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Day 1: A friend nominated me to undertake a ten-day “challenge,” listing three things each day for which I am thankful. So, here goes nothin’:
1. I’m thankful to be alive–now there’s a surprise!
2. I’m thankful to be a (more or less–it’s complicated) “cradle Episcopalian,” thanks to my mother, who, though not particularly religious herself, thought that, if one had to be religious, then the Episcopal Church was the way to go.
3. No surprise here–I’m thankful for Faith–not the religious kind, but my Willowy Bride for more than 47 years. I just cannot imagine my life without her!
1. I’m thankful for my parents, Ben and Betts, who between them held down three blue/pink-collar jobs (one for each kid!) for most of my childhood, ensuring that we got everything we really needed but not much else. Still, good job! (Too bad the marriage only lasted twenty years.)
2. Two people who were “like parents” to me, at a time when I needed that: Jim and Bert, my future in-laws. I’ve never forgotten their support and generosity.
3. My siblings, Judy and Rick. We went through a lot together “back in the day” (good and bad); went off in very different directions as adults; settled about as far apart as physically possible in the continental U.S. (Del., Ore., Ga.); but remain as close today as the phone and the Internet allow. Love you guys!
1) Our “boys”–in Memphis and Austin. Financially independent (most of the time!) and, while they’ll probably never make piles of money, they seem to be doing what they like–and it’s legal!
2) My nephews and niece–again, financially independent (most of the time!), two with families of their own. They’ve done their parents proud and made me a grateful uncle!
3) Believe it or not, I’m thankful for the U.S. Army–an ROTC stipend helped pay for the last two years of college; active duty (1966-1968) gave me some “real world” experience and, more importantly, showed me three (count ’em, three) career paths I did not want to pursue; and the GI Bill helped pay for a couple years of grad school.
Day 4: In honor of the Sabbath, here are three religious things I’m thankful for:
1. The Episcopal Church of the United States–resting as it does on the “three-legged stool” of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, the Episcopal Church doesn’t require you to check your mind at the door. I’ve always been grateful for that!
2. St. Jude’s Episcopal Church, Smyrna, Ga.–a wonderful, small church in which to raise a family, teach adult Sunday school, and make friends for a lifetime!
3. St. James’ Episcopal Church, Marietta, Ga.–our church home since 1990; allowed me to serve as Clerk of the Vestry for thirteen years. Being a Vestry member is at times like touring a sausage factory, but I’ve always liked sausage, so. . . .
Day 5: Half-way there!
1. Clio, the Muse of History–still alluring after all these years; you go, Girl!
2. My maternal grandparents, Ike and Isabel–a marriage of the taciturn and the talkative that lasted for the long-run. They put up with me for a couple of weeks every summer when I was young and let me live with them full-time for my senior year in high school and the first part of freshman year in college.
3. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the Book of Common Prayer–almost five centuries later, the BCP remains the essential compendium of liturgy, Scripture, prayers, church history, and traditions for the Worldwide Anglican Communion.
Day 6: circling back to clarify some things:
1. My Mom, Betts–loved us unconditionally; encouraged us to read; supported us in whatever we hoped to do in life; and provided an unforgettable example of a strong, independent woman.
2. My Dad, Ben–loved us according to his lights; worked two jobs to try to keep the family together, which made him an absentee father much of the time; was a reluctant disciplinarian (whew!); and taught me important lessons, including some about how not to be a father (and, in my experience, negative lessons can be as powerful as positive ones).
3. Newark, Delaware–certainly not Mayberry, but a great small town to visit (as I did every summer as a kid) and, eventually, to live in (through high school and college). Everybody in the neighborhood knew your name (both an advantage and a disadvantage!), and most of what a kid wanted to do was within walking distance. Like many such places, though, Newark has since outgrown its “small town” vibe.
1. The Blues–I came to this music late in life, but I won’t let it go. Especially in the recordings from the late 1920s through the end of World War II (many of which are still available via cd and download), the Blues offers a powerful witness to the struggles of a long-suffering people to escape the effects of slavery and discrimination. Also an effective way to encourage modern students to view the nation’s past through African American eyes.
2. Mrs. Osborne and Mr. Talbott–my 5th and 6th-grade teachers, respectively, who engaged in a determined (and, I swear, coordinated), rather successful, campaign to “encourage” me to control my sometimes volcanic temper and, as we might say now, “build up my self-esteem.” (To those who know me: surprise!)
3. Education for Ministry (EFM)–a four-year extension course in theology, created by the School of Theology at the University of the South; offered, in my case, under the auspices of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Completing EFM (in 1987) clarified, and strengthened, my faith; provided fodder for adult Sunday school classes on theology and church history; gave me the “opportunity” to teach freshman Old Testament at my school for a few years; and even allowed me to co-teach an EFM evening class at my school for four years.
