Monday, January 5, 2015

A Long Overdue and Heartfelt Thank You, Mrs. Quinn!

One of the best memories I will have of 2014 goes back almost 35 years to my days as a junior high student at Blessed Sacrament School in El Paso, Texas. I was fortunate, lucky, privileged, and above all, blessed to have Mrs. Patricia Quinn as my 7th and 8th grade Literature, English, and History teacher (small school; a few teachers had to teach many subjects.) Not only was she a teacher who was passionate about the subjects she taught, she also taught me things that I, now, as a writer, value highly and use every time I sit down at the computer to write.

First off, she taught me how to tell a story. Our classes were only about 40 minutes long and there were times when the subject she was teaching (usually history) would remind her of something that she experienced when she was a girl growing up in Washington D. C. At some point, she would remove her glasses and rest her elbow on the podium and begin to tell us the story. Now it would be easy to say that, naturally, a bunch of 13-year-old kids would welcome a chance to "ditch" class with the instructor's tacit permission. But the truth was, I think every one of us listened even MORE closely to Mrs. Quinn's stories than we did to her lectures (she probably should have tested us on her stories!) And because time was limited, she had to wrap up her story before the next bell rang.

Second, she was a stickler for perfection when it came to our writing assignments. This was back in the day when diagramming sentences was an integral part of every grammar class (do they still teach it?) and, to this day, whenever I'm reading a sentence--my own or another writer's--that doesn't sound quite "right", I whip out the pencil and paper and diagram it. It amazes me how many books are published with grammatically incorrect sentences!

Third, she was a cheerleader. Giving you an "A" on a paper you wrote wasn't enough; she told you what was good about it, what she liked about it. Praise wasn't earned easily, but when she had something good to say, you knew it was the absolute truth. And deep down, I knew, it wasn't something you wasted.

So when my first book, "End of the Road", was published in July 2013, I had to publicly thank her and let everyone who read the acknowledgments know to whom I give the credit for becoming a writer. I also tracked her down (not hard, since she still lives in the same house she lived in when she taught at our school) and sent her a copy of "End of the Road". I received a lovely letter from her, which I will always treasure, telling me how gratifying it is for a teacher to know that she made a difference in a student's life.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from one of her sons. He told me that his mother had, to her great distress, lost the book at the hair salon. He asked if it would be too much for me to send her another. I asked if it would be too much for me to give it to her in person. So on Saturday, December 13, I finally got to say "Thank you" in person.

I didn't ask her to grade it, but I think I passed with flying colors! We spent a couple of hours reminiscing and catching up (she's been a very busy lady all these years!) and I was thrilled to be able to tell her just how much I appreciated all she did for me. She was gracious enough to thank ME for taking the time to tell her so and to accord so much credit to her.

I hope we find the time, in the coming year, to seek out those who touched our lives and be able to tell them how much we owe to them for believing in us and encouraging us.

Thank you, Mrs. Quinn!

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