ALD, Richmond Falls

But I have again digressed. George was still in the 4th Virginia cavalry, and John was crazy to go. A friend of Jeanie’s came on a visit and offered to take John as his aid. He was colonel of a regiment, so finally our parents consented. John was a fine horseman and a good shot, so he was allowed to go. Colonel Bolton let him take a servant, George Nicholas, one of our dining room boys. There was great excitement in the family, white and black, when they left. Read more

ALD, Hard Times

Well, we lived anxious and sad. We went to Richmond to see friends. I stayed often with our cousins the Bookers who lived on Clay street just opposite of Jefferson Davis, so I saw the Davis’ a good deal in their domestic life. Mrs. Davis and her sister Miss Margaret Howell, I admired them physically. They, especially Mrs. Davis, were very clever and brilliant in society, but her lack of innate refinement was too evident. President Davis was greatly her superior. He was as refined as he looked, always the gentleman. The children were very attractive. I saw them very often–Maggie, Jeff and Joe. Read more

ALD, Hide the Silver, Alfred.

We had no hope and wrote to our friends in New York who set to work to find him in the Northern prisons. For four months we thought he must be dead and our home was very sad. In my absence in Richmond trying to get news, George’s horse was sent home by the Captain. I was not at home but the family told me how the horse seemed to know his rider was gone. He would turn his head toward the saddle and neigh. The servants, always emotional, cried and gave evidence of distress, When the saddle bags were opened and all his belongings so neatly packed, they cried out, “Oh Lord, why did Marse George go to fight them Yankees!” Read more

Permission Slips

PC: Instagram @orhargil

Washington, DC. 2009.

I was accompanying around thirty high school government students to see the nation’s capital. We were boarding the subway from Alexandria on our way back into the city, racing to catch the train just as it pulled away. Half of us made it on and half of us didn’t before the train’s doors slammed shut. I watched in a helpless stupor as the train bolted away from me with a dozen of my kids on it, most of whom had never been away from home before, had never been alone in a big city before, and who I was certain had never ridden a subway before.

Miami, 2011.

I flew with two teen girls to Miami to film our high school’s state championship baseball game. We arrived at Miami International Airport without incident until I tried to pick up our rental car and couldn’t find my driver’s license. The trip suddenly came to a screeching standstill, because as any traveler knows, you can’t do anything without identification.

A host of other problems presented themselves at that point, none of which was more pressing than the thought of having to put the girls back on an airplane alone for the return trip should I not be able to board with them. And how was I to even rent my own car to drive home? I actually thought we would have to take the Greyhound.

Washington, DC. 2014.

Our meeting place was to be at the Mall at 5:00 pm sharp and we had a few hours to kill while our driver got some sleep in advance of our 15 hour bus ride home. We’d already been in DC for several days and had seen all the sites and walked all the museums. With so much time to kill, it seemed petty and totally un-fun to make my high schoolers stay right up underneath me in what was by then a pretty familiar part of the city, so I let them go off by themselves for a few hours, with instructions to stay on the Mall.

Some of them didn’t stay.

At the meet-up later, we were missing four boys from our group and the subdued chatter amongst the kids clued me in to their whereabouts: a little jaunt all by themselves in a cab over to Chinatown, just because they thought it would be exciting.

A host of tragic scenarios played out in my teacher’s head. Muggings. Lost. Human traffickers. Did they have enough money? Were their cell phones dead? This was of particular concern because not a single one of them answered when I called. Hmmm.

Boston, 2015.

Shopping in Rockport with twenty teenage girls will absolutely take longer than expected. Late to dinner, we rushed them out and onto the bus with their packages, and I did a quick head count and gave the thumbs up to the bus driver to pull away. As we headed into traffic and back to the city, our group screamed from the back of the bus, “Stop! We left Autumn!”

Philadelphia, 2016.

