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Mrs. Ferris

Tuesday 5/2/23

Apparently, today is National Teachers' Day. There are days for everything now, aren't there? But teachers deserve day, I'd say. Or some do.

The little reminder I received courtesy of Facebook made me think of a teacher I had once who meant a lot to my life.

When I was in first grade, I had a hard time picking up reading. The reason was--I believe--was that I was experiencing something else in my head with words. I thought in terms of stories constantly. They were sounds and images to me, this kind of all subsuming way of thinking. Of being. Words weren't just words that one processed phonetically. They were always more to me in concept, even before I could formally read them, or read them well.

In second grade I had this teacher whom I'm sure, looking back, was this boozy, vapid young woman. What used to be called an airhead. And someone who liked her good times and whose weekends were likely replete with binge drinking and a tendency to "overdo it."

I couldn't stand her. She also couldn't stand me. The way she acted, you'd think I was Marlon Brando in The Wild One. I was always a well-behaved kid, but that year I was punished constantly. Often kept in for recess. I really began to think of myself as this domestic problem. I took it as a me thing. I couldn't understand why I was always being scolded. The year before, I was looked at as this paragon of behavior. Albeit, one who took a while to get up to speed--ironically enough--on the reading front.

Then we get to third grade. I had been assigned to the class of Mrs. Ferris, and she had a dark and foreboding reputation as a teacher who was...strict. That's a scary word at that age, right? Used in conjunction with a teacher, it all but means one should abandon all hope, for ye are entering the gates of grammar school hell.

But I thought anything would be better than my second grade nemesis-teacher. I recall how at the end of second grade, said teacher took us across the village green to a pond, where we all sat on the grass in a circle. She went around the circle and had each kid say what they would miss the most. And you know what these carpetbaggers all said? They said they'd miss her the most.

She ate that up. She actually cooed and purred. Then we got to me, and I answered this sad attempt to collect compliments from seven-year-olds by saying, "Nothing. We've come to the end of the year, and frankly I'm ready to move on."

I get into Mrs. Ferris's class, and yes, by the standard definition--when it comes to teachers--of strict, she sure was. I loved it. She was demanding, she had standards, expectations, and it thrilled me. I thought, "Yes, this is how it's done!"

She had us write a lot, and that was big for me. Because I was already writing constantly in my head, in a very real way, and now I was taking what I was doing on the inside and putting it into visible, readable story form on the outside.

When the other kids stopped writing, I kept writing. This person now who writes thousands of works at once--both internally and externally, until all join that outside world--has had several births, of sorts.

A birth was when I wrote "Fitty."

A birth was in 2012 when I began composing at a rate I never had before or thought possible.

A birth is happening right now, frankly. Over the last few months going back, I'd say, to "Best Present Ever." And another was in that classroom.

I was athletic, always played sports, but I'd stay in at recess to work on my writing. When we had a writing assignment in class, I was done first every time, and then Mrs. Ferris would have me go to the back of the room, where there was this kind of nook filled with books, and I'd read Mark Twain and Peanuts cartoons. I learned it all, absorbed it all.

I'd talk about my stories with Mrs. Ferris, and she told me that I had a gift others didn't, and I'd always have that gift. It was mine to develop the best that I could.

She was, I would imagine, in her forties. I don't know. But I think that's probably right. Maybe thirties. On the bus to school, as kids tussled and made all of the noise that kids that age do, and boys made funs of girls and girls made fun of boys, I sat in silence, and I wrote in my head, working on the story I'd shortly be committing to paper.

Mrs. Ferris entered a story of mine in a contest for teenagers. So not kids my age. And the story won, but the committee didn't give me the award because they said there was no way a child of any age could have written that particular story.

I didn't even care. I cared about the story. I cared even more about the next story. And I still do.

So that was someone who was a big part of my life. I was always going to be what I was going to be. But at the same time, people help you in that becoming. Or they don't stand in the way. They recognize and foster. They help you become yourself. And Mrs. Ferris was a teacher who did that for me.

You see this postcard? It's obviously before my time, but those three windows on the middle floor--which was really the first floor--on the right were the windows of Mrs. Ferris's classroom.

In some very real way, I am always looking both out of them and into them.


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