This is the first of three posts on big losses in my life this year.
It is the first that happened this year, and the first that happened in my life.
My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Conroy, died.
When I was her pupil, in the ’68-’69 school year, she was old. I mean, she had wrinkles and everything! To the 4th-grade boy she was ancient – getting close to sixty! To the man of today, I think she had aged well. She smiled often, and was stern at the same time.
What I remember most about her was her spirit. I don’t think she was a Christian, though it’s not my decision to make. She did have an indomitable drive, much like a force of nature. She was a slight person, thin, but she stayed upright in the strongest of winds (physical or situational).
This lady, this little pixie, would ride her bicycle to school every day. At least until the weather got bad. Then she’d drive her car – I remember it being a little red MG convertible – with the top down. I’m sure she made some concessions to the weather, but in my memory it went only as far as covering the car after she got to school, so she wouldn’t have to clean it out for the drive home.
My parents were both schoolteachers. I know that I picked up some of my bent for teaching from them, whether any of it genetically or all through the environment I cannot say. But Mrs. Conroy was an inspiration for me as well. She loved her students, and cared for them. I just finished reading Tracy Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren, and the teacher of that book, Chris Zajac, reminds me of Mrs. Conroy. I saw it from the perspective of the student back then, but I can relate to the joys and frustrations of teaching. I don’t know what it was like to teach a younger version of myself, but it was most probably interesting.
And I picked up the first intimations of mortality from Mrs. Conroy. One day during the spring she had a fainting spell. I remember her sitting down on the floor, back against a wall. Somebody got the principal, who got either her or the kids out of the room, and assured us that Mrs. Conroy was alright. I knew otherwise. She wasn’t deathly sick – she lived for another 40+ years – but she wasn’t immutable, unchangeable, infinitely strong.
She taught school for one more year before retiring. I’m very happy I had her as a teacher, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell her how much she meant to me. She was one of my three best school teachers, ranking up there with Mrs. Metcalfe (11th grade English) and Gerald Lashley (multiple programming courses in college).
Mrs. Conroy was the first of the great ones, and still makes an impact on me. Thanks, Mrs. Conroy. And goodbye.