A couple weeks ago. I posted a letter about Acacia’s big bi-annual party, Night on the Nile. The letter included this artist’s rendition of my costume for that party. I recently came across a photo of the event. I just wanted everyone to see how good my sketch was compared to the original.
Graduation time is upon us. Six years ago I agreed to do something that I don’t anticipate ever doing again–speak at our high school graduation. I agreed to do this because the graduating class was one that I had a special relationship with. I’d forgotten how much I liked this group, and it was fun to reread this and remember those kids. Last week I happened to visit with the mother of the M I talk about in the first paragraph. She told me that he is getting married. And she mentioned fondly the turkey calls that I’d taken from him over the years. Anyway, this is what I said to the class of 2009. I still think it’s pretty good advice for a graduate.
Thank you. Hi everyone.
I’m going to speak real briefly to everyone here, and then spend the rest of my speech talking to the graduates. I thought I’d better explain who I am and why I’m here. I’ve been teaching at Adrian for 12 years, first in the junior high, and more recently in the high school. This class, the class of 2009, I first taught when they were 7th graders. Two years later they were pleasantly surprised when they walked into their freshman English class to find me there. And then again as sophomores, and then juniors. This year I haven’t had most of them in class, but as a senior class sponsor, we’ve still hung out some, and in a few days many of us are going to Chicago together. I’ve sort of followed them up the food chain. That’s 5 of the last 6 years with the same group of kids. That’s why I’m here. I’ve come to know these kids the same way that you know them. This class that’s sometimes known as Sears’s babies. Despite all of the annoying things they do, the poor decisions that they sometimes make, this is my class, and I love ’em. So when a teacher says to me, “Man, so and so from the senior class was a real jerk today,” I nod my head and say honestly, “Yeah, he or she can be that way sometimes.” And then I think to myself, “But down deep, what a great kid!” Or, “Did you hear what this kid did?” And I’ll say, “Yeah, they really need to get their stuff together.” And I’ll think, “But seriously . . . what a great kid!” So, for example, for all the times I’ve taken a turkey call away from M, and I’ve probably taken a half a dozen in as many years, it didn’t change my opinion of him. And I mean that in a good way. So I know these kids better than any group I’ve taught, and like you, I think they’re great.
Ok. Class of 2009, before I commence with the advice, let me tell you congratulations on finishing high school. You’ve worked hard, some of you have worked really hard. Some of you have had a lot of help. Some of you have not. It’s easy sometimes for teachers to forget that kids have more going on that just school. Family situations, work and money issues, personal problems, these can all make writing a research paper or solving an equation seem pretty unimportant. Many of you have had to deal junk that I wish you didn’t. But you’ve persevered. And I want to tell you that I’m impressed. I honor your commitment to succeed. Nice work.
So now for the advice part of the speech. When I started to write this I began to mentally compile a list of all of the bits of advice for college and life that I wanted to give you, on this the last time that you have to sit and listen to me talk. So I came up with things like, work hard and play hard, make good decisions, spend as many weekends at school as you do back at Adrian, keep your old friends but make new friends, get involved on the campus or in the community that you find yourself. I think those are all good ideas. But it didn’t seem like enough. So I came up with these — the last three things I want to leave you with.
First, You can do anything you want! When I was your age my mom use to tell me this all the time. “Matt,” she’d say at the most random times. “You know you can do anything you want to do.” So I’d look away from my book, or the t.v., or my lunch to nod at her before going back to what I was doing. “No,” she’d say. “Look at me. Really. You can do whatever you want to do.” So look at me now. Class of 2009, you can do whatever you want to do. I’m not talking about your failed class motto. I’ve looked over the senior edition of the paper. And I’ve been talking to you guys about what your plans are. And you have some amazing plans. You are a bunch of future engineers, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, construction workers, therapists, music producers, chefs, teachers, welders, politicians, technicians, farmers, cowboys, artists, world travelers . . . And let me tell you again. You can do it. And when you change you plans, or your major, or your career, and decide to work towards something else. You can do that too. I know you, class of 2009. I’ve spent a little bit of time with you and I know what you’re capable of. And if you don’t believe me, ask these people out here. You can do anything you want to do.
