In life, nothing stays the same. I won’t elaborate on my various teaching experiences or concentrate on the nasty attitudes around me or focus on the misguided missions of too-many teachers. Neither will I waste valuable time describing the poor working conditions in today's classrooms or the lack of leadership among most educators--because, in the final analysis, the only thing that ever truly mattered to me….were the students.
Wherever I taught, it was always about the children. I could write another book about the countless students in my classrooms and how each student touched my heart. It will always be my prayer that I changed at least one life... for the better.
None of us can ever know what children have been forced to see, to do, or to experience. Growing up, I yearned for a role model---someone to inspire me—someone to help me reach higher than myself. My fourth grade teacher was indeed my role model when I was 9 years old and, because of her,I become the first woman to travel the length of The Great Wall of China.
Growing up, I acted as my own cheerleader, reading book after book and encouraging myself to learn more. Even into my sixties, I returned to college to earn a masters degree. I felt the need to teach, to be a role model for children with special needs; to reach-out to children--like me-- who were emotional disabled.
If you ask which student I remember most from my five years of teaching at Jenkins Center, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, I would easily say--- Anthony.
The very first day I met Anthony, I was overwhelmed with his quietly-shy demeanor. He was four years old, unable to talk, and he demonstrated absolutely no response when I spoke his name. Anthony's records indicated he'd shown very- little progress since becoming a student at Jenkins, two years earlier.
Anthony was a beautiful little boy--- almost angelic-looking---with big brown eyes, curly long hair worn in braids, and his soft yet-silent presence seemed to invite respect.
As soon as I entered the classroom, Anthony and I bonded like best friends and, together, we found his voice. Within months, Anthony could respond to his name, was able to talk, and he was motivated to learn song lyrics faster than anyone in the room. It wasn’t long before Anthony led the class in singing all the songs. He learned so fast he was able to move to a regular school. I made it a point to visit Anthony in his new classroom where he proudly demonstrated his new computer skills. It took several years before Anthony and I crossed paths, again.
One day, at noontime, parked under a big shade tree in the Post Office Parking Lot, I was listening to the radio and eating my lunch...when someone knocked on my car window.
Turning around, I was thrilled to see Anthony. I rolled down the window and Anthony said, “Hi Ms. Miller! Can you get out of the car please...so I can hug you?
In a flash--- I was out of that car, so happy to get a big hug from my star student! Anthony was excited because he had passed all his tests and was now, officially, moving to the next grade level. Now, Anthony was getting to share his good news with me!
My marvelous student had grown bigger and taller and smarter, with every new day. Anthony’s mother stepped out of her car, beaming with pride, also happy to share Anthony’s good news. She praised Anthony's progress and said "Ms. Miller, Anthony could never have accomplished any of this without you." Before leaving, Anthony grabbed my hand and said “Ms. Miller, you are still my favorite teacher and I’ll always love you best!”
I held back my happy tears until I’d waved a final good-bye and was headed back to my classroom. It only takes one "Thank You" and one story with a Happy Ending...to make my life worth living. And, it only took one "Anthony" to let me know... I was in the right place at the right time....to make a difference.
Anthony is one of my most- precious memories. I’ll carry him in my heart---forever.
THE BEAUTY QUEEN, Let No Deed Go Unpublished--is a must-read. My book is the unedited story of my very-complicated, yet inspiring life. This brief excerpt from my book happened one day after my mother demanded all my money.
Holding my father's shotgun, my mother made it clear that I would no longer be part of her family or her life; that my daughters would be the receipients of her money, the many items she'd taken from my house, absolutely everything.
Before putting my cats in the back of my jeep and pulling out of the driveway, the little voice inside me insisted I take one last run to clear my mind and review my options:
"I got up early that morning, 5:00 am, to take a final run. With no money and no place to go, running was my only refuge from the stress of uncertainty. My mind kept jumping from one scenario to another while my feet, trained to run, moved me forward.
I was running past a church with a large cross in front when suddenly, out of the early morning shadows, stepped a black woman--- waving both arms in the air. Looking at me, she hollered, “Hey, white lady, I need you to stop and help me with this money.” I was both stunned and frightened by the woman’s unexpected appearance but...I stopped.
Holding a handful of dollar bills in one hand, the woman used the other hand to point out more dollar bills lying in a sunburst design at the foot of the church’s tall metal cross. Before I could say a word, the serious-looking woman thrust dollar bills in my hands then turned to pick up more money.
For the first time I spoke, asking the woman why she was standing barefoot on this particular morning, in front of this particular Cross. Not once did she smile or engage in conversation. She merely answered, “I live five blocks away and a few minutes ago, God woke me from a heavy sleep and told me to get out of bed and go to this Cross.” She said God’s request sounded urgent so she grabbed her house dress and ran out the door; there wasn’t time to search for her shoes.
