Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Learning valuable lessons in the Big Easy

From Saturday's Briefing:

Our family was on spring break last week, free from bell schedules and formative assessments, but we didn’t stop learning.

We traveled to New Orleans for a few days of art, food, music and new sights, and we returned with full bellies, sweet memories and valuable lessons.

Katie splashed in puddles all over New Orleans.
Don’t let rain spoil your fun: New Orleans averages 119 days of precipitation each year, so it’s not surprising that one whole day of vacation was marked by relentless rain.

We didn’t travel to sit on a sofa and complain about the weather, so we pulled on rain boots and rain jackets, tucked umbrellas in our bag and marched on.

We learned to walk under awnings as much as possible and to take care when navigating crowded sidewalks with multiple open umbrellas.

Katie skipped between raindrops and pounced in puddles.

She and I hopped on a streetcar bound for New Orleans City Park. We discovered that no one else goes to the park in the rain, so we had the whole place to ourselves. We admired giant live oaks and swampy ponds, grand sculptures and dozens of kinds of birds — all of which we would have missed had we let the rain scare us away.

Stingray touch tank in New Orleans
Have a backup plan: For months, we had planned to visit Mardi Gras World, with the promise of touring a warehouse where parade floats are created. We would go Friday, according to my itinerary.
I called Friday morning to arrange transportation and learned that the whole operation was closed for a special event. It wouldn’t reopen until after we’d crossed back into Texas. (This is something my research should have uncovered. I learned to do better research next time.)

What else could we do for a couple of hours? I relied on my mental list of backups, gathered because I’ve learned that travel plans — like all plans in life — are merely suggestion. We changed course and walked to the aquarium, where we watched sea otters somersault and stingrays devour fresh broccoli. We studied a tiny seahorse and an elegant green sea turtle — unexpected treasures thanks to a change of plans.

Cooper, C. Johnny Difatta, and Katie
Slow down: We also spent a few hours at the National WWII Museum. Cooper could have stayed all day, but Katie had reached that restless, overloaded stage, in which every display starts to look the same and all you can really think about are finding snacks and perusing the gift shop.

On our way out, we stopped in the lobby to check out a Higgins boat (the small craft that would carry men and equipment from a ship to open beach) and lucked into a conversation with a WWII veteran, C. Johnny Difatta.

He spoke with native-son pride about those boats, designed and manufactured right there in New Orleans.

Difatta told us about enlisting the day he turned 17 and his momma signing his paperwork and his training in San Diego. He showed us maps of the Pacific Theater and described life on Treasury Island. He let us admire a photo from a special night, after the war, on furlough in San Francisco, handsomely dressed in Navy blues, surrounded by buddies and a coterie of beautiful women.
He allowed me to take his photo, a 90-year-old hero, sandwiched between my two children born in the 21st century.

There aren’t many World War II vets left to tell their stories — about 800,000 in all, with about 492 dying each day. I’m thankful that we slowed down long enough to notice Difatta, to listen to his stories and to thank him for his service.

No matter our age, location or stage in life, we’re standing in a wide-open classroom, with teachers all around.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

No comments: