The delicate octogenarian who greeted us at the door of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library was gentle and sweet. I was relieved as some trips there in past years had partnered my middle schoolers and I with docents who didn't like young teenagers.
"How much time do you have here, darlin'?" she asked me. I told her we had about an hour.
"Come on in, boys and girls. We have a lot to see about this fine president. You know, my father and LBJ once worked on a road crew together when they were 18, paving some roads north of Austin."
We continued on the tour as she continued the story.
We stopped at the next exhibit. "Students, let me tell you about how my father and LBJ worked on a road crew together when they were 18..." After the fourth time she told this story, several girls walked with me at the back of our group to the next exhibit.
"I think she has Alzheimer's," one girl whispered in my ear. I put my finger up to my mouth as I didn't want our lovely guide to think anything was amiss.
Another girl caught up with me. "Do you think it's Alzheimer's?" she asked quietly.
Again, I put my finger up to my mouth even as the docent caught my eye and again asked, "How much time do you all have here today?"
I answered her as she led us to the elevators.
"We won't all be able to fit on the same elevator, so we will go up in groups," she informed us. An elevator opened in front of me. Another teacher (who is also my friend) and I stepped in. Students streamed in while we held the doors open until we could fit no more. As the doors closed, I could hear the sweet docent telling our other teacher and students, "While we're waiting for this elevator, let me tell you about how my father and LBJ once worked on a road crew together..."
I pushed the button for the 10th floor, our next stop. The students chattered, mainly about how repetitive our guide was being. I told them they were not to let on that they had already heard it, but to be polite. The elevator started to rise and then abruptly shuddered to a stop.
"Oooh- that felt weird!" one boy said.
My friend caught my eye and raised her eyebrows. I was closest to the control panel, so I pushed 10 again. The elevator shook briefly and then stopped, dead in the air. No amount of button pushing produced any movement. The lights for 3 and 4 were blinking, so I assumed we were between those two floors.
"We're stuck!" one of the girls loudly announced.
"No, we're not," my friend said. "It will start to work in a minute. Be calm and you'll see."
"I have to go to the bathroom!" one boy said, his voice an octave higher than usual. "Really, really bad!"
"You didn't have to go when we stopped at the bathrooms 10 minutes ago," I reminded him.
"It just came on! What am I going to do?" he panicked.
"You will be fine. It will start up in a minute," my friend said.
"Who's got food? What if we have to stay here for a long time?" a chubby boy asked.
"You will not be needing food for the few minutes we will be in here," I assured him.
One girl, eyes wide, announced loudly, "I'm claustrophobic! I need to get out of here! I throw up when I can't get enough air!"
Before I could even answer, her friend dramatically chimed in, "I can't see people throw up because then I throw up, too! I feel really queasy right now." She put her head into her hands.
Things were escalating. Without using words to further inflame the kids, I tried to signal to my friend whether we should use the phone to summon for help. She shook her head intensely back and forth, knowing that we would have a full scale panic in a very small space if they heard us trying to use the phone.
I pushed the 10 button again. Nothing.
The chubby boy looked at his classmates. "You know, I read about a soccer team that was in a plane crash and they were stranded and they had to eat their friends to stay alive."
"You'd be the one we'd have to eat, " another boy shot back at him. "You've got the most meat on you!"
"No one's going to eat anyone," my friend said. 'Stop and be patient."
I continued to work the buttons.
The boy with the full bladder said, "Maybe I could go right here in the corner. You'd all have to close your eyes, but I don't think I can hold it any longer!"
At that moment, the elevator whirred back to life and we moved upwards to the 10th floor. The doors slid open and our guide was there to greet us with the rest of our group. "There you are," she said. "Sometimes we have trouble with these elevators. Now, how long do you all have here?"
I found my full bladder boy and pointed him in the direction of the restrooms. "Hurry!" I encouraged him.
"I guess it was a false alarm. I don't have to go anymore," he replied as we followed the group.
As we caught up, the docent waited for us to reach them and said, "I want to tell you the story of how my dad and LBJ worked together on a road crew when they were 18..."