I am an obedient, octogenarian pedestrian, who reluctantly and perilously walks daily though I only dimly see street names or crossing lights. I’d always loved to walk and particularly in my city, but recently a circulatory problem, claudication, (a pretty name for a wretched ailment) makes it somewhat painful. Truthfully, these days I’d prefer to sit.
Nevertheless, I go at the command of my doctor, who is my daughter, so there’s no escape. Regularly, she points out – for regularly read INCESSANTLY) that exercise is vital to holding off senility! We don’t want to be senile now, do we? (Lately, I’ve been ambivalent about it, but I am too cowardly to shout YES.)
One morning I walked to the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village, a handsome structure, originally a courthouse, and in 1906 the site of the famous trial in which Harry K. Thaw was accused of murdering the architect, Stanford White. It’s a beautiful library with an extensive large-print collection.
An attractive young woman rushed up as I approached the checkout desk. “Hi, Professor. Remember me from your class? Carol? The one who wrote only thrillers?”
How could I forget? If I’d marked the papers before my dinner, I’d have been too scared to eat!
“Yes, Carol. I remember I advised you to get a bachelor’s degree and find a way to make a steady living while you write. And to try new forms and broaden your literary efforts.”
“Wow! You do remember!”
Who could forget such gore? She was really good at scaring readers. A bit over the top, yes, but young and smart. Good grammar. Imagination. I was sure she could learn.
“Well, I took your advice. I have a B.A. now from NYU and I’m living in the Village and writing up a storm. I’m teaching in an elementary school.” Very softly, her lips close to my ear, she confided, “I’ve sold my first book. A vampire novel!” She was jubilant and I was really glad for her if a little sad for literature.
We exchanged phone numbers and I ambled happily home.
Then, only two mornings later, a construction worker, part of the crew currently repairing lower Sixth Avenue, stopped me. “Professor?” he said shyly, “you probably don’t remember me but I was in your writing workshop five years ago. I had to drop out of school but next term I hope to come back! I have written much, and the New York Times printed a small essay of mine about the beautiful city streets.”
“Congratulations, that’s wonderful!,” I said. “The Times is the hardest market. It musthave been very good writing.”
He looked incredibly proud. “I am coming back next term,” he said. Resolutely. “I have many more things to write. Many, many things!”
“Come and see me,” I urged.
“I will. And I will bring a copy of my article. I Xeroxed a hundred copies!”
I look forward to seeing him in school.
Who cares about senility? Walking in the city has its own serendipitous rewards. And I love collecting them.
You have captured one of the greatest rewards of a teaching career. Thanks!
I loved this story, Sheila. What an incredible honor – to change young lives like that! And then to see it reflected back to you! I have always thought of writing as the most honorable of careers. But you have made me think about the honor of teaching writing! Brava!
I just found your blog, but I already feel like I know you!
This blog talked about one of the great joys in my life – former students. I have been teaching for about 32 years. There is nothing more rewarding than having former students tell me how my classes have enriched their lives.
I have taught many things on many levels. I have had students from 3-83! The one who touched my heart the deepest was an 83 year old man who took one of my GED prep classes. When he passed the test and got his GED, the look in his eyes and the smile on his face was pure joy. 🙂
It is memories like that, that help me put up with the whiners and excuse makers in my classes! 😉
Now – back to your blog!