Late for School
All my life, I've had this recurring dream that causes me to wake up feeling strange. In it, I am a little girl again, rushing about, trying to get ready for school.
"Hurry, Gin, you'll be late for school," my mother calls to me. I am hurrying, Mom! Where's my lunch? What did I do with my books?"
Deep inside I know where the dream comes from and what it means. It is God's way of reminding me of some unfinished business in my life.
I loved everything about school, even though the school I attended in Springfield, Ohio, in the 1920s was very strict. I loved books, teachers, even tests and homework. Most of all I longed to someday march down the aisle to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance." To me, that song was even more beautiful than "Here Comes the Bride."
But there were problems.
The Great Depression hit the hardest at large, poor families like ours. With seven children, Mom and Dad had no money for things like fine school clothes. Every morning, I cut out strips of cardboard to stuff inside my shoes to cover the holes in the soles. There was no money for musical instruments or sports uniforms or after-school treats. We sang to ourselves, played jacks or duck-on-the-rock, and munched on onions as we did homework.
These hardships I accepted. As long as I could go to school, I didn't mind too much how I looked or what I lacked.
What happened next was harder to accept. My brother Paul died of an infection after he accidentally stabbed himself in the eye with a fork. Then my father contracted tuberculosis and died. My sister, Margaret, caught the same disease, and soon she was gone, too.
The shock of these losses gave me an ulcer, and I fell behind in my schoolwork. Meanwhile, my widowed mother tried to keep going on the five dollars a week she made cleaning houses. Her face became a mask of despair.
One day I said to her, "Mom, I'm going to quit school and get a job to help out."
The look in her eyes was a mixture of grief and relief.
At fifteen, I dropped out of my beloved school and went to work in a bakery. My hope of walking down the aisle to "Pomp and Circumstance" was dead, or so I thought.
In 1940, I married Ed, a machinist, and we began our family. Then Ed decided to become a preacher, so we moved to Cincinnati where he could attend the Cincinnati Bible Seminary. With the coming of children went the dream of schooling, forever.
Even so, I was determined that my children would have the education I had missed. I made sure the house was filled with books and magazines. I helped them with their homework and urged them to study hard. It paid off. All our six children eventually got some college training, and one of them is a college professor.
But Linda, our last child, had health problems. Juvenile arthritis in
her hands and knees made it impossible for her to function in the typical classroom. Furthermore, the medications gave her cramps, stomach trouble and migraine headaches.
Teachers and principals were not always sympathetic. I lived in dread of the phone calls from school. "Mom, I'm coming home."
Now Linda was nineteen, and still she did not have her high school diploma. She was repeating my own experience.
I prayed about this problem, and when we moved to Sturgis, Michigan, in 1979, I began to see an answer. I drove to the local high school to check it out. On the bulletin board, I spotted an announcement about evening courses.
That's the answer, I said to myself. Linda always feels better in the evening, so I'll just sign her up for night school.
Linda was busy filling out enrollment forms when the registrar looked at me with brown, persuasive eyes and said, "Mrs. Schantz, why don't you come back to school?"
I laughed in his face. "Me? Ha! I'm an old woman. I'm fifty-five!"
But he persisted, and before I knew what I had done, I was enrolled for classes in English and crafts. "This is only an experiment," I warned him, but he just smiled.
To my surprise, both Linda and I thrived in evening school. I went back again the next semester, and my grades steadily improved.
It was exciting, going to school again, but it was no game. Sitting in a class full of kids was awkward, but most of them were respectful and encouraging. During the day, I still had loads of housework to do and grandchildren to care for. Sometimes, I stayed up until two in the morning, adding columns of numbers for bookkeeping class. When the numbers didn't seem to work out, my eyes would cloud with tears and I would berate myself. Why am I so dumb?
But when I was down, Linda encouraged me. "Mom, you can't quit now!" And when she was down, I encouraged her. Together we would see this through.
At last, graduation was near, and the registrar called me into his office. I entered, trembling, afraid I had done something wrong.
He smiled and motioned for me to have a seat. "Mrs. Schantz," he began, You have done very well in school."
I blushed with relief.
"As a matter of fact," he went on, "your classmates have voted unanimously for you to be class orator."
I was speechless.
He smiled again and handed me a piece of paper. "And here is a little reward for all your hard work."
I looked at the paper. It was a college scholarship for $3,000. "Thank you" was all I could think to say, and I said it over and over.
The night of graduation, I was terrified. Two hundred people were sitting out there, and public speaking was a brand-new experience for me. My mouth wrinkled as if I had been eating persimmons.
My heart skipped beats, and I wanted to flee, but I couldn't! After all, my own children were sitting in that audience. I couldn't be a coward in front of them.
Then, when I heard the first strains of "Pomp and Circumstance," my fears dissolved in a flood of delight. I am graduating! And so is Linda!
Somehow I got through the speech. I was startled by the applause, the first I ever remember receiving in my life.
Afterwards, roses arrived from my brothers and sisters throughout the Midwest. My husband gave me silk roses, "so they will not fade."
The local media showed up with cameras and recorders and lots of questions. There were tears and hugs and congratulations. I was proud of Linda, and a little afraid that I might have unintentionally stolen some of the attention that she deserved for her victory, but she seemed as proud as anyone of our dual success.
The class of '81 is history now, and I've gone on for some college education.
But sometimes, I sit down and put on the tape of my graduation speech. I hear myself say to the audience, "Don't ever underestimate your dreams in life. Anything can happen if you believe. Not a childish, magical belief. It means hard work, but never doubt that you can do it, with God's help."
And then, I remember the recurring dream-Hurry, Gin, you'll be late for school-and my eyes cloud over when I think of my mother.
Yes, Mom, I was late for school, but it was all the sweeter for waiting. I only wish you and Dad could have been there to see your daughter and granddaughter in all their pomp and circumstance.