Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “teaching”

A Piece of my Mind: Things My Mother Said to Me (Los Altos Town Crier – April 5, 2017)

IMAG8478crop

 

  “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

But also: [Of a small tear or a crooked seam on a dress].  “It’ll never show on a galloping horse”

 “What did Thumper say?” [It was actually Thumper’s mother in “Bambi” who said “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”]

“ If you ever say that word again I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap!”

 “I grew up in a house with no men -my widowed grandmother, my widowed Aunt Em and her daughter, my divorced mother, and me.  When I got married I didn’t know anything. I used to go in and watch your father shave. It was thrilling!” 

“Aunt Em always said: ‘Never ask a question that can be answered by a number.’”

“My grandmother and my Aunt Em had always done all the cooking.  I barely knew how to boil water.  Your father had to teach me how to cook. “

“Everything I knew about being married I learned from the “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” articles in the Ladies’ Home Journal. Everything your father knew about being married he learned from the Boy Scout Handbook.  Somehow we did all right.”

“Your father would take any job offer as an opportunity.  I never had any security – never!  until I got my first teaching job.  Mac never said no to an offer; I never said no to him – I was such a doormat.”

  [On the age gap between my younger siblings and me]” We had our family all set. One boy, one girl.  Then we moved to East Texas and there wasn’t much else to do.”

 “It’s not so much whether your child is ready to do something; it’s whether you’re ready to let him.”

 “I didn’t care so much about being the first to do something.  But I wanted to be the best. Well, actually, I liked being first too.”

“One of the worst things about being a widow is that you are not #1 with anyone anymore.”

“If you’re going to be famous, Allyson, don’t wait until it’s too late for me to enjoy it.”

 [About the visions which began appearing after cataract surgery] “I know they’re not real, but they’re a lot more interesting than my reality these days.”

 “Mac [dead 20 years earlier] comes and stands by the bed at night, but he never says anything to me.  Do you think he is angry with me?”

“Promise you won’t give up on me, Allyson.”

[As I was helping her walk from her chair in my living room to the dining room table] “They didn’t tell me it would be so long. “

                Me, thinking she meant the distance to her dinner:  “It’s the same distance it’s always been.”

                Mom: “No, I meant old age.”

[While living at  her home of 60 years with 24/7 care] “Shouldn’t there be a pill I could take now to get all this over with?”

[Near the end of her life and memory] “I was looking forward to moving, but I can’t decide between moving in with Aunt Em or with Mother.”

“Are you a patient here too, or are you one of the staff?”

“Am I going home tonight?”

My mother died in her own bed a week later. P1040062

A Student’s Success (Los Altos TOWN CRIER, March 2014)

I was watching a PBS documentary on the Old West – you know the type.  Lots of historic photographs, lots of historic documents, and some expert talking heads explaining it all with their names and credentials briefly headlined.

Suddenly I shouted in amazement.  An unusual name, familiar from my remote past, had flashed ont he screen.  Through the changes years had made I saw a familiar smile. “I know that guy!”

A quick Google search on the name turned up additional photographs confirming my recognition, an impressive list of awards for academic and journalistic excellence, and an email contact.  I fired off an email:

Subject: Wow!  My former student is a PBS pundit!

I was watching the PBS show on Butch Cassidy and saw you as a historical authority. There could not be two Ken Verdoia’s in the world!  And you look like yourself, only in 1967 you had no need to shave. I am so excited that my star 9th grade student in my student teaching year at MVHS has risen to eminence!

Maybe you remember me as the insecure Stanford intern who wore a fake hairpiece to make myself look older and taller.  I remember you in the freshman talent show lip-synching as Harvey Johnson looking for a prom date,

I’m  living in Los Altos and doing some writing for the local paper and my own entertainment. I see you are affiliated with the U of Utah (my parents’ alma mater, as it happens) I am so delighted to see what you have become!

Best of lives,

Allyson Johnson (formerly known to you as Miss Young)

The next morning I had this response in my inbox”

Allyson:

Through forty years in journalism, nearly thirty of those contributing to PBS, I have received many, many messages after a report or program. None as surprising and delightful as yours waiting for me this morning.

I am quite stunned that you would remember a student in such a manner. Particularly one so closely resembling wallpaper. But, yes, you do accurately cite the mime-like 14 year olds pushing their way through “Bye Bye Birdie” at Mountain View High School!

How wonderful for me…and what a thoughtful, inclusive gesture by you. Your memory is a generous gift that has started this day on a particularly happy note.

Next time you gather with friends, I hope you share this recollection. And, then, confidently inform them it was your insightful tutelage that launched a career!

All my very best wishes,
Ken Verdoia

In a later exchange of emails, Ken told me, “Every step along the way… elementary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate and graduate studies… there has been a kind and generous mentor who has made a difference.  Not ‘steering’ me, but demonstrating how courage, strength and ability are born of purposeful education.”

Since I was a girl I had always planned to be a teacher, but in the end I only taught high school English for seven years.  Teaching is a hard job, and I was not particularly gifted.  Still, I feel honoree to think that my blundering enthusiasm for good reading and good writing all those years ago might have earned me a small place among those who “made a difference.”

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: