#9 / Some teachers matter and are included when you count your lucky stars
I don’t know if you remember your public school years the way I remember mine, but let me tell you, I could write a book. It would be full of the things I thought were funny back then like anything fart-related and other things I loved like bubble gum, rodents, Go-Go boots, the mini skirts me and my sister made out of our bedroom curtains, Tilley the turtle, The Pirates of Penzance, my first school friends – Helma and Renny – who I may have invented, and of course my teachers, who all mattered in one way or another, even if it was that they didn’t matter at all.
These ones mattered:
Miss O’Kell, grade two
She read us real stories, and I loved her for it. She’d stand in front of the window, nothing but sky behind her, and she’d read stories that got right to the quick of me. They weren’t written for kids. The were just written, and beautifully too. I remember some of them in great detail, but none more than the heartbreaking, The Necklace, which really got me. It was unforgettable. It gave me a sharp appreciation for literature. Some 25 years later, I was in a Goodwill store leafing through a very old book of short stories, and there it was. The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant. Of all the purchases I’ve made in my life, and there have been some doozies, that fifty cent book was the best.
Mr. Hoppe, grade four
His penmanship was exactly like the examples that decorated the lofty periphery of our classroom, above the maps and bulletin boards and chalkboards. He treated the alphabet with reverence. Letters were important art forms and they were serious business. Grade four was the year we graduated from pencils to the elegant contraptions that were cartridge pens, but we had to prove ourselves first, and I practiced non-stop, my eyes swirling upward then back to my page, until I mastered those cursive beauties and was presented with the first pen of the year. I still love letters.
Mrs. Heinz, grade five
Mrs. Heinz was from Germany and she drove a butter-coloured Karmann Ghia and lived in a butter-coloured house right on the Scarborough bluffs. She loved telling us stories and she loved hearing our stories, which we told as if we were under a spell, without even a trace of the usual terror or dread. I remember standing at the front of the class for nearly an hour, going on about summer camp, and afterwards, my classmates had lots of questions and said they’d like to give camp a try. Mrs. Heinz talked a great deal about growing up in Germany, and we learned some horrible truths, gently, through her stories. She’d get emotional sometimes – which alarmed us as first – but eventually gave freedom to our own emotions. I’m sure I’m not the only of Mrs. Heinz’s students who grew up with an ear for the rare, beautiful intimacy of a well-told story.
Mr. Smith, grade six
I liked Mr. Smith. He was young and charming and funny. He was also the first grown-up I wasn’t afraid of. I’m not sure why or how or even what exactly happened, if anything. Perhaps it was just a feeling, but he made me understand that my voice was as important as anyone’s.
And then came junior high and rotating classes and teachers you barely knew who barely knew you back.
Most things, like growing up, are gradual and there’s plenty of time to ease into them. Of course it’s rough sometimes, like Mother’s Day when yours is gone, but we are resilient, with lots of lucky stars to count, and we keep on going in the wake of everything, including the inevitabilities of getting older. We are shape-shifters – we are strong, tough, and buoyant – and it’s a good thing, too, because when you get to the age you once thought was ancient, you better change your opinion or you’re going to start wearing sweatshirts with kittens embroidered on them, eating any- and/or everything, especially with icing, and speaking your mind in a mean-spirited kind of way.
My kids will be here later and we’ll be doing our fave thing which involves food, wine, and Cards Against Humanity. As your council, I advise against this, unless your kids edit the cards first like mine do.
My eldest daughter texted me to say Happy Mother’s Day, but autocorrect chimed in and her text went like this: Happy Nothing Day!
And while we’re on the subject…
When my horse-loving youngest daughter was home sick with a babysitter, I told her I’d bring her something. I can’t remember what it was, but here’s the text she got, and she was just young enough to believe it, too: I’ll bring you home a pony.
My sister bought a beautiful eggplant-coloured Hilary Radley coat, but she didn’t wear it all winter long. Here’s the text she sent when she finally wore it: I’m wearing my purple Hilary Rarely coat – finally – love it.
I was agreeing with a friend to take our dogs for a walk and complaining about the jitters from too much caffeine, but here’s what I said: Sure, I’ll go. I have the shitters and a walk sometimes helps.
I don’t know how to change the comment button from “leave a comment” to “your voice is as important as anyone’s” but the minute I figure it out, I’ll let you know.
Thanks for reading!