So I’m writing a newsletter for this client, and they’re revitalizing their board, and they have some new members, and so part of my job this morning is to contact the new members and get their thoughts and visions for the organization’s future direction, and then write it all up in a nice dynamic story of 300 words or less.
So, I phone the first two new board members, and get voicemail, and leave chipper voicemail messages. And then I get a live person at the end of my third call. And he is helpful and concise and enthusiastic and gives me exactly what I need in terms of quote. And I notice from his e-mail address that he works at the same firm as my first cousin, and so I mention that, and then his voice takes on a whole new tenor.
“Wait a second,” he says. “Let’s take this in a whole new direction. Are you related to Ruth Goldberg?”
Which is not quite what I’m expecting. “She’s my mother,” I tell him.
“Listen,” he says, “I have to tell you this: I was in love with your mother. She was my first love.”
Mine too, I’m thinking. “Really?” is what I say.
He tells me the story, but he also tells me that he’s probably going to cry. My mom was his seventh grade teacher. And she was so bubbly, and enthusiastic, and beautiful. And that he and his best friend — who is still his best friend, 40 years later — have had, during their friendship, only one, unresolved, ongoing feud: which one of them my mother liked best. How they still argue about it, about her.
He tells me about his mother dragging his father to “meet the teacher” night. About how when his father saw my mother for the first time his jaw dropped to the floor and stayed there. How when his parents returned home all his mother would say was, “Your father’s an idiot.” About how his father, six months later, asked just when the next parent-teacher night would be and his mother said, flatly, “You’re not going.”
But really, can you blame any of them? I mean, if a Liz Taylor–look-alike was your seventh grade teacher? “She was beautiful,” the man on the other end of the phone said. “And she dressed up for school in these beautiful outfits. We had teachers who wore the same thing every day for 20 years.”
I remember my mother talking about that class, about her saying, matter-of-factly, “They were all in love with me.”
The other thing she told me was that she made them learn how to write a proper sentence. “We wrote sentence after sentence — subject, verb, object — paragraph after paragraph, until they got it. My students knew how to write a sentence.”
“One of the worst days of my life,” this man tells me over the phone, “was the day I learned that your mother was getting married. And not to me.”
Thirteen years old. And then, four or so decades later, a different kind of pain. “When your mother died,” this man tells me, “I was heartbroken.”
“Me too,” I say. And I tell him I remember the letters his best friend wrote: to my mom, when she was alive, to tell her what a great teacher she was and the impact she had on his life; and to my family, after my mom died, to tell us, again, that he thought of her often and fondly. And what he — and the world — had lost.
And what I found just a tiny bit of this morning.