For nearly five years, George McClintock has greeted me the same way. Hey, I know you. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that he knows me. The man knows just about everyone. After teaching French for over 30 years at Upper St. Clair High School, George is one of the most well-known, and well-liked, members of the South Hills community. He has long since retired from the school district, but not from living an active life, by any means. George is a man who has always enjoyed a challenge. So, after leaving the classroom, he went looking for one. And ended up in the emergency room.
That’s where I first met George. He was sitting outside of a patient’s room in the emergency department of St. Clair Community Hospital, watching for a high school student to come wandering into the ER. I remember being very nervous when I walked onto the floor. My tangerine scrubs set me apart rather clearly amongst the olive-clad nurses. My friend Collin Otis had talked me into this volunteer position. Since I was beginning to investigate the nursing field by that point in time, I figured some experience in the ER would be a good way to get my feet wet.
“No! A trumpet?! For me?!” he cries. There’s an amazing sound in the young man’s voice. It’s the sound of childlike disbelief. The girls around me are wiping their eyes. Cameras continue to flash.
Dr. Ross conducts one final head count in the van. David is outside, leaning against the wall, still inspecting his trumpet. He looks up at us, and through the window, notices the heartbreak on the girl’s faces. The goodbyes are beginning to sink in. Our friend opens the van door and sticks his head inside. “Hey now!” he points to the girls, shaking his finger. “Do not be sad! You must not be sad!” The girls manage to smile at him. “We will see each other again,” he says with assurance. “Now do not be sad! Okay?”
The door slides shut again, leaving David and all of our friends on the other side. The families stand along the side of the dirt road as we pull away. I turn around and look out the back window, managing to snap one last photograph just before the rising cloud hides them all away in the dust. The lens catches Alvaro, standing alone on the street corner, with his hand high in the air. He is smiling again.
I suppose I was wrong in what I said to David. This year, everyone is crying at Christmas. During the miserable ride to UPOLI, I find myself wondering what it will be that will pick our hearts back up and start us laughing again. Katrina is sitting beside me in the back. She suddenly remembers the Christmas present that David gave to her. It is a favorite CD he owned, a collection of his favorite American songs. Just as Don Pedro drives up to the university, the CD gets passed up to the front. “David said I would enjoy this mix,” Katrina says to the group.