Captain Mark and Suzanne
Time, Speed and Distance Part 3 (Distance) A Novel by Mark T. Einstein
Part 3: Distance
Chapter 1: Sally Anderson
Sally Anderson is awakened by the birds well before the break of dawn. She is slow to rise after a short, restless night of intermittent sleep. She glances at her cell phone. It is just after 4:00 AM. She thinks to herself, “There is no reason to sleep. There’s no reason to try.” Sally has much to do today. She listens for a while as the birds of early summer sing joyfully in the yard below her bedroom. It has been a long night. She takes a deep breath of sweet-smelling springtime air as it breezes through her open window. Then she rolls to attention.
Sally’s mother, Donna, a tired looking, but attractive middle-aged woman, is fast asleep in the air-conditioned room downstairs. She has no idea that Sally is awake and is already working on her laptop computer. Donna nags her daughter constantly about not getting enough sleep and about the dangers of burning the candle at both ends. But this is Sally’s senior year at Southern New Jersey’s Hope River High School, and her mother is starting to realize that Sally is not a child anymore.
In the past year, Sally has excelled in three Advanced Placement classes: English, Calculus, and History. She has organized eight major events as president of her school’s Academics Club and has served as the lead writer for the school newspaper, The River Breeze. She passed her driver’s test with flying colors and has bought her own car with her own money saved from working part-time at the Italian water ice shop. Sally has attended the senior trip, the senior prom, and pretty much every other activity involving the class of 2017. Donna is overjoyed with her daughter’s accomplishments in high school and she glows whenever she thinks about the scholarships and awards the seventeen-year-old girl has won. Donna is also scared to death of losing her daughter and of being alone. Now a single mom, she hadn’t remarried, nor has she dated anyone since her husband died of brain cancer five years ago while Sally was still in middle school. It was a horrible trauma for the family of three.
Sally has become the very essence of her mother’s universe, a rather small universe centered in the rapidly developing suburbs of South Jersey. The mother and daughter share an older two-bedroom bungalow on the river’s edge. They have watched as housing developments, strip malls, and other hastily built structures have overtaken the landscape and obstructed the picturesque view they once had. Until last year, the two had been virtually inseparable. But lately, their time together is mostly spent in passing, with Sally either coming or going. Donna and Sally have fully extended the lingering moments of yesterday and they anxiously contemplate the uncertainties of tomorrow. The letter on the kitchen counter is a tangible reminder that in just a few months, Sally will be moving away. She has won a full scholarship to study journalism at the University of Maryland.
Sally rattles away on her laptop, making sure every question is perfectly phrased. Rattle, rattle, rattle… delete… rattle, rattle, rattle, delete… then, “YES! SAVED!” Not only does Sally want an A on her final English project, she wants it to be a bona fide, genuine, A –one that is fully deserved. She wants this to be her best work ever. Sally has given up competing with the other students a long time ago. She now finds it more challenging and rewarding to compete against herself. Two hours pass before Donna knocks on the girl’s bedroom door.
“My gosh, it’s so early, sweetheart. How long have you been up?”
“Just a couple of hours, Mom.”
“I thought you finished your project last night.”
“Well, yes, I sort of did finish, I’m just checking it over and rephrasing some of the questions. You know, it’s a really big opportunity and I want to make sure everything goes right.”
Sally is preparing an interview with her favorite teacher and club advisor, her mentor. She also plans to use the story in her final edition of the Breeze. And if it is really good, she hopes to use it as her summer project for college – a lot of bang for the buck. Sally is the first student ever to approach the teacher for a serious interview and she is thrilled that he has agreed to do it. She believes hers will be the biggest story of the year because her questions are nothing like the standard, artificial questions that students typically ask their teachers. Those kinds of interviews are usually so flat and so boring that, in the end, not much is revealed.
“So, what are you planning to ask him?” Donna inquires, expecting to hear a series of completely formatted questions, things like, “what does it feel like to retire after 37 years?” Or “How do you hope to spend the rest of your time from now on?” Things like that…
“Oh, no, no, no, Mom,” Sally says as she packs her things and gets dressed, “I’m sure we’ll eventually get to those kinds of things. But I want to dig down deeper and find out what really makes him tick. Like, how he came to be who he truly is and what future lessons can be learned from someone who has touched so many people’s lives. There is a lot more to his story than just wanting to be a teacher, finding a job, and making a decent living. I want to see between those lines and read the fine print.”
“My word, dear. I hope you know better than to get too personal with this man, honey. You know it’s rude to pry into someone’s private life.”
“Of course, Mom! I’m sure he won’t tell me anything he doesn’t want me to know. We all know how much he likes to talk, so I’ll just see how far it goes. I’m not looking to find any skeletons in his closet or any deep dark secrets, but I have a feeling that that there is much more in his head than just history lessons.” Sally brushes back her mid-length brown hair, straightens her bangs, and then bats her eyelashes a couple of times. “A lot more.”
“Well, I’m just saying, be mindful of your manners, sweetheart.”
Sally’s teacher is retiring in June after 37 years. He has taught history since 1979 and has known Sally since she first started high school. Sally first encountered the teacher when she was a shy, frightened, lost-looking freshman, unnoticed among the many wide-eyed fledgling high schoolers. Like a single blade in a large field of grass, her potential for growth was fully unexplored and undiscovered. Her mother, Donna, had encouraged her to get more involved in school activities and urged her to “join a club or something” so she could make some new friends. She hoped maybe it would help her come to terms with the loss of her father.
Sally had heard great things about the Academics Club at Hope River. It was the largest extracurricular club in the school and with over 150 members, claims to be the largest such club in the country. Sally was scared at first but excited about joining. “The kids do much more than just talk academics,” she told her mother. The club is known for hosting informative assemblies, moderating political forums, holding poetry readings, and raising funds for a major weekend class trip to a destination of educational significance. Sally joined the club and immediately got to work volunteering for committees. She swiftly evolved to a committee leader and then to the most vibrant and active member of the club. Sally gave new meaning to the adage that if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. Then, midway through her junior year, Sally took command of the club as President. She had also become the teacher’s star pupil in AP US History. The teacher recognized that, standing at just a little over five feet, Sally was the tallest blade of grass in the field, and he did whatever he could to provide her opportunities for growth and academic success. The teacher never imagined just how much he had inspired young Sally until he received a long letter from her mother expressing her deep personal gratitude. The letter revealed much that the teacher didn’t know and it opened up a very soft spot in the teacher’s heart.
“It’s almost time for school, honey. Don’t you think you’d better get going?” Donna says.
“Yep! I’m on it Mom!” Sally replies. “Wish me luck.” Donna gives her daughter a tight hug and a sweet kiss before leaving her to herself.
“Good luck, sweetheart.” Then Donna adds with a smile, “Who loves you more than your mommy?”
“NOBODY!” replies Sally, laughing out loud.
Chapter 2: Getting There
The teacher’s alarm sounds at 4:00 AM. The clock radio is tuned to a soft classical music station that usually plays either light guitar or unfamiliar new-age melodies. The teacher‘s routine is well-established and his timing is perfect as usual. If he doesn’t leave his home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore by 5:00 AM, then he will not make it to the Wawa convenience store on Route 301 in Middletown, Delaware, by 6:00 AM. If he does not make it to Wawa by 6:00AM, then he will not make the Delaware Memorial Bridge by 6:30, and if he doesn’t make the Bridge by 6:30, then, he will not arrive at Hope River High School in time for “teacher sign in.” All faculty and staff are required to be present by 7:10 AM sharp or else be called out by a very brash, echoic loudspeaker, notifying every wing of the building, the adjacent athletic fields, and the entire neighborhood that the staff member is late. “Mr. So and So, please contact the general office.” If the faculty member doesn’t respond, then his or her name goes on “the list” which is then handed off to the Vice Principal who attempts to contact the overdue teacher by phone. Unless the lateness turns out to be a certifiable emergency, the teacher is docked an hour’s pay for each 10 minutes of lateness. When the teacher finally comes running down the hall to class, a substitute will be standing in the regular teacher’s place. A most embarrassing way to start the day. Punctuality soon becomes a high priority for that teacher.
The history teacher allows himself enough time to take a shower and then get dressed. He fits into a dark blue blazer that goes well with his tan khaki pants and light blue polo shirt. This is his signature look. He pulls his sparse yellow-gray hair back into a thin ponytail, representing all he has left of his once proud, youthful mane. He is in no hurry for coffee, this can wait until he reaches his only pit stop, the usual Wawa. The teacher grabs his brief case then starts out the door. But not before returning to his bedside to kiss his wife, Renee, goodbye. It is a long kiss, and he wishes he had just a little more time to spend with her today. He realizes he’s running a little behind. He turns, then hastens down the stairs and out the door. He crosses the driveway to his car, gets into his 1997 red Acura Integra then disappears into the predawn darkness.
Hope River High School is located 106 miles from the teacher’s home on the distant Maryland Eastern Shore. It will take the teacher approximately one hour and fifty minutes to get there. Two hours, allowing for the stop at Wawa for food, fuel, and coffee. His route will take him from the shore of the Chesapeake Bay, 12 miles down a dark country road, through the colonial town of Chestertown, Maryland. Then, he will cross approximately 30 more miles of undeveloped farmland to the busy town of Middletown, Delaware. Then, he crosses the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal reaching a network of superhighways leading to I-95, then the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Here, he picks up I-295, paralleling the New Jersey side of the Delaware River for 25 more miles until he reaches NJ Route. 42. This major highway is usually jam packed with Philly-bound traffic, fortunately, heading in the opposite direction. Exiting Route 42, the teacher is just three miles or five minutes from his destination. The entire trip is virtually traffic free most of the time, until the teacher reaches the final two miles to the school. Here is where the true race against time begins. If he is able to beat the buses, he’s got it made, but if he falls behind anywhere along the route, he is in big trouble. He might have spent more time with Renee than he should have this morning.
