Monday, October 26, 2015

Temporarily derailed or a side trip

The trip got pushed back.  The Tewksbury/Anne road trip will not take place until April, Anne Sullivan’s birthday month.  It seems she likes to keep me active around her birthday.

I do have more Anne stories, but first I will take a side trip.

In the beginning, long ago at the start of my teaching life is when this story takes place.

The time is 1975.  I am a green, fresh out of college, idealistic, a city kid, jumping at the first job offer teacher.

The setting is at The Mount Pleasant Regional Center in the center of the Michigan mitten.  Before it was a state hospital for “retarded” children it was the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School established in 1892. (Wiki)  Native American Children were taken from their families to be trained or better said to be “untrained” from their heritage.

The time is my fresh out of college, Polly Anna, I got my first job chapter.

There is much back-story here.  It could read like a Little House on the Prairie when Laura becomes a teacher story, only this was 1975.  I could tell you how I lived in a woman’s residence with a moose head on the porch, in a town that had a Maple Syrup Festival.  It could tell how I went from being a city mouse to a country mouse and how altering that was.

But it is the story of my “emergent/idealist teacher” that is of interests here.  The cast of characters are the heart of the story.   It features two ingĂ©nue teachers, my self and my friend Claudia.  We seem center to the narrative, perhaps not.

The truth is like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, our fellow travelers on the road, the cast, the Lion, Tim Man and Scarecrow etc. are critical to the journey.

By some random event, (pulling a class list from a coffee can), I was assigned the highest functioning students at the regional center.  Most of these children, my students, had malingered there for years.  It was life how they knew it, the,  “it is what it is” of the times.

Home to them a cinder block world, with bars on the windows, where the once lush pond had been drained dry, a pond in reference named after a run away girl, who they feared had drowned at the bottom.

She was found.  She became one of my students, a dark eyed fey thing looking like the Roma people, tethered forever to perception and her own sordid narrative.

Yes the casts of characters were these young folks who were “my student’s”, as important to my Dorothy as her traveling colleagues.

Lonnie, David, Stevie, Charlotte, Leon, Richard, Mary, Mary K, Jon, Becky, David, Gene, Roy J…etc.  Heart grabbing kids, heart stirring stories.

We were hired just after the pl 94-142 mandate, requiring that “all” children have a right to an education. (Rights and dreams are not equal…just saying.)

So right there on the grounds of the American Horror Story setting of the state hospital, in what was once upon a time the chapel, to the incarcerated Native American children was our classroom.

So how is it going to be that that in that rat bastard hell hole of a building that groaned with ghosts and age, with leaded pealing paint, dusting about, well how I am there teacher going to get them to dream themselves out of the snake pit life.

The law might mandate, but these are the caged birds that had forgotten their songs.

Claudia and I were like-minded, idealists from ethnic Catholic back grounds, who had come of age during the Age of Aquarius. Both of us had marched for causes, sang the soundtrack to the Man of La Mancha and believed Camelot to be truth not legend.

Working at the state hospital and the inequities of these children’s lives (residents as they were called) agitated the angst of our youth and or ardor for justice.

We had met at The Bird, for happy hour. We were not happy, the libation freeing my rant to righteousness.

 I pontificate, “ The paint is dusting down, peeling from the ceiling.  The classroom hasn’t been painted since forever.  I think it was once upon a time white but now it is just Jaundice yellow from age. The intermediate won’t paint the school as it is leasing the building, the sate wont paint the building as it is being leased to intermediate. I offered to pay for the paint. Alas it has to be painted by the unionized workers, and you have to use “state paint.” (This was my youthful introduction to the hoops, the quagmire of educational bureaucracy.  Got to say in my forty years of teaching they never lowered the hoops.  I tried my best to adjust my jump but the hoops seemed to get raised higher all the time.)

Claudia egged me on!  She had after all been a maiden in her high school production of Camelot, might makes right and all that.  (It is also true that her glasses were literally rose tinted.)
It was not the liqueur that gave us Dutch courage… but it did perhaps factor into out inability to see the big picture.

We had keys, very serious looking keys with engraved numbers state issued keys to the school.  We had closets full of primary color paint stored in the cabinet at school.  We decided to let ourselves in and paint a rainbow on the wall, awaken dreams… ‘‘There’s a land that I’ve dreamed of once in a lullaby.”

There was no stealth to this mission.  We just sauntered in the back door at 7:00 pm at night, to my classroom in “the chapel”, as the building was still called in a leftover sort of way.

Upon our entrance, we found the residents/students…oh come on…. the children from Cottage 1 (more euphemisms for snake pit) watching a film in the main room of the building.  (Could it possibly have been The Wizard of Oz, my mind movie of the night wishes this so, but fear I fantasize.)

