Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Lunch ladies and drummers

This comment from Gypmar on Wednesday's blog post made me think of the elementary school lunch ladies I never knew, but loved a lot.

I did two years as a lunch lady at my kids' school, partly for the reason you mention! We live off my husband's income, and the money barely made a difference, but I felt like I needed to do more than be home all day while my kids were at school.

Two years were all I could take, but I did get some good stories. Nobody works or parties harder than lunch ladies! 

As you might imagine, I did not enjoy being a child. I hated being told what to do (still do). I hated having to get up early (still do.) I was relentlessly competitive and the first B I ever got made me mad (yup, still mad!)

And of course, I got in trouble for talking out of turn a LOT. And for being bossy (which was what they called girls who demonstrated leadership skills back in the day.)

I made more than a few trips to the principal's office for a scolding.

But sometimes, after those scoldings, when the whole day seemed bleak, I'd come out of the office into the hall by the school lunchroom. There, I'd be enfolded in the most delicious smell. The lunch ladies were baking chocolate chip cookies. Knowing there would be a warm cookie at lunch perked me right up. Those lunch ladies un-bleakened the day more than once.


I was not thinking about lunch ladies or chocolate chip cookies several nights ago on my subway ride home. The New York subway is full of buskers; some are terrific, and some plain awful. The most awful of the awful are the guys who beat on overturned plastic buckets with drumsticks. They might be talented drummers but on the subway platform the noise is LOUD, off-key, and dead ugly.

These drummers are so common at the Union Square station at night, I take pains to connect to the L-train at another station to avoid standing on the same platform with them for four minutes.

So, when a man got on the Brooklyn bound L at Union Square and announced himself as a drummer, I cringed inwardly. I turned up my coat collar, sank into my seat and thought seriously about getting off at the next stop to wait for the following train. But I was tired. And hungry. And the car was really crowded so moving at all was a bit of a trick.

And then all deities, foreign and domestic, smiled down on us.

This drummer was not a bucket beater.  He announced himself as an ethno-musicologist, then asked a lady sitting near him if she knew what that was. She gave an inaudible answer so he explained the word to us, and how he came to be one.

And then he struck the drum he had. It had a warm, rich, living sound. The drum was made of skins and wood, carefully crafted to make a beautiful sound. It was akin to a plastic bucket as a goldfish is to a shark.

And then he played, and by played I mean he made that drum sing. And he added the vocal line.

It was almost magical how the mood of the car changed. How MY mood changed. Suddenly we were the audience to a glorious moment of living art.

It only lasted four minutes; the drummer got off at the first stop in Brooklyn. My fellow audience members plied him with currency. I reached in my pocket for what I thought was a dollar bill, turned out it was a ten. I gave it to him anyway. He was worth every nickel.


There is no great insight here; no inspirational message to keep you motivated. Nothing to print out and tape on your computer to get you through dark nights of plot holes and recalcitrant characters.

It's just that the lunch ladies and the L-train drummer were each doing their job. I'm sure every lady in the cafeteria kitchen would rather have been at home, baking cookies for her own kids; I'm certain the drummer had loftier performance dreams than being a busker for dollar bills on an L-train full of wet, surly Brooklynites.

But the work they did, even if they didn't know or care, turned out to be important to someone they'll never know about.

Sometimes when I'm doing the routine things in my day to day life, I need to remember that.
Do you?

73 comments:

Susan Bonifant said...

Just a perfect, lovely thing to take into the day. Thank you.

AJ Blythe said...

>>There is no great insight here; no inspirational message to keep you motivated

Really?

>>But the work they did, even if they didn't know or care, turned out to be important to someone they'll never know about. Sometimes when I'm doing the routine things in my day to day life, I need to remember that.

Theresa said...

Lovely, lovely post, Janet, and one I find very inspirational.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

This is a lovely post.

Out of a broken hearted kind of frustration I turned off my computer and swore I’d never write again. Rejection after rejection illustrated to me that dreams of success are often just that, something to wish about and on. According to the powers that be, I just couldn’t get it right.
I cried long and hard because giving up is not easy. Weak or brave, I didn’t care. I just couldn’t put myself out there again.
And then, by chance, I found a place and people who often drifted in the same boat as I. On that day the sea was calm and sensible. The captain whispered, “Persevere.” I did.

“But the work they did, even if they didn't know or care, turned out to be important to someone they'll never know about.”

That’s why I come here.

Brigid said...

The times folks have mattered most to me, they often would have guessed it least. Like stray kind words via Blogspot or email on a day I really needed it.

Colin Smith said...

