Meeting a Hero

Meeting a hero this winter…

When I was a little girl I was blessed with the best possible momma, sister, and daddy. I thought that they all walked on air from the time I was old enough to understand until today.  What you don’t realize as a child are all the little details we fixate on as adults. These are the things that make or break relationships in today’s world, and yet, why must we concern ourselves with things that are mere trifles in the grand scheme of life and the world.

What I was blessed with the most was a house hold that valued reading.

I was read to from womb until I left the house at age eighteen.

My father told me stories of his childhood at bed time, he read to me from the chapter books I selected as a pre-teen and continually read every book I was reading into high school.

My mother fostered a love for literature from infancy. I loved being read to by both of my parents and my sister. Those were some of the most vivid memories I can still feel when I slip into my mind’s eye today. The feeling of swinging in my mother’s skirt while holding the pages of the book up so she could read to me about Peter Rabbit or Benjamin Bunny.

While covered in chicken pox, facing another round of bronchitis at the age of six my sister waltzed into our folks bedroom and presented from behind her back, “Rescue Rangers,” the story of two brave little mice that save another fellow creature and jewel. I can still see he smile, tumbles of curls spilling over her shoulder while saying in a passing breath, “Here you can pass the time reading this with me, and you’ll soon look like this, once again,” as she passed my framed school photograph from the year before. Ha! Just what you want to be told when you feel like the creature from the blue lagoon.

Why share all of these strings of connectivity and literature?

Tonight I met a heroine of ours, my mom’s, my sister’s and mine. Patricia Palacco. Her book, “Mrs. Katz and Tush,” was a beloved favorite that I chose often at bedtime. I remember reading it to my nephew upon a sleep over occasion. We’ll have to revisit it sometime soon. Hearing her candid words about her youth, her learning disabilities, and her remarkable family, friends, and neighbors brought tears to my eyes this evening.

Happy tears.

Tears that made me smile, and nod, and spring forth a new well of emotions within me. Especially when she described her fourteenth year of life. The year that her deepest, darkest fear came to light, and a teacher reached out a hand to help guide her towards climbing a hurtle she had always felt was so formidable. The fear that she could not read.

She went on to describe Mr. Falker, who was really Mr. Felker in her junior high classroom in California.

I was brought back to my second grade year when my amazing mother said, “I’ve had enough of this not reading and not doing anything about it with your current school, we’re doing something now.” My mother researched, and read, and found a program at a private school that had major results for children with dyslexia.

I was the child in the classroom that had a keen ability to hear, see, and listen.  I memorized text. I repeated it, I evaded being called upon. I stumbled through the sounding out of words. I was being educated in the “whole language” classroom environment, and nothing clicked with phonics and phonemic awareness. I saw shapes, and negative space when told to sound out the word. It was not until the moment when with repeated practice, isolation of words into boxed in shape I could recognize these shapes as letters, then digraphs, and vowel combinations. Finally the sounds and the letters connected.

Patricia spoke of the moment when she finally made sense of the negative spaces that surrounded these “letters,” and the feeling of elation that followed. Realizing that a whole new world had opened up to her.

I can recall the first library chapter book I read that felt, I liken to climbing Everest. I had the best parents in the world. The most patient, supportive, and loving humans. They provided me with the tools for knowledge and they put in the work that needed to be done with me in order for my goals to be achieved. Without that reading program, Mrs. Lau, and my parents, I would not be a teacher today. I am not quite sure where I would be. But I do know that I wrote to my third grade teacher every year of my public school education. Every few years I send her a letter, and I receive a card in reply. When I graduated with my masters degree in teaching, the first person I wrote to after my sister, was Mrs. Lau, my third grade teacher. The woman who taught me how to read, and helped me make sense of the puzzle pieces that I finally knew where to place.

Thank you Patricia Palocco for sharing your stories all these years. I met you once in 1997 at the Lusac Public Library in Anchorage, Alaska. I can still see your face, your bun, and the back drop of the maroon curtains behind you in the basement hall. Life has a funny way of coming full circle. Tonight I showed you my book, signed by you in 1997, and I thanked you for doing what you do. Your stories have been read to every single class of mine every year. Each year before I read aloud her stories, especially in the winter months, I tell my students the following:

“I’m going to share with you one of my heroes. Now, this hero is an author. This author helped me feel like I was not alone. When I was a little girl I could not read, until third grade. Patricia Palocco’s words, her family, and her stories are one of my greatest joys to share in life, and now, I will introduce you to her work.”

You might wonder what the children think of her work? I’ll leave you with one word: riveted.

IMG_6641

A year in the tides of grief

One year since Deborah Leah Alvarez left this earth has meant that: 12 months, 52.1429 weeks, 365 days,  8760 hours, 525600.432 minutes, 31536025.92 seconds have passed.

~Analytically speaking it means all of the information above.

~Speaking from the heart it means that all of the varying shades of the rainbow and everything in between has gathered, washed, and moved through me in this time frame.~

It has been the crashing of waves.