Some of the students from my class were there watching the movie.  When they caught sight of us they came to assist us in our muraling.  It became our graffiti of dreams, we were tagging, tagging love, tagging dreams.  We painted a rainbow and Jack’s beanstalk so he could climb the rainbow.  And just in case a few butterfly’s so they could soar to the sky, to dreams.

It was lovely!  Our rainbow, more lovely the next day when the students upon arrival to school oohing and awing let me know that we had succeeded in taking the taint off the fade of the building.  We had cleansed some of the narrative.  Maybe the students could begin to see themselves somewhere else…somewhere “where troubles melt like lemon drops.” 

When Lonnie arrived in his wheel chair, in his usual curled up cerebral palsy womb posture, for the first time ever I saw him lift his head, and in a voice I for once could comprehend he said, “rainbow! “

Magic mission accomplished!  Onto dreams…

Alas…I did not know if you leapt through a bureaucratic hoop you would be chastised!  Or that circumventing the hoop all together was the riskiest game of all.

“Come to my office…” Nothing in my Catholic school girlhood gave me reason to think this was a good request from the supervisor of the program.  Come to my office…
He was movie star handsome, I was schoolgirl gawky, my only other work experience had been as a domestic servant or a waitress.  I was playing with the big dogs now.

Sitting behind his desk, in his tailored suit with his piercing blue eyes looking both causal and professional he looked me over, not unkindly.  But he was after wearing a suit.  He was a suit, there to serve as the wizard and I was the girl in the gingham blue frock.

 “Bring me the broom of the witch…”  “You defaced state property and you need to wash the rainbow off the wall. Consider this a verbal reprimand.” (An apparent gift as opposed to a written one.)

And so it was to be.  My friend, my Tinman souled, once upon a time handmaiden from Camelot, Claudia…well the tint went off the rose.  She wanted to quit her job.  She could not work somewhere where the needs of children weren’t prioritized.  She was all for fighting the windmill…( reason did not prevail, but if she left who would tend these children, so she stayed.)

Me…I just went back to the land of the little people, the students.  We got buckets and rags and together washed away the rainbow.  In reflection, I suppose I drew them into the wizard’s folly.  But perhaps it was some mystical alchemy that after we scrubbed the walls that a glimmer of red, yellow, orange and green remained.  The students could still see the faint glow all dreamy like on the wall, dreams once claimed are impermeable.

And that is the story of Claudia and I in the our Somewhere Over the Rainbow, beginning of our teacher lives, change the world story…it never really ends…

But alas, there is an end in sight.  Not for me, yet, but for my Sancho Panza, Man of LaMancha Camelot fair handmaiden.

Claudia moved to Paradise Michigan.  She worked for Protection and Advocacy for Special needs children, was a resource teacher, and went on to momdom taking her boys on magical beach adventures.  She went as often as possible to a local musical event called the Blissfest.  She has been seen walking the shores of Lake Superior in sparkly garb wearing fairy wings.   The morning sunset that she went to the beach to see each day was her caffeine for the day and flits about cheerfully like a hummingbird seeking nectar.  Just days after she was hired to become Superintendent of Paradise schools

(You see she was making a redemption narrative…she would be the boss and everyone could paint those rainbows on any and every wall) she was diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor.  On the day that
U of M gave her the news a rainbow appeared in the sky.  I saw it, she saw it…it had that translucent fade like the one on our school wall all those years ago.

She leaves, to go over the rainbow…me…I remain in the afterglow…like Lonnie, eyes upward…to dream bigger for me, for the world and now that I have an soon to be angel friend, I am energized to defy gravity and leap through hoops.

And I am pretty certain that in the end our rainbow was a legacy to a better world with more hope and dreams.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ann of the Cleaners a tribute to my first Ann

Icon on St. Anne

Does life foreshadow events or do we make just make things up as we go along, trying to make sense of it all?

Today I ponder about Anne?  Was it fate that I came to this work performing as Annie Sullivan?  
( Who by the way was christened Johanna, but ever for some reason I can not find in my research, after was referred to as Anne or Annie. )

In googling the name I find it is a durative of Hannah.  The meaning given to the name is:  “Favor or grace.  Prayer.  God has favored me.”

Famous Anne’s?  Mother to Mary, Anne of Green Gable’s, Ann Boleyn, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Anne Frank. 

As a kid of schooled in Catholicism I learned that Anne was a saint, mother to Jesus'  mom.  
Mostly I recall the St. Anne, St. Anne find me a man.  Perhaps this is how Mary found Joseph, her momma prayed for her. I myself continue the novena.

In googling The Anne Man prayer the sub categories came up as follows:

So indeed she is a presence to mothers and woman. and has much work to do.  As Annie Sullivan’s mom was a Catholic I am certain she prayed to Anne for intersession herself and her spirited near blind daughter. 

In my life, the Anne’s or Ann’s are many.  So many it seems statistically unlikely.

In my early life I was introduced to two of my favorite Anne’s.

