Monday, July 16, 2018

Teaching for Him

My grandfather, my gilt Thunder, and I my first year showing pigs. 
On July 2nd, I had the chance to do one of my favorite things with my family.... the Pulaski County 4-H Fair Swine Show. My grandfather lives for the thrill of knowing how our pigs will measure up to others in the county. In 2000 I had the fantastic honor of having the grand champion barrow, with a pig that almost escaped during a thunderstorm (but that's a story for another day!)

In the years since, my family has yearned for another chance to hold that honor. My youngest cousin AJ recently finished his junior year of high school and therefore has 2 more showing years. The pressure was definitely on to have a winning year. Yet there was another layer of the experience this year. Each of the 3 pigs that AJ had to show were named after someone very special in our family.

In October of 2015, the death of my uncle truly rocked my family. My Uncle Jeff was one of the strongest men I will ever know. As the sudden sickness began to take him, he stressed to his boys to "Stay strong." He stressed to his wife and parents to "Stay strong."  That is just who my uncle was. He was a strong and very successful man, who to be quite honest had the ability to scare me as a child if I stepped out of line.

When AJ was showing his first pig, a Duroc barrow named J.R. (our uncle's initials), I felt the usual excitement that I get at the 4-H swine show. I intently watched the judge as he made his decision and narrowed down the barrows in the ring until only the top two remained. It was AJ and one other showman. What I saw my cousin do after being named the winner, brought my entire family to tears. I didn't realize that he had a bracelet made that said "Showing for him." When J.R. was named the champion in his class, he kissed that bracelet and pointed up to the sky.

It was clear that day that we had one more family member watching from up high. That day, the crossbred barrow they called "The Big Walle" (one of my uncle's nicknames) took away the honor that my family has been waiting on for 18 years, "Grand Champion Barrow." And with every win, AJ made sure to send the kiss upwards as a sign to Uncle Jeff. 

The passing of my uncle created positive and negative waves throughout my world. The positive waves were through my family for we became closer and that togetherness could be clearly felt despite missing an important component of our family unit.
The frightening waves of negativity rose up in myself, for I did not have the relationship with my uncle that I wish I had had. Therefore, after he passed, I was filled with so much regret.

I hoped he knew how much I loved him.

I hoped he was proud of me.

My Uncle Jeff
In thinking on this deeply the days after his pacing, I realized that one thing that Jeff talked  to me about at family gatherings was education and the importance of education.
It usually started with:  "How's your class going GeeGee?"

I realized after the pig show that day that when I walk into that classroom and make my impact, I am carrying a strong piece of my uncle with me. I thank my Uncle Jeff for all he had done for me in his life. His strength and resilience were something to be marveled. I knew that when I needed something, he was there... Every time. When I hugged my aunt at Jeff's funeral, I managed to say "I hope he knew how much I loved him!" through the tears. Her voice was calm and without falter as she said "Without a doubt!"

Yet, I also thank him for what he has done for me since he has left this world. I am much more cautious of relationships both in and out of the classroom. You really never know when someone is going to have their last moment.... Every second you share with someone is valuable. I also hear Jeff's voice in my ear as I prepare my lessons or when I chose to embark on this master's degree. Learning was something that we both valued so much.

As I go into this next school year, I want to make my own bracelet as a physical connection to our family's angel. This year and all the years to follow, I will be "Teaching for Him"


  1. Jen, thank you for this story! You may not realize it, but I’ll bet when you “teach for him,” he knows you’re teaching for all those hearts that beat in your classroom. ��. Side note- on my own grandpa’s farm, they weren’t allowed to name the pigs... �� Love you!

    1. Joy, I love that you always get me to see things in another way. I know my uncle would be so proud of the impact I make every day! Thank you for being here for me and pushing me to new heights! I love that your grandpa had a farm! I am a farm girl at heart! We only named the show pigs and raised them in my backyard! Tell Bob I said "Hi!"

  2. What a beautiful story, Jennifer, and a perfect reminder of the importance of relationships and the small moments we have with students. They can be more impactful than we realize.