I learned today that a dear teaching colleague of mine from Montana, Angie Nagengast, passed away this week. She had cancer, though I didn't know this until today. She was 59.
Angie was one of the most formidable people I've ever met; in fact, the first year or so after I had been introduced to her, she scared the pants off me. She was the English Department chair and had the aura of a woman most definitely in charge. If I were walking down the hall from my classroom and chance to hear her clip-clopping towards me from the other direction, I would busy myself with something—anything—in my hand, so I could avoid having to blunder through a conversation should she actually speak to me. Silly me.
At some point, and I don't remember when, I stopped being afraid of Angie. In fact, somehow we grew quite close. I have no memory of how it happened: I just remember the before, and then the after, but not the path in between those two. She was philosphical in a practical way—one time we had a conversation about finding the motivation to continue doing the laundry each Saturday morning, which was a conversation I didn't fully grasp until recently, when I do so much more of it—and she always had an opinion which she was willing to share if you were interested, and once in a while if you weren't. She trusted me implicitly with the education of her son for two years in a row: first in Global Issues & Cultures and then again during his sophomore year in World History. She had beautiful handwriting, was an accomplished calligrapher, and planted the early seeds of scrapbooking in my head. She even accepted a position on my Speech & Debate coaching staff, which made her one of my assistants for two years. It was as strange an arrangement then as it seems to me now, imagining HER as anyone's assistant. More than a few people were surprised by her decision to coach. We had a fantastic time.
After Angie's retirement from Great Falls High, she and her husband moved to New Mexico so they could begin their teaching careers anew post-retirement. They loved teaching that much. I wonder if her students there felt the same way about her as so many of the students in Great Falls felt: that this lady was tough, but if you paid attention, she would help you to move mountains.
I don't know what kind of cancer she had yet, but if I had to bet, it would be lung cancer. She was a smoker. I wish she hadn't been. But she was a smart lady who was the boss of herself. And sometimes you just have to respect that and let it go.
I'm watching my neighbors' house this week and while I was over there tonight, I saw a quote on their refrigerator that I think Angie would have liked. It kind of speaks to her nature, and sounds like something she might have said. I'm glad I saw it on today of all days.
"Finish each day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities
no doubt crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely
with too high a spirit
to be encumbered
with your old nonsense."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I've been friends with Nancy since before she was born. Really. Our moms and dads were friends, and I was born first (which was always a source of pride growing up, but we all know who got the better deal now, right?) so I turned 8 months old the day before she was born. And today, July 25, is the day she was born, X amount of years ago. It's nice to have a friend in which the getting-to-be-friends part is already done for you—we just were friends. Similar, in ways, to how you just breathe air. You don't think about it, you just do.
We share a lot of history, Nancy and I. We have enough stories to tell on each other to keep us entertained for a long time. I remember being horrified when we were little the time she colored on the top of her beautiful baby doll, Victoria, with permanent marker, after getting in trouble for knocking down the enormous family Christmas tree. She most certainly remembers being horrified by the time I talked her into ice skating, limbo-style, under a hammock in our back yard which led to a very unpleasant clunking of her head on the ice, nearly knocking herself unconscious. I always thought spending the night at her house in the middle of winter was the most fun thing in the world, because for a long time, until her father reluctantly gave in, her house was like a pioneer house: heated with a wood-burning stove instead of central heat (boring). We were scared silly on her 16th birthday by an eerie tragedy that occurred many years before. We've gone to the beach together, played in band and sang in church choir together, liked some of the same boys (one of which I ended up marrying, ha), made a movie together, and occasionally had it out with each other. But like sisters, we always figured it out. I always thought of her family as an extension of my own, as I know she feels about mine.
There are definitely trade-offs to living this Air Force lifestyle. I've absolutely loved living in the places we've lived, meeting and making friends I never would have met otherwise. But it's hard to be away from family and old friends. Every time we go back to Ohio, I realize just how hard it is. Though Nancy and I don't see each other but once (maybe twice) a year, we always pick up where we left off, as if we're living in one big time warp where months are minutes and in order to catch up on everything that's going on, we have to talk really fast. But I wish we could raise our children together. Already, Maddie and M—— are becoming fast friends. (Hey Nance, give me the go-ahead and I'll post the most adorable picture ever!) They don't seem to need a lot of warm-up time, either. Maybe it's because they're 3 and 4, or maybe it's because they are able to plug into the time warp, too. I'd like to think it's the latter.
