Do you remember who first sucked you into a love for learning? That person who first taught you about the Renaissance or Rasputin or Emma Lazarus' words on the Statue of Liberty? Sometimes a teacher makes such an impact on your life that you have to hunt her (or him) down years later just to say "Thank you." Fourteen years ago - back before Google and Facebook - I managed to track down my 6th grade teacher (Barger Elementary, Chattanooga, TN) to tell her just that.
Miss Rushlow was the first "young" teacher I ever had. I'd love to say that didn't make a difference, but it did. It makes an enormous difference to 11-year-olds. In other words, she had our attention from the git-go. She was tough. She expected a lot out of us, and we produced. We bugged her to death, I'm sure, with our silliness, but she knew how to control a classroom, so nothing ever got too out of hand. As I said, she had us from the git-go.
Well, in the mid-1990s. tracking someone down after 30+ years was kind of tricky. No Google. Shoot, hardly any "world wide web." And it's always harder finding a woman who has since married and changed her name. Sigh.
I won't bore you with the details, but finding her involved a trip to hometown Chattanooga's library, old newspapers, obits and wedding announcements, and phonebooks on discs. Found her. Well, found her husband. Wrote a long letter, included a copy of our class picture, sent it FedEx, and waited to see if she was still out there.
She was. In California. Still teaching. We wrote back and forth, sent emails, talked on the phone. Fortunately, my job at Turner Broadcasting involved a bit of travel, so on a business trip to California, I stayed a few extra days and got to see Miss Rushlow (now Mrs. Maxwell) for the first time in, well, decades.
Really long story a bit shorter, our families became good friends - her husband, son, sister and my daughter, sister, aunt - very quickly. So fourteen years later and after many trips to California and Georgia, I am about to welcome my 6th grade teacher to New York. Her son Bruce is giving a concert at Carnegie Hall tomorrow evening. The family's staying through the weekend, so I'll be New York Tour Guide again.
Now we'll actually see the Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty - something I first learned from Miss Rushlow all those years ago in a classroom in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We have a busy four days planned, and I'll keep you posted on the fun.
I highly recommend tracking down that special teacher, if you can, and saying "Thanks." Hey, you might just end up on a wine tour of Central California or going to a concert at Carnegie Hall with her. Now, if we can just find a play about Rasputin . . .