Let me tell you about loss.
My sophomore year at Vanderbilt, on the first day of my first practicum class in the secondary education program, my professor asked us why we had decided to apply to this program in the first place. In other words, answer the age-old, oft-asked question: why do you want to be a teacher? We went around the conference table and shared stories. Some answers were short, and some were longer; you can guess which way mine went.
When my turn came, I told them about a day in middle school, when my brother and I went to the mall in Owensboro, Kentucky with my grandparents. I couldn’t tell you what we were there shopping for, because that memory is overshadowed by another, more important one. As we walked back to the car in the parking lot, we heard a group of high schoolers yelling our last name from the entrance we’d just left. “Mr. Crume! Mrs. Crume!” My grandparents didn’t even have to look to know what was happening, but my brother and I were confused as we turned around and watched Granhannah and Grandfather exchange hugs and handshakes with the group. They knew each one by name and asked questions about how their lives were going. As we walked away, they told us those were their students, at the high school where they both worked as substitute teachers.
No switch flipped; the decision that I wanted to teach wasn’t made in that moment. I come from a family of teachers – my parents, grandparents on both sides, aunts and uncles all have a long history with the profession, both in and out of the classroom. When I looked back on it, though, it was that interaction at the mall that sold me on the job. My grandparents weren’t in the school full-time, they didn’t even necessarily see those students every day – but their work as teachers still made a significant impact on those students’ lives to the point that they would chase after Granhannah and Grandfather – Mr. & Mrs. Crume – out in public to say hello. I didn’t even have to know what subject I wanted to teach to know that was what I wanted to do with my life.
At the visitation after my Grandfather’s passing two weeks ago, I stood with my Granhannah for awhile in the receiving line and listened to story after story echoing the one I just told you. Stories of how Grandfather’s work as an educator, coach, and administrator shaped and spoke into students for decades. In the eulogies given by my dad, my uncles and my aunt at the funeral the following day, I heard so much more of the same that it was hard to comprehend it all. He had touched life after life in his community and beyond it, something I had known, but never thought about too hard.
Because at the same time he was doing that work, he was my Grandfather. He was teaching me how to play wiffleball (he pitched, we played), how not to be afraid of the shaky bridge we passed on our walks (was it the shaky bridge because of how it was built, or because he shook it while I walked across?), and the right way to eat Oreos. Conversations about marching band and music in high school gave way to conversations about education and how to study history as I got older, wiser, and my career path began to shadow his own. He was in his choir robe every Sunday that we visited, he made sure he was serving at his church the weekend I was baptized there so he could serve me communion for the first time. I was used to seeing his Bible stand on their dining room table, and as I’m coming to read Revelation in my Bible study plan this week, I remember just two Christmases ago, when we talked for an hour or more about the study on Revelation he’d just finished and what he’d learned from it.
Grief is a funny thing. There is a huge hole in my life and the lives of my family, with all of these memories swirling around inside. They get a little quieter, then they get a little louder, and some days I forget they’re there, but I never forget that he isn’t.
My sweet friends reading this – I am always going to tell you the truth on this corner of the Internet, and the truth is that this summer didn’t go the way I planned or the way I wanted. There are four or five half-written blog posts from DC in my drafts folder, stories I wanted to share with you and couldn’t because July was just a hard, heavy month in my world. Thank you for reading this story instead.
Last year, the day after my undergraduate commencement, I surprised my family with the news that I had decided not to take a teaching job and come to WKU – Grandfather’s alma mater twice over – for graduate school instead. Grandfather cheered the loudest of anyone there, and once the noise died down, his words were “God does love you, child.”
He surely does.
Each of you who called, texted, sent messages and cards, commented, prayed – thank you for being the hands and feet of God to me and my family. My people, my best friends, my biggest supporters – you know who you are and you know what you did and I hope badly that you know it meant the most to me. My family – I know God does love me, because He gave me you to do this life thing with, and even on the saddest days we’ll share, we lift each other up so very well. Just like Grandfather taught us to do.