Letter From The Past

I pulled the hand-addressed envelope from my mail tray at work. Spying the name above the return address, I said, “Oh my goodness. I just got a letter from my second-grade teacher!”

The stationery was bordered with pale pink and blue flowers set apart from the open writing space with a lavender ribbon (not an actual ribbon, but a watercolor ribbon). It smelled faintly the way I remember stationery smelling when I was a little girl. I don’t know if Hallmark scented the paper, or if the box had been in a drawer along with scented scarves, or maybe it was just my imagination, but the smell and look and everything about the letter made me feel like I was 7.

“Hello Meredith. Dinosaurs don’t send emails — they write letters!” began Mrs. Visnov. I almost expected it to continue into a story about a dinosaur that was the first of its kind to venture onto the Internet to the dismay of all the other dinosaurs. I almost expected it to sound like one of the stories Mrs. Visnov used to read to us at story time. But it didn’t. Instead, she wrote to tell me that my “proud mom” had sent her a copy of my book (“The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat”).

It read like a teacher commenting on a school report.

“I loved the format. … It was informative, sequential, humorous — and covered all bases! I particularly liked Chapter 10 — because it was a great way of sharing the weekly Torah portions.”

I flipped the letter over expecting to see a big A+ written in red pencil. Alas, there was none.

She signed it “Ruth” and gave me her email address.

Honestly, I had forgotten she even had a first name. To me, she will always be Mrs. Visnov.

And now I’m wondering just how old Mrs. Visnov is. I’m willing to admit that second grade is close to 40 years ago (not quite 40, but awfully close). I remember thinking Mrs. Visnov was my grandma’s age back then. I’m wondering now if she was actually just in her 30s or 40s, which makes me wonder just how old I seem to children.

I loved Mrs. Visnov and second grade. I was part of the 1970s “open-space-classroom” experiment. Two classes were combined, and we were able to roam to various stations to learn and explore; it was a very creative environment.

I remember my elementary school teachers and experiences more easily than I remember those from high school or college. Mrs. Mandeville taught first grade. I remember her name because she told us there was a Mandeville cheese. I remember dressing like a pilgrim for the bicentennial in a costume my grandmother had sewn. I remember fourth grade’s Mr. Ulrich and his slide-show projectors. And I’ll never forget Mr. Barlow, a bear of a man who cried after reading “Where the Red Fern Grows” to our fifth-grade class; he had to give us an extra recess so he could collect himself.

These teachers made a difference. Their lessons of music and art and dress-up, along with the importance of nap time and cookies and milk, do more to shape who we become than the pre-calculus lessons of high school. (Seriously, I’ve had a lot of cookies over my lifetime, and not once since college have I needed calculus.)

So Mrs. Visnov, thank you for writing. And even though you gave me your email address, this dinosaur will write you a letter in return — as you taught me.