Monday, December 21, 2015
Morning Thanks--Blast from the past
This is she, hard as it is for me to say it because she's not only a grown woman today, she must be grandma, probably many times over. Her husband's receding silver hair and aviator glasses say that in a decade or so, when we're all in the Home, my wife and I could be just down the hall, if all four of us make it that long.
Last night I thumbed through the pictures she's put up on Facebook. I ran into her on-line when some other kid-who-is-no-longer-a-kid sent me a note out of the blue when he'd run into me the same way and messaged me almost a half-century after he'd been in my very first class. When I clicked through his gallery of friends, this grandma stepped out of the album and out of whatever shelved scrapbook she'd been in in my memory.
A few kids from my last year of teaching I remember, but a seventeen-year-old version of this woman will hold down a place in my memory forever--a bit of toothiness smiling through classes that only occasionally interested her.
She was a big personality, the kind of student a teacher realizes early on requires control, the kind of student so attuned to what other students are saying and thinking that she simply has little time for whatever it is the teacher is stammering on and on about. The kind of student who doesn't dislike you, but really wants you to know that no matter what you think Ernest Hemingway, a host of things going on in the room at any particular moment are of greater importance.
She's not a high school hero, wasn't an athlete or cheerleader, never held down a chair in the National Honor Society. Physically, she wasn't not a babe, or a doll, or a sweetie, more of a Toots. I don't know what she might have done for a living, but in my imagination she's the kind of woman who had only to take up waitressing to create overflow customers in a truck stop. Give her a couple of years and she'd run the place. Energy she had in abundance. That smile, look at it, is the very same one she wore when, day-in and day-out, she came into class, a slightly slimmer version. It's no pose. It was always there. That girl loved life.
Demure? Heavens no. Even though she knew nothing about Germane Greer, never read Betty Friedan, I'd call her a Rosie the Riveter who didn't need the war. She didn't need Gloria Steinem, but Gloria Steinems have always needed her. If a girl is the shy little darlin' who sells cookies, she never was.
She could smack down boys, and did. But they loved her anyway, not simply because she was amply endowed--she was--but because in her own way she was one of them. She may well have been the kind of teenage girl other young women fear, maybe even a bit of a bully--I wouldn't doubt it.
I was her teacher, but back then you could count me among her most loyal fans.
Last night, for the first time in 45 years, I saw her in pictures a whole lifetime later. I've missed totally 45 years of her life. She plays her father's 80-year old Swiss accordion in a touring Swiss-American band. In southwest Wisconsin she's something of a tourist attraction. She'd probably whack me good for saying that, but she'd walk off with the very same smile, the kind of smile that said, "Go ahead, Schaap. Give me your best shot."
That's her, second from right.
So I messaged her. This morning she'll be surprised to find a note from an ex-teacher who exists as just as much a museum piece in her mind and she is in mine. But if I know her, she'll write something, something with a zing, something with more than a few misspellings. I don't think she became a writer.
Anyway, when sees that note from me she'll smile, and I know that smile. I recognized it immediately, here too, the same old smile her English teacher used to get a lifetime ago.
See her up on that wagon? Somewhere in that smile this ex-teacher made an investment long, long ago.
I could have done worse with my life.
This morning I'm thankful for that very smile.