… Big Screens and Little Crabs

For the fourth installment of this tribute to Mrs. Mary Brooks Sewell, I want to reminisce about some of the other field trips we took. Three, to be exact. The Cyclorama, Washington D.C., and Jeckyll Island.

Mrs. Sewell took us to the Cyclorama in Grant Park in Atlanta maybe halfway through the year. For those of you who don’t know, a cyclorama is basically just a big circular display that allows the viewer to sit in the middle. The Atlanta Cyclorama houses one of the world’s largest oil paintings. In fact, up until 2004, it was the largest oil painting. Depicted in this 42×358 foot behemoth is the Battle of Atlanta. Interestingly, the dude that commissioned  the painting was a Union general, so I think we can safely assume that the heroic acts of the Union forces (specifically this guy’s unit) are rendered rather more generously than they actually occurred. Obviously, the Yanks only won because they were better funded. The sinews of war are infinite money, after all. Cicero said that. I guess he would know. Anyway, at the Atlanta Cyclorama, you come up through the floor and the painting revolves around you. It’s extremely intricate and very cool, especially for anyone who loves the Civil War, interesting paintings, or even neat-o engineering feats. Plus, the building itself is one of the more architecturally pretty buildings in the city. You know, since ol’ Sherm burnt the place to the ground. Really, anyone who is just a little bit curious should check out the wikipedia article for the Atlanta Cyclorama, because it really is a very interesting bit of history. I never would have even known about it if Mrs. Sewell hadn’t brought us there that year.

The second trip, the Washington D.C. trip was not actually her class, but a FOCUS trip of which she was one of the chaperone teachers. This was the very first time I had ever been to our nation’s capitol; I have been two times since, and I have longed to go at least once every month since that first time. All that history, all that heritage has a strong pull on me. We did the quick educational tour as a couple of small groups. You know, hit all the major monuments, check out a couple Smithsonian museums, view the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, gaze at the Kennedy flame, picnic on the Mall. It was amazing. But I bring up this trip mostly to explain about the one and only time I have ever stolen anything. On the Mall, there were a few vendors, one of which sold these bronze little Washington monument statues that were thermostats. Stupid, I know. But I wanted one, and I didn’t have the five bucks to pay for it. So, when the guy’s back was to me, I put one in my fanny pack. That’s how cool I was. Stealin’ junk and puttin’ in my fanny pack. Remarkably, I was never caught. Mrs. Sewell never knew, none of my classmates were aware, or else they couldn’t have cared less. Well, anyone who knows Mrs. Sewell knows that she never missed an opportunity to teach manners, etiquette, and ethics. I had been hearing those things from my parents for years, but lessons come much easier from those who are not your parents, so for about six months, I had been absorbing those same lessons from this Savannah-bred gentlewoman. So naturally, I enjoyed that stupid thermostat for all of about half a day. Then I felt panicked and paranoid because I was positive Mrs. Sewell or one of the other chaperones was going to catch me. I made it back to Georgia safely, with no one the wiser. But now, instead of feeling paranoid, I felt incredibly guilty. I couldn’t give it back. I couldn’t send the vendor money. The only thing I could do was confess what I did and accept the punishment. But I never did. Oh, I was a coward, for sure. But I couldn’t risk this teacher that I was really coming to respect and genuinely enjoy look at me with disappointment. That was the worst. So, being the coward, I ducked that responsibility. However, having gained the sort of self-respect that only a woman like Mrs. Sewell could instill in a kid, I have held myself above such actions ever since. I may not have learned that directly from her, but she had that sort of effect on you if you hung around her long enough. She just made you want to be a better person. I dare say if that trip had come even two weeks later than it did, I wouldn’t have taken the thing at all.

Lastly, there was the Jeckyll Island trip to the 4H center on the coast of Georgia. This bit is a little more of an anecdote than anything else. It was just a flash of memory, but I thought it worth telling. First, Mrs. Sewell had us all out in the marshes slogging around while the tide was out. A good few of us got stuck in the muck, and when our peers tried to pull us out, inevitably, they got stuck, too. Well, Mrs. Sewell had a fine laugh about that, until she managed to get mired, as well. When we finally made it to where she wanted us to be, she dug down, blindly, into the mud and pulled up a tiny crab. It was awesome for us. This teacher, this genteel Southern woman, was fearless. When we got back to our dorms, we had to write these daily journals diagramming and writing about what we had seen and smelled and heard and touched and learned. We were all scattered around the 4H campus, a few on the basketball court, several on the front porch, and I was in my bunk. My tape player (that’s right, my tape player) had long since run out of battery, so it was just the sounds of the camp I could hear. Oh yeah, and Mrs. Sewell’s sudden blood curdling scream. Obviously, my interest was diverted from my work as she came running out of her room wrapped in a towel. She saw me (I’ll admit I was terrified. Mrs. Sewell in a towel?? Mrs. Sewell doesn’t need to take showers! She is naturally self-cleaning.) and and offered me extra credit to get rid of “it” in her shower stall. Ladies and gentlemen, “it” was a crab. Of the exact same variety she had so unflinchingly pulled from the marsh. The crab kept its life, and she kept her dignity, and after that trip, we shared a much closer bond. I still smile when I see a tiny crab scuttling to places not yet ventured by any other. And I hope he manages to find that crab I removed and share stories of their crazy adventures.

So, there you go: more stories, more tribute. My Atlanta Journal article was written in such haste that I couldn’t possibly have expressed all that I feel about her, all that I learned from her. In doing this project, I feel like I’ve venerated her much more accurately and much more expressively than I did in the other. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about her as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about her. Only three more days, and then I’ll return to my normal thoughts… I hope you stick around that long, assuming you’re here now.

(Still don’t have a catchy “farewell” phrase)



One Response to “… Big Screens and Little Crabs”

  1. Charlotte Tomlinson Says:

    “Mrs. Sewell doesn’t need to take showers! She is naturally self-cleaning.” I recognize this way of thinking as it comes to the people I admire and adore the most; I simply cannot open my mind to the possibility that they might not be perfect in every way, that sometimes they say or might do the wrong things, and, certainly, I could never picture them in a towel after the very common act of bathing 🙂

    Also, you don’t need a “farewell” phrase. Whenever I read anything from you I spontaneously hear an “Until next time, friend” in my ear anyway. Just keep writing…

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