With this year’s end-of-year epic winter storm, I imagine some of you experienced unexpected holiday plot twists. At our home, a short pre-Christmas visit with my parents has stretched on, as flight after flight got canceled. Last minute gift buying (what octogenarian doesn’t need exercise bands from Target?), a 1000-piece puzzle of Klimt’s The Kiss, and QT with grandkids and grandparents have yielded many small moments of joy and connection.
Reflecting on joy and connection this past year, I want to share a Festival story that I’m pretty sure you don’t know because it didn’t happen at a panel, in the book signing tent, or in any public session.
Sunday, November 6, 4:30 p.m. I was making my final rounds, heading down to the Capitol Extension, when I ran into some teens in TBF volunteer shirts. Teens are not the typical demographic of our volunteers, so I asked them where they were from and how they came to volunteer at the Festival. Giggling and a little shy at a stranger peppering them with questions, they revealed that they were from Gonzales High School in Gonzales, Texas, having taken a bus up here with their teacher. They were about to meet with their teacher and the other kids to go roll down the hill together – which their teacher told them was a tradition. Knowing I had to meet this teacher, I asked them to take me to meet her.
Cheryl Atkinson, in her volunteer t-shirt and denim jacket, was everything you imagine in a great teacher: energetic, down-to-earth, and motivated to impact her kids’ lives in ways that last. She told me she tries to bring kids up every year because Gonzales is a small town, and she wants her kids to have the experience of going to Austin, a big city to them. For them to get out of their comfort zone, to volunteer, and to experience a world beyond their own. Her school has some funds and she raises some to make the trip happen, but that the fact that the Festival is free makes it doable.The students volunteer but have plenty of time to see authors and panels, get food, walk around on their own, and well, DO the Festival as many of you reading this know and do yourselves.
I watched Cheryl Atkinson show them how to roll. And they followed.
I watched them, said goodbye and started down the Capitol drive toward the C-SPAN and Central Market tents that were already starting to be broken down. It had been a long week, with long weeks leading up to it. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a crier, but as I walked down that long driveway, I’ll admit some tears flowed. In gratitude that teachers like Cheryl Atkinson are around. That wonderful things happen at the Festival that I don’t even know about. That our big, challenging-to-put-on Festival is worth all the challenges.
At the end of a challenging and fulfilling year when we all got back to living, I want to thank all who support, volunteer, and experience the Festival with us. If you haven’t made a donation this year, I hope you’ll consider doing so. As the year comes to an end, you still have a few days left to make your tax-deductible donation.
Warm wishes for a safe and wonderful New Year.