Let me tell you of the first.  The first was Miss Ann of the Cleaners.  To my childhood world she was saintly.  Even her name sounds saintly to me, Miss Ann of the Cleaners.  Can you imagine a shrine in her honor?  If she had one it would sit on the corner overlooking Fenkell.  She would be on a pedestal.  It would be surrounded by the sort of headless mannequins that tailors use.  There would be racks with rows and rows of fresh starched shirts hanging about.  If there were flowers on the alter, they would be the blue corn  flowers that grew so abundantly in the patchy fields peeking up so often randomly from little cracks in the asphalt.

As a kid, it was comforting to me to look up to the corner from our ramshackle house on Fairfield, to Miss Ann’s cleaners.  In the back above her shop were apartments, with staircases that looked like the ones in West Side Story. It was all storybook and a Broadway musical to my child's mind.

I am not sure how, other than I was bold and always shilling for candy money, I do not know how I came to know Miss Ann.  I suspect I saw her smiling from behind the large plate glass windows of her store. Her look inviting so  I boldly went in and  chatted her up.  Miss Ann and her cleaner’s became a sanctuary from the uproar of my home life.  Still the  scent of dry-cleaning has for me the calming effect of a lavender essential oil. 

Miss Ann was my friend.  She was middle aged and dark, African American, with pressed hair and clothes.  Maybe she was my best friend from age 8-14 until when we moved.

Looking back I ponder…about her open heart, open door, open purse policy.  She would always find chores for me.  “Miss Ann, have you got any work for me? “ She’d send me off to the post office.  (Surely no one needs as many stamps as she had me fetch a book almost every week.) I loved her so and I imagine her me that  I’d usurped my brother’s position as her snow removal guy, cleaning the long sidewalk that snaked around her business.

Miss Ann, seemed to see what I did not perceive yet in myself.  That is that I was a soul orphan. 
For whatever reason, I did not fit; in home or school and being a doubter by nature and anarchist in temperament I had no soul home.  My circumstances and personality disabling. this kind woman never shooed me away.  Her encompassing spirit gave me respite.

During the riot of 67, (I was 14 at the time) Miss Ann stood in front of the cleaner’s rifle in hand. 
I could see her standing all militia like on the corner.  It could appear that she was scary, menacing, protecting her property.  I saw it differently. She stood at her shrine, the human embodiment of holiness, asking by her presence that those participating in the melee on the street, that all those rebels on the street, that they return to their "right self, their better self. " (And as one of the few whites on the block I suppose I thought, if it were perhaps a race riot, then Miss Ann as ever would be my champion)

That is what she showed me through the years, how to align my mind and heart.  She was my first Ann, my Ann of the cleaners.

Do you think she ever imagined the legacy she was leaving with her little acts of kindness?  Wish I could thank my Ann…

Perhaps it was she who bemused me with Ann, and led me on this path to Annie.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

It Begins

There is nothing sexy about this journey.  I did not hike the Pacific Coast Trail like Cheryl Strayed did in Wild.   Though I did much eating, obviously not enough praying (see outcomes) and I could certainly could use more loving, the eat, pray, love of my life was more for survival or opportunistic.  This story does not have the exotic appeal of Eat, Pray Love the famous novel of a pilgrimage to self brought on by a catastrophic crisis.  But I have taken a pilgrimage of sort.

This is about the Journey to Anne.  Specifically, this is the story of how I came to become bemused by Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller’s teacher.  Teachers are never sexy and by god we better not be…at least by societies dictates.  (This probably goes back to the early days of teaching when we teachers were quartered in the farmer’s spare bedroom and married to the nearest neighbor farmer as soon as possible to keep the bored tongues from wagging about sin.)   Though I once was trying to get an overly rambunctious young man to stand down with his arduous overtures.  I did not thwart his overtures with my comments about my advanced age.  So in a further attempt to settle this ardent far to young admirer I told him I was a teacher.

That just put him over the moon with lust.  Apparently in his youth he just whiled away his fourth grade school year in lust after his teacher.  Of course we teacher never speak of such things, but it were to arouse interest in academia well is it so wrong to incite interest.

In my current work speaking and performing as Annie Sullivan Macy, I never introduce my self without stating, that I am Helen Keller’s teacher.

It is like being Joel’s mom.   In some worlds, we cease to exist out of context of who we are to the other.

It is an obtuse place of honor.

It is an honor, to be in Annie Sullivan’s company with my work. 

Soon I will travel to Tewksbury to speak to the Tewksbury Historical Society to speak there.  When she was ten Annie was left festering with her brother Jimmie in this foul almshouse.   She would have perhaps died there, like so many others did, like her brother did had she not been scrappy, or perhaps a siren to her own souls, imploring’s that she be perceived differently, that her circumstances should change.

So as I prepare for this trip, which really began long ago, I want to reflect on how it began…

Looking Back to a Begining