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I would like to thank the man at the gas station somewhere between California and Arizona – the summer of 1967.

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My dad died the previous Christmas. We (Mom, my brother and I) stayed with MOM’s friend in Arizona for the summer. We were returning from a week in California – I was in the back seat where I ALWAYS got motion sickness. Everyone was going to the bathroom – getting snacks – whatever. I went to buy a soda (pop where I’m from). The machine had lots of sweet sodas like orange and grape. A man with his own kids and wife to take care of – reached into his cooler and walked over to me and handed me a ginger ale saying something like – “Here sweetheart this will settle your stomach better than the sweet soda.”  

The whole situation took less than 10 minutes and yet I choked up as I wrote this. I had lost my dad – but in that instance I was seen – loved – cared for – for a moment he cared for me just like one of the kids that got to get in his car to go home with him. I knew my dad had loved me but this was my first experience that other men were capable of unconditional love.

I would like to thank the man at Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester NY the summer of 1992. My son, myself, my friend and her two boys went for a day of fun. I had to pee. The boys were on a car ride, right near the ladies room. I was gone 5 -10 minutes. I came back and tried not to panic. I asked the attendant and my friend – “Where’s Andy?” The cars were circling with my friend’s two boys smiling in their cars but the red car that had held my red-headed son was empty. Both women pointed at the empty car and were shocked as I that he was not in it. I held down the panic and scanned the park for my four-year old. As I turned behind me – there was my son on the caterpillar rollercoaster ride smiling as he went up and down the little bumps in the ride.

When he got off – I can’t explain the emotions that poured through me – I was frozen as my body fought – crying? – yelling? – hugging?. I couldn’t speak or move. As these emotions played across my face and I vacillated between hugging my child and never letting him go and going nut case on his ass (FYI I don’t believe in striking a child or anyone) a man stood there. He stood there nonjudgmentally and waited to see which emotion would win out. He never said a word. Finally, I regained control and asked my son – “Why did you get off the car ride?” and as only four-year old could answer – “I liked this ride better.” I hugged him and the man walked off. I learned for a man to be a hero does not require him to be a certain strength or size or say words of great meaning – he just has to be there in the moment ready to give love and guidance where there only might be fear and distress.

I would like to thank pretty much everyone I meet in Portland and Freeport Maine – the summer of 1993. I am not the adventurous type. But when my son was 5, I took him to Maine – that’s about 8 ½ hours from my home. To save money I thought tenting would be great for the two weeks. It turned out not so much. I didn’t sleep because I kept imagining my son escaping in the night and getting lost in the woods. I got a debilitating headache, I later learned was a migraine.

So I decided to empty the bank account and get a hotel room. The first place I stopped at had a room for the two weeks but this is where the niceness started. The girl at the counter was worried about the cost for me. She actually called a few other places trying to get me a better deal. When they were all booked up – she worked to get me the best deal she could.

The places I took my VERY active 5-year-old – accepted us like family. The waitresses entertained him so I could actually eat my meal. In a drive about town we found a church that was having a festival for three days. For the three days, Andy and I went to the $5 lobster bake – I ate and ate—he played with all the other kids.

On the third day all the members of the church got together for the children’s parade through the neighborhood. I told Andy it was time to go. Pretty much the entire congregation turned to me and asked where we were going. And so my son proudly marched with his new friends. I seriously don’t even know the denomination of the church – but I did learn that neighbors aren’t just the people you see out of the windows of your own home.

This list could go on for a very long time – but these are few of my a teachers I wanted to thank today.  Each one of them has made me a better person. Who are your teachers that crossed your path for only a brief time yet changed your life and sit in your heart forever?