Grandma had a ninth or tenth grade education. Even so, she had a gift for words. Sometime in her mid-fifties, she wrote out her memoirs, long hand. Somewhere along the way, my mother made copies of those pages that mean more to me than anything else Grandma left behind. She has been gone for thirty years this December. The 11th. 1991. One month later, I would give birth to a baby girl. My grandmother’s legacy and love would live.
My Legacy by Catherine Savage
“I’ve never really enjoyed anything written in the first person—a primary rule about writing, and one of the few I know. Even in a letter is the abhorrence of the word or letter I. But just how do you begin or end or even put anything in the middle of this title without its use.
Money is such a transient thing, even more than life, that I haven’t considered it of great value. Possibly because I never had much money, I have just had a sour grapes attitude about it.
Love is the greatest commodity, and the giving of it always begets it. The thing I have to leave my children are their own lives. James Edward, Carol Rose, Sharon Sue, Joed Cleve, John Paul, each a lovely and loving person—all made possible by Edward Tony Savage.”
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.
Then we watch a video. Same poem another person’s thoughts. The ending goes straight to my heart. I might have seen students wiping their eyes. Students in a class later that day laughed, a contagious laugh. I’ve learned I can’t control anyone else’s reactions, only my own.
We speak of the first Thanksgiving and how the Native Americans were later robbed. The lesson is heavy, but thought-provoking, and the students quite like the two poems side-by-side. I’m posting from my phone today and unable to format this poem as intended. Otherwise, you would clearly see that each line ends with the following words consecutively: We strike straight. We sing Sin We thin gin We Jazz June, We die soon). The students minds are blown.
“Now I want you to create something as a celebration of Thanksgiving—maybe a poem, a song, or art—and give a mini presentation. This is how it works. You entertain me, and I give you a 100. I would be so happy if someone would sing me a song. You have thirty minutes. Go.”
This November, I hoped to focus on gratitude. I’ve done it before. Gratitude is good.
In recent years I’ve kept a journal in celebration of Thanksgiving, listing three reasons to be grateful a day, large or small. But this year—though good things happen every day, though I still admire beauty in this world, though I love so much about this life—I’m on an emotional roller coaster, riding the highs straight into my lows, unable to maintain my attitude of gratitude or my focus on this ride. Of course, I could make myself journal. Sometimes I think I might try. Honestly, that seems painful. And a little fake. So why?
Last year on November 19, COVID-19 found its way to my mother. She suffered alone in her nursing home, closed to visitors due to the pandemic. Ten days later, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, she went to the hospital. Eight days after that she was released to come home, not to the nursing home but to her home since 1976. For hospice. I was there with my sister and brother and dad to welcome her. Mom’s smile lit up the entire room. Her decline was swift. On Christmas Eve, she breathed her last breath. Of course, I’m thankful to have spent those final days with my mother.
I’m not one to let the little things get me down. But losing my mother wasn’t a little thing.
I’m typing these words in solidarity with those (who for whatever reason may be) in a similar frame of mind—an acknowledgement of holiday heartbreak. If you happen to relate, I see you.
I teach high school English. Can I say how much I hate multiple-choice tests over literature? I never took a multiple-choice test in my college English classes. Instead, I wrote.
In a perfect world, I would teach books I love, and the kids would experience the love of story and language. Then again, the world isn’t perfect. Students have obligations and jobs, and I would be naïve to believe they’re all reading. Let me take a stab and say 50% of them, give or take, are not. Most classic pieces of literature have been made into movies. Take for instance, Jane Eyre. How many of my students watched the movie and called it a day? Should I give up on the classics? Should I give up on reading checks?
I’m locked into this year’s general plan, but I’m rethinking for next year, my how and my what. Meanwhile, I endeavor to pull my students through a novel I love. In my classroom, I have seven table groups of four or five, thirty-two students total in my largest classes. I have a few go-to activities for literature re-cap: reader’s theatre (students act out a chapter or passage with books in hand, narrating and acting out the dialogue) and ShrinkLits (shrinking the literature or a chapter down to a rhyming summary, a concept developed by Maurice Sagoff in a book by the same title). Of course, there are times I assign specific passages to be read (hopefully re-read) closely for discussion and analysis. And of course, there are writing assignments, too. For the activities, I assign table groups a specific chapter, as a summary (or a preview for those who have fallen behind), and they present to the class. At a performing and visual arts high school, they take their acting seriously. Our reader’s theatre was quite outstanding. However, as with anything, overdoing it loses the magic. This year when I had used all my best tricks for Jane Eyre, I confessed: “I’m out of ideas. I’m going to give your table a chapter, and you can decide how to present it. You have thirty minutes.”
