Saturday, December 14, 2013

Teachers, Nature, Men, and Food

In second grade, I had a magical teacher. She told stories of treks across the Amazon, where she and her team bushwhacked ten miles at a time, and at the end of the day, they'd set up camp for a few days, building tents from what they'd bushwhacked. The limbs of trees they'd just cut provided support for the tents, she said, and sprouted and grew leaves right away, growing where they were stuck in the ground. Her tales, like those limbs, grew tendrils in my brain and sprouted drawings from my hands. I loved her. After school, when I was supposed to be catching the bus home, I sometimes slowly paged through her book on seashell identification. The anatomical drawings, Latin names, and crinolined, turreted mollusk homes could keep me captivated for hours. My mom would have to leave work and pick me up, which likely caused incredible frustration, but I don't remember her ever yelling at me for this. After all, at bedtime, Mom was the one who told tales of lavender skies, tangerine clouds, and trees taller than the eye could see.

Later, in another state, I had a very different, but equally magical teacher. Mrs. O told stories of growing up on her Central Valley farm that her Japanese parents had built after losing their first farm during internment. She could imitate a hen with perfect bobbing head and shake of the wing-shoulders. On our sixth grade camping trip in the Sierras, all the girls slept in giant bunkroom. On our second day there, I, always the late riser, woke to Mrs. O gently shaking my foot, saying "Good morning, Sunshine." That trip we learned about the edibility of manzanita and lichens, learned how to tell directions in the woods, and draped ourselves in good smelling tree moss. A few weeks afterwards, she pulled me aside and gave me a post card that clearly made her think of me, a picture of a young horse running across a field of wildflowers with the inscription, "Good morning, Sunshine" across the top.

Mrs. O had a tradition, that unfortunately would be impossible now, of having each of her students over once during the year to eat dinner with her family. I couldn't wait for my turn. When my day finally arrived, she drove me towards her home. We had to stop at the bank before heading to the grocery store to pick up some things for dinner. I waited in the car while she ran in.

When she came out, she told me she had just had a vision of my future husband. She told me he'd be about ten years older than me, sandy haired, and have a tan suede jacket in the closet. While she was only one-third correct, she made me think about my future in a way that I hadn't before then.

In the grocery store, we walked through all the aisles in a leisurely, food-loving way. She pointed out foods I didn't know and I showed her things I loved. By the fish counter, she pointed to tiny jars and asked if I'd ever had any kind of fish eggs. No, I told her. She smiled, and that night I had my first caviar.

In yet another state when I moved in the middle of a grading period during sophomore year, on my first day of classes, I entered my French class after getting lost (and tearstained) along the way. My new-to-me French teacher, Mr. T, greeted me kindly. He told me he'd seat me between the best-looking boy and the nicest boy in class. He situated me well. Soon, I learned the best-looking boy was smart, and I developed a crush. Then, I realized the nicest boy was also smart (despite his complete lack of ability to learn a foreign language), and realized he was good-looking, too. The previous crush faded quickly. Guess which one I still keep in touch with.

In Mr. T's class, I made a French onion tart for an assignment. My classmates cringed at the idea of that many onions, so Mr. T and I had many more slices to enjoy for ourselves. And, man, did we ever enjoy them: folded just-caramelized onions with thyme and butter piled, sweet and rich, over a flaky butter crust. I still can taste that tart.

My school teachers, though not the only teachers who've guided me, taught me that forest, men, and food offered adventures. From their lessons, I've experienced no end of delight.


Pasadena Adjacent said...

I really loved reading this - though I did so with a certain melancholy. Is that the right word? Add just a touch of envy that I have nothing like that in my own past to share.

Christina said...

PA: Melancholy is the right word. I was lucky in teachers, largely because I was lucky in parents who hand-picked and fought for my educational experiences every year. I still had some stinkers though, including a bully who used public humiliation as a tactic for classroom order. He did a lot of damage to a lot of people. My parents, however, had given me the strength to slip through that year.

Hillery said...

I adored Mr T. as well. He was very good at reading us. One day I walked into class early and caught him regarding a student from the previous hour in disbelief. As he turned and saw me he said, "Well I'm sure Hillery knows what it is," and gestured to the board behind him. He had haphazardly drawn a tall rectangular grid with a sizable empty spot in the middle. "Yeah," I said, "It's a map of Manhattan."

Christina said...

Hillery: That's so him. He cared to know his students, not just deliver information to them.