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I Love Teaching Teenagers (I really do!)

Short story #5 : No, Massena is not up by Syracuse

I am the only one in my family to have stayed in Massena, New York. Currently at around 10,000 people, we could use an infusion of new industry and business, like so many small, abandoned and rural towns in Northern New York, as well as in the United States.

My parents retired and went south. Both of my brothers did well in school, went to excellent colleges, and, like so many engineering majors of the 90's, are not even remotely using their degrees. Irony aside, they became two successful, management level professionals who also, went south. Land of the free, and home of the people with school taxes beyond my pay grade.

I was thrilled when my older brother decided he would come north for his 40th birthday. He wanted to hit as many Massena bars as he could in one night, paying homage to his birthplace. In preparation, my wonderfully organized sister-in-law called and asked me to help her find a decent place to stay; something better then the motel they stayed in once with the fish for a mailbox, and an air conditioning filter that was not self-cleaning. I also was tasked with finding a limousine for us to use to go around town. As it was the summer wedding season, and limousines are scarce in the north country, as they would have to have snow tires practically year round, I had trouble. I found a friend, with a friend whose friend had a cousin that was free (that's a lot of friends!).

When another couple, my then husband, my brother Toby and my sister-in-law embarked on our night's journey, we stopped at a beautiful dyke-wall that framed the bottom of a gorgeous view of the St. Lawrence River. I asked for a rare picture to be taken of my brother and I. Sadly, I felt, at some level, I had disappointed my older brother and his wife because I ended up teaching in Massena. Toby's humble "beginnings" were my chosen location for my "life."

The night progressed as we went from one bar to the next, reminiscing, commiserating and yes, mocking my quirky village. We finally ended up at a bar across town from where we started.

"Miss Ford!" I heard an excited booming voice call out from the inside the bar, "Miss Ford, is that you?" Since I'd been teaching for about 13 years in the Massena school district, and had been married for about 10 years, I knew whomever was calling my maiden name, was not a recent student.

I looked up to see a large man with dark hair, grinning from ear to ear, looking for a hug.

"Jay--cob?" I said questioningly. "Jacob Walken? Is that you?"

Sure enough it was. Jacob gave me a big bearhug, inquired about my life, introduced himself to everyone, and offered to pay for our drinks.

As everyone hunkered down at the bar, Jacob drew the birthday boy and myself into a conversation. "When Miss Ford taught me in high school, I was a pain in the ass! I was so tough on her but she was so nice to me. Do you remember Miss Ford?" I nodded yes at the grinning man, a huge mirroring grin of my own infectiously transferred by his affection. I didn't remember specifics from our days, but I remembered enough.

"Well I have a successful construction business now, so if you need anything you can call me." He promptly reached in his wallet for his card. "I can't tell you how much you helped me, all the teachers hated me but you. You always believed in me. You were my favorite."

As I looked at my brother looking at this grown man I taught years before, I thought to myself, thank you, Jacob. In this case, you just helped me.

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