Pages

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

THE DAY MY 13-YEAR-OLD DISAPPEARED WAS A NIGHTMARE. (14)



Troubled Waters

“Moon over Miami, shine on my love and me.
A little stroll, beside the roll of the rolling sea.”
-from the chorus of the song “Moon Over Miami,” Leslie and Burke, 1935

         As I drove south onto Highway 61 toward the airport in Greenville, my mind kept churning.  What had happened  to our lives?  Just a week earlier, all had been well.  Our two-year commitment to the people of this amazing little town was drawing to an end and Leon was pursuing an exciting job opportunity in Florida.  My love affair with my students was a daily blessing.  In an instant, it had all fallen apart.  When Jo stumbled through our back door, her body battered and bruised, I knew our lives could never be the same again.
       Choking back tears, not wanting the children to realize how distraught I was, I gradually managed to turn my thoughts to the future.  The vision of Miami and my parents waiting for me at the end of our journey soothed my spirits.  Miami!  Just a few months earlier, Leon had seriously considered moving us all to Nigeria to work in that poverty-stricken country.  When friends convinced him that this would be too difficult an undertaking, I was relieved.  Instead, we were moving to Miami.  
        As I thought of the soft white sand, the gently swaying palm trees and the endless ocean, I started to hum a favorite songs, Moon over Miami.  Ever since I first heard it when I was 12 years old, I pictured Miami as the most romantic place on earth.  I used to envision what it would be like to live in such a beautiful area with beaches even more alluring than those of my beloved New London and Cape Cod.
        When I first visited Miami with my family in 1940 when I was eighteen, it was even more wonderful than I’d imagined.  Back then, the beaches were uncrowded and the exotic plants and birds took my breath away.  Now, as I drove past the cotton fields of Mississippi, I saw myself walking hand-in-hand with Leon beneath the palm trees, feeling the balmy breeze caress us, squeezing the sand between my toes, the horror of our last week in Mound Bayou receding.
        Meanwhile Leon had pulled into Greenville's small airport, parked his car, and was waiting to join us for the rest of our trip.  He took the wheel while I shifted to the passenger seat.  Not ready or able to discuss what was most on our minds, we drove in silence and I began to dwell on all that had happened.  What a different trip this was from the one we took almost two years earlier from Massachusetts to Mississippi.  
         When we left Boston, although I was worried about what we might face in Mississippi, I was excited by the prospect.  In my naiveté, I didn’t believe anything truly bad could happen.  Now, as we drove further and further away from Mound Bayou, I felt saddened by the way things had turned out.  How could our adventure have fallen apart so quickly and completely?  As these depressing images swirled through my mind, I clung to the realization that this sudden change of plans meant Philip could return home to us.  I was eager to hug him hello and see how he’d grown in his year away from his family.
         I was pulled out of my reverie by the sound of Leon singing cheerfully, making up funny new lyrics to old tunes to raise everyone’s spirits.  He talked to the dog and cat, pretending they were talking back,  getting us all to smile and laugh with him.  Throughout his antics, however, I was aware of his constant surveillance of Jo, viewing her with a physician’s eye to monitor her progress. A few short hours ago she had been still in shock, fading in and out of consciousness.  Leon drove more cautiously than usual, knowing that every time the car went over a bump, Jo winced in pain, her broken bones and bruises still raw.  So we traveled slowly, stopping often and checking into a motel by 3:00 each afternoon, at which time Jo would lie down for a couple of hours before dinner.
         As soon as we checked into our motel,we decided to see a movie, a rare treat for us ever since we left Boston.  Halfway through it, Jo ached so much we couldn’t stay. We tried again to break up the trip once we reached Florida, detouring from our direct route to visit Cypress Gardens and the Bok Tower.   As with the movie, this proved to be too difficult for Jo.  
         Throughout the trip, we were so worried about Jo’s physical well being that we hadn't yet considered the possibility of any psychological damage.  In those days, very little was written about the lingering effects of sexual assault.  Leon, as a physician, was somewhat knowledgeable about the subject, but I was clueless.  And despite our ability to discuss openly many difficult issues, we found ourselves unable to approach this one.  It was too painful.
         Mixed with my concern about Jo was a sense of guilt that I had placed her in danger in the first place.  Should I have stayed in New England with the children instead of joining Leon in Mississippi, even though I considered it my duty as a good wife to follow him?  If I had, my little girl would not have been subjected to such a terrible beating.  
         We reached Miami after four days of travel.  As we neared Mom and Dad’s home, we passed a kennel and stopped to turn around and leave our pets there.  With a sad heart, I watched the staff walk away with our dog and cat, not knowing how long it would be before we’d have a home of our own again and could retrieve them.
         It didn’t take us long to settle in comfortably in Mom and Dad’s condo.  Ever since I’d first left home for college, I knew I could always stay with them, that I didn’t need to worry that I was imposing or there wasn’t enough room.  No matter where they lived, whether on Fellsmere Road  on Cape Cod, or more recently in Florida, they made it clear that their home was my home, that I was never too grown-up or too old to come to them if I needed to.  Now, with my life so disrupted following our frantic departure from Mound Bayou, their home was an oasis.
         As I knew she would, Mom had been busily planning our meals from the moment she heard we were driving in from Mississippi.  She prepared our favorite dinners and made us feel as if we were doing her a favor by allowing her to spend hours in the kitchen.  A huge smile graced her face as she shopped and cooked, shopped and cooked.  Dad seemed equally content to take us to restaurants, enjoying playing the gracious host.  In feeding our bodies, they were simultaneously nurturing our souls, helping to make the recent nightmare in Mound Bayou begin to fade away.
         By the end of the first week, Leon felt as if we were recovered enough for him to return to Mississippi.  With Charles and Jo in good hands with my parents, I decided to go as well.  Leon was opposed to the idea, coming up with one reason after another that made no sense at all.  In retrospect, I realize he may not have understood himself why he didn’t want me along, and that’s why he couldn’t explain himself clearly to me. In any case, he acquiesced to my desire.
         We landed at the airport in Greenville, picked up the car we’d left there a week earlier and drove north to Mound Bayou.  As I stared out the window at the view of endless dirt fields broken up only by the occasional shack, I began to weep.  All the emotions I had pent up during the last two weeks broke through.  The contrast of the easy life at my parents’ home in Florida with the abject poverty in the Mississippi Delta hit me hard.  How quickly I’d forgotten how severe the problems were.
         While living in Mound Bayou, I’d rejoiced in every minor victory, with each student who challenged himself to tackle new material, with each family that received medical attention at Leon’s clinic.  But now, looking out over the muddy fields, I thought about how little impact we’d actually had in the greater scheme of things.  The closer we got to Mound Bayou, the more I felt that two years of tribulations had actually accomplished very little.  Our personal sacrifices, including having Jo get beaten up, had probably gone for naught.  The problems seemed insurmountable.  Leon, sitting beside me, had little patience with my sad musings and told me to snap out of it.  By the time we pulled up in front of our trailers, I had pulled myself together and felt ready to face the world once again.
         As Leon opened the door and we stepped into the room connecting the trailers, there were no sounds of pets rushing to greet us or kids listening to music.  Already an emptiness permeated everything, calling out that the Kruger family didn’t live here any more.  That feeling grew even stronger when Leon left to go to the clinic and I was alone.
         We’d decided to hire professionals to help, so the first thing I did was call a moving company to arrange for them to pack everything and hold it in storage in Miami until we found a place to live.  By the time this was done and I’d crammed all I could into the car, Leon returned from the clinic and we had a late lunch with the couple who were buying our trailers.  Once again, we were starting out in a new place with new challenges, only this time we would have a real house with my parents close by.
         The next morning, we arrived in Jackson and stopped for lunch in a small café, where we bumped into a couple of my former students who were attending Tougaloo College on athletic scholarships.  They joined us for a while, reminiscing about their high school days.  They spoke sadly of what had happened to Jo and of our decision to leave Mound Bayou.  They wanted us to know how shocked they were, how the behavior of a few of their fellow teens was abhorrent to them and not representative of the town’s youth.  After lunch, they hugged us goodbye and promised they’d never forget all they had learned in my classroom.       
         Later that day, when we dined with our friend Bob and his fiancée, we had our first opportunity to discuss what had happened to Jo from a medical and psychiatric perspective.  Bob, like Leon, was a pediatrician, and had read the literature, still in its infancy, on the after effects of rape and attempted rape.  He described to us how Jo might behave in response to this traumatic experience, explaining that some victims found it impossible to interact with boys and shunned them, making it difficult to develop any normal relationships.  Other responded by becoming promiscuous, feeling as if they’d been defiled and that this type of behavior was now expected of them.
         As we listened to his assessment of the we might face with Jo, it became clear that the way we responded could make a profound difference in Jo’s development and her acceptance of herself, and we vowed to be supportive in whatever way she needed.  With this conversation fresh in my mind, a few days later I spoke sharply to my father for the first time in my life.  I heard him questioning Jo about what the boys had done to her.  She hadn’t even told me the details, and yet here was her grandfather, asking for an explicit description of how they’d touched her and whether her clothes had been removed. I stopped him, speaking of the possible psychological trauma she might yet experience.  When Dad argued with me, I snapped at him, my motherly instinct overcoming my longstanding deference to whatever my father decreed.
         Because Jo was so well adjusted in general, we assumed she was okay and resisted friends’ advice to get her into psychiatric counseling.  We were aware that she kept her hair short and wore boys’ clothing, but she’d been a tomboy for years.  It didn't occur to us that she wanted people to think she was a boy, taking advantage of her boyish name to confuse them.  If we had taken her to a psychiatrist, perhaps we would have understood that she was rejecting everything feminine about herself,  and that despite appearing well adjusted in every other way, she still had significant issues to address.  Fortunately, she worked through them  herself and eventually began to accept her gender.
         In any case, the conversation over dinner with our friends in Jackson gave me food for thought during the long drive back to Miami.  Once we arrived, Leon worked with staff at the University of Miami to decide where to build his new clinic.  He first visited the Seminole village of Immokalee and was told he’d be killed if he tried to move there.  After the violence we’d experienced in Mississippi, this was enough to make both him and the university administration look to Homestead instead.
         I knew little of Leon’s work in Florida.  Unlike our time in Mound Bayou, when I was his partner in the endeavor to improve the lives of the townspeople, our time in Florida was spent with each of us going our own way.  Leon rarely discussed what he was doing and never invited me to see his clinic.  It struck me as strange because he’d always been eager to show off his work to me in the past, and to brainstorm  about his problems.  Somewhere during our days in Mississippi, we'd lost that partnership.  Perhaps this was the first sign that he and I were heading into troubled waters.
         While Leon began his work in Homestead, I focused on getting the children into school and looking for a new job.  Now that I’d experienced the joys of working in a classroom in Mississippi, I was eager to return to teaching.  This time, instead of choosing a rural environment, I wanted to teach in Liberty City, Miami’s black ghetto where there had been riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination.
         I phoned the Dade County Board of Education for an appointment.  Once there, I could simultaneously gather information about the best school for my children and the most troubled one for myself.  After Jo’s  experience, it was important for our family to be in a safe neighborhood where Jo, Charles, and eventually Philip could attend excellent schools.  Leon left the decision of where to live entirely up to me.  He was engrossed in his work and seemed disinterested in what happened at home.  More and more, he was removing himself from crucial decisions regarding his family, none more important than where we would live and the children attend school.  When I arrived at the school district offices, I began by asking for the names of the best junior and senior high schools.  My interviewer assured me they were all equally excellent. Really!
         Dade County was the fourth largest school district in the country, running the gamut from inner-city ghetto to wealthy suburb.  I knew the schools couldn’t possibly all be equally excellent and I wasn’t going to let my interviewer convince me otherwise.  I told her about our two years in Mississippi, explaining why it was important for Jo to be in the best school we could find.  Her attitude changed, and she told me to move to Coral Gables, where the neighborhoods were beautiful and safe, and the schools outstanding.
         With that decision behind me, I turned to the question of where I would teach.  My interviewer was adamant that I should teach in Coral Gables or one of the communities south of there.  I was equally insistent that I wanted to teach at a high school in the Liberty City ghetto, that I wanted to take advantage of my two years of experience in the black community of Mound Bayou and work where I was most needed.   When it appeared we had reached an impasse, I stated that if I couldn’t teach in a black school, then I wouldn’t teach at all.
         Seeing she couldn’t persuade me otherwise and knowing they were desperate for teachers in Liberty City, the woman told me to see the principal of Allapattah Junior High, saying wryly, “He’s crazy too…you’ll be a good pair.”  Laughing at how strange I appeared to her, I  realized she had said junior high school.  No!  I wanted to teach in a senior high school.  When I told her this, she said I was too tiny to teach in an inner-city high school; it wouldn’t be safe.  I thanked her for her help and we scheduled an appointment for me to see Dr. Walker that same day.  She shook my hand, gave me a map, and said, “Good luck.”
         As I followed the map to Allapattah, I mulled over my reasons for preferring to teach at the senior high level.  I liked teaching both junior and senior high students but enjoyed the curriculum more with the latter, especially the English literature and Shakespeare.  I’d just have to find material I liked for the younger students..
         Liberty City was unlike any other ghetto I had seen.  The area looked lovely with its small single-family homes, well-kept lawns, paved streets and sidewalks, and  semi-tropical trees.  Instead of the poverty of the northeastern ghettos that I expected, I saw what appeared to be a pleasant middle-class neighborhood where it happened that everyone was black.
         There was an elementary school next to Allapattah and the two schools shared the same recess schedule.  There were hundreds of children everywhere I looked and not a white face in the crowd – no white students, no white teachers.  Where was the desegregation I’d been assured had taken place? No problem.  I was used to being the only white person at my school.
          I found the office for my meeting with Dr. Walker and was greeted by Barbara Faulkner, his secretary.  She was the first of only a handful of Caucasians I would meet at the school.  She introduced me to Dr. Walker and he and I started to talk.  I was impressed by his questions, his choice of topics, his vocabulary, all of which demonstrated a true brilliance and a special outlook on education.  I took an instant liking to him and was enthusiastic about the possibility of working together.  
