Life in Circles: Carpe Diem.

May 28, 2016

Deb Del Zoppo

Deb Del Zoppo

Life In Circles by Stephanie Wagner.

Sponsored by Pro-Master Carpet Cleaning, 231-757-9061,

If laughter is truly the best medicine, then Deb Del Zoppo is getting it right.

No stranger to storytelling, Deb has been a wanderer, horsewoman, teacher, construction worker, mentor, daughter, sister, and friend in her 58 years. Spend any time with her, and you know she has done it all with gusto.

When I arrive, she is confidently repairing the latch on the back door that has been blowing open with the wind.

“I think the house settled. Let me just finish this up before we sit.”  I watch as she tightens the last of the screws, pulls the door closed, and sinks into a white wicker chair on the back patio of her “barn-o-minium”.  

Just over a year ago, she left her rural farm to move closer to town. She and her three horses live peaceably together under one big steel roof. In the winter, she doesn’t have to traipse through the snow to feed and greet her hooved friends.

We have laughed many times over the questions she gets about the house-barn combo. People are naturally curious, and Deb is happy to share her stories.

“Everybody likes to talk about themselves. I have just been so blessed – I have led a blessed life. Kudos to my parents, friends, and family.

“My mom – she supported me always. She said yes to anything I wanted to try, which gave me the confidence in my ability to learn. Construction? Yes!  Horses? Yes! Traveling? Why not!”

Deb’s mom, Dolly, was both a woman ahead of her time and a product of her generation. Born in 1922, she was promised a pony just before the recession that became the Great Depression hit.  She never did get a pony of her own, until Deb got her first horse when she was 8.

“I think my mom lived vicariously through me. She ended up acting as my ‘groom’ for many years, then she took care of my horse after I graduated and left home. She never complained, except when it was really cold. She made it OK for me to travel, explore, take on different jobs and experiences.”

The freedom to stretch her identity also came with firm boundaries.

promaster 111813“It was a balance. I could be anything and do anything, but I also always had a curfew. My parents always knew where I was. And I knew there would be consequences for breaking the rules – no excuses.  I was expected to be honest, respect the rules at all times. But they weren’t always afraid for me, and I learned not be afraid.”

It is obvious that Dolly’s fearlessness was passed down to Deb, along with her great sense of humor.

Right after high school graduation, Deb packed her tiny Pontiac Astra to the windows with camping gear and her cat, then set off for an open ended solo road trip. Dolly packed in another load in the front seat, to be delivered to Deb’s older sister in Nova Scotia.

“The only open space anywhere in the car was where the cat box sat. I will never forget my mom, standing in the driveway, waving good-bye.

“She had me roll down the window, and with a grin, said ‘Now, don’t pick up any hitchhikers!’  We laughed hard at that one. Where would I have even put one?”

Deb traveled for several years, picking up jobs along the road whenever she ran out of money, until she decided it was time to come “home” in her early 20s.

She bought property in Pentwater, and took on a construction job that she stayed with for 12 years. It was in a slow season that Deb discovered her true calling – teaching.

“I have teachers in my family and had taught riding lessons for years, so I thought why not? I went back to school in the summer of 1989, graduated in 1994, and stayed in the classroom until I retired in 2014.”

Deb’s face lights up as she recalls the time spent teaching speech and science to local high school students.

“I love science, but speech was my real love. No one knows kids better than their speech teacher.

“They would come in with this ‘deer in the headlights’ look about them. They were scared to death to speak. And within two weeks, they would all be falling over themselves to share their stories.”

Deb encouraged them to talk about their world, their personal experiences, the things they already knew.  

“They learned how to present themselves, and they gained confidence. It didn’t just stay in my classroom from there.”

It is clear that she practices what she preaches.  Deb is an entertaining storyteller, quickly getting me giggling about the high school pranks she was privy to tales of. There were the “T.P.” wars series – where each of her 21 students all told the same story from a slightly different perspective- followed by the seagull hi-jinks, and ending with a poignant story about a young woman learning the real truth about the “farm” her elementary school pet had gone to.

There is no question that she is enjoying her retirement, and that she equally misses her students and colleagues.

“I just came from graduation practice this morning. It is a good way to catch up with some of my former students. Then I had lunch with some of my former colleagues. It just isn’t the same anymore in education.”

Deb doesn’t mince words when it comes to the state of our educational system, and the pressure currently put on our teachers.

“They (the teachers) are just wasting so much time filling out papers that are of no use to anyone anywhere. Filing cabinet fillers. Piles and piles of data that no one is ever going to look at or use.  And they are missing out on time they could use to be connecting with their students.

“It’s nonsense that has nothing to do with teaching and is adding nothing of value.  But someone in an office somewhere who has never set foot into a classroom thought it was important.  The people who are making the rules don’t have a clue what it means to really teach a child.”

I have to admit, I agree. I am definitely biased, but it seems as if the human race would be better served teaching our children to connect with each other through stories than filling out online checkboxes. 

“Don’t get me wrong, I support teachers 100% and think they have a noble profession and a great responsibility,” Deb says. “The state of the current education system is beyond their control.”

For now, Deb fills her time with her horses, her friends and family, and just enjoying what each day brings.

“Life is short – you never know when your time is coming. Carpe Diem. Seize every single day.  I have a couple of regrets, like wishing I would have taken different jobs when I was younger. I had another one, but I honestly can’t remember what it was now.”

And that is the way it should be for all of us. To live every day so fully that we just can’t remember our regrets. Carpe Diem all the way.


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