They are building a new high school near my house and I like watching it take shape. Each time I walk past the construction site I think about my high school years. Even though I had lots of good teachers and friends, the person I remember most is my high school janitor. She definitely left a lasting impression.
When you’re in high school, you think all the adults in your life are members of the don’t-have-too-much-fun police force. Their job is to catch you talking too loud in the library, find all the grammar mistakes in your short story and mark up your math homework with big fat red check marks. Being around this police force gives you an impression of adulthood that doesn’t look like too much fun.
Amongst all the zits, lost elections, friend drama and report cards during my high school years there is one bright shining star – the janitor. At first I thought the woman was daffy. I mean who ever heard of a school custodian who actually enjoyed her work? Most school employees who clean up after lots of messy irresponsible teens are pretty serious or grouchy. But the serious, grouchy ones seem to have disappeared from my memory as quickly as the numbers to my locker combination.
This woman was amazingly different. She actually gave me the idea that adulthood could be . . . of all things . . . fun. I often spied her in the halls between classes pulling around a garbage can on a cart with wheels. Brooms, mops, cleaning supplies and paper towels stuck out from the cart with customary ordinariness. This woman, on the other hand, was always a total surprise.
For example, if Easter was coming up, he would dress up in a bright pink zip up the tummy bunny suit complete with soft fuzzy feet and bunny ears. Then she would hop beside the cart and hand out candy eggs to students as they passed in the hall.
If I remember correctly our Easter bunny Santa received lots of odd looks by the students. We were all functioning at the peek of self-centeredness, trying very hard to be popular, pretty, smart, athletic or smart. We didn’t know what to do with someone who didn’t seem to know our culture’s rules for how to be an adult.
I remember I took her candy eggs but I don’t think I ever hopped up to her and thanked her. I was too busy flirting with the center on the football team or wondering who I was going to sit next to at lunch time.
Now when I look back I realize this woman loved her work . . . but more importantly - she loved us. She gave us all a glimpse of a better more unique way to be an adult. She taught us that we didn’t have to leave our silly self behind when we grew up and left for college. She handed out more than candy eggs; she handed out smiles, laughter and memories that will last a lifetime.
She’s gone now. But some how I just know she’s hopping around heaven in that soft pink bunny suit with all the other angels up there.