Two days ago, a dear high school friend sent a Facebook private message. “I ran across this tonight,” the message said.
“This” was an obituary for Roger Hallum, our high school speech and drama coach. According to the obituary Mr. Hallum–who will always be Mr. Hallum and never Roger to me–died on July 1, 2009.
He’s been gone five years and we, the students he touched in profound ways, never knew. We never had a chance to say thank you. We never had a chance to tell him how he shaped and bolstered the confidence of a bunch of squirrely teens as he tapped into our talents.
So five years late, this top ten list says thank you for the lessons he taught so well more than 4 decades ago.
10. Never judge a book by its cover. None of us believed a dumpy man who wore his sandy hair shaggy and unkempt, whose teeth that never saw braces, and who wore saggy plaid suit jackets and polyester pants could motivate high schoolers to spend months of each year rehearsing and performing in plays and speech contests.
9. When your director says, “Jump,” you say, “How high?”
8. Good writing isn’t enough to make a good speech. Neither is good delivery. But good writing + good delivery = magic.
7. Never, ever start smoking. Because trying to quit is hell and requires copious amounts of Live Savers candies.
6. Teenagers, given a vision of what they can do if they work far harder than they believe they can and tasked with far more responsibility than school administrators believe is wise, can accomplish tasks beyond what most adults think they can do.
5. Timing is everything.
4. An army jeep, a goat, and 30 tie-dyed bedsheets sewn into kimonos, make for an exciting, unexpected, and visually pleasing rendition of Tea House of the August Moon.
3. Character parts are much more fun to play than romantic leads.
2. A pregnant pause speaks louder than words.
1. One unassuming person…one dumpy, shaggy-haired man with crooked teeth, saggy plaid suit jackets and polyester trousers…who says “You can do this because you have talent,” can change the course of an insecure teenager’s life.
In memory of Mr. Roger Hallum, Feb. 8, 1939–July 1, 2009. Your former students are still jumping, higher than they ever thought they could.
Last week, my heart grew heavier and heavier
as the media reported more and more bad news.
Fighting in the Middle East.
People in this country shouting at refugee children,
holding ugly signs telling them to to home.
I gave God an earful.
I told him I wasn’t sure about living in a world as cruel as this,
a world stripped of loveliness and compassion,
a world devoid of beauty.
And then, God answered,
as He so often does,
on my morning walk.
I looked up,
and there on the edge of the woods,
stood a doe.
I walked closer and closer
to where she stood sentry.
Closer than I’ve ever been to a deer before.
Close enough to see
her heavy udder,
her swollen teats.
She bravely held her ground,
watching over a hidden fawn,
but never flinching
as I passed by.
Then, at the end of my walk
as I ascended our driveway,
God spoke again.
A male indigo bunting,
sat on the gravel only a few steps away.
He hopped about,
flew into the bushes unsteadily,
then flew with wobbly precision across the driveway
and perched in one tree,
then on the dead branch of another.
transfixed by the courageous bird,
patchy with iridescent blue feathers
with the freedom of flight,
until he took wing again
and flew away.
“My world is filled
with brave mothers,
with courageous children,”
“My world is filled with beauty.”
Morning walks have been a parade of beauty
These late spring days.
An indigo bunting perched on the fence,
Baby bunnies hopping around in dizzy circles,
Cardinals, male and female,
Singing from the treetops,
Or flying beside the path.
And then, this morning,
The season’s first glimpse of a shy, spotted fawn
Crossing the road behind her mother.
I do not care that the drivers of the cars coming down the hill
Thought me a crazy woman
For holding up one hand in warning,
While using the other to point to the fawn ahead,
For urging people on their way to work
To slow down,
Until this small and speckled new life had crossed the road.
Such is the price of beauty,
And I am glad to pay it.
The man of steel’s been hard at work on his latest renovation project. He’s re-siding the garage and repairing the brick fireplace built on it’s north side. In the process, we think he uncovered a little local history.
For those of you who don’t know, our road is the last original bit of the pre-Civil War stage coach road that ran from Fort Dodge to Des Moines. The house up the road was a stage coach stop. Legend has it that John Brown, the abolitionist and rabble-rouser, traveled along this road. Civil War recruits from Fort Dodge followed it on their way to Keokuk where they joined the troops.
Since the oldest part of our house (solid-as-a-rock timber frame) was constructed in the 1840s, it had a front row seat as our national history unfolded. It saw–and still bears–some local history, too. Our dining room sub floor is made of solid oak planks, cut from native trees, so hard an industrial sander couldn’t make a dent in them. Timber frame beams, also of native lumber milled long ago, stretch from the basement to the second floor.
Last week, the man of steel discovered huge, horizontal wooden planks of rough cut lumber beneath the old garage siding. Each plank was at least 16 inches wide. Others measured 18 or 20 inches. Recently, our neighbor who lives in the house that was once a stage coach stop said there used to be a saw mill on her land and the lumber it produced was used in construction projects in the area.
Most likely, the man of steel thinks, these boards came from that mill. So before he covered them up again with tar paper and plywood and siding, I snapped a few pictures to share with you. It could be decades or even centuries before these old boards see the light of day again.
I wonder what other bits of history are hidden on this tiny stretch of gravel we are blessed to call home? There’s a book waiting to be written, for sure. Now if I can just live long enough to give it a whirl!
The wild plum tree blooming across the road.
Blossoms on the cherry tree across the fence in the neighbor’s yard.
A white crab apple tree just about to burst into bloom.
Sunshine streaming through trees covered with new leaves.
White jonquils waving at the morning sun.
Red bud trees vibrant enough to take a person’s breath away.
A field of dandelions…next to someone else’s yard.
A red crab apple tree heavy with flowers.
A fairy ring of bleeding hearts.
A tulip festival in our own backyard.
What do you love about spring? Leave a comment!
These April mornings,
When my walks begin.
I need a pep talk to push my feet
Out the door and down the lane.
The grass is brown.
The tree branches grey,
The wind is cold,
The landscape bare.
Still the cardinal,
bright red with promise,
Sings words to warm my frozen, winter soul.
“It’s spring! It’s spring.”