Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Walls Of Our School

Today is the end.

When the afternoon bells ring out and send our students towards summer vacation they will have rung for the final time.  Our school, our Fairview, has come to the last of her days.  For decades she has welcomed students in the fall and bid farewell to those students in the spring, but after this day her lights will fade, her doors will close, and her bells will ring no more.  Within those doors, inside the darkness and surrounded by silence, Fairview's walls will remain standing, held strong by all they have seen...and heard...and felt.

Those walls - those silent, sturdy walls - have watched school years slip by and carry generation after generation from student to parenthood to grandparents.  The walls of our school have stood firm against forces of turmoil from without - weather, poverty, family dysfunction - so our students could find the constants of love and care and safety within.  The walls welcomed all, held all, guided all with never a hesitation.  They never took breaks, never complained, and never failed to be that in help so many feel at home.

The walls of our school, though unchanging from year to year, have forgotten more changes than most of us will ever know.  They've seen education based on outcomes, graduation based on packets of performance, report cards based on standards.  The walls have seen us take Journeys and make Expressions, read with PALS and Companions, move ForWordFast while noticing who CARES.  They've watched our Daily 5, seen you Give Me 5, and probably had to listen to the Jackson 5.  The walls have helped plant Seeds Of Change (twice), seen us Think Big, and watched us Move It.  Our walls have not only held alphabets, they've heard alphabets:  PBIS, RTI, NWEA, ECFE, NCLB, IEP, AYP......OMG!

Within these walls we've shown our Mustang Pride while using our LifeSkills.  The walls watched us wear orange on one day, then show up in blue the next.  The walls hosted beach parties and pajama days, watched us jump rope for hearts and collect pennies for patients.  Our walls have seen kids walk by with a stamp on one hand while carrying an ice pack in the other.  Every brick of every wall has taken a turn holding artwork and poems and posters and banners and graphs and stories and photos and reminders and class lists and voice levels and flags and displays and rules and character traits and murals and.....did I say reminders?  Through all of these moments and duties and more our walls have kept watch, kept us safe, kept us together.

The walls of Fairview have been my home longer than any other structure in my life.  For 19 years I've walked along her walls and taught kids in her rooms alongside the most supportive family a feller could hope for.  The walls of our school suffered through my worst interview but somehow welcomed me to my first job.  When I began I knew no one in the school or the town and had no family in the area.  Two decades later I am in awe at how crazy lucky I was to have those walls create my home away from home.  Those walls bowed a little under my swelled pride the day my first child was born; a dozen years later I swear they leaned towards me a little to offer support during some much darker days.  I'm sure others could share the same stories - wedding showers, baby announcements, and retirement parties were known by all, but sometimes only the walls knew of the funerals, the diseases, the divorces, and the failures.

As these last weeks have steadily moved along and our final day approached many Fairview family members wished time would stand still. (side note:  Time quite literally has stood still for the last couple of months.  Our clocks died during the first thunderstorm of the spring and haven't been fixed since.  It's been 5:20 since late March.)  We've tried to savor our time in this old building that some say is inadequate, though in it we've managed to consistently lead kids to heights well above adequacy.  Try as we may, the days have disappeared in a flurry of testing and packing and field trips until all we are left with is a handful of hours.  So on this last day I will stop at some point, some spot, and gently lay my hand on a wall and connect one final time with this lifeless structure that has meant so much to so many lives.  I will thank her for giving me so many memories during what have been some of the best years, and worst years, of my life.  I will praise her ability to bring staff together every day and allow them to nurture so many young lives.  I will bid her a fond farewell, and ask her one last favor:  to hold all of the memories that will slowly escape me.

And then I will start looting.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Summer Looks Grand

Has anyone seen Cindy?  Just wanted to get you looking for her right away...

Twenty years ago my parents bought The Black Bear Drive-In in our hometown of Northome, MN.  I like to refer to The Black Bear as "the poor man's Dairy Queen" - it's a seasonal burger and soft serve ice cream joint that has been nestled on the edge of town for nearly 50 years.  Originally called The Tip Top, The Black Bear serves the closest thing to fast food you'll find anywhere near Northome.  My folks bought it from my mom's brother and his wife, who ran it for the two summers prior to the two summers we ran it.  From mid-May until the end of August the "open" sign was on seven days a week, ten hours a day.  My parents, my two sisters, my wife at the time and I, and a couple of other employees rotated shifts, with the family members taking the bulk of the hours.  It was a money-making summer-destroyer.  At the end of two exhausting summers my parents decided the money they made didn't compensate for the time they lost - no gardening, no fishing, no sleeping - so they sold the business and looked forward to the following normal, calm summer.

