Thursday, November 17, 2016

For Ms. Penick

Dear Ms. Penick-
As you may know, I have returned to Abilene (not unlike a bad penny), and as a good Abilenian and Wylie graduate, I read the Wylie Growl Magazine to keep up with all the Purple and Gold news.  I was utterly unsurprised to read that you had been named into the Hall of Honor and hope you can find time in your retirement to read one more of my long-winded essays. This one’s about you—knowing your humble nature, I wonder if the subject makes this one harder or easier for you to read? (I suspect the former.)
It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in your classroom.  I remember it so clearly—in fact even down to the position of the desk where I sat during my freshman and junior years (except for that one odious day when I was banished to the principal’s office for my disgracefully troublesome jeans with the threadbare knees).  More importantly than my physical location in the classroom, though, I remember the most profound lesson you taught us: words matter. 
Novelists and readers alike know that words matter, but high school students, generally, do not.  This is just as evident listening to the way they speak to each other in the hallways during passing periods as it is when you ask them to expound on a passage from a well-written piece of prose.  Yet somewhat like a writer crafting a novel, as you edited and corrected our papers and our speech, you managed to convince so many of us that words indeed do matter. 
They matter on a page, certainly, even worn Shakespearean pages, because they describe and decode the mysteries of life and love and lust.  They matter when spoken in a presidential debate for all the world to hear or when whispered quietly between a mother and her son.  They matter when painted on billboards and used to convince us to buy material things, and they matter when smashed together after a hashtag in the name of a social movement.  They matter when they provide a welcome escape for a mind too frequently assaulted by the facts and figures of the didactic portions of dental school.  They matter when they are ancient and grounding words that speak to our souls of things unseen.  Perhaps most of all, they matter because they outlive us now, more than ever before, these words we write down on paper or online.
Your lesson gave me an understanding of the weight that words carry, and that understanding has helped me in my interpersonal relationships, my marriage, and my parenting of two beautiful and frighteningly impressionable little boys.  It has given me an outlet for my emotions and an escape for my mind.  Your lesson provided me with an introduction to two of the greatest loves in my life: reading and writing.
Is it any surprise that I have rambled on and on?  It seems I may have been in the principal’s office during your lesson on being concise.  Here is the thesis statement, Ms. Penick: You taught me that words matter, and your legacy of teaching that lesson matters very much to me and to so many of your protégés.  Please accept my most heartfelt congratulations on your honors and your retirement.

Sincerely and ever-indebted to you,


Lauren Oglesby Edwards

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Things You Leaf Behind

The weather finally turned a bit cooler, and over the next few weeks the trees will respond by gently releasing their leaves to fall to the ground.  As we watch them float in the West Texas wind, rake them together, and crunch them beneath our feet, we hear the wise words they whisper: Nothing lasts forever.  It is a message that sounds ominous or hopeful, depending on the season of life your heart is weathering when you hear it. 

Abilene has been renowned for many things, but never for its trees.  Our mesquites lack the authority of the stately California redwoods, our scrubby red oaks lack the fortitude of the pines of Colorado, and our tallest elms are dwarfed by the heights of the sycamores in East Texas.  Nevertheless, the trees in Abilene grow strong and true, not unlike the people who grow alongside them in this dusty Texas town. 
For over 100 years now, Abilene soil has produced generation upon generation of tree, and generation upon generation of families, each one slowly unfurling new branches of possibility.  For some, Abilene is simply a starting point.  These folks soak up all the good this town has to offer, and then when a big enough breeze blows by, they fly like a dandelion seed in the West Texas wind to more hospitable soil (but a little bit of Abilene goes with them).  Others put down deep roots, stretching into the cool water tables that run below and drink steadily and deeply of all the quiet treasures Abilene has to offer.  These family trees become synonymous with Abilene, as much a part of the city itself as the skyline.  Some are like myself, leaves that have blown away for a time, only to return in a different season, bearing the fruit of new knowledge and new skills honed to improve our hometown. 
It is this idea of generations past and generations to come that has spurred the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council and friends to dream up a new park and sculpture garden, slated to open next summer near the Abilene Civic Center.  It will be vibrant and green and alive with sculptures from classic storybook tales like Charlotte’s Web.  Close to the center of this garden will stand a large metal tree, its tallest branches reaching up 15 feet to the sky.  On these branches, large oak-like metal leaves of green, silver, and gold will move with the breeze.  The tree represents all that is good and alive in Abilene, a town that knows how to grow happy and healthy families.  Each limb is a family’s journey to find its perfect place in the sun.  And each leaf, Abilenians, can represent you or someone you love.    
For a nominal price, you can be a part of Abilene’s past and a part of its future.  A donation of $100, $125, or $150 buys you a leaf of a certain color.  There will be a plaque next to the tree in a corresponding color, etched with the name of a person or couple you choose to honor through your donation.  For my part, I have chosen to honor my two children with a gold leaf each.  I imagine us going to play under this tree while they are young, watching as the metal of the sculpture grows cold and hot with the passing seasons, until their future children come to run their fingers along the names etched in the plaque. 
This is Abilene.  A town that grows greatness humbly, each generation embracing the next like rings of a tree encircling new growth to provide support and nourishment until it can stand alone.
Please consider donating to this project.  Consider whether you’d like to etch your name on this tree in this town that grew you and so many of the people you love.  Perhaps you would like to honor someone who gave keeps you rooted firmly in the ground.  Perhaps you’d like to honor someone who taught you how to let go of the safety of the branches and fly in the wind.  Maybe you simply want to be a part of something that beautifies this city and gives children wonder.  If nothing else, please take a moment to consider what you will “leaf” behind for the next generations in your town.  Because nothing lasts forever, except that which you give the next generation.   
Why did you do all this for me?' he asked. 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.' 'You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

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