On Thursday morning, I wrote about discovering — quite accidentally — one of my mother’s former students. She taught him — and his best friend — in seventh grade. He told me about how, at age 13, he fell in love with my mother. As did his best friend. And that, as I wrote, “he and his best friend — who is still his best friend, 40 years later — have had, during their friendship, only one, unresolved, ongoing feud: which one of them my mother liked best. How they still argue about it, about her.” Thursday afternoon, I got an e-mail from the best friend.
(If I were partial to emoticons there would be a smiley face here. Maybe a sort of sentimental, slightly teary, smiley face. But I’m not partial to emoticons so you'll just have to take my word for this.)
The best friend said, in part, “I wanted to drop you a line to express my sympathies about your mom’s untimely death. She was a great teacher and a fine person. She made learning fun and had a profound effect on the people she taught. Not a bad legacy for someone who wasn’t on this earth nearly long enough.”
I sent him a black-and-white photo of my mom, and he wrote back: “That photo brings back a lot of good memories. Yes, your mom was stunning. But she had other things going for her. She was only the second Jewish teacher I ever had outside of Hebrew school. And she was probably the youngest teacher I ever had. I once found her grad photo in [the] yearbook, possibly 1961. This means when she taught us in 1966–7, she was 23 or so, barely out of teacher’s college. She was a lot easier to relate to as a teacher than some fossilized version of 30 or 40 (I’m being ironic here).”
He remembers, he says, my mom drilling them on writing, “something that didn’t thrill me at the time but which I’m now grateful for every day.”
And he sent me photographs of my mother, yearbook snapshots that he asked her for — that he asked her for — how adorable is that? — each year. And here they are:
If there was an emoticon for being sucker-punched in the gut, but in a good way, with a wave of nostalgia (or maybe that's longing) for something you didn't even experience, I would insert that here. But... well, you know.
“She was so nervous,” my father recalls about my mother and all those seventh-graders. “She was just out of teacher's college, and they were an advanced class, and she had no special training. And they just adored her.”
My mom left that school to move to Toronto with my father after the 1968-69 school year. My brother was born in 1970 and I was born 21 months later, at the end of 1971. “Her departure was a real loss,” the best friend told me. “You don’t easily replace a teacher of her calibre.”
And you don’t easily forget her, either.