         I could tell, however, that despite his obvious interest in me, he was concerned about my having left Mississippi in the middle of a school year.  This was often the sign of an unreliable teacher, and principals were understandably hesitant to hire anyone who had walked out on a contract.  Despite my reluctance to talk about something so personal and painful, I told him what had happened to Jo and our decision to leave Mississippi mid-year.  I prefaced my account with the request that he keep it between us.
         Dr. Walker's whole attitude changed.  He closed the door, telling Mrs. Faulkner we were not  to be disturbed.  When he returned to his desk, he said he had never before had such a frank and open discussion with a white person.  He was moved by the fact that I saw him, not as a black man but as a fellow human being.  He concluded by saying he would like to hire me but warned that the process might take a few weeks.  I didn’t mind.  It was April and I wouldn't start teaching until fall.  We shook hands warmly and I walked out of his office thinking our conversation couldn’t have gone better.
         My sense of euphoria lasted all the way home to Mother and Dad’s condo.  When I told them my news, they lectured me about the mistake I’d made.  They couldn’t understand why I refused the offer to teach in a more affluent section of Dade County and instead chose to work in Liberty City.  In fact, they were downright horrified.  Even though they’d had two years to adjust to our having given up a prosperous life in Massachusetts to move to the cotton fields of Mississippi, they still didn’t understand my commitment to working with poor black students.  They saw only the difficulties and the danger, not the rewards and sense of satisfaction in doing something worthwhile.
         Although displeased with my choice of where to work, my parents were happy with my decision to live in Coral Gables.  The next day, Leon and I met with a real estate agent to look at houses in this beautiful little city with its lush gardens and manicured lawns.  However, the houses we liked, we couldn’t afford, and the ones we could afford were too run down.  After the agent showed us everything on her list and gave up for the day, we decided to drive around to get a better feel for the area, not expecting to look at any more houses.  After just a few minutes, though, we couldn’t resist stopping when we saw a “for sale by owner” sign in front of a house on Blue Road.
         I loved it from the moment I walked in the front door.  Next to the kitchen was a space called a Florida room.  Though common now and better known as a family room, it was a relatively new concept in the late 60s.  There was a spacious feeling created by having the kitchen, dining room, living room, and Florida room clustered together with no walls between them.  Only when we walked to the bedroom wing, with its two bedrooms and bathrooms, did we find walls.  The house was located near the junior and senior high schools, and only a few blocks from the University of Miami campus.  Best of all, it was in a safe neighborhood.  I was concerned that it would be too small for five people, but Leon thought we could make it work and even if we couldn’t, it was all we could afford and would have to do.
         Papers were drawn up and the house became ours.  We decided to use the Florida room for dining and turn the small dining room into a bedroom for Philip.  Leon and I took the master bedroom, where for the first time in my life, I had the luxury of a master bath.  We gave the second bedroom to Jo, wanting to keep her as close to us as possible, given all that she’d been through.  That left the garage for Charles.
         Leon soon convert the garage into a bedroom for Charles.  He was pleased with his work and Charles’s bedroom turned out to be the largest, most pleasant one in the house.  Charles, however, never viewed it that way.  Years later he told me he felt as if he’d been shoved aside by the family, while  ironically, Philip said he would have loved the freedom of living in the garage. He had always felt cramped in the made-over dining room.  If we’d only communicated better when we were making decisions, we could have made both boys happier by reversing their room situations. 
         We wasted no time moving into our new home.  It had been great staying with my parents, but the three weeks felt like a long time and I was ready to set up housekeeping once again.  It was fun meeting our new neighbors and I received lots of good advice concerning living in a semi-tropical environment.  Jo and Charles were most intrigued by the admonishment to ignore the little lizards we’d find indoors and let them be, for they kept the bug population under control.  What appealed to me most was what I learned about Florida's plants and trees.  The neighbor to our right had a coconut tree leaning out over our yard.  She said the neighborhood tradition was that we were welcome to keep any coconuts that fell on our property.  It was entertaining to watch Leon and the children trying to figure out how to get at the milk and meat inside the husk. 
         Our neighbor across the street had a mango tree in her front yard.  She brought over a plate of freshly cut mango, and while we sat and nibbled on this delicacy, she invited us to help ourselves any time we liked.  I should wear gloves while preparing it, however, because some people were allergic to the skin.  In our own yard, we had a banana tree that we hoped would bear fruit, but it never did.
         Our first day there, we drove Charles and Jo to the local junior high school, Ponce de Leon.  I liked its Spanish name and all the Spanish architecture we could see throughout our new town.  The principal at Ponce, Mr. Dykes, was concerned that the children would be behind their classmates because of their time in the Mississippi school system, but we persuaded him to let them both finish out the year in the 7th grade.  We’d spent many hours at home supplementing their formal education and knew they’d have no difficulty.
         As it turned out, Jo had advanced beyond the traditional 7th grade program in math.  Leon had thought this might be the case and encouraged her to ask the teacher for additional assignments.  The teacher, not knowing what to expect, gave her some worksheets for the next math topic.  That night she neatly completed every problem.  For three days, Jo’s teacher gave her extra work, making it more and more difficult, and each time she finished it with no mistakes.
         I hadn’t realized exactly what was happening until the end of the fourth day.  At that time, I was at home unpacking box after box, when a gentleman knocked on the door and introduced himself as Jo’s math teacher   I invited him in and we sat on unopened boxes, the only seats available since we as yet had no furniture in the living room.  He told me he wanted to re-schedule Jo’s day so she could take algebra with the 8th graders.  So much for the principal’s concerns that Jo and Charles would be unable to keep up with their classmates.
         Once I’d agreed to his proposal, he went on to recommend that we enroll Jo in an accelerated math program in the fall.  She and the top 9th grade geometry students would attend Dade County Community College on Saturday mornings to take algebra II with a college professor.  After her teacher left and I thought through all he said, I realized that in September, Jo would be taking high school math classes with students two years older than she.  
         Charles’s transition to Ponce Junior High was nowhere near as smooth as Jo’s.  We’d raised our children to think for themselves and protest injustices, and Charles took the advice to heart by constantly challenging his teachers.  He was smart and well read, well beyond what teachers had come to expect from a 12-year-old, and it took his teachers by surprise when he questioned everything they said.      
         Unfortunately, he had never learned how to ask his questions in an acceptable manner, so instead of coming across as an eager student, he was viewed as a trouble-maker, often ending up in detention.  As a result, I was on the phone regularly with the principal, listening to his concerns and discussing how we  might help Charles fit in better.  Nothing we tried worked.   Mr. Dykes said Charles was a unique student and perhaps needed an unusual classroom setting but was adamant that in a public school, Charles had to learn to conform.  The situation came to a head one day in gym class.  The boys were outside getting ready for a baseball scrimmage.  Because of his clumsiness, Charles had never liked baseball.  Rather than paying attention to the coach, he was letting his mind wander.
         After several attempts to get Charles to focus, the coach said, “Assume the position.”  Charles had no idea what he meant by this and simply stared back blankly.  Then the coach took out a paddle and told Charles to bend over to be swatted on the backside.  Charles refused, saying, “Hitting students is an inappropriate form of punishment.”  Knowing that both Philip and Jo had been suspended from school in Mississippi for refusing to be hit by a teacher, Charles was willing to accept whatever alternative the coach might propose.
         Despite this readiness, he was taken aback when the coach yelled, “You’re a yellow-bellied coward and a dirty civil rights worker.”  Choosing to interpret the last part of the coach’s statement as a compliment, Charles thanked him and left the field.  I got a call from the principal’s office, asking Leon and me to come in for a chat.
         Mr. Dykes apologized for the coach’s outburst, telling us that all the teachers at the school knew of our work in Mississippi because of a ten-page article appearing in Life Magazine, days before our arrival in Coral Gables.  The story described the poverty in Mound Bayou and included a picture of Leon, along with a description of his role as one of the doctors who came to help.  Not all the teachers approved of Leon’s work and those that didn’t were predisposed to dislike our children.  
         Although Mr. Dykes didn’t try to excuse the coach’s behavior, he asked us to understand his dilemma.  Teachers had to be obeyed and Charles must conform.  Charles, conform?  It wasn’t going to happen.  Not then, not ever.  Somehow we managed to get through those last few weeks of the school year without our son being suspended or expelled and hoped that over the summer, he’d mellow and learn to blend in with his classmates.
         In the meantime, I was worried about my own school situation because I hadn’t heard back from Dr. Walker about teaching at Allapattah Junior High School.  I called him twice, and each time he assured me he still wanted to hire me but had been unable to get my paperwork processed.  Eventually, believing I was not  going to receive a job offer from him, I called the Board of Education and requested an interview with another principal in Liberty City.  They sent me to see Mr. Ellis at Dorsey Junior High School.
         What a difference!  Allapattah was a beautiful school, fully air conditioned, clean and orderly.  Dorsey Junior High was in disrepair, no air conditioning, dirty.  It was more like what I’d expected Allapattah to be when I first drove into Liberty City a month earlier.  The shabby setting didn’t faze me and I was more determined than ever to teach in the inner city.  The interview went so well that Mr. Ellis wanted to hire me on the spot.  I mentioned that Dr. Walker had made the same offer but had not yet come up with a job.  Since I’d already told Dr. Walker I would work at Allapattah, I didn’t feel right about just walking away from him but promised Mr. Ellis that if Dr. Walker hadn’t give me an answer by the next day, I would be at Dorsey in the fall.
         I drove home feeling relieved.  Even if Allapattah didn’t work out, I had an alternative.  As soon as I walked in the door, I phoned Dr. Walker and told him of my conversation with Mr. Ellis.  He asked me to come in the next day and when I arrived, he explained what was going on.  He’d been to the Board offices on three separate occasions and was told each time they’d misplaced my file.  After I called him with news of my interview with Mr. Ellis, he dropped everything else and went there again.  This time, he wouldn’t accept any excuses; he would sit there in the office until they found the file.  Three hours later, they finally gave it to him, saying ever so politely, “We’re sorry.  It must have slipped down behind the radiator and we just didn’t think to look there.”  It was obvious to him that the administration didn’t want me working in the inner city.  Fortunately for me, Dr. Walker did want me there and was finally able to hire me for the fall.
         Now that my employment was settled, my next step was to enroll at University of Miami to continue work on my graduate degree.  Since I’d already started work on my master’s at Delta State College in Mississippi, I expected to be able to sign up for classes.  I learned that first I was required to take the Graduate Record Exam and the Iowa English Test and receive satisfactory grades.  I breezed through them, making top scores.  It was disheartening to learn I needed to score only 51% to enter graduate school and 33% to teach in Dade County.  It was sad that such low performances were of our teachers.
         With my scores in hand, along with my transcripts from Newton High School, Emerson College, and Delta State, I returned to the university to enroll.  I had planned on earning my master’s degree in English Literature, but the department head wanted me to switch to American Lit, given that I already had my bachelor’s in English Lit.  With the logistics finally settled, I became a graduate student at the University of Miami.
         All was going well.  Charles and Jo had finished up the school year.  I had my job for the fall and was ready to start taking classes.  Then, at the end of June, Philip came home from Amherst and I was euphoric.  It had broken my heart to send him off to live with Connie and Greg.  Not a day went by that I didn’t think of him and worry about whether he felt rejected.  And I’d wonder if he missed me as much as I missed him.
         Whenever I spoke with Connie or him, I was assured he was doing fine at Amherst High and having a great time.  Nonetheless, it had been a tough year for me without him.  If I complained to my parents, they’d say, “I told you so,” pointing out they had never wanted us to move to Mississippi in the first place.  Leon appeared untroubled  and couldn’t understand why I found the separation so difficult.  So I kept my sadness to myself, aware of how I was missing an important adolescent year in my son’s life.
         When Philip stepped off the plane, I couldn't restrain myself.  At 15 years old, he’d reached the age when many teenagers pull away from their parents, but he put up with my embracing him tightly.  At first, I couldn’t even speak.  Everyone around us was busy with greetings and seeing to their luggage, but all I could see was Philip.  My boy was home.
         In the following weeks, I noticed he wasn’t as close to me as he’d been in Mound Bayou.  I feared he was resentful, first of being sent away and then of being forced to return, but I’d remind myself he was no longer a boy but a young man.  I couldn’t expect him to share the details of his life with me as he had before.    My favorite moments were when he’d sit on a stool in the kitchen while I prepared a meal; with his guitar and that beautiful voice of his, he would sing all the current songs of the day.  I still smile whenever I hear  “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now.”  Philip would play records and sing all day.  He was my music come back.
AURA' S PEACE-NIK FAMILY
         The rest of the summer of 1969 is a blur.  I know we went north, Connie came south.  I know Connie, Philip, and Charles became hippies, letting their hair grow long and dressing the part of peace-niks.  Jo seemed to be fine, spending her days at the student recreation center at the university, playing ping-pong, bowling, and swimming with friends she’d made there.  Her traumatic experience in Mississippi seemed a long time ago and we never talked about it.  I followed Bob Smith’s advice, watching diligently but saying nothing.
         In the meantime, Leon was busy starting up the new clinic in Homestead, and I was equally  occupied with my course work at the university.  We’d take a break every Sunday and drive to Hallendale to visit my folks, swimming in their pool or going to the beach nearby.  Mom would cook dinner and I’d feel rejuvenated by the end of the day.  It was only later that Leon told me he never enjoyed those visits, found them boring and demanding.  To me, they were an oasis in my week, the one time I could  relax and let someone else take care of things.  To him, they were an imposition on his time.
         When not visiting my folks, we’d use the weekends to explore our new surroundings.  We took day trips to the Everglades, fascinated by the alligators and spectacular birds, intrigued by life in a Seminole village.  We went to Parrot Jungle and Sea World and visited Viscaya and Miami Beach.  We went to the movies, the theater, and out to eat.  In retrospect, I realize we were making up for the cultural desolation of our spell in Mississippi.  Life was good in Coral Gables, despite the heat and high humidity.  In fact, the weather didn’t bother us at all once we'd installed air conditioning in our home.  But as I sat inside looking out at the semi-tropical landscape, aware of how hot it was outside, I couldn’t help but think of the families living in Homestead and Liberty City who couldn't afford the luxury of air conditioning.
