“Winston, what are you doing, we’re going to be so late!” Jess stumbled out into the living room with her arms full of poster boards, art supplies, sheet music. A handful of miniature Latvian flags fell onto the floor and unrolled at her feet.
Winston sipped his coffee and dutifully ignored the mess that was entering the room. He maintaining his solitude just for another few seconds before responding: “It’s no problem, Jess. We’ve got plenty of time. Let me just jump in the shower. I was running and . . .”
“Shower? Winston, there is no time for a shower.”
Winston pursed his lips and gave his apartment mate a sidelong look as Jess fumbled the rest of the load in her arms onto the kitchen counter, some multi-colored pipe cleaners falling into the sink.
“Winston, today you aren’t just Winston Bishop, unemployed ex-basketball player and semi-professional cool guy. Today the lives and future livelihoods of America’s young people are in your hands. You’re joining the ranks of teachers all over the country as we fight for future generations.”
“Jess, I’m coming in to talk to your third graders a bit about Latvia. It’s not that deep.”
“That is the wrong attitude to have, mister.”
When Winston had finished his coffee and showered off, the two took the elevator down to the basement and loaded all of Jess’ supplies into the back of her car. But as they slammed their doors and jess turned the key in the ignition, something unexpected happened. Actually nothing happened. That was the problem. She tried again. Nothing.
“Ohhhh, no,” Jess swayed her head from side to side and then slammed it repeatedly onto the steering wheel.
“Jess, it’s gonna be fine.”
“Jess, stop that.”
“Okay,” Winston grabbed Jess’ shoulders and propped her upright and then turned her face to look at him. “Jess, get your shit, we’re getting in my car and driving to your school. It’s not a big deal, and then later we’re going to figure out what’s up with this vehicle and get it fixed. Simple as that. Okay?”
When they were finally en route to her place of employ, Jess took the opportunity to finish making some last minute fiddles with a poster board about Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia’s neighbors. Unfortunately it only stressed her out more as she tried unsuccessful to smooth over the unevenly glued pieces of paper explaining the relationships in the region. That's when Winston finally got up the pluck to ask a question.
“Jess, do you like being a teacher?”
She didn’t answer at first.
“I mean, I know I’m unemployed and so I have no room to say anything really, but I was just wondering . . .”
“I do. . . I do like it. In fact, I love it. And yes, I drive myself a little crazy, but just wait until you meet them. These kids are special, Winston Bishop. Just wait until you meet them.”
As they pulled up to the school, she added: “And, ya know, I think I’m better at it than you might expect.”
Walking through the halls, Winston was already finding it odd just how many people were greeting Jess. And they were enthusiastic. Other teachers, students, administrators.
And when they arrived at her room, his apartment mate really sprung into action. Distributing the small Latvian flags to every yet unoccupied desk, setting up the display poster boards, replenishing the art supplies table. Winston sat in front of the blackboard just watching her work.
The moment the first kid swung the door open, Jess was at the keyboard:
Mūs' dārgo tēviju - Our beloved fatherland,
Svētī jel Latviju - We beseech thee, bless Latvia,
Ak, svētī jel to - Oh, we beseech thee to bless it!”
He’d heard the Latvian national anthem many times over the preceeding years but he’d actually never known the translation and he had to admit that Jess’ skills for improv were really shining with the whole repeat-each-line-of-music-and-say-the-English thing.
Each kid filed in and sat quietly at their desks just watching her. Then as the song came to a close, they all waved their red and white Latvian flags in the air and burst into applause.
Jess stood up from the piano, smoothing her skirt with her open palms.
“Good morning everyone.”
“Good morning, Ms. Day.”
“Today is a very special day because one of my best friends, Mr. Bishop, is here to talk to us about Latvia, where he lived and played basketball after college.”
The kids eyes clearly showed their excitement. And Winston thought, “Wow, I’ve never been in a room with so many people so excited to hear about what I’ve done with my life.”
“Hey there everyone . . .”
“And so in 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted declared that the occupation of the Baltic countries was both illegal and against the will of the Soviet people, and that’s what started the ball rolling towards independence. Now I want all of you to imagine that you’re living in a newly independent country. What would your priorities be? Just write down whatever comes to mind in your journals. Annnnnd go!”
“Wow Jess, that’s some pretty intense stuff.”
“It’s just to get ‘em thinking, Winston. What would your priorities be?”
“Well, I donno. I guess I’ll have to think about it.”
“Just write your stream of consciousness down in your journal.” She handed him an extra composition book. “We try to focus on interactive and experiential learning in Ms. Day’s room.”
She smiled. He smiled back and opened the book.
As everyone filed out of the room, a few of the kids gave Jess a hug. One boy came up and gave Winston a firm handshake, thanking him for sharing his experiences with their class.
“No problem little buddy.”
Winston was overcome by a warm feeling.
“Jess, I’m sorry about earlier when I. . .”
“Haha, it’s no problem,” she cut him off, swaying from side to side, hands clasped behind her back. “I’m a mess sometimes, but I’m glad you get it.
Winston put his arm around the smaller girl’s shoulders.
“Ya know what, I really do.”