Monday, October 6, 2008

The Best Kind of Gift

Last Friday I celebrated my 50th birthday. The people I love and the people who love me back made it a wonderful day from beginning to end. During the preceding week I received some nice gifts from family members and friends, but on Friday I received several of my favorite gifts . . . gifts of writing.

The first written gift of the day was from my 7-year old nephew Nathan who lives in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and is a 2nd-grader at Montego Bay Christian Academy. He is the center of my world and I miss him so much. Several days before my birthday I received an envelope in the mail from Jamaica, and written on the seal were the words: Do not open until October 3rd. So I obeyed, and the envelope waited on my kitchen counter until I opened it Friday morning. Inside was a handmade card from Nathan. His words and the care he took with his beautiful cursive handwriting brought tears to my eyes.

Friday morning is breakfast day at Fred's Market Restaurant for Tomlin teachers. When I arrived several of my colleagues were already there, and they started singing "Happy Birthday" to me. Soon more teachers came in and joined in the celebration. When Dianne Stevens, Tomlin's technology teacher, arrived she walked right up to me and handed me a gift bag. Inside was one of those dragonfly ornaments that balance perfectly by the nose. As I took it out of the bag, Mrs. Stevens began to read aloud a poem she had written for me that morning while driving (not recommended, by the way) to breakfast .


aerial trick flyer
yet sits perfectly still

like us—

work play
song silence
joy sorrow

Happy Dragonfly Birthday, Howard

—Dianne Stevens

I had no idea my friend and colleague was a wordsmith who could generate something so lovely and poetic and meaningful on the spur of the moment. Thanks, Dianne!

Later at school, Cindy Petersen, my teacher friend from down the hall along with some of her students filled my room with balloons and other decorations. It made for a festive feeling that lasted all day. Thanks Cindy!

A festive desk.

At Tomlin, our school day begins every morning with a closed-circuit television show. I was working at my desk when suddenly, I heard Mrs. Susan Williamson talking about me. When I looked at the TV screen, I saw she was sitting beside Krislyn, one of my precious language arts students. Krislyn began to read aloud a poem she had written for my birthday. As I listened to her sweet words, the tears began to flow again . . . .



Although he's 50, it's plain to see
His heart's as young as you and me

I've only known him a short 9 weeks

But he has your attention from the moment he speaks

Just like us you were once sitting in a class

Now the big 50 has caught you at last

It's oh so real, you're over the hill

But in your heart, you're as young as you feel

A teacher like no other, this is true

He brings out the very best in you.

Here's wishing you 50 more
To make the minds of more kids soar.

Happy birthday, Mr. Blount!


For lunch, my unparalled colleague Mrs. Gunn prepared one of my favorite meals of Cuban mojo pork and for dessert a homemade carrot cake. Throughout the day my former students, both seventh and eighth-graders, found creative ways to stop by my classroom and wish me happy birthday. Several students gave me birthday cards, most of them homemade, my favorite kind! One of the cards contained a free-verse poem written by my student Eliza.


A Poem to Mr. Blount

I've known you
Only for a short while,
But I still love you so.

You showed me that
Poetry is fun.
I love to write poems.
They make me happy.

And to you, my dear teacher,
have a happy, happy

Love, Eliza

I don't think it was a coincidence that we started reading our newest focus title, Poetry Matters by Ralph Fletcher, this week. In the introduction to the book he tells a moving story about how as a young man he started giving gifts of writing, and how they touched the lives of the recipients. I am hoping that my students will learn that they don't need money to buy expensive gifts for special occasions. All they need to do to give the gift of writing is pick up a pencil and pour out their hearts on their papers.

As I look back over the past fifty years of my life, there are many times people have given me gifts of writing. One of those gifts was a poem my father wrote for my tenth birthday when he gave me my first watch. There are hundreds of cards in storage at my house where friends and family members have written personal, meaningful notes to me at special times. These gifts of writing are irreplaceable treasures to me.