We exited the restaurant rubbing our bellies and unbuttoning the top buttons on our pants. The bus ride from Lancaster County back to our hotel in the city felt like an eternity to the poor young man who was stricken with what is horrifically described in other countries as Montezuma’s Revenge, or Pharoah’s Revenge. It was quick in coming, it was vicious and it was unrelenting.

He was the sickest human being I’ve ever been around in my life. He was pained just holding his head up. He threw up every ten minutes. He hit the bus, the parking lot and the elevator going to his room.

There were originally three boys in their hotel room together, but one of them was removed by his mother for fear of infecting him with the mysterious wickedness we were facing. That left my sick patient and one other boy…my own son…who (by the way) gets sick if you look at him and even think about the word ‘sick.’ But I actually worried this ailing young man could die from his own vomit in the night and decided he couldn’t be left alone. Given the choice between me staying in his room with him all night (which presented a much bigger risk of losing my job) and sacrificing my own family to the vomit gods, I assigned my kid to take the graveyard shift to watch over his friend.

The next day we threw out his shoes, his clothes, the sheets on the bed, and most of their towels. It was indeed a long night for all of us.

The next day I phoned his mother and said, “You have two choices. He gets no food at all from me until we get home, or, I’m taking him to the hospital right now.” She said “Bring him home. He’s a big boy, he won’t die between now and then. Give him a hug and make him drink lots of fluids.”

My kind of mom. No panic, no hysteria, no emergency, no anger, no blame.

For the next thirty six hours, I resisted his pleas for a hamburger once he started to feel human again. My Soup Nazi admonitions of “No food for you!” were backed up by forced ingestions of apple cider vinegar. And not just for my patient, either. With my two other chaperones, we walked down the aisle of the tour bus and handed medicine cups full of vinegar and Vitamin C supplements to every single child under our care, a huge infraction in teacher world. We stood glaring at them as they held their noses and emptied their cups in disgust, begging and choking down what they said was the most disgusting thing they ever had to drink in their lives. Some complained that the vinegar was dissolving their intestines and they indeed thought they were dying. Some even pleaded for mercy. I never paused to acquire a parent’s permission for this treatment, and there was a moment, I knew, that the risk of taking that action could prove troublesome for me at the hands of an irate mama once I got home. It’s the society we now live in. Even knowing the risks, we let out a menacing laugh at their complaints and said, “Bottoms up, kiddos.”

I delivered the boy to his mother and not a second too soon, half starved, pale and weak. He lived, and no one else, except for my own sacrificial child, got sick from the Philadelphia Plague.

***

Why do I tell you these stories?

Because we should remember how amazing it is when teachers and coaches want to take our kids on adventures, how incredible it is for them all (most of the time) and how lucky parents and students are when there is an adult who wants to expose our children to something fascinating. In my fifteen years as a teacher, I’ve had the pleasure of showing hundreds of my students beautiful places they had never seen before, but (yes) places and situations that could be dangerous. Every field trip I ever took was amazing, but every trip had hiccups. It’s the price you pay when you travel. It’s the cost of learning to become worldly. It’s the lessons you learn by problem-solving your way through the snafus of going to places that are unfamiliar. The world is not a safe, predictable place, but I would argue that that’s the best thing about traveling it. What seems completely harmless could turn dangerous in the blink of an eye; it’s the Murphy’s Law of being a teacher on a field trip. In all of my above examples, terrible tragedy was always a possibility.

Every coach has stories like mine, and worse. Every teacher who has ever boarded a charter bus or an airplane with students has these same stories, and worse. Every school takes on these risks when they agree to host a trip away from home but the risk is worth it just to have the experience. We should thank the people in charge for wanting to do this for us and for our kids.

***

The boys in Thailand made it out of their cave safely and for that, I cannot tell you how many prayers I offered up. As the days ticked off, I played out all the possible scenarios and while I hoped for the happy ending we got, I feared we would probably not be that lucky.

