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Sunday, July 9, 2017

(17) EDUCATORS FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY CAME TO VISIT MY CLASS.

                                      Master of My Fate
“Veni, Vidi, Vici”
- Julius Caesar, 1st century BC

With the start of the school year, I found myself no longer dependent upon anybody else, no longer timid about making important life decisions, no longer afraid that people might not like me.  Instead, I walked around on a perpetual high.  Two thousand years ago, when Julius Caesar said, “Veni, vidi, vici – I came, I saw, I conquered,” he must have felt much the same way.     
Everything was new for me that fall.  At Washington High, there were over a hundred teachers and thousands of students.  For the first time in my teaching career, I would be working with high-school aged gangs, full-fledged members of the Crips and Bloods.  I would have to learn my way around the large campus.  My courses would be different and I’d have a new administration.
The first few weeks of the fall term, I learned more about our principal Mr. McKenna’s vision for Washington High.  He held frequent assemblies during which he inspired all of us, students and teachers alike, to reach for the seemingly impossible.  His first priority was to create a safe environment, a task made difficult by the prevalence of gang warfare – the blue Crips against the red Bloods.  Students would wear their gang colors and fights broke out on a daily basis.
Mr. McKenna said, “There is only one gang at Washington, and I am its leader.”  Never before had I known of a school administrator who dared to stand up to gang members, lest such boldness be met with violence.  Mr. McKenna refused to give in to such fears: he had large buttons made for all of us, half blue, half red, and printed on them were the words “We are Family.”  He instituted a dress code prohibiting clothing that would suggest gang membership.  When representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union protested, saying that dress codes in public high schools were illegal, he deflected their criticism by changing the name of the school to Washington Preparatory High School.  Prep schools were not subject to the same rules and it was therefore acceptable for him to control student appearance.  Everyone knew that the school was no different from what it had been prior to the name change and that the reasoning was flawed, but Mr. McKenna was successful at reducing violence in his school and objections fell by the wayside.  Teachers who had difficulty accepting Mr. McKenna’s philosophy found themselves at other schools the next year.  More than a third of our faculty left each year, as some teachers chose to leave and others were fired.
Mr. McKenna didn’t stop with a dress code.  He implemented change in every aspect of school life.  Prior to his tenure, many of the teachers had given up on the students, believing it impossible to get them to study and do their homework.  Mr. McKenna looked for ways to reverse that trend.  When students complained it was too difficult to keep track of their books, he obtained funding for book bags.  Every student had to carry one to and from school each day so they’d have no excuse for not completing their homework.  And teachers were expected to assign homework and verify that it had been done.
Mr. McKenna raised expectations in other areas as well.  When it became apparent that a large number of students were arriving late for school, he called an assembly meeting to address the issue. 
“You complain that you can’t get to school on time because your bus is late," he said.  "What do you mean your bus is late?  Your bus?  Is your name written on it?  Take an earlier bus!” 
He always encouraged the students to take responsibility for their actions, often suggesting specific ways in which this could be accomplished.  Impressed with his strategy, I followed his lead.  In the case of late arrivals, I locked my door the minute the last bell rang.  When students knocked,  I sent them away.  If it happened more than twice, I’d call their parents.  Within a few weeks, the problem disappeared.
Sometimes students didn’t come to school at all.  Mr. McKenna turned to parents for help.  He instituted a policy stating that if a student was absent, teachers would call the parents and let them know.  Then he took it a step further, saying we had to make phone calls not only for absenteeism, but also for constant tardiness, behavior problems, and failure to complete work on time.
We were asked to make our calls daily, fill out forms in triplicate documenting our efforts, and submit them to the office each week.  Some teachers were irate, considering this system an unacceptable burden, but it didn’t trouble me.  I’d been following these procedures for years, having recognized from my early days of teaching in Mississippi that parents could be allies in encouraging students to perform.  My students learned early each year that if I had trouble reaching a parent, I would call at six in the morning and wake everybody.  If that didn’t work, I’d go to the home, using a map to find my way through the ghetto.  Word  went out that Ms. Kruger meant business.  As a result, I visited homes in person only once or twice a year. 
I never surprised my students with these phone calls to their families.  I’d tell them ahead of time what I was going to do, and we’d talk about it in class and discuss how important it was for them to take responsibility for their own educations.  Instead of getting angry with me for bringing their parents into the picture, my students thanked me, knowing I did it because I cared.  They also knew I cared when I challenged them to be good students.  When they worried that their friends would view them as weak if they spent time studying, I said, “You really want to be brave at this school?  Carry a book bag.  Do your homework.  Go to class.  Now that takes courage.”
Not all the teachers went along with Mr. McKenna’s ideas.  Some objected to making calls on their own time and complained to the school district.  I could understand why they were concerned.  I lived alone and was happy to fill my hours away from work with additional school activity, but most of the teachers had young families at home.
I was at the downtown office one day when a complaint came in. The administrator sighed, turned to me and said, “Mr. McKenna doesn’t obey the rules, but how do you argue with success?”  And tangible success we had.  Within two years, our daily absentee rate dropped from over 40 percent to less than 10 percent.
Although pleased with the decline in violence and improvement in attendance, Mr. McKenna was not satisfied. He was determined to turn Washington Preparatory High School into a college preparatory program in more than name.  He hired a counselor whose only duty was finding scholarships for every student that wanted to go to college.  By my fourth year at "The Prep," as Washington came to be known, 70 percent of our students were college bound, an amazing feat for an inner city school.
Mr. McKenna summed up his approach by saying a good education must be on the community's agenda.  By this, he meant that everyone had to see its value and do everything possible to support our schools, students, and teachers.  He pointed out that other parts of society had figured this out and had emphasized a solid education for their youth, thereby increasing their chances of obtaining the American dream.  He challenged the black community to do the same, to prioritize higher education in the inner city.  
I remembered how Mr. McKenna had reminded me of Jesse Jackson when I first heard him speak at Bret Harte Junior High the day I applied for a transfer to Washington.  As I watched Mr. McKenna work with our high school students, I realized he did even more for them than the Reverend did.  Jackson's speeches inspired students, but the inspiration wore off after a few weeks when he moved on to another community.  Mr. McKenna was there for the long haul.  I called him our “in-house Jesse Jackson” because he would inspire our students and later, when he noticed their enthusiasm waning, he would do it all over again.  I was entranced by his energy.  Not since Dr. Walker in Miami did I have a principal who inspired me so.  Every day was a new adventure and I felt fortunate to be a part of the journey.  As the Thanksgiving season approached, I knew I had much to be thankful for.
When the holiday grew closer, I spoke with my friend John Finch about our plans.  We’d continued to spend Thanksgiving together ever since the first time, when we were both teaching in Pomona.  He would drive into town on Wednesday evening and we’d go out for dinner and a show.  The next morning, we’d walk a half-block to the International House of Pancakes for breakfast and then he’d drive me the 50 miles to his home, where we’d spend the rest of the day cooking our Thanksgiving feast.  Charles would join us for dinner and John’s three teenage children would come later for sweet potato pie.  I’d stay through the weekend and John would drive me home on Sunday.  It was a wonderful tradition, for it spared me from feeling lonely on this family holiday and made me appreciate the new family I’d found in my friends during the years after Leon left.
This Thanksgiving turned out to be quite different.  As we prepared our turkey dinner, John told me about a conversation he’d had earlier in the week while working the gay hotline, a service that had appeared in cities throughout the country, providing an opportunity for gays to seek information about resources available to them or to talk about problems they were having.  For years, Charles had urged John to reach out to the gay community and come out of the closet, saying that not only would it help John in his personal life but would also have important political ramifications.  Charles wanted John to march in the gay pride parade and participate at the gay community center. At first, John was resistant, fearful of the consequences, unwilling to let his family – especially his children – know he was gay.
Eventually, with Charles’s encouragement, John made the plunge.  He marched in a gay pride parade and began to volunteer for the gay hotline.  Still in the closet as far as his family and work were concerned, he devoted many hours each month to helping other men accept themselves.  The holiday season was an especially difficult time for gays as they faced the pressures associated with family get-togethers or the loneliness associated with the absence of such gatherings.
Earlier in the week, John had fielded a call from a man who was going to be alone for the holidays.  John felt sorry for Ken and commented to me that he wished there was something he could do.  I suggested he call and invite Ken to join us on Thanksgiving Day.  John was hesitant about issuing a last-minute invitation but let me talk him into it and made the call.  Ken accepted the invitation at once and arrived within the hour.  He was charming and friendly and it was clear from the first few minutes that he and John were compatible.  The two became a couple that day and remained together until death parted them years later.
Charles then urged John to take the next step and come out to his children.  John was fearful that his sons and daughter would want nothing to do with him if they knew the truth.  With Charles’s urging and Ken’s support, however, John overcame his concerns and opened up to his family.
Both sons said they’d guessed the truth some time ago and had already come to grips with it.  They assured John they still loved him and wanted him to remain an integral part of their lives.  John’s 14-year-old daughter was a little more confused. 
“But, Daddy," she said, "I thought Aura was your girlfriend.” 
When John answered, “No, she’s not my girlfriend, but she’s the best friend I have in the entire world,” Kristina said, “I’m so glad, Daddy, because that means you don’t hate women.”
Once the holidays were over, I began helping my students prepare for the spring Shakespeare Festivals.  Already familiar with the competition in the Pomona area in which my students had frequently won awards, I was eager to tackle the event held by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  I thought if one competition was good, two would be better.  Mr. McKenna was excited by the prospect of demonstrating that inner-city students could interpret the bard as successfully as students in the district's prosperous white schools.