Do I? I know the work I do helps others within my workplace. But I don't just look at my participation in the work enterprise as being merely about showing up and doing my job. There are plenty of people that could do my job. But there's only one me. What do I bring to the workplace? I'm not constantly thinking "How can I change someone's life, or change the world!" That's not my job. But if I can bring a smile to someone, or be a listening ear, or just share moments, those are the things that make being here seem a bit more worthwhile.

Amy Schaefer said...

Small moments fill our lives. We underestimate them to our own detriment.

There is a little boy who sometimes rides the school bus with my girls. One day, he waved to me as the bus was pulling away, and I waved back. The smile that split his four-year-old face was like the sun coming out. Now we madly wave to each other whenever he rides the bus, both of us grinning like fools, until the bus is around the corner and out of sight. It always starts my day off right, and I'd like to think it gives him a little lift, too.

Hermina Boyle said...

My work as an organist / choir director is not glamorous. It carries little prestige. It is not a high paying job in a large church. Sometimes I find it hard to value my art and ministry in a society geared toward fame and productivity.

Your post reminds me that when I do what I do on Sundays (and write what I write the rest of the week!) I'm being true to my art, my beliefs, my passions. That there is not only a place for these works, but a need for them, whether or not I can see the results of my efforts.

Thank you so much for the post, Janet! I'm passing it along to my 20-something daughter, brave (or foolish enough) to follow in my musical footsteps!

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Geez... This is all kinds of fabulous. Really and truly. Thank you. And the entire vibe made me a little misty-eyed because it reminded me of my father.

He wasn't a lunch lady, but he found great joy in life. In everything. Including the mundane. He'd come running in the house, hollering, "You gotta see this! Hurry!" We'd dash outside anticipating some phenomenal wonder only to discover a line of ants carrying the body parts of a dead grasshopper. We were pulled away from the TV to listen to birds. Woken in the middle of the night to lie on a blanket in the grass and watch shooting stars. Interesting tree branches and rocks decorated our home.

If we complained about chores or a boring activity, he'd say, "It's a thread in the rich fabric of life. Without it, you wouldn't have the entire experience of living."

Julie Weathers said...

I thought this comment was going to be about lunch ladies and salesmen. I love it. The aunt whom I lived with off and on and loved dearly was a lunch lady for years. I still remember her food.

I adore this post.

Whenever I get a chance, I go to pow wows. I don't particularly like drumming, but the drumming, dancing, and music at pow wows recharges my soul batteries.

yes, reposted to stay on topic.

Shaunna said...

Sometimes I wake my children by singing to them--some silly quatrain about birds in the treetops or flowers nodding hello. My mom used to sing me awake on the occasional morning. I believe we all have small gifts to give, every day, that change the world in immeasurable ways.

Kitty said...

I never wanted to be a babysitter, and yet I’ve cared for every one of my grandchildren. I don’t mean an afternoon here and an evening there. I mean I’ve put in hard time watching them and doing their parents’ housework to kill the boredom. I thought my babysitting days were behind me when #4 reached his teens. Then my daughter decided to have another baby.

Katina is 13 mos. old now. Her name is Greek meaning pure. She’s petite for her age, an adorable elf, and she’s the most challenging of the lot. Crawling didn’t interest her, so she began walking. She tried that for a week and decided running was much more fun. She reminds me of the ball in a pinball machine careening from one potential disaster to another. Katina loves to scream and screech. She lets loose when she’s happy or excited or angry or just for the heck of it. She’s developing a wicked pitching arm the Yankees would love as she flings her toys out of her way. And she’s strong. I mean really strong. It’s exhausting caring for Katina, who doesn’t like naps. But she is a pure joy, too, and I’d rather care for her than see her go into daycare. It’s the reason I cared for each and every one of her siblings and cousins. My pay is her smile as she reaches for me to pick her up.

Donnaeve said...

What a pleasant surprise that must have been, and this is a great story too. I admire folks living in such a place as NYC - with 8M people and counting. You've got to be able to have the knack for shutting things/people out, while still remaining open enough to accept and enjoy the moments where you get to experience something like this.

I try to be self-aware - not so much because I think anything I'm doing will be of, or have any impact, but simply because it's the way I am. I think one of the things that has bothered me most, is when someone might say to me, "you did this, or said this," and it hurt their feelings, or offended them, while I had no idea. Yikes/and/or oops.

Elanor Lawrence said...