All the while, I thought about their coach more than anyone else. He could be me. He is every teacher and every coach in the world who ever stepped outside the safety of a classroom. One harmless hike. What could go wrong?

He was forgotten among the list of heroes the news channels praised…among the doctors, the divers, the inventors, and the local farmers, his name was never there. I never saw his picture as they discussed the people who were saving the lives of those boys, and I actually feared the backlash he might face for his role in putting them in the cave in the first place. I was right, the criticism came. I am here to defend him.

Ekapol Chantawong is the greatest hero of them all. He goes by “Ake,” their coach and their mentor, and it was Ake who got them through those first two weeks of being totally alone in complete darkness before the help ever even arrived. It was Ake who said the words those boys needed to hear, reassurances to hang on to until the rescuers found them. It was that 25-year old orphan and former monk, still just a kid himself, who sacrificed his own food and comfort for the children he was charged with protecting. Their coach is the real hero, the one who likely woke up that fateful morning and simply wanted to show a few kids he coached the spectacular beauty and adventurousness of a nearby cave. That is something only a teacher or a coach can possibly understand. I have known the excitement that kind of opportunity brings, in spite of the dangers that usually lurk. A harmless hike that turned into a nightmare no one could have predicted, and my prayers now are that those moms and dads will hug his neck and say Thank you, Bless you, We are grateful for you, and let that be what heals that young man’s heart. He blames himself enough already.

My students on the subway hopped off at the next stop and waited for me as they had been instructed to do in the event that we were ever separated. They trusted me, and listened to me, and followed my instructions, and we found each other again.

In Miami, the girls and I enjoyed an unplanned night in a South Beach hotel while I figured out how to get us home, and they would tell you today that our surprise night at the Shore Club was the best part of the whole trip. Their moms shared with me later that they were more worried about those $20 cocktails by the pool than having their children fly home in an airplane alone, and I assured them that satiating them with virgin daquiris was the only thing I did have control over that weekend.

My boys who went to Chinatown alone were properly scolded for disobeying me, but I didn’t come down too hard on them. I probably would’ve done the same thing. Their adventurous spirit was proof that they had what it takes to be true scholars of the Earth, which is why I wanted them to go on trips with me in the first place.

We stopped and Autumn jumped back on the bus, winded and relieved. I apologized and made a note to myself to count slower in the future, but relaxed in the realization that had we actually left her behind, we had contingency plans and plotted maneuvers in place that would have reunited us soon enough. I would have gone to the ends of the earth to get her back and make sure she was safe, any teacher or any coach would attest to that. Our group made many jokes and had a great many laughs thereafter about our memories of her chasing the bus down. After all, it kept things exciting and now makes a great story.

And my sick young man was handed right back over to his mother, starved and weak, but alive with the promise never again to get on an airplane or eat fried chicken in an Amish-themed restaurant. The truth is, it likely wasn’t even related to anything he ate, and soon enough he got right back on his travel horse and rode again.

The gift in that horrible tragedy of a trip, and in all those trips, was having parents who never freaked out on me, who never blamed anyone (especially me) for what was undoubtedly just a series of unfortunate events, a parent who never tried to have me punished or reprimanded for any actions I took with their children, actions both with and without permission slips, and parents who never blinked at the opportunity to send their kids right back out into the world, come what may. They trusted me and they trusted in my relationships with their children. A teacher or a coach who shares those experiences with your kids also loves them, and would never intentionally do anything to put them in harm’s way.

So to the small group of critics around the world, or the parents right here at home in America, who have anything nasty or punitive to say about Ake, the selfless coach of the Wild Boars soccer team, about the who, the what, or the why of how those boys came to be stuck in that cave, let me urge you to check yourself first. Take a minute to re-evaluate what’s most important in life.

It’s experiences. Experiences that sometimes come without permission slips.

And relationships.

Everything else that might happen is just hiccups.

ALD, The War Came

Abraham Lincoln was nominated president. We still held to the Union but when Lincoln made a call for soldiers and then set the negroes free, the manhood of Virginia, loving their state more than the Union and feeling that the U.S. had no owner, finally uprose.