So Happy Birthday, Nancy. I know we did a really poor job with the formal goodbye this time around, but I'm betting we'll do a really poor job with the formal hello next time, too. And that's OK. : )
p.s. Frontier has a new direct flight from Akron-Canton to Denver
Apparently, there are parents in this world who are planning vacations to Belize so that their children may go monkey watching. And dog-sledding in Alaska. Parents who are feeding their toddlers octopus, so that they may learn to savor rare and exotic foods at an early age. These same parents are acquiring imported skin and haircare products for their kids, debating whether or not to decorate the baby's nursery with original sketches by contemporary artists or buy original Laurent de Brunhoff prints at auction, and are very, very concerned about the exclusivity of the clothing and furniture they purchase. They are coaching their pre-schoolers in preparation for the big pre-school interview and putting their expectations for the nanny in writing, to ensure that all sketchy situations are handled with an appropriate and immediate response.
How do I know this?
One of the pieces of junk mail in the stack of mail we received while in Ohio was a promotional plug for a new magazine called Cookie, and it appears to be marketed towards this segment of the population. How I got on this list is truly beyond me—I suppose I do own a Pottery Barn couch purchased in 1997... and I spent approximately $60 on Christmas gifts for my daughter, niece, and nephew from The Land of Nod this Christmas... though that doesn't really seem to be enough to make the cut here. After I stopped giggling in disbelief as I read the introductory letter by Mary Berner, mother of four, Chief Executive Officer—I bet she's something else!—I've got to say, the whole thing makes me a little sad. Sad for the little four year olds who are living The Nanny Diaries for real; sad to think that the class system in the United States is so alive and well. As a public educator, I really put my eggs into the basket that is labeled "everyone has a fair chance, so long as you do your homework and study hard and keep your nose clean." But maybe everyone doesn't have a fair chance. Maybe there are children out there right now being groomed for their first of 78 pre-school interviews who will be running the world in 25 years or so. Without question or challenge. They're simply playing the part until it becomes so much a part of them that they wouldn't know the difference anyway.
But then again, maybe the kids who wear clothes from Target, and have pictures from art.com on their walls, and use Johnson's and Johnson's shampoo, and vacation at their grandparents' houses, and ride around in a $129 stroller from Babies R Us, and really prefer Kraft Dinner over just about anything else will be the ones who win in the end. I'd like to believe that while they might not be the most pampered children on earth, they'll at least be in touch. They'll do their homework and study hard, and hopefully set some goals that mean something to them personally—and do what needs to happen for those goals to be met, even if it "only" means running a shop or engineering bridges or teaching kids Spanish instead of running the world. This is my wish for my own girls, at least.
I'm going to pass on Cookie, but you can bet I'll be passing this letter along to my friends. If nothing else, it's good for a laugh. And a shudder.
One of the many highlights of our Ohio trip was the chance to see They Might Be Giants in concert at the 14th Annual Tops/Cleveland KidsFest in downtown Cleveland. They are primarily an older-person group, but in the last few years have ventured into the children's market with two amazing CDs:
NO! and Here Come the ABCs. Maddie LOVES They Might Be Giants, having been given their first children's CD by her Aunt Marie at four months of age. She literally knew every single song by heart by the time she was 13 months old; most of our early video footage of her is captured while she is singing "MOP. MOP. MOP MOP MOP MOP MOOOOOOOOOOOP" or "hippoooooooo" or "Clap Your Hands!" in that baby-esque style of language that is so cute you can hardly stand it. So the opportunity to see the band for only $5 was not just exciting, but important, too. It would be a moment of unfathomable cognitive development for Maddie: the people that sing songs on CDs actually exist in real life, and you can see them. And dance, sing, and clap to them. Wow.
Dance, sing, and clap we did. We ventured out into the humidity once again (so thick on the Cuyahoga River that you could actually see the steam) and headed to Tower City Amphitheater with Aunt Marie, Uncle B.J., Grandpa, and our dear friends the M———. Because of a mix-up on the website about the time the concert began, we arrived just a few minutes late but quickly edged our way up to the side of the stage where we had the perfect view (and a little protection for the babies' ears). It was fantastic. We knew all the songs, and belted them out along with all the other ever-so-slightly-granola Generation X-ers and their kids. They threw in a couple of songs to make all the 25-35 year-olds scream, as Marie noted: Istanbul, Not Constantinople and Particle Man to name a few. (I'm sure all the under 10 set was wondering just who was having more fun at this concert). It's awfully rare that a whole family can enjoy themselves fully and genuinely at the same show...it was a far cry from the New Kids on the Block concerts so many parents were dragged to in the late 1980s.
Maddie and Gracie even got their first concert t-shirts. Well, a t-shirt and a onesie : )
I'm not sure how two weeks away can create two months of work, but it sure feels that way today!
Salvaging what's left of our poor little flowers and garden.