Such a wonderful story! Whenever I get a little discouraged about the impact I'm having as a teacher, I'll always remember the librarian who ran a readers' theatre afternoon at our local library. By the numbers, the event was a failure-- only four people showed up, and three of those were my sisters and me. Yet, that afternoon motivated me to start writing a play, which then motivated me to start a drama group, which ended up with me being involved in dozens of shows and now teaching drama at a world-renowned university. That librarian has probably forgotten that event long ago, or catalogued it in her list of failures, but it has had a life-changing impact on me.

Also, this comment thread is truly a beautiful thing.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Oh KITTY, what you are doing is monumental. God bless you girl, I know how hard it is and what a difference you are making in the lives of your family. Bless, bless, bless your efforts.

DLM said...

Mizz Janet - "worth every nickel" perhaps? :)

You just took me to MY favorite place in elementary school (much as I remember our own lunch lady, Mozelle) - the library story well. We had this little shallow, three or four-tiered amphitheater of sorts, carpeted, arced and comfortable. We'd sit with our friends and the librarians would read to us, or teachers, or sometimes special guests would bring us their favorite book. I learned about the Caldecott in the story well. Now I wanna make you a big shiny medal. You can wear it on your forehead.

That was a great story. Thank you. And thank you for tipping him like that; it was for all of us now, I think.

InkStainedWench said...

Melanie Sue Bowles, your father and mine would have gotten along wonderfully. Cut from the same cloth!

Dena Pawling said...



Back when I was younger, I hung around the school cafeteria throughout the entire lunch break, mostly so I didn't get bullied. After a few weeks of this, the lunch ladies must have figured it out because they let me help serve the food. I have very fond memories of those ladies.

Then in high school, one of the science teachers opened his classroom at lunch so the misfits and science geeks had somewhere to hang out at lunchtime and not get bullied. He was a wonderful man. I met several wonderful, geeky, awkward teens just like me, and together we made it through high school alive.

Several years ago a concert violinist played in the subway and he didn't even earn enough money to buy a ticket to one of his regular performances.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2007/apr/18/joshuabellnoordinarybusker

Thanks for the reminder that we need to stop and appreciate the good things in life, both small and great.


Lisa Bodenheim said...

Gorgeous post, Janet. Although...those memories. I was never sent to the principal's office but I was often in trouble with my teachers for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or for not doing something I was supposed to do.

Melanie and InkStainedWench: My dad too. A sunny-natured guy, he noticed the small things in life and liked to feed the birds.

Shaunna: Thank you for sharing. I'd forgotten, my kids would sing with me as I tucked them in bed at night. (Guess I was a Julie Andrews wannabe.)

Colin Smith said...

Dena's link: https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2007/apr/18/joshuabellnoordinarybusker

I also wanted to add that this post reminded me of NY. I know exactly what Janet means by the plastic bucket drummers--we encountered them on the streets. And the train scene... while we weren't entertained by a drum master on the E-train, there was this one guy who talked very loudly, mostly about himself. I don't remember the substance of his monologue, but I do remember the awkward nods and smiles of the people around him, and Sarah and I keeping a careful eye on him. As newcomers to NYC, he made us a little nervous. I guess everyone else knew better. I try to use encounters like this as teaching moments for myself. Is this how I sound to people? Do I make my conversation all about me? Do I put people at ease, or make them nervous and awkward?

Anyway... the post triggered the memory, and I thought I'd share. :)

Julie Weathers said...

Dena I was going to Link that and got distracted. here is your link.

Here's a version of the whole 45 minutes. A little three-year-old boy tried to stop and listen, but his mother tugged him along. One woman recognized him. Seven people stopped in 45 minutes.

That sent me to listening to Lord of the Rings music. I may spend the day watching movies. I dreamed the end of Rain Crow and need to get it out of my mind.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Yesterday I sat in the sun reading Lincoln in the Bardo on the library steps. Today we are getting heavy snow. Could be eight inches.

Spring. Three steps forward, two back. The frogs like to start their concert in mid-April. Hope that happens.
What a lovely post, Janet, to read while watching the snow we are all so tired of blanket the world.

You never know what random act of kindness is going to save someone’s day or life.

Maybe you should quit agenting and write a book!

We had a children's librarian whose kindness my sister and I will never forget.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Something that astounds me (in the line of people just doing their job) is when a person with a really crappy job is helpful and kind.
We were in Big Block Store a few days ago and the Larger Person wanted some fake fur for a model he was building. The fabric clerk found he only needed a small bit and said she was allowed to give away an inch of any fabric as a sample. So she cut an inch for him for free and he was happy.
She certainly didn't have to do that. She could have just let him think he had to buy way more than he needed.
And now I'm wondering if she just made that up since I can't imagine Big Block Store giving away anything.

Colin Smith said...