         With the arrival of fall, we once again had to deal with Charles’s problems at school.  Rather than mellowing over the summer as we’d hoped, he’d become even more difficult.  Only two weeks into the year  the principal called Leon and me and suggested that Charles be placed in a private school.  He said not only was it necessary because the teachers couldn’t handle Charles, but it would also be best for Charles.
         He recommended Dearborn Academy, a local school with a good reputation, and Leon and I scheduled a meeting with the headmaster.  I kept trying to describe to him the kinds of problems we’d experienced with Charles in the past, how he constantly challenged his teachers, how he couldn’t seem to fit in with the other students, but the headmaster kept cutting me off, assuring me his school could provide the kind of environment that Charles required.  Concerned that he hadn’t really heard me, I attempted again to emphasize what a difficult student Charles was.
       The headmaster suddenly appeared hesitant and asked, “Is Charles violent?”
       When I assured him Charles was not only not violent, but a pacifist, he said, “We can handle anything else.  Our teachers are accustomed to dealing with bright students who have behavioral problems.  They’ll know what to do to keep Charles focused on his schoolwork.”
       We left the office with mixed feelings.  I was unconvinced that the headmaster understood how difficult Charles could be, but Leon told me not to worry, wanting to believe we’d finally found a suitable school for our son.
        In the meantime, I started work at Allapattah and discovered things had changed over the summer, and I would not be the only white teacher: there were five of us.  The courts had made it clear that the school had to desegregate, but acquiesced when the district argued that the transition would go more smoothly if they were allowed to integrate the faculty first.  Based on that, Dade County was given two years during which they were supposed to bring in a substantial number of white teachers to pave the way.  That number ended up being five, including me.
         Dr. Walker told me the district was undermining all attempts at integration by trying to transfer the best black teachers to the white schools, and the worst and least experienced white teachers to the black schools.  He said he had to battle continuously to keep his good teachers from being reassigned.  Those he was unable to keep reported back to him that they were placed in the worst classrooms in their new schools, despite their seniority in the district, and assigned the most difficult schedules.  In short, their new schools were attempting to force them to quit.  The nasty politics swirled all around me, but I was where I wanted to be, working with the most disadvantaged students in the city.  I didn’t care whether there were five white teachers or fifty-five white teachers.  I cared only about my students.
         My first two days at the school were spent preparing for the students and getting to know the rest of the faculty and administration.  The more I learned of Dr. Walker, the more impressed I became.  He was the first black man to earn a Ph.D. in the state of Florida.  His constant attempts to improve the quality of the school created an expectation of excellence that permeated every class-room.  He made his teachers and administration part of a team joined in battle against all that was wrong with our school system, fighting for opportunities for our young charges.
         I first became aware of Dr. Walker's creativity and boldness in the funding area when he explained the Title I program to me.  A few years earlier, in 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed, creating the single largest source of federal support for K-12 education.  Title I of that act, called Aid to Disadvantaged Children, was a key part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, targeting schools located in very poor areas.  Within each school, Title I funding was supposed to be used only for those students with the lowest scores on standardized tests.
         Dr. Walker didn’t like this provision, reasoning that because even our top students scored below the 50th percentile on statewide tests, they should be eligible for Title I funds, as well as our lowest students.  He believed that only by including our best students could we have a major impact on raising the educational level of black students.  He felt so strongly about this that he was willing to mislead the state examiners who came periodically to see how Title I funds were being spent. He instructed the Title I teachers working with our most advanced students to switch to remedial textbooks prior to an examiner's observation of their classroom.  We had to do this only once in my class, and neither my students nor I hesitated to engage in the deception.  Interestingly, almost 30 years later, the Act was modified to authorize exactly what Dr. Walker was achieving surreptitiously.
         Dr. Walker used these targeted monies to fund my position and placed me on a Title I team with a math teacher, Charles Hartfield, and a guidance counselor, Genevieve Lockhart.  From the first day, I loved working with these two special people.  When I first met Mr. Hartfield, the rapport was both immediate and intense.  I sensed in him a fellow teacher who shared my passion for reaching out to students on every level possible, dedicated to making a difference in their lives.  Our friendship grew over the years and eventually I had to deal with the knowledge that he wanted more from our relationship than platonic friendship and an academic partnership.  Hopelessly devoted to Leon, however, I ignored the signals and simply enjoyed and was invigorated by our teamwork for the students.
         Those early days were easy for me.  Not only did I have the two years of experience in Mississippi behind me, I was in a supportive environment with a principal and colleagues I truly enjoyed.  In addition to my fellow teachers, I had the opportunity to interact with a delightful woman named Sue Stevens, a district adviser for English teachers.  I called her the “lady with the goodies” because of all the materials and activities she provided.
         Often, Sue would meet with our students in the library to share a video she’d selected, after which she’d lead a discussion.  Unlike many of the other teachers who saw this time as an opportunity for a break, I always stayed with the students to watch what Sue was doing and to learn from it.  Afterwards, I would return with my students to our classroom and continue the discussion.
         It was through Sue that I discovered the literary anthologies that became the mainstay of my junior high school English classes.  These books were a treasure chest.  The companion material included music to accompany the selections, transparencies for a projector to guide discussions, and a comprehensive Teacher’s Guide.
         Despite my fondness for the series, I was never able to persuade other teachers to try it.  I couldn’t understand their reluctance until Sue pointed out that the Teacher’s Guide, which I found such a tremendous resource with its hundreds of suggestions, was viewed by others as inadequate.  They were accustomed to guides that provided sample tests with answers, which this guide did not.  The teacher would have to read the material and make up her own tests.  Not one of my colleagues was willing to put in the time and effort to do this.  Or perhaps they felt unequal to the task.
         While other teachers may not have appreciated all that Sue Stevens did for us, she was an invaluable resource for me.  Times had changed.  Back in the 1930s and 40s, only students preparing to be elementary school teachers took education courses.  Those planning to teach at the junior or senior high school level took courses only in their subject areas.  Even my graduate work at Delta State and the University of Miami didn’t provide me with the tools that have become so common for teachers today.  As a result, I didn’t know what to do when I was told I should prepare lesson plans with behavioral objectives.
        Sue became my lifeline.  She sat in the back of my class taking notes about what I did with my students,  using the terminology that was expected in education circles.  She showed me I didn’t have to modify my actual lessons at all, that I was intuitively incorporating everything into my teaching that younger teachers were being taught to do as part of their academic preparation.  I had just never formally written down my routine.
         Sue wasn’t the only one helping me hone my teaching skills.  Almost every week, Dr. Walker found time to chat with me about how everything was going in my classroom, giving me advice and enlightening me regarding the politics of the education system.  I regarded him as a friend and mentor, not just my boss. 
         Teachers in junior and senior high schools all over the country often begin by going over rules.  The students expect it, think they know what the teacher will say, and are prepared to start out the year being bored by the repetition of the same rules they’ve heard year after year.  I decided to try a different approach, based on a lesson I’d learned from my mother when I was a child.  I grew up revering the word “respect.”  Any time my mother had to discipline my sister or me, she talked about it, pointing out to us that all her expectations for behavior evolved from that one powerful word.
         As soon as I completed roll call, which took a long time because I was committed to learning the names and faces of my 150 students, I told them we would discuss the class rules.  Groan.  What they didn’t know yet was that this was also going to be their first vocabulary lesson.  I put the word “respect” on the board and asked for a definition.  One student called out “Obey your elders.”
         I smiled.  “We’ve all heard that from our elders, haven’t we?  I know I did, constantly.  I understood it to mean I had to obey.”  Pause.  “That’s not what it means.  We are brainwashed as children to believe that respect means obey.  Let’s dig deeper.”  By this time, they were curious to see where I was going with what had become a not-so-routine first day of class.
         Several students jumped in with alternative definitions.  Eventually, one of them quoted the Bible:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
         “Ahhh, the Golden Rule,” I answered.  Next, I challenged them to identify four different types of people whom we should respect.  I pointed out that we had already identified “elders.”  Within moments, someone called out “classmates.”
         “Great,” I said, “Now we’re ready for a second vocabulary word.”  Below where I’d written “respect” on the board, I wrote another word, “peer,” and spent a few moments explaining that they were each other’s peers and my peers were the other teachers.  Without recourse to long lists of words to be memorized, we were well into our first vocabulary lesson.
         “Now that we know what the word ‘peer’ means, let’s go back to ‘respect.’  What’s another type of respect we should show?”
         This time, it took a little longer, but patience was my middle name and I wouldn’t give them the answer I sought.  I kept encouraging them to think, telling them it was okay to be wrong, that all contributions were welcome.  Finally, a student came up with “Respect yourself.”
         “Yes!”  Then I talked about being a teenager and how hard it is to respect yourself,  sharing my own experiences with them.  As old as I was, I’d never forgotten how difficult it was to be a teenager.  Adults are always criticizing.  It seems as if everything we do is wrong.  As soon as we think we know ourselves, we change, and then we change again.  Half an hour into our first day of class, I could feel the rapport building with my students.
         “Respect your elders.  Respect your peers.  Respect yourself.  Terrific.  Now, what’s the fourth type of person we should respect?”  The students stared blankly.  After a few minutes, I asked how many of them had younger brothers or sisters or cousins or neighbors.  Every hand went up.  I said, “Do you respect them?”  
         They answered, “Of course not.”  The actress in me, never far from the surface in my classroom, feigned surprise.  Displaying a puzzled expression, I then said, “Do you mean that I should not respect you?  You’re all younger than I am.”  I smiled.  They stared.  Finally, someone said “No.  We want you to respect us, too.”
         I walked to the chalkboard and wrote the phrase “Respect is mutual.” Then I wrote the word “mutual” under my two other vocabulary words and we discussed its meaning.  Seconds before the end of class, I told them we had just worked out the only rule in my classroom: Respect is mutual.
RESPECT IS MUTUAL AND SO IS AFFECTION.
          “If we all, including me, follow that rule, we won’t need any other.”  The bell rang and the students left, all appearing inspired by their first English class of the year.  I could feel the adrenaline pumping through me and knew I was grinning from ear to ear.  These were my students and everything was going to be okay.  I couldn’t wait to do it all over again when the next group of students filed in.  By the end of the day, I was drained but had never felt better about my calling.
         Life in the classroom those first few months was extraordinary, and my weekly chats with Dr. Walker gave me an opportunity to sit back and think about all that was happening.  I saw in Dr. Walker a kindred spirit, someone who loved the students as I did and wanted to give them the tools they would need to make something of themselves.  We both held hope for the future as we saw our students develop into the kind of adults who might change the world for the better.
         In addition to sharing my excitement about events in my classroom, Dr. Walker constantly encouraged me to grow.  In the same way that I strove to expose my students to new ideas, he showed me how I, too, could continue to learn.  He suggested I join the local, state and federal teachers’ unions.  He told me about conferences for English teachers and recommended I start attending them.  Starting with my first one, I was sold on the idea.  I found them not only good for the mind, but also good for the soul.  I made friends from all over the country, teachers who gave me ideas I could use in my classroom.  I worked hard every day in the classroom, pouring out tremen-dous effort, but when I went to conferences, I felt replenished.  The interaction I enjoyed with the wonderful colleagues I encountered there revitalized me.
         Over the years, I tried to convince other teachers to join me at these conferences, but had little success. Because our school systems couldn’t afford to send us to conferences or to hire substitute teachers to replace us if we went, young teachers just starting out couldn’t afford to go.  If they did, they’d have to use their own time and money, and that was more than they could give.  What a shame!  The teachers who could benefit the most were the ones who didn’t go.
         In addition to expanding my classroom repertoire by attending conferences, I was learning a lot in my courses at the University of Miami.  My favorite professor there was Dr. James Wells, who taught me as much about myself as he did about the field of education.  One day, he showed a five-minute video about a factory that manufactured ping-pong balls.  Each ball went through a series of steps, gradually being formed and molded.  The last step in the process was to test each one, verifying that  the bounce was just right.  Those that went too high or too low were weeded out, ending up in a barrel outside the building.  It was a funny, entertaining video, and we all laughed throughout.
         At the end, one ball with an especially jaunty bounce landed in the reject barrel, but was so bouncy that it bounced right out and went merrily down the street, finally arriving at a park where about one hundred good little ping-pong balls were sitting about, talking to each other.  They all stopped and stared at the curious little ball that jumped and jumped.  Finally it went so high that it disappeared.  The others watched, waited, questioned.  Eventually, the odd little ball came back to Earth, and the others gathered around to ask what had happened.  In its excitement, the little ball bounced again, only this time, it bounced so high that it never came back.  The others balls wait and wait and wait.  No bouncy little ball.  Fade out.
         The class sat silently.  Wanting to give everyone time to absorb what we had just seen, Dr. Wells watched us and waited patiently for a reaction.  When we began speaking, we discussed the advantages and disadvantages of being a nonconformist.  Deeply moved, I spoke up about my nonconformist, teenage son.  I said how proud I was of him, but it hurt to see him being “paddled” like a ping-pong ball by others.      
         I got so choked up I couldn’t go on.  The class discussion continued without me.  Later, in the parking lot, Dr. Wells caught up with me and asked, “What do your parents think about their ping-pong ball, their nonconformist?”
         I laughed.  “They disapprove heartily.”  Dr. Wells hugged me and we parted.  I saw Charles and all his problems in a new light.  He wasn’t being difficult.  He was a nonconformist in his way, just as I was in mine, and Leon in his.
         A few weeks later Sue Stevens brought a different short video to my classroom.  In it, a funny little cartoon man faced a tall brick wall that he clearly wanted to get beyond.  He walked a long way to the left, a long way to the right, and then took a running start and tried to go over the top.  He fell back, was treated by medics, pulled himself together, tried again and this time ran right into the wall.  We next saw him bandaged and walking with a crutch.  Undeterred by his failures, he stepped even further back, ran harder, and smashed through the wall.  He finally had gotten through.  Success!  He looked about eagerly to see what was on this side of the wall; facing him was another brick wall.  The scene faded out as he got ready to tackle that one.
