Tag Archives: Rest in Peace

Happiness is… Being Together at Christmas

It is Christmas Day afternoon and I am sitting alone in our house, nursing a cold. Dean and Clare are off on a hiking adventure, Andrew is in Atlanta with his girlfriend. I am not complaining — I do like my alone time, but looking at Facebook posts of families opening gifts is making me a little sad.

Santa
Christmas 1967. L to R: Kevin, Jeff Green in foreground, Aunt Lelia in background, Ron Choitz as Santa, Debbie (?), Julie (?).

When I was young our Christmas eves were spent with the Greens. I think the family would take turns hosting everyone else for Christmas eve (I remember it at my Uncle Bud’s house, our house and my Uncle Dick’s houses. Maybe Aunt Ginny too, once she was married. The cousins would play together — and often put together a performance of some kind. I was the oldest, so I was the bossy director. When we were all very young, Santa would come. I don’t remember when that tradition ended — maybe when my Gullick cousins moved to Mississippi? I do remember we did have a Christmas eve celebration at my Uncle Bud’s the year after my grandfather died.

Stop me if I have already told this story — it is definitely possible since I like it so much…

Sometime after 1963 (the year my brother was born), my mom made a line drawing of her parents and siblings with the title Happiness is… Being together at Christmas. After my brother found it at the lake house in Wisconsin and posted a photo of it on Facebook, my Aunt Ginny said it looked just like a photo she had and surmised that my mom had traced it from the photo. The drawing is too large to have been traced from the photo, but it was definitely the inspiration.

See for yourself…

original photo
Original photo
drawing
Drawing

So this year they are finally all together again for Christmas — the first time since 1972 when Grandpa died. They have a lot of catching up to do.

Remembering BLC and Sister Margaret

It was September 1979 and I  was fresh out of college with no employment other than my job at an all-night “pancake house” as a waitress. Someone who knew someone who knew I was looking for a teaching position told someone at Bartlett Learning Center (now Clare Woods Academy) about me. They called, I interviewed and was hired as a long-term substitute teacher at the school for learning disabled and developmentally disabled youth. The school was housed on the main floor of a Catholic convent run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis.

At that point in my life I did not have a car so I took a bus to the train station, rode the train the few stops from Elgin to Bartlett, then walked to the school. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked for me.

December of that year I moved to my own apartment. Around that same time, Sister Jane, the teacher for whom I was substituting returned to the school. I was kept on because she needed assistance after surgery. She lived in Elgin and my apartment was on the way to the school so she picked me up each morning and dropped me off each afternoon. Later, for some reason, two other sisters, Barbara and Margaret, joined the carpool (although they lived on the east side of Elgin and my apartment was not on the way to Bartlett) and for several months the four of us rode to and from school together each day. Suddenly my closest friends were nuns! I worked with them, commuted with them and even socialized with them.

After my parents bought a new car and gave me their old Buick LeSabre and I no longer needed to commute with the sisters we remained friends. In fact one of the other teachers at the school told me she didn’t trust me because I was friends with the sisters (one of whom was the head sister at the time).

Sisters Barbara and Margaret shared an apartment on the east side of Elgin. Sister Jane lived alone. Sister Jane was from a state farther west — Nebraska? One of the Dakotas? I don’t remember where Sister Barbara was from — maybe near Elgin? Sister Margaret was from Elgin, though. I knew that because one day I saw Sister Margaret’s photo among the photos of my mother’s classmates in her high school yearbook. I never told anyone but Sister Margaret that I saw the photo because because she was very secretive about her age.

Sister Margaret taught the younger students when I was at Bartlett Learning Center. She was so patient with them and they loved her. She was funny and kind and caring. I can actually still hear her voice in my head. She had brown short curly hair, twinkly eyes and a ready smile. In fact, the only time I saw her even slightly upset was when I told her that I saw her photograph in my mother’s yearbook.

When I read on Facebook that Sister Margaret died yesterday it brought back a flood of memories about my first two years as a teacher. About how I learned  so much about teaching from all the sisters. Sister Jane taught me classroom management skills, Sister Barbara taught me organizational skills and Sister Margaret probably taught me the most important lessons. She taught, by example how to be kind and patient and caring even when I wanted to scream at the students.

After I moved on from Bartlett Learning Center I kept in touch with the sisters for many years. After a while I lost touch with them but a mutual friend occasionally lets me know some information about these wonderful women.

These past 12 months have been a year of loss for me in so many ways. While I’d not talked to Sister Margaret for years, the world is that much worse because she is no longer in it. But she’s sitting at that table in the cafe in my mind’s picture of Heaven.

Remembering George Brett

When I was in graduate school at the George Washington University I joined an online group called Brainstorms (which has nothing to do with GWU). Because there were a fair number of Brainstorms members from the DC area, we decided, in 1999, to have a get together.  Dean and I hired a babysitter and drove to Adam’s house in Falls Church. There were probably 6 or 7 Brainstorms members there and a few spouses. A few things I remember from that night:

  • Chicken sausages could taste really good
  • Falls Church is cool at night
  • George Brett was a great listener
  • Lemony Snickett books could save my kids
Meeting George
George is on the right (photo borrowed from Glen — who is on the far left). This is the night I met George.

On our walk around Falls Church, George asked me about my degree program and what I wanted to do with my upcoming degree in educational technology leadership. I told him that I really wanted to help create online learning environments that involved virtual chatrooms — online spaces where students could interact with subject matter experts. For instance, if someone were learning about Shakespeare, they’d “talk” to an avatar that looked like “the Bard” in an environment that simulated England of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. George didn’t laugh at my dream. He thought it was a great idea and offered ideas.

George, Rupert, GeoDuckie and the POTUS
George, Rupert, GeoDuckie and the POTUS

I saw George a number of times after that, at various Brainstorms functions. The last time I saw George was in 2009 at our Inaugural Ball (where he wore a kilt and his signature bow tie). We interacted online a lot, though. First on Brainstorms, then on Facebook. Several years ago when I asked for suggestions for places to go for a romantic weekend, George emailed me and invited us to stay at his lovely cabin in Wintergreen, VA. We had a wonderful time.

Once, on Facebook, I asked my FB friends to recommend pillows. Shortly after I pressed “enter” the phone rang. It was George telling me that he and Sally were on their way back from Bed, Bath and Beyond where he found the perfect pillows — Laura Ashley. He knew they were perfect because he tried them out, right on the floor of Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The last time I spoke to George, he and Sally were celebrating their wedding anniversary in Florida. He called me, asking if it was me who needed a job reference or something. Typical George — he didn’t want to leave it until he returned to Virginia and took time out of his anniversary vacation to ask. I’d not asked him, but was grateful that he was calling to make sure. I assume he went through his address book until he found the right person.

George died earlier this month — in fact, the same day Sandy died. His memorial service will take place in about three hours. I’ll be headed back to Falls Church — not to meet George or visit with him in his apartment, but to say farewell to him. To be in a church where people from many areas of his life will be gathered to say goodbye to a remarkable man.

George was a thoughtful, kind, gentle man. In all the time I knew him — online and off — he never, to my knowledge, uttered (or wrote) an unkind word about anyone. He left us far too soon. The world is a better place because he was in it, but his passing has left a void in the lives of everyone that knew him.