1. Newark (Delaware) High School–at the time, the sole high school in a small-college town, NHS did a fine job preparing lots of people (only a minority of whom went on to college) for the “real world,” including me.
2. Miss Gertrude Weaver–Modern European History teacher at NHS, and the best teacher I’ve ever had–at any level. Sure, I learned some History from her, but, more importantly, Miss Weaver taught me that knowledge, enthusiasm, energy, and just enough personality quirks could make an unbeatable combination in a classroom teacher.
3. University of Delaware–the only college I ever wanted to attend. Once I got out of its School of Education and into the School of Arts and Sciences, I acquired a solid liberal arts background that has stood me in good stead ever since.
1. Professor David Healy–my favorite teacher at Delaware, Dr. Healy allowed me, as an undergraduate, to take his year-long graduate-level course in the History of American Foreign Policy, thereby helping to implant in me the idea that I could handle grad school work in History.
2. Emory University–I attended Emory, B.C.M. (“Before the Coke Money”), and before all those aspirations. Emory provided fellowship support for all five years, and the History faculty, while hardly famous, knew their business and taught it with determination.
3. Professor James Z. Rabun–the best teacher I had in college or grad school. Dr. Rabun was my dissertation director at Emory, but, more than that, he was a Southern gentleman, dedicated scholar, mentor, and friend.
Day 10: Thanks to Atlanta’s The Westminster Schools for, among other things:
1. Being willing to hire me, a newly-minted PhD. whose teaching experience was all on the college level, then give me time–and room–to transition from “professor” to “teacher.”
2. A first-rate faculty and dedicated staff–the faces changed over the years, but the new folks were usually as talented and dedicated as the older ones had been, if not more so.
3. The generations of students it was my pleasure to teach there–and, as any teacher will tell you, what they taught me!
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Having completed this “challenge,” I think I’m supposed to “tag” a few other folks to do the same, but I’m going to pass. Instead, let me recommend the “thankfulness challenge,” especially to my retired friends (whether “shy” or “not shy”). It alleviates cynicism, at least for a while; I reckon “looking on the bright side” never hurt anyone, as long as you don’t get carried away!
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I have always been cynical–I think it comes with studying the past. Still, my cynicism in recent years makes my earlier views almost pollyanna-ish by comparison. So, this “thankfulness challenge” came along at the right time. Trying to compile a list of thirty things for which I am thankful truly was a challenge. Some comments on the results:
1. The number of entries involving religion initially surprised me. The school at which I worked proudly advertises itself as “A Christian Preparatory School for Boys and Girls,” so it was impossible for me to duck the “religious angle” even had I wished to. When my family attended church during my childhood, which wasn’t often (we had one car, Sunday was Dad’s only day off, and Mom didn’t drive), we usually went to an Episcopal service. I did not go to church between starting college and leaving the Army. Once we arrived in Atlanta for graduate school, my wife and I tried to re-connect with organized religion, occasionally attending the Methodist church on the Emory campus, but without much luck. After we had our first child and I began working at that “Christian Preparatory School,” we wound up in the Episcopal Church and have stayed there ever since. A colleague introduced me to the writings of C.S. Lewis, and I soon found myself reading everything by Lewis that I could lay my hands on. As I taught History, especially to my younger students, I incorporated aspects of religious history into my Ancient and Medieval History course and, eventually, into Modern European History and American History as well. After a decade at the school, I found out about Education for Ministry (EFM) and pursued it for four years, with the school picking up the tab, and that helped me, in ways noted above.
2. The things related to education for which I am thankful also struck me, but there’s a simple explanation: Between the ages of 6 (when I began elementary school) and 66 (when I retired,) I spent 58 years in one school or another, either as a student (21 years) or teacher (37 years). Simply put, I’ve always loved school! So it certainly shouldn’t be surprising that so many of the things I’m thankful for occurred in an educational setting.
3. Those of you who have followed this blog know that it has a definite retrospective cast. I taught History, after all; began my blog in retirement, as a way of “doing History after leaving the classroom”; and have often found myself waxing autobiographical. This “thankfulness challenge” also afforded me a chance to head down “memory lane.” I’m grateful for that, because it allowed me to dredge up recollections of Mrs. Osborne, Mr. Talbott, and Dr. Healy, all of whom I had not thought about very often, and enabled me to reconnect with better-remembered figures from my past, like Miss Weaver and Dr. Rabun. So, I guess “looking on the bright side” didn’t kill me; perhaps it even made me stronger, who knows?
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject: