Couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being a Visiting Author at the Forest Hills Elementary School in Jackman, Maine. It was a fabulous day, and I find myself still thinking about the terrific kids I met and how inspirin’ they were.
First off, if you don’t know, the drive to Jackman is a beautiful one, with the Kennebec River on one side, woods on the other. It was the finest kind of spring day, too, with the sun shinin’, the trees buddin’, the Kennebec sparklin’ as I wound my way from The Forks to Jackman.
I spent the afternoon visiting classrooms, saying hi to the little ones, then spending quality time with the third, fourth and fifth graders. We talked about reading, writing and the different ways you can tell a story. Then, I spent a lively half hour with five high school gals, enthusiastic writers all of ‘em.
The capper was the Night of Stars, where the exceptional students are honored for their achievements. This year they were focusing on being good readers. First off, the Border Patrol (Jackman is only fifteen miles from Canada) escorts the kids in a parade through town. They’re greeted at the school by friends and family, then whisked away to have their pictures taken and mounted on a star.
As Visiting Author, I had the honor of saying a few words at the awards ceremony. For the longest time, I had no idea what I was gonna talk about. Then, drivin’ up, it come to me. I’ll tell them about Georgiana.
About a hundred years ago, there was a young girl named Georgiana. And believe it or not, Georgiana fell in love with a lumberjack named George. The two of them were so in love, they got married when she was about fifteen or sixteen years old. By the time she was eighteen, they had two small children, Lillian, who was a baby, and a toddler, Ralph.
Back then, lumberjacks used to go into the woods for the whole winter. There was no snowmobiles or anything, so they couldn’t come out again until in the spring, just before the ground thawed.
But Georgiana so loved George, she didn’t want to be separated from him. So, in the early years of their marriage, she would go into the woods with him. They’d pack everything they’d need for the next three or four months into a big horse drawn sled: soap, pots and pans, clothes, baby supplies, furniture, you name it. ‘Cause if they didn’t have it, they couldn’t just go down to the store. They were miles from town, and snowed in.
Georgiana would sit in the sled, on top of the supplies, with baby Lillian in her arms, and George would walk behind. There was not enough room in the sled for him to ride, too. He carried Ralph in one of those wicker knapsacks.
They lived in a drafty wooden cabin with a dirt floor, the whole winter. Can you imagine that? George was working all day, so it was just Georgiana, with their two kids playing on a dirt floor. If one of ‘em got sick, she couldn’t call a doctor. There were no cell phones, right? She just had to figure it out. There were hardly any other women to talk to. She didn’t even have any books to read ‘cause there wasn’t room in the sleigh to bring ‘em. She did have a wood stove, though, to cook on. And she’d melt snow to make water to do their laundry, then hang it in the cabin to dry. Her only luxury was a square of wood George made her to put her rocking chair on.
I’m not makin’ this up. It’s a true story. Georgiana was my grandmother and George my grandfather, and this happened many years ago outside a town in Maine very much like Jackman.
I found this story by asking my dad questions and listening and asking some more. Then, I wrote it down to keep it safe, and so other people could read it and remember. And this gym tonight is filled with stories. Your stories, your mothers and fathers, your grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and friends all have wonderful stories to tell. All you have to do is ask good questions and be a good listener. Then you might want to write down a story or two, to keep them safe. And maybe, someday someone else will read your story and remember the way it used to be.
Then came the best part. I got to help hand out the prizes: a certificate, a medal and a gift bag. These kids were so impressive! There were readers who had improved a lot during the year, readers who spoke French as a first language, but had worked really hard to not only read and write English, but to excel at it, and voracious readers who read an amazing number of books over the year. Each kid got time at the microphone to thank their parents, grandparents and teachers for cheerin’ them on. I’ll tell ya, the community support and love in the room, made my heart sing.
Then they gave me a present, a real moose antler with “Forest Hills Elementary” written on the front and the names of the star students on the back. I couldn’t wait to get it home and show Charlie.
You know, sometimes, it can seem like the world’s goin’ to hell in a hand basket. But an event like that Night of Stars in Jackman gives me hope. It reminds me of the goodness of people, the power of community and the importance of bein’ a good reader.
That’s it for now. Catch you on the flip side!
Lots of great stuff coming up this summer. Check out my newly updated schedule at http://www.idaswebsite.com/
And if you’d like me to do a reading at your library, organization or what not, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
And if your book group wants to read Finding Your Inner Moose, I’d love to be part of the discussion. Especially if food’s involved.