Kristin wants writer stories. So here's mine.
As a young child, I was a terrible reader. The written word was my enemy. It just didn't click in my mind. I struggled through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade, grateful each year just to pass. In the third grade, I had two teachers. One accused me of playing with my fingers. She punished me for it and mocked me in front of the class. The other teacher wondered why I would play with my fingers. After all, it's not a usual thing for a child to do. When she noticed me peering at the blackboard through a tiny triangle formed by three fingers, she realized that I was doing it in an attempt to see.
You see, when you're nearsighted, you can push away the blurriness by peering through a tiny hole. I have no idea how I figured this out. It only works up to a certain point. I'm too nearsighted nowadays to be able to do this.
She sent home a note suggesting I get glasses. They helped a lot, but not with reading.
In the fourth grade, I had the worst teacher in the world. I don't credit her at all with my figuring out how to read that year. I credit my father.
In the fifth grade, we moved. I had the most wonderful teacher in the world that year, Sr. Clair. She was Irish and about 25. She had us memorize poetry. At first I hated it, but then I realized I could do it and I started to enjoy it. Then, toward the end of that year, she issued a challenge. Anyone who memorized Hiawatha's Childhood would get a special prize and extra credit.
I took on that challenge.
It is 165 lines long. It seemed impossible. But I knew Sr. Clair wouldn't have us try if it were not possible. So I did it, and I recited it in front of the class. Only one other girl was able to do it. I didn't recite it perfectly, but I got about 95 percent right. I got the extra credit and prize anyway. I didn't realize then that Sr. Clair wasn't looking for perfection. She was looking for the effort.
It was a wonderful boost to my confidence. The prize? A copy of The Wizard of Oz, signed by my teacher. I wish I still had it.
The next year, I had the same teacher. I almost won the class spelling bee a few times. That same girl who memorized Hiawatha's Childhood with me always beat me. At about that time, my mother was making lots of trips back and forth to Orlando for medical reasons. One day, for reasons I no longer remember, I was alone with her for the trip back. In a family of five children, moments alone with her were rare. I decided to compose a poem. Aloud. It wasn't my first poem (Sr. Clair was always having us compose poems), but it was the first time I ever let anyone see the writer in me.
Coming up in part 2: my not-so-angsty high school years and beyond.