Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Bitterweet Fourth of July

I miss her, I miss her terribly.

Nancy Lynde was more than a teacher who traveled with me, she was a friend, mentor, and mother figure.

It was she who convinced me that conducting a trip during July 4th, despite the crowds, was feasible. I was apprehensive because I did not want to lose any students, but it turned out to be perfectly safe and an annual pilgrimage for students in the Corona, California area.

The day started out early, as we were always the first to enter the National Archives. Before the Archives opened there is a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. There’s also a parade, but we were already inside the building visiting our Charters of Freedom. There is an honor guard inside the Archives on the 4th. Every half hour they silently changed, bringing dignity to the Declaration and our other documents of freedom. (I wish the guard was always there!)

After that we rushed over to Ford’s theatre (no lines!) and proceeded to visit the Smithsonian Museums and their Folklife Festival in small, independent, adult-centered groups. Everyone knew the plan, meeting places, and emergency procedures. If it became too hot or someone became ill, he/she could always retreat back to the hotel.

Let the hoi polloi sit on the crowded and noisy National Mall between the Capitol and Lincoln Memorial, with a great concentration at the mound of the Washington Monument! Nancy had a special place to view the fireworks: The Ellipse in the shadow of the White House overlooking the Jefferson Memorial (the real reason for the season).

She was right; it was far more civilized, quiet, and an easier place to ‘escape’ to our hotel which was within walking distance. We usually camped out in front of the National Christmas Tree and had a picnic.

The fireworks were directly above us and seemed almost personal. The sound reverberated against the Department of Commerce Buildings in an almost kettle-drum effect. The smoke drifted east toward the Capitol; our vision was crystal clear. Jefferson stood stoically watching the celebration.

In 1986, for the occasion of the rededication of the Statue of Liberty, I donned two verdigris-colored shower curtains (I was perspiring like mad!); a spiked spongy crown; held a torch (which I had purchased, with the crown, on Liberty Island on one of my NY trips); and an empty box of Godiva chocolates as the ‘tablet’. I was the ‘hit’ of The Ellipse and many people took photos of me! Nancy’s son and some boys honored me by building a human pyramid!

Nancy always brought her son Rob along, and for twelve years I watched him grow into a wonderful man. On our last trip together, he brought his fiancé.

After her retirement, and my change to adult companies during the summer and autumn seasons, we lost touch.

The days after September 11th had me looking up people who mattered to me and with whom I had lost touch. Nancy was one of these, and thankfully, she was still living in Corona, California.

We started emailing and she sent me photos of her grandchildren. Soon, we were able to meet when I was either at an educational convention in Southern California or my semi-annual parent/teacher meetings to answer questions about the trip.

Normally she drove over two hours to see me and we had dinners together at Mimi’s CafĂ©, her favorite.

At one of these lunches, I saw Rob, who was now with the Capistrano School District. He told me that I was one of the reasons he is a Social Studies teacher! (You cannot imagine how this has affected me.)

Nancy also invited me to be guest in her home and I finally met her husband.

And then there were the homemade biscotti! I could always depend on a tin for Christmas, my birthday, and whenever we met. The last batch I received was a tangy lemon.

She took great interest in what I was doing and the new path I had chosen. We were making great plans for her retirement and she was considering organizing a tour of the East Coast for retired teachers. (She was active with the California Retired Teachers Association.) She wanted me to design it.

During the summer of 2005, Nancy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. There are no symptoms until it is too late. Naturally, she was hopeful throughout chemotherapy.

I had plans that September to stay the night at her place. After landing at LAX, I received a call from my office that she would be unable to see me and they had made reservations at a hotel. I knew I would never see her alive again.

There were calls and emails, but there was no response. Eventually, I called Rob. She was weak, but hanging in there. They were going to visit Arizona.

I was on tour and called her, but she said I should call back later.

I tried to contact her thereafter, a few times.

But there was no ‘later’.

My tours continued, and when I am on tour, it’s difficult to find time for my private life and time literally flies by.

I finally called her home one more time and her husband informed me that she had died more than a month before! He was very sweet and sent me the obituary as well as the photos above. He let me knew that his wife truly loved me.

I loved her too..

There won’t be a July 4th when I don’t think of her, and smile.

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