Life-Changing Words

As I ponder my life, I often think of what folks have said to me. Sadly, I wish I could forget some scenes. But one memory makes me smile. Why? Because a few kind words when I was 12 gave me the vision to get an education. The summer before I entered seventh grade, I met Doris Schumacher, a teacher visiting her elderly Aunt Minnie, who lived across the street from my family. Back then, schoolteachers frightened me because several of mine had ridiculed my Appalachian speech patterns, so I was immediately intimidated by Doris, too.

But she smiled and said, “Aunt Minnie tells me you’re going into junior high this fall. Tell me, what do you like to study?”

I was surprised by her question. I usually heard only “How’s school?” from adults. But I managed to stammer a reply: “Well, I like to read, and I like history.”

She smiled again. “That’s wonderful,” she said. “I teach eighth-grade English and social studies in Minneapolis. Tell me, what do you like to read?”

Two direct questions from an adult! Stammering, I told her about the books I had read the past week. She nodded approvingly. “Good choices,” she said. Then as I turned to leave, she added, “I assume you’re nervous about going into junior high. Don’t be; you’ll do just fine!”

The conversation probably had taken all of three minutes, but by the time I walked across the street and up our front steps, I was determined to be a teacher “just like Doris!”

Decades ago, none of the women in my extended family had attended college, so my announcement was unsettling to some relatives. But I pulled the dream into my heart and, with God’s grace and my perseverance, gained the B.A. and M.A. degrees that gave me 15 years in a Detroit-area classroom. Later, those same degrees opened the door for me to pursue an editing career and rebuild my life after my husband died.

Doris is in heaven now, but she and I maintained contact after her dear aunt’s death. In fact, her letters and calls encouraged me through college, my teaching career and even as I entered the editing world. One snowy morning, as we chatted over long-distance phone lines, she commented about how far I had come since my school days.

“You’re a big part of that success,” I said. “You gave me the vision to go to college.” Then I began to tell her about the long-ago three-minute meeting.

She interrupted me. “No, dear,” she said. “The first time I met you was when you were 15 and visiting Aunt Minnie at the hospital after she’d broken her hip.”

“Oh, no, Doris,” I insisted. “I was 12. You visited her in August. You stood by the oak table in her front room. The morning sun was coming through the lace curtains and falling across your brown and gray sweater. . . .”

She interrupted me again. “Oh, my dear,” she said. “I don’t remember that at all.”

I chuckled. “It’s okay, Doris,” I said. “That morning only changed my life!”
And, truly, it did.

Perhaps you wish you had met a Doris early in your life, too. Oh, I wish you had! But if you didn’t have a Doris, you can be a Doris—through your smiles and your kind words! Without being aware of it, you may change a life. That’s the power of encouragement!

About sandrapaldrich

Sandra P. Aldrich, author and popular speaker, loves the Lord, family and all things Appalachian. Isaiah 41:9-10
This entry was posted in appreciation, confidence, education, encouragement, mentors, perseverance, school teachers, self-esteem, self-talk, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Life-Changing Words

  1. minaraulston says:

    Hi Sandra, I think you know that I didn’t have someone who made this kind of difference in my life as a child. But I did have a choir director who became a mother figure when my mother was suffering from mental illness. We stayed close until she died a couple of years ago from cancer. She sent me a card near the end. I could barely read her writing. We had fallen out of touch somewhat and I had to search for her address. When I knocked on her door and she let me in she said the most wonderful thing to me. “I knew you’d come when you got my card.” Nothing could have touched me more.
    As a writer you have been that encourager to me Sandra. Long before I had the nerve to do anything other than write for the church or a small Christian newspaper for no pay, you read what I sent you and told me I must continue to write for I had a message to share. I have written a variety of things since then. I even write speeches now. This week I purchased the ISBN/bar code for my book, Home Should Be SAFE:Hope and Help for Domestic Violence Victims. I never would have persisted in this without your continued encouragement. I also try to encourage anyone around me who needs that same encouragement.
    God bless you my dear friend.


  2. Ginny says:

    Appalachian I love that word and I think I’d love most things about it…Foxfire Books are some of my favorite. and Yes there are certain people, mostly teachers, that bring out the best in you, that the worst teachers can’t take away….and there is always a bad one in the barrel. I still shudder at 2, 3, and 4th grade and maybe 5th….but 6th is the one that pulled the poet in me out. I love your story about Doris and so glad she gave us….you. I didn’t realize you are an editor, now I want to know what you edit!!!!!!!!!! I still treasure the author in you……love your blog, look forward to more and more.


  3. Charmaine says:

    You are so right. My third grade teacher was that to me as I was growing up in a poor coal mining area of Pennsylvania. . She treated me as an individual and not part of a class and encouraged me to do the best I could which I carried on in my remaining school years. Words have power.


  4. CJ Hines says:

    Sandra-You are so encouraging and honest-it’s refreshing to read and I love your blog posts!


  5. I didn’t know until today that you had a blog. My father’s family (he, his mother, and three brothers) lived in Detroit in 1947-48 for the same reason your family moved. They needed jobs. It never felt like home and they went back to Harlan County.

    Twenty years later, my dad, along with my mother, sister and I, left Harlan County for good when we moved to Florida. My dad was a teacher until 1991 (he died in 1993).


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