I had chickened out of an AP English class during the first week of my Junior year, scared off by the prospect of having to use literary devices like syntax and diction in my compositions. Instead, I was moved into an Honors English class where we read novels, took chapter tests, and weekly vocab quizzes just like my previous English classes. But the class was unlike any English class I had taken before.
This was because our teacher, Mrs. Meadows was anything but typical. She would stand in the middle of her classroom as if it were a stage with nothing but an ancient, tattered paperback edition of the novel we were reading in one hand. Then she was lurch about as she recited a synopsis of a chapter, her blue eyes widening and narrowing, her free hand waving about and then clasping the side of her face for dramatic effect.
She had taught at our poorly funded high school since the 60s and when someone had drudged up an yearbook from her first years of teaching we stared in amazement at the younger version of our teacher with her hair coiffed to an impressive height and the thick black-rimmed glasses that framed her yet unwrinkled face. But we loved the current Mrs. Meadows whose every hair follicle gleamed white and whose back was now hunched, because her heart was as big as her laugh. She loved us even though we were nothing like her mostly caucasian students of the 60s, and we loved her all the more for it.
She had introduced me to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Arthur Miller, and Scott Fitzgerald (ie. dead white guys), and like a masterful hostess, she came up with the most interesting conversation topics for our imaginary conversations. She branded me with her fervor against big monopolies as she read aloud from The Grapes of Wrath, she encouraged to use words like “crumby” and “bastard” as she assigned us to write a letter in the style of The Catcher in the Rye, and she allowed us to write our own love songs after T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.
We were the last class that she taught before she retired. And all I did for her was bake cookies for her when it was her birthday to spell out “Happy Birthday” in crooked frosting letters. I wish I could’ve done more for her. I wish I could’ve done a fraction of what she had done for me which was to help me throughout the darkest part of my adolescence with her passion and zeal for life.
I hope she knows that she has given me gifts that keep on giving as it was she who had inspired me to become a teacher, and that every time I reread one of the great classics she has introduced me to, I think of her and thank her.