         I sat back and listened while Sue led the discussion.  To my surprise, the students agreed that the cartoon reminded them of me, always fighting for a better world and a better education for my students. Many said  they wanted to grow up to be like me.  What a tremendous affirmation of all that I was trying to do in my classroom.
         As I drove home that day, I thought again about the little man and the brick wall.  My mind wandered back to our days in Mississippi, when Leon’s boss told us about a speech he’d heard by Saul Alinsky, known for his work with campus radicals.  Alinsky had said there were three types of reformers.  First, there were the brick throwers who caused unrest to get the attention of the power structure.  Next were the builders who lifted up the downtrodden.  Finally, the maintainers carried on.  He said each of us had to identify our area of expertise and stick with it.  I was a builder.  My students were right in seeing me as the little man who broke through the brick wall, who never tired of trying to accomplish what needed to be accomplished.  But whereas the little man pursued his goal by breaking down the wall, I pursued mine by building up my young charges.
         I was exposed to exciting ideas by a wide variety of people.  At the first conference I attended, I had learned a critically important lesson, though it wasn’t the one the speaker intended.  She started out by addressing us as if we were her students and told us she’d be teaching us how to write haiku, a form of poetry originating in Japan.  As she spoke, I realized I was nervous, afraid she would call on me to make up a poem then and there.
         Concerned that my creative juices wouldn’t flow and I would humiliate myself, it dawned on me how nervous my students might be, and I promised myself never to embarrass them  Throughout the lecture, our haiku teacher successfully drew comments without putting anyone on the spot.  While she thought she was teaching me how to teach haiku, instead she was giving me ideas on how to encourage participation in a non-threatening environment. 
         I stressed to my own students that it was okay to be wrong, pointing out some of my own errors and congratulating them for thinking outside the box, for being brave enough to say something others might regard  as off the wall.
         Anticipating that this could lead to cruel comments from classmates, I warned my students that one of the few ways they could make me angry was to put down a fellow student, whether for a comment involving the lesson or for something more personal.  I insisted on a non-threatening, enjoyable atmosphere in my classroom.  I knew I was successful when, a new student joined us, and I overheard the person next to her say, “This class is a trip.”  Other teachers might not have considered this a compliment, but I was touched by it.  I loved to see my students walk into class and visibly relax, putting aside any troubles, ready to engage in an exciting hour of intellectual discourse.
         They amazed me with their insights.  Here they were living in the Miami ghetto, attending a school with few resources, many of them working jobs afterwards or taking care of younger siblings, and yet they responded eagerly to the new material I offered them.  They were like sponges, absorbing one idea after another and teaching me in the process.
         I thought I knew a lot about the topic of Utopia, for example.  I’d studied it in school myself, given it thoughtful consideration as an adult, and developed a lesson plan around the concept.  It started simply as a vocabulary lesson.  The word appeared in a short story we were reading, and I knew my students had never seen it before.  I wrote “Utopia” on the board and gave them a few moments to copy it in the vocabulary section of their notebooks.
         Now we were ready to discuss this interesting new word.  I explained its origin, describing the book by that name written in 1516 by the English writer and statesman, Sir Thomas More.  He coined the word Utopia from the Greek translations for “non-existent” and “place.”  I told them More had imagined an island that was perfect in every way.  They were fascinated to learn how the title of a book had worked its way into our vocabulary, becoming synonymous with the concept of an ideal place.  Once they understood the meaning of the word, they were eager to put forth their own definitions.  When I felt they were ready to be challenged, I gave them the names of some provocative books:  James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, featuring  Shangri-La, and Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific with its island of Bali Ha’i.
         In just one lesson, we’d started with a short story, moved on to vocabulary, and introduced new books.  Now it was time to tackle politics.  I told them about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and how he had created Camelot as the perfect society in medieval England, and how President John F. Kennedy had often spoken of his desire to turn 1960s America into a Camelot, as well.  It was only six years since JFK’s assassination and the students were old enough to remember it.  I concluded by walking over to the bulletin board where I had posted a photograph of Ted Kennedy at his brother Robert’s funeral and read out loud his famous eulogy, “And Camelot came tumbling down.”  By then, many of my students were in tears.  As the bell rang and they got up to leave, I promised them we would explore more ideas about Utopia.
         The next day, there were no groans when I told them that they, too, were going to write about Utopia.  In a few short weeks, my students had transitioned from dreading writing assignments to looking forward to them.  They recognized the opportunity to be creative, knowing that my only expectation was that they put forth a good effort.
         These inner city students, children who had never been beyond the borders of their ghetto, wrote of the countryside.  They described tall, green grass waving in the breeze, trees perfect for climbing, and colorful birds and butterflies.  I felt sad as I read their essays, knowing that some of them might never be able to immerse themselves in nature, that they would always live in the inner city, and I again resolved to do all I could to improve their chances of one day experiencing their Utopia.
AURA NEXT TO PHILIP, WHO JOINED TRIP TO MIAMI'S
CRANDON PARK, PLAYED GUITAR AND SANG  FOR STUDENTS
IN DECEMBER, 1969
         As I told Leon of that promise, he suggested it would be interesting for them to see that they were not the only ones with difficult lives.  How about taking my students on a field trip to a working migrant farm.  I brought up the idea to Dr. Walker and he gave me funding for a school bus.  Leon then coordinated the field trip with the manager of a small farm near Homestead, and I recruited some parent volunteers to help out.
         It was a hot, muggy day as we drove south.  When we arrived, we were met at the gate by two armed guards.  We left the bus and walked across the muddy fields to a row of one-room shacks with four or five cots in each.  The heat was stifling, the shacks smelly, dirty, desolate.  They were deserted because the workers were out in the fields.  We saw no electricity, no plumbing.  Shades of Mississippi!  The only difference was that here, we saw no families.  All the mothers and children had been left behind in Mexico.  It was heartbreaking.
         My students looked around silently, stunned by the poverty, realizing how fortunate they were to be living in Liberty City.  As we walked back to the school bus, we were accosted by two police dogs blocking our way, snarling at us and baring their teeth.  All the students and volunteers jumped behind me, as if I could physically protect them from the beasts.
         I screamed at the guards, “Call off your dogs!” and was furious when these two white men laughed and smirked because of the fear they’d created.  I could imagine how they treated the destitute residents of the camp.  Finally, they whistled and the dogs turned around and went back to their masters.
THE BEACH AT CRANDON PARK, PHILIP IN BACKGROUND ON RIGHT.
        When we returned to the classroom the next day, my students were eager to discuss our experience, recognizing that what they learned in my class was designed to help them lead a better life in which they'd never have to deal with the terrible conditions we’d witnessed the day before.
         I knew from my early days of teaching in Mississippi that one of the most important ways I could help my students was to work with them on dialect remediation.  This would lead to better jobs and enhanced choices.  There have been many heated discussions in academia on this subject.  The black dialect has been given a name, Ebonics, and some have argued that it is a language, in and of itself, and should be respected as such.  Others, building on this logic, have concluded that students shouldn’t be discouraged from using Ebonics, for fear it would be detrimental to their self-images.  To me, the academic arguments were irrelevant.  There was no question in my mind that to enter mainstream America, my students would have to speak like the majority of the population.  The challenge was to discover a way of accomplishing this without damaging their self-esteem.
         We started out by discussing the sociological hierarchy in England and America.  They’d all heard of the royal family in England and understood when I held a ruler upright to illustrate a vertical society in which there was a clear upper class.
         Next, I rotated the ruler to a horizontal position and said, “Now, in America, we have a horizontal society in which everyone is equal.  There are no classes.  Right?”
         Knowing it was okay to contradict me, some students called out, “No!”
         That launched a lengthy discussion about the pecking order in our country, at the end of which I asked each student to identify his or her place on the ladder of American society.  I held up my ruler and told them to imagine – in their own minds, not out loud – where they would place themselves.  When they all nodded that they’d done so, I asked them to say who in the United States was at the bottom.  Sadly and with a bit of anger, they all agreed that they themselves were at the bottom of the pecking order.  Without having seen any statistics, they believed the black ghettos of America were the lowest of the low, where crime rates and unemployment were high, where students dropped out of school, where children went hungry, and where there was little hope for a better life.
         I reminded them there were other groups who had also experienced difficult circumstances, describing the American Indian on reservations with little chance for employment and a tremendous alcoholism problem.  Not only were the Indians at the bottom of the ladder, but they were also here first.  My students found it difficult to believe anyone was worse off than they were, but I encouraged them to keep an open mind.  
         After we placed ourselves on the ladder, I talked about upward mobility, pointing out that one of the best ways to climb the ladder was to speak not just standard English, but the King’s English.  Furthermore, we would not only use correct pronunciation and grammar, but also a high-level vocabulary.
         To start us off, I introduced my students to the International Phonetic Alphabet, as I had done with my students in Mississippi.  I told them we were going to learn a new language, that they would essentially become bilingual, having one language for home and friends and another for school and the workplace.  In this way, I managed to keep self-image intact, yet give my class the tools needed to succeed.  For two weeks, we drilled in the use of phonetics, working through example after example until they could see a word spelled out phonetically and say it in any dialect or accent.  The hardest part was getting them to hear the differences.  Once that was done, they began to improve rapidly and embraced the concept of dialect remediation.
         With the basics behind us, I gave them copies of the play My Fair Lady.  We read it aloud, taking turns with all the roles, and listening to a recording of the songs.  When we finished, I told them the musical was an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and introduced them to the Greek myth about Pygmalion, Galatea, and Aphrodite.  I described how Pygmalion sculpted Galatea, and I – as Henry Higgins aka Pygmalion – would transform them, as if they were each Eliza aka Galatea.  They laughed out loud as they listened to each other imitate Henry Higgins’s precise use of the English language. 
          Once I saw how proficiently they could reproduce various British accents, I decided to challenge their newly developed skill with foreign languages.  A week before the Christmas holidays, I handed out familiar Christmas songs in the unfamiliar languages of Latin, French, German, Spanish, and Hawaiian, all written out in phonetics.  We practiced them over and over until their pronunciation was perfect.  Finally, at their request, they walked through the halls of the school, stopping periodically to sing the beautiful carols.
          My students were excited when we arrived at the principal’s office, but they quieted down and stood patiently, waiting for my signal to begin.  When I lifted my right hand like a symphony conductor, the results were breathtaking.  As I watched for Dr. Walker’s reaction, he dialed his phone and carried it out to us.
          He whispered, “Listen,” into the mouthpiece, and then held it up so the person on the other end could hear the singing.  I don’t know who was happiest, Dr. Walker, as he shared with a colleague the success of our efforts; me, as I looked at the beaming faces of my students; or my students, who stood there joyfully singing Christmas carols in a foreign language.      
          Encouraged by this response, I decided to use music as a way to introduce my students to poetry.  My own children had taught me the folk-rock songs of the 1960s, familiarizing me with the musical talents of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Simon and Garfunkel, which I then brought into my classroom.  I was always on the lookout for another opportunity for my students to perform, and was delighted when Dr. Walker suggested the entire English Department present an assembly to showcase what the class was learning.
         When I told my students about the assembly and suggested that we sing again, they jumped at the opportunity and were eager to help select the songs.  My seventh graders did Brown Baby, a nursery song written by a black artist, the eighth graders sang Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, and my ninth  graders presented Peter, Paul, and Mary’s I’m in Love with a Big Blue Frog.
         As the final notes rang out of that humorous song, which uses the image of a 6-foot tall frog to symbolize interracial romance, the students in the auditorium spontaneously rose and cheered, bringing tears to my eyes. Fifteen years later, one of my students called to say hello and tell me how proud she’d felt as she looked out at her cheering classmates and knew she was a part of something special.
        Later that day, the assistant principal, Jim Cash, stopped me in the hall to thank me for the music and for helping the students to appreciate a type of music that had previously been completely foreign to them. 
        I told Jim I had learned right along with them.  While working with my eighth graders to polish their performance of Sounds of Silence, I’d grown fond of Simon and Garfunkel, finding in their lyrics a poetry accessible to teenagers and in their music astonishing harmonies.  I came to understand why my daughter Jo listened to their songs over and over again and consequently paid attention when she suggested another of their songs for my class, Patterns.
         We sat on Jo’s bed and listened to the words.  I knew instantly what I wanted to do with the song, with its soulful description of a man caught in patterns of loneliness.  With Jo’s help, I figured out the lyrics and typed them up to copy and distribute to my students.  As we did with all our literature, we discussed new vocabulary words, and because it was poetry, talked about word patterns as well.  Then I played the song for them.  I played it a second time with the lights out and asked the students to lay their heads on their desks.  We discussed the intensified feelings of loneliness and hopelessness.  Finally, with the lights back on, we stood in a circle, holding hands, and listened a third time.  We exchanged thoughts on how differently we felt in the light, seeing each other, feeling each other’s presence – in other words, when we were not alone.  By the end of the first day, the students loved the song as much as Jo and I did.
         On the second day, I announced to my students that we were now going to tackle a very different poem, also called Patterns, only this one was harder to read and comprehend than the song we’d explored the previous day.  Written in 1915 by Amy Lowell, its style was unlike anything the students had seen before.  Despite that, once we dissected it, learned the vocabulary, and pieced together the meaning of each line, the students understood it and appreciated its power.  They recognized some of the same patterns of sadness and loneliness, this time describing the feelings of a young woman upon discovering her sweetheart has been killed in a war, before they can wed.  Without realizing what was happening, my students had become literary critics.
         On the third day, my students left behind the role of critic and became poets themselves.  Each one wrote a poem called Patterns, trying to capture the patterns of their lives.  Some of the poems were tragic as they wrote of the hopelessness of the ghetto, of block upon block of boarded-up stores and young men hanging out on street corners, unable to find work.  Other were filled with hope for the future, demonstrating my young poets’ dreams for how they were going to break free from the patterns of the generations before them.  As I read over their poems, I thought about the patterns in my own life. 