And so today I’m thankful for white board space and students with ideas. Some students presented in news reporting format, others did interviews, one group played charades, which actually happens in the novel, and my dancers danced to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” for Chapter XVI, where Mr. Rochester tries to make Jane jealous through a feigned relationship with Blanche Ingram. (The lyrics go like this: “Hey, Hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your girlfriend / No way, no way, I think you need a new one / Hey, hey, you, you, I could be your girlfriend…)
And you know what? Some of my students love Jane Eyre as much as I do. That makes me happy.
When I moved from small-town, Oklahoma to Denver, Colorado at age nineteen, Auntie mesmerized me. She was Kody’s Aunt MeMe, his mother’s identical twin sister. Her face and mannerisms were amazingly like those of my new mother-in-law. I couldn’t look away. I’m pretty sure we bonded that way. That was thirty-two years ago. I called her by first name, Tana, but she put a stop to that. “I’m your Auntie, Baby,” she said. “Call me, Auntie, Bella.”
Auntie was tough. She told it like it was. But she was magnetic. People loved her. She had connections all over town, and Kody and I were along for the ride—from North Denver to Cherry Creek, El Chapultapec to the York Street Jazz Café. That’s how Kody’s Aunt MeMe became my Auntie. She taught me gratitude and a persevering attitude. I freaking loved her.
I flew into Denver last Thursday night in the dark. I couldn’t see the mountains. Kody picked me up at the airport. He had flown in days earlier to be with his cousin in the wake of death.
The sun rose on Friday morning, and Kody and I drove toward Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in North Denver. When the Rocky Mountains showed their face, I said to myself, “There’s no Denver without Auntie.” Even as I thought the words, traffic flowed from east to west, north to south. Of course, Denver would move forward. It already had. My heart broke, and I shed a tear all the same, but I felt Auntie’s spirit in the face of those mountains.
We did it the way Auntie would’ve wanted. A celebration of life. A party. Family. Fun. Storytelling. And fierce love.
In a lovely little chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist, I received kind words, a pen, and a pin. This was the last Friday night in May. I had taken the classes, put in the work, and completed requirements for my MFA.
Now, I hear Frank McCourt in my head, and he says, “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it.” I notice his two polysyllabic words and the strength of his monosyllables. Now, I will work with my tools, read books, study language, and hone my craft. I will put my bloody manuscript in a drawer and let it rest. Same for me, sans drawer, just rest. I’ve learned that good art takes time.
Even though my angel mother grew up in the Baptist church, the “B” in HBU filled me with trepidation. I leaped with faith anyway. God played a role in my story, and I wanted to do Him justice. Still, I never imagined I would find my tribe of like minds at HBU. Now, I see God’s plan. I’ll be forever grateful for these people—my cohort and professors. They became my friends and family, encouraging and inspiring me with their ideas and insight, persistence and growth, love and prayers. All of this without judgement. Even their criticism was kind.
At HBU, I’ve learned to make time and space for my writing and for me. And I’ve realized we all feel like imposters sometimes. I’ve learned to be scared and do it anyway. And I’ve realized the power of continued progress. Anything is possible with belief and persistence. I’m still learning trust and patience in God. At the same time, I believe He is using my story in a way I never could’ve imagined.
I clicked into the online class because the title said, “20 Minute ZUMBA Fitness.”
I said to myself, “I can do anything for twenty minutes.”
From the first downbeat, the instructor Ayhan Sulu is high energy. His sleevless shirt says, “EGO IS NOT YOUR AMIGO.” And his smile—well—you might just need to click play to see for yourself. Better yet, stand up wherever you are, set your ego aside, and give it a try.
Let me warn you, at about the seven-minute mark, I nearly cried mercy, but I couldn’t stop smiling. Just when I found myself almost dying, the music switched, and we slowed down. Not for long. The intensity built once more. But if this guy’s energy doesn’t make you smile, then picture me—a 51-one-year-old woman who has never ever Zumba-ed, trying to keep up with his moves. Maybe you had to be there, but I’m still tickled.
Around fourteen minutes, I hit pause and went to pee for the sheer excuse of taking a time out. The workout would be over at 22:17. “I can do anything for eight minutes,” I reminded myself. Just as I hit play, there was another slowdown. And then another speed up. And then somewhere in the nineteen-minute range, we started cooling down. I had made it! Through the class. Through my A-Z blogging challenge. Through my month of action. Miracles do happen. Bring on May.