I haven't been on Facebook as much lately, too many things to do with the holidays coming. But today, Molly wanted badly to go to the pool and I was too tired and cold to join her. I spent the hour on the side of the pool, and caught up on Facebook.
I was saddened to read the obituary of my sixth grade teacher, a strong and beautiful woman, who will always be Mrs Stewart to me. Even though we met again and had contact as adults, I could never bring myself to call her Alyce.
From the first day I walked into her classroom, as an awkward sixth grader, she commanded respect and shone with her love of teaching. She dressed for teaching like she was going to the opera or the theater, and if my memory is correct, she had a different pair of shoes (heels, even) for school every day through the fall until the Christmas holidays. She made teaching sixth graders into an occasion.
She spoke to us with her strong Bostonian dialect, leaving out an R in one place (caaa instead of car), and adding it in another. She regaled us with tales of her life in England, and her love of Europe. I attribute a good part of my love and passion for all things European to her. In addition to daily vivid instruction in European history and geography, she chose one day of the school year to have each of us, in a factory town in the cornfields of Indiana, prepare the flag, food, government, and geographical and political information of each European country. This was "European Day" and the highlight of sixth grade for me.
She had a love of the written word, both the great authors of the world, but also encouraging and drawing out the writer in each of us. We kept a diary, that needed to be signed each day with "Sincerely", and that she would read individually and give us feedback and encouragement, both with our writing and our pre-teen angst-ridden challenges. Now I can only marvel at the personal time that she must have taken to keep up with and encourage us.
Throughout the rest of my education, I often thought back to Mrs Stewart fondly. She was that amazing combination of a general and a mentor, a teacher who believed that you were special and pushed you to bring out what was special about you. She was tough, couldn't stand nonsense, but I felt that she also cared deeply.
As I read her obituary, I was amazed to learn that she had completed her university late in life, after raising her children. What luck for me, what fortune that she dared to live her dream, to complete her degree, and that I was able to have that year with her.
Thank you, Mrs Stewart, for teaching me, for believing in me, for sharing a piece of yourself with me. I am glad I was able to meet you again in my mid-twenties, so that I could thank you in person.