Courage, Honesty, and My Grandmother’s Pearls

Recently I told wrote a story and later realized—There’s no way that’s true. Honestly, I believe my Grandma convicted me from on high.

My mother has Alzheimer’s, and do you know how often I wish I could ask her a question? Do you remember a time, let’s say, in your twenties, when you were all consumed and your mother told you something, maybe even something important, and you have no recollection of it at all? The older I become, the more I need help filling my own memory gaps, and my mom can’t help me anymore. I just have to trust myself.

It’s about my grandmother’s pearls. At some point in the 90s, I can’t pinpoint when, my mother gave me a box of costume jewelry including a strand of real pearls. Did it come from her mother, my Grandma? Or did it come from my dad’s mom, my Granny? Or was it some sort of combination? I don’t remember, and I don’t think anyone else knows. At some point, I started wearing the pearls and calling them my grandmother’s. It would’ve been true either way, but without knowing for sure, I attached the pearls to Grandma. I don’t know why.

After I told wrote the story, I started thinking.

I’m not so sure that Grandma had pearls, AND she had seven granddaughters. How would I have been selected from my older sister and all my cousins for Grandma’s pearls? I believe my Grandma planted that thought. I don’t know why.

Granny had three granddaughters and a jewelry stash. Suddenly, I realized my pearls belonged to Granny.

But I picture my grandmothers together and smiling down on me. I picture them sharing whatever they have with each other, and so my pearls now represent them both. My Grandma’s dignity and kindness. My Granny’s wisdom and sass.

For the last few years, I’ve picked a word to guide me. In 2018, the word was hope. My house had flooded in a major way, I lived in a hotel for ten months, and I hoped for the best. In 2019, the word was believe. Home again, I believed in better for my son who battles illness and for my entire family. In 2020, I picked two words—honesty and courage. This year I’m writing a memoir, but not without honesty and courage. And I felt convicted to tell you the truth of my grandmothers’ pearls.

Honesty at work. This photo filtered courtesy of Snapchat.

P—Prayer and My Grandmother’s Pearls

How many times have I put myself together to mask my falling apart? I have a classic move. When circumstances call, I dress to impress, say a prayer, and wear my grandmother’s pearls.

Grandma passed on December 11, 1991, almost nine years after Grandpa. She had been living in a nursing home after having a stroke a few years earlier, but that’s not how I remember her. I never heard a single ugly word pass through her lips. I remember the classiest of ladies who dressed to impress and loved the Lord. I remember her picture perfect two-bedroom home with the masters on the walls. All of it on a shoestring budget. She shopped at consignment stores, possessed an eye for elegance, and lived within her means. I inherited her pearls and her Van Gogh and hopefully her attitude.

And for those times that I need to conjure strength and normalcy and class, I stand up straight and choose my clothes with care. I say a prayer and wear my grandmother’s pearls.

A to Z Challenge

Do you find yourself being extra reflective during this time? These days (and the A-Z blogging challenge) have given me pause to give thanks for so many people and things in my life. I hope you have your own little collection:

A is for Apple and B is for Boozer and C is for Champagne and Chanel No. 5 and D is for Dad and E is for Epiphany and F is for Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope and G is for Great _______ and H is for Hatbox and Honeysuckle and I for an I and J is for Jesus and K is for Kody and L is for the Lovely Lauren and M is for the Marvelous Misti and a Dirty Martini and N is for the Numbers and O is for the Oversized Owl

Rejection Is God’s Protection

Once upon a time, I swallowed the bitter pill of rejection. Okay, probably more than once, but most recently, back in May, I interviewed for a job that seemed ideal. Said interview was a fail.

BACKSTORY:

Having taken the initiative to seek out the English department chair at a well-reputed high school three and a half miles from home, I introduced myself as a potential colleague via e-mail. After several pre-interview e-mails back and forth, I had established a rapport and had one foot through the door. I thought. The next thing I knew, I had a date for an interview. An opportunity arose to quit the job I had, so I did, effective at the end of the school year. I felt confident the new job belonged to me. Maybe I should say overconfident.

On the day of the interview, May 9, I taught. Actually, that’s not true. I monitored students. It was a standardized testing day for public schools across Texas. On this particular day, freshmen tested in my classroom, so my sophomore classes took place in an alternate location. At the time, my students were reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Instead of carrying a class set of books from my room to another, I planned a day of film clips and discussion, but the best laid plans often go awry. The technology in my room-for-the-day flopped, plus a number of students were absent due to re-testing (the Texas Education Agency says students must pass these tests to graduate), so I gave the remaining students a free-day, and I babysat. By the end of the day, I sort-of felt like I had been run over by a train.

After babysitting, I drove to my post Hurricane Harvey La Quinta home where the elevator was out of order, trudged up the three flights to room 310 where Rain greeted me with her waggity tail, hooked my dog to her leash and jogged back down the stairs and outside in the 90 ̊ sunshine for necessary doggy business, then plodded up the stairs once more to leave Rain and freshen up.  There I realized that I was feeling low and thirsty. The only beverage in my mini-fridge was an apple cider, and I may or may not have downed a cold one. I definitely tried to think positive thoughts and relax from my day, not to mention my nine months of life in a hotel. I brushed my teeth and hair then took the stairs for the fifth time that day to depart for my interview.

Other than looking presentable, I had totally neglected to prepare—no pre-thought to potential questions or answers, no extra copies of my resume, and worst of all, not even a note-pad or a pen. I thought of these things after checking in with the receptionist, and I knew going in I had made a grave mistake.

At four o’clock on the dot, the principal himself walked through the door, greeted me, shook my hand, and led me into a room with a hiring committee of nine people. Nine. Never had I interviewed with so many people at once. They started with introductions, which I abruptly forgot, and then the first question: “Tell us about yourself.”

I froze. My words conveyed little, or possibly they spoke volumes. If the interview could’ve gone worse from there, it did. At some point, maybe after, “Tell us your strategy for teaching vocabulary,” or “Tell us how you would motivate an at-risk student,” I gave up trying to impress them at all. By the way, this past year, I had over one-hundred students labeled at-risk of dropping out, and I concluded that I couldn’t reach them all. On this particular day, my attitude was like a volcanic eruption, and once the lava flow started, I couldn’t contain it. I spewed pessimism, the type of negativity that will take a person nowhere in life, and I know better.

I didn’t receive an offer, and I wasn’t surprised, but the rejection still stung.
Rejection is God_s Protection

Pamela, one of my bestest, wisest friends, offered her empathy. “I heard this one recently,” she said over the phone. “Rejection is God’s protection.” Surprised I hadn’t heard the saying before, I chose to believe. Pamela’s words reminded me of what my mother would have said, “Everything happens for a reason.” It took forty plus years, but over recent months, I had started to understand the reason. Our struggles strengthen us.

everything happens for a reason

FAST FORWARD:

All summer long, I have applied for new jobs, and I have waited. I’ve declined an interview or two based on the school’s reputation or location. Houston is huge and traffic is fierce.

Last week I landed an interview that seemed promising. The dean on the other end of the line said, “We need you to bring copies of your resume, your cover letter, and a lesson plan that you would teach for either AP Lit or AP Lang.” Clear direction from the administration. I love that. I can do this. And so I prepared—like no other interview in my life.

I looked back over ancillary materials from past Advanced Placement workshops attended. Even though I had never taught this lesson, I knew the one I wanted. It was an introduction to poetry analysis and tone, a comparison of Nina Simone’s 1965 “Feeling Good” with Michael Bublé’s 2010 version. If students misinterpret the tone of literature, they risk misinterpreting the meaning. The lesson involved student collaboration and a presentation. It was perfect. Thank you, Sandra Effinger (mseffie.com)!!

While researching the school, I discovered it to be a small 9-12 public high school, housed within a community college less than five miles from my home. Students who attend this school have to apply for the program. They want to be here. Again, I prayed for the right fit.

FAST FORWARD:

I wore my grandmother’s pearls to a very comfortable interview with a panel of four, and I heard Pamela’s words once more, “Rejection is God’s protection.” By the end of the day, after reference checks, I received a call for a second interview with the principal.

Two days later, I met with a lovely soft-spoken woman, the principal, and it was like having coffee with an old friend. She started with, “I’m sure that they bragged about our school on Monday…” She listed off the accolades, and we continued to have a conversation about teaching philosophy and what to expect in my classroom. As the interview officially concluded, she wrapped it up like a gift. “Our students are amazing. It really is teacher heaven.”

“That is so good to hear,” I said, “and I really hope you have a spot for me. Before our relocation, I came from teacher heaven, and I prayed to God I would find it again.”

She replied, “Every year I pray to God for teachers to show up for graduation.“

“I can be there,” I smiled. We shook hands. I felt at peace. Later that day, I received an offer I couldn’t refuse, and next week I will have a fresh start—year 20 in the classroom, this time in teacher heaven. It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new life, and I’m feeling good. Thank you, God!!

Our struggles strengthen us.