Unfortunately, we didn’t meet with the same success I’d experienced in the past.  The LAUSD Festival was much larger than the one in Pomona with hundreds of students participating, many of them from schools in Beverly Hills and Hollywood where theater programs were firmly established and generously funded.  That first year, only one student participated.  We rehearsed together as I’d done with my actors in the past, but when it came time to perform, she didn’t even make it to the second round.  I thought she’d be heart-broken when she was knocked out of the competition so early and would want to leave for home immediately.  Instead, she asked if we could remain for the rest of the day so she could watch.  I was afraid she might feel lost and scared as one of only a few black students present, but she assured me she could manage.
While she observed the same events in which she’d been competing, I wandered from room to room to get a better feel for the entire festival, hoping to improve our chances of doing well the following year.  By the end of the day, we were both weary and sat quietly in the car for the drive home.  I stole glances at my young performer, concerned that her silence masked a depression about her failure to advance in the competition. 
I need not have worried, for when she finally spoke, she said, “I want to thank you, Ms. Kruger, for giving me this opportunity.  You’ve opened a whole new world to me and I’ll never be the same again.”
 I couldn’t have been prouder of her for that sentiment if she’d won a first-place trophy.
AURA WITH  PRINCIPAL MR. McKENNA
AND TROPHY WINNER
The next week at school, she told her classmates about how exciting her participation had been, how much she’d learned, and what a good time she’d had.  Never again did I have trouble persuading volunteers to participate.  When it was time for the Pomona Shakespeare Festival later that spring, eight or nine students stepped forward and, as had happened when I taught at Garey High School, several of them walked away with trophies.
This was a new experience for everyone at Washington Prep.  Prior to my arrival, no one had attempted to teach Shakespeare to these inner-city students, let alone sign them up for a competition.  Even the most liberal educators didn’t believe it was possible, preferring to present the students with easier, more accessible literature.  With each award my students won, we proved they were mistaken. Mr. McKenna, recognizing the significance of what had happened, made a point of announcing the results the following day, praising the students for their efforts in a manner previously reserved for athletic victories. 
WITH SARAH, CONNIE'S DAUGHTER, IN AMHERST
With the Shakespeare Festivals behind me, I began to look forward to the summer, planning my visit to the Northeast where I would visit my mother in the nursing home and Connie and Sarah in Amherst.  While in Hartford, I’d sleep in a motel, for I could no longer stay at my sister’s home; it had been sold shortly after my brother-in-law Herb remarried.  I’d miss all the wonderful reminders of the times Karyl and I were there during our child-rearing years, the many Christmas gatherings we’d spent together, exchanging amusing and heartwarming stories of our children's lives.  I still found it difficult to accept that I’d never talk with my sister again, that she was forever lost to me except in my memories.
When I arrived, Connie drove down from Amherst to join me in the visit to her grandmother.  While there, Connie said she also wanted to see Grandma Dora, Herb’s stepmother, whom Connie viewed as another grandparent, despite there being no legal or biological connection.  It was Dora who over 30 years earlier had found Connie for us and the two of them had bonded closely ever since.
I spoke to Herb about visiting Dora in her nursing home and he tried to dissuade us, saying that she was unlikely to know us.  Much of the time, she didn’t even recognize Herb.  I told him this was okay; we still wanted to see her.  He then said there was no problem with my going but it would not be appropriate for Connie.  A young woman in her thirties shouldn’t have to face the ravages of the very old in a nursing home.
Connie said Herb’s concern was ridiculous and of course she wanted to see Grandma Dora.  I thought about the many hours my children had spent at the bedside of my grandmother when she lived with us, paralyzed in her bed, and knew her presence had helped them learn to respect and appreciate the elderly.
And so we went to visit Dora together, prepared to be shocked by her physical deterioration and determined not to be troubled if she didn’t recognize us.  When we first arrived, we saw about 8 wheelchairs lined up against the wall with patients strapped in, slumped over, seemingly unaware of their surroundings.  At first, I thought it would be impossible to pick out Dora, but upon closer scrutiny, I was able to see past the years and I knelt before her.  I spoke her name quietly and she slowly opened her eyes, staring blankly at me as if I were a total stranger.  A moment later, however, her face sparked in recognition and she said, “Where’s Connie?”
“Here, Grandma Dora, here.”  Connie knelt down and hugged her.  To the end of her life, Dora considered Connie her special child, never forgetting that it was her actions that led to the introduction of my oldest daughter into our extended family.
When we later told Herb about what had happened, I could tell he was pleased we’d connected so well with his stepmother.  Herb was wonderful when it came to taking care of the two elderly women, Bert and Dora, neither of whom was his own mother.  Unfortunately, his second wife, Kay, was annoyed with the time and effort required.  She often suggested that I bring my mother to California to live in a nursing home in my neighborhood so Herb could be relieved of this burden.  Herb assured me privately that he didn’t regard  it as a burden in the least, for which I was grateful.  Despite that, I had asked Mom several times since Dad’s death if she would like to move to Los Angeles to be near me.  She always turned me down, saying she preferred to stay in Hartford, her childhood home.
When she first left Miami, I’d understood and accepted her rationale.  Not only had she grown up in Hartford, but I was working, while my sister was at home and would have more time to devote to her.  Karyl and Herb were in a better position to give her the support and care she would need.  All this had changed with my sister’s death and my brother-in-law’s remarriage.  While Herb and I were visiting her in the nursing home, we asked her once again if she’d like to move to California to be near me.  In the sing-song, childish voice she now used when addressing Herb and the nursing home staff, she said, “I don’t want to move.  I like it here where I grew up.  I’d be afraid to leave Hartford and everything I know.  Please don’t make me move away.”
After reassuring her she could stay as long as she liked, Herb kissed her goodbye and left to run errands while I remained behind to visit.  When I began to speak, she held up one hand to silence me and pointed to the door with her other hand.  She listened for Herb’s footsteps disappearing down the hall and then said, in the strong, controlled voice I’d heard her use all through the years, “He’s gone, Aura.  Now we can talk.  I’m going to say this just once and I want you to pay attention.  You have more than enough to do earning a living and watching out for your children.  I am not going to move to Los Angeles and burden you with taking care of me as well.  Herb can manage just fine.”
As soon as she finished speaking, she lapsed into her childish sing-song and reiterated, “I want to stay in Hartford where I grew up.  I’m scared to go away.”  I laughed out loud when I realized what she was doing.  She had everyone else convinced she was in her second childhood, unable to cope with change, when all the time she was putting on a show, saying what Herb needed to hear to ensure his assistance and protect me from taking on more than I could handle.  Here I was in my mid-50s and my mother was still taking care of me, putting my needs before her own.  I’d always admired her in many ways and here was yet another example of her strength and selflessness, and I could share it with no one, choosing instead to honor her wishes.
I returned from my visit to the Northeast physically rested and emotionally refreshed.  Not only were Connie and my mother doing well, but I had a good life waiting for me in Los Angeles.  Each day at school was more exciting than the one before, and my home life was filled with family and friends.  Over the summer, Philip had returned to Southern California, taking a job with the Western Airlines Flight Attendants Union.  We could visit on weekends and the close relationship we’d enjoyed when he was an undergraduate was once more possible.  Charles and Jim were still together and frequently joined me for an evening’s entertainment.  And my  friend Nancy Dalmont, who had taught with me in my early days in Pomona and had been helpful during my first year alone, moved back to the Los Angeles area with her husband and baby daughter, Amelia.
As soon as Nancy and Tom were settled, she called to invite me for dinner.  I asked if it would be okay for me to bring Charles, since she lived in a part of town with which I was unfamiliar and I’d feel better driving there if I had a navigator.  She agreed, but when I told Charles about it, he said he was busy.  Philip happened to be visiting with me at the time and said, “I’ll go with you, Mom.  I’ve always liked Nancy and it would be good to see her again.”  We had a wonderful evening together, the conversation flowing freely about all that had happened during her time in New Jersey, Philip’s adventures since finishing law school, and my move to Washington Prep.  Getting to know Amelia was an added treat.  We bonded as I held her in my lap, where she showed me her toys and I read her stories.
I felt terrible a few months later when Nancy called to tell me her marriage had collapsed.  The tables were turned.  In the same way she’d been a tremendous support to me in the first year after Leon left, I tried to be there for her as she made a new life for herself as a single mom.  We’d visit over meals and she’d tell me how she was coping.  One day as we were finishing lunch, she surprised me by handing me a slip of paper saying, “Please give Philip my phone number.”
I didn’t know what to do.  For three weeks, I carried Nancy’s number around with me, not sure whether I should pass it on to Philip.  I loved Nancy dearly and part of me was pleased with the idea of her going out with Phil.  However, he had made it clear that he didn’t want me interfering in his personal life.  I debated with myself – was my son more likely to view me as interfering if I gave him Nancy’s phone number or if I withheld it?  It seemed as if no matter what I did, I risked annoying Philip.
           I decided I should honor Nancy’s request.  Philip was a grown man, perfectly capable of figuring out what to do with her number once he had it.  I gave him the note and told him what Nancy had said.  As he pocketed the piece of paper, he said, “Mom, you must have misunderstood.  Nancy’s married.”
“Not any more, she isn’t,” I answered.  A few minutes later, Philip took off, without saying whether he would call Nancy.  I knew he enjoyed her company as a friend, but had no idea if he might be interested in her romantically.  I would just have to wait and see what happened.  In the meantime, the new school year was getting underway and it was time for me to solidify my plans for my classes at Washington Prep.