Sharyn: Maybe you should quit agenting and write a book!

I hear Carkoon is particularly dreadful this time of year... ;)

Sherry Howard said...

Beautiful story today, Janet! Your words uplifted because we all need these everyday reminders that there are good and wonderful things around us, even when they are disguised as subway buskers.

I was a principal in a huge middle school. When they replaced our lunch ladies with pre-prepared cardboard healthy food I felt like they removed the heartbeat of our schools. It is a shame such decisions are made based only on finances by people who sit far away from the children's they serve. Lunchroom ladies rock! Yeast rolls beat out chocolate chip cookies any day with their smell!

Amy Johnson said...

Beautiful post and beautiful comments. Thank you.

Gets me thinking about our work and our everyday. Like when I'm walking into a store and the person in front of me reaches back and holds the door open for me. Didn't have to. I'm able-bodied and perfectly capable of opening a door. But getting a smile (doesn't cost a thing to give one) and not having a door slam shut in my face, well, it's nice when someone does a little something nice for you.

Wow, all this here today almost has me going all weepy-weep-weep. No, no. Mustn't let it get to that. Quick, Amy, think of something you'll find funny. Really, Janet, as a child you didn't like being told what to do? And you still don't? Really really?

Panda in Chief said...

Finding the beauty in the moment is a marvelous thing. Thank you for this post.
Yesterday the sun was out and I found a dog toothed violet in bloom, spared by the slugs.
Today the rain returns.

Julie Weathers said...

Yesterday, while I was at the pain clinic and waiting in my little wheel chair to leave, an elderly lady came in on her walker. She stopped and asked a young lady waiting at the elevator where to find something. The directions were pretty simple. Go down the hall and turn left. You could only turn two ways, right or left and the office would be on the left. The woman kept asking. So the young lady with her coffee cup, water bottle, high heels and all said, "Would you like me to show you? Come with me. I'll just take you." And off they went visiting along the way like they were old friends.

The woman didn't have to do this. It certainly wasn't her job. She probably had somewhere she needed to be. Everyone who passed by me while I waited for my responsible driver asked me if I was all right. The only thing that would have made things better, aside from the procedure, was a better choice of books. While The Archer's Tale was a good book, I forgot about how horrific the battle was and depressing.

Susan said...

A very special shark once told me I was lighting candles in the dark with my words...

We're all lighting candles in the dark. Every single one of us, with every smile, every hello, every drumbeat. It only takes one.

Jenny C said...

This is a lovely post, Janet. :)

Janice Grinyer said...

I try to.

But some days it isn't easy.

Elissa M said...

I need to paint something beautiful now. This post has reminded me why art (in all forms, including chocolate chip cookies) is our bastion against all that is miserable in this world.

french sojourn said...


What an incredible post. I have to heartedly agree with DLM, the tip was well spent and from all of us. (Well out of your pocket but it enriched all of our tickers. Thanks

And the comments today were such a group of wonderful insights, baby sitting Katrina...I mean Katina, organ-ing, the library reading well, waving at the 4 year old, pow wow-ing. They were all enjoyable. Really cool post and comments today. Wow!

BJ Muntain said...

I read a story many, many years ago that resonated with me. I read it more recently in a book by a respected psychologist, with a bit more background to it.

The basic gist is: A fellow jumped off the Golden Gate bridge. Later, in his diary, they found he'd written 'If one person smiles at me on the way, I won't do it.' Obviously, no one smiled at him.

I like to smile. I smile a lot. It makes me feel better, it makes others feel better, and sometimes I get return smiles. And if all it takes sometimes is a smile to make someone feel a bit better about their life, why not do it? I'm not able to do a lot for others right now, so I'll smile. Even if I'm poor in everything else, I can be rich in smiles, and I can spread that richness around.

I'm not the greatest singer in the world, but people enjoy the way I enjoy singing in the choirs I belong to. Which makes them smile. And makes me smile. My Christmas choir (it's a large, four-part choir with two pianists and a drummer) goes to seniors homes in December, and the smiles you get from even those who don't celebrate Christmas is the most uplifting part of the season.

Sorry for the lengthy post. I guess my main point here is: Yes. We all do something that will affect others in positive ways. Sometimes a smile is all it takes.

Everyone is so full of wisdom today. Janet's entire post. Melanie's "It's a thread in the rich fabric of life. Without it, you wouldn't have the entire experience of living." You guys all rock.

Re drummers: A fellow I went to high school with moved between grade 11 and 12 (aka before senior year) to BC to go to a university that would foster his musical/percussion abilities. That young man was incredible. His talent on anything percussion - especially the xylophone and vibraphone - was really too huge for the little town we lived in. This is him today. He plays with orchestras and bands, and even for theatre performances.

