He could have been anyone. Your brother, father or son. To a school of revolving children, he was the smiling face that greeted them each day, many for
breakfast and all for lunch. If you close your eyes and think back, can you remember who that person was for you? Boy, I can and there were many in
the history of my education.
At the small private school I attended through the eighth grade, we called the group of women, "the lunch ladies." They loved as much as they doled out the mediocre fare they called lunch. No, you could not have two fudge sickles and yes, you can have another piece of pizza after you finish that one. If you missed a day, they were sure to inquire about your absence the next. It's funny that I don't think I ever knew their names or at least I can't remember them now but I remember the smiles, the greetings, the concern written on their furrowed brows, and the hands that always gave.
In high school, it was Barbara. Barbara was in charge of the kitchen and at my all girl's boarding school. Her position held as much power as the Headmistress and certainly overshadowed our seemingly powerless principal. Barbara was the mother to girls like me, motherless girls most of the school year and she loved greatly. Each day at the morning break between classes, we flew down the long halls, clambered down the loud stairwells, and raced to the heavy wooden doors of the basement cafeteria, all of us vying to be first. This meant you were the keeper of the cookies and Barbara's head would pop from behind the door, her broad smile greeting us each day. She would laugh as she passed the tray of warm freshly baked cookies to the lucky winner to distribute.
Years later, my twentieth reunion at Salem Academy, I made my way around the familiar stately brick building and the first place I traveled was down those steps and I headed to the kitchen. I pushed through those doors and made my way to the kitchen and there she was. Barbara. She embraced me like a long lost daughter and called me baby as she always had. Oh, how I loved her and it is she who made an imprint on my mind and heart, more than the professors who recited Latin, espoused Chaucer, or chided me for my laughter in the science lab.
Do you see that Philando was my Barbara? Public or private school, we all remember the ones who worked behind the scenes. Not the powerful administrators or the smartly dressed teachers but those people that keep things running smoothly. Philando was that person at his small elementary school and this Fall, the children will wonder where he has gone. My heart aches for the gaping hole that will be noticed and the love and kindness that will no longer be distributed. What if it had been my Barbara?