Celebrating your independence

Looking back on my Fourth of July’s, the holiday was always consumed with fireworks of some kind and not the emotional ones either.

Fireworks that snapped, crackled, and popped from all locations, just like the famous cereal, and decorated the sky while everyone awed over the commotion each year.

There were celebrations on boats overlooking the Chicago skyline, there were celebrations at the racetrack that delivered piped in music, and there were local small town displays gathered with neighbors on the closest porch or nearest park.

But, wherever the fireworks were presented, it was the ultimate salute to our country’s accomplishment for becoming independent many years ago.

Probably the best memories of the Fourth of July were as children when we couldn’t wait to have Dad light those sparklers that we would carefully parade around the backyard with our family and friends. Dad’s eyes were as bright as the sparklers and we never tired of lighting one after another. We were young and the meaning of the 4th of July was not really about the country, but about us.

Somehow, we were celebrating our own independence, our own accomplishments for that day, month or year. Maybe we had received high marks at the end of the school year or maybe we spent a vacation with our family, not causing an argument with our siblings. Maybe the lilacs we had brought to our teacher in spring lasted longer than a day. Maybe we were just excited that our firefly collection was better than ever before.

Though I would skip the sparklers since they can cause pain and suffering if not properly handled, don’t skip this day to recognize yourself, the measures you have taken to shine, the skyrocketing moments in your life when because of your independent nature, you made a difference.

Maybe you took the first step to resolving a conflict with a co-worker and you developed a new level of respect from others as a result. Maybe you received 100% on your paper in class while working full-time, being a single parent and saying no when you would rather be going to lunch with your friends. Maybe you are still unemployed but sent out 100 resumes last week, courageously called one company after another while avoiding the temptation of the sofa.

The Fourth of July does not have to be just for the patriotic but a day to celebrate your own liberty; moving forward with pride and dignity in who you have become.

The Kitty Book

I found it and my heart skipped a beat….the cover was torn but thank God it had not been discarded after 50 years of ownership. Because there was very little I knew about her and my introduction was acknowledged by the book. As I gently leafed through the yellowed pages, the book brought back the same smiles and favorites pictures; the same colors that moved me to a different level.  Contained in a brown leather cover with gold letters, it was something I always asked for after arriving at my Aunts for Sunday dinner.

I felt closer to her as a child. She had passed away when I was a baby. The pages of her book lined with similar composition paper that I used to create my own school assignments of passion. Just like Grandma.  The Kitty Book, Grandmas scrapbook, was designed for me before she passed away and her favorite pet graced the pages; cats of all dimension and domestication. Cats climbing out of boxes from old newspapers, cut out cats small and large gracing a scattered page, cats in color from birthday, Valentine’s Day and postcards, and cats playing with mice. We had Tiger Tex and Wildcat Whitney ready for a fight and the lonely bulldog with the majestic Persian.

Everything you ever wanted to learn about cats is in the Kitty Book. And just about everything you wanted to learn about Grandma. She was deliberate, creative and could neatly package a book of love and affection.  She loved cats and in later years, unbeknownst to her inspiration, I owned two cats of my own.  That was just the start of her memories which continued on in later years, finding her scrapbook from her own childhood in the early 1900’s filled with calling cards of friends and beautifully embossed  cards presented to Lottie Emerson; her rewards of merit.

My grandmother was an accomplished pianist and played the organ/piano at church in a small town in Central Illinoia.  I, too, studied piano and won awards for my talent.  The next step of my discovery was found in a ledger with one article after another from a local newspaper outside of Kankakee. Voice of the People was written by my Grandma so much like my own column where we both talk about our yesterdays marked by our today’s or influences exerted in the wrong direction.

While I have published non-fiction essays on inspiration and nostalgia, she and I talk together of the value of a smile, snap judgments, the art of thinking and what constitutes greatness.  Though we are really not carbon copies, I do think talent may just be in the genes.  And I become more amazed at the bond as I study her accomplishments further.

Finally, I learn through a newspaper article that one of her stories had been published in the Yearbook of Public Opinion entitled, Gable, Whiskers and Milksops. The volume consisted of quotations from letters written by the readers of newspapers and magazines in the United States, published somewhere between 1937 and 1938.  So I searched and searched again.  No luck.  But as the Internet and its sources became more advanced,We, The People, The Year book of Public Opinion was found and only one copy of its kind.

Strangely enough, I could afford the purchase.

Lottie M Emerson’s review of Clark Gable’s portrayal of Charles Parnell, the famous Irish politician in the 1937 biographical film graced the pages. Many thought it was Gables worst performance. Grandma thought it was the best she had ever seen in all her career.  Ultimately, Grandma was not afraid of expressing her honesty in the public eye.

Neither was I.

The child behind the crooked smile

He works for microwave, shredder and sometimes gum. Not chewing the gum themselves but chewing a piece of gum for him.  Sometimes he works for a laugh or cough. He likes that too. Microwaves are not allowed in the classroom since he likes burning pencils and whatever he can add to the mix. But one is secretly unplugged, hidden and pulled out for him to open the door and close it five times as a reward in the special needs classroom.

Another likes to walk constantly. So we walk with him as he may laugh, he may cry but he will stand by the door hitting it when it becomes too much. So we walk inside around the school. He is quiet, he follows and he grabs my arm making sure that I am close. Sometimes, when standing together, he places his head on my shoulder. For him, he likes his movie….a small lap top that is available to him daily with one slide after another of his family, his birthday and his special trips with brothers and sister. Though he does not watch, he listens to the music that accompanies the video. He is happy to be with his family.

As they work on daily lessons of reading and math, some will shout try again as they know the teachers familiar comment when they get it wrong. As one works on learning time, when successful with saying the correct time or number, he asks for the high five sign and the brown chair which indicates a break for him.

One young man pulls at his teeth when having a rough time, jumping up and down with his cries but when we suggest that he work, he sits proudly as the speech therapist helps him identify certain objects and says the words clearly while we cheer him on. He loves when we congratulate him. He loves when we are proud of his accomplishments. Sometimes, I wonder if he does this more for us than him.

Some severely autistic, most non-verbal, others with Downs Syndrome, some physically handicapped,come together in my summer school classroom with nurses as well. Some assistants have worked with the students before, some have not and daily we try to see beyond their smiles, their laugh, their screams and their tears.

There are fights, there are scrabbles, there are break downs and we, as staff, have changing faces, voices and eyes in the back of our heads but we continue daily to make sure they have one more day in their lives that will offer encouragement, strength and most of all, love. And we have nothing else on our minds as we pursue the day. There are no room for cell phones and other talk unless it is about those we care for in the classroom.

And as we walk together to assist them on the bus or parents cars at the end of summer school, we breathe a sigh of exhaustion, yes, but fulfillment that we have helped in ways that are not imaginable in most jobs.  None of our personal problems have credence when we go to work every day….that is why we are here. Someone from the classroom turns to me and says I wonder if others know what we do and my comment ….. a gesture to the one above. She smiles…..I guess that is all that matters.