Teachers are Cool!

I wrote this to my teacher friends after my adopted father died on January 15, 1995. --gsk

Most of you know my father died peacefully on Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile I've learned some good in the last three days. Now I have a small story for you.

The last time I saw my Dad was Christmas Eve, he was frail but resting well. Christmas Eve is when my adopted family has a traditional dinner, and Christmas Day is when I see my natural mother in New York. I intended to see my Dad again this Monday. He slipped away while my sister Lissie read poetry to him.

After he died, we gathered his belongings at the nursing home. In addition to his tape player and TV, there was a CD player boom box none of us had ever seen before. A nurse told us that a young "hippie-ish" woman with curly shoulder length hair had dropped it off Christmas morning. None of us had any idea who this person could be. We do have some hippie friends, but none of us have been hippies since the 1970s. (I was once a Boulder hippie 12 year-old with hair to my waist, bell bottoms and Earth shoes and a teacher called Mother Love, but that was in 1972.) We just scratched our heads in wonder. Then I decided this hippie woman must have been Dad's special Santa Claus, because in his frail condition, he must have dreamed of her, and she descended as Heaven's angel on Christmas morning to leave him a CD player, a gift I'm sure he must have loved. My brother and sister did not even notice it when they took him to the movies the weekend before last. It and the story behind it only appeared to us after he was gone.

Today we said our goodbye to the body. When more family gathers in late April I will fly Dad's ashes to the border of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic, and pour them into the wind. This was his last wish--both the sea and the air were home to him. Today's goodbye was the very private one. Two people were there I'd never met.

Today we finally discovered the hippie's secret. She wasn't a hippie at all. We met a smart young woman by the name of Beth Seaton, a geography teacher at Ledyard Middle School. Her 7th graders had been unruly one day, and in a search for peace she volunteered some extra time to spend with the old folks at the nursing home. There she met my father, and on her visits over several months he told her a few of his memories of Hitler and WWII and flying the Atlantic, stories of a war correspondent and a sports reporter. She brought all this back to the 7th grade, which was studying the last hundred years in Europe, and she brought him questions. But mostly she just sat by his side, because he didn't talk all that much, except when she said to him, "Well, if you're not going to say anything then I'm going to leave," which always got him talking. She said when he laughed, she had a good week.

What possessed her to bring him a CD player on Christmas morning is one of those special mysteries. She also brought him a harmonica, even though he couldn't play it, because she sensed--quite correctly--it was something he would like.