Re school librarians: In both elementary and high school, I was able to work in school libraries. In high school, the school librarian let me eat lunch in the quiet of the library before I went to work during the lunch hour. It was nice, quiet time alone, reading just anything at hand. It helped me get through a stressful time in my life, to just be able to sit in the quiet and recharge in the middle of the day.

Claire Bobrow said...

Today's post and comments are lovely.

I raise a toast to musicians and lunch ladies, to those who perform selfless deeds, and to those who smile unbidden and bring joy to another's heart.


Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Hi Colin,
If the weather in Carkoon is better than here in the White Mountains, I'll pack.
I come with two pissed off cats and a tall stack of books.
Maybe they'll eat kale, maybe not.

PAH said...

My friends and I gave the lunch ladies a Christmas card every year, thanking them for their work. And we leaned their first names.

Always be kindest to those who handle your food.

Claire AB. said...

Thank you for this post, Janet. It's amazing and supremely inspirational, even if that wasn't your intention. Somehow, that makes it even more beautiful.

You've reminded me of an amazing bus driver I had growing up in Detroit. In those days,I had to take a city bus to high school. I was only 13 - young and also small for my age -- walking alone in the dark most mornings to get to my bus and go downtown to school. Truthfully, it scared me, but that was how it had to work. So I would arrive at my bus stop rattled, but I had the same bus driver every morning. He greeted me with a smile and a "How are you?" every bus ride and wished me a good day every time he deposited me in front of my school. He was my hero -- all fear went away on those rides. I hope he knew that by the grateful smile and thank you I would give him in return. We ended up leaving Michigan after my first half-year of school, but I'll never forget a few years later, I was on that busy road where I used to catch the bus on those mornings. A bus passed and the bus driver waved. It was my guardian angel I saw -- I remain, to this day, quite certain of it. I waved and smiled, so grateful to reconnect with him. And remember his kindness.

Thank you so much, again, for this post, Janet. I'm so grateful for this blog.

DLM said...

That story about the concert violinist - I remember that one, and my take on it is the same now as it was then. This doesn't tell us everyone is thoughtless for not knowing this exalted musician was playing for them for free. It tells us that perhaps there are other musicians out there who are as talented as he is, who are not getting the same recognition or those expensive-ticket concerts he is. That his music may be fine and beautiful, but that is not so unheard of that he must be paid special notice.

I suppose there's something worthwhile in the lesson that people ignored the sublime. But I have known SO many musicians, artists, poets and writers who weren't getting fancy recognition for their work, and whose creations are as sublime as anyone could ask. Perhaps I worry less about those who do get lots of money and fame for their work exactly because they do.

On the other side of our conversation - the little things, the human interactions ... there is a woman in my sphere (I cannot say acquaintance, and here is why) who never greets. Never smiles, never speaks, never so much as looks at me. I have to assume this isn't "about me" - and yet, my deepest human response to her is a suspicion and animosity of surprising power. Three years we've shared a space in our lives, and never once have we conversed. Her lack of the most basic mammalian communication hits me on an instinctual level, and precisely because of this utter lack of signals from her, the blankness itself, my emotional response is LOATHING.

The human community formed itself from our earliest existence, in communication, even without words. There's a reason the roots of the words look so alike. To present no greeting or openness sets someone outside, it's an almost threatening thing on the instinctual level. This person isn't showing trust nor connection of any kind - this person is OTHER.

I know why I feel toward her as I do, and absolutely cannot help it, and I even blame her.

Human connection, communication, community, caring. They're that bone-deep important.

Jen said...

Oh man, did I need to read this today. Thank you, Janet!

kathy joyce said...

Lovely, inspirational post! Thank you Janet. And insightful, touching responses. Thank you all.

What a wonderful world if we all lived fully our gifts and talents. And if we all fully appreciated others doing the same. Without judging, and with kind words and encouragement.

Like it was yesterday, I remember sitting in seventh grade science class, third row, far right, desk nearest the window. Suddenly, I realized I had an essay due for English class, the next hour. We were correcting homework, so I only had a red pen available. I snuck out a piece of paper and wrote the essay in red pen. (Writing in other than blue or black was a capital offense, but having a blue or black pen in my hand would have raised suspicions of the science teacher. The English teacher was nicer, so I took my chances). She graded my essay (in green pen, not her usual red) with this comment: "This is a wonderful essay. You should think about being a writer." Decades later, I don't even remember her name, but that comment still encourages me!

