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!