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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Part IV: Help Me Start A Gratitude Project Deep in the Heart of Texas

Eva Cassidy Over the Rainbow Live at Blues Alley, Washington DC in 1996

Thought for the Day: In this fourth post in the Deep in the Heart of Texas series, I am starting with another version of Over the Rainbow by Eva Cassidy & closing it with her version of John Lennon's Imagine. Although the story behind Eva Cassidy's amazing voice & talent is inspirational, I will save that story for another post. Today, I am sharing these wonderful recordings with you & with someone who was an "Over the Rainbow" person for me in hopes that it will give her joy. My wish is that you (I know you are out there since I have had close to 5,500 page views since January) will help me today by sharing your stories of gratitude with that person. She is wheelchair bound & doesn't get out much. Read on & I hope you will take a few minutes & help me by sharing your comments, e-mails or cards, so that they can be forwarded to a special person to help brighten her days.

My visit to Texas, as many of you know from my previous posts, had many highs & some lows. It was an emotional, nostalgic visit. During my visit, I reconnected with what I called "Over the Rainbow" places & people who helped me believe in my ability to accomplish my dreams. Before I went to the Camp Young Judaea TX reunion, I paid a visit to Bellaire High School. The school seems to have tripled in size since I attended. The student body has changed & is now populated with immigrants taking advantage of the opportunities the American Dream has to offer. As I entered the building from a side entrance, I realized that the guidance office was exactly where it was when I worked there in my Junior & Senior year of high school. I decided to start there to donate my book to the school. The office also looked exactly the same, actually it seemed smaller than I remember, but often perception of space changes as we get older & see the world.

A student aide asked if she could help me. I told her I was a graduate & that I wanted to speak with someone about donating my new book to the school. She went into an office. A moment later, the head of the counseling department, Charles Lawler, came out to greet me. I introduced myself, told him about my book & asked for his help in deciding where it would be best placed in the school. He offered to read it & share it with the other counselors. He promised to then, either leave it in the counseling department's library or transfer the book to the main library of the school, whichever place will be most beneficial to students. Since we were in the same office my guidance counselor & mentor, Barbara Edwards,  had occupied, I asked how she was doing. I had not seen her for at least twenty years on an earlier visit to Houston. He was not sure where she was, but gave me the name of a facility where he thought she might be. I did some research & decided to visit Ms. Edwards to give her a copy of my book.

Ms. Edwards had been an amazing counselor & role model for me. There were 1,000 students in my graduating class. How she remembered everyone's name & interests was phenomenal. She always remembered graduates who would come to visit, as well. She cared about every one of them & encouraged them to reach for their dreams. When I graduated, I was surprised when I received a $1,000 scholarship for which she had nominated me. She worked at Bellaire High from 1957 till she retired as the head of the department in 1995.

Over the course of her career, she helped at least 30, 000 teenagers start on their way to their dreams. Two are famous actors, Randy & Dennis Quaid, others are doctors, lawyers, psychologists, businessmen & architects. I don't know how often people come back to thank their teachers & guidance counselors for their help, but that is what I wanted to do one more time. In my mind, Ms. Edwards will always be the youthful vibrant role model of my high school years.

Her life today is far different & it was hard for me. As always, she greeted me by name. She continues to live with simple dignity in a small room taking joy from the company of her cat, television, cards & photos from family on the walls, & visitors. When I asked if the facility arranges to take her outside, she said, "This is where I spend most of my time." I gave her my book, thanked her for all she did for me & left feeling sad that I could do so little for her.

After I left Ms. Edwards, I dropped my book off at Temple Emanu El, the synagogue where I went to religious school as a child. I had made an appointment with the current Rabbi, who happens to be married to the grandson of Rabbi Robert I Kahn, another "over the Rainbow" person for me. He was more than inspirational, in the eyes of a child (& many adults for that matter) he was the personification of "God." I told young Rabbi Kahn about my visit with Ms. Edwards. She assured me that I had done what I could & that she must have been touched by my visit, but I wanted to do more. I had no idea what I could do & did not like how it made me feel powerless.

