Children are back in school. I have seen the Staples commercials and know that it’s the “hap-happiest time of the year” for many families. In honor of this season I wax nostalgic about lessons I learned through the years. Not all of these lessons are noble, but like too much sun exposure in my youth, their effects linger.
My second grade teacher was a wonderful, kind, loving woman named Mrs. Rainwater. I must have learned some facts and figures in her class since I proceeded the next year into third grade, but one thing I know for sure. She loved me. She loved all of us. We were safe and happy. Is there anything more important a 7-year-old needs to know? I also credit her for introducing me to the power of words. It wasn’t that Dick and Jane were profound literary sources. It was that her friendly face, her loving essence, her gentle presence were all summed up in that magical name: Rainwater. I wonder how many of her other students became poets?
During my junior high years I took piano lessons from an ancient woman, Mrs. Rieke, with upper arms that flapped when she played a speedy set of chords. I didn’t like playing the piano, practicing or going to my lessons where all this dislike was on obvious display as I hobbled through my pieces. My mother demanded I continue. While I didn’t learn much past The Volga Boatmen, I learned lessons in conniving.
You see, my mother was fixated on allergies of all kinds. She was hyper-vigilant (long before it was cool) that we eat organic food, avoid “fumy” things like gas stations and gas stoves, and that we guzzle a homemade concoction she called “salty stuff” whenever we felt queasy. (If we hadn’t felt queasy before we drank that stuff, we did afterwards.)
As my mom drove me home from one piano lesson I mused out loud that I didn’t feel great. I probably did feel bored, restless, frustrated. But it wasn’t that I didn’t feel well. My mom, however, got her worried allergy-alert face on and asked what kind of stove Mrs. Rieke had. I realized that – yes! – she had a gas stove! Well, that was it! That was the last of my piano lessons.
I don’t know in my heart of hearts if I intentionally worked that ploy or if I just took advantage of my mother’s assumptions. Is there a difference? I appreciated that however complicit I was in this, the outcome was satisfying. However, I recognized even then that I had a power I didn’t know I had – to manipulate my mom. It scared me. I never knowingly wielded that might again. I have no regrets about not being able to play the piano now.
In high school, one of my most influential teachers was my German teacher, Fraulein Baer. She came to the States just after WWII but had only the slightest accent. She was firm, stern, funny, occasionally fierce, and utterly devoted to infusing her students with a love and appreciation of All Things German. It was her enthusiasm, her commitment, her creativity that had me memorizing my Eins, Zwei, Dreis, hunting songs, “The Rhine Medley” and Christmas carols I still sing every year. She taught me about the heritage and culture of my forebears (forebaers?) which now enrich my genealogical forays. I eventually wrote my master’s thesis on propaganda in Nazi Germany, glad to be able to read German books for sources, thanks to Fraulein Baer.
Here’s to the teachers and the lesson I learned!
Love and learning flow
From the touch of rainwater
Singing in my soul.
No more piano.
Fine result at quite a cost:
Seismic power shift.
Fraulein taught alles
From Schnitzel through Sauerkraut,
The best and the Wurst.
(By the way, in the photo I’m the one in the middle with the pretty “suspenders”.)
What teachers and lessons made significant impacts on your life?