Former student makes teacher proud

By Regina Villiers. Originally published September 6, 2000 in The Suburban Life. Added September 17, 2020.

Back home, Jay LeBlond sits surrounded by memorabilia-his journal, souvenirs, and photo albums-from his summer in Europe.

     Two years ago, when he was 9 and a student in our fourth-grade writing class at Sellman School, Jay LeBlond wrote a fanciful tale about traveling to the sun in the world’s fastest space ship to use up there as a space go cart he’d invented that could withstand the heat of the sun.

     But now, Jay is all grown up.  He’s 11.  In the sixth grade this year, he can write real travel stories of real trips he has taken.  He’s now a seasoned traveler.  If “travel broadens one,” as they say, Jay is now “Mr. Five-By-Five, five feet long and five feet wide.”

     Jay went to Europe this summer with his entire family.  His mom, a teacher, took part in a teacher’s exchange program there.  After she finished, Jay, his sister Katie, and their dad joined her.  The whole family then toured Europe, for the summer of their lives.

     I followed their journey through postcards Jay sent me from every place they went.  This was the summer that I got mail.

     None of the experience was wasted on Jay.  He absorbed it all. When he returned, just before school started he sat down with his five photo albums and bits and pieces of his summer to give me a rerun.

     They started out in London, one of Jay’s favorite places, he said.  But as it turned out that they all were his favorite places.  He told stories in minute detail of every place they went.

     In London, he was impressed by the Tower of London, the London Bridge, and the Tower Bridge.  He told me an interesting story about Big Ben, the clock.  He talked about the Royal Family, Buckingham Palace, and the changing of the guard.  He was moved by the White Cliffs of Dover, Dover Castle, and World War II memorials.

     He saw the world’s largest Ferris wheel, which takes an hour to turn around. He loved the Wax Museum.

     But being a boy, he loved the knights and armor more.  One of his souvenirs he brought home is a knight, in armor, but his favorite is a letter-opener from the Tower of London.

     As Jay retraced his way through such places as London, Amsterdam, Venice, Switzerland, Germany and France, he didn’t deal in generalities.  He remembered details.  He didn’t just tell me about the Hall of mirrors or the Louvre, he described details of the windows.  At one point, he looked at a photo of Notre Dame and described the gardens in back, which didn’t show in the picture.

     He described an original working windmill with a thatched roof that he saw in Amsterdam.

     Though he enjoyed every city they visited, he thinks his favorite one of all was Lucerne, Switzerland.  Maybe one reason for that was the frogs.  This has been the year of the “Big Pig Gig” in Cincinnati, with pig statues everywhere.  But in Lucerne, it was the ‘Year of the Frog.”  The LeBlonds found frog statures all over the city, and one of Jay’s favorite pictures is one of him and his sister posing with one the Lucerne frogs.

     One of his acute memories is of almost freezing to death in the Swiss Alps on July 11.  His entire family almost did.  It was very cold with snow everywhere, and they all were in shorts.

     Jay was particularly impressed with Venice, with water everywhere and how it would rise and fall. He wrote me an in-depth report form there.  “We’ve seen lots of cool stuff,” he wrote.  “We got to see how glass is made. We rode on a gondola, and we walked all around the city.”  Then he descried all the souvenirs they’d bought in Venezia, saying he got a T-shirt and some glassfish.

     From now on, European history will never be boring to Jay.  He has seen its beginnings and where it happened.

     He talked about Louis the XIV, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette. We talked about the reasons for their demise and about the French Revolution.

     He talked about Napoleon and saw where he’s buried.

     He picked up an impressive background in art, describing the Louvre and all he saw there.  He especially liked museums and castles.

     His musical knowledge also got a boost.  He saw where Mozart is buried.

     Throughout his trip, he saw the scars of World War II and learned its history.  From the White Cliffs of Dover to the scars of the Holocaust, he saw the grim reminders-Dachau, with stark memories of the gas chambers and barbed wire fences.  He saw the house where Anne Frank lived.

     Jay proved that he learned enough about writing in his fourth-grade newspaper writing class to make his teacher proud.  He took excellent, copious notes on this trip, and he kept a journal that his grandchildren will cherish some day.

     His journal is a handsome volume, but of more importance is its content.  Not only did he write accounts of events and happenings, but also he put in his journal bits and pieces of his life while on this trip.  He put in postcards.  He saved ticket stubs, such as his ticket to the Eiffel Tower and the London Subway.

     And he put in his journal the sales ticket from a purchase that gave him much joy.  He did not miss the Harry Potter craze. Even though he was in Europe, he managed to by the book.

     If Jay has any regrets about his summer, it was too short.  There wasn’t enough time.  He wants to go back.  And he wants to climb the Alps.