May 9, 2013
Memories of a Great Teacher
I recently lost two of my favorite people in the whole world: Aunt Margaret, who passed away a few weeks shy of her 91st birthday; and Aunt Rose, a few months before her 97th. They were at the top of my list for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons was for the knowledge they were so eager to pass on. Aunt Rose would share if you asked her; Aunt Margaret would share whether you asked or not. If you spoke to her for any length of time, you were going to learn something.
A Lot of Knowledge
Aunt Margaret was born “The baby of the family,” in 1922, and was the youngest of 11 children. She might have been the youngest, but I think she talked as much as all the others combined. From an early age she proved to be a “social bug” and found it easy to make friends with everyone, a characteristic she would nurture all of her life.
I talked frequently to Aunt Margaret, especially in the last 10 or 20 years of her life. We lived half a country apart, but we chatted almost every week, usually for half an hour, but sometimes for as much as an hour. She always had so much to say. One of her favorite stories was of when she was still a youngster in grade school.
A Lifelong Dream
All of her life she dreamed of being a teacher. When she was younger she used to wait for my father to leave the house and then she would go to his Prince Albert cigar box (where he kept his prized marbles) and she would line the marbles up in rows on the floor, like desks in a classroom. The fanciest marble would be the teacher; the cat’s eyes were her best students; and the others—arranged by color—represented students at their desks. She would then pretend to teach class, repeating lessons from her own schoolwork, and often acting out admonitions for those “marbles” who misbehaved.
For years she dreamed of going to college so that she could become a teacher, but when the time came, her older brother, the patriarch of the family, wouldn’t let her. “College cost $350 a year,” he said. “There’s no money for a woman to go to college.” She would have been the first in her family to get a degree—if she’d been allowed to go—but she didn’t.
A Sign of the Times
Back then there were a lot of things women didn’t do. And I’m always left to wonder how Aunt Margaret might have fared if she’d had the opportunities women have today. She was one of the most inquisitive people I know. And she knew how to get to the heart of a matter with just a few questions. My wife and I always joked that she would have made a fantastic detective. Put a criminal in an interrogation room with Aunt Margaret, and she’d get a confession, and without brass knuckles.
Or she could have been a Pulitzer Prize Journalist. I’m convinced of that. She not only had great inquisitiveness, but she was focused and had social skills to match. Her connections were outstanding, and if she’d have been born 70 years after she was, a senior position in Social Media Management would have been waiting at any number of companies.
Not Meant To Be
But the fact is, Aunt Margaret didn’t get to do any of that—because she was a woman. And back then women didn’t need to go to college. It’s a shame, because she would have made a wonderful teacher. I don’t blame my Uncle. I don’t think anyone blamed him. He did what he thought was best for the family at that time, based on the prevailing wisdom of that time.
So my question is this: What “prevailing wisdom” do we have in place today, and who is it keeping from achieving their dreams? Who are the “women” of today? And what are we keeping them from?
For far too many years we kept black people from good jobs, good education, just about anything. And today we have a black president. We’ve done the same to Latinos and almost every immigrant who has come here for the past 100+ years. We do it to people without degrees, and people who don’t speak the same as the rest of us.
Forty years ago, many parents scoffed at their kids playing games on those little things called computers. But it turned out to be those same inquisitive kids who blazed trails for the technology boom that followed shortly after that.
As a society, we need to open our minds more and embrace the things we don’t understand because, invariably, tomorrow we will not only understand them, we will need them.
As to Aunt Margaret—she might not have realized it, but she achieved her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher. Through her interactions with thousands of people, and her willingness to share what she knew, she enriched the lives of countless relatives and friends.
Nothing made me happier, and prouder, than hearing my grandson—her great grandnephew—tell someone that ‘he learned that from his Aunt Margaret.’ The amazing thing is he’d only met Aunt Margaret once. That’s the kind of impact she had.
Earlier, I said Aunt Margaret would have made a wonderful teacher. I misspoke. She was a wonderful teacher.
Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,
Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of MURDER TAKES TIME, MURDER HAS CONSEQUENCES, and A BULLET FOR CARLOS. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”
What about you? Know any great teachers?