The teacher fails to make the light in time, allowing the yellow school bus to slip right in front of his speedy red five-speed Acura. Coming off the red light, the teacher hastens toward the school behind the bus. The bus rolls along nicely before activating its warning lights and flipping out the red stop sign, stopping traffic in both directions. The school campus is just over a mile down the road. “Holy crap!” the teacher thinks. “Why can’t these damn kids walk to school for crying out loud?” He looks at his watch, his Omega “Speedmaster Professional,” the one he bought from Mr. Sydney for $90.00 many years ago. It seems to be ticking faster than usual. It is 7:01 and the teacher only has a mile left to go. He sits, idling in his car for what seems like forever behind the flashing lights of the school bus. Then, finally, two sixteen-year-old ragged-looking, headphoned high schoolers mosey to the bus stop… very slowly. “Why in the hell are you waiting for them, for Christ’s sake?” the teacher screams out loud as if the driver can hear him. Finally, the stop sign retracts, the lights stop flashing and the bus moves on. The driver gets it back up to speed, leaving a wide cloud of black smoke for the teacher to inhale. “God, I love the smell of diesel fumes in the morning!” he says to himself, sarcastically. Then, the bus stops again at the end of the next block. “You’ve got to be kidding!” the anxious teacher shouts out loud. A few more kids wander to the bus stop and slowly climb inside… “Come on! COME ON!” he hollers. “I’m going to be late!! Goddamn! They’ve got door-to-door service, and they are still fucking late!”
The teacher is steaming mad now and, boy, does he have a lecture for these kids! He trembles as he thinks what he wants to say but never would out loud. Recalling his morning paper route, he imagines himself pointing his finger straight into their puny, apathetic little faces and saying, “Hey, kid! Did you ever try delivering 157 morning newspapers at 5:00 AM on foot? Well, I did it every day for three years! And that was before school, not after! And then I had to get myself ready for school in a fucking uniform! Then I had to walk another mile to school – uphill, mind you - with my sister in tow! That’s how I got to school! And guess what? I was never late! And I was in sixth grade!”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” he prays. “What in God’s name is this world coming to? What am I coming to?” He remembers reading his newspapers on some stranger’s doorstep early in the morning. “Do you ever even read newspapers? Well guess what, kiddies? I just drove 106 miles to teach you something about history. But what’s the point of teaching you history if you can’t even get to a bus stop on time?”
The teacher has one hand on the wheel and the other on the shifter as he fumbles with his cell phone. He’s got the school secretary on speed dial and if he can get to her in time, she will sign him in to avoid the embarrassment of the late club. He thinks to himself, “Thank God I am retiring next month.”
Chapter 3: A-Day
Homeroom starts at 7:25 AM sharp, and thanks to Ms. Muscelero, the teacher has missed the late call once again. He will be making it to class on time today, but with no time to spare. At 7:14, Ms. “Muscles” gives the teacher a smirky nod as he sneaks past the Vice Principal on his way to room D 112 located at the far end of the History Wing.
Hope River High is a colossal ultra-modern complex, opened on September 12th of 2001. The campus is perfectly set on many acres of what was once a sprawling farmland right at the beginning of the Atlantic City Expressway. The two-story main building is an architectural masterpiece, designed like a giant wheel with a large glass hub in the center. The hub is a twenty first-century library/media center with large windows, glass doors and a very high ceiling. The center contains as many computer stations on the floor as it does books on the shelves. Each corridor extends outward, like a long spoke connected to the main hallway circling the LMC. Each of these corridors is identified by a letter with numbered classrooms on either side. The school enrolls nearly 3,000 students from grades 9-12 and they come in all sizes, races, creeds and colors.
The floors swarm with students buzzing about in every direction. Every vocal cord is in motion, raising a racket that well exceeds a semblance of normal intensity. Dozens of metal lockers in D Hallway slam and bang, open and shut, as randomly and as noisily as the cannon blasts in the finale of the “1812 Overture.” The history teacher zigzags through the chaotic maze to his doorway at D112 just in time for the five-minute homeroom warning bell. By 7:25, he parks himself, arms crossed, outside his open door as if he has been standing there all day.
The teacher greets each of his students by the familiar nickname that he has given them. “Hey, Billy Bones,” the teacher says to William Bonner as he slaps him high five. “Bones” is first to arrive in class. “Top o’ the morning to you, Marky Mark.” He gives a light jab in the shoulder to Mark Markowski, the star quarterback, as he enters the classroom. “Hey Chelly, you got that late assignment for me yet! He says to Chelsea Rogers, the lead in the school musical, who tries to sneak past him. He bows, then says, “Good morning, Your Highness” to Queen Ana Kurowski. She is his most active class participant and raises her hand so much that the teacher now saves her the trouble and calls on her for almost everything. “Waatzuup Hot Rod?” he says to Rodney Walker, an average history student who excels mostly in auto mechanics.
“Wait until you see my final project, sir!” Billy Bones says to his teacher. “You’re gonna love it!”
“Can’t wait!” says the teacher. The one-minute warning bell sounds, and the crowd thins quickly. Then finally there is perfect silence in the hallway.
Bing…bing…bing…bing… The late bell sounds and the teacher takes attendance, carefully watching for anyone who might try to sneak in late. He goes down the list calling out the students by their nicknames before they pledge [HJ1] to the flag and listen to the daily announcements. Sally Anderson opens the door and casually glides into the room.
As president of the Academics Club, Sally Anderson has an “in” with the teacher. She arrives two minutes late dressed in a business-gray pants suit with her hair pulled back in a neat ponytail. A fragrant cloud of her most suitable perfume surrounds her. The teacher would never mark her late because, whatever reason she might have, he trusts that it is legitimate.
“Good morning, Ms. Prez,” he says. “I trust you were delivering memos to your committee chairs?”
“No, sir. I was in the library printing out my questions for our interview today after school.”
“Oh… yes… ahem… of course…,” the teacher replies with obvious hesitation. He suddenly remembers he promised Sally that interview today. “Damn,” he thinks to himself. “Why did I agree to do it today?” Today is an “A Day” which means the schedule is such that he will have last period off for prep. Although the school has a strict policy of not allowing teachers to leave during preparation time, the administration doesn’t try very hard to catch its senior history teacher making an early escape.
“We’re still on, aren’t we? Sir?” Sally says with her hand pressing firmly on her hip. She senses the teacher might be getting cold feet. Or else he forgot...
“Oh yes… absolutely…you bet!” he assures her then flashes her an inquisitive smile. “A promise made is a debt unpaid ...” He watches her facial expression as it changes from apprehension to one of deep concentration. Sally bats her sparkling brown eyes and thinks for a moment.
“Robert Service!” She exclaims. “The Cremation of Sam Magee!”
“That’s my girl!” the teacher bellows, beaming with pride. “My God! You ARE a GENIUS! Okay… Interview today, right here, eighth period.” The teacher pretends to write something down on a calendar he doesn’t use.
“Uh,” Sally says. “You know I’ve got calculus during eighth period on A Day. Can you get me out of class?” She bats her eyes as if to say, “pretty, pretty please?” The teacher has accommodated this request a time or two in the past.
“OK, but don’t tell Mr. Dodo that you are coming here to interview me or else he might get jealous and not let you out of class.” He laughs as he writes Sally a pass to the library during eighth period.
After ten minutes of general housekeeping, the twenty-two high school seniors remain in their seats for AP US History. The teacher loves A Days because he starts with his favorite group of students and he usually gets to slip out early for home. He knows each of his students well by now, their strengths and their weaknesses, their highs and their lows, and they know him, too. They love and respect him, but there is much about him that they don’t know. After two years together, the group has formed a tight bond with each other as well as with their teacher.
Room D 112 is decorated with lively historical flair. Large, colorful bulletin boards, created by the students provide evidence that these youngsters epitomize the crème de la crème of Hope River High. They each drive themselves to school in their own car and are nothing like the bus stop crowd. Inside the classroom, four long cafeteria tables have been set up for the final history projects the students have been presenting for a week. The teacher turns to contemplate the numerous artifacts being used to facilitate the final project. Positioned on the tables are objects, things, mostly familiar to the teacher, but not so much to the students: big things, small things, light things, heavy things. Old things. Things like a pair of old shoes, a rotary phone, an RCA 45 RPM record player with several records from the 1950s, a movie projector, an eight-track tape, a 35mm camera, a polyester suit jacket, a Commodore computer, a General Electric radio, a Space Invaders video game, a black and white TV, and much, much more.
“Can I go first today?” Billy Bones calls out from his seat. He has been asking all week.
“Attention, class!” the teacher roars. He pauses. “Does anyone object to Mr. Bones starting us off this morning? If so, please state your reason now.” The teacher feigns dead seriousness with his still effective “mean teacher look.” They have seen him in practically every stage of human emotion, from as light-hearted as a puffy white cloud, to as stern as a chunk of the Berlin Wall. They are never exactly sure what kind of mood he will be in first thing in the morning. They proceed cautiously. The students straighten to attention as if in Catholic school, but know the teacher is pulling their leg. No one speaks while doing their best to contain their laughter. “Well then, considering Mr. Bones is the only one who hasn’t presented yet, I guess we’ll have to let him go.” The teacher shrugs his shoulders and as if on cue, the class laughs out loud. “There you have it… Mr. Bones, the floor is yours.”
The students have really enjoyed this project and their teacher loves the fact that he can sit and listen rather than lecture for the entire period. The teacher has prepared a presentation for them as well. But he will save that for last.
The teacher taps the mouse on his desktop computer and activates the “Smart Board” hanging on the front wall. A full color photograph comes to life on the screen. It is the Power Point instructions that accompany the assignment.
The students’ final history project is also the final project of the teacher’s career. His grand finale. After thirty-seven years in the classroom, he hopes to really drive home his philosophy about the true value of everyday things when they are connected, in some significant way, to the human experience. He has spent many minutes, hours, days, months, and years with thousands upon thousands of individual students, each living in a separate, rapidly changing world of his or her own. And now he is, in a sense, graduating with them. For both the teacher and his students, these precious moments signify the end of something big and the beginning of something even bigger. Yes, there is life after high school, even for a sixty-year old man.
Over the years, the teacher’s pupils have analyzed documents, studied the textbooks, and debated the causes and effects of crisis after crisis, testing, testing, more testing, listening and learning from lecture after lecture on every social, political and economic topic in American history. But that’s not all that goes on in Room D 112. Often times the roles are reversed, and the teacher becomes the learner. The teacher has learned many things from the students. In the past four decades, they have taught him more about the use of computers, social media, cell phones and pretty much every other aspect of twenty first- century life than he ever would have learned on his own.
The final project is a rather odd assignment, one that the teacher mostly developed himself, spinning off research done at the University of Indiana Mather’s Institute for World Culture. The project is called, “Teaching History with Objects.” The teacher wasn’t sure how the assignment would go over at first, but once the students got started, they went after it like Lieutenant Columbo goes after a murder suspect. The presenters are not permitted to use any modern communication support other than handwritten notecards, their natural voices and whatever the object itself is capable of doing to assist with the demonstration. The purpose of the assignment is to attach a personal story involving family history to a manufactured object that was produced before they were born. The student must research the origin, the construction, the function, and the ultimate obsolescence of the object. Then, explain to the class how the object ties to their own personal history as well as how it relates to the social, economic, or political history of the United States. Finally, they must assign some type of value to the object and determine if its value is affected by the story they have shared. Considering most of the students were born in the year 1999, parents and family members make excellent primary references. In the new age of hyper-speed research techniques, the teacher figures it is an effective way to stimulate meaningful dialogue between the kids and other human beings. It is also a great way to avoid the futility of detecting plagiarism and of reading dozens of papers he believes he has read before.
William Bonner comes to the front of the room. He is holding a medium-sized rectangular black case that appears to be covered in some sort of old leather. It measures approximately 14 inches long by 8 inches wide and is about 4 inches in height. He sets the box onto the table then removes the top half. No one knows what the box contains. He appears a little nervous as he glances at his handwritten notecards.
“Good morning, class,” Billy Bonner begins. “The object I have chosen is a 1920s era portable typewriter manufactured by the Underwood Typewriter Company. It is an example of one of the first portable typewriters ever produced…” He goes on to explain the origins of mechanical typing machines and how they were manufactured by the millions during the twentieth century. He discusses the history of the Underwood Company and its headquarters in New York City, the effects the typewriter had on women in the work force, and how the machines were used by news correspondents, especially, during the Great Depression and World War II. The device is mounted inside the bottom of its own hard leather covered case that Billy lifts off the table. Billy continues, “This antique typewriter was given to my great grandmother when she graduated high school in 1937. She was the fastest typist in her class. She actually received an award for typing over 100 words per minute without making a single mistake. After high school, she went right to work as a secretary for the Philadelphia Inquirer.” The students try to listen up but are lulled back to an early morning fog by Billy’s monotone delivery. “1937 was right in the middle of the Great Depression so a typewriter like this was pretty expensive and she took real good care of it.” Billy isn’t looking at his notecards, he is ad libbing. He sets the machine down onto the table and feeds a piece of paper into the carriage. The students begin to perk up a bit. The teacher is not surprised that most of the students had never actually seen a typewriter. “Who wants to give it a try?” Billy asks the class with his characteristically deep drone. Chelsie Rodgers, Billy’s latest girlfriend, raises her hand and strolls to the front. “See here? The keyboard is set up just like a computer.” Chelly assesses the metal keyboard and starts pushing down on the keys. The words, “i love you, billy” appear in crooked lower-case letters on the paper. She winks at him. They have become joined at the hip since spending the night together after the senior prom. Billy blushes a little then he continues with his story. “Anyway, my great grandmother did a lot of typing for the Inquirer during World War II and, in her spare time, she exchanged letters with one of the GIs using this very typewriter. The soldier’s name was Johnny Ryan who wrote many handwritten letters back to her. I brought some of the letters with me to show you.” He produces a handwritten letter from a folder in his backpack. The letter is from Johnny. He reads it out loud to the class:
“My Dearest Mary Jo,
I hope you and your family are well and will say some extra prayers for us over here in Europe. By the time you receive this letter, Christmas will be over so I will say Merry Christmas to you now. I love that you type your letters to me. It makes it so easy for me to read them over and over. Maybe you can teach me to type when I get home. I can’t wait to finally meet you. Is it snowing in Philadelphia? It been snowing here for days. I hate the cold, but thoughts of you keep me warm. Thank you for keeping the home fires burning and warming me with your love. We will have some real fun when we finally meet in person, just as soon as this mess is over. I feel like you are with me all the time helping us mop up what’s left of those damned Krauts in the forest. We’ve got almost 1,000 tanks heading to the Rhine River and we expect to cross into Germany sometime soon. Old “Georgie Boy” Patton is one mean son of a gun. I actually met him myself three days ago. We’re scared to death of him. I don’t have much time to write so I will sign off now. I will write again as soon as I can. Think victory and please pray for peace.
Merry Christmas, with all my Love,
Tank Commander, Third Division, United States Army
“Well, that was the last letter poor Johnny ever got to write. He wound up getting killed in the Battle of the Bulge in January of 1945. He was one of 19,000 American soldiers killed in that horrific final battle of the war.” Billy is starting to choke up a little and the room is completely silent. “My great grandmom and Johnny exchanged thirty two letters and they never got a chance to meet in person. Johnny saved every one of those typewritten letters, though. And when his body came home, the letters came home with him. Every single one of them. I have read them all and, with all due respect to our teacher, I have learned more about the war from these letters that I ever could from a history book. So, I wonder, can anyone estimate what this typewriter might be worth?” Billy Bones ponders a moment as the students fidget in their seats.
“I found one!” Ana Kurowski calls out, raising her cell phone into the air. “I found one on EBay for $135.00 Buy it Now.”
The students’ spell is broken, and they start to chuckle hesitantly. Billy Bones laughs a little then starts pecking away on the keys of his obsolete writing machine. He removes the paper from the carriage and holds it up for the class to read. The words are:
“this typewriter is priceless to me”
“jus like every moment we have all spent together in ap history class.’
“i will miss you all after graduation.
“i love you too, chelly!”
The teacher swivels slightly in his leather office chair and smiles to himself. There is nothing to discuss. Inside his head, a voice is screaming very loud and it makes him tremendously happy. “They get it.”
Chapter 4: Fly Me to the Moon
First period is halfway over in Room D-112 and the student presentations have come to an end. Billy Bones secures his typewriter in its case then places it neatly back onto the table. The classroom appears to have been transformed into a mini-museum, a smorgasbord of stories and memories; slices of history, served up as inert, lifeless objects. Each piece, now brought back to life as a moving, central element in a completely human chronicle, transported through time into the much broader context of history. It has happened right here in Room D 112. The teacher is satisfied with the outcome, and he glows with a keen sense of pride. “Alright then ‘A Peeps’,” the teacher says. “Does anyone have any questions? Raise your hand.” The teacher looks at his Speedmaster in silence. There are 25 minutes remaining in first period.
Sally Anderson has been furtively scratching notes into her notepad while actively listening to William Bonner’s presentation. Her notes have nothing to do with Billy’s typewriter.
“Now it’s your turn, sir,” Sally Anderson calls out to the teacher without raising her hand. The teacher hoped that someone would toss him the bait and he is happy it is Sally. “A promise made is a debt unpaid,” Sally says to the teacher with a grin.
“My God, she is quick,” the teacher thinks to himself, smiling. “Yes, Sally, of course. Well, we don’t have much time, so I may have to break the ‘no-technology’ rule a little.” The teacher taps his mouse and, like magic, a life-size image of an astronaut appears on the Smart Board. The spaceman stands alone on a lonely, gray, alien lunar surface. His arms extend bulkily from his body, stuffed into a snug-fitting artificial biosphere, his space suit. His feet are firmly planted into the lunar dust, surrounded by small craters before a slightly bent horizon. Clearly visible in the astronaut’s mirrored visor, is a shrunken reflection of the landing site, Tranquility Base. Both the lunar module and a second astronaut can be seen in the photo as well as a large blue and white half-ball over the astronaut’s head. That is Planet Earth.
“Does anyone know who this is?” The teacher points to the astronaut. Nearly everyone responds, “Neil Armstrong.”
“Close, but sorry, you’re wrong. It’s the other guy…” says the teacher.
“Buzz Aldrin!” Ana Kurowski shouts out.
“Five points for Ana!” replies the teacher. “Yes folks, this is Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, but there is more. Let’s take a closer look. Have you ever wondered who took all those photographs on the moon?” asks the teacher. Ana Kurowski perks up in her seat.
“Do you think the moon landing was bogus?” Ana asks, half expecting the teacher to say yes.
“No, not at all,” says the teacher sharply. He has seen the “Bogus Moon Landing’ video way too many times and has had to explain how each and every alleged claim of fraud can be proven false.
“My mother swears it was all done in a movie studio. She says, like a government conspiracy. What about the flag? Why does it stick straight out, even though there is no wind?”
“Well, Ana, we don’t have time to get into that right now. So, let’s assume it is real, okay?” The teacher says, “Now… if you observe this photograph carefully,” he taps the mouse which causes the image to zoom in closer, “look into the astronaut’s helmet visor. What do you see?”
“It looks like another picture in the reflection,” Marky Mark calls out.
“Correct,” the teacher affirms. “And what do you see in that picture?”
“Well, you can see the other astronaut,” the quarterback says, examining the photo.
