I’ve had my Kate on my mind lately. It’s not all that unusual to have her on my mind. I’ve been missing her, since she is that great big chunk of states away from us, all the way down in Texas. Maybe it’s because its time for spring break and I’ve sort of paced myself to go only-so-long without hugging her. She’s not coming home for spring break this year. She’s decided she needs a nap. A long one. One as long as spring break.
Kate teaches in a KIPP charter school in Houston, after being sent to Houston with Teach for America. She teaches 6th grade reading. She is among the 1% “white or other” in their school demographic. It’s a world apart from the Wonder Bread community she grew up in. She loves and hates it at the same time: loves the kids, hates their life struggles; hates the imbalance in opportunity, loves the thirst for learning she sees every once in a while. She works more hours than should be legally allowed, and does little else. I’m praying she is guided to a place of balance.
Dave and I went to visit Kate last September. We got to spend time with her kids, and in her little apartment with her roommates. We had met some of her students the summer before when they had come to Moab for their class trip. Really! Moab Utah from Houston Texas! In busses. Every one of her students qualifies for Title One subsidies, they have very little, and they still figured out as a school how to afford to come to see the wonderful crimson soil of southern Utah. The kids earned their way, and because they earned their own way, they owned their experience. KIPP schools are amazing schools!They camped in tents in a campground along the riverbank. Dave and I drove the 5 hours to see them one evening, taking my guitar, a small sound system, and 10 dozen home made frosted brownies. We spent a little while that Sunday evening with the kids gathered around an imaginary campfire, since the forest service was forbidding fires at the time due to dry weather. We shared the old standards like Kumbaya, but also slapped our legs and hollered the call and response of Boom Chicka Boom; they frantically pointed to different body parts in succession in I Think I’m Going Crazy, and calmed their spirits with the meaningful lyric of One Tin Soldier. They sang along, their flashlights illuminating the little songbooks I had made for them. When we were done we served up our yummy thickly frosted brownies on soft napkins. They gobbled them up, thanking us and resisting with all they had the urge to beg for more, at the request of their teachers.
One of the fathers, chaperoning for the week, came up to us as we tore down the sound equipment. In somewhat broken English he thanked us.
“All my life,” he said, “I’ve heard about people singing around a campfire. I never dreamed that my daughter and I would ever get the chance to actually do it. Thank you.”
So when Dave and I visited them in their own school in Houston we decided to make them some more brownies. It’s the Gummy way, after all. (They call me Gummy, like my grandkids do, and it makes me feel important and loved.) Since Kate didn’t have good thick sheet cake pans we went to the store and bought some. We baked all evening, and frosted when they were cool. Nice buttery smooth chocolate frosting in peaks and swirls atop chewy chocolate yumminess. When school was over and the kids who had earned their reward for the week were gathered in Miss Connors’ room, we served up the treats. They stood in line, their hands stretched out like Oliver in the gruel line at the orphanage. We handed them their treats and watched them savor each bite, wonderful sounds of pleasure emitting from their throats, giggles and smiles all around. David stood on one side and I stood on the other, facilitating the massive distribution to nearly 100 kids. When we were done, and the kids had gathered their backpacks and were headed out the door for the day, one boy turned to Dave and thanked him. He didn’t ask for another…they were gone by then. But the boy softly said, in his Latino accent, “I wish I had saved some. I want my brother to taste this. We never had a brownie before.”
I stand at the doorway into my pantry, scanning the shelves for something to cook for dinner, and I see the bins of potential treats and pleasures lining the shelves, all waiting for a turn to delight any or all of us. Sometimes I don’t get them used up before they are outdated and I casually toss them into the garbage, unspent. I stand there and I can hear the voice of that 6th grade boy wistfully wishing he had one more brownie to give to his brother, just so he could taste it.
It’s a healthy whispering in my head. It reminds me to be grateful. To be gracious. And to be generous. To be understanding and tolerant. To be willing to hope, and to sacrifice… even sacrifice by beloved daughter to a place so distant from the comfort of home. She is nobleness. She is goodness. She is love.