A different kind of Junk Jaunt treasure

By Ellen Mortensen, Chief Editor After three full days of driving, hoping in and out of the car, digging through piles of stuff for hidden treasures and snacking on junk food while cruising down the road - I think I am probably set for another year. We took a different route on our Junk Jaunt journey this year than in years past, and for me the new route brought not only a chance to view different things from different vendors, but also the chance to renew past acquaintances. This year our travels took us through my home town of Ashton. I was excited knowing I was going back there, in hopes of getting to see at least someone I might have known years ago. I’ve really had no reason to visit the town since my father passed away in 1994, so it had been a number of years since I had actually stopped in. On this day, I was very glad I did. Our first stop was for lunch at the Legion Hall, where we were fed the most amazing roast beef sandwich you can imagine. The cook was the father of a boy I grew up with, who of course I had not seen in more years than I care to remember. He lost his son recently, and we visited more than we ever had. Next it was on to a garage sale being hosted by none other than my favorite elementary school teacher - Mrs. Piechota. She didn’t look much different than I remembered, and I would have known that warm smile anywhere. Mrs. Piechota taught me the meaning of compassion and kindness at a very young age. You see, there was a little girl in my class who came from a family that didn’t have much. We didn’t have much either, but this girl was different. She was even more shy than me, and Mrs. Piechota took her under her wing. One day she brought some nice clothes to school for the girl to wear. The teacher would take her to the bathroom at the start of the school day and dress her all up, fix her hair, and send her to class. At the end of the day she would change back into her clothes so her parents, who were very proud people, would not know. I can distinctly remember watching Mrs. Piechota combing my friend’s hair and washing her face, and doing what she could to make her feel special - and beautiful. I have thought about that lesson many times over the past 40 years - the most important lesson any teacher ever taught me. Mrs. Piechota’s daughter, who was also in my class, followed in her mom’s footsteps and also became an elementary teacher. If she is anything like her mom, her students are some very lucky kids. During recent conversations concerning the facilities issues with our own community’s elementary schools, it has been mentioned on a number of occasions that it is not the buildings that make for a quality education - it is the teachers. That is a statement, for the most part, I agree with. While I do believe it is important to have a clean, safe learning environment for our children, I have learned from Mrs. Piechota that having teachers who truly care about the kids is what really counts. For too many kids, their teachers may be the only examples of kindness they are exposed to in a day. I spent a few years working in the kitchen at Custer School when my youngest son was attending there, and have witnessed first hand the kindness displayed by our Broken Bow teachers. Our school system is very blessed to have teachers, and an elementary principal, who truly care about our children. It is a quality none of us should ever take for granted. Watching Mrs. Piechota demonstrate both kindness and fairness to each and every student who came into her classroom did not make me want to become a teacher. But it did make me want to become a better person. The opportunity teachers have to touch our lives goes far beyond the classroom, and I am thankful my life was touched by this very special teacher. They say you can never go back home again, but I believe we always have a piece of home with us. It was the lessons I learned in this tiny, Polish community that helped shape me into the woman I have become. Ironically, rediscovering that truth was undoubtedly the biggest treasure I found on this Junk Jaunt.