At the end of the previous year, I’d committed to teaching two subjects – Speech and English Literature.  Ms. Martin, our head counselor and Mr. McKenna’s right hand, had assigned me to teach five class periods split between these areas.  This was a typical arrangement for high school teachers, working under the union’s agreement with the school district that specified that no one should teach more than two subjects in any one year.  This was done to protect teachers from being overworked.
I wanted to offer a course on his plays at Washington Prep.  When I asked Ms. Martin if that could be arranged, she agreed and added that she also wanted me to offer a course in World Literature.  Could I get away with adding two new classes to the ones I’d already been prepared to teach?
Ms. Martin said, “Ms. Kruger, you and I know you can handle it.  But what will the district say?”
I answered, “Why Ms. Martin, the district won’t have any problem with it.  After all, I’ll have only two preparations – literature and speech.”  She laughed as she realized that my teaching three different literature courses would be our little secret.
The students were not initially enthused about my Shakespeare class and only 18 signed up.  It was apparent how committed Ms. Martin and Mr. McKenna were to an advanced curriculum when instead of canceling the class, they let me teach it as planned.  Their foresight paid off, for by the second semester, so many students signed up that we had to cut it off at thirty-eight.  The following year, I began teaching two Shakespeare classes every semester so that nobody would be turned away.  And we never had a shortage of students eager to participate in the local competitions.
Word of our dalliance with Shakespeare began to spread.  Educators from all over the country came to visit my class, eager to see what made it possible for disadvantaged inner city students to develop expertise with what was viewed as difficult and challenging material.  Local elementary schools brought children to watch my students perform scenes, with the hope of inspiring them to work up to their potential.  We even ended up on the CBS evening news with Dan Rather.
           Between teaching four different courses, coaching my students in Shakespeare competitions, and responding to requests for information and interviews, I kept busy.  Despite that, I made time to respond when my old principal, Ms. Nakahara, asked for my help with the International Academic Decathlon.  Shortly after I left Bret Harte for Washington Prep, she’d taken a position at the district level and was responsible for introducing that program into the Los Angeles schools.
         When I showed up at the meeting after school one day, I found many of my old colleagues from Bret Harte on hand, ready to pitch in as well.  We had a joyous reunion and were eager to hear about the competition.  Ms. Nakahara described it to us in detail, saying that it consisted of ten events.  The school earning the most points would go on to compete with the winning schools from other districts around the state, and the winner of that would go on to the national level.  It sounded exciting and I was happy with my assignment, which was to help out on the day of the competition with the three events involving oral presentation skills:  a 5-minute speech, an impromptu speech using the 5-paragraph essay format, and an interview.
         Unbeknownst to me, one of Washington’s social studies teachers had taken responsibility for preparing six of our students for the competition.  On the Friday before the Decathlon, she came to me saying, “Ms. Kruger, I’ve ended up with a conflict tomorrow and was wondering if you’d be willing to take responsibility for our contestants, given that you’ll be there anyway as one of the helpers.”  I agreed and showed up at school the next morning to drive our students to the competition.
         I was disappointed when two of the contestants failed to appear.  After waiting as long as I could, I piled the other four into my car and we headed for the Decathlon.  When we arrived, I wished them luck and told them to meet me at the end of the day in the gym for the last event called the Super Bowl, a series of questions each participant would answer and the only event that we would all get to observe.
        The first nine events were scattered in classrooms throughout the school.  I spent the day wandering between the three speech events, where I served as a timekeeper.  The whole day as I watched the contestants, I kept track of ideas for how I could help the Washington Prep students do a better job the following year.  At the end of the day, I took a seat in the bleachers of the gym, uncertain as to what to expect next.  It was magnificent!  The students entered in a ceremony reminiscent of the grand opening of the Olympics.  As the participants marched in, I saw that they were grouped by school, with the principals leading the way bearing the school banner.  It was heartwarming to see all those proud students, eager to compete and show their stuff.
         Since the parade was arranged in alphabetical order, Washington Prep was the last to arrive.  My smile dissolved as I watched our students straggle in. With no adult present to direct them, they were disorganized.  Apparently, nobody had told Mr. McKenna that he was expected to attend.  Either that or he didn’t realize the important role he was supposed to play and chose to spend his Saturday elsewhere.  I promised myself that this would never happen again.
         It was clear from the beginning that Washington was unprepared for this final event.  The first indication was an announcement over the loud speaker requesting the remaining students from Washington High to take their seats.  I looked around and saw our four representatives sitting where they were supposed to be.  Then I realized what had happened.  Every other school had six participants.  I stood and announced that Washington High did not have two more students.
         It went downhill from there.  Scores were posted throughout the contest and Washington consistently scored at or near the bottom.  It didn’t help matters when it was time for the fifth and sixth participants from each school to step forward, and our school was given a score of zero for each question.
        When Monday morning arrived, the first thing I did was to see Mr. McKenna and tell him what had happened.  His reaction was the same as mine – disappointment and embarrassment at our abysmal performance.  His first thought was that all the black inner city schools had done badly.  He realized quickly he couldn’t place the blame there when I told him that Dorsey High School, similar to us in student demographics, had won the Super Bowl quiz that capped the day.
        His response was, “We’ll see about that!”
        The following September, I discovered what that meant.  At the first faculty meeting, he introduced a new teacher, Phil Chase, whose sole responsibility was to prepare students for the Academic Decathlon.  Mr. McKenna had recruited him from Dorsey High, figuring no one could better show Washington Prep what had to be done.
       The first thing Phil did was to line up faculty coaches for each of the events, saying that it wasn’t enough to send the best students.  We must train them just as the athletic coaches trained our football and basketball players.  He started the training himself in the fall, and after the Christmas break, he asked his other coaches to do the polishing.  As soon as the Shakespeare Festivals were over and I was no longer tied up in rehearsals, I began to work with our students in the three speech areas.
        The following year, Mr. McKenna led our students in the opening parade and they marched like old pros.  Our scores in the final event placed us in the middle of the pack, a far cry from our last place showing the year before.  The high point, however, came a month later at the banquet.
        The year before, the celebration dinner had added insult to injury.  The banquet was in a ballroom at one of the downtown hotels, with hundreds of students and teachers attending, each school having its own table.  While we waited for dessert to be served, awards were presented to the top three contenders in each event.  Students walked to the front of the room to receive their trophies and stayed standing through the remainder of the award ceremony.  I could feel the disappointment in our four contestants as they watched students from so many schools receive recognition.  I tried to explain to them that it was the school that had let them down, not providing them with adequate preparation.  It was a sobering experience for all.
        The second year was much better.  We filled two tables, rather than one, although Mr. McKenna still didn’t join us.  Moods were high as we listened for the names of the medalists.  Even when no Washington names were called out, we felt a sense of pride, knowing we had worked hard and done a good job.        
Trophies were handed out for the first eight events and we applauded politely as students from other schools stepped up to receive them.  Then it was time for the 5-minute speech event.  First the bronze medal was announced and then the silver.
         Everyone at our tables roared when our own Billy Hull was named as the gold medal winner.  He raced to the front of the room to receive his award and then flew back to our table, pulled me out of my chair, and hugged me.  I overheard someone at another table say, “That must be his mother.”  We laughed,  realizing that in the excitement, no one noticed that he was black and I was white.  We managed to win speech medals every year after that, adding to the Prep’s reputation for excellence.
        By my fourth year at Washington, we’d received so much recognition that Mr. McKenna was able to convince the school district that we should become a magnet school for language arts and mathematics.  The concept of a magnet school was relatively new at that point, having been created in the US Department of Education’s Emergency School Act in 1976 as a school which “offers a special curriculum capable of attracting substantial numbers of students of different racial backgrounds.”  It was the federal government’s way of helping school districts create a voluntary desegregation plan.  The program was halted in 1981, but when grant funds became available again a few years later, Mr. McKenna decided to apply.
       While district staff supported that decision, some Board members were convinced that white students would not be willing to bus into the inner city, no matter how strong the curriculum.  Mr. McKenna argued that this shouldn’t matter.  It was their choice to make and in the meantime, we would be a magnet for black students who wanted to achieve at a high academic level.  Although this was not the stated intent of the magnet school funding, the Board consented.  We may not have been a success as defined by the Emergency School Act of 1976, in that no desegregation occurred as a result of our efforts, but we knew we had dramatically improved the academics at our school, not only for the students who transferred to us as magnet students, but also for the rest of the student body.
       Soon after we officially became a magnet school, the Los Angeles Times offered to donate $50,000 to an inner city school for the purpose of implementing a reading program.  As had happened twice before in my career, I was tapped to prepare the grant request.  Working with one of my colleagues, we prepared our proposal, calling it The Pied Piper, suggesting we would entice our students to read, as Robert Browning’s character enticed the children of Hamelin with his pipe.  The word “Piper” in our request, however, was not a musician as in the poem, but instead stood for “Progressive Instructional Program in Education and Reading.”  It wasn’t long before we were notified by the newspaper that they liked our proposal and were giving us the $50,000.  They invited Mr. McKenna, our senior class president and me to breakfast in their dining hall on the top floor of the Times building, where they would present us with a check.
       Our student representative to the event, Janice, was excited to be a part of the celebration, but was put off by the Times president’s somewhat patronizing attitude toward her.  As breakfast was ending, he asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, addressing her as if she were a small child rather than an 18-year-old young woman.  When she answered that she planned to be a lawyer, he said, “Oh, a Portia,” clearly not expecting her to recognize his reference.
       When Janice replied, “Yes, Portia from Shakespeare’s A Merchant of Venice,” he seemed stunned that this minority student from the inner city had a background in Shakespeare.  Behind his back, Janice, recognizing the impression she had made, mouthed to me, “Thank you, Ms. Kruger.”  We had read the play in class, and one of the questions I put on the final exam was, “If we call a person a Portia, what does it mean?”