My cousin, Robert H. Logan was at West Point in his fourth year, left with his other companions for their homes. They asked no leave and our U.S. soldiers, among them the General (then Colonel Lee) resigned. It is said that Colonel Lee walked the floor all night before he resigned and a sad heart decided in favor of his state. He and my father thought alike in politics but after they decided for their state they were heart and soul for Virginia. Read more

ALD, The End of a Civilization

Another fall, the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church convened at St. Paul’s church. I was allowed to go very often, and though young, about 15 years old, I enjoyed the services. The number of Bishops awed me and I recall even now some of the sermons. I knew some of the Bishops, Bishops Meade and Johns of Virginia both grand in mind, manner and appearance, Bishop Johns a fine orator, Bishop Meade unique in his simplicity and rugged strength. I remember Dr. Dix of N.Y. and Dr. Hodges of N.Y. whose wonderful voice and elocution held all spellbound. I recall these personalities distinctly, and the whole thing made a vivid impression upon me. Thank God for these beautiful memories. I never saw a convention that made a like memorable memory. I think it was the next summer I was confirmed at Old Beaver Dam Church. At that time our church, St. Paul’s, had no clergyman so the confirmation was held there. I recall a little circumstance — when I tried to untie my bonnet, the strings would not untie. The dear old Bishop Meade saw my confusion and said, never mind child, just push your bonnet back. My realife* at his considerate kindness gave me joy then and will never be forgotten. Venerable old Patriarch, I wonder how many hearts have been gladdened by your ministrations. Read more

To My Favorite Child, On Your Graduation Day

May 26, 2018

Dear Ben,

You’ve attended your last day of high school.

I’m sorry your dad is not here on this big day, to send you off to school with a good breakfast and a cup of strong coffee, not too much creamer…but if he were here I know that’s how he would’ve wanted to start the day with you.

I’m sorry he missed seeing all of your report cards, but I bet he knows how hard you worked even when things sometimes didn’t come easy for you. Your talents and skills are more like mine, and that would totally blow his mind had he lived to see it.

I’m sorry he was not here to answer your questions about women, but I’ve always told you the truth about what makes us tick. I’m super sorry he never met all the beautiful, wonderful girls who have been important to you. He would’ve been very proud of your choices in girl-friends and in girlfriends, and impressed with the qualities you find important in women. I certainly am. I sure loved them all, and most girls want a boy’s mother’s approval anyway.

I’m sorry Dad wasn’t the one to teach you about the realities of harsh consequences, but I was just as capable of making you answer for your mistakes like a man, and I think I did.

I’m sorry I was the one who had to drive you and your lawnmower to cut grass, but you learned your work ethic from me anyway, so it was fitting. I hope you inherited your dad’s ability to save money though, as opposed to mine.

I’m sorry I was the only one of your parents to watch you swim, and I tried to be careful not to scream too loud. I think Dad would’ve screamed his head off though, if he’d been there, and he would have clapped and rubbed his hands together in excitement when you raced. I know you can hear him and see him in your head doing this right now, just like I can.

I’m sorry I went through your texts and tracked your phone sometimes, but I promise you, your dad would’ve done the same thing if he’d been here. We always backed each other up like that. Except for when you needed a spanking. He could never spank you. He couldn’t take it, so I always had to be the one to do that.

I’m sorry you were the kid who didn’t have your dad at all the things where you needed your dad, but look at all the other dads who wanted to be in your life because of it.

I’m sorry you lost your favorite fishing buddy, but you are ten times the fisherman your dad was at your age, and he would be beside-himself-proud knowing that. That’s not an accident, kiddo, and you can’t fight those genetics.

I’m sorry you sometimes felt like you had to grow up too fast, but look how independent you are now. You’ve been a grown man for half your life. It’s one of the things about you I love most.

