You won’t remember me. I was quite the wallflower in elementary school, and if you looked me in the eye I likely dropped my gaze to the floor and scuttled away to hide behind a bookshelf. But I want you to know how much the library at Eddyville Elementary meant to me.
My family was very poor, and we certainly could not afford to buy books of our own for pleasure reading. In fact, I can remember my parents getting me two books for Christmas the year I was in fourth grade: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Beautiful Joe. Rebecca disappeared years ago, but Beautiful Joe still sits on my bookshelf: adored, revered, and practically memorized.
Books were sacred to me. To be honest, they still are. But as a child, they were my everything. A love for reading turned into a love for writing. And that love for writing I now instill in the college students I teach.
But that love for reading also led me to some shameful acts. I confess to you that I still have some books on my shelf that are stamped “Eddyville Elementary School.” I’ve thought many times over the years about packing them up and sending them to you. It has now been almost 40 years since I was a student there, and I’m sure other students would have enjoyed reading these books over the years. I have three: The Island of Blue Dolphins; Witches, Ghosts and Goblins; and Charlotte’s Web.
But I have been unable to relinquish those books, especially my favorite, Charlotte’s Web. When I hold this book in my hand, I’m transported back to my beloved elementary school.
I remember lining up for the bus in Mrs. Epperly’s kindergarten class, holding my hand out for the M&Ms she gave out at the end of each day.
I remember sitting on the library floor on Friday afternoons with the other students, watching movies on the old film projector, the whirring and humming of the reels clicking and spinning their Technicolor pages onto the wall.
I remember putting together a time capsule in Mrs. Lobberecht’s class, which we buried in the school yard near the flag pole. I came back several years ago to see that that area has since been concreted over, but I hope that one day it will be excavated. I remember my predictions for 50 years from third grade: cars that flew in the air. I also owe Mrs. Lobberecht a long overdue thank you. She assigned the class a one page Halloween-themed short story to write and read aloud; my story ended up being over 30 pages long, but she made the entire class sit still and listen to every word. I can’t tell you what that meant to me.
I remember being charged a penny every time I said ‘ain’t’ in Mrs. Sheesley’s class, and earning a trip to the mall in Oskaloosa to see Santa with my classmates. I also remember Mrs. Sheesley making the rounds to every student’s home before the year ended, to meet our parents. I can still see her sitting at our kitchen table drinking coffee with my mom.
I remember sitting in Mrs. Mothershed’s class and hearing the announcement over the intercom that President Reagan had been shot, and the look of horror on my teacher’s face. I also remember her teaching us about coral snakes in Texas, and the saying, “Red and yellow kill a fellow.” I’ve never forgotten it.
You must understand that this school was like a home and a family to me. I loved everything about it, from the peanut butter sandwiches at lunchtime to gathering in the gym as a school and singing Christmas carols every year before getting dismissed for the holidays. I absolutely adored this school and all of my teachers, and I consider myself blessed to have attended this school through the sixth grade, this school where I was loved and nurtured beyond measure.
I can’t bear to send these books back to you. I just can’t do it. The memories they fill me with are just too precious to me. And since you apparently never contacted my parents and told them I had overdue books, which surely would have gotten me grounded, I take it as some sort of sign that they were meant to be mine.
But in exchange for these books, I would like to make it up to you with a donation for the school library. I know that this school still has classrooms filled with children whose families struggle to make ends meet, just like mine. And likely some of them have taken a book or two and not brought it back.
Maybe it’s not because they are bad kids, but that they are good kids who simply can’t relinquish the magic they found in those pages.
Please use my donation to pay off some of their fines and to buy new books for the library. And if you are able to purchase new books, I would appreciate them being donated in honor of Connie Sheesley, the most amazing teacher that I ever had, who instilled a love for reading in me so many years ago and made an indelible mark on my life.
Thank you for the memories,