Maddi saw me pack my bag for my speaking trip in near LaCrosse, WI. She cried and asked me not to go. "I'll be so lonely," she said with those big basket-hound looking eyes. I tucked her into bed and reminded her she'd be with her cousins while I was away. That brought an instant smile.
Everything is worse at night. I will never forget my 7th grade teacher from LaCrescent, MN (where I grew up) telling our class this as we transitioned from elementary school to the middle school (which was part of the high school, making it all the scarier.) Night has a way of magnifying any situation.
Going back to speak in the town of my childhood was like coming home. The welcome I received from people who remembered me was warm and encompassing. Standing inside the auditorium of Crucifixion Elementary School, the small Catholic school I attended, brought floods of memories to my mind.
I remembered playing Dodge Ball and marbles on the playground. I remembered hot lunch with goopy cream corn. I remembered the tiny library that seemed so much bigger back then.
I remembered one day at recess two of the popular classmates teasing a boy with messy hair, who never talked much. Shy myself, I usually watched without doing anything. But, one day everything inside of me burned from my stomach up. Their meanness bothered me to the point that I marched up to them and with boldness said, "You two aren't that special!"
Indignant, they ran to our third grade teacher, Mrs. Frey and tattled, "Jennifer said we aren't special!"
And here is the part I will never forget. Mrs. Frey waved her hand like she was shooing away a couple of flies and said, "Jennifer Vander Poel would never say a thing like that!"
I couldn't believe I got away with it! But, even more I couldn't believe how highly my teacher thought of me. There was something inside of me that desired so much to be good and I was relieved that day with gladness that I had stuck up for the boy with messy hair, even when it made my skinny legs shake and my heart beat fast inside of me.
To this day I have those same desires to "be good" and those same fears of doing what is right. I am still afraid sometimes at night. And I still don't care for cream corn that much. But, most of all I love coming home….whereever that place may be.
If you ever have a chance to visit LaCrescent just across the LaCrosse, WI border, you will not be disappointed by the rolling bluffs and fresh-air scent of apple trees. If you have little kids I can guarantee they would love playing on the Crucifixion School playground in the center of town. Most of all it will be a place you can make new memories of your own while remembering the ones from long ago that added to your life in ways you would never change.