It is the rise and fall of the sun.

It is every first sighting of a bright shining star.

It is the moon beams slipping through cracks in my window.

It is first moments when a heart leaps for joy and falls in the realization that the one you are about to tell cannot be spoken to directly. 

It is the re-learning to accept your new heart’s layer, with all its flaws and all. 

It is the re-building of faith when seeking through the depths of a hallowed despair. 

It is the first feelings of happiness and allowing the heart to feel joy. 

It is learning that love may not be diminished by the inability of the tangible, yet transpired into the spiritual realm.

It is what Truvy said in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~

Death has a strange way of bringing the best and the worst out of the people it touches. I have found that through my own grief I have learned to love myself in ways I never thought possible. I have learned that forgiveness is a crucial component to my happiness. Forgiveness has taught me that I do not need to seek a right or a wrong answer, but rather seek to find a state of contentedness that I dwell with and release my tethered connection from anger in order to allow the emotions to turn into love.

Never does a day go by that I do not think of my sister or long to share something with her. She was my closest friend, mentor, and supporter. What she has bestowed upon me and continues to bestow upon all of us is the love and light she shed while here on this earth. So many wonderful humans near and far have shared their love and connection with Debbie over the past year. Connectivity was something Debbie strived for. She believed whole heartedly in the fact that humans need to seek for love, education, honor, humor, forgiveness and generosity. Thank you for connecting so many of us Debbie and continuing to do so. Your rainbow touches near and far.

Through writing I have allowed myself to find solace in words that were far too difficult to communicate in person. Thank you so much to all of Debbie’s and our friend’s, our family members, her colleagues, her admirers, her blogging friends, and her supporters over this last year.

~Like waves crashing upon a shore, rays of sunshine were beamed down upon us, with which we were able to dry our tears with each loving gesture, made by all of you.~

Thank you. 

I leave you with words, as my sister would have wanted.

~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~

For me, I leave you with a song that speaks to my heart:

 

May her life be a blessing: Deborah Leah Alvarez.

 

Library Day 23 or something like that… :)

How many of you know your library card number, or should I say numbers by heart? I DOOOOOOOOOOO! I know ALL THREE by heart. I say quite proudly to strangers, and I don’t know my driver’s license. Go figure?! Priorities in life= library visits.

I ran into a woman at the library about a month ago. I couldn’t place how I knew her in that brief moment of time. So I said, “Hi! Do you work for the Multnomah County libraries?” We had this little three minute conversation and then both went on our merry way. Later in the car the light bulb moment took place. “OOOOOOOOH!” THAT’s who she was! Long story short, she knew my sister, she was a librarian, and we had met at the Eric Kimmel talk recognizing Beverly Cleary’s work last summer. All of these little light bulbs went off too late though. She was in her car, and I in mine. I really had a strong desire to call Debbie at that moment and share my little story.

I had to be happy with emailing it later in the evening. But it wasn’t the same.

The funniest part of the encounter was my parting words with this woman, “I love the library, it’s like shopping, but for free!”

That pretty much sums it up for me.

I can shop for three of my favorite things: books=knowledge, music, and movies. Yes please!

Whenever I take my classroom students to the library which is unfortunately only every other week for, “check out time.” I help guide them through, “Book recommendations.” This is where I pick their brain about passions, interests, and which author they have yet to discover. We talk about good fit books and then I help them find a new genre along the way. I also encourage them to check out a non-fiction book each week. I’ve had some students take on the biography challenge this year, and branch into wild weather and now animal fact books for their research reports.

The library is my happy place and it always has been.

When I was super small we would visit our beloved Lusac Library in Anchorage about once a week. I loved walking into the children’s section, pulling my favorite books by familiar authors into a giant pile.  I loved laying down in the fun reclining chair circle and pretending to read all the picture books laid out beside me. When I later became a strong reader, I would go through periods of obsessively reading all of the books by a certain author. Here is where our tastes in literature part ways at times Debbie.

I was obsessed with all forms of narratives, historical fiction, biographies, and fictionalized human experiences. Anything science fiction, dystopian, or set in a far off land did not interest in me in any way. Unfortunately I was stubborn and didn’t branch too far from my literary tree of preference until later in life. However, with all this being said, our library beheld the keys to all of our literary desires.

I go to the library some weeks, two or three times. I am a fervent believer in the public access system and I encourage my students and families to support their local library every year. A favorite quote from a fifth grader, which was overheard by a colleague of mine, always brings a smile to my face.

“Hey man, I went to this place dude, and like, they GIVE you cd’s, movies, and books for free. For free man!” “Oh yeah? What place?” Student looks around, “The library, the library does!” 🙂

Let’s make a series of commercials for t.v. about the library, I’m ready to write a screen play and shoot it! Needless to say, I support all libraries and feel immediately at home in them. Thanks for sharing your library in H.K. Debbie! I love you! xoxo

DSC01468

This hangs in my classroom and it is a daily reminder for me and my students about the choices we make. Food for thought today. 🙂