Presenting to schools as a visiting author means keeping track of a LOT of stuff. For a series of school visits I did in April in rural Minnesota, this meant: a laptop; projector; flash drives; power cords; books to sell or give away in drawings; bookmarks and postcards to hand out; directions, schedules, and contact information–plus all the usual things like a comb, cell phone charger, and reading glasses. (I think my next pair will be bright red, so I can keep track of them.)
That’s not even counting the suitcase with practically all the business-casual clothes I own. Minnesota in April? Could be 30 degrees. Could be 80.
Since I’m one of those people who can’t talk and do much of anything else at the same time, I knew it would be hard for me to be simultaneously friendly and organized. To make things a little easier, I made up a comprehensive list. Every item was assigned a location (backpack, tote, etc.) and a number. I would simply go down the list–everything would be in its place and I wouldn’t have to tax my brain too strenuously.
My system worked great…until the day I completely dropped the ball. Or rather, I left behind the elephant.
I’d had a fun time of it in Minneota. Because of testing schedules at the school, all four of my presentations were in the wrestling gym—floor-to-floor mats that required all of us to take off our shoes. I enjoyed that, actually. It was relaxing to pad about in front of the kids, instead of clicking about on low heels as I normally would. One of the kids pointed at my feet (I was wearing black nylon knee-highs) and asked, “Why are your feet that color?”
And Nancy Dilley, assistant to the media specialist, was a very pleasant guide as she took me about. At noon she brought me to the nearby senior center, where lunch was a fundraiser potluck. I might have been back in my hometown church basement–my favorite potluck foods from childhood were all there.
When my last presentation was over, Nancy offered to help me bring my things to the school library. I put my orange tote on her cart and off we went. One of the kindergarten teachers had bought the Scholastic version of The LAST Day of Kindergarten for her entire class, and I signed each copy. Then I just had to look at the art projects that were on display. The 5th and 6th graders had been given the best assignment ever: to make a diorama for a favorite book, using Peeps. No art museum could have made me happier!
When it was time to go, I casually glanced through my things and didn’t bother to get out my checklist. I drove off to my hotel in Granite Falls, about 40 minutes away. As I was unloading my car, it hit me: My orange tote was back on Nancy’s cart in the Minneota school library.
The most important things in the tote were some very old books and a homemade stuffed pink elephant. In my presentations, I’d been sharing my experience of helping my parents move off the farm a couple of years ago. I explained how I’d discovered a stash of books and toys that I remembered very well even though it had been more than 40 years since I’d looked at them. “The books you read when you’re kids,” I told them, “become a part of you, especially the books you read over and over. They live inside you, whether you’re aware of it or not.”
At the end, when it was time for Q & A, I brought out the pink elephant that my mom made for me. The kids tossed the elephant around the room, and whoever caught it got to ask a question and then toss it to someone else. I always warned them that if things got too crazy, we’d do questions the usual way. But the elephant worked just fine and it was fun to see it flying about the room.
I had four presentations in Granite Falls the next day. I really, really wanted those books and that elephant!
I called the school, but it was after 5 by now and no one answered at the main office. I debated driving back anyway, because the school would probably be open for sports activities. But would the library be open? Not likely. Would a custodian be available? Maybe…but I would be driving an hour and a half to take that chance.
So I called Nancy Dilley on her cell. She was in a meeting in Marshall, but even so, bless her, she offered to pick up the tote and drive it all the way to my hotel. I told her that I would be happy to do the driving if she could just access the tote. We decided to meet roughly halfway, at Hanley Falls.
I was totally embarrassed by the whole episode, of course. But after a while I was able to put aside my mistake and simply enjoy being on the road. The sky! Great thunderheads were churning above the prairie. I marveled at the colors–the blues and golds shimmering and shifting as if being twirled about on a painter’s brush. Soon I was driving alongside one of the biggest rainbows I’d ever seen.
And then a second rainbow appeared.
I reached our meeting spot and gazed at both rainbows until they faded from the sky.
Nancy arrived with my orange tote; she, too, had seen the drama in the sky.
I thanked her, impulsively hugged her, and we both went on our way.
Like the well-remembered books from my childhood (and the pink elephant), I’m pretty sure these rainbows have become a part of me, too.
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is a children's book author, editor, tutor, mom of two adult children and one feisty cat, and collector of weird things.
My Reading Corps Service
Letters for Kids
A Blue Ribbon Day
A Kind Neighbor, a Beaded Tree