InkStainedWench said...

BJ Muntain's remarks about smiling remind me of when I was on a train in Belgium. We were in the car designed for bicycles; just two rows of seats facing each other across the open area for bikes. I saw a spectacular rainbow out the window on the other side, and pointed it out to Mr. Wench. A young man seated facing us noticed the gesture, and twisted around to look out his window. He saw the rainbow, then turned back and caught my eye and smiled the most beatific smile of appreciation. It was just a wordless, "Thanks! I'm glad I saw that!" He was happy, and his smile made me happy. All free of charge.

RosannaM said...

This blog post, Janet was such a warm, snuggly blanket to wake up to. And the comments too.

It is easy to lose our way, thinking that our writing may have no value at all, if the greater world does not value it. This is profoundly sad. We learn here about the business side of publishing, which is a reality we have to embrace should we enter it one day. But while publishing is a business, it does not have the power to bestow or strip away the value that is intrinsic to the words we set down each day. That is our fabric. So knit, crochet, sew, stitch and string together some more words, folks.

Joseph Snoe said...

If I am ever asked to write an article on the most memorable person I ever met, I’d have many choices. My old judge, The Honorable John C. Godbold (and his wife Betty), a humble man who by his presence humbled men and women who themselves had reached grand social, economic or political heights, would be a great choice, as would Professor and former Governor Albert P. Brewer.

But honestly, I think the most memorable person to me (excluding my mom) was Lulu the bus driver. Lulu was my school bus driver from the second grade up to the time I started driving myself to school in high school.

She was always old, wrinkled, with short thinning grey hair to the point of balding, heavy, wore overalls, seemed molded to her seat, very androgynous. In my mind, and probably in reality, she chewed tobacco (tabacca seems a better word for it). She lived with her mother. I could only imagine how old her mother must have been.

Every morning Lulu would stop at the corner and pick up a crowd of students and circle the neighborhood. I don’t remember her missing as a day, ever. She was such a constant n my life.

Only once in those years did she stop the bus, stand up, and tell us to quit acting up. Still haunts me to this day.

Lulu, the bus driver. Greatest lady ever.

Karen McCoy said...

What a gorgeous post! Definitely brightened my day. I will be sending it to my uncle, who lives a beautiful, creative life in upstate New York, running his own art business and renovating a 17th century chapel to make it livable. He loves to write, but is afraid no one will be interested in what he has to say because of his age. I will be sending him this post--because he, like all the lunch ladies, all the drummers, all the artists, all the writers--is a vessel for something beautiful.

kathy joyce said...

I think we should write a book, a series of these little vignettes about the unsung people who affected our lives. It would make readers happy, and remind them of the power each of us has to enrich others. We have the writers; we just need a good editor. And an agent, of course. Or, we could self-publish... :)

Casey Karp said...

Heh. Ethnomusicologists FTW! (I were one once.)

If I had to nominate somebody for this thread, it'd have to be the entire staff of my local public library, who never tried to discourage me from reading anything that caught my eye, and who encouraged me to stagger out of the building with a stack of books taller than I was. (Granted, I was small for my age all through elementary school, but still...)

Sharyn, I expect a full report on whether the tall stack of books eat kale--I already know the cats won't, at least until we successfully hybridize kale and catnip.

DLM, I'm with you on the concert violinist story. I think all of us striving for publication feel a lot more like the buskers than the concert artists. We almost have to; it's that feeling that "What I'm writing is just as good as [insert name here]'s stuff--even better!" that keeps us going through the forty-'leven rejection slips. Or is that just me?

Colin Smith said...

Kathy: Projects like this have been floated from time to time (particularly in relation to flash fiction), but the reality of the logistics usually gives us pause. Permissions, royalties, editing, marketing, etc. It's a lot of work. Not impossible, but it could be quite a time-consuming venture. A nice idea, but unless someone is willing to take the reins and see it through, it's probably best kept in the comments. That said, if you're really desperate to see what Carkoon's like this time of year, you could suggest Janet do it... ;)

DLM said...

Casey - exactly, exactly, EXACTLY!

NPR had a story today featuring a woman who basically was done out of her job as a real estate appraiser, and she had to become (*GASP*) a BUS DRIVER. She discusses this as if she were a total leper, and NPR throws out a tiny disclaimer at the end basically saying "we don't hate bus drivers" but it was irksome in the extreme to witness the absolute unthinking snobbery on display. So today's discussion is hugely heartening to me.

Colin and I were commenting about this and other things at my blog, and I have been trying for like half an hour to find that NPR piece, to no avail. I am incredibly annoyed, because I wanted to point to this stellar, wonderful discussion and link that story as well. Gah.