“Yes! And that astronaut would be Neil Armstrong, the first living creature ever to set foot on the moon. So, you were all sort of correct the first time – of course, that is if you were looking deep into the photograph. Incidentally, this happens to be the only photograph of Neil actually standing on the moon. That’s because Neil had the camera and took most of the photos himself during the moonwalk.
“Ask him what he’s getting at,” Ana whispers to Sally Anderson. “He’s supposed to be telling us about an object relevant to his own life on earth, and he’s showing us pictures of an astronaut over 200,000 miles away.”
“Well, at least it’s not another Bob Dylan story!” Sally says, “I’m not asking him. You do it!”
“I heard that,” the teacher says, turning abruptly. “Stay with me now, okay guys?”
The teacher removes a wristwatch from his briefcase, it is an Omega Seamaster, the one he inherited from his grandfather. Then, he takes his other watch, the Speedmaster Professional, off his wrist. He holds the two watches above his head so everyone can see them. He hands them to Ana Kurowski and asks her to circulate the room with them.
“You’ll notice that both of these watches look quite different as far as watches go. But they do have an important relationship to each other… “While Ana is passing the watches around”, the teacher continues, “let’s examine the Buzz Aldrin photograph a little closer.” The teacher zooms the image in some more. “If you look right here.” He directs an infrared pointer onto Buzz’s hulking right arm, “You’ll see that Mr. Aldrin is wearing a watch over top of his space suit. It’s hard to distinguish, but…” He rotates the sharp red laser beam in circles around a barely visible wrist watch attached to an extra-long strap on the astronaut’s arm,“…the watch Buzz Aldrin is wearing is just like the one Ana is passing around. It is an Omega Speedmaster Professional, the only watch ever certified by NASA for space flight. Every astronaut that has ever gone into space has worn one.” The students seem to be getting more interested.
“That’s pretty cool, sir, but where do you fit into all this?” says the quarterback inquisitively.
“Fair question, Mark,” the teacher says. “I’ll get to that in a minute.”
Then, the teacher reaches into his desk drawer and removes an ancient copy of the Baltimore Sun newspaper, dated July 21, 1969. “I brought this newspaper home from my morning paper route when I was only twelve years old. Danny, please pass this around.” Daniel Marino takes the old newspaper and exhibits it to the rest of the class. On the front page, the headline reads, “Astronauts Walk on the Moon after Smooth Landing.” It’s Volume 265 – Number 56 edition of The Sun. “Red Sox Down Orioles 6-5.” “Senator Edward Kennedy Will Face Charges in Leaving Accident Scene.” “Israeli Jets Stage Raids in Battle.”
The teacher tells the class about his morning newspaper route and how he relied on his grandfather’s gold Omega Seamaster to keep himself running on time and how clearly he remembers wearing it the day he read the story about the astronauts walking on the moon, completely oblivious to the fact that a watch made by the same Swiss manufacturer was simultaneously being worn by the astronauts 200,000 miles away. The greatest distance ever traveled by mankind. He explained how his own ignorance of value and his ingenuous adolescent priorities permitted him to sell that watch for a mere $25 in Florida and what his father had to do to get it back. Then, how he broke it into many pieces while doing the limbo at his friend’s wedding, then waited over a year to get it back. He tells the students about Mr. Sydney’s shop and how he agreed to pay him “whatever it takes” to fix the watch. It wound up costing nearly $400.
“This gold watch has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember,” the teacher confides in his class. “As you can imagine, its value has multiplied many times for me, simply because of the stories it can tell. Now, it represents much more than just a beautiful timepiece.” The students are attentive, and the teacher could have successfully ended his presentation right there. Then Hot Rod speaks up.
“So, what does the other watch have to do with any of this?” the boy calls out from the back of the room. The teacher taps the mouse again, displaying another photograph, this time a close up shot of Buzz Aldrin wearing his Speedmaster.
“This is where it gets really cool, Hot Rod, really…REALLY… COOL,” says the teacher. He takes the watches back from Ana and holds the Speedmaster up for them to see. “I have now worn this watch nearly every day of my life for the past 50 years. I bought it when I was an aimless young man while the gold watch was being repaired.” The teacher explains how the Speedmaster had been abandoned at Mr. Sydney’s repair shop in 1970 and how the jeweler could not track down the mysterious person who left it with him. Mr. Sydney wound up selling the abandoned watch to the young man for just $90, the cost of the repair. “Look closely kiddos, in every detail, you’ll notice, this Omega Speedmaster is identical to the one Buzz Aldrin is wearing in the photograph.”
“Now… let’s have a look at THIS!” The teacher says, as if he were about to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Or, maybe more like William Jennings Bryan trying to convince a skeptical jury that Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale then miraculously regurgitated into Biblical exaltation. Sally Anderson sits up perfectly straight, hanging on every word. “What in the hell is he getting at?” she wonders.
The teacher spins around then taps his mouse hard. An online news article appears on the screen. “I discovered this five years ago,” he says with a grave and mysterious tone. “Ana, would you mind doing the honors and reading this article out loud to the class?” First period is almost over. Ana steps up with her customary enthusiasm and reads:
“ ‘Unsolved Mystery–The Story of Buzz Aldrin’s Missing Watch’…”
The Omega Speedmaster Professional became known as the ‘Moonwatch’ because of the historical impact of the timepiece. Worn by the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the Speedmaster is not only the first watch to traverse the surface of the moon, but also one of the most significant wristwatches of all time. The circumstances surrounding its mysterious disappearance have fueled the legend surrounding this official timepiece of Apollo 11’s mission equipment. Over the years, it has become a legendary artifact: one that bore witness to one of the greatest achievements in humankind’s history.”
The class period is almost over, but the students are now fully attentive and in no hurry to leave. Ana continues reading the article:
“Because Neil Armstrong purposely left his watch in the Lunar Module, Buzz Aldrin became the second human being to set foot upon the moon. Ultimately, it was Aldrin that was first to wear the Omega Speedmaster on the moon. The watch that wrote history in 1969 vanished without a trace just a year later. The circumstances surrounding its disappearance are sketchy at best and unanswered questions remain even today. At the beginning of the 1970s, Buzz Aldrin arranged to have his watch transported to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. where it was set to be exhibited. However, the watch was somehow lost or stolen in transit. Aldrin’s Moonwatch never reached the Smithsonian.”
Ana races the classroom clock to the bell. The students sit still…
“Over the years, new rumors made the rounds about the most symbolic timekeeper in American history. The serial number and the caseback engraving were never clarified and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the missing timepiece was just a regular service issue watch, making it impossible to positively identify as Aldrin’s.” Then, the clincher…
Today, the Moonwatch would easily go for over a million dollars on the open market, but as with any item of historical significance, it would be difficult to label it with an exact price tag. Even after all the time that has passed, it’s still possible that the watch might suddenly turn up. Maybe its current owner is unaware of its significance, thinking that it’s just a regular Speedmaster model. It’s also not entirely clear, if the Buzz Aldrin Speedmaster even exists anymore.”
Bing… bing… bing…bing,
“If the Moonwatch still exists, then it must be out there somewhere. Maybe in the possession of a lucky but unknowing owner, or just tucked away safely in a drawer or safe. However it may be, the last chapter in the story of the original Speedmaster has yet to be written.”
“Oh my God!” Sally calls out and asks the question everyone wants to know. “Is that Buzz Aldrin’s watch? - The one that went to the moon and back?”
“We’ll talk about this tomorrow!” the teacher shouts above the clatter. The teacher buckles his Speedmaster back onto his wrist and smiles. “Always leave them wanting more,” he thinks to himself. He loves his job!
Sally is the last to leave Room D 112. She is shuffling through her papers.
“I want to hear how that story ends, sir,” Sally Anderson says to the teacher, assuming some kind of singular entitlement.
“Don’t worry, Ms. President, there’s a lot more to the story and I’ll fill you in during eighth period. See you then!” The teacher’s second period class assembles at the door. Sally looks at the clock then disappears into to the crowded hallway.
Chapter 5: Future Shock
The teacher sits alone in Room D 112 during his sixth period lunch break and enters grades into his desktop computer. He has lived and worked in a near-paperless society for many years now. Grades, attendance, lesson plans, research materials, emails, gmails, text messages, photographs, videos, student records—practically everything once stuffed inside his brief case and filing drawers is now uploaded, downloaded, sideloaded, copied, pasted, saved or deleted from a hard drive. Truckloads of information can be stored on a flash drive, a google drive, a cloud, or some other intangible device. An entire universe of knowledge of varying reliability magically and inexplicably, appears, disappears or prints out onto an actual piece of paper with the push of a button, flick of a switch, or a tap of a mouse. Questions and answers are googled, yahooed, blogged or otherwise obtained from the all-powerful motherboard of knowledge, the Internet. Goods and services are bought and sold on eBay, Amazon, Craig’s List, and other sites, while social media applications like Facebook and Twitter generate text and images connecting and disconnecting people from around the world. And it all happens as quickly as the speed of light.
The new cyber-world of information had been long foreshadowed and predicted by futurologists who not only saw it coming, but warned of the harmful effects that such accelerated rates of change would have on both individuals and the society they live in. Alvin Toffler and his wife, Adelaide, for example, spell out these dangers in their 1970 bestselling book, Future Shock. In the book, Toffler points out that the modern post-industrial society is advancing so rapidly that certain characteristics fundamentally alter every aspect of the new global civilization.
The teacher has experienced many of these profound changes in ways that most people can’t imagine or even understand. For the past 37 years, he has stayed at it like a solid rock embedded in a fast-moving fresh water stream –flushing past with ever increasing speed. As every precious drop of fresh water comes into contact with that rock, the continuance of its flow is interrupted and permanently affected, even though the encounter itself is brief. The teacher can only hope that this momentary interaction will serve to boost, push forward, or in some way help, not hinder the momentum of the stream. There are many rocks that lie ahead and there are many left behind. The teacher is both. At the same time, the rock, no matter its size or strength, is also moved a bit and, over time, becomes worn down. If the rock should remain in the same place for too long, it is reduced to sand and is washed away with the swift current. The teacher knows this.
