Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Not what I expected...

An Incredible First Day                Something was wrong. No one was in Room 109 but me. Almost 40 students were missing and my first class of this semester was to begin in ten minutes. So many, according to roster profiles, were highly motivated RN students. Almost always, they were early, twenty or thirty minutes early.

Fortunately, I was logged on to the Net in my cozy multi media auditorium, the room I’d been using for so long I’d taken for granted I was supposed to be there. But, when I checked my college’s website, I saw that I belonged in Oliver 110 in the nearby Temple Building. And I had eight minutes to get there.

After speeding across campus, I parked then hustled to Temple. My students had lined the hallway. “Door’s locked,” one of them offered.

I pushed hard; it was just stuck. And it was 8:00 a.m. Quickly, they filed into the small auditorium, spacious enough for at least 220 people.

That was Friday.

Two days later, I said to Tommy B., an old friend, “I told them to get out a sheet of paper, to write their definition of the word, civilization, and why it began with the word ‘civil’. Then I apologized for my mix up.”

Tommy listened as I described my interesting class. “One of them, from Poland, has only been here four years. Another one is a serious poet. Others, especially the RN students, want to learn. Many want to be better writers.”

There was another student, older, who had put off getting a degree until her children were out of high school. Although I wanted to tell Tommy about her, he had his story to tell.

“How do you like these pants?” he asked.

They were expensive and much bolder than any I would wear. White with blue, green, and orange plaid, they were a soft cotton I wouldn’t be surprised to see at a private golf course function for whites only. But Tommy is a black comedian with a sharp and witty tongue.

“I’m going to wear them to the Convention,” he told me. I knew he meant the Democratic Convention. “Just before I get there, I have to speak at a big church not far from there.”

I believed him. Tommy is that well known. He’s been on the Oprah show more than once. I thought of her then, as I handed Tommy his bright pants; I’d just hemmed them.

“You’ll see Oprah there, won’t you?” I asked.

“Yes, of course,” he said, without sounding boastful.

“Please give her this for me,” I said, after I’d autographed then handed him a copy of my book, No Gold Stars.

He read the autograph. “She’ll like that,” he said. “At least I do.” He promised to do his best to get it to her.

I was too excited by that possibility to think to tell him about the extraordinary experience I’d had that day. It happened when I was reading through the diagnostic ‘tests’ I’d administered on Friday. My older student told of an essay she’d written about her mother and her grandmother.

So many questions came to me as I pondered her paper. I called her.

After our hellos, I asked, “Is it true that your mother and grandmother escaped Nazi Germany?”

“Yes,” she said quietly. “My Mom was four.”

“And they told you about what happened then?”

“Yes,” she said. “There were many terrible stories about their Jewish neighbors.” In our class, I had mentioned I am Jewish.

I asked if she would share her essay with me. She didn’t hesitate to reply.

“Yes I will.”

Hearing that, I told her I wanted her to write as many of their stories as she could. “Please do that instead of the other written assignments this semester. I want you to focus on that.” That pleased her.

“Light One Candle means a lot to you, doesn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “That book reminds me of gruesome stories they’ve told.”

It was my turn to reflect. I wanted to call my friend, Dr. John Guzlowski, to tell him about this remarkable news. John is the son of Holocaust survivors; every semester he reads poems based on stories his parents told him about their cruel years spent in concentration camps. Every time, my students and I are moved to tears. Usually, so is John.

But all I said to my student was thank you. To that I added, “Your mother is welcome to speak to our class at any time she comes to town.”

She liked that. I hope it will happen.

Perhaps there’s a chance that Tommy will come the same day to share his observations about the Convention. If I’m lucky, he may have good news about Oprah too.

      B. Koplen 8/29/12

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