Aunt Olla, cont.

Aunt Olla called tonight. She has a bad cold. Colds stick around longer when you are 92 years old. But she's got plenty of chicken soup on hand, good thing. And echinacea. And zinc. And vitamin C. I had forwarded a letter to her from somebody who had once been her student in country school, so she called about that.

Olla was quite a teacher. She taught in a country school near Lake Park for six years, and it was her favorite. Some of her students from that school still visit her at least once per year. She's outlived half of them, I think.

She caused a few scandals at that school. For one thing, she used school funds to buy toilet paper, an unheard of luxury at the time. For another, she was pretty lax with discipline. As long as the students were productively busy, they didn't have to be quiet or sit in rows.

They put on constant productions. They wrote plays and performed them. They did musicals. They sang old songs. They danced. They drew. The kids played rough games at recess, and Olla played right along with them.

One of her students went on to make a lot of money owning hotels all over the world. After he made his fortune and Olla had retired, he would call her in the middle of the night as he flew over the US in his Lear jet. He had a portrait painted of Olla, and had it hung in the entry to his office complex in Las Vegas. Once, he picked up Olla in his jet and took her to dinner somewhere on the Iron Range and brought her back before bedtime. Well, it was 4 am. But if you haven't gone to bed yet, it's still before bedtime.

"Poor guy," Olla said once. "He struggled so with school."

The loyalty those students have shown Olla is amazing. How many people party with their third grade teacher when they are well into their 70s?

Two years ago, about seven of her students brought Olla up to the gardens for our open house in August. Well, Olla had envisioned them all having coffee and donuts together, a nursery tradition. But it was late in the afternoon and some of them decided they would prefer BBQs and pop. "They won't listen to me any more!" Olla said, in not-so-mock exasperation that her dreams of them all having coffee and donuts together were shattered.

An echo of Grandpa, Aunt Olla's brother. Planning, planning, planning. Every detail. When we had family gatherings in his later years, Grandpa would call from the nursing home (when he wasn't feeling good enough to come) and tell us which verses to sing of the table grace. Or he'd have some new verses typed up we had to pick up at the home on our way.

When Grandpa died, the pastor recieved a copy of the funeral sermon he was expected to deliver in the mail a day later--from Grandpa. The pastor said that might have shocked him if he hadn't gotten so many funeral sermons from Grandpa before! The last one was just the final revision.

They don't make 'em like that any more--or maybe they didn't make many like that in the first place.