Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Calling On A Hero Part 2

Veteran's Day is just one of those holidays that I want to cling to for way longer than 24 hours.  Standing at the parade in downtown Petaluma today, I said to my girlfriends, "I'm going to re-post my blog from last Veteran's Day later on" but then I realized, I had more to say than just a re-post. Funny how that happens.  I haven't blogged since September. Not sure what the funk has been about but within the past 24 hours, I've had 3 ideas come to me that I just can't wait to get out.  

Today, I spent a lot of time missing my grandpa and being thankful for the friendship I made with Mr. Bell when I lived back in Mobile, Alabama (read more about him below). Recently, we lost my grandma also and it feels a bit like losing my grandpa all over again.  I think when he passed away in 2006, I shifted all of my love for him onto my grandma.  And now, that generation has come to an end.  The circle of life. 

Proud of our PHS Band!
It's strange to think that the images and concept of "war" way back when (WW II days are especially on my mind) are so different than the images and concepts we have of war today.  I'm not at all trying to get political here so let's not go there. All I'm saying is that weapons were different, boundaries were different, training was different, technologies were different, tactics, strategy, and power were different. It's hard to believe that soon, all of the WW II vets will have passed away and those stories will become second and third hand stories.  Despite all the differences of war "then" and "now" - I can't help but see a lot of similarities too.  Respect. Honor. Love. Freedom. Pride. 

The Veteran's Day Parade was incredible today in Petaluma.  It lasted over an HOUR and I didn't want it to end. There were so many groups of people represented in the parade that serve people in one way or another.  Besides every military branch you can think of, there were emergency response crews, city council members, the American Red Cross.  My personal favorites were the veterans who waved at the crowds and nodded in appreciation.  Some of THEM were even mouthing the words, "thank you." As helicopters and jets flew overhead, the overwhelming sensation of gratitude just took over all of my senses.  One second I was whistling, then I was clapping, next I would be waving my flag, and in between all of those came smiles, cheers, and even a few tears.  
Helping others all the time.
So fascinating.

With my girls. Ash & Derb.
 I was just another fan in the crowd but I had at least ten moments where I felt like a veteran looked me right in the eyes and smiled and nodded at me.  The American spirit was alive. It was strong. There was a gentleman a few people away from me who was probably in his late  20s.  He stood for the entire parade (so did a lot of us but this guy had a comfy chair he could have been sitting in). He must have been in the service also because so many veterans looked at him and just KNEW he was a fellow hero serving his country.  It was incredible to watch their unspoken interactions over and over again. I was honored to be standing so close to him, and to witness the unspoken love.  

Here I thought sleeping in, having lunch with girlfriends, getting a massage, or resting under a blanket on the couch was going to the best part of my day.  Boy was I wrong. Waving that flag, watching children look at heroes with awe, hugging friends, seeing some of my students, getting a wink from a 90 year old man who had a sparkle in his eye like my grandpa used to, those are the things that will stick with me forever.  Happy Veteran's Day. 

The following blog post was written exactly a year ago on November 11, 2013. Not only is it one of my fav posts but I also love how much chatter started about my totally incredible Hutchens Elementary School uniform. :) YES! 

Mr. & Mrs. Bell
Photo taken: November 16, 2007

It had been a long day of teaching.  One of those days where you feel a little defeated and beat up when the kids all walk out the door.  One of those days where bus duty feels like a huge punishment, and you "supervise" by pretending you don't see the kids hiding behind the benches throwing erasers at one another. Mrs. Ramey had apparently had a similar day to mine because I remember walking into her classroom after bus duty and feeling relieved when she gave me a look that said, "Please tell me we aren't still going." 

Ramey was one of my very best teaching friends when I lived in Mobile, Alabama. She was one of those teachers who was never too busy to answer my endless questions.  Her precision to detail and OCD tendencies (as she herself would admit) coupled with my big picture views and lofty goals were a dynamite combination! We were a killer 3rd grade team, Ramey and me. On this particular fall day, Ramey and I had planned to drive downtown to a museum that was featuring a new photography gallery depicting the story of  World War II.  After a quick debate on if we should still go or not, Ramey and I grabbed our after school snack of Diet Dr. Peppers and Cheeze-Its, and headed for the museum. 

The World War II photographs were breathtaking.  I stood in awe of the countless pictures of young men who had picked up and left everything they knew to serve and protect our country.  A part of me kept an eye out for a picture of my grandfather, Charles M. Barnett, who had passed away a year earlier.  I didn't see grandpa in any of those pictures, but I felt him with me in that museum. I remember feeling so proud that he had served our country, came home to raise a family, and then spent his life as an educator sharing his knowledge of photography with his students and investing in their lives until his own passing.  Standing in that museum that day, I could smell my grandpa's "dark room" where he spent hours upon hours developing pictures years earlier, but where us grand kids had thought it was cool to just hang out and be kids together.

As I was lost in my own personal thoughts, Ramey called me over to a photograph that had clearly captured her attention.  Together, we read the story of Maurice Bell, a seaman on the USS Indianapolis who survived 4 days and 5 nights in shark infested waters, waiting to be rescued after a Japanese torpedo sank the USS Indianapolis in the middle of a 1945 July night.  We were moved to tears, touched by his story. One of only 317 men who survived out of approximately 1,200 men on board, Mr. Bell's story was beyond comprehension for even Ramey who grew up in a military household of bravery and tradition. And then we saw it..."Maurice Bell currently resides in Mobile, Alabama with his wife Lois." It was as if Ramey and I knew immediately that Mr. Bell was going to change our lives, and our students' lives with his story and his honor. 

Two weeks later, Maurice Bell, the sweetest old man your eyes had ever seen, sat in my 3rd grade classroom with my twenty students.  He shared his story with a room full of eight year olds.  A room full of students who didn't know or understand war. A room full of students who couldn't understand what it was like to hear their friends being taken one by one into the dark waters by sharks. A room full of students who didn't understand why their teacher was misty-eyed. However what I saw that day, was that Mr. Bell also shared his story with a room full of students who suddenly didn't care when recess was or what was for lunch.  Students who ran up to him after his talk and hugged him asking for his autograph. Students whose eyes glistened with pride when Mr. Bell let them wear his seaman's cap and when he crouched for a picture with them.  

What I saw that day, was a hero.  A real live hero.  In my classroom.  With my students.  I felt so proud that Veterans Day week.  Proud of the fact that Ramey and I had sucked up our bad day, and gone to learn and experience something special together. Proud that we did something about it by calling up a stranger and inviting him to connect with our students. Proud that those little eight year old lives would forever have the experience of meeting Mr. Bell and his lovely wife, Lois. 

Proud that we called upon a hero.  

Written with much love in the memory of Grandpa Chuck and Maurice Bell, two heroes I think about often.
Read and watch more about Maurice Bell's story from PBS here.

With Grandpa Chuck on Thanksgiving 2005