It’s hard to concentrate today. My mind is stuck firmly in the past, back in Oklahoma and my secondary education. I grew up in a small farming community that was more like two communities; our neighboring towns had consolidated in 1969 and we all grew up with both towns as a backdrop for all of our various shenanigans (underage drinking, driving too fast, snipe hunting, non-destructive vandalism.) Today I’m thinking about my high school English teacher, the woman who taught me the power of words and helped shape me to become the woman I am today. I learned of her passing this morning, and everything has been a little duller since.
She was a feminist, the first feminist I ever met. I didn’t understand what it meant then, to really and truly be a feminist. I only knew about bra burnings (didn’t happen) and that feminists hated men and children, which confused me because Teacher was married. With kids! And they seemed very happy. I remember her black turtlenecks and silver jewelry, her mom jeans and loafers. I knew her before she was my teacher, as a congregate in the same church my family attended. My brother had her first, from 9th grade until he graduated, and then I came along a few years later. This was common. Teacher taught many sets of siblings and in some cases, the parents of those siblings, as well. She was our steadfast Frau, putting up with short attention spans for a language class offered via satellite, and she made speechmakers, thinkers, and readers out of so many of us rambunctious, ill-mannered heathens she called students.
My class in particular had a knack for bothering Teacher but not because we disliked her. We bothered her because we loved her. We all wanted her praise and to be in her favor, even if we couldn’t admit it to ourselves or anyone else. She always joked (?) that we were driving her to early retirement; I’m sorry for all the times we went too far.
When she retired from public schools, she taught intro Lit classes at the same university I and many of her former students attended. My friend and I would routinely crash into her classroom on our break between classes to say hi and instruct her new students to pay attention to the best teacher they’d ever have. I wish I had known her as an adult – a friend and mentor. She encouraged my curiosity and desire to write, and I entered competitions and contests that I never would have otherwise because of her. There are a great many memories and thoughts floating around in my head tonight, and I occasionally begin to weep, especially as more and more friends hear the news and post about it on Facebook. It’s nice that we can mourn and remember her together, but apart.