Yesterday's Magazette

3 – A Teacher Who Made A Difference

A Teacher Who Made A Difference

By Marion Tickner

As I scanned the obituaries in Sunday’s newspaper, I was saddened to see the picture and name of Laura Bristol.

My thoughts wandered back to the 1940s, when Laura Bristol taught the upper grades in a little 2-room country school. I was in the Eighth Grade at the time, getting ready to graduate and go on to the next level. She loved teaching, she loved children, and most of all she made learning fun. 

We’d been working through old regents exams to prepare us for the upcoming one that would determine if we were ready for high school. She bought the card game Authors and allowed us to play it in class in the event that a question about authors should show up in our exam.

I looked forward to the time of day when we Eighth Graders had her full attention. One particular incident stands out in my mind. As part of the regents assignment, we had to write compositions. My favorite thing to do. With pride, I looked forward to hearing mine read aloud.  

Mrs. Bristol collected our papers and started reading. At age 13 I didn’t know about conflict, but I’d written about a family picnic with plenty of obstacles. None of it true.

She stopped in the middle of reading and looked at me. “Is this true, Marion? Did it really happen?” 

I shook my head. 

“That is good writing.”

Once when I couldn’t get an idea of what to write next, I turned to my English text book for help. I found the beginning of a story and the assignment was to finish it. We’d never done it in class, so I used that and added my own thoughts as directed. However, Mrs. Bristol could tell the difference in writing.

“Did you copy this from something?” she asked.

“The first part,” I admitted, although I didn’t tell where I’d found the story. She explained to me in a nice and helpful way about plagiarism. A lesson I’ve never forgotten.

If you’ve never been educated in a little country school, you’ve missed out. In the Fifth Grade I enjoyed listening while the other classes went over their work, especially when the Eighth Graders recited poetry. However, we too missed out on the advantages of city schools. The only physical education we had was recess and lunch hours. Occasionally, our teacher came outside to play with us. The only school library was the books Mrs. Bristol brought from the village library and they had to be returned.

Even though I didn’t have the advantage of visiting the public library, I read all that I could get my hands on. They were books I’d received for Christmas and birthdays as well the books my mother had as a child. At my young age I decided I could do better, so I began writing my little stories where there were no problems and everybody was happy. My mother told me they weren’t stories and she was right. But Mrs. Bristol liked my compositions.

Years went by. I finished high school and went on to college and majored in Christian Education. Then I began working with children in various activities in the church setting. When I learned that Pioneer Girls was about to publish a new magazine for girls, I wrote a short story and submitted it as a contribution. To my surprise they accepted it and sent me a check. That began my interest in writing for children and my stories and articles found their way into several children’s magazines. The most exciting experience was when two of my stories were included in a collection of Christmas stories for children, MISTLETOE MADNESS, edited by Miriam Hees (Blooming Tree Press 2004).

One day as I scanned the Anniversaries section of the newspaper, I was surprised to see my Eighth Grade teacher. Fifty years. I discovered then that she lived not too far from me. I wanted to send her a card, but just never got around to it. Often I thought of her and wondered if I’d even recognize her should I meet her on the street or in a restaurant. 

Five years later I came across the newspaper clipping of her anniversary and sent a card with a letter, telling a little about myself and how she’d been an encouragement to me as my teacher. That weekend she called me and we had a short telephone conversation, getting acquainted again.

One day, while going through a box of old photographs, I found my school pictures. We students stood on the steps of the schoolhouse with the teacher behind us. I knew I had to contact Mrs. Bristol if she was still around. I found her address in the telephone book, called, introduced myself, and asked if I could stop in for a visit.

When I pulled into her driveway, she stood from where she’d been sitting on the porch. “I’m so glad to see you,” she said as she gave me a hug and invited me to sit down.

“I thought you might like to look at some pictures,” I explained.

Even after all these years, she could identify individual students that beautiful summer afternoon. I hadn’t known that she didn’t drive and had to take the bus, transferring downtown and then walk two miles to school. Rain or shine, even on blizzardy days. No “snow days” at that time. Always there to greet us.

“Waterbury wasn’t my first country school,” she said and went on to tell about other schools she’d taught and experiences in each school.

I shared with her my life and how I’d worked with children in the church setting for years, and more recently reading my stories to a Second Grade class in a public school and helping in an after-school club.

Then I handed her my surprise. MISTLETOE MADNESS, autographed with love. I flipped the pages to my stories.

“I’m so proud of you,” she said over and over. That called for another hug.

As I left that afternoon, she invited me to come again, which I did once more.

In 2008, Mrs. Bristol called and invited me to visit again. I intended to, but the busy Christmas season and snowy weather kept me home. Then I read the obituary. When I introduced myself to the family in the funeral home, I was surprised that they had already heard of me and they shared how proud she was of what I had done.

Not only did Laura Bristol make a difference in my life, I’m sure she made a difference in the lives of many children. Would I have become a writer if Mrs. Bristol hadn’t been such an encouragement? Possibly, but I attribute my interest in writing to my Eighth Grade teacher.

Vol. 38 No. 3 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall- 2011

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