“You sit around getting older
there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me
I’ll shake this world off my shoulders
come on baby this laugh’s on me”—Bruce Springsteen
As I look out into the very sparsely populated parking lot here at EAST HQ, I am acutely aware of the impending start of the 2014 – 2015 school year. Yes, it’s time for the Class of ’15 to assert their temporary dominance of the high school cafeteria, and it’s time for those of us who know better to let them. Even though Senior Year is not all it’s cracked up to be, I guess they have to find that out for themselves. We did, right? Just like we discovered that summer never lasts as long as it used to.
Today’s musings are wrapped tightly in that bittersweet nostalgia that comes about at the beginning and ending of things and is heavily influenced by the immutable law that each age gives way to the next and that every generation discovers the world anew.
I want to recap and share some of the best of the summer of ’14 with you, but before I do, I want to put you into my own personal way-back machine and tell you about a world far, far different from the one we live in: one so foreign that it was all but lost to memory to me until the beginning of this summer when I had a Proustian madeleine moment. I was in the car driving home and (as I am wont to do) listening to “old people music” (you know from back when I was young and music was music and not all this noise and hippity hop). The radio station (a satellite radio station!) was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen. There I was on the highway, weary with traffic and the end of the day, when I heard one of those magical spells that can transport us away:
“Now young faces grow sad and old, and hearts of fire grow cold
we swore blood brothers against the wind.
I’m ready to grow young again
and hear your sister’s voice calling us home across the open yards.”—Bruce Springsteen, Never Surrender
I spent the rest of my commute, much of the rest of the evening, and – really – a goodly portion of the rest of the summer reminiscing about one of the pivotal times in my life and in trying to reconcile that time (the summer of ’84) against this time. Looking back it makes no sense whatsoever that today is even possible. If you weren’t there, or if you don’t remember let me set the stage…in general.
The summer of ’84 was the summer of Born in the USA and Purple Rain. It was the summer of the New Orleans World’s Fair and the Los Angeles Summer Olympics (in June no one knew who Mary Lou Retton was; by the end of July she was as American as apple pie…and still is). It was the summer that Spock came back to life, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell and Charlie Sheen would beat back the Russian invasion of America, Robert Redford would be the greatest baseball player ever and everyone knew if you needed to call anyone, you needed to call the Ghostbusters. There was a Presidential race underway but no one was paying much attention (Pres. Reagan would go on to all but run the map in the fall). The Macintosh computer had been on the market for about six months but computers were still on the periphery of our day-to-day lives.
To be much more specific, I was getting ready to be a junior in high school and had been “loaned out” to my grandparents for the summer. My brother and I were the sons my grandparents never had (quite literally, they had six daughters). They were old-school serial entrepreneurs in Branson, Mo.—it was almost the Branson we know now, but not quite. Unfortunately for my brother and me, their business savvy in Branson was not in the entertainment or tourism business but rather in the farming, trucking and cemetery business. So while other kids our age were finding all kinds of gainful employment in the burgeoning tourism trade in Branson (Silver Dollar City and White Water and the Go Kart Track and a thousand other “fun” jobs), my brother and I were being drug out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to go count cows or wait at granaries for the commodity prices to be posted. The afternoons were spent mowing and weed-eating the cemetery and doing the zillion other “small jobs” that seem to be built in to the life of a farmer, a trucker and a small businessman.
Now, contrary to what my grandmother might report (she’s 88 years old and still chasing those cows), it was a pretty good deal for her. She swears that we ate every dollar of profit she made that summer but I seem to remember it more in the vein of enforced child servitude. Whatever it was, I know it was hard to get into any real trouble because by 3:30 in the afternoon we would be begging to go back to the house and collapse in our beds.
When there was downtime (and occasionally there was), I would spend it with my Walkman blocking out the Ozarks with my nose planted firmly in one book or another. That was the summer that Bruce went from big to HUGE and Prince took over the radio. The Jacksons would launch their Victory tour in Kansas City and the Springfield TV stations treated it like it was the biggest story since the moon landing. It was the summer I discovered Ziggy Stardust and Ernest Hemmingway. I spent too much time writing pained mash notes to a young lady back home who was far, far out of my league, but she was a good pen pal. I daydreamed of going to Los Angeles and convincing Jane Wiedlin to turn to me for support and comfort (that’s a song joke, look it up).
Being 16 and stuck in Branson in 1984 was hard. I think being 16 in general is difficult regardless of place or time. But I vividly remember feeling (as Bruce explained), “[T]here’s something happening somewhere baby, I just know that there is” and that I was as far away from it as you could possibly get.
Part of the isolation was of course that communication was so limited. Once upon a time if you wanted to make a phone call out of town you had to check your budget. There was a thing called long distance and it was (as my grandparents explained constantly) EXPENSIVE. When you put that expense up against the fact that the party to which you were speaking actually had to be home, it made for a depressing situation. I was a great letter writer but those conversations were measured in weeks and not minutes. Branson only had four TV stations, and only one radio station that played anything that didn’t prominently feature banjos. The world was a much, much smaller and more proscribed place, and quite honestly, I couldn’t conceive that it would ever be otherwise.
Flash forward a little over a decade (summer ‘95) and the seeds for a little program called EAST were just being sown in Greenbrier, Arkansas. Greenbrier! A town that made Branson look like New York City! The world had shifted so much in such a short amount of time that the old one was beginning to be unrecognizable. Heck, an Arkansan was in the White House and who saw that coming?
Where was I? I was bopping along as the dad of a little one, a novice teacher and (once again) I thought that life was a straight line of what I saw in front of me.
One more jump on the timeline. It’s the end of the summer of 2014 and I’m listening to the radio and it all folds back on itself.
This summer EAST has had the incredible privilege of helping to train over 75 teachers and facilitators in our Phase and Tier trainings. We got to spend three incredible days with over 200 of our best friends at Summer Seminar in Arkadelphia. We’re all but done with the installation of 14 new EAST programs around Arkansas and just this week added the 15th member of the EAST Class of 2014 – 2015 (thank you Springdale School of Innovation!).
It’s a smaller world, but it’s also a bigger one. The changes that we’ve seen since I was trying to get those Herefords to stand still long enough to get an accurate count are massive but the opportunities to kids in Cabot and Armorel and Springdale and Fairless Hills are larger still. It has been an incredible journey. In 1984 Journey tried to explain that to us:
“Another night in any town
You can hear the thunder of their cry
Ahead of their time
They wonder why
In the shadows of a golden age
A generation waits for dawn
Brave carry on/Bold and the strong
Only the young can say
They’re free to fly away”
…and I hope it will ever be so.
It’s the end of the Summer and time to pack up and head back to school. That’s some serious business and we’ve got some serious work to do this year, so before we totally abandon the reverie of summer can I encourage you to follow the Purple One’s advice and, “Look for the purple banana, ‘til they put us in the truck.”
Until next time,
I’m Matt and that’s that!