The teacher enters the project grades one at a time. These kids get it, he thinks to himself, as he enters numbers between 90 and 100 for each of his “A Peeps.” These are the “haves” in a new kind of “have/have not” society where the greatest skills belong to those who continue to pursue knowledge, even though it can be obtained as effortlessly as tapping a cell phone from a reclined position in the comfort of one’s own bed. But, what about the basic skills? He wonders. Like, what happens in the mind before pressing the button? What about the desire to work and the sense of pride produced by a job well done? What about the things that a computer or a robot cannot manufacture or repair?
He enters the last of the 22 scores for the project and imagines his students will be pleased with their rewards. He looks at his watch. He still has 20 minutes left. He turns out the lights, pulls down the shade and leans back in his leather office chair, thinking about what he will say to Sally an hour and a half from now. She will probably want to know what made him want to become a teacher and what he plans to do with his time after he retires. Those are the easy ones, he believes. He can’t wait to tell her. The teacher dozes into a light, happy sleep until he is awakened by the bell.
Bing… bing… bing… bing… .
Seventh period comes on like a breeze. It is a study hall and just a few students show up. The seniors come with passes to go home early, and the teacher is left to babysit just a handful of freshmen and sophomores. These occupants will most likely not be studying. Rather, they will either be sleeping, listening to music on their earbuds, playing with their cell phones, or all of the above. The one thing they will not be doing is playing cards. The teacher gave up hassling them a long time ago as long as they keep quiet and do not play cards.
Every now and then, Dr. Little, the vice principal, still sneaks by D112 to make sure the students are not going wild, and he especially forbids card playing because it is such an obvious waste of time. Dr. Little and the history teacher go way back –back to when they both applied for the same social studies position with the district back in 1995. Little was a young, recent college grad, working as a substitute teacher with the district. He was well connected politically and had received assurance from the top that the next open position was his. The history teacher, on the other hand, brought sixteen years of Catholic school teaching experience with him. After the formal interviews were over, the wise department supervisor, Mrs. Sanderson, a true spiritual and academic leader and mentor in every way, placed her bet on the Catholic school teacher – a courageous act and a major breakthrough for the teacher. Little wasn’t too happy about that, so he took the alternate route to an Ed D degree, or a Doctorate in Education, and later became vice principal at Hope River High School.
Dr. Little is not a big man, and at first he had a great deal of difficulty fitting into the big suits and shoes required to eventually become the history teacher’s boss. So, to make up for his academic shortcomings, he prefers exercising his authority, counting attendance errors, keeping track of lateness, catching kids in the hallways without a pass, and making sure no one goes up the down staircase. Among his many administrative duties, school security is the one he takes most seriously. Ever since the teacher got caught leaving his door unlocked back in 2012, Little has made rattling the teacher’s door handle a top priority in his daily routine. Failure to lock the classroom door is a serious offense at Hope River High. The building is designed with the tightest possible security in mind. Bomb scares, campus lockdowns, shelters in place, active shooter drills, and every other defensive tactic are practiced often to ward off atrocities like the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School and many other horrible tragedies. The administration strictly requires that ALL CLASSROOM DOORS MUST BE LOCKED AT ALL TIMES. The first time the teacher was caught, he was verbally warned. But the second time, he was written up in the presence of his supervisor, the principal, and his union representative. The panel was not interested in any excuses, like it was inconvenient to keep opening and closing the door for students, or even worse, he simply forgot. This was an act of pure negligence, and the teacher had no recourse other than to sign the paper and walk away knowing his unblemished file was now somehow permanently corrupted.
Ironically, however, on the very same day the teacher received his lashing from Little, another panel, the EOY committee, prepared to make a big announcement, one that would resonate across the whole building, as well as the athletic fields and the entire neighborhood. The announcement would also rock the hearts and minds of his students, colleagues, administrators, family, friends, and even those he may have perceived as enemies. Later that afternoon of April 14, 2013, the school principal, Dr. Rolf, took to the loudspeaker to announce that the AP history teacher and advisor to the school’s widely lauded Academics Club had been named “Educator of the Year,” a hallowed accolade that represents the ultimate symbol of faculty appreciation, honor, and praise. Winning the award is the definitive achievement of any conscientious teacher and is the ultimate reward for exemplary service without the need to first die or retire.
The announcement came as a complete shock to the teacher as his students leaped from their seats hugging, jumping, and congratulating the teacher. The door swung open and the entire EOY committee, including Dr. Little and the rest of the administrative staff, burst into the room to congratulate the teacher. Colorful balloons, a huge, whipped cream topped sheet cake and a “Teacher of the Year” banner were swept into the room. A brand-new custom-built podium, made especially for the teacher by Mr. Conroy’s shop class, was rolled in on wheels. The speechless teacher of the year could do nothing but extend his hands for high fives and struggle to keep his jaw from slamming into the floor. Every teacher who was not in class filed into room D112 for a slice of the rapidly disappearing cake. Everyone’s iPads and cell phones were hoisted into the air, taking pictures and making videos all the while. “How does anybody get to where they are?” the teacher wonders to himself. “And, where do they go once they get there? Past, present and future--,” he believes, “it all adds up to something. But, then what?”
The teacher snaps out of his recollection and watches as his handful of idle study-hallers fiddle with their phones. He can hear the thin trebly sound of hip-hop, rap, and whatever else they are listening to, and can just imagine what it must sound like, booming into their ears. They wouldn’t hear him if he spoke to them so he doesn’t bother. He would have to walk over and jostle them if he needed them for any reason, and he still would not get their full attention. If he wasn’t retiring, he thinks, maybe he could change some of that. But that will be someone else’s job.
The classroom door swings wide open. “Damn it! Forgot to lock it again!” The startled teacher sits bolt upright. False alarm. It isn’t Little. It is Sally Anderson. “Ready to get started, sir? It’s almost eighth period,” Sally says, bursting into the room. She arrives with a hammer and a chisel in hand, ready to dig deep into the teacher’s brain. He doesn’t bother asking how she got herself out of seventh period class. It doesn’t really matter, because Sally Anderson is the future.
Chapter 6: His Story
The classroom empties and the teacher rises from his leather swivel chair to greet Sally Anderson. He gives a bow then says, “Good afternoon, Madam President, how may I be of service?” She takes a seat in the nearest student desk and removes her cell phone from her backpack.
“Do you mind if I record you, sir?” Sally asks. The teacher is used to being recorded by students on cell phones. He has unknowingly appeared on YouTube and Facebook many times playing his guitar and harmonica in class or demonstrating how silly dances like “the bump” were once done. At first, he was furious that students get away with secretly recording their teachers then uploading onto the Internet. But now he simply blows it off as normal. At least, unlike some, he’s never been captured doing or saying anything he regrets. The teacher realizes the Internet is contemporary man’s most powerful creation and it has done more to change the world than anything he has ever witnessed. At least Sally has the courtesy to ask permission to record him.
“I am honored,” the teacher replies.
Sally sets up her phone, takes out her folder and explains that she is calling her project, “His Story.” Through a series of open-ended questions, she is hoping to learn more about the teacher’s overall assessment of his life experience and how it might be understood as a lesson to others. “Can you be just a little more specific for me please, Ms. Prez?” The teacher asks curiously.
“Of course,” Sally says. “And, please, don’t tell me anything that you don’t want me to know. Basically, I want to know how your experience in this crazy, mixed-up world has influenced your philosophy of human existence. In other words, sir, at sixty years old, what are the most important lessons you have you learned from your time on the planet thus far?”
The AP History teacher knows an open-ended question when he hears one and he has taught his students to fully analyze questions like this before trying to answer them.
“Aha!” says the teacher, “I think I understand what you are getting at ... Maybe we should start by discussing the most basic element of our existence.”
“OK, and what might that be?” Sally asks.
“Time itself, Ms Prez. Everything starts with time.”
“Alright, sir, I’m all ears” Sally says. “Go ahead, we’re listening.” Sally shifts to a casual pose awaiting her teacher’s response.
“Well, Sally, with respect to your question, it is important first to understand the concept of time. Let’s start with that. Time is the only possession in life that we humans all have in common. No matter how different we are in terms of our size, shape, intelligence, religious beliefs, and everything else, we are all very much equal in that an interval of time is the same for each of us. We all have 24 hours in a day. It is also true that each person is allotted a certain ‘bank’ of time that begins to expire the very moment we are born. We never know how large or small our time bank is destined to be.”
“Like, ‘he not busy being born, is busy dying?’” Sally interjects, remembering the line from Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma” history lesson.
“Exactly,” says the teacher. “However, nobody lives on the same timeline and no two people ever share the same exact experience as they navigate their individual timeline.”
“Perspective…” Sally whispers.
“Correct! So, the question then becomes, how does a person manage his or her own bank of time and what guiding principles will they use to do it? Time is our most precious asset, but like all valuable possessions in our lives, we will eventually lose it. There is nothing we can do to slow it down, speed it up or stop and start it again. Everything is temporary, in a sense. Yet, everything is permanent. Like a burning candle, the flame can be passed on.”
“Look around this classroom… What do you see?” The teacher asks. “Objects, yes? Things. Bits and pieces of yesterday that have been held over beyond their period of usefulness, repurposed for our history class. Thanks to you and your classmates, we have all shared the stories that each of these objects have to tell. We can empathize or relate to the joys and the sorrows that go along with them. This is how we take can possession of the past. Then, it becomes our job to preserve it so it can be passed on to the next generation. That, my dear President, is how history works!” The teacher rises from his chair and moves to the window, looking out. Sally follows him.
“Consider Hope River High School,” the teacher says. “I was here the day we opened these doors on Wednesday, September 12th, 2001.”
