The Gift of Forgetting

In my kindergarten class at Greenway School in Bisbee, Arizona, I got in hot water the day we were making Japanese lanterns out of pieces of green construction paper. I somehow misunderstood the directions and ended up with a piece of green construction paper fringe. Knowing what I know now and about my struggles to see the black board in first grade, there was probably a good reason I misunderstood, but the teacher was having none of it. I was told to take my blanket and was exiled to the floor of the teacher’s closet for the remainder of the day. It was like being shipped into exile.??My first grade teacher,

Mrs. Kelly, gave me a seat in the front row so I could see the blackboard. One day, on the way to school, I was attacked by a crow who was trying to pull the gold barrettes out of my hair.
Mr. Treceise came running out into the street with his rake and chased the crow away. He then walked me to school. I was late, of course, and when I told Mrs. Kelly why I was late, I don’t think she believed a word of it, but at least she didn’t make me spend the day in her closet.??

Mrs. Spangler in second grade set me on course for becoming a writer by having a huge collection of books in her classroom, and it was while reading her copies of Frank Baum’s Oz books when I decided then and there that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.??

Mrs. Gilbert in third grade gave me a C in penmanship because she said I slanted my letters in the wrong direction. I still do, and there are literally thousands of samples of my mis-slanted signature out in the world in autographed copies of my books.??

Mrs. Dye was my fourth grade teacher. I didn’t know her well because we had substitutes for most of that year. I had no idea she was seriously ill and would die during the summer of that very year.??

Miss Stammer, my fifth grade teacher, was straight out of Chicago and drove a yellow Studebaker. She was tough. When Floyd Lucero, one of the kids in the class, lipped off at her, she picked him up by his shirt collar and carried him one handed to the principal’s office in another building.??

Mrs. Watkins, my sixth grade teacher, loved outlining, but she certainly didn’t pass her affinity for that on to me. I hated outlining then and nothing that has happened to me in the intervening decades has changed my mind about that.??

For 7th and 8th grade we moved from class to class with four different teachers—Mr. Norton, Mr. Goodson, Mrs. Upton, and, Mrs. Hennessey. ??

But who’s the one Greenway teacher whose name I don’t remember? The one from Kindergarten. ??

I remember all my teachers from Bisbee High School. I had an excellent crop of teachers there, and I’ve recounted happy memories from many of them here in my blog. I know remembrances of Richard Guerra, Rachel Riggins, and Eva Medigovich have all appeared here, but there were others who were equally outstanding. Last night, lying in bed, I counted them off in my head, and was able to recount the name of every single of one of my high school teachers with no exceptions.??

Ditto for my college instructors and professors–Sidney Shiffer, Byrd Granger, Evelyn Kirmse, Paul Rosenblatt, Jack Huggins, Eleanor Saltus, and many others. Those were the folks who took a small town Arizona girl and educated her to live in the real world. For years, I was unable to recall the name of the Creative Writing professor who refused me admission to his class in 1964. A few weeks ago someone wrote to me and mentioned his name. I recognized it as soon as I saw it, but even though I know it now, I’m not going to mention it here. I don’t want to, and there’s no need. Then there was the Western Civ professor who announced to an auditorium of 300 students that “the only thing more contemptible than undergraduate males were undergraduate females.” I don’t remember his name, either.??

And I think that’s the whole point. Although I have a wonderful ability to remember people and things, I’ve been given the gift of being able to forget the names of the people who ‘done me wrong,’ as it were. I may remember their actions, but I don’t have to remember the names of the doers of those deed. By allowing their identities to slip from my mind, I’ve removed the power they held over me and my life. I’m no longer that shamed little girl lying on her blanket in the teacher’s closet. I’m someone else now, and she no longer exists.??

That’s exactly what the gift of forgetting is all about.

35 thoughts on “The Gift of Forgetting

  1. I am amazed at your memory of all those teachers! We are the same age. I always thought my memory was good. I can’t name more than 5 teachers! I continue to belive you are amazing…with one more reason now! Thank you for sharing! I look forward to my Friday emails!

  2. It is sad that the punishments teachers were allowed to inflict were aimed at shaming the student instead of helping the student. I, too, tend to remember those teachers who helped me. I thank my 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Behra, for recognizing that I could not see and had the school nurse test my vision. When I showed up wearing glasses my 7th grade Spanish teacher, Mrs. O’Dell, apologized to me for yelling at me several weeks earlier when I gave a wrong answer to a question she had written on the board. I recall she told me she had no idea I needed glasses because I did not squint. Although I never spent time in a closest, teachers observed and allowed ongoing bullying of students throughout grade school and junior high. Their response was that the kid being bullied needed to get a thicker skin.

