3 January 2011
Don’t talk to me about blonde jokes. The two best teachers in my life are blondes. They’re in this photo.
The blondes. When this photo was taken, the curly-haired one on the left was almost four and yet to start pre-school. The blonde on the right had just turned fifty-nine, was a retired USMC Colonel and had completed pre-school and Stanford for both a bachelors and masters.
She called him ‘The Man’ because the last time she’d seen him she was a bald newborn, and now she was processing this ‘grandfather’ concept. He called her by her given name and sat on the floor coloring with her, even after she wandered away for a refill for the Big Bird cup.
Twenty-eight years later she has finished pre-school and a Yale PhD, sans Big Bird cup, and is a gifted tenure track professor in Texas. The Professor and the Colonel got together last spring, and this time she was the one listening to tales of his lifetime, without the Big Bird cup.
The Colonel did what he did best for her. He brought history, this time his own, to life. Before he died, he did my sister and I the honor of writing down much about his life. But it was him in-person that was the gift.
The Colonel loved history. I couldn’t remember dates, but he made history real. He was a natural teacher. When I was nine he brought to life the Golden Spike and the railroads joining at Promontory Point, Utah, when we built a ‘steam’ locomotive from a toilet paper roll and assorted odds and ends. I can still smell the gray model airplane paint.
Even today, when the radio controlled airplanes he loved to make and fly, even through the ten years he fought cancer, are no longer hanging in his garage, gone to new homes, I can smell the paint.
My father, the Colonel, taught me honor, loyalty, love of God and country, intellectual curiosity, and to fight on. Never to give up. Which is why, although I have yet to publish a book, I won’t give up.
I turned around and taught my curly-headed blonde daughter the best I could. But mostly I learned from her. Because, like her grandfather, she is a natural teacher. For as long as it took me to teach her to read, she was my pupil. And then I was hers.
I will never forget one night when she was a teen, and I witnessed the raw curiosity of her grandfather in her. She went upstairs to work on a homework project. Hours later when I called her to dinner, I found her surrounded by books, having stretched her curiosity beyond the homework in as many directions as there were books to feed it.
Her grandfather, the Colonel, loved history and making connections. She, the college professor, loves the science of the mind, and making connections. People. They shared a search for learning about people. And from them I take a curiosity about people, about the why, and I write.
The Colonel passed away this past May. The Professor is moving on to a new job closer to her mother. The Blondes are no joke, but they make me smile. A little teary that they are both so far away.
The Professor has made a tactical error in taking a new job that will put her in stalking distance of her parents.