As a teacher, I often think of the term “diamond in the rough.” I see so much potential in my students. Often strength of character and initiative reveal themselves like small sparkles winking through an uncut exterior. I know the cuts and scrapes, revealing the gem within will often be a painful process, but one of the deeply satisfying rewards of being a teacher is watching my students become productive, amazing adults. I think in terms of polished stone also because I am a rock polisher’s granddaughter. My grandfather polished stone in a quarry. In some ways I like to think of his profession as analogous to mine. I’d like to tell a bit of my grandfather’s story, because as I reflect on it, I realize that both consciously and subconsciously, I’ve chosen to live my life and base my priorities on his model of work ethic, duty, service to others, and value of education.
My grandfather worked in a granite quarry for 40 years. He polished the slabs of granite that were blasted out of Granite Mountain, in Marble Falls, Texas. Granite Mountain is a batholith, a magma chamber from an extinct volcano. The cooled magma formed a giant dome of granite, later revealed when the softer rock and soil above eroded away. The batholith in Marble Falls is a smaller version of Enchanted Rock, which was once a revered spot by Native Americans, and currently one of the most visited Texas State Parks. The granite quarried from Granite Mountain was used to build the state capitol building in Austin. It is an interesting geologic formation, with economic value and historical ties to the seat of our capitol, but to my Papa, getting up to go to work every morning at 4:30am and repetitively polishing stone with a machine until quitting time was not interesting or mentally stimulating. My grandfather went to this job faithfully, as I said, for 40 years because this was how he could provide for his family. I often tell myself when I am tempted to complain about work or not feel like going in, that if Papa could go to that job without complaining- grateful for a job, than I could too. My grandfather was a child during the Great Depression. He always said he was grateful to have grown up on a ranch during that time, and remembered his father butchering a cow and giving some of the meat away to people from town that were starving. He saved and worked hard to make sure his family was taken care of, that was one of his top priorities. My grandfather taught me the value of work and showed me a work ethic to strive for.
My grandfather is an intelligent man. He was not a rock polisher because he wasn’t capable of a more mentally challenging job. He worked in the quarry, because despite being accepted to the University of Texas where he intended to major in engineering, after his father died, he chose to stay on the ranch where he was born and raised, to take care of his blind mother and take care of the ranch that had been in the family since Burnet County was first settled. His family was his duty. His older brother went on to a successful career in the oil industry as a petroleum engineer, but Papa stayed on the ranch. Up until last week, my grandfather tended livestock and took care of the ranch he has lived on his entire life. From an early age, I was told the story about Papa not being able to attend college, and I never took for granted the opportunity to go to college and earn a degree in higher education. This was an early lesson for me about the power, and gift to pursue higher education.
A story from when my grandfather was a boy highlights to me how much I, and my students, often take for granted the wealth of information at our fingertips now. Being raised in a highly religious household as a boy, my grandfather was forbidden to read. He had chores to do, and was not allowed to be “lazy” and sit around reading. His brother, Jay, would borrow books from school and hide them along the route they walked from school to home so they could stop a few minutes and read along the way. If they were caught at home with a book they were beaten. If it rained and
the books they had hidden were ruined, they were beaten at school. And yet, my grandfather and great-uncle valued reading so highly, that they were willing to risk this. This mental picture of my grandfather walking along the dusty road with bare feet, picking up books he had hidden along the way, is a powerful one for me. How can I instill how precious learning, and access to information, is to this current generation?
As the youngest son of seven children, Papa ended up taking care of many of his brothers and sisters as they aged, and other family members as need arose. As a child growing up, my sisters, cousins, and I were often at my grandparents home, as our second home.
Even though they had a modest ranch house, they were always more than generous with their home. As a teacher, I strive to remember my grandparents’ example of generous spirit. I may not make a huge salary, but if a student is hungry in class I can share a snack I have squirreled away in my drawer. If a student needs a kind word or listening ear, more than to be taught the characteristic of light waves, I try to remember that loving others is something I can give without cost and is as important as their education. Maya Angelou is quoted as saying, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
My grandfather was a rock-polisher, who valued and yearned for education, but who spent the majority of his life instead smoothing and shining the pink and black quartz crystals of “Texas pink” and taking care of others. He valued education, but he valued others first. I too am a rock polisher of sorts, striving to persevere in my duty to shape a rough and unpolished generation. And yet, as important as educating may be, in my heart I know that caring for my students, my colleagues, and my family takes precedence.
I’m writing this in honor of my grandfather, Fred Holland, who this past week suffered a stroke. I love you, Papa. I respect you and admire you. You have been a rock of stability and love for me my entire life and my life is built on your foundation. Praying you recover so that we may enjoy your company several years more.