  3. Excellent memory. I had some good teachers too. It is wonderful to remember how they shaped our lives.

  4. Great post! A very Christian attitude as well. We must try to forget those who’ve wronged us so we can also forgive them. In the forgiving we also help ourselves. Thanks for sharing this today, it brightened my morning!

    • I was thinking about the blog yesterday afternoon while I walked, and it occurred to me that I had focused on forgetting and missed the forgiving part. I believe those two F-words are kissing cousins, as it were–forgive AND forget.

  5. In 8th grade I had a tough English teacher. She had married a local man at the end of WWII and both taught at our school.. They used to go home for lunch and came back smelling of cigarette smoke. That was really scandalous in those days.

    One day she asked another student to read a passage and he stumbled on a word. She asked him what it meant and he didn’t know. She said to always look up an unfamiliar word when reading. I still do as I can see her standing in front of our class saying that. Her name was Alyce Chally.

    I never thanked her, but years later happened to met her husband who was visiting his mother in a hospital. I asked him to pass along my thanks. He was happy that she had made such an impression on a student.

  6. I used to get sent to the cloakroom in kindergarten too. I would lay dow by the wall, sing songs I made up and keep beat by STOMPING ON THE WALL. did I say I talked thru nap time?? sure did. did LOTS of trips to the nurses office to put rond pegs in square holes and mental evals and the principals office then. Was Mr. Gray in principals office in bisbee hi when you were there? he floated between there and Buena in SV, Heard he got cross ways of some of the big boys in HS and got hung out the 4th floor boys bathroom. Not sure was truth tho.

    • Mr. Gray was not there when I was. Mr. Nadolski was my principal for most of the time I was at Greenway School and Bisbee High. He died of lung cancer late in my senior year.

  7. As I’ve said before, I love the way these blogs jog my memories and I am transported back to my school days and the wonderful teachers I’ve had. I would be very challenged to remember so many of their names.
    I would never (until now maybe) question the use of grammatical expressions used by an author, especially you. However, I am rather stuck on the nagging question in my mind as to why you used two question marks repeatedly in the first part of your blog.
    Honestly, I didn’t miss the point and intent of the blog, but I guess I just need to be enlightened about the use of the dual question marks!

    • I believe it was Mark Twain who sent in a manuscript completely devoid of punctuation and told his editor to add in the punctuation as needed. Unlike him, I add in extras occasionally–because I feel like it!!!!

      • But the two question marks at the end of the blog? Those were totally unnecessary, and I don’t have any idea where they came from. Maybe autocorrect added them in of her own accord.

  8. Oh how I wish I had your memory!! We are the same age, but names fail me now. I especially loved knowing that the Oz books turned you onto writing as I devoured every single one of them. I also devoured the recent book, “Finding Dorothy” which is a fictionalized story of L. Frank Baum told by his widow. Also, in 3rd grade my teacher died during the year–de ja vous all over again!! I look forward to every Friday when I can read your blog.

    • And they come after a period, which I (a former English teacher) thought was strange, too.

  9. Mrs. Stewart was my first grade teacher. I couldn’t have been perfect but I was never sent to the closet. Maybe there wasn’t a closet. She was a very sweet grandmotherly looking teacher. I believe everyone who had her would say the same thing. I also can recall all of my teachers and its been a few years.

  10. Oh yes! The dreaded coat closet. I was never put in the closet in grade school because I behaved or else. Both of my parents were former teachers, and my Dad the high school principal for a while. In a small town of 500 in Virginia, everyone knew everyone back for generations and bad news from school was home before you were. I had wonderful teachers and with a small graduating class of 37 from high school more than half the class finished college. Many became teachers, some in our former high school. The high school hasn’t changed much and still has dedicated teachers who care for their students.

  11. Oh thank you for those words. I will try to let go of my second grade teacher who humiliated me in front of the class saying my sister in kindergarten could use scissors better than me. I’ll even try to let go of her name!!

  12. I wonder if any of those teachers are still alive and if any of them have read your books.

  13. I can remember the names of all my teachers from 2nd grade up when we lived in NJ. Before that, we lived in Philadelphia and I don’t remember the names of my kindergarten and first grade teachers or anything about them. I wonder why? Wonder if it had something to do with me getting glasses in Second grade? Mom was allowed to enroll me in elementary school when I was four and a half. This was not nursery school or pre-kindergarten. Most of the kids were a year or more older than I was. I was not a kid who napped so I thought nap time during the school day was a waste of time and could never fall asleep. In NJ, the school was totally unprepared for the large influx of kids and some kids had to sit two to a chair until they divided the class in half. Our teacher was retiring so it was anything goes. At the end of the year, she gave all the paper away including music paper away to students.