         Day after day, I kept putting one foot in front of the other, so caught up in the excitement of my work and my classes at the university that I didn’t notice things were not going well at home.  Blinded by my natural optimism, I didn't see until 30 years later that the Simon and Garfunkel song called Bridge Over Troubled Waters was a better description of those years than the romantic lines from Moon Over Miami, the song I selected to introduce this chapter.  
         The first indication of how much trouble we were in as a family was when Charles started, once again, to rebel at school.  Dearborn Academy, which we had hoped would be the answer to his problems, proved inadequate to the task, and Charles became more and more unhappy.  I was vaguely aware that this was happening, but he seemed to be doing so much better than he had in public school, I didn’t dwell on it. Only after he ran away did I realize just how miserable he was.
         The day my 13-year-old disappeared was a nightmare.  When Charles didn’t show up for dinner, and I started to get mad at him for being late, Jo told me he’d left after first eliciting her promise that she wouldn’t tell us for a few hours, so he could get a head start.  Because we’d always discouraged the children from tattling on each other, at 12 years old, Jo had agreed to her brother’s request, not realizing that this was one  instance when "tattling" was okay.
        Charles had taken his typewriter, Leon’s shoeshine kit, and about $15 dollars he found in Jo’s sock drawer.  He told his sister he was going to make his way in the world, shining shoes and writing about his adventures.  He hitchhiked to the Greyhound bus station and asked how far he could get on ten dollars.  The ticket clerk, not paying enough attention to recognize that he was dealing with a runaway, sold Charles a ticket to Tallahassee.
         Once he got off the bus, Charles was hungry and found a diner near the bus terminal, and with the remaining cash left in his pocket, went to a movie.  As he walked out of the theater, late that night, he realized he had nowhere to stay.  There he was, 13 years old, all alone in a strange city.  Fortunately, he called us and asked for help, wanting us to buy a plane ticket home for him, saying he could get as far as the airport hitchhiking.
         Although relieved that we’d finally heard from him, we didn’t trust him to do what he'd said he would.  We were afraid he’d get to the airport, pick up the ticket, and either sell it back to the airline for cash, or exchange it for a ticket to another city.  Given that concern, we asked Charles where he was and then called the Tallahassee police to pick him up.  Instead of wiring the money to an airline, we wired it to the police station.  The police found Charles, then drove him to the airport, purchased the ticket for him, and stayed with him until he boarded the plane.  Less than 24 hours after Charles’s departure, Leon and I met him at the Miami airport and drove him home.  Not knowing what to say, we said nothing, and hoped that Charles would settle down again.
         Of course, that didn’t happen.  One day after school, Charles, Jo and I were sitting around the dining room table, sharing a snack as we did so many afternoons, when Charles said, “I have something important to discuss with you.  There was an incident at school today.”
         The boy sitting behind Charles in his English class tapped him on the shoulder and when Charles turned around, the boy spat in his face.
        “Mom,” Charles said, “You know I’m not violent, but that was too much, and I spat back.”  When he did so, the other boy ducked and to Charles’s chagrin, his spit hit the girl sitting two seats behind him.  Outraged, she jumped up and yelled.  Charles rose quickly and went to her, apologizing and trying to wipe his spit off her face.  The teacher, having witnessed the entire exchange, called both boys to her desk and told them that in addition to their homework, they were each to write 300 times, “I will not spit like a pig.”
         The other boy sat down and began writing.  Charles, on the other hand, started arguing with the teacher, saying this was a poor choice of punishment.  The assignment not only would not improve his penmanship, but it would also drive into his subconscious mind the false statement that pigs don’t spit.  Charles agreed he should be punished and offered instead to write a 2,000-word essay on constructive punishment.  The teacher, angered by Charles’s response, sent for the science teacher, expecting her to tell Charles he was wrong, thus deflecting Charles’s argument.  Instead, the science teacher agreed with Charles that pigs don’t spit.
         Not knowing quite what to do next, and not wanting to spend any more class time dealing with Charles, the teacher sent Charles to the principal’s office, where he was told, “The teacher is always right.”    
         Charles retorted, “That’s not true.  My mother’s a teacher and she’s not always right.”
         Unaccustomed to students talking back, the principal said, “Go to the headmaster’s office.”
         Knowing that this was the man who’d promised his parents that the staff at Dearborn welcomed and knew how to handle challenging students, Charles walked into his office, saying aggressively, “Don’t you disappoint me.”
        After listening to the story, the headmaster assured Charles he understood what had gone on, that pigs don’t spit, that the punishment given was not constructive, and teachers are not always right.  He went on to say, however, that it’s sometimes better for all involved to conform, that not every battle is worth fighting, and he hoped Charles would see it that way.  Charles, unwilling or unable to see anyone’s perspective but his own, could not.  Instead, he raised the same arguments over and over, determined to persuade the headmaster to change his mind.  The headmaster, feeling the same frustration that many of Charles’s teachers had felt over the years, said he had no more time to talk and that Charles should go home and discuss the situation with his parents.
         When Charles finished telling Jo and me his story, he asked for my opinion, prefacing his question with the statement that he had no intention of writing the required lines.  As I started to speak, Jo excused herself and went to her bedroom.  With difficulty, I gathered my thoughts, feeling at a loss as to how to advise my 13-year-old.  Over the past few years, Leon and I had never conformed.  How could I expect Charles to do so?  The issue was not whether it was wrong to spit at someone, even in response to having someone do it to him.  Charles knew he’d been wrong to spit and was quick to acknowledge and apologize for that behavior.  The issue was whether to conform to the teacher’s demand, knowing that repeatedly writing lines is an ineffectual form of punishment.
         We talked long and hard about the value of conforming and, in the end, I told Charles it was his choice, and I would stand by his decision.  At that moment, Jo walked back into the room and placed a sheet of paper on the table in front of him.  She had typed, “I will not spit like a pig” 300 times.  Handing a pen to Charles, she said, “Sign it.”  He did, and I heaved a sigh of relief, thinking the issue was finally behind us.
          It wasn’t.  The next day, I was called out of my classroom to come get Charles from school, for he’d been expelled.  Unwilling simply to turn in the paper Jo had typed, he’d written an essay on constructive punishment and stapled it to the back.  His English teacher, viewing this as a direct affront to her authority, refused to allow him to stay in class and sent him back to the headmaster.
         When I arrived, Charles was sitting outside the office, and I went in to speak with the headmaster.  I reminded him that I’d told him in the beginning Charles would be difficult and asked if there was any way he could assign Charles to a different teacher.  He said it was not just this one teacher that didn’t want my son in her class.  Every one of them viewed Charles as too disruptive because he argued about everything to the point that it prevented them from effectively teaching the other students.  The headmaster said he wished it could have worked out better, but he had to support his teachers.  For the sake of the school, he’d have to give up on Charles.
         That was fine for Dearborn, but Leon and I couldn’t give up on our son and had to find an alternative.  A few days later, Leon came home from work and told me he’d heard about a new school for the gifted, opening in September.  Prospective students had to go through a rigorous admission screening including a comprehensive IQ test.  Knowing Charles was bright and his problems at school had nothing to do with intelligence, we brought Charles in for testing, optimistic he would pass with flying colors.
         The next day, the psychologist who had administered the test called and asked me to meet with him.  As we shook hands, he said, “I’m sure you’ve had a lot of trouble with this young man in school.”  I smiled and said, “You could say that.”  He told me that Charles had scored in the genius category on the verbal scale, but was borderline retarded in spatial relations skills.
         This was the first scientific validation of what I’d suspected for a long time, that Charles had sustained neurological damage just before, after, or within weeks of his birth.  Leon had always denied this truth that was so clear to me.  It was not that Charles didn’t try hard when it came to certain math assignments and keeping his homework neat; he'd had brain damage that prevented him from mastering these skills.  All those times when his teachers and his father got annoyed with him for failing to produce high quality work when they knew he was smart, now came into clear perspective.  If we’d only had this diagnosis earlier, perhaps we could have avoided a lot of the psychological pain that Charles endured over the years.
        Because Charles had scored so low on the spatial relations part of the IQ test, he did not meet the school’s admissions criteria.  However, the faculty had decided to admit him anyway, believing they could help him despite his handicap.  Furthermore, they believed Charles would be an asset to the school.  I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  For the first time, someone understood all that I’d gone through with my younger son.  
         The new school, however, was not yet open and Charles had nowhere to go until fall.  At first, he seemed content to hang out at home or head to Coconut Grove where he’d made friends with some hippies in the park.  It wasn’t long before he tired of that and decided to take to the road once again.  It had been only a few months since the first time Charles ran away and he was still too young to survive on his own.
         We worried about him, especially when we didn’t hear from him that first night.  As the hours dragged on with no word from Charles, I felt more and more desperate, but didn’t know what I could do or whom I could call for help.  Two days went by before he finally phoned and told us where he was.  The police had picked him up hitchhiking in Tallahassee.  I asked the police to take Charles to the airport, saying we would have a pre-paid ticket waiting for him there.
         When Leon came home from work and I told him what had happened, he wanted to meet Charles at the airport.  I hesitated, concerned that we were allowing Charles to establish a routine in which he was behaving inconsiderately, costing us time and money and tremendous anxiety, and we were making it easy for him.  Despite my misgivings, however, I let Leon to talk me into making the trip, and it did feel wonderful to embrace Charles at the airport, to tell him I loved him and was happy he was home.
         My happiness did not last long.  Within weeks, Charles decided to leave for Tallahassee yet again.  I was despondent when I realized he’d gone, a feeling made worse by the recognition that I was unable to keep him home.  If he wanted to run away, he would do so.  A whole week went by before the police picked him up and called us.  They suggested we arrange for his return home, but I said, “No. Tell Charles we love him and then put him back on the street.  If he wants to come home, he’ll have to figure out a way to get here.”  It was an unbelievably difficult decision for me to make, but I thought it was best.  The term “tough love” had not yet entered the popular vocabulary, but I had an instinctive sense of its meaning and thought it was the only way to handle Charles.
That evening, when I told Leon what I had done and how hard it had been for me, he was furious.  He said if anything happened to Charles, it would be on my head.  He acted as if I had refused to wire the funds because I didn’t care.  The partnership we’d spent so many years in building was falling apart.  We were no longer a team, striving together to figure out what was best for our family.          
Time passed and Leon gradually forgave me for having left Charles on his own and I gradually forgave him for not supporting my decision.  Weeks went by before we heard from Charles.  When he finally called to let us know he was fine, he told us he’d hitchhiked north, ending up in New England, and was spending the summer visiting family and friends.  He stayed with each for a few days and they all generously took him in, fed him, washed his clothes, called us for advice, and put him on the road again.  Many offered money, which he always refused.  My dear Uncle Arthur, however, wouldn’t accept Charles’s refusal.  He insisted on giving Charles fifty dollars to keep in his shoe in case of emergency.  That appealed to Charles and he took the money.
         He passed the summer in this manner, calling us frequently to tell us of his adventures.  In the fall, he returned home, ready to attend his new school which, to our tremendous relief, proved to be a good place for Charles.  He flourished in the open, encouraging environment, and was excited by his schoolwork.  He received strong marks from his teachers and Leon and I were hopeful that our problems with Charles were over.
         With Charles settled, I felt free to focus my attention on my own school.  My work at Allapattah became even more rewarding than it had been the year before.  Early in that second year, Dr. Walker took me out of the classroom for several weeks to write a grant proposal to President Johnson’s Model Cities program, one of the major components of Johnson’s vision for a “Great Society.”
         I’d never written a grant proposal before and had no idea what to do, but Dr. Walker was helpful.  He said I should write down ideas for our English Department, describing all the different activities we’d spoken of in our weekly conversations in his office.  He assured me that if I could do that part of it, he would help out with the financial sheet at the end.  If we could get others as excited about the possibilities as we were ourselves, Allapattah stood to win a quarter of a million dollars a year for four years.     
         For weeks, I poured all our ideas into the proposal, knowing they were sound. Not long after the submission, we received the thrilling news:  we’d been selected for funding.  A committee came to interview us, wanting to see the school for themselves and ask questions.  They’d accepted everything except $55,000 for field trips.  They thought this sounded frivolous and told us they needed to know more before they could approve that part of the request.  I explained that one more time to the beach, to Sea World, to the zoo was inadequate.  I wanted the students to experience theater, opera, ballet, even dining in a fine restaurant.  Once the committee understood how the money would be spent, they agreed it was important and gave us the additional $55,000.
         The resulting field trip to a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado was memorable.  Students devoted their after-school time to work in the library for two weeks while we learned the libretto and songs.  Outside the theater before the first curtain, my students sang some of the songs quietly, startling the other patrons standing in line.  Miami’s cultural community was unaccustomed to seeing black teenagers at such a highbrow entertainment.  Afterwards we went to a restaurant for dinner, and my students’ behavior was impeccable, as I knew it would be.  The white waiters, responding to the students’ excellent table manners, were polite, adding to the sense of wonder for my students.  They found it hard to believe that white people would treat them with such respect.
         It was a life-altering experience for my students.  They spent many hours discussing among themselves how different it felt to be a part of the larger community, instead of isolated in Liberty City.  They stopped seeing themselves simply as black kids from the ghetto, but as educated young adults, deserving of fair treatment.  It was against this backdrop that I read with interest Black Rage, written in 1968 by a black psychiatrist, Price Cobbs and his colleague, William Grier.  In his book, Dr. Cobbs discussed race relations and the importance of communication.  When Leon and I learned he would be coming to Miami to conduct a confrontation group, designed to establish a better under-standing between Blacks and Whites, we signed up. 
         Throughout the session, Dr. Cobbs encouraged us to question all our assumptions and to be honest with one another as we discussed a myriad of issues surrounding race relations.  During the second day, he turned from the subject of racial interaction, to that of relationships in general.  He asked Leon and me to stand back-to-back in the center of a circle and lock arms.
         “Without discussing how you’re going to accomplish this," he said,  "I want you to walk.”
         For what seemed like a long time, we stood still.  I was hoping Leon would move forward, and I would follow him walking backward as if we were dancing together.  But with a no-talking rule imposed on us, I couldn’t tell him this, so we just stood there.  It didn't occur to me to take the initiative and walk forward for him to follow.  Finally I leaned on him, hoping to signal him to start moving.  After a moment, he began to move forward and we walked together, with me going backwards.
