Open Letter to Teacher & Mother
Somewhere They Are Listening
My second grade teacher changed my life. I wonder if she knew it at the time. I hear she has dementia now and her mind is not so clear, but back then she was filled with great clarity and kindness. Everyone loved how Mrs. Hunter's long hair was wrapped around the back of her head in a circular braid. What would it look like if she let it all down? Her delightful demeanor kept her little students riveted and on pretty good behavior. When she spoke, we listened.
One thing that made school significantly less horrible was my natural inclination to write stories. Much to my surprise, Mrs. Hunter actually encouraged this. She would write comments on top of the page like, "Exciting!" "Excellent Story!" and okay, "Spelling and penmanship needs work."
For a girl like me, who just wanted to escape and go home, her praise for my over active imagination did wonders for my self-esteem. I had also been feeling bad about my slow comprehension of math. My thoughts were, "Don’t understand it. Not interested. Do I have to?" Thankfully, when my impulse for storytelling met with her kind encouragement, the seeds of new confidence were planted.
My sensitive nature picked up on the many injustices of schoolroom living, whether from rough classmates or bogus teachers. Mrs. Hunter took me aside one day and put a small toy in my hand. It was a blue plastic elephant the size of my palm. She whispered, "Whenever you get nervous or sad, just hold onto this elephant and know that everything is going to be alright." I would have preferred leaving the building, but instead held on tightly each day. It built up my faith.
In the years that followed, my mother would periodically run into her at the supermarket. Mrs. H. would ask the same question every time, “How’s Lese doing with her writing?” and then Mom would run home to report the encounter. The news would always stop me in my tracks. "Really?" I asked. "Wow, that’s awesome!" I figured maybe I should keep going with it.
My other marvelous mentor was my mother and, like Mrs. H., her ability to clearly see the true me was one of her finest qualities. With both women, I felt uniquely understood and supported.
Fear gripped me at the thought going on a class trip. You mean I’d be crammed on a school bus for hours? No way I could go through with it. Much to my relief, Mom came up with a brilliant solution. She elected herself "class mother" so she could sit beside me as protector. I knew that if I needed to get out, she would make the driver pull over, no problem. She had my back.
If a friend hurt my feelings, in her soothing voice she would say, "I’m so sorry, dear. I know it’s not easy. People don’t always act the way we want them to." It took me a long time to understand that one.
When suffering from any of the many agonies of life, you could count on her to step up to the plate with a positive perspective. “Think of it as a fascinating learning experience,” she’d suggest, smiling sweetly with blue eyes twinkling.
As college approached she was curious. "You’re so good with people and children, honey. Are you sure you want to go into journalism?"
"Yes, I’m really sure," I replied. "I think I can use those skills in my work."
As it turned out, we were both right.
Mrs. Hunter and Mom were the most monumental of mentors. I could lean on them like trees in the forest. On solid ground in bright light, they showed me the strengths and talents I knew not of, and how I could best grow up.
Thank you, dearest Mom. I know your influence has expanded into the higher realms of heaven. Thank you Mrs. Hunter, wherever you may be. Are you still living in New Jersey or have you graduated to the greatest classroom in the clouds?