  14. I so enjoyed your article and have never thought of how you dealt with those “that done you wrong”. I worked for 30 years in a large Montessori school of 500 students and can remember most of those children’s names but cannot name all my teachers or professors…maybe my age! But, going forward, I am going to remember what you said. I think my heart will be in a better place. Thank you.

  15. I am also amazed that you remember the names of all your teachers. I thought I had a good memory but I know I can’t remember all of their names and it seems the ones I remember were some of my favorites and the ones I forgot weren’t.

  16. Ah, those were the days. Most of my teachers were great. Later after graduation I’d see them in the grocery, and they’d ask if I was still reading books under my desk. I was a bookworm. Mathematically challenged, they’d catch me reading under my desk during math.
    Yes, those teachers knew how to teach. Here’s a shoutout to the late Madge Fox who in my senior year said no one was graduating without knowing how to write a decent paragraph. And big thank you to your long ago teachers for inspiring you to be a writer and write those novels I enjoy so much!

  17. What a comforting thought–that the ability to forget the teacher’s name is a GIFT, so that the memory no longer has power to hurt you! It kind of reminds me of a song in my hymnbook, where God is saying, “I will sweep away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins shall be to me like a mist dissolved.” That teacher’s name has no more power than the morning fog burnt off by the sun.
    She should have been at the session of the music teachers’ conference, when the speaker instructed us to, when a student misunderstood a concept, re-teach the idea, rather than berating the student. The kindergarten teacher obviously didn’t have enough security in her own person to accept responsibility for not getting the instructions across clearly, so she had to hide in the closet the results of her own incompetence. Thank goodness for the ability to forget even the names of such people.

  18. I feel for you. I too block out some hurtful things and people who did them from my early school years. I was so shy, it was pitiful. In my old age I’m not shy anymore. I loved school learning to read and since then I read a lot,; your books included. Can’t wait to read the latest. Keep up the great work!

  19. Thanks for sharing your memories! I can’t help but think what would happen to those teachers if today they resorted to such past inappropriate discipline and even child abuse.

    I was always the good child who didn’t act up (most of the time). The one incident of harm to me was from my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Strenowski. During the time of day when we had penmanship for cursive writing, she would enjoy whacking my knuckles with a thick ruler. This was followed up by physically yanking my fountain pen out of my left hand and jamming it into my right hand. I simply got even one day by “accidentally” knocking over my liquid ink bottle and staining her ugly shoes. She never bothered me again. So much for her crazy belief that left was sinister. It had nothing to do with my lettering. I always wondered what she would think today of my beautiful calligraphy!

  20. I went to a two room country school in south Texas, grades 1-8, so I have no problem remembering my teachers’ names. 🙂 I had wonderful, dedicated teachers in high school. Not only do I remember their names, but I went back years later and told each of them what an inspiration they were to me and the excellent education they gave me. In fact, after I retired and moved back to live several hours from my old home town I would visit with my English teacher right up till the time of her passing at age 94. I would take my business teacher to lunch also right up to the time of her passing at age 93. They both taught my mother and father.

    My math and science teachers also had a great influence on me as I became a scientist for my career in the aerospace industry. I let each of them know that I was very appreciative of the time and effort they put into me.

    Just completed Unfinished Business. Thank you for providing several wonderful, enjoyable hours in the Ali Reynolds “family”. Almost like being home.

  21. Judy,
    We had many of the same teachers at Greenway through sixth grade. The only different one was in Second Grade where I was in Mrs. Barker’s class. One place where your memory is off is Mrs. Dye. She died the summer of 1960 which was the summer after I had been in her fourth grade class that year. I think my brother Gary had her as a fifth grade teacher. I have very fond memories of Greenway.

  22. I taught school for 36 years, 20 in kindergarten. I want to apologize for your kindergarten teacher. That was a terrible thing to happen. 5 year olds shouldn’t be expected to copy things from the board anyway. That is a skill all by itself. And if you “messed up” a cut and paste project, so what? I’m not one for coloring inside the lines anyway. As for your college creative writing non teacher, I figured you got even with him by turning him into Andrew Carlisle in the Walker family books. I hope the real one wasn’t actually a serial killer tho.

  23. just lost aprox 250 words to the windows 10 algorythm. which was basiclly a Thank you for allowing me to share with my wife your descriptions of seattle and bisby during out SCCA and UW Hosp stays During our Battle with Cancer. She was a year younger than you and I read two of your books outloud to her. During our forced stays in the above facilities. my sister has lived in busby for about 30 years. and I will be back down in Sept for my nephews wedding, and see both of my Military brat sisters… both in their 60s. your books will enrich my trip next month. glad computer GODS eliminated my ramblings cause there would be classed as morose.. ha. over the years we shared Mac Colough SP , Richard Bach and you .. thanks again..

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