When I was a kid, I dreaded seeing "Back to School" signs in stores.
But the "back to school season" appeals to me now. It's fun sharing school memories with people who remember fat pencils and paste and actual chalkboards with all their dust!
Off to The Community Center
On Tuesday I headed to the community center with a school theme and my usual load of stuff. I wondered about the Seniors and what they would even recognize from my back to school memorabilia. Their school memories from Mexico and Central America would be very different from mine.
At first they just wanted to teach me Spanish. They pointed to all my props and helped me pronounce each item in Spanish. "We're teaching the teacher!" one laughed in English.
Then we played the old "What's missing?" game with school supplies. They always love some hands on activities.
Everyone seemed to remember the fun of getting to write on the chalkboard...or even wiping it clean with the eraser.
We talked about the numbers and letters we put on the chalkboard, and how we never got to just have fun DRAWING on the board. What fun that would have been!
I (sort of) gave them a chance, using chalk and black paper. And that's when the conversation went Spanish. They love to chat and draw and share. I can't understand them, but I usually just let them enjoy their own conversation for a while and then I interrupt with new ideas. But this time I let them talk, while I listened to Nelli instead.
Nelli was the only other non-Spanish speaker in the group. Nelli was drawing on black paper when she noticed one of the many photos scattered on the table. It was a photo of Norman Rockwell's painting, The Problem We All Must Live With. The moving scene depicts Ruby Bridges in 1960, being escorted by Federal Marshals to her school. I had hesitated about including this photo, but I'm glad I did.
Nelli and Ruby
Nelli who speaks rarely and softly, pointed to the little girl and told me, "She reminds me of when I was a little girl." Nelli is African American and she was probably about 12 when news spread the country about the little girl who was the first black child to attend an all white school in the New Orleans. I held my breath for a moment, but Nelli smiled. "My hair was platted like that." Then I smiled because I could actually picture Nelli looking like Ruby.
"I was an only child." Nelli said as if she knew a little something about being singled out. "When I was in high school I went to a white school for the first time. There were just 6 of us who went to Robert E. Lee." Again, I was concerned. My goal in the Quilt Group is never therapy, just sharing...we like to leave happy. But again Nelli smiled. "They were nice to us." And I so hope they were.
As Nelli and I spoke, I noticed the others listening.
I shared the Norman Rockwell picture with them and those who spoke English translated the story to the others. They were touched. I think most of these folks know a little about discrimination.
Then I did a quick hunt through the collection of school photos.
And I found my favorite.
The little girl with the bow in her hair reminds me of Ruby Bridges. This is the world that Ruby deserved...a walk through paradise on the way to school...surrounded by friends, not marshals. Ruby said in later years that she was aware of the crowds and shouting when she walked to school, but she just thought it was loud people like Mardi gras. From what I hear, Ruby still has that positive spirit today.
What did I learn? I learned today, to listen to the quiet ones. We always know the loudest children in class get the most attention. But sometimes when you step back and listen to someone who speaks softly, you learn a lot. Nelli has more in common with Ruby than hair. She has Ruby's positive spirit!
And as I pulled out of the parking lot to leave, I noticed the school playground across the street. About 6 little girls (both black and white) were skipping rope on the pavement. Sweet.
One More Thing! Nelli got me thinking. I read up on Ruby. Ruby wasn't an only child like Nelli. She just seemed like one...pictured all alone. BUT, Ruby's middle name is Nell. I can't wait to tell Nelli!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.