Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thanks, Mrs. Griffin

My first grade teacher was Mrs. Wilma Griffin. We were kin. She and my Dad were first cousins. I was somewhat proud of being related to my teacher. But I was also a bit afraid of her. Though I held our kinship in my back pocket not once did I ever play that card. I had a lot of respect for Mrs. Griffin. Even as an adult, if I were to see her in a family setting I could not call her by her first name. She was always Mrs. Griffin to me. I learned a lot of things in that first g...rade classroom in the basement of East Bernstadt School. I had perfect attendance and made decent grades. But the lessons were routine enough and came easy enough for me that the specifics of them do not stand out. But twice that year Mrs. Griffin stood before our class and made an announcement that left an indelible impression on me. One day she got our attention and told us that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. Later that year she told us that our school would be integrated the next year meaning that we would have black boys and black girls in our class the next fall. I do not remember raising my hand and asking any questions about either of these announcements. I think I had a pretty good understanding of what they meant. I knew they were both big events that altered my world.
Mrs. Griffin died this last week. She was 92. I had not seen or spoken to her for close to 30 years. But in the course of those years my mind has gone back to that first grade class room many times. Yes, teaching is important. Teachers do make a difference. Thanks, Mrs. Griffin.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Not Schmoozing but Snoozing

My flight this past Tuesday evening from Anchorage to Minneapolis left at 9:50 PM Anchorage time to arrive in Minneapolis around 5:50 AM central time. It is a red eye flight and I am hoping to catch a nap. I am grateful that I have an aisle seat. I board the plane, find my seat, and take note that the person I will be sitting by is a distinguished looking man. As the plane begins to taxi to the runway I engage in conversation with him. “Are you from here or going home"? I ask.... “I am from here in Anchorage” he replies. “What do you do”? I ask. And he replies: “I am the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska. But my term ends in December”. I ponder in my mind the chances of my meeting this man in this way. I continued the conversation by asking him his thoughts on the upcoming election. We talk about politics for a couple of minutes. But it is time for take off and he seems more interested in getting his nap than in continuing the conversation. So after we are in the air, I unfold my blanket, put my seat back, and try to catch a few zees. So I really cannot say that I schmoozed with the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska. But I did snooze with him.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ole Jacks

On Tuesday I had seven hours from the time I arrived in Anchorage from Pilot Station, AK where daughter lives until my flight back home to Illinois. So I left the airport, took a cab to downtown and explored a bit of the city. I visited a museum and then walked down the street to the mall. I visited every floor but I am not a mall kind of guy. I left the mall from the 5th Avenue exit. I immediately saw a sign that read “Fur Alaska”. I found my way across the street and entered the shop. There I met “Ole Jacks”. That is how introduced himself when I asked his name. He said I used to be “young Jacks” but now I am 80 so I am “Ole Jacks”. The store appears a bit cluttered. One whole wall is covered with newspaper clippings and pictures from times past. Jack himself is sitting in a tiny passage way between two counters partially hidden by a stack of magazines. We begin to visit and he tells me his story. He is native Alaskan. He has lived here all his live except for the time he worked for President Truman during the Korean War. When he came home he went in the fur business trapping and buying furs, selling some and making others into clothing. He got his pilots license so he could travel into far away and remote places in the Alaska interior to buy furs. Alaska is God’s country he tells me at least a dozen times. “Ole Jacks” is good at what he does. I am guessing that fur coats are his specialty. He has made fur coats for Presidents Ford and Reagan and for a Japanese president and for former Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev. He proudly shows me a picture of Brezhnev wearing his coat in the presence of President Ford. “If I can measure a man I can make it fit” he says. He asks about where I am from and what I am doing in Alaska. I tell him I have come to visit my daughter who is a teacher in Alaska and he is interested in how she is doing. We visit for probably 20 minutes. I am pretty sure I cannot afford one of his fur coats. He must know that as well because he does not try to sell me one. Before I leave he says “I think you are a salt of the earth man from Illinois”. I am thinking this man is a salt of Alaska’s earth. I have traveled a lot of places and what I enjoy most about travel are the people I meet, often by chance encounter, along the way. Cab fare from the airport to downtown cost me $40 but meeting Ole Jacks is far more valuable than that. If you go to Anchorage you ought to stop in at Fur Alaska 329 W. 5th Avenue. Maybe Ole Jacks will be there.

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