         Dr. Cobbs never explained the lesson he was trying to teach, assuming that it would be obvious to everyone.  In retrospect, I realize he probably intended to illustrate the importance of clear communication, but at the time I had a different interpretation.  I thought Dr. Cobbs was showing us that although we were both powerful individuals, we were hindering each other from reaching our true potential, holding each other back.  Leon and I never discussed what happened that day, but it seemed to me that from then on, Leon began consciously unlinking his arms from mine, starting to move further and further away, viewing me as an encumbrance from which he needed to free himself in order to accomplish all he desired.
         While I was disturbed by this new view of my relationship with my husband, I couldn’t let myself dwell on it.  The eternal optimist in me pushed it to the back of my mind and I concentrated once again on my students.  Throughout the session, Dr. Cobbs urged us to make changes in our lives, based on what we were learning.  He kept asking, “What are you going to do Monday morning?”  I lay awake at night wondering how I would answer that. I’d already spent two years living and teaching in a black community in Mississippi and was now teaching in Miami’s inner city.  There had to be something more I could do.  As the session drew to an end late Sunday afternoon, Dr. Cobbs went around the circle, asking each of us individually that same question.  By the time my turn arrived, it had come to me.
         I was aware my students felt hostility toward the white community, viewing it as the cause of all their problems.  I also knew there was a risk that this hostility could turn to physical violence as they got older and saw many avenues of opportunity unfairly closed to them.  I decided to challenge them to turn away from violence and instead rely on their intellects.  Because many people assumed Blacks were illiterate, my students could stun them by demonstrating the capacity to interact on an equal footing with their white counterparts.  They could do this by taking advantage of their educational opportunities whenever possible.
          To some extent, I’d been using this approach all along, ever since my early days of teaching in Mississippi.  But Dr. Cobbs’ challenge helped me to verbalize it for the first time and a new phase of my teaching career began.
          On Monday, I shared my vision with my students.  I told them that the larger community wouldn’t expect them to be bright, have an extensive vocabulary, speak the King’s English, or know the classics, and they could therefore shock the white community with their erudition and sophis-tication.
         My teaching took on a new urgency.  Not only did I continue to expose my students to classical literature, I also introduced them to modern black writers and politicians, as I’d done in Mississippi.  They became familiar with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Eldridge Cleaver.  I never suggested they turn to violence, but instead tried to instill in them a pride for their heritage and an eagerness to learn more.
         One day, Dr. Walker told me he’d bumped into the father of one of my students at a barber-shop.  The father was militant and had been thrilled when his young son kept coming home with stories about his revolutionary English teacher.  After they chatted for a bit, Dr. Walker realized the parent was picturing a young black man with an Afro haircut.  When Dr. Walker told him the English teacher in question was a middle-aged, Jewish, well-to-do, 4’10” white woman, the man was astonished that someone like me could have been an inspiration for his son.
         I finished the spring term newly energized, eagerly anticipating each day's explorations with my students.  In the meantime, I was exploring new terrain of my own at the University of Miami.  Having decided to obtain my graduate degree in guidance, rather than the classroom, I was required to pass a class in statistics. I’d never been good at math and felt at a loss as the professor wrote one equation after another on the blackboard.  I wasn’t the only one having trouble; all my classmates complained to him that they couldn’t understand.  Dr. Martuza’s standard response was, “Use your calculus.”  No one dared point out to him that calculus had not been listed as a prerequisite for his class.  No one, that is, but me.
         One day after class I went to him and said I’d had algebra and geometry in 1936, almost 35 years earlier, expecting him to understand my predicament.  He didn’t and instead replied coldly, “Then you’ll have to scramble.”  He was unwilling to provide any extra assistance or to simplify his lessons.  Leon tried to help, sitting down with me several times a week to go over the material, but it was hopeless.  I couldn’t understand it any better when Leon explained it, and my frustration grew as the final exam drew closer.  For the first time in my life, I would go into an exam without knowing the material.
         The day of the test arrived and I was a wreck.  At breakfast, I opened the newspaper, thinking it might help me to settle down, and in a strange way, it did.  The headline that morning shouted out the news of Ted Kennedy and his car accident at Chappaquiddick, in which a young woman drowned.  Suddenly, everything came into perspective.  My troubles were insignificant.  What was a statistics exam compared to a death and the possible end of Kennedy’s political career?
         I walked into the final exam feeling completely relaxed.  I gave it my best shot, turned in my paper,  and ended up with a “B” in the class.  Ironically, I changed my mind about becoming a guidance counselor and switched back to majoring in literature, so the course was no longer a requirement.  I’d tortured myself over an elective.
         That same term, I had to write a paper on a modern American novel.  We were to turn in our selection and meet with the professor.  I chose Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, as I felt it would be helpful in understanding the population with whom I worked.  When I met with my professor, he urged me to look elsewhere, to Faulkner or Hemingway, and tried to convince me that Ellison’s book was unimportant. When I was adamant, he warned me that if I stuck with Ellison, he would see to it that I earned a grade no higher than a “C” in the class, thus preventing me from graduating with honors.
         Surprised at both his narrow-mindedness and his willingness to be so punitive, I discussed it with a young guidance counselor at Allapattah who already had her PhD.  She said the magic words:  “Ten years from now, who will know or care that you got a “C” in the American Novel in graduate school?  Do what you think is right.”  This was wise advice and I followed it, learning much as I carefully analyzed Ellison’s book.  Over the years, I’ve used that philosophy many times and shared it with others as well.
         Philip was intrigued by the discussion of grades.  He was waiting, along with high school seniors all over the country, to hear from colleges.  He didn't expect to be admitted to his first choice, Brown University.  It had been a battle to persuade him to submit an application since he was certain he had no chance of being admitted to an Ivy League school.  He was unresponsive when Leon and I said he should try, that he was a better student than he realized.  He did, however, react when his Uncle Herb said the same thing.   Herb convinced him he should apply to at least one top school.  If he got in, that was terrific; if he didn’t, he hadn’t lost anything.  So Philip waited, hoping for the best, not willing to believe it could happen.  Then, one day, as Leon and I drove up the driveway after dinner out, Philip was waiting for us on the front porch, holding an envelope.  I could tell from the look on his face he’d been accepted at Brown.
         By the end of the year, when I should by all rights have been exhausted, I was still raring to go.  Fortunately, there was a wonderful outlet for my enthusiasm.  Using funds from the grant proposal I’d written, Dr. Walker employed our English teachers for in-service training during the summer, bringing in well-known experts to teach us.  A critic of the program complained the money would be wasted if any of the teachers left Allapattah.    
         “Shouldn’t there be some sort of long-term commitment from program participants?”
         Dr. Walker said, “If they leave, they’ll take the knowledge with them and spread it to others.  Then, the entire education community will benefit even more.”  As it happened, I was the first to leave two years later.  Dr. Walker was right.  All the training, the wealth of material and ideas I gathered that summer, went with me, and I was a better teacher in California as a result.
         Summer drew to a close and it was time to get ready for the fall term.  Jo and I were enthusiastic in our anticipation, but Charles was far less committed.  He’d once again spent the summer touring the East Coast, living off family and friends, catching a meal and a shower wherever he landed for the night.  We’d grown accustomed to his wanderings but expected him to return to the school he'd attended the year before.
         Charles had other plans.  He was concerned that the school would no longer be the right place for him.  The administration had decided to expand its small, two-room affair into a full-fledged operation.  Charles, believing that instead of focusing on quality in the classroom, the teachers and administrators would put all their energy into fundraising and finding a new home, told us not to waste our money enrolling him again.  He’d rather try Coral Gables High School, which Jo would attend and from which Philip had graduated.
         The weekend before school started, Jo was looking forward to entering the high school, Charles was dreading it, and I was getting ready to spend the day with my folks one last time before the rush of new students.  My plans changed quickly when early Sunday morning, I got a call from Allapattah, asking if I would be willing to come in for a few hours to help register the Cuban students who would be starting class the following day.  Close to a million refugees had fled Cuba since Castro first came to power in 1959, and a third of these had stayed in Miami.  In the first wave came the doctors, lawyers, other professionals and the rich.  By the time I was teaching at Allapattah, however, the makeup of the new immigrants had expanded to include non-professionals and the poor.
        It was the children of these families who were now enrolling at Allapattah.  The school district, having delayed integration during the first two years of my tenure by desegregating the faculty only, had been told it now had to desegregate the students as well.  Because prejudice still existed, the administrators were loath to send white, middle-class students into the black ghetto schools.
         In its “wisdom,” the District decided to desegregate the schools by instead moving all the recently immigrated Cuban children into the inner city schools.  With few Spanish-speaking teachers and no Spanish-speaking students, we were expected to make this new integration work.  To make matters worse, the decision had been delayed until the end of the summer, while the District dragged its heels, trying to avoid desegregation of any type.  Now we had to implement it on the last day before school started.
         Trying to get a handle on the situation, Dr. Walker phoned several faculty members, asking us to come on Sunday morning to help.  I called my folks to say I’d be later than usual, but would make it to their place by noon.  Then I drove to school, looking forward to seeing my colleagues for the first time since last spring.  When I arrived, I found the administrators had managed to round up about 20 of us.
         As soon as we started registering the students, I realized our number was inadequate.  The paperwork we’d been given provided little information about each student, not even their grades and ages.  None of us were familiar with the Cuban culture and were thus unable to interpret the few clues we did have.  Many of the students shared the same name, and we couldn’t tell whether we were looking at duplicate information or 20 different people.  It was clear that the next day was going to be a disaster.
         I approached Dr. Walker and told him we had to bring someone in to work with all the teachers, to educate us about the Cuban culture, to prepare us for what to expect the following day when all these new students arrived.  Dr. Walker called the school district offices, open for the weekend due to the registration activity, and was able to talk them into sending someone who could work with us on Sunday, and the following day we were provided with a Spanish interpreter.
         That interpreter couldn’t help with one small boy who showed up for school the following morning, for the child wasn’t speaking Spanish, and no one was able to figure out his language.  This poor 11-year-old seventh grader was brought to Dr. Walker, who also didn’t recognize the tongue.  Knowing of my familiarity with French and German, he sent for me.  The moment I heard the child speak, I knew he was French.  I told him, in my schoolgirl French, that I could understand him and would help.  He hugged me and started to cry.  He had felt so completely alone, that the relief he felt at hearing his own language was overwhelming.  He was sent to a different school, as there was no way Allapattah could handle him.
         Getting back to Sunday’s activities, it was obvious by 11:00 in the morning that I wasn’t going to make it to my parents’ for lunch, so I called to let them know.  Dad was irate.  I did my best to placate him, promising to be there by mid-afternoon.  As 3:00 o’clock rolled around, however, I had to call again to say I wouldn’t make it until supper.
        My father demanded I leave the school immediately, saying they had no right to keep me there all day.  He went on to question how much I was being paid for my time and was furious when I told him I wasn’t being paid at all, but had volunteered.  I explained to him that I wanted to stay, that no one was forcing me to do so.  It took me 20 minutes to calm him down.
         Dinner time arrived and Dr. Walker brought in hamburgers for everyone, and we ate while we continued to work.  I called my folks one last time to say I wouldn’t be there at all.  Dad was apoplectic.  Still his little girl, I tried to smooth things over.  Dr. Walker, overhearing me on the phone, later called me into his office.
          “You’re a grown woman, an excellent educator, a person in your own right.  It’s time you stop letting your father control you.”
          I looked at him quietly as his words sunk in.  There I was, 47 years old, independent in many ways, yet still willing to let my father try to tell me what to do, as he had done since I was a child.
         The following morning, I went to Allapattah, and Charles and Jo went to Gables High School together.  I was worried that being in the same grade at the same school might create problems for them, for they no longer shared the friendship they’d had when they were younger.  Although Charles would have loved it if Jo had let him into her life, she tried to do the opposite, excluding him at every opportunity.
         Leon and I hadn’t told any of the children what we had learned about Charles’s disability, not truly understanding it ourselves.  Perhaps if we had, the others would have been more supportive of their brother.  Instead, as they each have told me at some point over the years, they were jealous of all the attention Charles received, believing him to be a favorite child.  Once again, our inability to communicate as a family created problems that would have been easier to manage if we’d only been able to talk openly about them.
         It quickly became apparent that Charles wasn’t happy at Coral Gables High School.  After his wonderful experience the previous year, he felt stifled and bored.  In less than a week, he started skipping classes, preferring to spend his time in Coconut Grove, hanging out in the park.  I begged him to go back to school, pointing out he could never have a satisfactory career if he didn’t get a high school diploma.
         When I tried to talk it over with Leon, he made clear that he viewed it as my job to see that Charles attended school.  I promised I would start driving Charles each day as a way of forcing him to go.  It would add stress to my already harried mornings, but we thought it important to keep Charles in school.  On the first day of the new routine, I dropped Charles off at school, watched him enter through the side door, and breathed a sigh of relief.  The relief was short-lived, however, for as I drove around the corner, I saw Charles come out the front door, walk out to the street, and put his thumb out to hitchhike.
         I pulled over and he jumped into the car, thinking he’d been fortunate to catch a ride so quickly.  Of course, he realized a moment later what had happened and his face fell.  
         “Mom, you have to understand.  I can’t go back there.  I hate it.  I’m miserable.”  
         Feeling helpless, not knowing what else to do, I drove him to Coconut Grove and dropped him off at the park.  That was the last time I tried to make him go to school.  I had to accept that Charles was a high-school dropout.  I was in despair all the way to Allapattah.  How could I do so well with my students, yet so poorly with Charles?  Somehow, I got through the day at work and came home to share my grief with Leon.  Neither of us knew what to do.  We’d tried everything we could think of, but in the end, we failed our son.
         A month went by and we reached a truce of sorts.  Charles didn’t go to school and Leon and I didn’t harass him about it.  Although he spent a lot of time at the park, he still came home for meals and joined us for family activities.  
         Fall turned into winter and the Christmas season was upon us.  Every day as I drove to and from school, I’d listen to the carols playing on the radio, words of peace and goodwill toward all.  But in my little corner of the world, things were far from peaceful.  The school district administration’s half-hearted attempt to desegregate our school by busing in the Cuban students had not yielded acceptable results.  Because the new students spoke no English, they were placed in special classes, separate from the black students.  As a result, the old and new students never had the opportunity to get to know each other, friendships between the races were unheard of, and fights were common.
        In the midst of this tension, I heard a ruckus in the hallway outside my classroom and stepped outside to see what was happening.  A Cuban girl and one of my black students were yelling and pushing at each other, while other students gathered about in hopes of seeing a fight.  I quickly sent one of the boys to get the interpreter while I held the two girls apart.  With the interpreter’s help, I said that as a speech and literature teacher, part of my job was to teach the students to communicate – and we were going to start right now.  I would give each girl the opportunity to explain what had happened, without being interrupted by the other.
        The Cuban girl was walking up the stairs ahead of the black girl when the black girl commented on the Cuban girl’s attractive figure.  The Cuban girl, realizing she’d been talked about but not understanding the words, misinterpreted the tone of voice and thought she’d been insulted.  She turned on the black girl and started to yell.  By the time the two girls had told their story and laughed about the misunderstanding, they were smiling at each other.  I asked if they could be friends.  When they said they could, I praised them and told them each to find another student and bring them all together, so that the four of them could become friends.  Following that success, they could each pull in one more, and the eight of them could become friends.  Eventually, they would have a whole group, and black and Cuban students getting along together could become a way of life.
           A few days later as Christmas vacation neared, the Cuban students honored the traditions they brought with them from Cuba and decorated the school for the holidays.  I was concerned this might be against the law, since it could be viewed as introducing religion into the public school.  Dr. Walker, however, believed it was important to allow it because it was so integral to their culture and even more importantly, it was the first time our new students were treating the school as their own.  He added that since nobody paid attention to what occurred in the inner-city schools, no one would notice or care.
          So unbeknownst to the outside world, our Cuban students made wreaths, which they hung on every classroom door.  One day, the Spanish interpreter asked if I’d seen them. I said I had and commented on how beautiful they were.  Then she asked if I realized my wreath was different from the others.  Not having noticed anything unusual, I shook my head.  She smiled and said, “There’s an angel in your wreath.”  
         From then on, every time I walked through the door to my classroom, I glowed as I saw this symbol of the peace the Cuban students were beginning to find in our school.
         While life was getting easier at school, it was growing more difficult at home.  One evening when Charles was already in bed, I went into his room to put his laundry away.  When I bent over to kiss him goodnight, he said, “Mom, I have something important to tell you.  I think I’m gay.”
         I still remember my answer, “Maybe you are, and maybe you’re not.  You’re still very young.  Let’s wait and see what happens.”
         At the time, I thought I handled things well, unaware of all that went into his simple statement As I became more knowledgeable about homosexuality, I realized that at 15 years old, Charles knew exactly what he was saying.  Although he’d not yet been in a gay relationship, he knew he was attracted to other males and not to girls.  Waiting to see what would happen wasn’t going to change that.  But I was totally uneducated and unprepared to provide Charles the kind of support he needed.
         Leon was even less prepared than I.  When I told him of my conversation with Charles, hoping he would respond by telling me I’d handled it well, he brushed me off as if my news was unim-portant, as if this was just a phase Charles was going through and would outgrow.  I think Leon might never have spoken of it again if Charles hadn’t requested a few days later that we send him for counseling.  Unable to avoid the issue any longer, Leon got the name of a psychiatrist and scheduled an appointment.
         After a couple of sessions, the psychiatrist suggested he meet with the three of us together.  Shortly after we began talking, it became apparent what he had in mind.  Charles had told the doctor he was gay, but had not mentioned that he’d already discussed this with Leon and me.  The psychiatrist, mistakenly believing he was delivering a bolt of lightening, announced, “Charles believes he is gay..”
         The doctor was taken aback when I said, “We know.”
         Leon  and I thought the sessions were going well and were surprised when, just a few weeks later, Charles refused to go back.  He never told us why and we never pushed him for an explanation, all too eager to believe that Charles no longer felt the need of a therapist.  We were also relieved to be rid of the financial burden.  Years later, Jo told me Charles had confided to her what had really happened.  The doctor believed that being gay was a choice and had told Charles he wasn’t gay at all, just confused.  The therapist added that after they worked together for a while, Charles would start liking girls.
         Leon and I were at a loss.  We’d tried every possible avenue, from private schools to psychiatric attention.  We felt inadequate as parents, and the tension in the household escalated.  The more unhappy Charles became, the harder it was to interact with him, and the more likely it was that people avoided spending time with him.  That included both his father and his younger sister, Jo.  When his older sister, Connie, and her friend, Lynn, came for a visit, Lynn was able to observe the situation as an objective outsider.  She told me she could see immediately that Charles was in trouble and went so far as to say that if she were treated the way Charles was treated, she’d be suicidal.
         I was grateful for the way Lynn related to Charles.  It was clear Connie had found in her a warm, special person.  At one point, however, I was disturbed when I noticed Connie watching Lynn with a smile on her face and an expression in her eyes that looked like love.  I suddenly realized as I observed my daughter with her friend that there was an intimacy between them that I’d never seen between Connie and her husband Greg, and I wondered for the first time if she was happy in her marriage.
         Connie and Lynn’s visit ended, and they returned home to Amherst.  A short time later, Charles took to the road again, this time heading for North Carolina, at Lynn’s suggestion.  For several months, he lived in a shack with two other teenage boys, earning barely enough at various odd jobs to feed themselves.
         With Charles gone, along with the constant discussions about what was best for him, our life in Miami settled into its routine.  I taught by day, attended graduate school evenings and weekends, and visited my parents every Sunday.  Philip was enjoying his his freshman year at Brown University, and Jo was moving smoothly through high school, in stark contrast to her brother Charles. Connie and Greg finished college and were working in the Amherst area and had just shared with us the wonderful news that Connie was pregnant.  What should have been a peaceful interlude in our lives, however, was instead laced with tension between Leon and me.
         Much of the tension, as with many couples, revolved around money.  Until we moved to Mississippi, I’d always handled the family finances.  In the early years of our marriage, money was tight.  Leon was in medical school, earning no income, and I worked for my father’s restaurant business, making just enough to pay our monthly mortgage, and feed and clothe the family.  I enjoyed managing our budget and was aware that it was unusual in those years for the wife to bear that responsibility.  In most families in the 1940s, the husband was the breadwinner, handled all the finances, and gave his wife a small allowance.  Not so with Leon and me.  We were a team, equal partners, and it didn’t matter to me that mine was the only income.  The money was ours, and we made the big decisions jointly.
         That all changed when we left Boston.  Instead of depositing our money in a joint account as I would have expected, Leon separated our funds, opening an account of his own.  He said his intention was to ease the burden I had shouldered for so many years.  I never questioned his rationale and continued to run the household on my paycheck, as I’d done before.  But now, when we had unusual expenses, like traveling to New England for Connie’s wedding, Leon would pay for it out of his account and I didn’t have to save for months to make those events possible.  In addition, since he used his account to cover his own clothing and car expenses, I was able to put aside enough to occasionally send a little money to Connie.
         When we moved to Miami, Leon’s salary increased, but I still continued to manage the routine expenses from my own checking account.  It didn't occur to me to ask how he spent the money in his account, and he never volunteered the information.  As our expenses grew, my teacher’s salary couldn’t keep up with our costs, and I was constantly strapped for cash as I’d been in the early days of our marriage.  I watched every penny, planning our meals carefully to stretch our grocery budget, foregoing new clothing purchases long after my outfits looked worn.  It’s no wonder that I felt stressed.
         Instead of being my partner in dealing with this tension, Leon was oblivious to it, neither concerning himself with running the household, nor offering to help out with his salary.  I didn’t dare ask him for money, knowing he’d respond angrily, telling me I’d have to do a better job of saving.  I’d picture my father’s response to my mother asking for more money when I was a child.  My father would tap his foot, hold open his wallet, and bark repeatedly, “How much?” in an angry voice, until my mother timidly said some amount that was only half of what she needed.  My father acted as if my mother was a spendthrift and it hurt me to see this.  I knew it was common in my parents’ time for the husband to give his wife an allowance, but Dad made it appear as if his wife was not an equal partner in the marriage, as if she were one of the children instead.  The women’s liberation movement has helped eliminate this degrading type of interaction for many couples.
         Leon and I had progressed beyond a relationship based on an allowance.  Yet, despite the fact that I was spending my own salary to run the household, Leon acted very much the way my father had, and I found myself in the same position as my mother, justifying my expenditures.  Leon got mad at me so quickly in those days that I walked on eggshells to avoid annoying him.  I had no idea what was behind his quick temper.  I knew he worked hard at his clinic, but I worked hard at school and was attending classes in addition, so it didn’t seem that work could be the source of conflict.  All I knew was that I loved him dearly and wanted him to be happy and I tried my best to please him.  
         The one area in which I refused to bend to his wishes involved my parents.  I still went to visit them every Sunday afternoon, usually by myself.  When Charles came back from North Carolina to the Miami area, he would join me on occasion, enjoying as I did the chance to relax and be cared for.  Then one day, Leon told me angrily he didn’t want me spending every Sunday with my parents, that they were imposing on me by demanding I come, and that I should instead spend the time with him.  Not wanting to disappoint Leon and happily preferring to be with him than with my folks, I told my parents I wouldn’t be there the following Sunday, and Leon promised me we would do something interesting together.
         I awoke Sunday morning and went into the kitchen to make breakfast for Leon, Jo, and me, looking forward to some quality family time.  While I was in the kitchen, Leon said he had some things to do and left the house without eating.  I cleared his empty plate from the dining room table, and Jo and I ate alone.  Hurt by Leon’s unexpected departure, but not wanting Jo to feel bad, I forced myself to appear unconcerned until Jo left for the day, off to a community theater where she was in a play.
         After I was alone, I tried to convince myself Leon would return any minute, that he had needed to run a quick errand, and then we’d do something special.  I busied myself with household chores, cleaning the kitchen and doing the laundry, keeping an ear out the whole time for Leon’s car pulling into the driveway.  After several hours, the house was spotless, and still no Leon.  I tried to watch TV and knit but couldn’t concentrate.  I ate lunch alone, expecting Leon to show up at least for dinner and an evening out.  No Leon.  No telephone call.  Nothing.  I couldn’t even call him to see what was going on, for he’d never given me a contact number for him at work.  It was one of the most lonely, miserable days I’d ever spent.  Finally, after a cold dinner by myself, I cried myself to sleep, devastated by the emptiness of the hours, wondering where the good times had gone.
         Life became more and more difficult.  I was aware that something was going terribly wrong but put on a happy face every morning and went to work as if everything were going well.  I didn’t realize quite how tense I’d become until a day when Charles showed up unexpectedly for dinner, as he did once every few months.
         Leon always made it unpleasant when Charles arrived.  He’d grown accustomed to the tranquility of the house without Charles, to the absence of nagging and endless debate, and objected when this tranquility was broken.  While I also found it hard to deal with Charles’s behavior, he was my son and I loved him and treasured his occasional visits.  It saddened me to see my husband and son at odds with each other.
         On this particular evening, Charles showed up with a young lady friend, arriving as I was starting to serve dinner, and asked if they could join us for the meal.  I looked at the single lamb chop sitting on each plate and realized that, although I could perhaps stretch the meal to include one more person, I would have to do something radically different with our dinner to include two more.  In another time and place, when not worried about upsetting Leon and not concerned that I couldn’t afford the money to buy more than one chop per person, I’m sure I would have welcomed Charles and his friend.  But on that night, I found myself annoyed at Charles’s lack of consideration in not calling ahead and told him they couldn’t stay for dinner because there wasn’t enough food.  He should let me know in advance when he was bringing a guest.
         Charles was bewildered.  He knew I prided myself on my hospitality.  I’d never before turned away a dinner guest, always managed to figure out a way to make everyone feel welcome.  Not knowing what else to do, he and his friend sat in the living room.  At first I delayed serving dinner, leaving the plates on the counter in the kitchen, waiting for them to go.  But Charles, not under-standing my discomfort at having our meal in front of them after denying them a place at the table, wasn’t going to leave.
        Eventually, aware that the food was getting cold, I served dinner.  Leon, Jo and I started to eat, trying not to notice Charles and his friend sitting nearby.   I think Charles couldn’t believe I wasn’t going to cave in and invite them to join us.  In the end, however, they left.  I felt terrible – how could I have turned my son away?  
       Our friends and family were concerned about him, knowing he was essentially living on the streets, returning only occasionally for a meal and a shower.  One time he heard me say to someone he was a runaway, and he corrected me, saying, “I’m not a runaway.  I travel.”  I answered that teenagers who disappear are runaways.  I added that if he would start telling me where and when he was going, then I would start calling him a traveler.  He said the reason he never told me was because he knew I would try to convince him to stay.  After considering his remarks, I promised if he’d tell me the next time he decided to leave town, I would not try to talk him out of it.
It was just a few weeks later when he decided to leave again.  He had a bad cold and the weather outside was terrible, so I begged him to wait until he was well.  He said, “You see, I told you this was what you would do.”  I answered, “You’re right.  Take care of yourself, stay in touch, and I love you.”  With a brief, “I love you, too,” he was gone.  It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, to let him go like that, without an argument.  Our relationship did improve immensely after that, however, with Charles feeling that I’d legitimized his traveling.
Both Leon and I kept trying to understand Charles, to support him in his tortured journey through adolescence.  Our reactions to him, however, were quite different.  Whereas I felt hurt and inadequate, Leon grew angrier and angrier.  It got to a point where I no longer discussed with him my feelings regarding Charles.  Instead, I constantly tried to be a buffer between them, thinking this would help.  Looking back, I think I made matters worse.
While I avoided discussing Charles, Leon no longer shared his feelings about what was going on at work.  This became painfully obvious when he made a major decision to return to Harvard that summer for a six-week leadership course and never even mentioned to me that he was thinking about it.  Like the good trooper I always tried to be, I put aside my hurt feelings and helped plan the logistics.
