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Posts Tagged ‘Jenny Demers’

I brought copies of my recently published book with me to the inaugural Sandy Hill Farmers’ Market on a beautiful autumn Sunday, not knowing what I was in for.

I was wiped out and overwhelmed.

I wound up talking to hundreds of people.  Some I did not know, but most I could place from somewhere in my life in being a part of this amazing community. I introduced myself to people that I should know, but who for some reason, I never crossed paths with. And to think the Market was orchestrated by former students who I remember very well, Joelle Timms and Jenny Demers. I am proud of them and their commitment to moving the town forward-and it’s just so comforting to know that the kids you had in class are now the leaders in making the future.

Matt Rozell at the Sandy Hill Farmers' Market. 9-26-2015. Portrait by Kendall McKernon.

Matt Rozell at the Sandy Hill Farmers’ Market. 9-27-2015. Grading papers before the rush. Portrait by Kendall McKernon.

I finally got to connect with Kendall McKernon, who has been trumpeting my work and is a major force himself in promoting the revitalization of this town. Be sure to pick up some of his amazing work in the following weeks as the Market continues every Sunday until November.

Some of my former students are now veterans themselves, Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy, and came out to reconnect again and express their appreciation—and some parents whose kids could not make it because they are somewhere in the field today, stopped by to get a book for them. World War II veterans I did not know before came out to chat with me and Pacific veteran Alvin Peachman, especially Phil Battiste, who wanted to tell me he read my book THREE times and knew just about everyone featured in the book! I asked him if I got it right—he told me I was on top of my game. Phil told me he knew my late father very well and could place him and his family in the childhood house they lived in near him on the corner, during the Great Depression.

My best hometown friend’s mom came out to get a book and reminded me that I escorted her down the aisle at his wedding to his bride 32 Septembers ago- and Dolores was just was beaming with pride. Later, the still lovely bride stood in line patiently to get a book and reminded me that we need to see each other soon! My preschool teacher from 50 years ago came out to say hi, and I joked with a woman whose face I could just about place, and when she said that she was one of my former teachers, I immediately recited her first, last, and married name. I knew this because she was one of my first crushes and she married the year she had me in her elementary class. I told her she was still beautiful. She picked up two books.

My cousin, whom I have not seen in years, stopped by, picking up books for the family. She filled me in on her genealogy research and sent her son to get coffee for me, and restocked the books that Alvin and I signed, and helped keep us organized as a line began to form. My wife stopped in after Mass, and ran to the truck to get more books. My parents’ friends were there. Mom and Dad passed on ten and fifteen years ago, and seeing people I remember fondly from my own days of being raised right here brings my folks right back to the forefront of memory with a warm bath of affection and love that today was impossible to overlook.

Then, there was the girl (woman! mother!) who told me she is in her 7th year teaching at a nearby school, with her own sister teaching in an adjoining classroom! I remembered S. as being very happy and fun in class, and congratulated her on becoming a teacher, because I even in high school I could sense that she would  make the world a better place just by the sheer force of her ‘good will to others’ presence. I wish I paid a little more attention to the little one who was with her, but she kind of struck me when she volunteered that I was the reason she was a teacher. We had never had that kind of conversation in the classroom—but that is the way it works, and I am lucky enough to hear this later in life, rather than eavesdropping at my wake! Just a few weeks ago, a young man from my first year of trying to survive as a teacher came out to my first book talk and raised his hand when I called for a show of hands of former students in the room. I could not place him right at that moment, but later, when he told me his first name, I could spell ‘Ehren’ correctly as if it was 28 years ago. He teaches history in Albany, and told me I was the reason for that…

But of all the wonderful blasts from the past, tugging at my subconscious was the presence of the young woman who was standing back and watching me sign a book for her friend (one of my former students, now a combat Marine veteran of the Iraq war, with whom I was chatting away and really enjoying getting to know again). She was quiet, in the background, but smiling as T. and I talked, and just kind of gazing at me in a special way. I knew that I knew her, but just couldn’t place it—so I finally asked her. And it all came flooding back, when she spoke her first name. Half a lifetime away, at an immensely difficult time in her life, I had reached out to her and taken her under my wing while she struggled through and worked to regain some balance as a sixteen year old. We did not speak of it, but before she left she stepped forward because she said she had to give me a hug.

When I see my brother, who lives in Alaska, once a year, when it is time to part, he puts his arms around me and squeezes me hard, in silence. So it is. I did a lot of hugs today, but she got the hardest squeeze, in silence. Bless you, C. So it seems that ‘Repairing the World’ has turned out to be a theme in my life’s work, and in most teachers I know, but in truth, it starts at home, and it works both ways. Bless everyone who has played a part of and enriched my life in so many different ways.

I write about the feeling I have for my hometown in the introduction of the book. I have been moved and shaped in so many ways by the veterans, by the people who came out today, and the hometown folks who could not make it. I hope the book is but a small token of my appreciation, and if you read the book, you will see it is my attempt to give back, but also pay it forward for the younger crowd who step up and make the vision real.

Mr. Peachman had a great day, and was on the receiving end of many hugs himself. He knew just about everyone who saw him, and held his own court in the temple of the Hudson Falls Farmers’ Market. Thank you Joelle for asking me, and Jenny, who did so much, and all the others with a vision for this small town on the Hudson that we all call home, no matter how far we have wandered. So I remember the words:

I cannot forget where it is that I come from.

A small town.

Matt Rozell and Alvin Peachman at the Sandy Hill Farmers' Market. 9-27--2015. Portrait by Kendall McKernon.

Matthew Rozell and veteran Alvin Peachman, 9-27–2015. Photo by Kendall McKernon.

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