This is a special post for us. So often there are people in your life who deserve all the credit in the world but may not even hear a thank you. Most of these people are teachers, and I know they may not necessarily expect the gratitude, but it's sure great to hear it. I understand that now that I've been teaching a few years. There's one person in particular who stands out for myself and Jasie. Somebody we discuss often. Somebody who I still think about when I'm feeling overwhelmed or insecure. Her patient eyes, her kind voice, her encouraging smile. She gave me confidence when I needed it. She was my second grade teacher, but I was fortunate because she was also my music teacher and a friend throughout elementary school--Irene Ruf.
I have many memories of Irene since I've basically known her my entire life. When Jasie and I went to church by ourselves, she always invited us to sit with her. I even went to her house once in Kindergarten because of a playdate I had with her son--yes, I can remember a random playdate when I was six but I have a difficult time finding my shoes every day. Now I realize that it was always her approval I sought, her feedback and attention I coveted, and her encouragement that gave me the boost I always needed. If I ever got on her nerves because I was clingy and insecure, she never let on. Maybe in the end, that's what I appreciated about her the most.
But despite the myriad of memories and stories, there's one instant that stands out to me the most. One day, one moment, I can replay again and again with perfect sensory recall. I was in second grade, and it was probably October or November. Every month, we had to turn in a reading calendar, but I never did. In fact, even though I knew how to read quite well in the second grade, I don't recall reading in class, reading at home, or having any interest in the books available to me. But Mrs. Ruf took me to the school's library during recess. I know it wasn't a special class trip because I loved the library the most when it was empty, and I remember having that special thrill of being there by myself.
She handed me a book and she asked me if I've ever heard of the Ramona Quimby cartoon. I hadn't. In fact, there were a number of things I had no awareness of. Jasie and I mainly inhabited our own little world. We lived on a lovely piece of property up in the hills, miles away from the nearest neighbor with very little social interaction. We didn't have friends or any sort of life outside of school. We had each other, and we had PBS, and that was about it. But I digress.
In all my life, I had never held a book so large as Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Mrs. Ruf said I should read it, and of course I believed every single thing she said. She said it was good, and I'd enjoy it, but those 108 pages were so daunting. I still remember looking at page 108 and thinking, "I could never read this much. Is she crazy?" Ms. A, the very hefty and friendly librarian, checked it out for me and reminded me that it was part of the Accelerated Reader program, and if I took a test, I could earn points to exchange for candy and pencils and other cool little prizes. I was seven years old, nothing seemed better than getting red hot jaw breakers for just reading a book!
It seems like such a small story, such an insignificant moment. But it wasn't insignificant to me. I finished reading Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and I loved it so much I immediately wanted to read all the other Ramona books. From there, it was the rest of the Beverly Cleary books, and then the entire world opened up. As much as it ever can for somebody in the second grade. I finished that year with 20 accelerated reader points, and I literally read everything I could. I didn't care if the books were age appropriate as long as they looked interesting. Out of all the kindness Irene showed me, out all of the things she taught me, and out of all the years I knew her, this is what I cherish the most. Because she didn't just give me a book to read, she set me on the path that culminated with an advanced degree and nearly 100 published books, not to mention our upcoming book Put the Body on the Slab: The Anatomy of College Writing.
So, Mrs. Ruf, thank you.
One Afternoon in the Library by Jasie
Not unlike most people, my early teenage years were difficult, painful and awkward, and not something I like to think about too often. I grew up in a little town, and I was a little weird, and so after years of bullying by the time I was thirteen I had pulled myself away as much as possible from most social interaction.
As a result I spent a lot of time in the middle school's library before and after school and during lunch. The library was a haven for me, even though I didn't love reading books as much as I told everyone I did. The best part of the library was Mrs. Ruf. She let me stay there and read or do homework, and she talked to me. I had known her since I was a little girl; we went to the same church and she taught my older sister in school before she became the librarian. She was quiet spoken and kind, and even though I she didn't teach me, she taught me more about life in one conversation than I had ever known up to that point.
Growing up in a small, conservative, religious community I assumed I would do as my mother did, and her mother, and most of my neighbors, and do all I could to find a husband and start a family as soon as I graduated from high school. As a thirteen year old I hadn't really got to the point of thinking about college; I don't know if I was capable of thinking that far ahead, except for the little girl hope to get married and be a mommy as soon as I could. This all changed one afternoon in the library.
I don't know why she decided she needed to tell me these things, and I can't remember the circumstances of conversation Mrs Ruf and I had that day in the library. The details of that afternoon are lost to me, but the words of the conversation are seared in my heart.
She told me that I didn't need to find someone to marry as soon as I graduated from high school, that I needed to go to college and get the best education I could. She told me that she hadn't been married until she was almost thirty, until after she had had experiences, after she had seen the world. She probably told me about some of those experiences, but I'm not sure. Everything surrounding those words, the concept that I had a future full of experiences outside of my little town, are a blur. I probably didn't show her the appreciation I felt for her words at the time, because the idea was so new, because I was confused and the words hadn't quite sunk in yet. "Ok, yeah, sure, thanks" was probably my response.
I never stopped thinking about what she said. My life basically imploded not long after that afternoon in the library, and I was caught up in an inordinate amount of drama: boy drama, family drama, moving from the little town in Utah to a big scary city in California drama. Those teenage years were the hardest of my life, and yet, threaded throughout all of it was that idea, that little seed Irene Ruf planted in my heart that day in the library. That little idea grew and grew, and when I graduated from high school I left California and I pursued my now solid dream to go to school, to see the world, and to experience all I could while I was young.
Fourteen years after our conversation and nine years after high school, I'm living in London, working on an advanced research degree, and I have had the most awesome time being young. I do hope someday to have a family, but I know that all of the experiences I've had in the last ten years, learning and traveling and meeting remarkable people, will always be with me and have made me who I am today. I like who I am today, and I'm glad that I can thank Irene Ruf for the guidance and the kindness she showed an awkward, weird kid one afternoon in the library.