       That exam came after several weeks of extended discussion of the play.  During that time, we’d talked about every scene, going over the text line by line to ensure the students understood what they read.  Before we even opened our books, I set the stage by asking them to tell me all they knew about Jews.  My students were accustomed to our brainstorming sessions in which I’d write all their comments on the chalkboard, encouraging everyone to think freely.  With this lesson, I cringed inside as one unpleasant phrase after another spewed out.  Jews were greedy and money-hungry, leading to the term “Jew-you-down” to mean aggressive negotiation.  Jews were ugly with big noses and spoke with funny accents.  Jews were prejudiced against black people.
       Once the board was covered with the prejudices of my students, I asked how many of them knew any Jews.  Not a single hand went up.  When I asked, “How do you know what Jews are like if you’ve never met one?” they said they’d heard all about them and were certain they’d recognize a Jew if they saw one.  Not one of them knew I was Jewish and I kept it that way until we’d finished discussing the play and they’d developed some sympathy for Shylock.  As they gradually began to see that Shylock was treated badly by the Christians, they regretted their nasty comments and begged me to erase the board.  I wouldn’t.  When I finally revealed to them that I was a Jew, they began to apologize, saying, “We didn’t mean you, Ms. Kruger,” but I wouldn’t let them off the hook.  Instead, I encouraged them to look deep inside themselves and evaluate their own prejudices before they complained about others being prejudiced against them.
       I drove the point home using Shylock’s speech in which he says, “I am a Jew…If you prick us, do we not bleed?  If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”  After reading aloud those magnificent lines, I stopped for a moment and then said, “I am a woman.  If you prick us, do we not bleed?”  As all the girls in the class began to nod in agreement, I then said, “I am black.  If you prick us, do we not bleed?”  By the time we were done, my students empathized completely with Shylock, viewing him as the tragic hero of the play, rather than as a comic villain.
        Even more fascinating than their recognition of their prejudice against Jews was the realization for some of them that they were prejudiced against Blacks.  The discussion started when we read a scene in which Shylock’s daughter runs away to marry a Christian.  She says that she hates being a Jew, moaning, “Alack, what heinous sin is it in me to be ashamed to be my father’s child!”  As we talked about these lines, one student asked, “Is it all right if I hate being black?” 
        I wish all the people who reject the classics in today’s high school language arts curriculum could have heard the resulting discussion.  Never again would they question Shakespeare’s relevance to today’s disadvantaged, inner city students.  We found one example after another of ways in which black teenagers rejected their own heritage, embarrassed to be different from mainstream white society.
        In addition to helping my students analyze Shakespeare’s plays with regard to themes and character development, with each play we read I required them to memorize a speech.  I told them that not only would they develop a deeper understanding of the plays by doing so, but they would also have at their disposal a means of impressing others with their knowledge.  For example, were they to quote an appropriate line in the midst of a job interview, it would demonstrate the caliber of their education, something that could set them apart from other applicants.
        When it came to selecting a speech from The Merchant of Venice, I told them that when I was a student, everyone had to memorize Portia’s "quality of mercy" speech.  From every play, there was one excerpt that students all over the country would learn.  In Hamlet, we all studied, “To be or not to be…”  In Romeo and Juliet, everyone learned the lines, “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”  I added that times had changed and we now had more flexibility.  They could pick any speech from Merchant that they wanted, and I suggested they might prefer one of Shylock’s speeches on discrimination and harassment.
        One day during class, California State Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, who a few years later was elected to the US House of Representatives and eventually chaired the Congressional Black Caucus, came to see for herself this inner city literature class that challenged disadvantaged students to learn the classics.  She was well known to my students, having frequently appeared on the front page of the LA Times for her work in the South Central community as an advocate for the poor.
        As she entered the classroom, she saw we were acting out the courtroom scene from The Merchant of Venice.  Wasting no time, she walked to the front of the room, took center stage, and began to orate, “The quality of mercy is not strained…”  In that moment, she validated everything I had said just a few days earlier about students all across the country memorizing that one speech.  My students broke into laughter, both at her enthusiastic interpretation and at the fact that she had demonstrated my point, providing a real-life example.  Seeing her confusion at the laughter, I quickly apologized and asked my students to let her in on the joke.
        My success teaching Shakespeare at Washington Prep inspired our new drama teacher, Steve Johnson, to suggest that we host the LA school district’s Shakespeare Festival the next year.  After Mr. McKenna agreed that it was a great idea, Steve brought it up at the organizing meeting of all the drama teachers in the district.  Objections were raised immediately.  The white teachers from the Valley said there was no way they could place their students or themselves in such danger.  I stood and walked to the front of the room.  “Look at me.  I’m over sixty years old and only 4’10” tall.  I could teach anywhere, but I chose to be at Washington Prep.  It’s a good school and your students will be safe.”
        The teachers were still unwilling to let themselves be convinced.  Then the Beverly Hills High School drama teacher, well respected by all and in many ways the leader of the group, said, “We will have this year’s Festival at Washington.  Any school that does not wish to go there doesn’t have to enter the competition.  We at Beverly Hills shall not only participate, we will also adopt Washington as our sister school.”
        We spent weeks getting ready.  The classrooms and bathrooms were scrubbed spotless, with students, teachers and parents all volunteering their time to make it happen.  Everyone’s sense of pride grew as our school took on a clean, crisp appearance, looking better than it ever had before.  The home economics classes decorated our cafeteria and arranged for food to be served during the event.  ROTC cadets wore their uniforms to serve as campus hosts, directing our guests around the campus.  The art department made buttons and silk-screen tee shirts to sell.  I spent hours with my actors, rehearsing scenes and monologues.
        One of our English teachers wandered the school as students performed, taking pictures of all that happened.  At the end of the day, while we waited for the judges to make their decisions, he presented a slide show in the auditorium.  Students screamed with delight when they recognized themselves on screen.
By the end of the award ceremony, we were all exhausted but happy.  Everything had gone perfectly.  No cars were vandalized in our parking lots.  Nobody was injured.
         When I read the paper the following morning, however, I learned that while we were all focused on Shakespeare, a gang fight occurred in the park across the street.  On the front page of the LA Times there was an article describing a battle between the Crips and the Bloods in which two boys were shot.  Mr. McKenna saw what was happening and was instrumental in preventing the hostilities from spilling onto our campus, allowing our event to remain a class act from beginning to end.  The icing on the cake was that we learned the following week that for the first time ever, every expensive timer at the event was turned in.
        As a result of the publicity surrounding the Shakespeare Festival, the son of one of our counselors decided to direct a made-for-television movie about the school’s success story.  His name was Eric Laneuville and he’d already made a name for himself as a director with several high-profile TV shows.  The movie was called The George McKenna Story, sub-titled From Gangs and Guns to Caps and Gowns, and starred a young actor named Denzel Washington in the last of his TV appearances before becoming a  movie star.  It aired on CBS and attracted international attention from the education community. Teachers and administrators came from all over the world to observe the real-life Shakespeare class that was showcased in the film.
        After checking in at the office, visitors would be directed to my classroom, finding it without an administrator to show them the way.  Mr. McKenna did this intentionally, boasting that anybody could walk into my room without warning and see significant learning taking place.  Students sitting near the door would be the first to notice a group waiting to enter and would alert me.  I’d announce, “Show time, Ladies and Gentlemen!” and everyone would sit up tall, eager to demonstrate their rapidly developing skills.
        One day, an inner city elementary class came to visit, hoping to see us work on Shakespeare.  The teacher was disappointed to discover that my students were studying a different author.  Her mood improved., however, when I said we would conduct a review.  We pulled out copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play we’d read earlier in the year, assigned parts, and acted out the Pyramus and Thisbe scene.  The children were delighted with the show and several of them hugged me on their way out.
        With the publicity we received from our efforts in Shakespeare and the made-for-television movie, our student body grew larger each year as students opted to transfer to take advantage of our magnet programs in math and language arts.  The socio-economics of our community changed as well, in that more Hispanic families moved into the area.  With more students came more funding.  This was fortuitous indeed, for with the influx of Spanish-speaking students, we needed to use some of that money to hire bi-lingual teachers to conduct our English as a Second Language program.
        One of the first Mr. McKenna found was Joanie Kirschenbaum.  She was a delight to have around, brightening everyone’s day with her sense of humor.  A believer in the importance of strong relationships between colleagues, she encouraged us to share stories of our successes and to offer assistance when needed.  Joanie and I became close once we began carpooling together.  The ride home each day passed quickly as we chatted not only about our professional experiences, but our personal lives as well.  Although she was young enough to be my daughter, I could turn to her for advice.  Even when she couldn’t offer suggestions, she served as a helpful sounding board.
        One night when we’d stopped for dinner on our way home, I decided to tell her about a dilemma I was facing.  I started out, “Joanie, at thirty years old, you’ll probably have no idea what I’m talking about, but I need some advice.”
        “Try me,” she said.
        “I’m not happy with the way I look.  The face I see in the mirror each morning is lacking something.”
        I went on to explain to her my decision to let my hair go gray, something I’d done in my mid-fifties.  At that time, I realized that my aging face no longer went with my dark hair.  Either I had to stop dying my hair or get a face-lift.  That decision took less than two minutes and I’ve been gray ever since.  At first I was pleased that I’d followed the lessons learned in my make-up class at Emerson College about the importance of a cohesive appearance.  I had second thoughts, however, as people in the youth-oriented society of Los Angeles began to treat me differently when they saw my gray hair.  Suddenly I felt as if I were no longer respected.  Waiters ignored me.  Taxi and bus drivers were less considerate.  It was a good thing my self-confidence was strong by this time, so I was able to cope with the age prejudice.
