquet. That familiar feeling of silent satisfaction of so many May Day bouquets before soothed my stress of too much to do, too little time. For some reason, this year Jeff had remembered again.
His ol’ teacher still mattered to this very special person who had traveled so many miles, gone through so many experiences and accomplished so much since that sunny morning back in May, 1981, when the gift of his little yellow violet picked from the mountain behind his house had touched me so profoundly. Through it all, there remained a constancy of a lasting friendship between teacher and student. It made me very happy.
I immediately wanted to grab the phone, call him up and thank him for resuming his much appreciated tradition. Nobody answered at the number I called. I’d also lost his most recent email address. His thanks would have to wait until my return.
Once back to Idaho, I called his sister, Tina, who gave me his cell-phone number and new email address. Our first phone conversation lasted just minutes because he was working at the time. Later, I wrote him a long email, catching up on events in my life of the past few years. I also told him about the plans to include him in my collection of teaching stories called Lessons with Love.
His written response touched on many of the great lessons that continue to unfold about the individuality of our students throughout our teaching careers.
“Emmel,” the note began.
“I’ve done quite a bit since coming out here; doesn’t seem like much to me though,” Mercury wrote. “I’ve enclosed three of my semi-current resumes that I use. They are self evident as to whom they would be given. That is a nutshell for you to glean. They, of course, do not represent the other half of the life stories involved whilst furthering my life education.
“You may wish to point out (to whomever) that some do not do well in formal academic settings. As you may recall, I flunked out of college after my first year. I have done many more things than listed in the resumes----all learned by doing. I have not taken any classes for anything of what I do, save some course work in film, as it is extremely difficult to break into the technical aspects of that field without some knowledge.
“I highly regard travel as the most educational of all experiences. I have been to every state except Alaska (thanks to the national tours---part of the reason why I took them). I have been to every major city, innumerable larger towns, and seemingly every po-dunk town and village in this country. All, many times. I think it’s important that we see our own country.
“I’ve traveled through Europe, more extensively southern and former eastern bloc countries. Have been through Mexico, Canada, and Australia, Trinidad, Tobago, etc. Alas, the list “to visit” is always longer than the live of “have visited.” I now own a motorcycle, purchased in California when I was out there last year for several months, and drove it back to NYC. Another life-long dream of mine, a motorcycle.
“Tell your audience that regardless of what you end up doing, you must try for your dreams, no matter how silly or what the cost or how many times you fail. If you do not, you will always, always wonder and regret. And believe me, the dreams will always change---and that’s okay too.
“I am currently trying to get my s--- together to start filming. Gee, how long have I been doing that? Quite some time, but I do get sidetracked quite easily. I have several short films that I’ve written that I need to get on celluloid. That is the current schedule. Of course, as you well know, the day-to-day living and surviving always bogs us down. Buck up little campers! Go forth and conquer!
“I am glad you enjoy the flowers. I do as well. Every time I order them, I think of the first time. Running to the top of the mountain before school to pick those delicate little mountain lilies. They do not last overnight if picked the night before.
“Now, how many comma splices, run-on sentences and partial sentences (ha! I forget what the English term is for them) do I have? I think I know where they are and they are on purpose. Don’t you love this language?”
All my best,
Yes, Mercury, I do love the language, but I beg to differ with you about that delicate little flower. Its beauty has lasted overnight and far beyond.