Next, be good. What do we old people want for the young people we love? We want our kids to be happy. We want them to get everything they want. A big house. A nice car. A beautiful spouse, cute kids, a good job, a pool, another nice car, long and exotic vacations. Everything it takes to make you happy. I’m no different. I want you all to be happy. But happiness is not what I want most for you. What I want most for you is for you to be good people. When I say be good, I’m not talking about not doing all of the stupid things that we all do, especially when we’re young and tend to do stupid things. (Ok, quit doing those things too.) But when I say be good, I mean be good to the people around you. When I look at you guys, what I see in addition to a bunch of future engineers, nurses, and farmers, is a bunch of future little league coaches, Sunday school teachers, and blood donors; lions, optimists, and Rotarians; men and women who mow your older neighbor’s yard, buy stuff at a bake sale that you don’t necessarily want, or, god help you, volunteer someday to help with project prom. Simply, what I mean is, love your neighbor. Use your amazing talents, do all the great things that you are going to do, with an eye toward making the world a better place to live. Be good.
Finally, don’t be afraid. During the recent Stuco blood drive I was talking to one of my classes about fear. What we’re afraid of. Why we won’t give blood, for example, even though we know it’s important, a good thing to do. Maybe it’s an irrational fear of needles. But I think it has to do with looking dumb, passing out, freaking out, throwing up, doing something that will draw attention to ourselves. It’s the same reason we don’t ask for help, or stand up for someone who needs it, or try something that’s difficult knowing we might fail. “What a jerk, right? Putting yourself out there like that. Are you crazy? Someone might see you mess up.” Well, I got you news for you. You will fail, you’ll mess up, and people will think you’re a jerk. But don’t be afraid of any of that. Over the last several years I’ve watched you guys put yourself out there. You athletes have had some great seasons and some horrible seasons. But you weren’t afraid to try. And you on the other competitive teams, the ones it seems like no ever goes to watch – quiz bowl, math team, ag judges, artists, singers, musicians, fccla, tsa, fbla, and some that I’ve probably even forgotten. You weren’t afraid. You braved the horrible labels that are given to people like you — smart, talented, professional. And in all seriousness, for some of you I know it seemed like every day, just showing up, and putting up with the junk that seemed to get piled on you every time you walked through the doors was challenge enough. Well, take a look around you. You weren’t afraid, you kept going, and you did it. Don’t be afraid.
Let me leave you a shot of reality All those family situations, work and money issues, and personal problems that I praised you for overcoming. They’re still going to be around. They may even get bigger and worse. But here’s something that I really really really believe. The world is a big and wonderful place. To paraphrase what some of you have written for me over the years, the world is full of wonderful things — the people we love, their voices, and their laughter; the out doors, the wind on the water, the stars, sitting in the tree stand as the sun comes up, sort of listening for deer, but sort of just listening to morning. I love that I know you guys well enough that I could probably point at you one by one, and name the things that I know you love. Although to be fair, that deer stand probably covers a good third of you. My point is this. Sometimes life is horrible and it seems our problems will never end. But life is also amazing.
Do not be afraid. You’re bigger than any problem you will face.
Be good. You have such power to make this world a better place.
And, look at me! You can do anything you want! Really! Anything!
Thank you for letting me be a part of this.
Ever write yourself a note, and then later find that you didn’t know what you were talking about? It’s like that episode of Seinfeld when Jerry does just that, and when he realizes what the note means, he realizes it’s stupid anyway.
I recently found a note I left myself not long ago. I didn’t member leaving it, and I didn’t know what it meant. Here s the note:
“Middle class American hypocrite pn god dashboard”
I left it on my Google docs where I write stuff for this blog. So maybe it was something I thought I should write about. I looked at it a couple of times for a couple of days, but couldn’t cipher it out. So I turned to Google.
