Last week. I went home again. Actually, I went to my hometown to participate in the presentation of the first Roger Hallum Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship was created to honor Roger Hallum, who led the LeMars Community Schools drama and theater department from 1969–1975. Erica Urban, a senior who will pursue a degree in creative writing at Grandview College, won the scholarship. During a delightful visit with her after the awards assembly, it was obvious she was the right recipient.
In addition to meeting Erica, I was able to spend a lovely spring afternoon with Mr. Hallum’s children, Randy and Kourtney. We stopped at the house the Hallums built during their years in Le Mars. We toured the church they attended, which happened to be the church I attended, too. And we stopped by the high school where Mr. Hallum worked his magic: his classroom, the Little Theater in the high school and the larger theater in the junior high school.
“Do you remember how we called your dad on stage after the last night of The Great Cross Country Race?” I asked Randy as we stood in front of the junior high stage.
“I do,” Randy said. “And I remember how reluctant he was to go up there.”
“That’s because he’d given us strict orders N-E-V-E-R to do that. But it was our senior year and our last show with him. We loved him too much to let him stay in the audience.”
I looked at the stage and saw Mr. Hallum, surrounded by his students, a forced smile on his face as he held up the tortoise and hare cookie jar we gave him as a cast gift.
“Dad had that cookie jar in his kitchen until he died,” Kourtney said. “And the director’s chair, too. He cherished both of them, and the scrapbook your Thespian troupe gave him, too.”
With those words, I was back on the stage. Seventeen. Wearing my hedgehog costume. Crying. Thinking that my relationships with friends and Mr. Hallum would soon end. That I would never see these people again. That they would never think of me again.
But Mr. Hallum thought of his students, just as his students thought of him over the decades. Our gifts graced his house and became part of his children’s memories. Our memories melded as we toured the town. At the scholarship awards program, Randy even wore a polyester suit in honor of his dad.
Hard, but not impossible. Because that day I learned–thanks to a cookie jar, a director’s chair, a scrapbook, and memories–you can go home again when you’re heart’s been touched by a dedicated, talented teacher who cared.