He’d Wanted to Be a History Teacher

He’d wanted to be a history teacher, but that never did happen.

He fell too hard and too early in love, stayed close to the grandparents who had raised him. He fell hard again for his two young sons, and again later, for my sister’s daughters, and most of all perhaps, for the daughter that they raised together.

Every Christmas, he donned the ratty Santa Claus suit for whichever toddlers were still willing to fall for it. Every summer, he presided over the grill. He loved the Packers. Only two years older than me, he bled love for his eight grandchildren and they loved him.

He’d wanted to be a history teacher, but that never did happen. He met my sister when she was just starting her late run at college, juggling one course at a time with working and loving her children.

And he worked: long hours, exhausting jobs.

Soon, he often said, he’d be able to back off: when the child support payments ended, when the kids’ weddings were paid for, when my sister’s new-found zeal for learning was finally sated, when the kid currently in crisis found her way through it.

A year ago, he and my sister finally packed up the truck and moved away from our home town, middle-aged pilgrims in search of a quiet piece of land and a life less defined by obligation. In part, my sister’s new degrees made dreaming possible; in part, they had decided that it was now or never.

And still, he worked long hours in exhausting jobs. There were setbacks, unexpected struggles, and some of that was just starting to turn around.

“He was just starting to dream again”, my sister told me this morning on the phone. He’d worked 16 hours last Friday, and then over the long weekend, hauled rocks on that new piece of land, creating a grove for his new hammock, a place he’d imagined spending his Sundays this summer.

But my phone rang way too early this morning. It was my niece.

He’d called my sister at 5:00 last night to say that he’d knock off a little early.

And shortly after that, the machinery that had, until that moment, been wearing down his body one muscle fiber at time, tipped.

He’d just started to dream again. Not dreams this time of being a history teacher, but of evenings at home, of standing without pain, of weekends floating on a river, of a life less burdened by bills.

But for him now, those things never will happen.

4 thoughts on “He’d Wanted to Be a History Teacher

  1. Eleanor June 1, 2008 / 5:59 am

    This is very powerful, and reminds me — when I wander on abstractly about the nature of class — that we are always talking about real people and the harm done to them by class.

    There ought to be statues in every city for the men and women who worked and took care of their families.

    But they should never have to give up their dreams to do this.

    There is a good report of a panel at the recent Wisconsin Science Fiction Convention about class and identity, which can be found on the blog “Ambling Along the Aqueduct.” It’s titled “Wiscon 32, Panel 6.”

    Wiscon began as a feminist convention and branched off into talking about sexual orientation, gender identity, race, disability and class. It is still a feminist convention. We just realized that problems interconnect.

  2. Eleanor June 1, 2008 / 6:13 am

    I forgot to add my condolences. He sounds like a great guy.

  3. Jeanne June 3, 2008 / 10:26 am

    Jane, this post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it. I am very sorry for you and your family’s loss. And I’m sorry that we (the collective we) lost a history teacher to not his work but to class oppression. Your piece is also a testament to all that we lose when we parse our culture in the way that we do.

    Eleanor, I’ve been to WisCon only once (at their 25th a few years back) and now you made me wish I were there.


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