Friday, November 24, 2006

Thankful for Telling Him

You may remember me mentioning that my 20th high school reunion took place a couple of months ago. Shortly before the reunion, one of the organizers sent out a questionaire and asked us to complete it. The questions were kind of predictable... What kind of music did you listen to... Who was your favorite teacher... What kind of advice would you give your kid now... that kind of stuff.

The day before Thanksgiving, a CD containing everyone's completed questionaire arrived at my house, and I briefly looked at it as I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner. The first thing that surprised me was how few names and faces I recalled. In order to shorten things up, I decided to stop looking at the profiles of people I didn't remember. While reading through the short-list questionaire, I discovered that one of my favorite teachers had passed away.

Dale Harmon was my teacher for three different English classes. The first class, News-Oriented Workshop (N.O.W.) was a reading and writing class based on current events in the newspaper and in magazines. The class also encouraged critical thinking and discussion, because we talked about the assignments we wrote, which were based on these current events. I also took an advanced composition class and a world literature class because he was the teacher.

Mr. Harmon was a short, round, bald guy, with a personality that blended Danny DeVito and Santa Claus. He was witty and funny, but without the sarcasm. He was quick to laugh, slow to anger, and he constantly pushed his students to grow and learn. His love of teaching fostered a love of learning in countless students, and the world is a better place for his existence.

Some time after graduating high school, I was prompted to get back in touch with Dale. Whether my decision was a result of something I said or something I read isn't really relevant. What matters is that I decided to contact him and let him know how much his teaching impacted my life. Since he was an English teacher, I figured that a letter was the most appropriate method of contacting him, and in short order I had received a written response.

Over the course of the next couple of months we exchanged a few letters and briefly discussed several subjects. The relationship quickly evolved from student-teacher tutelage to one of mutual respect shared between peers, and I eventually decided to drop in and see him. On one of my summer visits to my hometown, I popped in and we chatted for a couple of hours. We talked about education, parenting, politics and life, and it's a day I won't soon forget. I walked away from his house very happy about stopping by, because I had the distinct sense that for all of his outward happiness, Mr. Harmon was a man carrying a lot of regret; I wasn't able to lift any of that burden - regret is something that only the owner can carry. I did, however, give him something to be proud of. I told him how much his teaching influenced my life, and I let him know that several of my high school peers held him in similar esteem. The visit certainly made the day for both of us.

That was the last time I saw, spoke to or wrote to Dale Harmon. I had always intended to get back in touch with him, and life always got in the way. When I found out that he had died I knew that I'd never see him again, and I was a little wistful about that; but I was thankful for telling him how much he meant to me.

Monday, November 13, 2006

What's Happened to Thanksgiving?

I was watching Desperate Housewives last night, and they had a clip in the show where Bree and family listening to Christmas music, getting Christmas cards made, and generally preparing for Christmas. The very next commercial was a Christmas commercial. Now, I've come in to work and I'm hearing non-stop Christmas music on the radio.

Am I the only one that thinks we need to celebrate Thanksgiving before we get all fired up about Christmas? Don't get me wrong, I'm not a humbug or anything. In fact, I like Christmas. I especially like decorating the tree (which I do the weekend after Thanksgiving), wrapping gifts, watching the kids unwrap said gifts, and a couple of our family traditions, like buying a new ornament for my wife and each of my kids every year... something that uniquely represents my relationship with each of the ladies in my life. But man, this is nuts! Can't we celebrate Thanksgiving first?

I get the whole commercial aspect of Christmas. I've been talking about this for my entire adult life. But it really seems to get a little worse each year. The merchants are so worried about their precious profits that they completely overlook Thanksgiving, just as they have brushed aside the meaning behind Christmas. Both of these holidays are designed to remember God, but alas, it's all about the commercialism.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Veterans Day

I'm a little disappointed that I didn't get this posted yesterday, but I was watching my daughter compete in a cheerleading/dance competition. (That's another story entirely.)

For those of you who aren't familiar with the origins of Veterans Day, it was originally called Armistice Day, and was created to honor the cessation of hostilities of World War I (which officially ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). Sometime in the 1950's the government changed the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in order to honor veterans from all wars.

Many other countries observe some form of Armistice Day, and most observe two minutes of silence. Americans don't seem to do this, but before my daughter's aforementioned competition began, I asked for and received two minutes of silence. I figure that two minutes isn't much to ask, especially when compared to those who gave their lives during the Great War. Maybe we should start a campaign to get the two minutes observed nationwide in the U.S.

When I asked for the two minutes, I walked up to the emcee (sporting a Marine Corps hat and my denim jacket with a USMC patch on it) and asked her if she was going to observe the two minutes for Veterans Day. "Should we," she queried?

I didn't miss a heartbeat... "Yeah," I replied.

"Two minutes. That's a long time," she offered.

I was a little incensed over that comment, but I kept my cool. I was only slightly snide as I said "No it isn't."

A couple of minutes later, we observed the silence. I don't remember the last time I heard silence so utter in such a large gathering.