        The flip side of the increase in my self-confidence was that I became more conscious of how I appeared.  As a younger woman, I'd always viewed myself as an ugly duckling, short and dark while glamorous movie stars were tall and blond.  Since I felt as if there were nothing I could do to change my appearance, I tried not to think abut how I looked.  Gradually over the years, however, without my realizing it had happened, my success in my career led to an improved self-image.  Almost imperceptibly, I had begun to care, and now I was no longer satisfied.
        Joanie said she understood completely and knew exactly what I needed.  She told me of a beauty parlor in Beverly Hills where the mothers of the stars went to have their hair done.  She knew about it because she was friends with James Caan’s mother who used it frequently.  Joanie promised to call her friend and get more information so I could schedule an appointment.  
        Driving to the beauty parlor, I had a conversation with myself.  How could I justify the expense of a makeover?  Never before had I splurged on something so extravagant.  Ever since we’d left Newton almost 20 years earlier, I’d been satisfied with discount places like Supercuts where I spent $6 dollars for a haircut.  I’d never fussed with my hair in the morning, as so many women did, choosing instead to wash it every other day, towel it dry, and walk away.  Even when I decided to color my hair, I did so with an inexpensive product I bought at the grocery store.
        Several times during the drive to the beauty shop, I almost turned the car around to go home, telling myself I should get over my dissatisfaction with my appearance; the money could be better spent in other ways.  Then I reminded myself about the sense of relief I’d felt when Joanie first made the suggestion and decided it was worth the expense.  Even if it cost twenty dollars, I would pay it.  A few minutes later I decided I would be willing to pay fifty dollars.  By the time I arrived at the beauty parlor, I figured even a hundred dollars would be worth it.  I parked the car, feeling sophisticated and elegant, and walked into the hairdresser who catered to the mothers of movie stars.
        I sat down in the chair and the stylist looked me over from every angle, obviously trying to determine what would look best.  Unable to make a decision, she said, “Let’s wash your hair first and see what happens.”  After toweling it dry, she used her fingers to push my hair in all directions, still considering the alternatives.  She decided to trim it first before making final decisions on shaping and tinting. 
        When she was done, she said, “Other women pay me hundreds of dollars to color and perm their hair so it will look exactly like yours does now.  I’m going to leave it just the way it is.”  It cost me twenty dollars, but I felt like a million as I walked out of the shop.
        Every place I’ve lived since then, I’ve found someone who can give me an excellent haircut that makes me feel great.  I picked up a similar tip from my friends in NOW.  They suggested that every once in a while I should buy something special for myself – a piece of jewelry, a scarf, a beautiful blouse, even a bookmark.  The point wasn’t to spend a lot of money. Women in our society have always been the caregivers and it is difficult, especially for those in my generation, to be good to themselves.
        One way I took care of myself was to explore the magnificent country less than a day’s drive from where I lived in Los Angeles.  As a child, I’d enjoyed traveling, seeing new places, finding out about how other people lived.  Now, as an adult, I found it to be both exciting and restful.  My friends John and Ken were my companions as we toured southern California and northern Mexico.  Often, Ken’s mother, Thelma, would join us as well, she and I sharing one motel room while John and Ken shared another.
        One time in Mexico, after Thelma and I had retired for the night, we lay in bed chatting, the men’s voices occasionally drifting in through our open window as they sat by the pool talking. 
        Out of nowhere, Thelma said, “Aura, I’m not a fool.  I know what’s going on.”
        I knew immediately what she was talking about.  We’d never discussed her son’s sexual orientation before, though I had opened the door on many occasions by talking about my own son and my acceptance of his homosexuality, hoping this might help her find it easier to accept her son's.  Thinking my efforts may finally have come to fruition, I asked her how she felt about it.
        She answered, “Ken has been a loner all his life.  It does my heart good to see him so happy.  And John is a wonderful person.”  I suggested she get dressed and join John and Ken out by the pool to tell them what she had just told me.  She did.
        As I lay in bed hearing the sounds of their voices, I thought about how fortunate Thelma was to be happy in her son’s choice of a life partner.  On a Sunday morning a few weeks later.  Philip called, inviting me to join him for brunch, saying he wouldn’t be alone, that there was someone he wanted me to meet.  As I changed my clothes and fixed my hair, I wondered who it might be.  Mingled with my curiosity was a sense of satisfaction that Philip once again was willing to share his life private life with me.  Gone were the days when he had pulled away from me.
       I was astonished when I answered the knock at the door and in walked Philip with my close friend Nancy.  I knew I’d given him her phone number several months earlier, but since I hadn’t heard anything since then, I’d assumed either he’d never called or they’d dated once or twice and decided not to pursue it.  They both laughed at the look of surprise on my face.  As they hugged me hello, they said they’d already been together for a couple of months but didn’t want to let me know until they were sure they loved each other.  They were sure.  In fact, they were so certain that they’d decided to get married.  They hadn’t set a date yet, but Nancy was going to become my daughter-in-law and her little daughter Amelia would be my grandchild.  All through breakfast, I kept smiling and shaking my head in disbelief. 
        Two weeks before Nancy and Philip’s wedding in June of 1983, my mother passed away.  All that year, I’d called her every Sunday and written every week, as I had done ever since leaving Miami, twenty years earlier.  Toward the end, she refused to talk on the phone and I found out later that she never opened my last few letters.  When she finally went, it was a blessing for her to be released from the physical misery that plagued her those last two years.
        Philip offered to delay the wedding, but I remembered one of Mother’s favorite sayings, “Life is for the living.”  It was one of the many wonderful lessons she taught me and I decided the best way I could honor her was to move on with my life and enjoy my son’s wedding.  When I dressed for the occasion, I opted to avoid the traditional black outfit that many would have considered appropriate.  Instead, I wore a beautiful aqua dress, with the only hint of mourning my black shoes and purse.  
        When I first arrived at the wedding, I saw that most of the guests were Philip and Nancy’s friends and I hardly knew anyone.  As I looked around for a familiar face, 5-year-old Amelia ran up to me and took me by the hand.  She said her mother was inside getting dressed and had seen me from the window and wanted me to join her.  When I entered the upstairs room, I realized that it didn’t matter that most of the other guests were strangers to me; I was sharing the preparations for the event with Nancy, her mother, her sister, and her daughter.
        I did, however, long to connect with the rest of my family and made my annual summer journey to the Northeast where I spent a couple of weeks with Connie and Sarah and saw all of my sister’s children who lived in the area.  By the beginning of September, I was eager to get back to school.
        My life had fallen into place in a way I never had thought possible in those first few years after my divorce.  Then, nothing seemed to make sense.  Now, everything worked for me.  I truly had become the master of my fate, taking control of my life.  I found myself perpetually in a state of Zen-like bliss.
        I didn’t know much about Zen Buddhism, but I was exposed to it through an anthology we used in my world literature course.  The textbook contained a brief tale illustrating some of the teachings.  In the story, a professor visits a Zen master to learn from him.  When the master offers a cup of tea, the university professor becomes impatient, somewhat arrogantly saying he came to learn, not to waste time over tea.  Nevertheless, he accepts the cup and watches in amazement as the Zen master keeps pouring until the liquid runs over the top.  The story ends as the professor realizes he’s been taught his first lesson.
        When my students read the story out loud with me, they were confused by the ending.  “Ms. Kruger,” they asked, “What was the lesson?”
        “You tell me,” I answered.
        A discussion ensued in which the students came up with the idea that the empty cup represents an open mind and one must have an open mind if one truly wants to learn.  One student said, “We’re supposed to bring an empty cup to the classroom.” 
        Another volunteered, “Sometimes, we have other things on our minds and so the cup is full.  Then our teachers can’t add anything.”  A third student offered, “Sometimes, we leave our cup at home.”
        A fourth student announced, “Sometimes we bring an empty cup, but turn it over.” 
        A few weeks later, in that same class, a student was acting up.  Before I had a chance to tell him to behave, another student jumped in with, “Stanley, turn your cup over.” 
        Not only had my students understood the lesson, they’d figured out how to incorporate it into their lives.
        There were, on occasion, students who refused to take advantage of what I offered in the classroom.  I had one senior who rarely came and was failing as a result.  Her mother stormed in one day, demanding that I change a grade so her daughter could graduate.  I refused, but when I tried to explain why, the mother became abusive, yelling at me and threatening to report me to the school board for being unfair to her daughter.
        A few days later, the assistant principal, Mr. Higgins, told me that the girl’s grandmother had come to school and asked to speak with me.  Not wanting a repeat of the unpleasant interaction with the mother, I agreed to a meeting only if we could use his office and he stayed to help ensure civility.  As soon as we sat down to talk, the grandmother pulled out a notebook and flipped through it, showing Mr. Higgins and me that many pages had been filled with writing. 
        She said, “How can my granddaughter fail when she’s done all this work?”
        I took the notebook from her and explained that most of it was class notes that she’d copied from the board or from other students.  None of it represented completion of class work or homework assignments.  Yes, she’d taken notes when she was there, but had failed to follow up with any work of her own.
        The grandmother nodded her head and then pulled out a paper from the stack on which I’d written a small, red F.  “Ms. Kruger, you say she doesn’t do the homework.  Yet, here’s an assignment she did.  Why did you fail her?”  Mr. Higgins looked concerned.  
        I explained that we’d been reading Dante’s Inferno in class, and, indeed, her granddaughter was present that day.  We read how Virgil went down the seven stages to hell and met up with Satan.  At the end of the period, I told them to read the last nine lines for homework.  I said, “You’ve grown up watching television and your imaginations are rusty as a result.  When you don’t create pictures in your head as you read, you’re missing out on something very special.  So we’re going to practice.  I want you to finish reading the poem, and as you do so, imagine what Dante describes.  Then, draw a picture to illustrate those nine lines.”
        The woman said, “That’s exactly what my granddaughter told me.  And she said that she read the nine lines and drew a picture using her imagination.  Now I realize that all she’s drawn is a circle with dots for the eyes and nose and a line for the mouth, but who are you to say that doesn’t represent what she imagined?  I still don’t see why she failed.”
        I took the paper from her and held it up so she and Mr. Higgins could both see it.  Then, in my own words, with an apology to Dante, I told them those last nine lines.  “Virgil reached the bottom and saw a huge man buried in ice up to his chest.  He had long arms and three faces joined at the top of the head.  In each of his three mouths, he was chewing on a human being.  In two of the mouths were Brutus and Cassius, two of the men who murdered Julius Caesar.  In the third mouth was Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus.”
        The woman nodded as I spoke, slowly realizing that her granddaughter either never read the material or glanced at it so quickly that she didn’t know what she read.  “Any student who gave me three smiley faces got D-.”  The grandmother thanked me for my time, promising that she would work with her granddaughter to see that she did better.
        Driving home that day, I thought how lucky my student was to have a grandmother who cared enough not only to come to school to see what was going on, but also to commit to spending time with her granddaughter to help ensure she graduate.    
        One day, Leon’s nephew Bennett called to ask if he could fly in from New York to visit.  The call surprised me.  Bennett, Helen and Henry’s son, was a concert pianist, doing well in his career.  He’d been divorced and was now in the midst of a second one, and had been hit hard by his sister Susan’s suicide.  I  thought that perhaps he needed to talk about it.  Susan and I had been quite close and maybe he felt I was someone who could understand his grief and help him deal with it.
        I’d enjoyed watching Bennett grow from the day he was born.  It was March 21, 1944, my second wedding anniversary, and Helen and Henry asked Leon and me to be Bennett’s godparents.  The only special effort I’d made in that regard was to help at his Bar Mitzvah.
       Now that Bennett had called asking to visit, perhaps I could once again fulfill my role as godmother.  Within minutes of his arrival, he suggested we go for a stroll on Santa Monica Beach.  It was a perfect California day, with the sun beating down on us and the sand squishing beneath our feet.  We listened to the sound of the surf and watched swimmers frolic in the waves.
       For awhile, we walked in silence.  Finally, hoping to help Bennett open up, I commented on how much I missed Susan and how I wished she’d been able to find peace.  In response, Bennett said he’d always had difficulty understanding why she considered her home to be so terrible when they were growing up, for he remembered it as a happy time.
       This was familiar territory to me.  I knew that my perceptions of my childhood home were different from those of my sister’s.  Furthermore, my son Charles had so many problems that he ran away at the age of thirteen, yet my other children all seemed well-adjusted.  I told Bennett my belief that each of us brings our own persona into every situation, and that what was good for him may not have been for Susan.  The fact that she had problems did not in any way negate his positive feelings toward his childhood and his parents.
        I could tell there was something more Bennett wanted to discuss but decided to wait until he felt he was ready.  A few minutes later he stopped, turned toward me, and said, “Auntie Aura, I’m gay.”  I hugged him but said nothing, waiting for him to continue.  He said he’d known since he was a teenager, but had not been open to pursuing it because he wasn’t drawn to the typical gay lifestyle with its strong focus on sexuality to the exclusion of all else.  His first love was music and he wanted nothing to interfere with that.
        When Bennett’s sister took her own life, however, it motivated him to reconsider his situation.  It became important to him to understand himself more completely.  After much soul searching, he came to the conclusion that he must accept that he was gay, which meant ending his marriage.  Because his wife was also his best friend and he truly loved her, this was extremely painful.  He now felt unhappy and unsure how to proceed.  Knowing how completely I accepted both Connie and Charles’s sexual orientation, he was turning to me for help.
        I began by telling him how dear he was to me.  I said, “Bennett, I can give you love and support, and I’m happy to do that.  But what you really need is some practical advice from someone who’s been through all this before.  Why don’t you spend some time with Charles?”
        Bennett agreed that my suggestion made sense, saying that after the three of us got together for dinner that evening, he would have a talk with with Charles.  But he did have one question for me first.  Should he come out to his parents, knowing how extremely upset they would be?  I told him there was no right answer.  I couldn’t help him, for it was a decision he’d have to make on his own.  I did promise, however, to support whatever choice he made, and to help his parents to be accepting, should he tell them.
        About a week later, his mother called from Miami.  In the course of the conversation she mentioned that Bennett seemed upset and asked if I knew what was going on.  She clearly suspected something was up, her curiosity aroused by Bennett’s separation from his wife, his visit with me and, to an even greater extent, by his time spent with Charles, whom she knew was gay.  She skirted the issue by asking why he was upset.  I told her, “I do know, but why don’t you call Bennett and ask him yourself?  Before you do, however, be sure you want to know the answer.”
        Helen gave it some thought before she called Bennett and by the time they talked, she was ready to accept his announcement.  In the same way that Susan’s suicide had motivated Bennett to examine how he was living his life, it helped Helen to maintain an open mind. She even went so far as to ask about boyfriends.  She was not, however, as open-minded about it when it came to supporting Bennett in front of her friends.  Bennett later told me that Helen had said to him, “Bennett, I am not Aura.  I won’t march in any parades.”
       Helen’s attitude surprised me.  From the time I’d first met her when Leon and I started dating, I’d been impressed with her acceptance of others and her willingness to speak in opposition to discrimination.  When I reminded her of this, she said, “I don’t talk about what happens in my bedroom and I don’t see why anyone else should.”  When I pointed out to her that this wasn’t about sex, she said, “You’re right, Aura.  But it’s hard.  Other people aren’t as accepting as I am.”  In that one statement, Helen captured one of the most difficult aspects of fighting discrimination.  Not only do we have to be accepting, we must also deal with the repercussions of disapproval from those around us.
       Charles, in the meantime, was dealing with his own battles involving discrimination and harassment.  He lived in a conservative county.  When he’d go out for the evening to a gay bar, he would often see police officers parked nearby, waiting to issue tickets to anyone careless enough to run a stop sign or go too fast.  If Charles had been more aware of his surroundings, it would have been easy enough for him to avoid getting in trouble.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, Charles had developed a problem with alcohol and was foolish enough to drink and drive.
       The first time he was arrested for drunk driving, he phoned to ask me to bail him out of jail.  Unsure what I would need to do, I called Philip and asked for his help.  After stopping at an ATM machine to get  $500 dollars, he picked me up and took me to the jail, where he identified himself as Charles’s lawyer and asked to see him.  The police said they had no such person in custody.
       Then I remembered Charles’s last words to me.  He’d said, “Please find me, Mother.  Don’t give up.”    
       At the time, I found his comment puzzling.  Now it became clear.  Charles’s speech impediment had been exacerbated by alcohol and he’d been unable to state his name clearly for the arresting officer.  He was  aware of what was happening, but unable to fix it.  Philip, unwilling to be deterred by the desk officer’s belief that Charles wasn’t there, asked that they go through the list of every person who had been picked up earlier that night to see if they could identify him.  When they did, Philip paid the bond, visited with Charles to let him know he was being released, and then we waited for two hours.  By the time Charles was set free and we drove him to get his car, it was six in the morning – time for me to get ready to go to school.
       Had Charles not been an alcoholic, the incident might have prevented him from drinking and driving again.  However, although Charles was able to hide his disease not only from others but also from himself, it was pulling him down and it wasn’t long before he was once again arrested for driving under the influence.  This time, the judge ruled that Charles either had to get counseling for his drinking or remain in jail.            
      Presented with that choice, Charles opted to join Alcoholics Anonymous and has attended meetings several times a week ever since.
       I was relieved to see Charles once again on track, working toward his college degree and avoiding the problems that led to his arrests.  Despite that, he continued to be a financial drain on me.  I lived on my schoolteacher’s salary and funneled the bulk of my alimony payments toward helping Charles.  When the school district announced a new program in which master teachers would be identified and paid a $2,000 dollar bonus a year to mentor beginning teachers, I realized the extra stipend could help me to help Charles. 
       The district developed the concept to address the problem of new teachers quitting.  All experienced teachers were invited to apply and the ones that looked promising were observed by a team consisting of a principal, a teacher, an outside educator and a volunteer from the community.  The teams showed up in classrooms with no advance notice and observed over three hundred teachers; six of us were selected to serve as mentors.
       The original concept entailed having each mentor teacher work with two new teachers.  When only six of us could be identified for the whole district, however, that plan had to be modified.  We had 33 new teachers at Washington that fall and it was up to me to help all of them.  I worked with the new teachers before school, after school, and during my conference period.  If a conflict arose because the new teacher and I had the same conference period, then a substitute would take over my class so I could observe and make suggestions.
       Some of the new teachers were very good, but a few were terrible.  There was one who complained to me, “I hate this school.  Every damn student comes every damn day.”  Because Mr. McKenna required teachers to phone student homes when students missed class, our attendance rate had risen to over 90 percent.  This new teacher was accustomed to classes in which only half the students were there and he didn’t want to work in an environment with the larger class sizes that were the flip side of lower absenteeism.  When he quit a few days later, I told Mr. McKenna it was no great loss; the man didn’t belong as a teacher at our school.
