We have another free week, and I had planned to tell you about another one of my groups of friends. Instead, I’m going to tell you about someone who had a great influence on my life. Last week I said goodbye to her – in this life, anyway – and I decided to share a little bit about this remarkable woman.
Ann Seeley was born in Washington, DC, but grew up in rural southwest Michigan. On her family’s farm she cared for the animals and pitched in on all the chores, but she was recognized as the resident mechanic and eventually invented an asparagus picking machine, receiving a patent for her efforts. Her love of music took her to Western Michigan University, where she earned a degree in Music Education. But instead of directing bands and choirs, she became an elementary classroom teacher, and that’s where I had the privilege of knowing her. As a fifth grade student, I was assigned to her classroom in the mid-1960s.
Miss Seeley was known as a strict teacher, but she was fair and consistent. Her students knew exactly what was expected of us as well as what would happen if we didn’t meet expectations. But she was also full of surprises. I remember one young man who had difficulty remembering the rules, and was constantly reminded of them. One day he declared, “Miss Seeley, I wish you would just forget I’m here!” To our surprise, she said, “Okay,” and for three days she ignored him. By the end of the third day he was more than ready to listen to reason.
I’m not sure I thought about Miss Seeley much once I reached high school, but when I started my own career I knew that it was teachers like her who had inspired me to become one. I knew that she took certain students under her wing – students from broken homes, children who struggled to fit in, and kids who just needed some extra attention. And I knew I wanted to be like her.
After I retired from full-time teaching, I got involved in the quilting group at my church – I wrote about them on March 30. Since I was one of the women who sewed the quilt tops together, I often sat next to a tiny, wizened woman who really didn’t talk much. It took me over two months to realize she was my fifth grade teacher! We had several conversations over the next few years, comparing notes about teaching and catching up on news about people we both knew.
Miss Seeley was as sharp and quick-witted as I remembered. And she was just as giving. In addition to sewing quilts, she was a member of the group Warmng Ears Ministry, making hats, and she worked at her church’s food pantry. When I started writing romance novels I gave her one of the first of my print copies. I wasn’t sure whether or not she enjoyed reading romances, but I wanted to give her some tangible evidence of what she had done for me. She graciously took the book, and went back to our sewing. A few weeks later I got an email, sent through my website:
“I read your book. I liked it.”
Those seven words validated me as an author more than any review or award. I was humbled that this eighty-year-old woman who struggled with using her cell phone took the time and effort to email me. To do so, I’m assuming she had help – and asking for help was another thing she struggled with. I am so grateful that I had the chance to see my former teacher again and do something to thank her for what did for me.
When I heard Miss Seeley had passed, I posted an announcement in my high school’s Facebook page. Almost immediately, messages of condolences and fond memories began pouring in. It seems many of my classmates remember her the way I do. I copied all their comments and put them into a small scrapbook for her family, since most of them live in California. I wanted them to know what a treasure she was to us.
Most of our teachers are in our lives for only nine months, but their influence can last a lifetime. If you can read and write, your teachers have given you the keys to endless adventures. Be sure to thank them, if you can.