My 20th college reunion is this May, but I remember very, very little of my college experience. I don’t remember many people, professors, or classes. I have to reach deep to remember names, even with the professors and students I truly liked. Most of the time I draw a blank. I don’t know why this is, but my token excuse is that I had a serious college boyfriend all four years. Too serious, not good for me. I remember three friends from college, and one of them is planning the 20 year reunion.
The boyfriend excuse seems solid, because high school is equally a blur once I hit senior year, the year I was finally allowed to wear makeup and have a boyfriend. But, unlike college, I remember a lot of it and have loads of friends from high school–at least on Facebook. I planned our 20th high school reunion with one of my closest friends, and in doing that connected with people I was once too shy to even look in the eyes. If any of you think I’m a socially awkward hermit now…well. You don’t even know!
Elementary school is an entirely different story. People often cringe when I mention that I went to a Catholic school up until college. “I’m so sorry,” they say. They ask me if the uniforms bothered me, if the nuns beat me, if the priests attacked the children, if I always felt guilty, and if my education suffered.
No. No to all of it. I loved my Catholic school education. I loved that the uniforms made us all the same, down to the shoes, and took away the stress of fitting in. Nowadays, the kids express themselves with their shoes. You can tell a lot about a child’s socioeconomic status just by looking at their feet, but back then, we all wore Buster Brown Mary Janes or Oxfords. By the mid 80s we were super cool in our Keds.
The nuns, especially my principal, Sr. Celeste, were all wonderful. The priests were nice, but I was always too shy to pay them much attention and back then, they were much more formal. Confession was stressful, but mostly it was a time to place bets to see how many Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s John M. would get. Not enough, apparently, because I just spent 30 minutes Googling him and I think he’s in jail. These days, Mikey and Nico joke around with their school priests and I sometimes pick them up Starbucks. We text.
I never felt guilty about anything–though the Catholic guilt joke is fun–and my education was fine, thanks. Maybe I lucked out with my Catholic school? If so, I’m glad.
Unlike college and high school, I remember the teachers from elementary school. That’s my librarian, Mrs. Green, standing fourth from the left. She always wore dress suits with pumps and nude nylons. Always. There was sometimes a broach on her lapel. Her hair was blonde and wispy, and in my head I remember it tall, like a beehive, but I think it was just Aqua-Netted to a crispy finish. She was serious, somewhat stern, and never let us check out books above our reading level. Silence was absolutely golden. Her name was Mrs. Green but she always, and I mean always, wrote in a red pen. There are still cards in the library with her precise, Palmer Method cursive in red.
My 1st and 4th grade teacher were one and the same, which was great for me because she loved me to bits. My 3rd grade teacher taught us how to sing the alphabet backwards, which I can still do to this day. I consider that and my ability to raise one eyebrow my crowning achievements in life. My 5th grade teacher gave me a hug every morning because I was so anxious about school. My 7th grade teacher pushed me to work to my potential and my 8th grade teacher was the first one to ever say out loud what I would one day discover for myself: it’s possible to achieve at everything except maintaining a healthy weight. I don’t remember much about my 2nd grade teacher and I would not be surprised in the least if you told me my 6th grade teacher answered to the name Screwtape. Nothing is perfect.
I went to the funeral of my kindergarten aide in January and wasn’t surprised to hear her two daughters were teachers. Teaching seems to be a career choice that passes through families like brown eyes or red hair. What surprised me is when the oldest daughter asked those of us who remembered their 1st teacher to stand. Everyone stood up, of course. She said, “You always remember your first teacher and your best teacher.” You remember your worst, too, but that’s besides the point. (Screwtape!)
That thought has stuck with me ever since. I remember my first teacher and I remember my best teacher and I remember my librarian with her teal knit dress suits, nude nylons, and ever-present red pen. When people ask me why I am willing to volunteer so much of my time and money to the school, I can admit that at least a little part of me wants to be remembered. The idea that I could make a small difference to even one child keeps me showing up. Well, that and the books. I doubt I’d be Super Volunteer if I was the lunch lady.
I’m shameless in my quest to insert myself in the memories of the kids. Remembering Mrs. Green’s red pens, I started asking the Mister to bring back tourist pens from everywhere he traveled. He has, and they’re what the kids use in the library. Dallas, Texas; Arizona; Denmark; New York; Las Vegas–and Monica recently sent me two from Germany! I have them out next to the globe (Target) and when the little ones check out their books I say, “Where do you want to go today?” and they pick a pen. Then, I have them look for the state/country on the globe. A lot of the kids pick Las Vegas, which kills me.
Years from now, a guy will tell his kids a cautionary tale about the librarian who loved books and kids more than anything–except gambling. She had a desk full of Las Vegas pens, so obviously she had a problem.