The Address Book

It was a way to keep track of friends and acquaintances before social media. Small, usually leather-bound, sometime purse-sized, they represent a lifetime of work, school and travel.

Addresses and phone numbers were crossed out, redone over the years, as best as we could keep up with one another.address 2

I recently opened a page at random and found a person that I’d not contacted for decades. I took to Google and found her obituary.

Her name was Mildred. She changed my life. And I never really got to thank her.

She was assigned to be my mentor, my student teaching cooperative teacher. I was 20, she was 42.

I wanted her life, I was sure of it.

We taught Spanish. She was the Foreign Language Director for her affluent suburban school district north of Philadelphia.

It took a 6 inch bun on the top of her head to reach 5 feet of height, but her spirit was 6 feet tall. She was a dynamo, a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, loved and admired by all.

A world traveler, she taught in Europe, South America, Puerto Rico. She spent her summers in foreign lands, returning to class with souvenirs and tall tales of local color. I was mesmerized.

As my practicum ended, we shared a dinner. She looked at me with tearful eyes. She said she would trade her adventurous life in an instant for a chance at love, home and family.

She envied me.

It rattled me for a long time.

I was engaged and about to graduate. I had doubts about marriage, and children; was giving up a teaching fellowship to follow my fiance’s career. I was many months sleep-deprived, and coming off my first manic episode.

And here was my professional idol, telling me she would trade her life for mine, without hesitation.  Whoa.

We exchanged letters for a while. I never saw her again.

She died alone in a nursing home after a long illness. Her obit was published in the local paper where she retired after 40 years. She influenced so many.

There were only 7 entries on her tribute page.

My heart broke a little.

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18 Responses to The Address Book

  1. Trish says:

    Isn’t it funny how we look at someones life with envy when all along that is ow they are looking at ours…I’m sure she thought fondly of you until the end xo!

  2. A beautiful tribute to your mentor Van. ❤ I recently found my old address book and an autograph book that my maternal grandma gave me in 1972. I should go through them!
    Diana xo

  3. A sweet and poignant memory. Somewhere out there the pure energy still exists and your love is felt.

  4. That’s very poignant. Your writing is a lovely tribute to the impact she had on your life. I guess that’s all we can ask of our lives – that we make a difference to someone or something in some small way.

  5. Gulp. What a poignant reminder that those of us who appear to have it all might be the loneliest of all. It’s good that you remembered her here.

    • Oh my, Barbara, that applies to so many that have crossed my path, especially when you go beneath that glittery surface. Gulp…for sure. Thanks for the comment. ☺ Van

  6. Wow, Van. As the others mentioned, it’s something how that grass is always greener elsewhere. I am so sad for her. She seemed to have had so much to offer but was lonely. I’m so glad you got to pay tribute to this woman. It’s amazing how profoundly we can impact someone.

    Diana

    • Impact, she did. She challenged me to question all the life choices that a 20 yr. old was about to make. I didn’t mention it in the post, but I am still married (41 yrs.) to that boy I considered leaving to “travel the world”. Thanks, Diana ☺ Van

      • Wow. I imagine you are assured you did the right thing. =) No need to answer. Not trying to too personal – just a point that her life, longings, and death highlight.

      • Not personal at all, Diana. It was the right choice all along, it just took a while to realize it. We were always soul mates and have shared a lifetime. Thanks. ☺ Van

  7. LaVagabonde says:

    In the past, when all we had were addresses written by hand in a book, people often disappeared and it was impossible to know what became of them. In this day of search engines and social media, we can usually find out at least something about where they “ended up”. I’ve also found out via the internet that a couple of people from my past have departed, one of them tragically. Your story is an unfortunate one. Too bad you didn’t come across her name sooner and have the opportunity to reconnect. Only 7 tributes. So sad. Those who are forgotten are so often those who don’t deserve to be.

    • She came to our wedding; her smile told me that she approved. I do wish we could have connected down the road a bit. The 7 tributes really affected me…She was so very popular…averaging about 200 students a yr. for 40 years. I know not everyone likes to comment on those things…but still. It did not speak to her legacy. Thanks, Julie. ☺ Van

  8. Emily Bowie says:

    This is a beautiful tribute to her, and to life in general. We too often take what we have for granted and take other people’s happiness as a symbol of a life we should be living. I say try a bit of everything!

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