Thursday, September 1, 2011

Please Look After This Bear

I read the Bangor Daily News ( every morning - that's the hometown newspaper.

First, I scan the headlines and if there is one that catches my eye, I'll stop and read the article right then - but usually, I just scan the home page and then go straight to the Obituaries...morbid, I know.....

For some reason, the obits have this hold, this allure over me - and I feel it is my humane duty to read said obits, say a prayer for the souls who have departed this world and then go back to reading the rest of the paper.......

So I'll go back to the first page and read the articles that go with the headlines
Then I check the letters to the Editor (mine have never been published)
Police Beat is up next; I like to see who is wreaking what kind of havoc in the Pine Tree State (and if I know any of them).
If it is Monday, I also check the Wedding/Engagement Announcements

The Monday morning, the very first name I read in the Obituaries was that of my third grade teacher, Mrs Alley.

My first reaction was Huh, she was only 80
My second reaction was to say a quick prayer for her
And my third reaction, which I'm going to admit surprised me, was one of great sadness

Reaction 1: Huh, she was only 80
When I was in the 3rd grade, I thought Mrs Alley was old - I mean like really really old...if you had asked me how old she was when I was in the 3rd grade, I probably would have told you I thought she was like 70.....old like my grandmother ....

Turns out, she was only 50 when she was my teacher...which  means my grandmother was around 56...which just goes to show when you're a kid, you really have little or no concept of age.

I think of my Mum at 50 and I never would have called her old - she did not look old, she did not dress old, she did not act Mum dressed from Talbot's (not as old lady as a couple sisters might think), never wore nude nylons, tweed or polyester skirts or orthopedic shoes despite her knee problems. She never tucked tissues up her sleeve, said things like children should be seen and not heard and I'm pretty sure she could not stand Lawrence 50 my mother was still working full time, still had a couple kids at home (my youngest sister was maybe 13/14 when my mother was 50) and still rocking out to '80s music....Mum was not an old 50...she's not even an old late 60 something......

Mrs Alley was old. She dressed old, looked old, wore nude nylons that sagged around her ankles in her orthopedic shoes and moved old.....and some would say she was mean...I think a couple of my younger sisters had her and said she was mean and that she exercised certain punishments that may or may not have been questionable.

When I was in her class, my mother had her 7th and final baby. I remember going in and telling Mrs Alley my mother had another baby. She peered at my from over her glass and in that old person disapproving judgemental tone said something to the effect of
Humph. Another one?
Yeah! I answered all excited, for I did not quite understand her tone, And its a girl! I have another little sister and I'm going to read to her!
To which she responded something about that would get old faster than I realized....I'm not sure if she meant reading to a younger sibling or having another (read 5th) younger sister

Reaction 2:
I always say a quick prayer for whomever has passed away. Sometimes its just a Bless Bless in my head for all the obits I've just read - but for Mrs Alley, after reading her obituary and realizing that she had 4 children of her own, a bunch of grandkids, a handful of siblings and lots of nieces and nephews, I felt she deserved a Hail Mary on top of a the prayer for the dead.

When I was a kid in school, I never thought of my older teachers as having being wives, mothers, grandmothers or aunts...I just assumed they had always been old and were just here to be teachers...again, I was a pretty naive kid and who knows how my little brain worked back then...hell, I'm still trying to figure it out

I knew that some of my teachers had families because their kids were in my class......and I remember when one of my teachers got married - she was a student teacher while she was planning her wedding and then came back as Mrs Lent and was my 5th grade teacher (she taught me to knit slippers, I made like 100 pairs of ugly green slippers...her first name was Roxanne and I thought that was just the coolest name I had ever for a spell, I totally wanted to be her...and if I remember correctly, she and her husband used to ride motorcycles which was even cooler) But other than that well, I guess I just did not realize that teachers had families, that teachers were not just teachers.....I just did not think of Mrs Alley as having a family...I just thought she was a teacher, I did not realize there was more to her life than being my 3rd grade teacher

Reaction 3:
Reading about Mrs. Alley's passing really  made me sad. I'm not sure why...I was never one of her favorite students (I used to get in trouble for talking in her class and reading ahead in my books) and I don't think I ever saw her again once I left the 3rd grade....but I was sad

I was sad because I realized my childhood is farther and farther away from me

I was sad because she left behind a family who seemed to adore their mother/grandmother/aunt

I was sad because I realized, as I read a short summary of her life, that there was so much more to her than being my 3rd grade teacher:
She was a volunteer at the AFF for 8 years (started when she was 70)
She was a volunteer usher at the Maine Performing Arts Center
She camped, bird watched, fished, loved boating and hiking (last year, she hiked Bald Rock at 79!)
She cooked hot dogs on a stick and made S'mores
I also learned she was predeceased by two grandchildren...I hope she sees them again when she gets wherever she is going

I was sad because however mean some of her students may have thought her to be, I liked her because she used to read us Paddington Bear...she was one of the three teachers who instilled in me a love for reading and to this day, the Paddington Bear "chapter books" are some of my favorites to read.

When I was done with whatever book we were supposed to be reading for class, she did not make me wait for the next book to be assigned, she'd give me one to "tide me over."

Sure, she may have been a bit harsh when she asked if I really read the assigned book and yes, she scared me a bit when she peered at me over her glasses while quizzing me about the book (because she thought I did not read it).....
Sure, she may have been a little gruff when she handed me the new book to read....but she always handed me a new book. She used to pull it out of her desk drawer, it was never on the shelf with the other books...and it always had her name written on the inside cover. She would tell me it was one of her favorites and then she would tell me to enjoy it and we'd talk about it when I was done (which meant an intimidating oral quiz)
She always told me to enjoy the books she gave me, no point in reading of you don't enjoy the book she said....and I did....I enjoyed and savored the books she gave me....I even enjoyed the quizzes if for no other reason, she would begrudgingly give me a half smile when I answered all her questions correctly

There was a picture of Mrs Alley in the paper holding one of her grandchildren (maybe even her great grandchild) who was just a little bitty baby...she looked so happy...she looked like a Mom, an Aunt and so much like a grandmother whose lap you want to curl up in while she reads you a story....

A Bear Called Paddington (Michael Bond, 1958)
Chapter 1: Please Look After This Bear

Mr and Mrs Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform. In fact, that was how he came to have such an unusual name for a bear,  for Paddington was the name of the station.

Maria, the Mum

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