When I asked what he thought of his father’s job as a handler of bomb-sniffing dogs, the 12 year old said proudly, “I want to be just like him.” That was my take-away after I’d interviewed the man. The 8 year olds’ brown eyes were enthusiastically determined. He took a gulp of air as he ran past me after his dad, a muscled ex-Marine. “I do this every night. I’m going to be strong like him.” I kept walking as the sun settled over the Rocky Mountains – and I kept smiling.
“My dad and I fixed that.” “We’re going to the shooting range.” “Everyone else is leaving for the weekend, but I’m staying home with dad.” These weren’t unusual comments from the teenager. He thought his father was the best.
“We have to interview someone for speech class,” said the middle-school student. “I want to do it on you.” She was a social and inquisitive child with a warm heart. She’d accompanied me on visits to a rehabilitation with my therapy-dog-in-training, flipped and sugared deep-fried spicy pumpkin doughnut drops in my kitchen, and divulged things that were “only for our family, but you’re part of our family.” For some reason, she liked hanging around me.
“Send me to Grandma Leppke,” I pleaded. Our family had just moved from the Kansas wheat fields to Alaska tundra, and I wasn’t happy about it. The small living room was crowded with boxes; one of which my five-year-old body fit nicely inside. I longed to return to the Peabody farm and follow Grandma with the tin can bucket she’d made me for gathering eggs. I wanted to sit beside her on the bench seat when she drove the bulky-fendered truck to the wheat co-op – and we’d share a tall glass bottle of Nesbitt’s orange pop. I imagined watching her milk cows and then squirt milk across the room to a loud meowing cat crouched in the barn corner. I yearned to shadow her.
In a Career Guidance class I taught, I asked the students, “Who is your role model for growing older? The students looked at me blankly. Most of them were in their 20s. What would older have to do with them now? I prodded them to reflect on whom they wanted to follow, emulate, and learn from – and why. Grading those papers was like reading mini-stories – some funny, some sad.
Looking ahead, whom are you following? What is it about them that holds your attention and compels you to trail after them when they disappear over a hill? Looking behind, who is following you? What kinds of ripples are in your wake?
(This was first printed in “The Country Register” (Kansas), Dec-14/Jan-15)