Enthusiastic teachers are memorable for the inspiration they give us to expand our knowledge. I’ve had such teachers in my own life and appreciated their labors and the contrast it made. After having two children that appreciation grew as I observed the difference a teacher made in their desire to learn and complete assignments. It was important to me to meet the teachers who had an influence on my child’s life and knowledge, so I always went to parent/teacher conference. The reports weren’t always enjoyable, but in our brief meeting a teacher conveyed to me whether or not they were passionate about the subjects they taught or if it was “just a job.” I noticed if they were impassioned, my child’s craving to learn increased. Today I’m remembering Mr. Fox, an excellent American History teacher who taught both my children in the eighth grade.
Mr. Fox had plenty of gray/white hair, which indicated he had been teaching for many years, yet did not lose his zest for teaching or history. He used many diverse styles and methods to teach. My children described him as a creative, enthusiastic storyteller—and history is all about stories.
Our son, Christopher had Mr. Fox in 1997. He would come home from school eager to share with me what he learned in his history class. “Today Mr. Fox told us about the rooms in the White House. He said there’s no charge to take a tour of some of the rooms.” Another day he said, “Mr. Fox told us about the Smithsonian National Museums and all the cool things you can see in the Air and Space Museum,” and another day it was about the American Art or the Museum of Natural History. Every day Christopher came home excited about something he’d learned and his wish to see it.
His enthusiasm was rubbing off on me. I’d daydream about a trip to the historical sights and then wake up to the realization of the cost to fly there and the struggle of getting Mark, a wheelchair and all the extra things like a commode seat riser and other equipment we’d need to take for his care across the United States. It seemed impossible.
Additional days came where Christopher would come home with more exciting information about the historical east coast. After about a month of dreaming about these historical sites, I decided to call the airlines. They were running a special from Salt Lake City, Utah to Baltimore, Maryland with a two hour layover in Chicago. The cost of a round trip was $154.00, which was a lot less than I expected. I began to do more research on the possibility of making the trip. With Christopher’s interest about American history and knowing our daughter, Katie would have the same class the following year it was the perfect time to take the trip.
I knew it would be hard to handle without another adult to help me with Mark. It was six years after our car accident and Mark needed total assistance transferring out of his wheelchair into a bed, shower, commode and vehicle. The kids were thirteen and fourteen years old and were helpful, but since I wouldn’t have the equipment I routinely used in taking care of Mark’s needs, it was necessary to have the support of another adult. I asked my brother, Steve, and my parents if they’d be interested in making the trip with us. They all said yes and were excited to see the sites as well. I booked the flight tickets and started planning the ten day trip which was just a month away because I wanted to take the trip during the school’s Spring break.
I was concerned about the challenges of getting Mark on an airplane and storing his wheelchair during the flight. Since the wheelchair is his only means to get around, it’s stressful to have it out of sight. My imagination ran wild with worrisome thoughts of someone taking it, or the possibility of it getting lost, or put on the wrong plane. I was also concerned about the layovers and getting on the second flight and what if Mark needed to use the bathroom while on the plane? Have you ever noticed the aisles in the airplanes are not wheelchair accessible and neither are the bathrooms. The flight to Baltimore was nearly six hours. These were huge concerns for me, but my desire to make the trip for our kids was even larger.
The advantage of planning and making arrangements for our ten day trip was while researching the places to visit, I was relearning a lot about American history. My excitement to see the sights calmed my fears of getting Mark there and not having certain equipment I use daily in his care.
I was pleasantly surprised the morning we boarded the plane. The flight attendants were very helpful and even stored Mark’s wheelchair in a closet just outside the cockpit. Two strong men lifted Mark out of his wheelchair onto a hand truck with a seat on it, strapped him in and took him down the aisle to his seat. They unstrapped him and lifted him up and into the seat. We were the first to get on the plane. They made sure we were comfortable and situated before letting the other passengers on. We were also the last to get off the plane with the same routine in reverse.
In Baltimore, we rented a van which all seven of us fit in along with luggage and a folded up wheelchair. It was an educating trip with only a few minor problems. It was a thrill to see the Liberty Bell and take a horse and buggy tour around historical Philadelphia. Yes, we lifted Mark up in the carriage and all went on the tour. We saw Independence Hall and Congress Hall. We were in awe of the sacrifice at Valley Forge and saw the original tent which was George Washington’s. We enjoyed seeing Amish town and were amazed by the sacred spirit felt at Gettysburg. We saw where Abe Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address and the cemetery of some fallen soldiers from the Civil War. We toured Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s house, and James Monroe’s home.
We loved the reenactments at Colonial Williamsburg, but many of the buildings from the 1700’s were not wheelchair accessible. We explored three recreated ships which brought 104 Englishmen in 1607 and enjoyed seeing the reconstructed settlement of Jamestown. We appreciated the Yorktown Victory Center and seeing the military encampment like those that housed Washington’s soldiers.
We toured George Washington’s home, and saw his and Martha’s burial sites. We felt reverence at Arlington National Cemetery and watched the changing of the guard. We saw Lincoln’s and Jefferson’s memorials and enjoyed three out of the thirteen Smithsonian Museums.
The flight back home left in the evening so we spent our last day admiring the beauty in our nation’s Capitol building and enjoyed a tour of the White House.
Our days were packed with history and my patriotism grew each day as I realized the sacrifices and bravery of those early settlers and soldiers. It was awesome to walk in places our forefathers lived. I wasn’t just reading, I was experiencing what their lives were like and had a better understanding of what it took to start our nation.
I’m grateful to a passionate U.S. History teacher and Christopher, who motivated me beyond my fears to make this memorable trip. I appreciate my brother and parents who helped make it all possible!