“Can you talk about that a little?” Sally asks.
“Sure,” the teacher says looking out the window. “Everything you see was once farmland, wide open space as uninhabited as the moon. Then, right behind our busy backs, the rapid invasion of suburbia brought more and more developers who built homes, attracted families, businesses, and created a whole new living environment where people could escape the crowded city. Our other two high schools soon became overcrowded and could not keep up with the growth.
Hope River High was just an idea before the first brick was ever laid into the ground. It didn’t even have a name. Architects, designers, lawyers, financial planners, educational consultants and every kind of professional expert weighed in to create something that did not yet exist. Once the concept came to life on paper, it was sent to the elected school board, who fiercely debated it for years. Then it came before the taxpayers as a bond referendum involving millions of dollars in costs. After five years of defeat, the bond referendum was finally approved and construction began. By the year 2000, an administration was assembled who gave the school a name and began the grueling task of recruiting a faculty and staff. Mr. Rolf, the vice principal at the old school became the first principal of the new, conceptual, Hope River High School. He immediately started recruiting a team of his favorite teachers to open the new school under his direction. I was one of those teachers.”
“Oh my! Sir, that’s cool, but it must have been a little scary too, wasn’t it?” Sally remarks.
“Yes, it was both cool and scary… a tough decision all around. I felt a strong desire to be a part of a whole new adventure at Hope River High School. But I also felt great loyalty to my supervisor and former principal who had given me so much opportunity and security at the old school. It was sort of like an offer to become a colonist in a whole new undeveloped frontier. Then, one day, Mr. Rolf invited his recruits to a late lunch where he hoped to persuade us to jump ship and join his crew. When I walked into the restaurant, I was determined to stick with the stability and security and remain faithful to my supervisor and principal – until the waitress showed up. ‘Order anything you want,’ Mr. Rolf said as he outlined his amazing vision for the future of Hope River High School. Rolf had been the most successful wrestling coach in the history of New Jersey and was given the title, ‘Coach of the Century’ by the Courier Post newspaper. He wanted to make Hope River the most competitive high school anywhere.
Mr. Rolf was passionately inspired, and he knew how to motivate others. By the time we ordered our third round of drinks and our second round of Buffalo shrimp, Rolf was on his feet, physically animating every bit of hope and faith he had for his new high school and the team he was about to assemble. He was like the greatest motivational speaker I had ever seen or heard. Academics, sports, the arts, science and technology—you name it. He had a plan for everyone in that room and by the time I walked out the door, I was fully onboard. I never looked back. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Luckily, Mrs. Sanderson also made the choice to join the crew so I knew I made the right decision. Shall I continue or do you want us to move on?” the teacher asks, with a subtle warning that, even he might not know where the conversation might lead.
“Yes! Please go on!” Sally says looking up from her notepad.
“When the 2000-2001 school year ended, the new complex was in its final stages of construction, and everybody was excited. Hope River High School had been an embryo, conceived first as a necessity, then a vision, then a plan and then a reality. Seemingly overnight, tons of concrete, mountains of asphalt, scores of windows, bricks and metal roofing materials were miraculously transformed into a stunning ultra-modern structure surrounded by a vast network of football, baseball, and soccer fields, a massive gymnasium, and a state-of-the-art auditorium designed to serve as a community playhouse and concert venue. Inside, all the bells and whistles one could ever imagine. By September of 2001, the embryo was fully developed and ready to be born, kicking and pounding with optimism and excitement. Everything was set in motion, but the school lacked one important component.”
“Like what?” Sally asks.
“History!” The teacher says emphatically.
“Yes, history… That is something that can only be created by people and time. In September of 2001, Hope River High School was a tabla rasa, a blank slate with no imprint of time etched anywhere in its entire building and grounds. It was simply a beautiful, highly functional construction project, yet it was completely devoid of life. Windows and bricks, empty shelves, empty file cabinets, empty trophy cases, empty walls, empty bulletin boards, empty hard drives, empty desks, empty lockers and empty hallways. Hope River High School could not burst to life until the first student walked through the door, 9-12-2001.
“9-11… ” Sally realizes. “The day before Hope River opened its doors. What happened?”
“Hope River was originally scheduled to open on Tuesday, September 11th. Everyone from the Superintendent to the maintenance crew was set to welcome the first students into the building. Mr. Rolf rented a tuxedo and the students were primed to start making history at Hope River High. Then, at 10 PM on Monday, September 10th, everyone received a call delaying another day due to an electrical inspection that had not been finished.
“Well, at least you got another day off.” Sally says light heartedly.
“Yes, I was actually kind of happy because I knew Bob Dylan’s newest album, “Love and Theft” was being released on the eleventh. I wanted to be the first to get the CD at the mall that day. So, I got into the car the next morning and went after it. I turned on the radio to get the weather and I heard the first reports of an airplane that crashed into one of the Twin Towers. That’s all I knew until I was leaving the mall with the Dylan CD. Then, I saw a mob of people staring at the television sets in the department store. It was the freakiest thing I’d ever seen in my life. Like something out of the “Twilight Zone.” A nightmare in real time right before our very eyes. It seemed as though everyone in the mall had pushed in close enough to watch the first tower crumble to the ground. It did not seem real, but it was. It was a horrific life defining moment.
“Really horrible,” Sally says sorrowfully.
“Nearly 3,000 completely innocent men and women suddenly lost their lives that day and you, Sally, were just a year old with an entire life ahead of you. Your history was just getting started as the lives of those poor innocent victims abruptly and tragically came to an end. So, you see, our time is both irreplaceable and unpredictable. That terrible event will always haunt this school and be remembered as the historic framework of Hope River High School. Yet, now, sixteen years of history has been etched into the name Hope River High School. Just think of all the trophies, the banners, the tens of thousands of lives touched, the sixteen graduating classes, the academic awards, the scholarships, the successes and failures and, above all, the powerful memories, the good… and the bad.” The teacher walks over to the front desk next to the door. Looking down at the empty desk, he says. “And the very bad…”
“Britany Washington…?” Sally asks.
“Yes, Sally. Brittany was one of the brightest, most talented and most beautiful human beings ever to radiate her light upon this earth. She sat right here at this desk until February 16th, 2005. The light went out that day, perhaps, the darkest day in the history of this school.”
“Do you want to talk about it, sir?” Sally asks.
“Not really,” said the teacher. “Hits a little too close to home. But you know? The thing is, anything could have happened on that horrible day. Anything at all. The slightest alteration of time and Brittany would still be with us. That beautiful bright light would still be shining, maybe brighter than any light has ever shone before. Something as simple as stopping to pet the cat or grabbing a handful of potato chips on her way out the door, anything at all would have placed that goddam car just a split second ahead of her or behind her when she crossed that intersection. Jesus Christ! It’s still impossible to believe.” Sally sees her teacher turn away and wipe a tear from his eye. Neither the teacher nor the student speak for a moment.
Then Sally breaks the awkward silence, “So… why don’t we talk about…”
The teacher interrupts her, “Sally, anything can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Please, never forget that! Good things, bad things and everything in between. We are in constant motion, and we never know what’s in store the next time our alarm clock rings.”
“Or the next time that second hand sweeps around the watch on your wrist,” Sally says thoughtfully. “I’m sure you’d like to move on, sir. Can we talk about you a little bit?”
“Good idea,” the teacher replies. Sally looks at her list of questions.
“Okay, sir, it takes a very special kind of person to last 37 years as an educator. So, when did you get your ‘calling’ to become a teacher?”
“My calling?” the teacher asks. He thinks to himself that only religious people like priests and nuns get a “calling.” Like his sister who entered the convent right after high school, not long after the family moved to New Jersey from Baltimore. He never really thought about receiving a “calling.” The teacher ponders the question.
“Okay, let me rephrase that… When did you know for certain that you wanted to be a school teacher? Is it something you planned or prepared for and if so, how did you do it?”
“Sally,” the teacher said with a smile, “I’ll be happy to explain but it might take more time than we have. Let’s have a seat.”
Chapter 7: The Calling
“No, Sally, I did not plan to become a teacher. In fact, it never occurred to me.”
“Oh really?” the student remarks. “Well, I am surprised to hear that. So, you didn’t get a calling?”
“No, no calling for me,” the teacher says. “My sister got the calling. Actually, I wanted to be a rock star.”
“Doesn’t everybody?” she laughs. “Then how did you end up here?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, it seems like I just woke up one morning and there I was, standing in a classroom.” The teacher speaks with hesitation in his voice. He thinks to himself, “The truth, she wants?” He realizes he is at a crossroad. He can choose to be brutally honest or he can invent a fairy tale of inspirational bullshit that she will probably believe and never know the difference. But he doesn’t want to falsify “His Story.” Then again, if he tells her the whole truth and nothing but the truth, he just might alienate the student’s idealized perception of her teacher’s authenticity and, possibly cross a line of confidentiality that should not be crossed. The fairy tale is the easy way out. But what can any student of history really learn from false facts? At the very least, the teacher will know in his heart, he is completely unworthy of her trust. The teacher tells himself, there are many shades of the truth and maybe coloring that truth a little or simply omitting essential facts is the way to go.
“Sally, things so were much different when I was growing up. Oh my God!” he exclaims. “Strike that from the record!” He stops himself. Is he really using those words? The words every old person utters when selling their sense of self-righteousness to the young? “I’m sorry, Sally, let me start again.” He clears his throat. “Okay, we all live within the boundaries of our place in time. We are always searching for pathways leading to some state of happiness or success. And ultimately, we discover our paths in different ways. For some of us, they at least appear straightforward and seem to make a lot of sense. And, for others, they are more like a complicated maze of roadblocks and detours that make no sense at all. One person’s idea of what makes sense may be quite different from another’s, but in the end, we all have to deal with our roadblocks and create our own detours around them.”
“I guess we all have our share of roadblocks and detours, don’t we?” Sally suggests.
