Me and Mrs. W.
So that's me in the front of the line with the red book bag and that's my kindergarten teacher Mrs. W in the red dress. In the 1970s I attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Astoria, Queens. After kindergarten, I had a repeat performance with her in third grade for language arts. That’s where she inspired us to read with her innovative program, the "Millionaire of the Month.”
For every book we read, we received paper money and at the end of the month, the student with the most money earned a prize. My book report on Charlotte’s Web by my now favorite author, E.B. White, made me millions. It also brought me and my mom together in a creative project, one consisting of a sewed and stuffed pink pig and a plastic black spider we attached to the cardboard silhouette of a girl’s face which came with my knit hat that year. From then on, my mom and I would love concocting ways to make my school projects a little different.
We moved away form the stoops and sidewalks when I was nine. We went out to the “country,” and that was Long Island. This was before email and cell phones and my friends and I fell out of touch, though there were a couple of calls. I had to make new friends, and I did. Books became really good friends. I read the Little House series and camped out at the library.
In 2014, I signed onto to Facebook and gradually connected with people from my past. A few of those students, who had called in the 70s, sent me a friend request. Michael, Theresa, Angela, and so on. They remembered me as the cute girl with the white tights who moved away. Then I discovered that our school had a page, and I spotted some photos of teachers. I posted a few of my own.
On a sunny, crisp April day some years ago, I took a ride to see Mrs. W who lives not far away from me. We went to lunch. My mom had saved my work from kindergarten in my memory box. I brought it. I also brought many old photos, including this one of me first in line. I also brought her a million dollar chocolate bar to pay her back, if that was at all possible.
We chatted for almost four hours, never skipping a beat in the conversation, as if we were lifelong friends. There was an ease in the conversation. I got to know more about my teacher. As she spoke, I was recalling her voice. At one point, I caught her blue eyes sparkle and that took me back to my memory of her. She still had her blonde curls.
We talked about our purpose and how we wonder if what we are doing makes a difference. I can’t imagine how many lives she has touched over the years. I was overwhelmed that I had the opportunity to spend time with her, to walk alongside Crab Meadow beach on a sunny day, almost five decades later, and tell her that I was an aspiring children’s book writer.
I asked her about that Millionaire of the Month Club.
“That was my idea.” she said.
“Were you amazed I remembered it?”
Since our reunion, we remained in contact. As I was writing LADIES, FIRST, I sent her off the first draft of each story. She read them and gave her input. She is in the acknowledgments of my book.