Trying to piece the mystery together, I kept pressing for details. Without emotion, the woman repeated what God had told her: “You will find money at the foot of the Cross and you are to share it with a white woman running toward you.” A few minutes later, the black woman flagged me down.
I didn’t know if I was experiencing a mirage or a miracle. The stranger began walking away and I reached out to touch her, to thank her for being God’s messenger. She backed off and, without a word, disappeared in the shadows."
Buy my book to read the followup to this stunning story. Remember, Angels come in all colors and some don't have wings.
This is my personal story:
"Once was enough for me. I’m talking about the debilitating pain one can experience from back pain. It locked my lower back and instantly, I felt crippled and limited. Frightened, I visited the Doctor. Knowing I worked fulltime, he insisted a shot of cortisone at the base of my spine would be an over-night-miracle-worker.
Nearly three months and multiple shots later, I said “enough.” The shots had side effects which made me crazy. And the back pain, instead of leaving, decided to play hide-and-seek with my lower back while blatantly flirting with my right hip.
I insisted the doctor end my nightmarish situation by sending me to a physical therapist and…in a few short weeks…my difficult story had a happy ending.
Now…I start every morning with a program of hip thrusts. When I first started, I couldn’t raise my hips off the bed but gradually…in increments of inches, starting with--a quarter, than a half, then finally a full inch--I was able to put space between my lower back and the bed.
It took weeks to experience real progress but finally, I gained enough body strength to build a small….then....a tall bridge with my hips.
It may sound difficult but it’s a simple exercise. First, lie on your back in a straight line. Then slowly bend your legs with knees pointed toward the ceiling and feet flat on the bed. Ever-so-slowly, push your hips upward, separating them from the bed. Your goal is to “build a bridge” by lifting your hips to form a right angle. With each hip thrust, you “freeze” your hips upward for a count of two…then, over time, increase your holding count to a total of five…..then ten.
I was guided by an excellent physical therapist who insisted I “keep it simple” while gaining more strength and more confidence. She never stopped reminding me to move slowly so I wouldn’t over-use my very fragile back muscles.
Now, I start each morning with hip thrusts. Based on the time I start, I usully hold each hip thrust for a count of ten... for a total of 30 to 40 thrusts. It’s been six glorious years since I’ve had back or hip problems AND…I’m proud to say my butt cheeks and both hips are tighter, stronger, and smoother. Who wouldn’t like that?!?!?!
These days…. it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Start shining your Silver-- it's never too late.
Standing on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City for the second time, I could barely contain my excitement.
Tomorrow night, when the crowds gathered at convention auditorium for the beginning of the 1960 Miss America Pageant, I would be one of this year's COURT OF HONOR and a featured entertainer---not a contestant.
Anita Bryant, last year's Miss Oaklahoma, and also a Court of Honor member, was my roommate for this exciting week and together, we found ourselves included-- along with sponsors and celebrity judges-- in all the cocktail parties, dinners, and press conferences. It was a unique opportunity to make professional contacts for the future.
I was unpacking my suitcases when Anita pulled out the tickets. “Surprise!” she threw the tickets on the bed. “He’s invited us for tonight's performance and ...we have front row seats!”
HE was Anita’s friend who was performing at Atlantic City’s famous Steel Pier. Three hours later, I was all alone with America’s heartthrob, Ricky Nelson. For the first time in a very long time--- I found myself laughing, enjoying myself, experiencing some real fun and--- feeling happier than I’d been in months.
Midnight came too-soon and, hand-in-hand, the two of us walked the deserted boardwalk back to my hotel. Rickie surprised me with several romantic kisses before asking to see me the next evening.
With lips still tingling, I danced off the elevator and down the hall to my room. Ricky's kisses made my blank canvas come alive with color; his kisses played every note on my keyboard.
If only I could have ignored the message taped to my hotel door telling me to return my mother’s phone call. After my mother delivered her happy news, I wanted to run away:
“Tomorrow, Jack is flying to Atlantic City to surprise you. He'll be there all week so...take him to the fancy parties, find him a good seat in the auditorium, and introduce him to lots of important people. It’s a big deal for Jack so--- behave yourself and when you see him--- act surprised!”
Heart-sick, I left a message for Ricky, cancelling our date for the next night. I knew with certainty--- this moment would be my life’s biggest regret.
Like ships passing in the night, our paths never crossed again.
PS..Looking back, I don't regret all the things I did but rather.. all the opportunities I was never allowed to pursue....
From my book: THE BEAUTY QUEEN