An endearing story of a child's love for his dead brother
by Mary Wakeford
My husband is a special education teacher with a career spanning four decades instructing children with disabilities. Many struggle daily with an array of physical and mental challenges, many affecting both mind and body. He is a warrior for the disabled, and in 2014, was named the Adapted Physical Education Teacher of the Year for the state of Arizona. His employer is the largest elementary school district in the state. My husband's case load presents with varied disabilities; MS, brittle bone disease, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome; blindness; learning impaired to name a few. Some with diagnoses I've never heard of.
My husband has taught thousands of children over the years, bringing positive mentorship as he assists each child in attaining a level of adapted mobility therapy, and celebrating milestones when they are achieved through determination and the inner-grit of every student.
"Max" is an endearing story about a student going back at least two decades; a young boy I will call Max for the telling. The conversation between my husband and the third grader went down something like this following summer vacation:
Teacher: "Hi Max, how was your summer?"
Max: "It was coooool, coasssh. I went to summer camp with my brudder."
Teacher: "That sounds awesome, Max. I didn't know you had a brother--is he younger than you? Tell me about camp--what did you do there?"
Max: "My brudder is older. We hiked, we went on c'noe rides, we sat around big fires e'ry night and sang songs. We got to go on a
b-i--i-ig bus ride and there were t'wees everywhere. And a big lake. My brudder liked the campfires the bery best of e'rything we did."
Teacher: "That sounds like a great time. I'm glad you were able to go. Does your brother attend school here too?"
Max: "No coasssh, my brudder dozen go to skool, he dozen go anyw're. He a'ways stays home. My mommy dozen let him leaf r houz."
Many of the district schools and the families served are on the bottom end of the economics ratio, and all too often education is lost on rebellious kids who decide to drop out, and parents who throw in the towel following years of struggling with them. My husband thought this may have been case with Max's older brother. Following his conversation with the child, he made a mental note to check with Max's home room teacher about the family situation; the brother not attending school or even allowed to leave the house. Later in the day, my husband sought out Max's homeroom teacher and was filled in on Max's week at camp.
It was epic...
When my husband approached Max's homeroom teacher and shared the conversation earlier that morning and news of Max having an older brother; something never mentioned in his IEP. The school document listed Max as an only child being raised by a single mother. He wanted to clarify and rule out a possible red flag. He wasn't prepared for the full disclosure of Max's weeklong outing at a camp for disabled children. Buckle up buttercups, this story is going to get crazy sweet while at the same time, a little unnerving.
When my husband was met with, "OH MY GOD, DID YOU NOT HEAR WHAT HAPPENED?" by Max's teacher, he prepared himself for the worst. The worst ended up being a delightful story of love between brothers who had never met.
The IEP was correct in that Max was an only child, technically. However, an older sibling had been born and died years before Max came into the world.
When Max learned he was accepted into a camp for disabled children for a week that summer, he was sad his big brother would be stuck at home while he explored the great outdoors of Northern Arizona. So along with his toothbrush, pillow, suitcase, Ninja Turtles backpack, and under his mother's radar, Max shook big bro's earthly remains into a Ziploc baggie, sealed the closure and shoved him into his Ninja turtles backpack.
No one was the wiser.
Big brother didn't miss out on a single activity during the entire week at camp, either. He boarded canoes for rides across the lake, he participated in the varied activities inside the camp gymnasium; he even rode a horse--well kind of, tucked into Max's pocket inside the kitchen baggie. The aroma of the mess hall, pancakes, bacon and chocolate milk were never far from Max or his brother.
One might think the campfires would have been a little over the top all things considered, but those were his brother's favorite part of camp week, according to Max.
The adventures of bro-time came to a climax on a narrow and winding mountain road in Northern Arizona, aboard a bus loaded with children and camp volunteers, with an elderly bus driver at the helm for the return trip to Phoenix on bright Saturday morning. The children were exhausted from their activities and time away, but excited to be aboard the big white caterpillar that would reunite them with their families within a few hours.
That's when Max decided to spill the beans, and some of his brother's ashes when he pulled the 'bro-baggie' from the Donatello side pocket on his Ninja Turtle backpack, to introduce his brother to the kids seated nearby.
As it was told to my husband, screaming erupted as the essence of Max's brother escaped wear lapses in the well-worn, well-traveled, adventurous baggie.
Bro-baggie had nothing on Flat Stanley. Screams of the children and a few of the adults carried from the back of the bus to the front row with lightning speed as camp advisors became aware of the situation, and the curmudgeon bus driver tried to keep the giant Blue Bird bus steady on the road throughout the building shrills of horror and ensuing stampede toward the front of the bus.
Apparently the game 'Telephone' is more effective when kids are scared to, and of, death. At camp, the kiddos played Telephone while arranged in a circle with a child whispering a sentence to the person next to them, which carries on person-to-person until the last child shares what they heard aloud. The final share always ends up being nothing close to the launch sentence.
Perhaps the linear effect of bus seating provided better acoustics than the Ring-Around-The-Rosy circular camp seating enabled. Or perhaps it was all the screaming, but there was absolutely no breakdown in communication when word reached the front of the bus that there was a dead person on board.
Brunhilda, my snarky inner voice, feels the need to break out with a song right now, please excuse the interruption--"Ring around a rosie, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down. Ashes in the water, Ashes in the sea, please pick me up with a 1.2.3!" Bruni is a clever cluck. For added effect, Bruni thought I should share that she screamed loudly on #3, then jumped. From what I've heard, so did every living human on the bus that morning, except Max. He was confused at the reaction his Show-And-Tell introduction had on his camp friends and counselors.
Once the bus was safely brought to a halt at the edge of the narrow road, the frantic children and a few adults were calmed once Max's "big brudder" was carefully stowed away in a bus compartment for the duration of the trip home, inside a second larger baggie to eliminate further sharing. The double-bagged, boy-in-the-baggie's shtick was up. Out of sight and out of mind being the prevailing theory, as frayed adult passengers quietly contemplated their own opinions on cremation and release of ashes. The trend was just beginning to become popular at the time, but I suspect the bro-in-a-baggie incident created more cons than pros that morning. It was also rumored the bus driver was placed on heavy medication following the incident.
We always get a kick out of the stories that follow my husband's students--this one is a family favorite. Max's love for a brother he never met, endeared me to a child I never met, but won't soon forget his act of love and inclusion.
Artwork compliments of Google Search; Campfire Clipart by Clipart Kid
Nursery rhyme video compliments of YouTube
Flat Stanley is a popular teaching through travel experience that is a popular class assignment among elementary aged children. For my Canadian Fan Story friends--good things come from Canada--the following excerpt was taken from Wikipedia:
The Flat Stanley Project is an educational project that was started in 1995 by Dale Hubert, a third grade schoolteacher in London, Ontario, Canada. The project features paper cut-outs based on the title character of the 1964 children's book Flat Stanley.
The project was designed to facilitate the improvement of the reading and writing skills of elementary school students, while also promoting an interest in learning about different people and places.
In 2001 Hubert was presented the Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence, an annual award issued by the Prime Minister of Canada to honour outstanding and innovative elementary and secondary school teachers.
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