Beth Carpenter said...

The shopper that allowed me, and my fidgety preschoolers, ahead of her at the checkout line. The tall man who got something off a high shelf for me. The doctor who distracted with warm conversation before an exam. The driver who waved me in from a parking lot. I suspect none of them remembered their good deed by the end of the day, but it made a difference.

And reading Janet's story and all your comments has made a difference in my day. I'm smiling. Life is good.

Casey Karp said...

I've had a lot of wonderful conversations with bus drivers on all manner of subjects over the years.

I've also ridden with a heck of a lot of bus drivers I don't ever want to come within 0.62 miles of again.

The odd thing? The ratio of awesome to horrible is exactly the same as in every other profession.

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lennon Faris said...

Ah, Janet. What a beautiful post. You do a lot more than you think!

And the comments, sheesh guys. I am in public. I am pretending there is something in my eye... uh both eyes.

Robert Ceres said...

For some reason this post reminded me of the time my wife and I were walking through the underground tunnel connecting the Paris Chalet and Les Halles subway stations. We had spent a long day touring the city and were exhausted. We had with us our two daughters, our one year old in my arms, our six year old holding our hands. In a chamber midway through the tunnel a string orchestra from Conservatoire de Paris was playing Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor, led by a young woman concertmaster, playing her violin, but also focused on her ensemble. As we stopped to listen they finished the first movement, and, as she started the Andante movement, caught and my eye, held it, gave me a little half smile, until a little tear rolled out of her eye. Perhaps some memory of her and her dad at some other time. And I guess a little tear rolled out of mine, perhaps thinking about a future time when one of mine might play to a young family and make them cry.

Ever after I tried to instill a sense of passion into the music of my daughters, telling them if they wanted to make their music powerful they needed to really feel their own musical and emotional intensity, and pour it into their music.

Today I’m proud to say that my youngest, now a teen, who’s been playing violin for years, on her own started teaching herself piano. The oldest is at the Shepard School of Music majoring in vocal performance.

And so, for some reason, this post brought a little tear to my eye.

The Sleepy One said...

I was an exchange student in high school and traveled to a country where I didn't speak the language. By chance, I ended up by an elementary school student (maybe second grade) practicing counting in English with her mother. I joined her and gave her some encouragement.

After that, I was the go-to person for elementary school-aged students to practice their English on. I even ended up going on a ski trip with a third-grade class and also volunteering weekly in a kindergarten-like class for five-year-olds (they hadn't started learning English yet). All because I started counting with a girl in a grocery store.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Julie ... Write, I did. I just wrote "The End" on my WIP. Which makes it no longer a WIP.

I'm now off to evening chores, but popped back in here to read comments. So glad I did, even though I'm blubbering.

Robert Ceres, You ruined me. In a good way.

Lisa B and Ink, Nothing better than being raised by parents who took a grateful bite out of life and instilled joy.

After my work is done, I may grab a lovely dark beer, hop in the ATV and take a celebratory drive through the woods for that "The End." I'll also toast my daddy and say "cheers" to all of you.

Casey Karp said...

Melanie, congratulations! Such a wonderful feeling to write those words.

I imagine several of us will be drinking toasts to that pair of words tonight.

Craig F said...

Since I don't have the empathy or equipment to listen to the stories of hotel beds, I talk to people. Most of those I don't see again but a few have become acquaintances. A lot of those in my stories have something borrowed from other ships in the night. Even if those go nowhere I am enriched by those talks.

Drumming: In my current sci-fi thing, the fleet has to go back in time to rescue the Commodore's great-great granddaughter. To do that they have to spend eight months in a dimension beyond the light speed limit. To stave off the mental consequences of being in a place humans are can not understand they use drum circles. The time travel trip in real time went back 2 weeks, five days and 36 hours.

I still want to know the difference in the stories of one star and five start hotel beds.

Julie Weathers said...

Criminy, I meant to delete that depressing post earlier and deleted the wrong one apparently in my dash to go pick up the child.

Sorry.

Melanie

Congratulations! The end are such lovely words.

I can't seem to get much of anything done right today, so I'm not going to attempt to repost the correct things again. I went to the grocery store, that's a daunting enough task. You would think buying groceries is enough, then you have to bring them in and put them up. My back is having discussions with me, but my stomach threatened to kill me if I fixed one more bowl of tomato soup.

kdjames.com said...

Of course there's insight here. Art is transformative. It has the power to change people. That's as true of novels as it is of performance art or chocolate chip cookies or a smile from a stranger. Or a blog post.