While Leon was at Harvard, he was recruited to work for a health maintenance organization in the Los Angeles area.  Once again, he was excited about the possibility of moving in a new direction.  He’d worked in the cotton fields of Mississippi and the migrant labor camps of Florida, and now he would work with the urban poor.  He accepted the offer on the spot, agreeing to begin the following June.
When he returned to Miami and told me about his decision, I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t even aware that he was considering changing jobs, let alone moving to another state.  Work was going well for me at Allapattah and I hated to leave.  
      There was no time to dwell on the issue.  Far too much was happening in our lives to allow that luxury.   Connie, my first baby, was about to have a baby of her own.  As her due date drew closer, Amherst seemed very far away and I ached to be there with her.  Leon decided we could afford a trip to Amherst in August.   I suggested we wait to schedule the trip until the baby was born, not wanting to arrive only to find Connie not yet ready to go into labor, as happens so often with first deliveries.  Leon, however, concerned that he couldn’t keep his schedule that flexible, said we’d have to just go and hope for the best.
         It had been many years since Leon and I went on a road trip together, just the two of us, and I was looking forward to it.  My father had always made our road trips so much fun, stopping along the way at interesting places and eating at wonderful restaurants.  I knew Leon and I couldn’t afford the kind of vacation I had with my parents, but I was eager, all the same.  I wanted it to be a special time, a romantic time.  Leon was also looking forward to our trip with great anticipation for he’d just purchased a brand new sports car, and couldn’t wait to take it on the road.
         As the time grew close for our departure, however, a cloud settled over our plans – Charles decided he wanted to go with us.  He’d traveled in New England the previous two summers and felt entitled to another trip.  I tried to explain to him that this was not a good time for him to join us.  I knew Leon would be furious if I said yes to Charles and would probably cancel the trip.  The tension between them was so great by this time that it would have been miserable to try to vacation together.  Exacerbating matters was Leon’s desire to take his new car that only had room for two.
         Despite my repeatedly telling him no, Charles kept nagging, begging to be allowed to drive north with us.  Leon was just as insistent about the two of us going alone.  As usual, I felt caught in the middle and it spoiled the beginning of the trip for me.  As we drove off, I saw Charles standing in the driveway, waving good-bye.  Right up until the moment we left, I think he believed we would change our minds and bring him along.  If Leon and I had been communicating better, we might have talked about the problems with Charles and what we might do to help him.  Instead, we drove silently, each lost in our own thoughts.  The hours dragged by until we finally arrived in Providence.
         Once there, the joy of seeing Philip lifted our spirits.  He and his new girlfriend, Deborah, showed us around the Brown University campus, where he had just finished his freshman year.  The two of them were happy together, excited in the newness of their relationship and it made me happy to watch them.  Philip had matured in his year away at college, becoming a young man, independent and capable.  Leon shared my pleasure and his mood improved considerably.

AURA AND SARAH 1973
         While we were in Providence, we got a phone call from Connie saying her baby had come.  We drove to Amherst, to Ball Farm, and to Sarah Beth Kruger-Thompson.  We were greeted by Greg, the proud new papa, who showed us up to Connie’s room where she lay in bed with Sarah, my new little granddaughter.  The love I felt as I gazed at the two of them was overwhelming.
         The sense of wonder and awe quickly turned to one of concern, however, as Connie showed Leon her scar from the Cesarean birth.  It had burst open and she was trying to hold it together with bandages.  He saw immediately that she needed to return to the hospital to have it fixed surgically.  The five of us drove to the hospital and Leon helped make arrangements for the procedure.  I happily held my darling little granddaughter, wrapped in a blanket, and gave her a bottle of water.
         All too quickly, it was time for us to return home.  Jo and I would start what would be our last school year in MiamiLeon had to wrap things up in Homestead and prepare the way for someone else to take over his work.  Charles was floundering, but at least he’d found a family in Coconut Grove that took him in, and he traveled no more.  The family lived in a school bus, and the father, a psychologist,  had set up an alternative school in the park.  He had many students, Charles among them.  For the first time since his year in the school for the gifted, Charles flourished.  I was happy to see him adjusting and appreciative of the psychologist who was giving Charles new hope.
         One time, Charles brought the psychologist to our home for a family discussion.  He had us sit on the floor and explained his concept of “talking in circle.”  As long as he held a small object in his hand, he was the only one allowed to speak.  When he was ready, he gave the object to the person beside him, who then had the floor until passing the object on.  That way, everyone had a chance to speak, and no one could dominate.  Jo and I had no difficulty with these rules, but Leon was frustrated.  He wanted to respond immediately if someone said something with which he disagreed, feeling that if he waited for others to speak first, he’d be unable to have the same impact.  After a couple of rounds, Leon was so annoyed by the process that he refused to participate.
         A few weeks later, Leon, Charles, Jo and I were having lunch out, and Leon mentioned he’d heard about a private school in another state that he thought would be good for Charles.  Believing we couldn’t afford the extravagance of sending Charles to a boarding school, I objected.  However, since I worried Leon might find it humiliating for me to say that money was an issue, I offered no explanation for my concern.  This was a mistake.  Leon was angry with me for disagreeing with him and the discussion escalated into an argument.  Charles, disturbed by what had happened, asked that we talk in circle, adding this was the only way he’d even consider the possibility of going off to school.  He picked up the saltshaker and said, “This will be our speaker’s object,” and handed it to Leon.
         Leon reiterated his belief that the school was a good one and that Charles might be very happy there.  When it was my turn, I came up with all kinds of reasons for not sending him there, except the real one.  Avoiding all mention of money, I talked about how well Charles was doing with the family that had taken him in, how his life had some stability in it for the first time in two years.  For a long time, Charles just listened, simply passing the saltshaker on to his father instead of speaking himself.  Leon was provoked that I questioned his judgment about the school idea, not realizing I wasn’t speaking what was really on my mind.  Charles, however, saw right through me, and when it was his turn to speak, he said, “You two aren’t arguing about what’s best for me; you’re arguing about money.”
         Until Charles spoke up, I’m not even sure I knew myself what I was doing.  All I knew was that my salary was stretched as far as it could go and that Leon seemed unsympathetic to any comments I made about needing more money to run the household.  Because he never offered to help out with his salary, I assumed he had no extra money in his account.  I didn't realize at the time that he might well have had the financial wherewithal to send Charles to boarding school.  Once again, our failure to communicate got in the way of our ability to work together as a team to support our children and each other.
         The conversation ended with Charles deciding he didn’t want to go to boarding school in any case, so the issue of money became moot.  Rather than discussing what had occurred, Leon and I buried our disagreement, never evaluating it or determining how we might have approached it any differently.  I knew if I tried to talk it over with Leon, I would become choked up and unable to speak, as I’d done as a child when there was a conflict with my father.  Leon, for his part, seemed content to act as if there had never been an argument.
         I thought everything had returned to normal.  Jo and I were happy and involved at school and Leon seemed to be enjoying his work in Homestead, despite the long hours.  It therefore took me completely by surprise when in November, months before our expected move, he suddenly packed a suitcase and left for Los Angeles.  No discussion.  No explanation.  Leon was gone.
         Committed to completing the school year at Allapattah, wanting to finish up my master’s degree at the University of Miami, and believing it important to remain in Coral Gables so Jo could complete the year at her high school, I didn't considered following him until June.  What is even sadder is that Leon never asked me to.  He was content to move to California alone, perhaps even preferring it.  Once there, he rented a small, furnished apartment.  For the first time, he was living as if he was a bachelor and apparently liked it.  I felt deserted.
         Even though I was unhappy over Leon’s departure, I had little time to mourn.  School kept me busy and I was blessed with visits from my two older children.  Connie came with baby Sarah and I treasured every moment as the new grandma, viewing each bottle and diaper change as an opportunity to get to know my granddaughter.  Connie seemed content, competent and capable in motherhood, and I felt a bond with her that can only come when your child has a child of her own.  A month later, Philip came home from college, bringing Deborah to visit over the holidays. He had fun showing her his old high school haunts and I enjoyed getting to know her better.  We formed a bond that’s lasted a lifetime. 
         The visits with Connie and Philip ended and life settled into a pleasant routine for Jo and me.  With Leon’s absence, the house was tension free.  When Charles came over on occasion to join us for a meal, it was a festive time, rather than an intrusion.  I finished my course work at the University of Miami and received my master’s degree.  
         Seeing my diploma for the first time was a bittersweet experience.  Although relieved to be done with the pressure of classes and exams, I was disheartened by the absence of anyone with whom to share my accomplishment.  I’d worked hard attending classes while teaching school and raising a family and I ached to have at least one person congratulate me, but it never happened.  Leon didn’t mention it on the phone, my colleagues were unaware, my parents seemed oblivious, and Jo and Charles were too young to understand the event’s significance.
         Despite Jo’s youth, however, at 15 years old she became a companion to me.  Our relationship deepened as we spent those last few months together, and it has remained strong ever since.  We found that special, in-between place where we could enjoy each other’s company as two adults, yet never lost sight of our mother-daughter relationship.  She and I both flourished at school, she as student and I as teacher.  We came home excited each day, eager to share all that had happened.  Having already sown her wild oats while acting at a community theater, Jo was content with our quiet existence together, and I felt fortunate to have her with me now that Leon was gone.
      The year drew to a close.  Never before had I felt so saddened to leave a school.  Allapattah had been my home for four wonderful years.  I had learned much both from my colleagues and my students, and felt I’d truly been able to make a contribution to their lives.  I knew I’d be missed, but I’d miss them even more.  The faculty and administration threw a going-away party for me and then the English Department threw a second one.  On the last day, Dr. Walker took me for lunch.
          As we were finishing our meal, he said, “I’m going to say something to you that I want you to remember always.  You are smarter than you think you are.  You are stronger than you think you are.”  His words stayed with me, providing needed support in the difficult years to come.           
         All that was left for me to do was pack up and leave for California.  As many times as I had moved, however, the task was formidable.  I couldn't ask Leon to come back and help.  Whether he didn’t care or assumed I could handle everything on my own, I’ll never know. He had left with his one suitcase and came back only once to pick up a few more items.  
       The last day arrived and everything should have gone smoothly.  A moving company was scheduled to send a team to pack up everything that was left and be done by mid-day.  Connie had come to town to get my car, which we were giving to her.  She and Jo, who was going with Connie for a visit before joining me in California, were planning to drop me at the airport on their way out of town.  Then I could get some well-deserved rest during the plane ride, at the end of which I would finally be reunited with Leon.
         Everything seemed to go wrong.  Instead of sending a team, the moving company sent only one man.  After a few hours, it was clear he couldn’t possibly be done in time for me to catch my plane.  Not wanting to leave while he was still working, I called the airline and arranged to take a later flight.  In the meantime, Connie didn’t see a need to stick around just because I had been delayed.  I tried to explain that I wanted her to wait so I wouldn’t be left without a car in those last few hours.  When she said she really wanted to leave, however, I told her to go, that I’d be fine.  .
         Despite my brave words, I wanted her to see through my pretense and offer to stay.  Years later, she told me she’d had no idea I felt desperate, that I needed her support, both logistically and emotionally.  She found it easy to believe me when I said I was fine, seeing me as the epitome of competence.  That day however, as I watched her and Jo drive away, I didn’t feel like my usual tower of strength; I felt alone.The afternoon turned into night and still there was work to do.  I walked into the kitchen for something to eat, only to realize it was already packed up and nothing was left for dinner.  Without a car, I couldn’t drive to a restaurant, and I didn't think to to call a cab.  Just as I was beginning to despair, one of Jo’s friends phoned, hoping to catch her one last time.  On the spur of the moment, I offered to take him to dinner if he would later drive me to the airport and he agreed.
         By the time we got back from dinner, it was dark and the moving man was still not done.  All the lamps had been packed earlier in the day and several of the rooms had no overhead lights, so he had to work by flashlight.  He called his office and arranged for two additional packers to come help.  Realizing we were still a couple of hours from being finished, Jo’s friend said he’d leave and come back when I was ready.
         Once again, I felt deserted.  I couldn’t watch television to pass the time because it was already on the truck.  I couldn’t read a book since all the flashlights were in use by the movers.  The minutes dragged by for two more hours before the job was done.  As the van pulled away, I phoned Jo’s friend and he said he’d be right over.
         While I waited, I called Leon one last time to tell him of my latest flight plans.  He was annoyed with all the delays and said he was tired and didn’t want to come to the airport to pick me up in the early morning hours.  He suggested I stay in Miami one more night and fly out the following day instead.  My heart sank.   There was a time when he would have stayed up all night just to spend a few minutes with me.  No more.
         I looked around and realized there was no place for me to sleep even if I’d wanted to stay, so I told Leon I was going to come.  I added that if he was too tired to drive, I would stay at a hotel near the LA airport and he could come get me in the morning.  Met with my determination to fly that night, he muttered, “Fine.  I’ll be there.”
         I hung up the phone, exhausted.  My ride showed up and we’d just put my suitcase in the back of the car when Charles appeared, having hitchhiked from Coconut Grove.  I had begged him when we said good-bye earlier that day not to come to the airport with me.  I honestly didn’t want him there; it would be too painful.  Although I knew my parents were still in the area and that Charles would thus not be completely alone, it broke my heart to leave him.  He was, after all, only 16 years old.
         As the time came for me to leave, Charles had been unable to stay away.  He needed to see his mother one last time.  How could I argue with him?  And so, after ten o’clock at night, the three of us left for the airport, arriving just in time for me to catch my flight.  When the moment arrived, I hugged Jo’s friend and Charles good-bye and started down the ramp toward the waiting plane.  I turned to wave one last time and saw my forlorn, forsaken younger son waving back, and something inside me died.                                        
  

3 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this informative post.. Stay blessed!!
    Taxi Services

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your support is greatly appreciated. Bless you, too!

      Delete
  2. For the first few months I relied on a blog manager and highly recommend
    that new bloggers do the same. Ye$, it co$ts, but it'$ worth it.

    ReplyDelete