“Of course we do, Sally. And, some more than others. Certainly, losing your father at your age had to be an enormous roadblock for you – a terribly painful roadblock that you probably thought you’d never get around. But you have detoured and have found a new direction forward, even though you will never forget the time and love you shared with your father. Isn’t that the way it works? Especially when you are a teenager?”
“Yes, I suppose, and we’ve talked about that before,” Sally says. “And we can talk about it again after we finish talking about you. Okay?” The teacher suddenly remembers he is being recorded and gets back to the point.
“A calling?” He says. “Well, I guess if I had any calling at all, I must have received it the year after I was released from the hospital – from the Jaguar accident.” Sally knows all about that accident. Her teacher had shared the story with the class before the prom, warning them about the dangers of drinking and driving. He was never ashamed to admit these things if a powerful lesson could be learned. The students, especially the boys, were fascinated more by photographs of the classic sports car and the idea of actually flipping it over than they were with the reality of the consequences.
“Well, Sally dear, I flipped a lot more than a car that night.” He places both of his middle fingers next to each other in the air.
“Whoa!” Sally says jokingly, “Careful with the body language, sir”
“Uh, yes, sorry…” he smiles and flattens his palms onto the desk. “Can you see the difference? The short one looks this way because that’s the best the plastic surgeon could do with what he had left to work with. And that was the end of my rock star dreams… and any other hope I ever had to become a great guitar player. It was a tragic moment for me. I looked around and nearly everything that mattered was either lost or broken!” The car, my God, that gorgeous work of art was last seen crushed like a bloody tin can in LaPollo’s junk yard. My best friend, Paul, could have been killed, all because of my crazy, reckless, drunken ego. I could have flown that car right into another vehicle for God’s sake, or the window of the diner. Anything could have happened, and it’s hard to believe that something so bad could have been a whole lot worse. Paul and his young wife, Mandy, were finished for good. Every promise they made to each other just a few months before was broken. The divorce cost both families nearly all their savings, just paying lawyers.”
“What ever happened to Mandy?” Sally interjects.
“Mandy wound up leaving the baby with Paul and Paul’s parents who wound up raising him themselves. Neither Mandy nor her parents ever saw the boy again. And Paul… God rest his soul… died of cancer just a few years ago.”
“Oh my God, that’s so sad.”
“Then, my own girlfriend, Kathy, the one who actually used the term, unconditional love one time, got tired of playing chauffer for a depressed, unemployed, ‘nowhere man’ on the DMV revoked list. So, she said she wanted a little space to get back in touch with herself. That ‘little space’ turned out to be a chasm as wide as from here to the moon. We never saw each other again, except many years later, when she was married with three kids. We spoke briefly, but the conversation was as awkward and superficial as a situation comedy.”
“So, how did you find your detour around all those roadblocks?” Sally asks.
“The watch,” the teacher says, knowing his student would be confused. She was.
“Yes, the gold watch my grandfather left me.” The teacher removes the watch from his brief case and hands it to Sally. “I suddenly realized I had been doing the limbo with my own life. And just when I was about as low as I could go, with nowhere left but flat on the floor, I got the call from Mr. Sydney. My watch was fixed! It was alive and so was I!”
“The watch is beautiful,” Sally says. “It still looks brand new.”
“Thank you! And I plan to keep it that way. It’s beautiful, Sally, because it had been so much more broken than I ever was but, I made the choice to get it fixed, no matter what it cost. I started mowing lawns, cleaning pools, and doing whatever I could to save up the $400 I needed to pay Mr. Sydney for the work he did. Then I figured that if Mr. Sydney could fix my watch, I could fix myself. And that’s when I broke the news to my parents.”
“Broke what news?” Sally asks.
“I was going to college.”
“Wow!” Sally remarks. “So… is that when you decided to become a school teacher?” She asks.
“Oh no. Not at all. Not even close. I got it into my head that I was going to become a lawyer. I believed it was never too late to get started, even if I had to begin at the community college. Then I transferred to a college down in South Florida. That part was a blast! I was living the dream. I got to live in a dorm with a couple guys who turned out to be good friends. And I got a job delivering television sets to some of the most exclusive locations in South Florida.”
“Delivering television sets?” Sally says with surprise. “Couldn’t people just pick them up themselves?”
“Ha,” the teacher laughs. “You’ve got to be kidding. These TVs were huge, and it took at least two people to carry them. Each model represented a different style of décor. Early American, Danish Modern, Mediterranean, dark wood, light wood, you know… TVs had style back then.”
“So, did you get into the college thing?”
“Yes, very much! Before I knew it, I was studying Shakespeare, history, politics, philosophy, and symbolic logic. I had finally broken into a world that I had been trying to escape all my life. Professors, books, and college exams brought brand new and exciting dreams to life. I had a girlfriend who taught me how to study and manage my time. Going to class, going to work, and even partying with my friends taught me something new every day. I learned as many lessons outside the classroom as I did inside,” the teacher says.
“Like what?” Sally asks.
“Like what things are really worth. What amounts to true value in a person’s life.”
“Hold on,” Sally says, she is writing notes very quickly. “Okay, she says, you are circling back to what we learned in class today. Yes? You are talking about the value of things. Right?”
“Yes, and the true value of people, as well…and the stories they have to tell, even when they don’t realize they are telling them. Sometimes, people tell the best stories when they don’t know they are telling them.”
“Example please,” Sally says, scribbling into her notepad.
“There was one experience I’ll never forget… Are you sure you want to hear this?”
“Yes, sir. I have all the time in the world.”
Chapter 8: Time and Love
The teacher leans his head back into 1978 and explains to Sally, “It was a typical Southern Florida morning in October. Sharp glimmers of warm light filtering through the tall coconut palms extending like long arms, down to the sidewalk below. Everything was clean and clear. Boca Raton, one of Florida’s most affluent and magnificent cities, sits along the Gold Coast between the Palm Beaches and Fort Lauderdale. Boca Royal Palm TV was the only authorized dealer for RCA, Magnavox, and Zenith console televisions. Sales and delivery extended from Palm Beach to the Miami metropolitan areas. I would arrive at the shop 6:30 sharp each morning to help load the trucks, then go out as helper for the morning run before classes began. The delivery crew was responsible to locate each residence on a map, then carry the television wherever it had to go, put it into place, connect the power and the antenna then make sure everything works properly. Each delivery and set-up lasted about half an hour and with drive time. We’d make approximately three deliveries before returning to the shop to reload the truck for the following day. I got off at noon when everybody else went to lunch.”
“It sounds like you could have made a career of delivering things to people in the morning, sir. So, how did you come to drive 106 miles each morning to deliver history lessons to your students?” Sally asks with a grin. She taps the desk with her pencil a couple of times.
“I’m getting to that,” the teacher exclaims. “Patience… patience, my dear. So, on this bright and beautiful day, I arrive at the shop.” He slips back to 1978. “And this big, tall, very ornate armoire of sorts sits in the middle of the floor on a dolly. Every inch of it is solid wood, hand carved with pictures. Pictures of ancient Egyptians – like workers, maybe even slaves, carrying things on their backs and shoulders, rowing boats, pulling giant blocks with a big hot sun and its many rays shining down on them. All carved out of wood. Then, on each of the doors, in the background, the three Great Pyramids of Giza are carved just below the sun. The words, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure are etched below each of the pyramids. It was incredible!”
“A TV set?” Sally asks surprised.
“Yes! I’d never seen a TV set so big, or a cabinet so detailed. Inside the cabinet, a huge picture tube, a Beta Max video player, a record player and a whole assortment of hi-fi stereo components were pre-wired and ready to plug into the wall. The only problem was that it had to be lifted into the truck, then delivered to a customer who lived on the top floor of an oceanfront residence right on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. As we discussed earlier, I was quite familiar with Fort Lauderdale, but only as a teenager lost in a crowd of crazy mixed-up rebels. But now, I had hoped to see how the other half truly lives, or at least, how I thought they lived.”
“So, we arrived at the building and notified the gatekeeper that we had a delivery for Mrs. Florence Roth on the 22nd floor. The gatekeeper already knew this, so he directed us to the delivery entrance in back of the lobby. Every brass knob and railing was highly polished without a trace of ever having been touched. The floors, the walls, and ceilings were magnificent. We were greeted by an attendant who gave us permission to push the dolly across the marble floor to the elevator which was attended by a black operator wearing pure white gloves. The elevator itself was brassy and ornate with many mirrors creating the illusion of being much larger than it actually was. And then the elevator doors opened wide. Right into a giant room full of statues, like a museum.”
“So, who was this Mrs. Roth?” Sally asks.
“I don’t know, but I do know she had the armoire custom built by a famous wood carver in New York City. Anyway, when the door opened, we were greeted by another attendant, obviously her butler, who had laid down a trail of sheets and blankets to protect the floor from the rubber dolly wheels.”
“Do you mean the elevator opened right into her apartment?” Sally asks.
“Yes, and I wouldn’t call it an apartment. It was a serious penthouse. The entire floor belonged to this woman and every square foot of space was filled with elaborately framed oil paintings, fancy furniture, and tall statues and busts with stone cold eyes watching as we rolled the dolly toward its destination, wherever that was. The attendant leads the way to a very large bedroom trimmed in gilded plaster moldings and looking out onto the vast and empty ocean. The same ocean we used to swim in between rush hours when we worked at ‘Captain Kidd’s,’ you know?” Sally nods her head. “Inside the bedroom, a king-size antique iron and brass bed came into view … and in it… the most pitifully frail and helpless looking female figure lying flat beneath a thin sheet with her head propped on a pillow. Her face was crass, mean-looking, as if she had spent her entire life in vicious battle, and from the looks of her booty collection, a long history of winning. I remember the conversation well…
‘Mrs. Roth, your Armoire has arrived,’ said the attendant.