       The following summer when I visited the Northeast, several people – aware that I turned 65 that July – raised the question of whether I still belonged as a teacher.  Well-meaning friends and family members were quick to point out that 65 was the traditional age for retirement.  I thought about Ronald Reagan, more than ten years my senior and still serving as president.  It had been four years since he signed legislation raising the social security age from 65 to 67 and although I wasn’t affected by the new law, I had no intention of bailing out before then.
       As the school year began, however, I became increasingly aware of some adverse physical changes.  My arthritis had become so severe that I often had to use my left hand to turn the ignition key in my car because my right wrist was too painful.  Occasionally, my hands would shake so much I had trouble eating and writing.  I walked with a limp from a broken ankle I’d suffered stepping in a pothole.  Once I got home, I’d lie on my couch for an hour before I had energy enough to prepare a meal.  After eating, I’d go straight to bed, too weary even to watch TV.
       A month into the school year, something happened that made my physical difficulties even more evident.  I was alone in my classroom before the start of the school day.  Over the public address system, I heard a sound like the rumble of a train that signified an earthquake drill.  I dropped under my desk, annoyed with Mr. McKenna for scheduling an exercise when I had so much I wanted to do before my students arrived, and then I realized it wasn’t a drill.  The whole building was shaking and creaking.  I’d been through several earthquakes before, but none were as bad as this one.  I found out later that we were only twelve miles from the epicenter.  Eight people died and the property damage was over $350 million.
       The following morning, when we had an aftershock almost as strong as the original quake, I ran to a doorway and burst into tears. I could maintain a brave façade no longer, the aftershock being the last straw.  I remembered my mother’s advice when I’d last visited her in the nursing home.
       “Listen to your body," she'd said.  "As you get older, you’ll be unable to do everything you want to do.  Pay attention when that happens and make adjustments.”
       The time had come to retire. I told Mr. McKenna immediately so that he’d have a full semester’s notice.  Having reached my decision, I threw myself into teaching for the rest of the year with renewed energy.
       And what a year it turned out to be, perhaps the most exciting of my entire career.  In addition to teaching teenagers, I branched out to adults, becoming a presenter at English conferences.  I was asked by the school district to speak at one of our local conferences, choosing anything I thought would be of interest, so I discussed ways of making classical literature accessible to disinterested teenagers.  My peers came to me afterwards to say they were encouraged enough to try my ideas.
       Later in the year I was invited to present at a statewide literature conference.  Soon after these two presentations, I learned that the National Council of Teachers of English was going to be in Los Angeles in the spring.  I wrote and offered to present “Shakespeare for the Reluctant Learner.”  They accepted my proposal.  Sixteen years after attending my first national conference in Florida, I had the opportunity to be a speaker at the national conference in California.
      Meanwhile I helped my students  prepare for their presentations at The Pomona Shakespeare Festival. One of my eleventh graders, Sean Hector, tackled the role of Falstaff.  He performed the scene from Henry IV, Part One in which a drunken Falstaff lies to Prince Hal about defeating a large band of robbers.
      Sean enjoyed wielding his imaginary sword and pantomimed his swashbuckling to great effect.  At one point in the scene, I had him fall flat on his back and fight the thieves from there as he said, “And I took my point…”
     One day while rehearsing, I told Sean to stop and lie quietly while I made a suggestion.  I asked him if he knew what a phallic symbol was and he nodded yes, clearly curious to see where I was going with this line of thought.  Then I explained that in Shakespeare’s plays, the sword is sometimes viewed as a phallic symbol.  I said, “Sean, while you’re lying on the stage, I want you to pantomime holding your sword straight up in the air with the hilt in your hand just below your waist, and say the line, “And I took my p-p-p-point…”
      Sean looked at me and and said with feigned shock, “Ms. Kruger!  Ms. Kruger!”  Then he followed my direction so well that I laughed out loud.  When we talked about the scene afterwards, he said he’d be disappointed if the audience didn’t get the meaning.  I told him that even if the students didn’t get it, the
judges would.
      "Once they start to laugh, everybody will get the joke."
      When it came time for the competition, Sean was ready.  He’d rehearsed until he’d perfected every moment of the scene and I was confident he would be well received.  I was right.  The audience was giggling from the opening lines and I waited eagerly to see their reaction to our sexual swordplay.  One of the judges laughed so hard he fell off his chair.  The audience roared – first at the judge, then at Sean’s line as they belatedly understood what they’d heard.  The remainder of Sean’s performance was electrifying and he walked off with the first place male performance.  Since that was the third year in a row that Washington Prep won this particular competition, we were allowed to keep the trophy.  It now has a permanent home in the high school trophy case, along with all the athletic awards.
       In the scene category, two of my students portrayed Celia and Rosalind in a scene from As You Like It.  They worked hard at rehearsals for three months and were good, though not great.  When they performed at the Festival, however, something clicked for them and they were on fire.  They won first place, as did my student performing Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene in the female monologue competition.  In my final year before retiring, for the first time Washington Prep won all three first place trophies.
       The Shakespeare Festival wasn’t the only competition that year that ended up so successfully; the Academic Decathlon was equally rewarding.  We’d participated every year since the first disastrous one and each time our performance improved.  By my last year at Washington, our students were among the best prepared in the district, knew what to expect, and were eager to demonstrate their skills.  At my final banquet, we filled two tables, with Mr. McKenna joining us for the first time.  One other teacher and I sat with the six students and all the other adults made up our second table.
       As the award winners from the first six categories were announced, we watched students from other schools walk to the front of the ballroom.  Our students had performed well in the math, science, and history competitions, but not well enough to earn recognition.  Then it was time for the three speech categories.  One by one, five of our students were called to join the other winners.  Eventually, all but one stood at the front of the room.  The remaining student leaned over to me and said, “Ms. Kruger, I’m sorry I didn’t do better.  Everybody else did well but me.”
       I took his hands in mine, preparing to comfort him and tell him not to worry about it.  Before I had a chance to begin, however, we heard his name called out as a medal winner in the interview competition.  He whooped with joy as he ran to the front of the room to accept his award and join his classmates.  Tears run down my cheeks as I watched all six of our students standing there, enjoying the applause of the onlookers.  What a change from just a few years earlier when Washington Prep came in last.
      I may have been physically exhausted, but my students were soaring and so was I.  The one thing that was making me sad was that I wasn’t getting more of a chance to be with my grandchildren. Day after day, driving home from school, I felt a pang watching other grandmothers walking down the street pushing strollers or holding the hands of their little grandchildren.  That was a life I’d never experienced but always dreamed about.
WITH JO AND JON'S INFANT ELIZABTH
       When Sarah was born, I was in my mid-40s, still married to Leon, and my teaching career was in its infancy.  It never occurred to me to leave Miami to be closer to my first granddaughter.  Almost 15 years later, when Philip and Nancy got together and Amelia became my granddaughter, I got to be with her for a few years, but then they moved to Michigan and I saw them only on holidays.  Now, Jo and Jon had two young children less than 500 miles away, but I rarely got to see them.  There were times when my arms ached to hold those two little babies the way my grandmother had held my children.
       Jo and Jon were eager to have me spend more time with Elizabeth and Ben, saying repeatedly that they wanted me to live with them after I retired.  I only half listened, believing their motivation to be a concern about my living alone Los Angeles.  Because I knew their worries weren’t justified, I didn’t give their offer much thought.  Instead, I looked forward to days spent touring museums, dining with friends, and relaxing by the pool.  And I planned to satisfy my desire to care for babies by volunteering at a nearby hospital where I could sit for hours rocking premature infants.
       It wasn’t until I spent my spring vacation with Jo and Jon that I realized their invitation was not based solely on concerns about me being alone.  I saw that they could use my help.  They were working long hours in high stress jobs, something they’d found easy enough to do before they had children.  Now, with 3-year-old Elizabeth and 1-year-old Ben, they had to scramble to make everything work. 
       This became obvious to me when I accompanied Jo to work one day.  Although she’d planned to take some vacation time while I was there, she had a luncheon to attend and thought I might enjoy going as well.  It was the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the first major cable car line in San Francisco.  The Municipal Railway, where Jo served as a deputy general manager, was hosting a celebration.  Since one of Jo’s responsibilities was community affairs, it was her staff that had organized the event.
        As we drove to the city from Jon and Jo’s townhouse in San Mateo, she described our plans for the day.  We’d park at her office on Geary Street, staying just long enough to check messages and drop off her briefcase, and then we’d ride the bus to Union Square for the festivities.  The party would begin with a cable car parade and continue with a bell-ringing contest.  Then we’d move inside to the St. Francis Hotel where lunch would be served to hundreds of people.  What Jo didn’t tell me was that many of the attendees were city dignitaries.  Several introduced themselves to me and spoke fondly of Jo and her contribution to the transit system.
       Once inside, Jo showed me to a table where I couldn’t help but notice we were the only women, and that Jo was significantly younger than everybody else.  Shortly after we sat down, the master of ceremonies began the program by recognizing key individuals, calling upon each by name and asking them to rise and be acknowledged.  One by one, everyone at our table stood up and I was impressed that Jo was dining with such important people.  Then I heard her name called out and she stood and was applauded.  For the first time, I realized that my daughter was not just sitting with senior transit staff, she was one of them.
       As we were getting ready to leave, Muni’s general manager, Bill Stead, asked Jo if she could spare some time when we got back to the office for a short meeting.  He would be unexpectedly leaving town for a few days and wanted her to handle a few things in his absence.  When Bill overheard Jo telling me to wait in her office while she met with him, he invited me to sit in on their meeting, thinking I might be interested in seeing Jo at work. 
       For the next hour, I listened to the two of them in amazement.  Bill would begin to describe a situation, but before he had a chance to explain what needed to be done, Jo would respond with some proposed action for his approval, taking detailed notes the entire time they talked.  There were people to call, meetings to attend, letters to be written, and decisions to be made.  At the luncheon, I had realized that my daughter held an important job in the transit district.  Listening to her and Bill strategize about the week ahead, I understood for the first time how complex and stressful that job was.  By the end of the hour, my brain was whirling.
       Jo was finished by mid-afternoon and ready to take some time off to be with me.  On our way home, we stopped at a pre-school to pick up Elizabeth and at a daycare center to get Ben.  During the car ride, Jo had focused on our day at the Muni, explaining to me all that I’d seen, who the people were, and what her job entailed.  She appeared totally immersed in her life as a career woman.  As we pulled up in front of the pre-school, however, a transformation occurred.  The moment she walked in the door, her entire focus changed and she became all mother.  If she hadn’t still been wearing a business suit, it would have been easy to forget how we’d spent the last few hours.
       I realized then that even if Jo and Jon had invited me to live with them because they were worried about me, I had to consider it seriously because they really did need my help.  My one remaining concern was whether I would get along well with Jon.  I knew that Jo and I had an easygoing relationship.  During her last year of high school when she and I were the only ones at home, we’d enjoyed each other’s company and never had a tense moment.  But Jon was still an unknown entity to me.
       While Jo assured me that her husband and I would be just fine together, it wasn’t until Jon said the magic words, “We need you,” that I made the decision to move north.  My only caveat was that I’d rent an apartment nearby, rather than staying in their guest bedroom.  Then, if we were all happy and they still wanted me to live with them, I would do so if they were able to move to a larger place where I could have my own space with a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and living area. 
        With the decision to retire and move to the San Francisco area behind me, I was able to focus on the end of the school year.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was time for me to go.  Two years earlier, Gary Nagy, my soul mate at school, had left to take a teaching position at a community college.  Last year, my dearest friend, Muriel Raphael, had retired after 30 years in the school system.  I sensed that Mr. McKenna was going to leave soon to take on new responsibilities.
       The only close friend I had remaining at the school was a relatively new, young English teacher named David Bonneau.  We’d inherited him from another school when our student body grew, as more and more students opted to matriculate at Washington.  We soon discovered we’d been fortunate in his transfer.  David was an excellent, enthusiastic teacher, and it wasn’t long before he took over as department chair.
Every time I turned around it seemed as if he were doing something to make my life at school more pleasant.  One day he came into my classroom to tell me that a retirement dinner was being planned for me.    
       When I told him I didn’t want anything big, he said, “You’re not in charge of this.  You can ask an occasional question – and you might get an answer – but you have no control whatsoever.”  When I said, “That’s okay, but I really don’t want anything elaborate,” he silenced me with a look.
       It was an evening I’ll treasure the rest of my life.  Golden Harris from the math department and Ann Cole from science were masters of ceremony,  dressed in Elizabethan costumes and using Shakespearean language throughout.  My children were invited and Jo and Jon drove in from Northern California and sat at the head table with Charles and me.  Fellow teachers who had left the school years earlier came back for the event.  Both Jo and Charles gave speeches that brought me to tears.  Two of my students spoke.  Gary Nagy and a few other teachers spoke.  David Bonneau had orchestrated everything down to the last detail, even giving me a silk corsage because he knew I was allergic to real flowers.  Mr. McKenna had arranged to have Mayor Bradley declare the date to be “Aura Kruger Day” in Los Angeles and sign a resolution to that effect.
       For over an hour, people took turns saying a few words.  One of my students sang the title song from the 1967 movie To Sir, with Love.  Many times, I’d been told that I reminded people of the English teacher portrayed in the movie by Sidney Poitier, both in the impact I had on my students and in how much I cared.  I was also touched when one of my colleagues said she’d taken the Mother’s Day card I’d received from Jo that spring and had it framed.  It wasn’t the printed sentiment that got to me, but what Jo had added.  At the retirement dinner, Jo was asked if she would stand and read what she wrote:  “I think the greatest thanks I can give you for all you’ve done for me these last thirty years is to tell you again how much I’m looking forward to your moving to San Mateo.  Very few daughters can relish the thought of living so close to their mothers with no concerns of conflict and simple eagerness to share life more closely.  It shows what a special person you are!”
       A few minutes later, Jo was called back to the stage to say a few more words.  In her opening remarks, she described her memories of an annual event in our neighborhood when she was growing up.  It was a coming of age ceremony in which all the elementary school children would stand back to back with me to see if they’d grown taller than I.  Since I was so short, I was always the first grown-up they’d pass by.  Jo then went on to say that as she got older, she measured herself against me in other, more important ways, using me as a role model both as a parent and as a career woman.
       Charles was the next to stand up and he talked about the impact I’d had on him as a teacher.  He had just begun teaching school himself and had developed a new appreciation for the difficulties inherent in the work.  He had the entire room laughing with his humorous listing of all the problems we face every day.
       When Mr. McKenna spoke, he began by speaking well of the speeches made by my children, saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  Then he thanked me for my efforts, both in my teaching and in the way I brought people together.  He said that Washington Prep was blessed with an excellent staff and that as he looked about the room that evening, he saw excellence appreciating excellence.  He closed by thanking me “from one fighter to another, from one revolutionary to another, from one dreamer to another.” I was deeply touched by his kind words.
       At the end of the evening, I was asked to speak.  Never shy before an audience, I was so moved by all that had occurred that I found it difficult to make a sound.  I paused before beginning and swallowed repeatedly as I tried to overcome the lump in my throat.  Although I wasn’t entirely successful, I was able to control my voice long enough to speak for a couple of minutes.  I wanted everyone to know how much I appreciated all of them, how much I loved them, how much I’d learned from them.  I quoted Brutus’s lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in which he convinces Cassius that the Romans should march on Philippi:  “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…”  My high tide had arrived and I was ready to ride it to a new phase in my life, one in which I knew I would be fortunate, indeed, as a grandmother blessed with living close to her grandchildren.
       As the last few weeks of school raced by and I prepared myself for retirement, I wondered if I were doing the right thing.  Perhaps with a long rest over the summer I would be able to come back for another year.  Finally, an image crossed my mind which helped calm my second thoughts.  When I was a child, Mother had taken Karyl and me to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to see Swan Lake.  I remember watching in amazement as Andre Eglevesky leaped through the air, reaching such heights that he appeared to defy gravity.  At one point, he exited the stage while still going up, leaving the audience with the impression that he might never come down again.
       I wanted to do the same.  My last year at Washington Prep had been my best ever.  Everything I attempted had reached fruition in a way I’d never dreamed possible.  Picturing Eglevesky leaping through the air, I realized I was going to leave teaching the way he left the stage…still going up.  Suddenly, my second thoughts disappeared and I felt totally confident about my decision.  I promised myself that from then on, regardless of what I did, I would always stop doing it while still going up.
       Graduation day arrived and for the third time in my tenure at Washington, the seniors honored me by asking me to lead their procession, a role reserved for the teacher voted as having the greatest impact on the student body.  After a few more days, final exams were graded and report cards tallied.  The end of my high school teaching career was upon me.  At the last faculty meeting, Mr. McKenna and our parent coordinator both spoke of my retirement, then Mr. McKenna asked me to say a few words.  Holding back tears, I said, “There have been many goodbyes over the last few weeks, but each time I’ve known there would be another day.  Not any more.  This is it.  I want you to know that I admire each and every one of you for what you do here every day.  I will miss you and I wish you the best.”
       Unable to continue, I choked up and sat down.  After the meeting, I hugged Mr. McKenna and Ms. Martin, and then walked to the parking lot, got into my car and drove away.  As I turned the corner and all signs of Washington Prep disappeared from my rear-view mirror, I was shocked at the sudden release from stress.  A weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  I had loved my work right up to the last minute of the last day, but it was time to leave.  
[Circa 2004]
         As Grandma Lena grew older, she used to say it was the lucky individual who had a reason to get up in the morning.  She had no patience with her friends who sometimes complained about chores or helping out with the next generations.  At the time, I didn’t really comprehend what she meant, for I was often exhausted with raising four children and working two jobs.  The thought of being retired and having to do nothing at all was very appealing.
         Now that I’m 83 and have been retired for over 15. years, I see the wisdom of Grandma Lena’s philosophy.  Every morning I wake up looking forward to the day, when I may be reading a Shakespearean play out loud with my grandchildren and their friends, teaching them as I taught my high school students so many years ago.  I may be giving a speech to a group of teachers, encouraging them to reach out to their young charges and thanking them for their efforts. 
        Even the more routine task of driving my grandchildren about brings me joy, for then they share with me their hopes and dreams for the future, and I feel blessed, knowing they want me to be a part of that future.

        I’m surrounded by my children and grandchildren.  This past Mother’s Day, I received calls and cards not only from them, but also from several friends who told me they view me as the mother of their hearts.  I’ve been nurturing and teaching my whole life and hope to continue to do so until my last day.  I’ve had the Plumfield of my childhood dreams and, like the danseur of Swan Lake who left the stage while still leaping skyward, I want to leave this life going up.

[Aura, if we can arrange the timing, I'd like to be there hanging on to your tail feathers, wondrous classmate and talented memoirist . . . bbm, November, 2012]


A relevant post appeared in my daughter Kathleen Malley-Morrison's vitally important blog, Engagingpeace.com on November 8, 2012:

To laugh often and love much, To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, To appreciate beauty , To find the best in others, To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden path, or a redeemed social condition, To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is to have succeeded.        
[Monument inscription, Lincoln, Kansas.] 

AURA TAP DANCES ON 90TH BIRTHDAY JULY 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kcnj8C40KA
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