Legacy Writing 365:335

Friday I learned that the father-in-law of a longtime friend died. I wouldn’t usually bring this up on my blog, but his father-in-law also happened to be the band director at my second high school.

When I was transferred to that school my sophomore year–my parents’ choice–I was a vessel of misery and frustration. There’s a psychology that goes along with being an Army brat. You learn to adapt, to adjust. You make friends, but you don’t get too close. You know you’ll be leaving, and you’ll have to do the “figure out which students you can relate to, which teachers you can rely on, and where the lunchroom is” all over again. There are a lot of great things about moving around, but it does limit your chances of sustaining long-term friendships. No matter how close you get, or how you promise to keep in touch, a kid needs a peer group and a feeling of belonging, so you learn to move forward and embrace new friends and experiences.

When I began my seventh grade year, I was promised a new plan. After my father’s next deployment overseas, he would retire from the Army. We weren’t going to move again. So GO FOR IT. Make those friends. Put down roots. Start planning for the long term instead of nine- to twelve-month increments. So I did. The friends I made in sixth grade were still there. And I made new friends in seventh grade and eighth grade and ninth grade who were still my friends in tenth grade. This was AMAZING.

Unfortunately, my parents weren’t all that thrilled about some of those friends. So when my father transitioned from being a teacher to the assistant principal at his high school, my parents decided to buy a house in that area and enroll me there. That was the second six weeks of my sophomore year. I kicked it off with a kidney infection that kept me out of school for a few days, then I endured one miserable week after another, month after month, separated from my REAL friends (and boyfriend), in a place where I so did not fit in. I had some truly dreadful teachers–and some good ones. I loved my algebra class–SO WEIRD OF ME!–and my art class and the history class I took with juniors. I did not enjoy the Mean Girls–New Girls know what I mean–or having to carry and sit on a donut after I cracked my tailbone. I do remember the girls who were kind to me, but mostly I remember how alone and out of step I felt.

I wonder what would have happened to me had the band director not intervened during the summer before my junior year. I don’t know if it was his idea or my father’s, but he carved out a place for me in the Color Guard. I’m not sure what his intentions were, exactly, and I think some of them were derailed by a few of the Mean Girls and my own lack of assertiveness. But one thing is true of band: It’s a melting pot. Girls and boys in every shape and color, of varied interests and talents, both popular and geeky, can thrive in band. For some kids, it’s a lifeline. A place to belong. Because of Bill V and his amazing work with the band, because he gave me a chance and a place to feel safe and comfortable as well as a reason to get involved, because my participation in the band was something that could also involve my mother (she made my uniforms, chaperoned on bus trips, for example), I was able to let go of my anger toward her (for making me transfer), and school became a place where I began to thrive. Being happier opened me up to new friends, to new teachers–some of them not only impacted my life then, but continue to do so decades later. Within Mr V’s band, I learned things about cooperation, leadership, and teamwork that have frequently benefitted me in my professional choices.

Teachers–and I’ve been one–often don’t realize all the ways they positively impact kids. I know there are many former students who remained close to Mr V, and I’m sure they, like me, hope his family knows how many young lives he shaped and made better. He will be missed. Thank you, “Uncle Bill.”

A moment of rest between photos.


14 thoughts on “Legacy Writing 365:335”

  1. I totally get this. My dad was a corporate ladder climber, so we were moving every two years or so. I am always able to honestly sympathize with the army brats that I’ve known. That’s one of the reasons I love that you have so many stories about your friendship with Lynne.

    And I also understand the humiliation of the donut. I was in the ninth grade when I developed a foot injury that meant that I wore flip-flops in the shower for much of that year. I was already a nerd, so that just ramped things up a notch.

    1. It’s tough to be a nomadic kid, isn’t it? There are several of us who connect in that way.

      Kids can be so mean. At least you were saving yourself from potential athlete’s foot! I never showered at school and endured that locker room misery. But when I was a freshman and had to share showers in the dorm, we all wore flip-flops in the shower. Mine were platform flip-flops! Ah, the fashions of youth…

  2. Becky,
    I visited your blog today to see if you knew of the passing of Mr. V. I was so relieved to see that you do know so that I wouldn’t have to deliver the sad news. Mr. V was a special man. He had a unique ability to reach young people at their level. To make them feel like they had value and ability. He did that with me as well. Like you I ended up at W. High because of my parents’ decision. Only a little earlier. Again like you, Mr. V. helped make that transition work and feel a little better. I’m sorry I did not see your suffering then. As teenagers we are so wrapped up in our own lives. But I do hope I was not one of the mean girls. If I was in any way I am truly sorry.

    1. No, ma’am, you were never a mean girl! As a matter of fact, yours was one of the friendly faces because we’d known each other from JHS. I felt like we were fellow travelers for several reasons.

      I love that Mr. V helped you, too. Your mother was one of the people who helped me, as well. I’ve spoken of art class on here before. In the end, I had some truly outstanding teachers there, not only because they helped me turn my academic performances around, but because they were genuinely interested in seeing me flourish as an individual. My parents were undoubtedly right to make the decision they did, but that’s so much easier to see at…you know, however old we are…than at fifteen. I’m so grateful to them and those teachers.

  3. I heard of the passing of Mr. V from my parents who still live in town. It is sad to realize that a person from our school years is gone and we don’t get the chance to give thanks for the influences they made. Mr. V had a chance to see me later in life, totally by chance, at an area mall. He had become a “singing Santa” for the mall. As my girls stood in line to speak to Santa, Mr. V recognized me and asked the girls if they had been good that year. Then, he looked directly at me and asked the girls if Lynn had been a good girl also. They were speechless. Santa knew who their mom was, therefore he knew if they had been naughty or nice! Priceless.

  4. I didn’t remember being mean to you. When you came to WHS I remember how happy I was to have you there. Thank you for the kind words for my mother. Your dad was one of my favorites. He could come across like a bear but he could also be a teddy bear. No matter what he was always fair. There were others who made a great impact in my life as well. I still see a couple of them around town and they are as warm and caring as they were then. We were fortunate as students to have these role models.
    Lynn I had a similar experience. I took my children to have pictures made with Santa at a local children’s shop. They both sat on his lap, recited what they wanted him to bring them for Christmas and had their picture taken. He told them to be good, and then asked me how my mother was. When he called her by name their eyes were like saucers. Yes Becky, there was a little bit of magic about him. And he spread it freely.

  5. Becky:
    We just got in from a very long weekend and I was catching up on your blog. On behalf of the family, thank you for your kind post about how Bill helped you find a place to call home at WHS. I don’t have to tell you what the past few days have been; you’ve been there twice now. Still, Bill, like your dad, was a force in our little home community; both of whom had a presence that will long be remembered and leave an absence that will never cease to be felt. I’ll write soon. Thanks so much.

    1. I’m sure you all have a million memories to share and help you feel closer to one another and to him. I’m glad I blogged about him because it was good hearing stories from Susan and Lynn, too.

    1. Yes, I suppose. You’re still VERY YOUNG though. I know you hit a milestone birthday, but I’m predicting a very cool decade for you. Enjoy!

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