Last year, deep in the doldrums of term 2’s aftermath, Todd Noall, a custodial staff member and former Mountain View student came to me with a picture of a naval battleship and a request to feature a story on his grandfather, Robert Sutton, in the school paper. Todd’s grandpa had passed away two years earlier but was still a powerful presence in Todd’s memory, so much so that he asked me to include a story about him in the paper. And while one of the best qualities of a school paper is its absence of an obituary column, Chief Editor London Sorensen and I felt like Todd’s profound love for his family merited a spot in our publication.
Little more than nods and greetings passed between Todd and me over the course of a year, but recently, Todd approached my classroom again; his grandmother, Jane Allen Noall, had passed on in her sleep. She died peacefully on September 12th of last year in her home in Nevada. She is survived by her husband, Private Walter Irvin Noall, and a widespread, loving family including 72 grandchildren.
Todd’s devotion to the memory of his grandparents is deeply inspiring to me. As I move through the weeks absorbed by a faculty form to fill out here and a curriculum report to be submitted there, my top concern is usually (like my term-end students) something related to myself. Life bombards us with so many arbitrary tasks that remembering our more human roles becomes difficult in demanding days. When was the last time I went so far as Todd, with nothing to gain, to show personal gratitude for someone I love?
When I asked Todd what it was that inspired him to commemorate his grandmother in this way, he seemed surprised and didn’t answer for a long moment. “She was a kind person and a good mom to my dad,” he finally said softly.
With such impervious honesty, Todd reminds me that at their cores, people can be a lot more sincere than they might seem at the end of a long day at the checkout stand or on the commute from the office or behind a desk grading last-minute papers or in front of that desk with shuffling feet, trying to word a plea for last minute grade changes. He reminds me of a parent teacher conference last year when I saw one of my students (you know, the one that alternates between sleeping in class and making smart remarks), carrying his little sister with that unique brand of tenderness that makes every girl jealous of friends with older brothers. And even as I chuckled to myself at the surly expression on his mom’s and his teachers’ faces, I thought, maybe things aren’t so bad after all.