It turns out it’s a line from a George Carlin routine, a routine about god and religion, one that I saw last month when NBC showed the very first episode of Saturday Night Live. It was a throwaway line, not one to make much of a point. Just that the universe is balanced. So since some people have a statue of Jesus on their dashboard, god has a middle class American hypocrite on his dashboard. It must have struck me as funny or meaningful at the time, as I made the effort to type in into my notes. But like Seinfeld in the aforementioned episode, now I’m thinking, huh, ok.
Here’s Carlin talking about making obnoxious noises in the classroom.. The cover says “Explicit Content,” but this part isn’t.
This last memory of Elaine come from my sister of sorts. She’s a girl that I spent a lot of time with. Partly because our folks were friends, and partly because we were in youth group together. My folks were our middle school youth group leaders, and one summer they took 7 girls and my brother and me on a work mission to Kentucky. All nine of us in the Suburban. It was quite a trip. I’m blessed that I have a mom that so many of my friends liked and respected, a mom who took good care of people, me, my brother and my dad especially.
Initially, I had some difficulty in coming up with memories to share about Elaine, but the longer I typed the more I remembered. I now think with a little more time I could do several more pages.
I don’t formally remember meeting Elaine, which is probably due to the fact that I was too young at the time. However, meeting us girls has to be a good memory of hers.
The first thing that came to mind when I was asked to write something was when Mom and Elaine took us all the kids to Grandpa and Grandma’s during harvest. Grandpa had completed some of his wheat harvest and we had decided to go exploring on the farm. There was always so much to see and explore at their house. At some point we were told by an adult that we were not to get into the large harvest truck that contained harvested wheat. I guess that is when it became inevitable that we would explore it. I think we had misinterpreted what NOT really meant. So at some point during the day we found ourselves climbing on the side of the wheat truck in Grandpa’s barn. I am not sure what the conversation was like, but I do remember looking at all that wheat and thinking it would be fun to get in it.
Eventually we made our way back to the house. There we were greeted by Elaine who knew what we had been up to despite that fact that we denied it. (I think it was the wheat kernels that surrounded us that might had given it away.) The end result was getting spanked by Elaine with a yellow broom. I don’t know if the spanking hurt me physically, but I am sure it hurt my pride even as a little girl. However, I think it taught me one important lesson. I better take Elaine seriously, because she means business!
On one hot summer day Elaine came out to our house to pick strawberries. The patch was hidden well behind the cedar trees, which surrounded our backyard. At some point Elaine decided she was hot. After a few minutes of conversation with Mom she decided it was okay to take off her shirt and pick strawberries in her bra! Let me tell you I can still see Elaine in my mind standing in the middle of that strawberry patch with a very un-sexy bra and a very white stomach. Actually, everything was very white!
Who could forget going to Kentucky? Bill and Elaine were so brave to take on that challenge of seven girls and two sons. The yellow paint, thinning of the cane, the nasty pool, eating moon pies, everyone gets sick, one girl’s large sebaceous cyst on her face, which I watched Elaine pop! Then there was the song we made up that went like this…….I’m a Carrie you’re a Carrie we are Carrie’s all and when we get together we do the Carrie call. Then we would pretend like we were talking none stop, because that‘s what Carrie would do. Everyone’s name was included, but Carrie was the easiest to remember, other than the girl whose was all about vomit!
In closing, I would like to tell you Elaine how much you have meant to me. It is always great to see you no matter what the circumstances might be. A smile comes to my face just thinking about you. I feel blessed to call you my friend and thankful to have so many wonderful memories of you, Bill, Matt and Mike.
Happy Birthday and May God Bless you with many more wonderful years!
I love you!
