My mom emailed me yesterday and told me my second grade teacher died. I was a lucky kid. I grew up in a really small town in a rural area of Oregon, but was part of a really big family. My mom is the second oldest of 12 kids and my grandparents had a farm. We all lived near each other and spent a lot of time together. I was as close to my cousins as most people are with their siblings. I grew up with kids whose parents had been friends with my parents growing up. Except for the first few years, I lived in the same house until I moved out at 18. I joke that it was as close to growing up in Mayberry as you could get.
For being a small rural town, I had an amazing school with incredible teachers. Mrs. Simmons was one of the best. We did a lot of writing and creating in her class, took lots of fun field trips, and she was so encouraging, calling me her “little author.” There was a loft bed in the corner of the classroom painted to look like a tree. I spent many hours there reading — I was working my way through the entire library, book by book. It was that same year that I learned that being a writer was a job, one I could grow up and have. Once I knew that, I knew who I was.
I was lucky enough to run into Esther a few years ago. I was home visiting, and as my mom and I came out of the post office, there she was. My mom said hello to her and something like “do you know who this is?” as she gestured towards me and I smiled. To me she looked almost exactly the same, older sure but totally recognizable, but for her it must have been so strange, this little girl she used to know standing before her suddenly a woman in her 40s. I got to tell her that I’m a teacher and a writer, and she seemed so pleased by that. I’m so sad she’s gone, but glad I got to see her again, and hope that she knew the good she’d done, for me and all the other kids lucky enough to be her students, to be taught and loved by her.
I knew as a six year old I wanted to be a writer. I was so sure, and it’s all I’ve ever wanted, but it’s taken a really really long time to land. This morning I was listening to an episode of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new podcast, Magic Lessons. She was talking about being a late bloomer, and mentioned something poet Sharon Olds said, “I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky.” I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up for “wasting” the years between second grade and 43, but I got it all wrong. I am so lucky to have ever bloomed at all.