Mail, mail, mail.
We had a wonderful time in Ohio; a few more stories to follow....
Did you know that Ohio is the Land of Amusement Parks? I'm not sure that's the official title, but there are, in fact, some really good amusement parks located here. I've been to the three big ones multiple times throughout my life: Geauga Lake, Cedar Point, and King's Island. I didn't realize how lucky I was to have grown up in the Land of Amusement Parks until I moved to places which do not have amusement parks. Real ones, anyway. Yesterday we packed everyone up and headed to Geauga Lake, which is 30 minutes from where I grew up. I have so many good memories associated with Geauga Lake, and Matt and I were eager to share some of those with Maddie and her first cousin B. Gracie came along too, but on a classic hot and humid Ohio day she mostly just experienced what it must be like to be a baby in Vietnam (or some equally tropical location). She was a good sport about the whole thing.
Because of the humidity and looming rain clouds, we mostly had the park to ourselves. I've been there when it takes two hours to get to the front of the lines for certain rides, but on this day we pretty much just waltzed right up to whatever we wanted to do and hopped on. Because Maddie is less than 42 inches tall, I had to accompany her on a number of the children's rides; she also was able to ride a number of them by herself since she is more than 36 inches tall. She is a brave, brave girl: see that large tree ride she's sitting on? She boldly got on, despite two things that would have kept me from riding: B wouldn't have any part of this despite being older, taller, and more experienced—and the little girl who rode before Maddie leapt off in a hysterical fit of tears. Maddie was undeterred, however. We couldn't believe she did it without sickness or tears, because this tree hopper slowly raised her to the top only to drop her at random intervals the whole way back down. Up, down, up, up, down, down, down, up, etc.
About an hour into our adventure, I very stupidly made the decision to accompany Maddie and B on the Mad Mad Whirl (see picture, taken before I renamed it the Mad Mad Whirl of Death). I should have sent Papa or Da to be the responsible adult for this, but it didn't occur to me that a children's tea cup ride could go so wrong. By the time this hideous torture was over, I was practically blacked out with dizziness, leaning so far to one side that I might have been mistaken for someone sleeping, all the while pleading with my inner ear not to send the signal to my brain that would have caused me to throw up all over my 3 year old daughter. B was in her own tea cup, visibly upset herself because her silver steering wheel wasn't working properly, and all I could do was to weakly whisper "it will be over soon....."
About 45 minutes after that ugly episode I perked up enough to enjoy myself again. Though the day was about the little people, Nana and Papa sent us off for a few rides of our own. Matt and I rode two wooden roller coasters: the Raging Wolf Bobs (I had forgotten how wooden roller coasters often make you feel like your brain has broken loose from the parts that keep it in the right location in your skull) and The Big Dipper, which is an old, rickety, fast, and fun standard at Geauga Lake. It was also humid enough that we intentionally rode a ride in which the sole purpose is to make it look as if you've just recently stepped out of the shower wearing your clothes. Maddie rode a miniature version of a water ride intended to do the same thing and was horrified—in her ordered little brain you don't get soaking wet while wearing your clothes. But she lived, and had more fun despite her state of wetness.
The park was mostly the same as I remember it. Some new rides here, some different eateries there, but many of the same stand-bys I grew up riding (or avoiding, depending upon how fast and far it promised to drop me straight down). There isn't anything in the world like being utterly worn out from an amusement park. It's fun to be worn out as a family. And as long as I remember to avoid anything that spins on future visits, I should be set.
Today I'm recovering from a really nasty case of strep throat. I finally broke down and went to an urgent care place yesterday ("urgent" is a little generous, as I waited for 2 1/2 hours to be seen by a doctor) after my first plan of action, willing it to go away, didn't work. (For the record, I don't really recommend this plan of action as a solution for strep throat. Though in my defense, I always thought you had to have a white polka-dotted throat to have strep, which I did not. Interestingly enough, a white polka-dotted throat is, in fact, NOT required to have strep. Note to self: quit basing medical decisions on vague notions of the presence of polka dots.)
Anyway. A few catnaps in my parents' backyard interspersed with a little reading and some trusty amoxicillin and I'm starting to feel like a normal human being again. Thank goodness.
You may notice that I have a book on my lap that doesn't match the book I'm supposed to currently be reading. I'm having a hard time with Susan Minot... I didn't even bring her along with me to Ohio... shhhh.... To be quite honest, though, I'm not sure I like Bill Bryson, either. My expectations of him were so high—and so far I mostly think he's a bit on the pompous side, merely making fun of midwesterners for being dull, uninteresting idiots. I'm giving him a few more chapters to save himself, but he's walking a fine line...