Janet, I know you shrug off attempts to call you a writer, but you are without doubt a natural storyteller. Thank you for telling this story and reminding us that what we attempt is worthwhile.

Megan V said...

The post and comments today were a treasure to read. I'd say more, but I'm trying to outrun the ticking crocodile.

Thank you all for sharing your stories, from your past, present, and your wishes for the future.

lb667 said...

What a fabulous blog today Janet
I feel uplifted just from having read it. We certainly should share more of these stories.
Laurie

Claire Bobrow said...

Megan V: love the ticking crocodile reference.*

But wait a minute - could "Megan V" be a pseudonym for ...

Captain Hook?!

*“I suppose it's like the ticking crocodile, isn't it? Time is chasing after all of us.” (J.M. Barrie)

Here's another J.M. Barrie quote that sprang to mind in the wake of today's comments:
"All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

What a great little story, definitely a pay-it-forward chain. Put a smile on my face and warmed my heart. Thanks, Janet.

Megan V said...

Claire

Perhaps
Megan V
Is A
Name 4
Hook.
Or
Is
It?
I'll never tell.
Really, I won't.

Claire Bobrow said...

Ooh Megan V. I love an intrigue!

John Davis Frain said...

It's posts like this that make me wish I could get here earlier every day, especially early in the week. Now I wanna high-five somebody and the front porches are all empty in the neighborhood.

"the work they did, even if they didn't know or care, turned out to be important to someone they'll never know about."

I wonder how often this happens. Happens to me a lot, and I wish there was a better way to let people know. Sometimes I compliment people for the smallest reason and I can see them smile. Other times (confession) I'm afraid they'll think I'm a creepy stalker so I don't say anything.

Great post, Janet. I'm a read it all over again in a few.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

When I was working in DC, there was a sax player in my metro station. Nothing will ever sound better. I "bought" my ticket every morning. I LOVE street musicians, flash mobs, and one day spontaneously danced with the Hari Krishnas on capitol mall.

It's why we do this life thing.

Terri

John Davis Frain said...

Janet often praises the comments section of her blog, and boy howdy, today! It'd be crazy for Colin to put the comments in the Treasure Chest, but there are some wonderful stories.

Too many to recount, but if I were making a documentary, I think I'd have the final credits running over a scene with Amy Schaefer waving with that 4-year-old kid. I can picture him (and his smile) like I'm standing there on the sidewalk.

AJ Blythe said...

Interesting how lunch ladies have resonated with so many people here. We don't have lunch ladies in schools here (we don't have dining halls to eat in either). Rather, we have tuckshop which is manned mostly by Mums working on a roster system. You queue to buy food outdoors and then sit in the designated area balancing your food on your lap. Most kids take a packed lunch to school.

CynthiaMc said...

Life is tough and busy right now. I used to read Janet's post as I did my hair before heading off to work (7 am) usually no one had posted yet. I'd catch as many comments as I could during my 30-minute lunch (down to 20 factoring in travel to/from the time clock, food warming and trash time). I don't know what made me back up and read today (I think it might be my guardian angel) but I'm glad I did.

Janet - I usually got in trouble for correcting the teacher. One English teacher hated Shakespeare and had me teach the class. I had a blast. Even turned her into Shakespeare-tolerant.

My favorite memories - our last Christmas together before my sister got married and my brother joined the Air Force; playing "Let's see where this road goes" with my mother every time we moved to a new place; watching neighborhood baseball games with my father on warm spring afternoons; all-night fishing with my brother when he came home on leave.

It really is the little things that make life sweet.

Gypmar said...

Just now catching up here after being out of town, and seeing this lovely post gave me a tingle from my head to my toes! I was completely unfamiliar with lunch ladies until I became one myself, and one of the best parts is when people tell me a story about the difference a lunch lady made in their lives.

I also happen to know two ethnomusicologists. Go figure! :)

LynnRodz said...

Thank you, Janet, for a lovely post. I swear we're kindred spirits. Everything you said about yourself as a child (and now) is exactly how I am, except for the B. I was happy to just get a passing grade in math each semester. Never understood it beyond the basics and still don't.

Your post brought back memories of my early traveling days when I was a busker. I played my guitar/clarinet throughout Europe, in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris, etc., and I did all right. Not to mention, it was a wonderful way of meeting other musicians from around the world. That's how I met an old boyfriend who's now a professional recording artist and gives concerts here in France.

Whenever I see a street performer, I always give them something. As Kahlil Gibran said:

And if there come the singers and the dancers and the flute players, buy of their gifts also.


For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense, and that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul.