‘Proud of you’

I got a note from my second grade teacher yesterday.

It’s funny how people emerge from the past like specters, and just a few sentences can transport you back to a different time. In my case, that would be 1992 — and I would be a boisterous 7-year-old with flowing curls just discovering books. I’d always loved being read to, and my parents’ penchant for storytime was a favorite pastime. Someone was always reading in my house.

Mrs. Brown was the first teacher to notice I loved to write — and to encourage that interest. I distinctly remember showing her a story I crafted about Carrot the bunny and his bunny family, and Mrs. Brown’s kind expression as she read my work and offered some helpful tips. “After someone is speaking, you don’t always have to say ‘he said,'” she explained, indicating a string of dialogue that probably went something like this:

“I’m going to the store,” Carrot said.
“Don’t go alone,” Mama said.
“I won’t — I’ll take Brother,” he said.
“Be back by dinner,” she said.

Pure poetry, I know. The greats reveal their genius early.

I have many memories from Mrs. Brown’s classroom, which was close to the “little kids'” recess spot on the far side of the school. That class of 25 or 30 kids was where I first met Daniel, the kid on whom I nursed a wicked crush and sent lovey-dovey Valentine cards. It was where I started to understand math and history, and when I realized I could write stories like the ones I found in books.

Mrs. Brown was the first teacher to encourage my writing, telling my parents that she thought I had talent. Twenty years after Carrot the bunny, she reads my biweekly columns in the local paper — and she wrote me a note to tell me so. The entire message is very sweet, but the best part comes at the end: “I am proud of you.”

How simple those words are.

How powerful those words are.

As a kid (and teen), I idolized my teachers. I can vividly recall every one of them, remembering their lessons and soothing voices and homework help. Each was special in their own way, and it’s so crazy to think of them now — these women (and a few men) I put on pedestals, more than mere mortals who could do no wrong through the bright lens of my childhood.

Knowing Mrs. Brown is reading the work of her former pupil — me — and remembering the kid I once was, the kid I still am inside, makes me extraordinarily happy. I’ve heard from my elementary school librarian (she was so awesome!), my first grade teacher, my beloved gym teacher. I smile uncontrollably every time, remembering the sunny days spent in their classrooms and on the playground. I had a really, really happy childhood — probably a better one than most. I was too young to realize that.

I’m glad I was too young to realize that.

Pride is such a powerful emotion. All I’ve ever wanted was to make my family proud, my teachers proud. My sister. My boyfriend. My friends. And someday, some shiny day, my children.

Hearing from Mrs. Brown gave me an opportunity to do what we rarely think to do: thank her. Remembering the pride I felt when she read my Carrot story aloud still fills me with warmth. She’s the first teacher to put books in my hand; she’s the one who encouraged me to write crazy stories, then rewarded that creativity with kindness instead of dismissal. I’ve never thought to reach out to her. But now I have.

It takes just a moment to say a kind word, to forge or reform a connection. The simplest word from you can change the trajectory of someone’s day, of someone’s week. Maybe someone’s life. If you have a moment, thank someone who has helped you along the way. I’ve never regretted it.

‘Can’t buy me love’ — but can buy me an elementary education

I was introduced to The Beatles at a very young age — and reintroduced to The Beatles as a young adult, jumping back into their music after works like “Across the Universe” came out. The Beatles are everywhere, a part of the world psyche as much as anything can be — I even distinctly remember passing “Strawberry Fields 4 Ever” scrawled in red marker in a stairwell at my college, smiling to myself each time I climbed past it on my way to a poetry workshop. I should have taken a picture of it.

Obviously, I will never be the last to talk about the Beatles’ lasting influence on music — and I doubt I have anything insightful or new to contribute to this dialogue . . . but suffice it to say that, on a personal level and to millions of other people, some things truly are timeless.

In my suburban elementary school in the early 1990s, I had a truly outstanding music teacher — Mr. Louis Cate — who introduced us to all sorts of classic music. Going to music class was the highlight of my day. At the end of a long, winding hallway, we played bells, sang loudly and off-key, danced around to funny songs Mr. Cate wrote about Thanksgiving turkeys and learned Beatles tunes like “Hard Day’s Night,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Help!”

A few times a year (twice?) we put on recitals for our friends, parents and neighbors. I started taking piano lessons after Mr. Cate’s encouragement, and my parents would help me lug that giant keyboard to school so I could camp out on the floor with all the other fifth graders. We all looked forward to these shows with great anticipation — even when I was consistently rejected from the on-stage chorus (hey, it’s okay — the man had an ear. And I’ve never had any vocal talent.) I’d play along to “Ticket to Ride,” jubilant, and feel just as proud as he seemed after it was all over.

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