I read the obituary today of my former high school English teacher, Mrs. Jerry. I was deeply saddened by her death, although she certainly had lived a full and interesting life in her ninety years on this earth. She was a remarkable woman and a teacher with great warmth and enthusiasm for both her students and the courses she taught.
I’m certain each of us has one teacher whom we feel had a great influence on our life. For me, this person was Mrs. Jerry. From the moment I walked into my sophomore English class, I was captivated by her. She had a zest for life and a love for the subject she taught, which just happened to be my favorite subject. Reading and writing had always been my greatest pleasures in school. I can still hear her voice in my mind as she read passages from some of the classic American novels — how I loved those days when she would read to us.
She encouraged me to write, telling me that I had a flair for writing, but in my fifteen-year-old mind, writing meant short stories, poetry, and novels. I remember writing one short story and being crushed by her comment at the top of the page — “Lacks creativity.” I didn’t realize then that the art of writing included much more than fiction. I wish I had talked to her about her comment; I would have realized then that creativity was not my strength, but that did not mean I couldn’t write. My best writing comes from my heart.
My family was fairly poor, and my goal in life was to marry and raise children. I could see no value for me in going to college, and no way to pay college tuition. I decided I wanted to be a hairdresser. Mrs. Jerry was appalled; she asked me why I wanted to work as a hairdresser when I could go to college and make something of my life. The rebel in me (which, unfortunately still exists) dug in her heels and crossed college off the list of possibilities. Oh, how I wish I had listened to Mrs. Jerry that day!!! How different my life might have been had I gone on to college. I would have realized that writing was my true calling.
Many times as I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and begin to write, I think of Mrs. Jerry, and feel grateful for the encouragement she gave me, even though I was too stubborn to listen at the time. This is one of my biggest regrets. I often wonder what twists and turns my life would have taken had I taken her advice.
Although it has been many, many years since I sat in her classroom, I will always remember her enthusiasm, her style, her love for her family, and her passion for protecting our environment, and for urban renewal, but what I will remember most vividly is the sound of her expressive voice resonating through our classroom, filling us with an appreciation for great literature.