Last week I wrote a bit about the music from the Peter Gunn television show. It’s something I’ve always been interested in, partly because it’s got the Mancini music, but also because I’m a sucker for old crime shows. So I’ve started watching the series. Most of the episodes are available on YouTube. I haven’t been binge watching I don’t think. That’s like a whole season in a weekend, right? I’ve just been sneaking in an episode or two a day. And after a half a dozen episodes, I believe I’ll keep it up.
Here’s what the show has going for it. It takes place in the 50’s (the show ran three seasons, from 1958-1961), but not the Happy Days 50’s. This is the adult 50’s with jazz music, crime, and cigarettes. There is a lot of smoking in this show. Even when the hero, Peter Gunn (Craig Stevens) isn’t smoking, and he usually is, it seems the camera man is. Smoke frequently seems to drift into the scenes from off camera. It’s not that I’m a fan of smoking. In real life I hate it. It stinks and it kills you and stupid smokers think it’s ok if they throw their nasty butts wherever they want. But on a screen in black and white it looks cool.
The music is also cool. It’s good jazz. Each episode opens on the soon to be crime scene somewhere on the rough side of the river. As the dim lights come up, so does the foreboding jazz. The opening crime goes down with little or no dialog, and is instead punctuated by drums and horns. I like how frequently the show will take a few minutes while Edie Hart (Lola Albright) and the band perform a number. It’s like a bit of a variety show stuck into this detective show. But it works. It feels organic. Edie and the band are always there at Mother’s in the background. And occasionally when they perform, and Mother (Hope Emerson) and Pete stop to enjoy a song, the audience gets that pleasure as well.
I like the characters. Edie is Peter’s girlfriend. She’s a sexy Doris Day type who can sing. I like her relationship with Peter. Even when they are whispering sweet nothings to each on the dock, they’re clever and playful and cool, and it works. Mother is the old broad who owns Mother’s, the jazz joint where Pete hangs out. And there’s Lieutenant Jacoby (Herschel Bernardi), the cop who regularly helps Peter out. Truth be told, I would have cast this guy as the star. He looks like a waterfront detective ought to look, more Mike Hammer than James Bond. Pete’s a bit too neat and well dressed for my liking. But he handles himself well, and seems to be well liked and respected by the rough waterfront crowd, so I’ll let his pretty-boy looks slide.
The plots are bit thin. In each a bad guy enters the scene causing problems for someone, then Peter, often with the help of Jacoby, steps in and deals with the bad guy, sometimes getting himself roughed up in the process. Of course the plot of each episode has a wrinkle, something to make it interesting–a blind piano player as the only witness to a murder, a hit man who uses dogs as his weapon, Ted Knight uses knockout gas to rob his own bank. But like all these kinds of shows, it’s the time spent with the characters as much as the weekly mystery, that makes them fun.
What’s not to like? Just a couple things. I’ve already mentioned that Peter is too good looking and well dressed. Also, the entire show is shot on a sound stage, even the car chases. This actually works as most of the action takes place in the middle of the night, the time when only criminals and beatniks are awake, so the darkness covers most of the flaws here, so I can pretend I’m watching a play for a while. But the bar fights, when suddenly all the furniture, including the bar and the built in shelves, shatter to to bits of balsa wood, I feel like I’m watching a sketch in the Carol Burnett show.
Finally, while the producers were probably being progressive for their time by giving us one black musician, with a speaking part at that, he’s the only person of color I’ve seen so far. I think there may have been some black folks in the jazz scene in the 50’s, but I’ll have to check. When Pete is out fighting crime in the rough part if the city, and then finishes his night with a drink at Mother’s, it’s off-putting to have the house band be the gang from Lawrence Welk’s orchestra.
But I will continue to watch the series, and if any of this sounds fun, I’d encourage you to do the same. Here’s “Vicious Dog,” one of my favorites so far.
A quick one from a high school friend of mine.
Matt, one thing I remember was that your mom was frugal. I know she made her own pasta (it was delicious). But I particularly remember her chamoising down your car after a rain for a “no cost car wash” – even though you all owned an actual car wash. Many years later I often do the same thing… we can learn a lot from our elders!
