It did not matter who you were. You could not leave my Granny Bennett’s home without her putting something in your hands. It may have been a slice of cake or a sandwich wrapped in foil or maybe a trinket from her vast collection. You always left with a gift.
When my mother fell ill, my Grandmother Patton came to live with us. She arrived just before supper. My dad had planned to go out and get some pizza for us, but she insisted on cooking up a meal. I remember feeling embarrassed. Since we had been living on sandwiches and takeout, there was hardly any food in the cupboards or the refrigerator. Yet somehow, within an hour, a hot meal was on the table. This seemed to me a miracle, produced out of thin air.
Of all the wonderful memories I have of my grandmothers, these are the most abiding. These are deep memories because they tell so much about their character. They speak of frugality and generosity, of determination and of love.
These memories also tell about the circumstances that shaped them. Both were young mothers during the Great Depression. Those life-long character traits were forged out of the life skills they learned for the sake of their families’ survival.
Their generation has left us, but it was full of people like my grandmothers. Their hard times made them better people. For those of us blessed to know them, their example made us into better people.
As the days wear on, it is becoming clear that COVID-19 and its aftermath will define this generation. Years from now, history books will praise or deride our current crop of leaders based on their actions and inactions. We, as individuals, will be best remembered for how we act and what we do in this time. Above all, our children will remember these as the seminal days of their childhood.
As an educator, this gives me hope. It has only been a few weeks, but I have seen newfound respect and the highest levels of cooperation among teachers, between teachers and their administrators, and between teachers and parents. I believe this will last. In the future, I truly believe that educators at all levels, along with parents, having seen how much the other was willing to sacrifice for the sake of our children, will be more willing to give grace instead of harsh words.
More importantly, children immersed in digital learning are realizing how much they miss what they had always taken for granted. I have peeked into our teachers’ virtual classrooms and heard student after student say the words, “I miss my friends.” “I miss my teachers!” “I miss school!”
As days turn into weeks, this void in their lives will become apparent to more of our children. If they once dreaded the sight of a school bus because it meant another day of school, their feelings are changing. Now the sight of a school bus means a meal and reminds them, in a material way, that they are not forgotten but are important to society.
Finally, for those who doubted it, these events have proven, beyond all doubt, the importance of public education to our way of life. In our community, a completely new way of teaching was developed over a weekend — seemingly, out of thin air.
This was no miracle. Students left us on a Friday afternoon. We had smiles on our faces as we waved goodbye but wondered when we would see them next. Then we got to work.
Thanks to our district leaders, tools were already in place that met our needs in this crisis. In our schools, leaders arose to build the technological and logistical structures required by school from home. Our principals demonstrated the type of leadership we would very much like to see from our political leaders. Our teachers did what teachers do, which is to say, whatever is best for their students.
Come Monday morning, we had school. On Monday morning, the school buses rolled. Instead of picking up, this time they delivered. We, parents and teachers, may have been frightened and worried, but on Monday, children learned. Few other institutions have such capacity, such a reservoir of talent and such resilience.
These early days may be the easiest we have for a time. As the weeks wear on, let us remember our place in this historical moment.
My grandmothers’ hard times made them into better people. Whether it is this or some other crisis, let us be certain that our hard times make us into better people.
Chuck Bennett is an assistant principal at Chestatee Academy and has degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of North Georgia.