Friday, December 21, 2012
A few days ago, I learned of my friend Glenda Kelly’s passing. She taught English at the high school I attended. I never had her officially for a teacher because I was an ESE student. But a few times when our teacher was out for one reason or another our class would sit in with her class. She was well aware of our struggles with reading and the insecurities we faced being mixed in with her honor students. It was a strange dichotomy but one she balanced beautifully.
I can’t remember her ever calling on any of us to read out loud from a textbook, which I appreciated at the time. Yet, she did have us once write a report after watching, The Grapes of Wrath. Then we had to stand in front of the class and read our reports. At that point in my life I didn’t think I would finish high school. Although I loved the movie I had just seen, I wasn’t going to write anything to read in front of anyone. I knew I would stumble trying to read even my own chicken scratch. So, I used my time wisely and sat quietly in the back of the class drawing. Glenda’s insight into people was remarkable. She knew I hadn’t written a word. But she also knew the world I came from, and what world awaited me with few educational skills. So she called on each one in the class to give their report until she reached my desk. “Hodges, your turn.”
I walked to the front of the class with a piece of paper folded in half. I opened my paper and began to speak. Never looking up, I slowly recalled the movie we had watched. I finished and started to walk back to my seat. Then, I heard Glenda’s voice, “I need your paper.” I turned to see her eyes slightly narrowed looking at me with a half smile. She knew my paper was blank. With a wink she said, “Good job. Now take your seat.” At the end of class she handed our papers back. I tucked mine in my book and went about my day. Later, I opened my blank paper to see a C+ in red ink scrolled across the top. This was the start of our friendship.
A few years rolled by and I would see her passing in the hallway always smiling. Somehow, I made it to my Senior year, and we had a dinner at school the night before graduation. I sat with her and talked for a long time. She asked what I had learned my four years there and I jokingly said, “How to spell ‘car trouble’ from skipping school and checking in late.” Again her eyes narrowed, “Well, don’t share that please.” Then she gave me that same wink I had grown to love. We talked a little more and I said that the yearbook printers had left out my senior will. There was a kid in my grade named Jason B. Hodge. My name being Jason E. Hodges, along with a graduating class of ninety something kids, the printer assumed it was the same person. So mine was left out. I told Glenda “for once I wish someone would say my name with an S.” By that point it really got under my skin to be called Hodge. Probably from all the mix-ups over the years and yes to this day I still get phone calls from strangers looking for him. So, Glenda said “I’ll make sure you get your S when I call your name for your diploma.” Ever true to her word, she paused in the drizzling rain and called my name correctly. I can still see her smiling face as I walked up to get my diploma.
The years went by and I would see her from time to time at the different places I worked. Usually some type of working-class job like when I worked at the carwash she frequented. She would always stop and fill me in on her family and the different things going on in their life. The years, as they always do, drifted by and I found myself working at a hardware store. She came in and bought something and I loaded it for her. I can’t remember at this point what it was but I do remember her tipping me five dollars. I tried to refuse the money and only got her narrowing eyes and the reply of “You did work for me so you are taking this tip!” She was the only one over three years of carrying everything from lumber to cement out to people’s vehicles that tipped me.
A few more years went by and I grew to become pretty good friends with Glenda’s daughter Diedra. We went to school together but never really knew one another until the world of Facebook. We had a lot of common interest but most of all she was a good listener. She always had kind words to say as well. I was going through a lot of health problems at the time with my lungs, and she was always there with good advice.
One day Diedra invited me to spend the day at her mother’s shop. It was an old wooden building full of all kinds of odds and ends. Everything from antiques to used books. Glenda had beaten cancer and was enjoying each and every day. I pondered going down to the building. I wanted to see the two of them and get out of the house but the doctors had successfully filled my head with fear about my lungs and my biggest enemy being dust.
Saturday morning came and the urge to spend the day with Glenda and Diedra outweighed the doctor’s warnings. I remember the three of us sitting and talking the afternoon away. We talked about family, literature, friends, and the past all while customers strolled through the store. Previous students would stop in and Glenda would always call them by name no matter how many years had passed since she had taught them. This was almost always followed by a hug and a warm smile. Glenda always had her little notebook jotting things down after each person would leave. I finally asked what she was writing and she said, “Oh, just this and that about the people I run across during my day.” I ended up spending the next three Saturdays there before Diedra moved away to California somewhere around the Spring of 2011.
Since then all has seemed to be a whirlwind in my life. Time goes faster and faster with each passing year. I did manage to call Diedra on her birthday this September and she returned my call while I was on my fifteen minute break at work. We didn’t have long to talk but she filled me in briefly about her mother’s cancer numbers acting up and that she might be fighting it again. I told her I would keep positive thoughts going her and Glenda’s way. A short time later, I found out Glenda’s fight had begun once more.
Glenda was a teacher by profession but her teaching skills went far beyond the walls of a school. Her study was life and the people she came in contact with each and every day. Her example of grace, kindness, and understanding is one we all should look upon for guidance in our everyday lives. Be kind to others, for your days with them are most certainly numbered. No one lives forever and life moves at an unforgiving speed especially the older we get. Treat people the way you would want to be treated and always give of your best, all the way down to the smallest detail like pronouncing someone’s name correctly. But most of all, live every moment with meaning. Don’t waste your days with the negative, fill your days with the positive.
For years I’ve pondered the saying “rest in peace.” As I write this and think of Glenda passing, I think these words are not fitting for her. The words should be awake in peace. Your spirit is now on the other side. Unlike this world where our feelings are constantly dictated by our body’s need for food and sleep, or being worn down by sickness, anxiety, or depression. Glenda is in a place of love surrounded by the loved ones of the past. She now runs a store in Heaven. Her inventory is the loving memories and prayers we now send her. Notebook in hand she awaits our arrival most certainly with a wink and a smile.