After getting out of the food business my folks became heavily involved in the Koochiching County Fair (try saying that three times fast with dry crackers in your mouth) and, with the help of some other local volunteers, have overseen a huge amount of growth in the community event.  As each fair passed and attendance increased my family would marvel at the money exchange that took place between attendees and food vendors.  It was hard to attract new vendors to a "small" fair, but those vendors weren't seeing what we saw - hundreds of hungry people and only two food stands.  Every year we would lament the opportunity that had once again passed, that had we taken the time to put together some kind of concession, any concession, we could have pocketed several thousand dollars in just a couple of days.  But motivation fades faster than memories, and within weeks of each fair the grand ideas for "next year" were pushed aside.  Until one of us finally acted.

Late last summer my youngest sister purchased a food wagon.  After months of dreaming, deliberating, and searching she found a great deal on a quality wagon and charged through the door of opportunity.  She spent the fall and winter customizing the exterior and interior of the wagon, booking dates, experimenting with foods, and planning menus.  She and I spent countless hours discussing food possibilities and business opportunities.  Originally we talked about being a partnership but in the end she made the purchase so now she runs the show.  And earlier this month the show debuted.

The Grandstand Concession Company opened for business on May 4 in Brainerd, MN at The Roundhouse Brewery.  She has been taking the wagon to this location every Thursday and Friday in May, being helped each week by a variety of family members including her husband, our parents, our cousin, and her mother-in-law.  I've made an appearance only at the two Saturday events we've attended but once my school year ends (three more days! three more days!) I'll become her right hand man for the summer.  My main role in these early days has been to come up with as many bad ideas as possible for food and sales tactics, thereby allowing others' good ideas to shine through.  I've done some cooking and customer relations, too, but bad-idea-guy seems to be my forte.

So far business has been slow, which has been a little disappointing but not unexpected.  Small-town festivals, like the county fair in our hometown, were our target focus for income.  We knew the brewery gig wasn't going to make us rich (again, I use "we" and "us" loosely....I'm still just bad-idea-guy, my sis is still the CEO) so we're thankful that we've pretty much broke even over the last few weeks.  What we haven't made in dollars we have made in connections; we're starting to attract more repeat customers each week, and we've secured a few future gigs from happy customers that might make up for some of these slow days we've suffered through.  And, quite frankly, slow days have allowed us to make mistakes without crippling the business while also giving us time to savor the hilarity of this adventure.  For instance:

**Our second customer last Saturday came to the window wanting to know where Cindy was.  She was dumbfounded at our lack of knowledge since we were obviously working in Cindy's wagon.  When my sister finally convinced this woman that Cindy did not own the wagon and was not hiding in the wagon the woman then wanted to know if there were any wagons selling food across the street.  Which there were.  So she left.  Without ever finding Cindy.

**Customer three didn't give a rip about Cindy but also wanted to know if there were any food vendors across the street.  Which there were.  So she left.  Came within six inches of plowing into the side of The Grandstand with her car as she did so.

**The fourth customer asked about our breaded brat bites.  After hearing what they were she exclaimed about how delicious they sounded and then walked away.  Without ordering anything.  She didn't eat cheese or peppers, two ingredients that run rampant through our menu.

**The next ten customers walked up to the wagon, stared at the menu, walked away from the wagon, and disappeared forever.  Followed by an hour of business that could only be matched if we had parked the wagon on the dark side of the moon.  Followed by our busiest day ever.  Business is funny.

Life is funny, too.  Twenty years ago my sister and I spent two summers working side by side selling food out of a hot kitchen while not finding much joy in doing so.  I followed a path into education, she chose the world of social work.  Halfway through those years we ended up living within 40 miles of each other, though rarely speaking and more rarely seeing each other.  Now she's working on her education degree so she can have summers off to run the concession business while I'm on my knees with hope that the business succeeds so I can get out of education.  And we're about to spend yet another summer working side by side selling food out of a hot "kitchen".  But this time we're excited. Well, she's excited - I only get cautiously enthused.

So now I add another topic to my blog repertoire - Grandstand adventures.  If you'd like to know a little more about the business you can visit the website here.  You can also find The Grandstand Concession Company on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  We hope you'll like us and follow us in real life even more than you do in the Interweb world.

Oh, and let us know if you ever find Cindy.