When you’re a kid, you’re often surrounded by all kinds of incredible people but you don’t really know how special some of them are until years later. Looking back, you realize not everyone was what you hoped they might be – and then there are others, the ones that are even more extraordinary than you even imagined or could have possibly even known at the time.
Such is the case with Mrs. Bunney – and I still refer to her as such, even today – who was the mom of one of my closest friends as a young girl. At first glance, she certainly didn’t seem all that much different than a lot of the moms I knew. Except she was a mom to a lot of kids – a passel of rough-housing boys and one lovely blonde daughter, a wee bit of a thing with the biggest, most beautiful eyes.
Their family just fascinated me because there always seemed to be a lot going on – sports, school stuff, just a lot of commotion. It probably felt that way because I came from a quieter environment, with just one brother and what was a very orderly household. Having raised four kids, I know the Bunneys were far more typical.
In spite of all this, and so much more, Mrs. Bunney became a Campfire Girl leader. Most people are familiar with Girl Scouts (which I later went on to be, too) but I’m not certain there were a lot of Campfire Girl troops in our town. I joined Mrs. Bunney’s troop and whenever we met, usually at her house, we embarked on all kinds of crafts and adventures, introducing me to things often that I hadn’t tried before.
I had pomegranate seeds (still a favorite) at her house for the first time and I marveled at the treasure this fruit secreted away inside. We later used those seeds, along with a variety of dried beans and other seeds, to create family signs bearing a good-size rooster made from all those ingredients glued to a painted piece of shutter, each section of the bird a different seed or bean. Below the rooster, we shaped the letters of our last names. Looking back, it was a heck of a complicated project, but Mrs. Bunney had tremendous patience throughout the process.
I don’t know about the other girls in her troop, but my sign hung in my parents’ kitchen until my mom’s house was sold a few years ago (Never let it be said my parents didn’t appreciate every bit of creative work I ever did). It pained me to finally let it go and before I did, I thought about the intricacy of its design and wondered what made Mrs. Bunney think this was a project we could handle – but perhaps because she did, we could. I can still remember working on it and the care I took with each bean and seed.
Coming of age in the ‘70s meant my childhood held its share of turbulent times, yet as an Irish-Catholic youngster in a predominantly white Massachusetts suburb I only knew of most of them through what I saw on the evening news and read in the newspaper. And I read the newspaper from the time I was in elementary school, waiting for its late afternoon delivery, often perched on the front steps immersed in stories far beyond what many kids had an interest in at that age.
Most of what was happening seemed far away from my daily life, although I began to understand the effects of some issues. I hungered to know more, learn about different cultures and see what my place in the world could be. It’s no surprise I was a voracious reader, but I longed to experience what was beyond the pages.
One Saturday, Mrs. Bunney and our other leader, Mrs. True, took us, their Campfire Girls, to Boston to an international fair, something I had no idea even existed. It was a pivotal moment of my childhood, introducing me to music, songs, dancing, clothing, foods and language I had never heard or seen before. Performers signed autographs for us – and I was as star struck as if I met the biggest musical or movie personalities of the day.
I reveled in everything I saw. The colors, the music, the languages and the food (especially fascinating for someone as fussy as I was, yet I sampled new fare and found I liked it) with names I had never heard of, and tastes that seemed exotic. It felt like mysteries were beginning to unfold around me, setting me on a journey that continues to this day. I was a kid who was taken to a lot of places by my parents, particularly museums of all kinds and whose love of reading was encouraged through library visits and an endless supply of Scholastic books. But this experience was something that I never would have known and it fueled my lifelong desire to learn about and have appreciation for people different than me.
And I think about being taken into such an event, in Boston, in a time when events like this weren’t necessarily the norm and feel grateful that Mrs. Bunney thought it was a good thing to for us to do.
Later, I would have her as my CCD teacher. I was not particularly a fan of our regular Sunday School education. As kids, at this particular church, we first attended Mass and then marched en masse for a fairly decent walk, regardless of the weather, to an elementary school where we broke out by grade for Sunday School lessons.
As a middle schooler, a new rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” became tremendously popular, although not necessarily all that well received by the Catholic church. In spite of this, and over the course of one, if not two, CCD sessions, Mrs. Bunney played us this album and talked about it. I’d hazard a guess that for many of us, it was the first time some of the religious teachings that had been instilled in us since birth actually took on human qualities and felt real.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” was an album that my friends and I became a bit obsessed with, and I remember seeing the show live in Boston for the first time perhaps as an eighth-grade field trip. And I still love the musical – and know every word to every song by heart – but it wasn’t until recently I had this memory come back of sitting in that old, dim school environment listening to each song. I can’t help but think Mrs. Bunney’s actions must have been contrary to what was encouraged at that time, and especially when I consider the cantankerous – no, downright arrogant and unkind — pastor who led our church. It makes me appreciate what she did even more.
All these years later, looking back at some of the things from my childhood, I began to connect some dots – to recognize what I would have never have understood as a kid. To see some of the experiences and people that influenced me most. Time and time again, Mrs. Bunney appeared and I didn’t even understand until recently how much. I’m certain she never realized how she affected my life and no doubt many others’ lives, too.
I encourage you to stop and think about who you are, how you got to this place in your life and who influenced you along the way that you owe some gratitude to. It might just surprise you who these folks are – and I sure bet it would surprise them as well. Let them know.