Teachers

We’re getting older. In May, we’ll all graduate, (well, not all of us, but the particular subset of us that I’m thinking of) and we’ll head out into the wide, wide world to seek our fortunes and what not. For me that may very likely mean going back home, back to the place I came from. Many of my friends will not end up where they came from, but they’ll bring where they came from with them in some small part, wherever they go.

We come from our families and our homes, and experience is passed along and melts into us. I come from teachers. I do not mean the stand-in-front-of-a-classroom kind, though my parents are that, but that all my growing up years were strung together with adults sitting me down (or standing me up,) and telling me how: how to shuck corn, how to set up the wood stove so it was ready for lighting, how to tell if the pasta was done by just stirring it.

From the time I was four or so until my brother was big enough, it was my job to set the table. My dad pulled me aside the first time and said, “Do you know how to tell your left from your right? Look, you have a mole on your right arm, just there.” To this day it is strange to me that everyone’s right forearm isn’t marked in the same way. However did they learn? (Unfortunately, though, when my Granddad tried to teach Mary and me to play soccer at around the same time, I refused to do anything but sit on the ball and pretend I was hatching an egg.)

In the same deliberate manner as left-from-right, my mother taught me and my sister to do the laundry and clean the bathrooms. We hated Saturday, because it was chore day. We would hang around in our room and bicker instead of clean, and then come downstairs and drag the all the loose furniture out of the kitchen and dining room to mop, as our mother had taught us, and make a great long imaginary train in the center room out of the displaced chairs. (That was something we’d figured out on our own.)

When I was ten or so I remember my dad giving me lessons in dish-washing (something I suspect my little brother missed out on.) Glasses first when the water is cleanest, then silverware (don’t let the sharp knives get lost in the suds!) and plates next, and pots and pans at the last. I put a up a big weepy fuss every time I had to wash dishes for nearly a year or so—thank the good Lord for stubborn parents.

When I was just a little older my Grammy taught me how to iron, standing in our dining room: damp, warm, then dry and smooth, pressing in one sharp, long crease on the holiday tablecloths. It was a satisfying as washing windows: fast, definite results which, if you were careful, would last for wonderful months on end.

They did not contain their teaching to “how,” though. My mother read aloud from E. Nesbit’s retellings of Shakespeare and acted them out with our beanie babies, (Viola was my purple Millennial bear,) my Grandma and Grandpa have read Proverbs aloud at meals for as long as I can remember, and dear sweet Miss Jan used to sing with me at her piano.

I miss being taught in that off-hand, overflow sort of way. One night freshman year I had an assignment to scan a whole passel of Renaissance poetry, and I called my Dad in tears and just let him talk. He explained and proliferated for about fifteen minutes, and I listened not to his words, but to the sound of his voice and his neat, knowing sentences that led one to the next, and I was satisfied.

For now, I don’t have plans for grad school. I will be quite finished with studenthood in May, I think. But I cannot imagine that I will ever be finished, not simply with learning, but with being taught, with other people’s extraneous advice, their unsolicited “Do you know, Alice? Let me show you. You should know.” Yes. I probably should. Please do tell me all about it.

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