Roy Rodgers and I had something in common in 1955. We both loved a car named NellyBelle. I first fell in love with it when I saw the cute guy who was driving it. Actually, I’m not sure which one I fell in love with first! The 1955 cherry-red Ford with its black convertible top and shining chrome definitely caught my eye. I pictured myself cruising around with its owner on a warm summer night, stopping by the soda shop for fries, burger, and a root beer float, hanging out with the other envious teenagers.
One day, while in the makeup section of Woolworth’s—splashing on the floral, classic scent of Evening in Paris, I glanced over to the lunch counter, and there he was having a soda with a mutual friend. I sauntered up to my friend Paul, not wanting to look too eager to be introduced. After those welcomed words, “This is John,” I realized that that my cherry-red convertible dream could become a reality. And it did.
John called me that same night, and we arranged to see the Fourth of July fireworks together in NellyBelle. I couldn’t slide onto that bench-type seat quickly enough, and the multi-colored fireworks never looked more brilliant than with Nelly’s top down.
Now, after fifty-one years of marriage, the strains of the songs “Barbara Ann” and “Johnny Angel” over the car radio still echo in my mind, bringing me back to a teenager’s dream. Thanks, NellyBelle!
As I closed the door to my classroom for the last time in twenty-five years of teaching middle school, I knew that I had learned as many, if not more, lessons about life and caring about others. These often restless, but always searching, students had changed me in ways I could not have imagined, nor would they probably ever know. Gratefully, I am not the same person that I was on my first apprehensive day in the classroom. What life lessons could eleven and twelve year-olds possibly teach me? Plenty.
I know that because God loves us, we are to love others. Children certainly demonstrate the importance of unconditional love and care. No matter what type of day I was having, the children’s optimism and care for me often overwhelmed any difficulties I might have. I learned to give back to them and others what they were so willingly and unselfishly sharing with me. If someone had asked me about student ethnicity, I couldn’t have answered, because they were all beautiful individuals in my sight—no differences, no distinctions. Unconditional love—isn’t that the way we were created by God to see each other? I learned the value of love and respect for every person.
I can hear Thomas’s words, even now, resounding down my memory’s halls. “Mrs. B., do you want to see what I found on the walk this morning?” he proudly declared, unfolding a tissue with a butterfly wing gently wrapped in it. “Do you have a magnifying glass to see it up close? At home I love to look at insects and birds.” A magnifying glass—an important tool for viewing the intricacies of life. But even more important than looking at life at close range, I learned from my students to look at life through the binoculars’ lens. Students are essentially idealistic and are often making choices that address future goals. I learned through those long distance lenses to keep goals in perspective and check them often. I understand, too, not to dwell with a magnifying glass on the imperfections of unfolding personalities, but to use my lifetime binoculars to view the final outcome that I hope for them to achieve. I am to do the same in my life. This lesson reminds me that I, too, am still unfolding and will continue to be as God refines me.
In Proverbs we learn that a happy heart is medicine for the soul (17:22). Laughter is a blessed gift from God. After some of life’s disappointments crashed over the sand castles of my life, my students reminded me often how to laugh again. They have a sense of humor, sometimes to the point of giddiness over the ridiculous. But I needed more of that, and received it from them as daily soul gifts. Those squeals of innocent happiness are like balm to the emotions, and I gladly applied it as we laughed together. It made teaching fun, the mixture of the learning and the laughing. Now, as I treat any “spiritual ailments” with the gift of laughter, I thank children for that lesson.
I have also learned to embrace change. I admit that it is sometimes with a loose embrace, even with a sad embrace, but from teaching I learned that to grow as a person and to do God’s will in life, I must embrace change. Some changes bring great challenges. Over the years I have not only taught students, but also student teachers. One of my tips for being a good teacher, I told them, is to be flexible—to be able to change. Is a lesson not working? Change it up. Are students struggling with discipline or learning issues? Change the way the subject is approached or improvise strategies to deter problems. Handling change graciously is crucial for my personal life, as well. Health issues and living situations change. Family responsibilities may become demanding. But to be a good steward of all of life, the pleasant and difficult, I need to accept change. That I have learned as a teacher.
Finally, I learned early on to depend on God in my classroom. Through Him I could demonstrate love, fairness, and concern for each child who stepped through my doors. The classroom is a cross-section of humanity. I have learned to trust God with the bigger world of my life, as well. Now I can write across my life’s blackboard, “Thank you, my sweet students, for sharing your lessons with me.”
I clutched my one dollar allowance as I rode my blue bike with multi-colored plastic handle bar streamers to Woolworth’s to buy my favorite perfume. I loved to hear the clickity-click of the cards that were in my spokes as I rode along. I was prepared for shopping with my white basket, painted with pink and yellow flowers adorning the front. The birds were singing, and so was my heart.
It was a warm Saturday in 1958—a great day for a twelve-year-old. As I pedaled, I imagined the sweet lingering smell of roses in the Blue Waltz perfume and saw the heart-shaped bottle with the blue top. I had tested every bottle the week before, but this was the only fit for me to wear to the seventh grade dance. It was my first bottle of perfume, and it had to be the right one.
I parked my bike and raced inside to the perfume counter. My heart dropped. Where was it? I looked for the blue top. “Please,” I asked the saleslady in panic. “Could you help me find some Blue Waltz Perfume?” She looked through all the colorful bottles and titles—pink, amber, and blue ones with special names like Perfect Rose or Midnight in Paris, but no Blue Waltz. She saw the tear that ran down my cheek.
“Wait a minute!” she exclaimed. “Last night when we were closing, I saw a bottle under the counter that another clerk was saving for a customer, but she never returned for it. It’s yours.” I held out my dollar, and walking to my bike, pressed the bag with the sacred scent close to me. I opened the bottle for one intoxicating whiff before putting into my basket and pedaling home.
Are you a “long distance” grandparent? My husband and I have been in the past to our five grandchildren, and I had been praying that God would help us with the unique challenges we face. I was eager to get started on something—but frustrated because I wasn’t sure what. It wasn’t long until my prayer was answered.
I had read many grandparenting books, so when my friend Linda brought me back another one from a conference she attended, I gratefully accepted it. Would I learn something new? I wondered, as she handed me the copy of Treasures of a Grandmother’s Heart by Esther Burroughs (New Hope Publishers).
I eagerly read the book, but when I got to the chapter entitled “Nana’s Summer Camp,” I knew I had found my answer. The idea of providing a “camp-like” experience for our grandchildren (ages 3-7) where we could offer activities, family experiences, and lessons from the Bible captivated me. The excitement became reality as plans developed for the first camp. As we planned the camp activities, we personalized each day’s activities for our situation, incorporating the children’s ages and interests. This will be our third summer of “Nana Camp.” Again through the winter, I planned my theme (centered around a Bible truth) and collected appropriate materials. Now I can hardly wait until children’s voices fill our house and warm our hearts.
The joys of grandparenting are many, but our spirits especially soar when we hear from our daughters the various ways Nana Camp has impacted their children’s lives. This year our five-year old grandson, Andrew, even asked his kindergarten classmates, “Would you like to go to my Nana Camp? It’s really cool!” With thoughts of his precious sentiment echoing through my longing spirit, I can’t wait to hang my sign out, announcing that once again I have “gone camping!”