THANKS ON THANKSGIVING
Last Thanksgiving my daughter said she was making a list of people she was thankful for. It wasn’t the usual list of family and friends and mentors and sources of inspiration, though. Instead, her list was of the people you might not remember to thank, the people who’d maybe done something small, but who’d nonetheless made a difference in your life.
I thought this was a great idea. Herewith three of those people who changed my life in assorted ways:
1. Nora Ephron and Meg Ryan.
Until the movie WHEN HARRY MET SALLY came out, I thought you had to choose from the stuff that was there on the menu. I had no idea you could order food the way you wanted it. But when Sally ordered her salad dressing on the side and “the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top. I want it on the side. And I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing,” it was a revelation. Ever since then I’ve ordered food exactly the way I wanted it–my Starbucks bacon-gouda sandwich-double cooked, my milk with ice in it, my pizza with chopped garlic. And it’s been great. The food’s been delicious!
2. A seventh-grade teacher.
One of my junior-high teachers–I can’t remember her name or even what she taught except that she wasn’t my English teacher, who made us read JULIUS CAESAR, which I despised, and who told an obnoxious story about her idea of the perfect student, who when asked, “Who’s there?” would answer, “It is I”–stopped me after class one day and said, “You’re a really good student, but your handwriting is terrible.”
That was an understatement. I had skipped third grade, which is when cursive is (or was) taught, and had been flung without any preparation into fourth grade. I had learned to write it from that large alphabet that ran along the top of the blackboard (capital letter followed by lower-case), obviously not the best way to learn anything, let alone letters that had to be connected with one another.
“Your bad handwriting’s going to handicap you going forward,” this teacher said, and told me if I was willing to bring my lunch to her room, she’d teach me cursive. I don’t remember anything else about the lessons–whether she taught me the Palmer Method out of a book or made up her own–or how long the lessons lasted (weeks? months?). All I know is that I now have clear, easily readable, and even, when I’m not in a hurry, beautiful handwriting, and I owe it all to her. I’m still stunned by her kindness, reaching out to a student to help and giving up her lunchtimes to do so.
3. My eighth-grade teacher, whose name I do remember.
Mrs. Werner was my home-room teacher, and every day after lunch she read aloud to us, one of which was Rumer Godden’s AN EPISODE OF SPARROWS. This is NOT a children’s book, even though its heroine, Lovejoy, was ten years old. She was also a thief. She lived in post-war London, and when she decided she wanted to build a garden in the rubble of a bombed-out church, she not only shoplifted seeds and a trowel, but recruited other kids to steal for her. She was also thoroughly unpleasant. Not without reason. She had a slutty mother with an assortment of nasty boyfriends and was often left with strangers for months at a time. As I say, not a book for junior-high-schoolers.
I have no idea what anybody else in the class thought about the book, but I loved it AND Lovejoy. It was my first introduction to Rumer Godden, who I fell in love with, especially her novel about grief, IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE. It was also my first introduction to how you can take a classic and update it (AN EPISODE OF SPARROWS is actually Frances Hodgson Burnett’s THE SECRET GARDEN retold.)
And it was my first introduction to the Blitz, planting a seed which blossomed when I went to St. Paul’s years later and fell in love with the fire watch and the history of London during the war–which had a HUGE impact on my life.
Thank you for reading EPISODE OF SPARROWS to me! And thank you, Norah and Meg, for making my eating life so much more pleasant. And THANK YOU, Seventh-Grade Teacher for giving up your lunchtimes to make my handwriting legible. I’m sorry I don’t remember your name. And I’m sorry I didn’t thank you before.
Thanks to everyone who’s helped me along the way–I couldn’t have done it without you! And, to everybody reading this, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!