Thursday night out of the blue, while on Facebook, I was “waved” at by my ninth grade English teacher. I’d never been “waved” at before, but it seemed fun, so I “waved” back and then she sent me a “thumbs up”. This teacher and I reconnected on Facebook a couple of years ago when she commented on a mutual friend’s post and I decided I wanted to reach out to thank her for the profound influence she had in fostering my love of writing. Indeed, Mrs. Rebholz was the first teacher to encourage me not to settle for the first thought that crossed my mind during discussion or when writing, but to “keep percolating” as she called it. I’ve written a couple of posts about the influence her challenge to “keep percolating” has had on my writing. You can find those here and here. But I digress.
After our friendly “wave”, I decided, on impulse, to ask her if she was in contact with another special teacher from my Valley View Junior High days. Earlier last year, I had attempted to get in contact with this teacher, but without success. Now, here suddenly, was a new opportunity. Full of hope, I sent her this inquiry via Facebook message:
“Are you ever in touch with Shirley Vaux? She taught creative writing and I had her in eighth grade. I kept a creative journal for her in that class which I still have. I would love to reconnect with her if she remembers me. Is she on Facebook?”
Her answer stunned me. “Her funeral was today. She would have loved to know your success. Keep percolating.”
Saddened that I had waited too long to say thank you, and a little in disbelief over the sorrowful news, I quickly googled “Shirley Vaux obituary MN” and, sure enough, there it was in the Star Tribune. As I read the obituary, I marveled at what a remarkable woman Shirley Vaux was. Not only did she teach English for years and years, but she was also (long after I graduated) the principal of my high school. And I could tell by the obituary, that she was a beloved wife, companion, sister, mother, grandmother, and even great-grandmother.
Overcome with emotion, I decided, again on impulse, to leave a comment using the newspaper’s comment function. This is what I wrote:
“I was just tonight asking Carolyn Rebholz, who I reconnected with via Facebook, if she was in touch with Mrs. Vaux, as I wanted to reach out and thank her for the wonderful creative foundation she helped set in place for my future writing endeavors. Alas, I was just a few days too late. She was a gifted teacher and beautiful soul. I still have (and treasure) the creative journal she had us keep in her eighth grade creative writing class. Blessings to her family.”
But now, as I’ve been percolating over the whole situation, I realize I want to remember her more fully. And the way I want to honor her memory today – is by saying THANK YOU for being one of the best teachers a young, tentative writer could have!
I had the privilege of having Mrs. Shirley Vaux for a one semester creative writing class in the spring of my eighth grade year. Over the course of the semester, Mrs. Vaux opened the channels of imagination and wordplay for her students. We wrote poems, character sketches, short stories and even picture books. But the assignment that forever shaped who I have become as a writer was her introduction of a writer’s journal. Each day for eight weeks, we were to keep a daily writer’s journal because good writers, as she explained, needed space to write freely and explore.
This is the journal I chose to use. Over the course of the next eight weeks, I diligently wrote in it every day. And those moments of writing were the best moments of each day. I couldn’t wait to write! I wrote about my memories of living France. I captured snippets of conversations on the school bus. I experimented with free verse. And each week, Mrs. Vaux, diligently and lovingly read each entry and responded! With comments like these… and these.
And after the eight weeks ended, I kept writing. I’m not kidding. By the end of high school, I had filled this many journals….
by the end of college, this many…
by the end of my first eight years of teaching this many…
by the time my children were school age, this many…
and to date… this many!
And when I stopped teaching to raise my family, I started submitting stories and poems to magazines. Lots and lots of magazines.. a whole thick binder of clippings worth! And then I delved into picture books with first one… then two…then three… with one more due out at the end of next year… with hopefully more after that!
Dear Mrs. Vaux, I am so sorry that I missed the chance to thank you for the special role you played in getting this ball rolling. But now, I hope, that perhaps by posting this, your loved ones can know, as indeed they must already know, what a special person you were!
THANK YOU, Mrs. Vaux and rest in beautiful peace.
(Please share, if you are so moved, in the hopes that Shirley Vaux’s loved ones will know that – near and far – she is remembered fondly and with great respect.)