‘Mrs. Roth,’ he said again, ‘Ma’am, the boys are here with your new television set.’ The woman struggled to open her eyes then spat out, ‘You know where it goes, Jason! Tell them to set it up and then leave me alone!’
“Oh my… Shelley!” Sally interjects. The teacher looks confused. “You know, the poem, “Ozymandias” – ‘wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command…’
“Yes,” the teacher says, “of course… tell that its sculptor well those passions read, which still survive stamped on these lifeless things.” Then Sally’s voice drops an octave to a deep baritone.
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, look on my works ye mighty and despair… Oh, my God,” Sally exclaims. “So, what do you think was up with the woman’s attitude?”
“Well, after we got everything set up and after Mrs. Roth finished reaming us out about everything from shadows in the picture to a hum that she thought she heard from one of the speakers, we finally got the hell out of there. No tip, no offers for something to drink, not even a glass of water. For crying out loud! These are just basic acts of kindness we were accustomed to from even our ‘less fortunate’ customers. All we got was a tongue lashing from Mrs. Roth. But, I received something much more than a tip from her that day.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
“Well, I got a lesson I never could have learned from a teacher in a classroom. And, you know what? I never thought about it until now, but maybe that was my calling to become a teacher.” Sally listens carefully as she scribbles into her notebook.
“Go on…” Sally says.
The teacher continues, “Anyway, while going down on the elevator, Jason apologized for Mrs. Roth’s rude behavior and told us we were the first people, besides himself, her doctors and the maid that she had seen in many months. She had been sick and bedridden for quite some time and was not expected to live much longer. She wanted nothing to do with people, and any family she might still have were estranged since long before. I never felt so sorry for a person in my life. Someone who visibly possessed everything under the sun --servants, paintings, statues and a multimillion dollar view—trapped inside her own private pyramid, like a tomb.” The teacher pauses to think. “So, Sally, let me ask you… What do you think was up with this woman’s attitude?”
“Well, sir, from what you have just told me, I would guess that Mrs. Roth, the poor old soul, possessed everything money can buy… everything except time and love… things you just can’t buy.” The teacher nods, then says, “Nothing beside remains round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Chapter 9: Our Time
It is now 1:45 PM and the sands of time are running quickly from eighth period. If Sally wants to cover any more ground, she must do it in the next fifteen minutes, because no matter how much time she thinks she has, she knows, there is no keeping the teacher beyond the eighth period bell.
“Okay,” Sally says. “We are almost finished. You said, you think your encounter with Mrs. Roth might have been your calling to the classroom. Can you explain that?” The teacher looks at his watch. It’s getting late.
“Okay, let’s give it a try… As you can see, Sally, time has a way of escaping without our realizing it. We each live in our own bubble of ‘here and now,’ like an eternal moment, as my wise supervisor used to say. But we cannot stop the sands of time from piling up behind us. Nor can we increase the amount of sand that remains.
“So, not long after the encounter with Ms. Ozymandias, I decided to go home. Back to New Jersey. Maybe to reconnect with my family, my friends and maybe even try to get back into music. I started to see myself more as a teacher than a lawyer, or a rock star, or anything else. It seemed more real, more human, and less methodical to me. Maybe, it was the exploratory nature of the business, like helping others crawl up that dark tunnel toward an unknown source of light. Maybe I saw teaching as a way to slow down the sands of my own hourglass and put to use the things I have learned in life. I guess it might have been that simple. So, I had my college credits transferred back to New Jersey where I could finish my degree in history. Then time blasted off like a rocket ship to the moon, or a Jaguar redlining down Route 130 in fourth gear. I woke up one day and there I was with a home of my own, a young and beautiful wife, an extraordinary son, and my first teaching job. Like I had crossed a threshold of time, speed and distance.”
Sally circles back. “…in a Catholic school?”
“Yes, it was the summer of 1979. I was still in college finishing up a few education classes when my dear sister ‘the Franciscan,’ bless her heart, called me on the phone. She wanted to know if I would consider working as a sixth-grade teacher for up to a year at her school in Woodbury Heights. Funny… my sister and I have taken such different paths through life but have both somehow ended up in a classroom.”
“Yes, especially, since you started out on the same road, walking uphill to school every morning,” Sally says with a smile.
“So… I continued taking college courses at night and received full credit for student teaching based on my experience at the Catholic school. It was a difficult decision at first, because the salary was just $8,000 for the year. But, with my wife’s income and a little help from the family, we figured we could make it work. And we did. I spent that year learning and teaching, and loving it all the while. The regular teacher never came back, and I was offered a second year with a raise in pay…. and then a third year, then a fourth. My wife and I had another beautiful son and then another. I stayed in school, first to study ancient history at University of Pennsylvania and then Victorian poetry at Princeton.
“Wow! So, you made it from community college to the big League!” Sally observes.
“Yes, you could say that, but that’s not all,” the teacher says “Just like my high school principal, Mr. Malcolm once said, ‘you never stop growing… you never stop learning.’ I have never stopped learning. I am still learning, right here, right now with you today.”
“So, how did you wind up in a public school anyway?”
“After sixteen years at the Catholic school, I finally left for financial reasons. And here we are, twenty years later.
“Speaking of here and now, Sally, you, my dear, have a paper to write. And, I have ‘promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.’”
“Frost!” Sally whispers. She has heard that one a million times too.
“Sharp kid!” the teacher nods. “Okay, Madame President, time to hit the road, do you have any final questions for me?” The teacher places his Seamaster back into his briefcase.
“Yes sir, I have plenty,” says Sally, but I guess we are out of time.
“Yes, I’m afraid we are out of time. I suppose you can fill in the blanks from what you already know,” the teacher says.
“And whatever I don’t know, I’ll just make up,” Sally replies. They both laugh.
Bing, bing, bing, bing….eighth period comes to an end.
“Oh, Sally, before you leave, there is something I want you to know,” the teacher says, looking straight into Sally’s bright and inquisitive young face.
“Yes, sir, I’m in no hurry,” she says. The teacher reaches into his jacket pocket.
“I want you to know that, in many ways, you represent the very best of every student I have ever taught. But, in other ways, you are a little extra special.” He hands Sally a folded piece of paper. “Our moment in time at Hope River High School has meant as much to me as it has to you. In our time, I suppose I have learned as much from you as you have learned from me.” Sally contemplates the teacher’s words.
In the brief pause that follows, Sally thinks back to her peak moments at Hope River High School. She flashes through her many successes and those she has helped others to achieve –the trips, the assemblies, the people, friendships, the adventures. She thinks about her own scholarships and awards and realizes how much she has truly come of age. Sally has made history at Hope River High School and will carry her bright light into the many dark passages that lie ahead. Sally is one of the fortunate ones who has escaped the pale hiddenness of her anonymity. She has begun to paint a bright new world with a beautiful palette of colors with many shades of happiness and success – diligence, honor, determination, perseverance, respect for herself and others, and pride in everything she does. Sally made the choice to join the “Club” and she has made the most of it.
“Time will accelerate quickly for you as it has for me,” the teacher says. “And before long, these memories will be nothing more than blurry little blips on your busy radar screen –just tiny pieces of an ever growing jigsaw puzzle. But they will always be with you in some form or another, shaping your future, no matter how large or small they might be. Depending on your place in life, one day, you might find the need to squeeze them back out like the last spatter of toothpaste from a tube.”
Sally slowly opens the paper and reads the words to herself. She blushes a little then starts to cry. It is the letter Donna, Sally’s mother, wrote to the teacher shortly after Sally joined the club. The young girl has no idea her mother ever shared these thoughts with her teacher. There is nothing more the teacher can do at this point. He says to her, “Why don’t you keep it so we never forget our time at Hope River High School”?
Sally wipes her eyes, not knowing what to do or say next, except… “Thank you, sir. Thank you for everything.” The teacher thinks to himself, “that is everything, and everything is enough.”
The teacher and the student pack their belongings and prepare to exit Room D 112. Doors swing wide up and down D Hallway with students and teachers clamoring in motion. A brief moment in time has come and now it is gone.
Sally stops at the door and turns to her teacher. She wonders if, perhaps, one day he might tell Her Story. Then, she says, “Just one thing I forgot to ask you, sir, if I may?” The teacher slows to a stop. “Do you really think your watch has been to the moon and back?”
“Sally Anderson,” the teacher says, “some things are better left unknown.”
The teacher and the student exit the room and disappear into the crowded hallway. Class is dismissed.
The birds are loud and alive this morning. The dawn chorus signals the start of a brand- new day. What are they celebrating? Maybe Dylan’s birthday? Bob turns eighty today. They might be singing a song for him in the secret language of birds. “Fair enough,” the retired teacher thinks to himself. “Do they understand the secret language of Dylan? Does anyone?”
Renee is asleep by the teacher’s side. No bird could ever wake her. Not even a 747 flying low overhead crossing the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore. But, when she wakes, the retired teacher’s world truly starts to spin. It’s another day in another place in another time – and there is much to do in the time they have left.
Hope River High School disappeared in the teacher’s rear view mirror five years ago, and he has no need to look back. Time and love – and experience –have provided everything he needs, and everything is enough. On his wrist, his Seamaster ticks on—a solid gold reminder of many mornings – bought, sold, broken, repaired, salvaged, and redeemed. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick… perfect time if, there is such thing as perfect time.
“Happy Birthday, Bob!” The retired teacher exclaims in his head. “I am just one of millions of fans from many generations who would like to thank you for the perpetual wisdom you have injected into our lives. ‘Together through life’ from the very beginning. Yes, the times have changed, and hard rains have come pouring down. But the ‘new mornings’, Bob, that’s what matters most – the ‘new mornings.’ As you say. ‘This must be the day that all of my dreams come true. So happy just to be alive underneath the sky blue, on this new morning, new morning, new morning with you.”
[HJ1]Wouldn’t be before or after that he calls their name? I would hope?