I woke up the next day with the idea to write a blog post about Ms. Edwards & to ask you to help me brighten her life. I will make sure this post gets to the Bellaire High School Alumni Facebook Page, but I would like your help even if you did not know Ms. Edwards. I spoke with her niece & she will make sure that her aunt, gets all comments or e-mails that you send to me (so that you can add pictures or music videos) (my e-mail is If you would like to send a physical card, you can send it to my office at 15 Beaver brook Road Weston CT 06883 & I will make sure Barbara Edwards gets it. If you did not know her tell her how a teacher or guidance counselor helped you believe in yourself & reach for your dreams. How they woke you up & got you back on path if you were headed in the wrong direction. If you did know her, I'm sure she will appreciate hearing from you personally. Rest assured she miraculously still seems to remember everyone! She likes cards, photos & cats, so be creative. I hope she likes the music I selected & the wonderful photos from the music video as well.

In the last post we spoke about paying it forward, in this one I want your help to pay it back & join me in this gratitude project! Thank you all in advance for your help!

                                                   Eva Cassidy Imagine by John Lennon


Barbara Lavi said...

Here's part of an e-mail I received from a Bellaire High graduate thanking Ms Edwards:

Ms. Edwards –

I’ve always been deeply grateful for your guidance & help in negotiating high school, & the transition to the rest of my life.
As I’m sure you remember, I chose to go to Occidental College – a journey that stated with the visit by the Occidental College Director of Admissions to Bellaire.
Such a visit was based on the incredible foundation that you & Harlan Andrews’ world-class administration had established, the quality of the educational experience, & the hard-earned reputation that we all owed to you....
I’m deeply grateful to you for all you did for me (& I know it was much more than I was ever aware of as a teenager), & I can still remember your beauty & your dazzling smile as if I had just dropped by your office.

Thank you doesn’t begin to say how I feel.
Danny Lyons

Anonymous said...

I am sorry that I cannot make your dream to find everything in our past wonderful.. I could never get in to see my counselor, whoever she was. i wanted to graduate at 16, but it seems every one stood in my way. I had to get out of school, and get out on my own, and still no one helped me with anything. The Jewish girls made up awful lies about me, and the mothers in B'nai Brith made up worse ones, just because i was sexy, not promiscuous, and they felt threatened by me. I was accused, behind my back, because no one had the strength to confront me, of horrible things the other girls did. Why didn't anyone ask me if they were true, and why were those mothers so willing to believe it was the Shicksa who had done the deeds, and not the Jewish girls? Bellaire was horrible and I was so glad to get out of there. i wanted a good education, because my mom said they could take away your house, your money and your jewels, but they could never take away your ind. It seems that most of those in Bellaire, attempted just that. When I said I wanted to be a doctor, I was ridiculed, then finally told that I would never have the money to do it. Thanks! for that dream busted!! I was told the only thing I could do was secretary, nurse, or teacher. Thanks Again!! for that dream busted, as none of those things were the least bit interesting. And no one would help me find a way to get a college degree. Well, I have been successful in my own way. I have been a community activist, discoverd unknown species, wrote deed restrictions and saved a town from demolition, was on TV and in the news several times, all in spite of the "Fine" education I got at Bellaire. it was not a nice experience. I survived it in spite of the jealousy and hostility. there was not one school counselor who did a thing to help me, nor any teachers, save for Mrs. DuPont and mrs. Finch.

Barbara Lavi said...

Dear Anonymous, Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am sorry to hear that for you, Bellaire was so negative. I wish you had been fortunate enough to have had Ms Edwards as a guidance counselor. I worked in her office for 2 years & know she tried to encourage everyone to go to college & helped them get scholarships. As one of 4 children in a single parent family, I would not have been able to follow my dreams without financial aid. High School was not all wonderful & being a teenager had it's challenges. I was not "in with the in crowd," but found people who did not care about money & status. Prejudice & ignorance go hand in hand & it occurs among people from all religions, races & ethnic backgrounds. I, for one, do what I can to educate & advocate for tolerance & respect of all people. It sounds like you overcame the adversity & have accomplished many of your dreams. It is never too late to change the end of your story & start working on dreams that you would still like to accomplish.