I’m sorry he was not here to help you tie your ties for Homecoming and for Prom, but I tied his for him anyway. I’m not sorry at all that you look just like him, but trust me when I say – those green eyes of yours – that’s all me. You are just as handsome as he was and when I see you, I see him. It’s remarkable, actually. But you know that already.

I’m sorry Dad can’t take you off to college, but he made sure there was enough money for you to go, and that changed everything for both of us. I pray you will take care of your children the way he has taken care of you.

I’m sorry your dad doesn’t know what incredible young men your best friends are, how they’ve made you a better man, a better son and the best kind of friend there is. But when he was alive, he had friendships just like yours, and he loved his friends like you love yours. And now, you’ve got his best friends, too.

I’m sorry Dad isn’t here to see this important moment. He would be as proud of you as I am. Even more. You are everything wonderful in a son that Dad and I talked about when you were a baby. You are everything good about the both of us, but with none of the bad. You were everything to Dad and you are everything to me. Quite simply, Benjamin, you are Everything. Happy Graduation.

Love, Mom

***

I gathered every single picture I could find of your dad and I together. This is a history of our life, and then your life with us. If you are ever out in that great big world you’re about to live in and you start to miss home, here is an easy place to come visit, especially when you need to be near your mom and dad. 
Always remember these things: Your parents loved each other very much, and when we were good we were better than everything in the whole world…and you came from that.
You were the best thing to ever happen to both of us. XO

Pilot of the Intruder

The A6 Intruder

My American History classes finished the upcoming epic American novel and hero memoir Witness to the American Century (formerly “Where Do We Get Such Men?” and also formerly “Accidental Odyssey”) yesterday, and it happened conveniently at the conclusion of the last lesson in American History that I will ever teach at Pace High School. I am still letting that sink in. What a way to go out!

To celebrate, we took a trip to the Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum and received a guided tour from the hero of the book himself, Capt. Allen Brady. We watched an incredible IMAX film about aircraft carriers, the might of the United States Navy and the military collaboration we have with other countries from all over the world. Make no mistake though, there is no military mightier than the United States!

Pops in Seville Park with my American History classes, May 3, 2018

Pops talked to them about three (of the dozens) of the planes he flew in his 32 years with the US Navy, including the AD Skyraider, the A4 and the A6 Intruder. They got a very in-depth explanation of his shootdown in the A6 over North Vietnam in 1967, and we learned more than we could ever imagine about “tail hooks” and “bolters.”  Then it was on to the Vietnam POW exhibit, where Pops is featured. Things that were so familiar: the pink and red striped pajamas, the rubber tire sandals, the 7-line Vietnamese paper they used to write letters home, and a replica of the Zoo prison camp. Those kids will never, ever forget the atrocities that happened at the Zoo.

We ended our day trip with lunch in Seville Park where our hero signed all of the kids’ manuscripts for them and posed for pictures

GO NAVY! 

Witness to the American Century is currently being published by Kent State University Press with an anticipated release date of January, 2019.

Capt Allen Brady in the A4 during Operation Hardtack, Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands, 1958

ALD, Friends, Brothers and the Future King of England

We had a boat and often visited our neighbors. Nearly all lived as we did, on the banks above the canal. It was a most delightful life, so free from care. The servants (were) happy too, so lighthearted and devoted to us. When I was old enough I taught them to read and had Sunday school every Sunday afternoon, which some did not like to attend. I always visited the sick and read the Bible and sang hymns. They used to say, “Here comes that angel child to sing for us.” Read more

The Clutter Remedy

PC: Instagram @within_novaki

Remember the Nineties, when trendy new cable networks like HGTV featured reality shows about getting your life organized? A team of tough-as-nails psychologists worked with licensed neat freaks branded as ‘professional organizers’ to strategically put every piece of crap a person owned out on their front lawn for all of America to see. After those shows took off in popularity, our American lexicon included new phrases that changed our lives forever… Read more

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