Here’s a popular story about my mom from a childhood friend, one of three sisters that I spent a lot of time with during my childhood.
I remembered a little Elaine memory…one I had forgotten. Elaine came over to pick strawberries one summer afternoon. I am thinking I was helping, but being a teenager I probably was not! Anyway, it was pretty hot so Elaine decided to take her shirt off and pick strawberries in her bra! She figured we were out in the middle of the country; it was more about being cool than modest. I remember thinking I can’t believe she is out here picking strawberries without her shirt on in her bra.
Hope your mom has a wonderful birthday. I am sure the laughter will not stop upon reading the memories of your mom. Hey if you are ever looking for Bill stories. . . I will never forget when we all were sitting around your dining room table and his chair broke!
This memory of my mom comes from a high school friend of mine. You may see a bit a trend here. Mom is a sports fan, particularly high school sports. She cries at the finish of a hard race even when she doesn’t know the athletes, just because of the hard work the kids put in.
Hey Man. Your mom meant the world to me…and still does. I look at her like my own. When I was growing up and my brother and sister were making bad choices, I didn’t always want to be around my house. Your mom had me over and took me in like one of her own. Elaine, would always make sure we had fun by providing food, movies, games, etc… and many times she joined us. Not only was she an encouragement there, she was my number one fan…I can remember during the football games hearing her voice above the crowd. I know many times when I didn’t feel like going on, I was afraid to stop, because I didn’t want to disappoint Elaine. After all she thought “I was the best!” So I had to perform like it. And I’ll never forget coming home from college and she accepted all my crazy friends and made them feel welcome as well. She is a true Christ-like example! Even though I live far away now, I am close at heart. Every time I drive by the house when I am in town I have stories for my children, and feel as though I need to stop and say thank you! Make sure she knows I love her, and I am looking forward to seeing her again at the fair next summer!
A memory of my mom from one of my cousins.
I don’t have a long story, but several good memories.
Aunt Elaine (Uncle Bill too when time allowed) has taken time to be one of the many “Number 1 fans” who was there for my basketball games in high school and for many of my kids’ activities throughout their high school years and even college.
My dad knew how to yell at games (mom would have, but dad was probably shushing her), but by far the loudest fan I had at several basketball games was my Aunt Elaine. You would have thought that she wrote the book on basketball and all of the rules too! She always seemed to know the rules better than the officials did!!
My kids have been fortunate to not only have their grandparents attending their activities, but their Great Aunt Elaine too. She’s taken time to attend musicals, football games, basketball games, track meets, the state track meet, and most recently KSU football games to watch the marching band (I guess she’s there for the football team too). Elaine & Bill’s home has also been a great place for breaks on trips to Manhattan and a wonderful bed & breakfast for trips to Manhattan and life guard training too! Needless to say, you’ve touched our lives in many ways Aunt Elaine.
Thanks for the love, laughter and unending advice you’ve provided us over the years.
More on mom. I hope people write things like this about me one day. Which probably means I need to start being this way. This one from a son of my parents’ old friends.
I have a lot of great memory’s of your mother. We have shared some great laughs but the memories I keep are the ones that moved me.
She was always offering a hug when I saw her. Even in the teen years when the last thing an adolescent boy wanted was a hug, but she knew it was the greatest thing I needed. And if anyone was around, she would tell them how long she’d known me and how I love liver. And to this day that same hug is always available.
Now I like to believe these hugs are just for me, but I have seen the world receive these as well. Living 4 houses from the high school I have seen her interact with other kids as well and with as much intention. One day I watched a kid walking south from the high school before school was out. Obviously he had called it a day. I saw Elaine pull over and talk to him. Soon he was in the car and she was pulling a u-turn back to the school.
There is always an intention of wholeness coming from your mom. How it occurs to the rest of the world is up to the world, but those of us that have received it are blessed.