Happy 100th birthday, Woody.

Sometimes things just line up.

This summer I am reading fourteen books my 4th and 5th grade students will be delving into this coming school year for a book competition. I downloaded the first tome to my Kindle to begin my marathon read – Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. It is a powerful book set in the Great Depression that follows a young boy’s journey of discovery. Strikes, Hooverville, and jazz are all rolled into one compelling story.

My dad at a pie eating contest during the Great Depression.

After leaving Bud, Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan glowed at me from my iPod.  Also set during the Great Depression, this story led me from a ranch in Mexico to the farms in California. Dust storms, repatriation, and heartache could not defeat those souls. Their brilliant spirit rising makes this book a joy to read.

Soon after a piece on Facebook grabbed my attention. It seems there is a school board in my state that has successfully shut down the teacher union in their school district. It is being heralded as the “new” education model for the country in a very one-sided article.

And the last to line up on the tidy shelf inside my usually untidy brain was an interview on NPR celebrating the 100th birthday of Woody Guthrie. It reminded me of his passion for social justice at a desperate time in our country, the Great Depression.

I wonder if all of this lining up was an accident?

I think we’ve forgotten, or many are too young to know about, the struggles in our country during the Great Depression. My father says he was too young at the time and doesn’t remember much. I don’t think that is true.

He was the age of the children in the books I read. Bud, Esperanza, and Leo could have been friends. My father was the youngest of seven in a family whose parents came from Yugoslavia to escape the war in Europe. My grandfather left the family for months at a time to work the non-union mines in the mountains of Colorado. Grandma took care of not only her children, but also the child of a neighbor who committed suicide by drowning herself in the Platte River.

I think he remembers.

Especially when my dad saves the smallest amount of dinner as “leftovers” for lunch the next day. An amount I wouldn’t think twice about scraping into the garbage disposal as I clean the dishes for the dishwasher.

I heave a sigh when I watch him collect stray rubber bands or wayward paperclips placing them neatly in plastic baggies.

I don’t think he will ever forget watching his mother complete her daily chores with a piece of food rolling around in her mouth, refusing to swallow it until the next meal might present a remaining bit left on the plates of his older brothers or sisters.

I am pleased our students are reading these books. And I promise they will also be hearing Mr. Guthrie’s words and songs this fall as we gather for discussion.

We should always remember.

Happy birthday, Woody.