February 25, 2007

Clearing the decks

The work that I'm about to present in its entirety comes from a former Mt. Healthy teacher with whom I was lucky enough to work. She passed away during my tenure at Mt. Healthy, and this piece was read at her memorial service in the gymnasium.

The hot August sun was still in the sky when Mama’s voice called him away from cowboys and Indians and neighborhood pals.

But Mama’s voice was shaky. And he couldn’t sleep anyway.

Across the street, a girl confided to her Teddy bear that she hoped morning would never come.

But morning arrived. And Mama’s hand quivered as she led him to the enormous yellow bus.

And the girl clasped tightly to her teddy as Daddy gave her a reassuring kiss, and Mama replaced the bear with a shiny, new lunchbox.

The door was so hard to open, and the hallway was so big. But his teacher’s smile was almost as pretty as Mama’s.

And the little girl saw another girl, just like her, tugging at her brand new pink dress too.

Mama put the pretty picture he had drawn on the refrigerator and listened to wonderful tales of show and tell and recess.

And the little girl’s teddy bear slept on the shelf that night.

Soon football replaced cowboys and Indians, and to his dismay, girls were chasing him at recess.

And Barbie dolls and popcorn were shared by the little girl and her friend in the pink dress as they talked about the recess-boys at her first slumber party.

And somehow he learned long division. And the not-so-little girl proudly found the subject of a sentence.

And although the next door seemed not to big, Mama’s voice still shook when she said goodnight. But this time he slept soundly, dreaming of new classes, new teachers, new friends.

And as the little lady emerged that morning, Daddy’s lip quivered. And Mama longed to replace the new purse with her old Teddy bear.

And he made the team. And he found himself struggling to muster the courage to call the girl who used to chase him at recess.

And she waited impatiently by the phone for an invitation to her first dance.

And somehow, he conquered new math. And she nervously scribed her first poem.

Mama wanted to walk him to the bus again that morning, but somehow a young man had sneaked in and replaced her little boy. She held back a tear, for he was so tall, so handsome.

And Daddy wondered who the young woman was sitting across from him at the breakfast table.

The enormous sign at the bottom of the driveway frightened him. And she wondered how anyone ever got up stairway 5. He cringed as he heard someone yell “Stupid Freshman,” and she aimlessly searched for her first-bell class.

But there was the first game and the homecoming dance and algebra and the lunchroom and clubs and assemblies and position papers and chemistry and boyfriend and girlfriends; and soon, he was the one saying “Stupid Freshman,” and she had learned how to avoid stairway 5.

And Mama worried about him driving by himself.

And Daddy gasped as his little girl walked down the stairs in her prom dress.

And somehow he conquered calculus and she managed to write a research paper.

They now stand in red and black roves with a new door before them.

And Mama cries.

And Daddy swells with pride.

This door can lead to anywhere. It may seem a large door, a heavy door, but the man and the woman who now stand before it have the power to unlock it and to determine where it leads.

Mama and Daddy’s guiding hands have helped lead the boy and girl here. But the man and the woman, who now stand before you, must stand alone, and must find the strength that is within them to push the door open and in so doing, unlock the path to their dreams.

That man, and that woman, are you.

-Baccalaureate address from Teri Phillips to Mt. Healthy’s Class of ‘85

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