4/24/18

Junior High Memories

In the Fall of 1979, I was excited to find out my two best friends, Chris and Robbie*, would be in my homeroom class, room 65, taught by Mr. Peete. Mrs. Usher was my English teacher and she encouraged communication among all of her students via warm fuzzies: with five minutes left in class, she allowed us to write positive notes ("warm fuzzies") and place them in another student's inbox.

Mrs. Usher was very nice and kind and supportive of me. She chose me to be stage director of the 8th-grade play, she and Mr. Peete inducted me into the National Junior Honor Society, she set me up with a one-time babysitting job that somehow led to me asking a girl out, she had me read Shel Silverstein poems in literary voice competition (or something like that) and she encouraged me to write poetry.

In 1981, after my freshman year of high school, Dad got orders and we moved. But a week before we did, Mrs. Usher threw a big going away party just for me and gave me several books. We corresponded briefly during the first six months after my move but I lost interest in the old and gained interest in the new.

Flash-forward thirty-four years to May 2015. I turned Dad's PC back on ten days after his fatal heart attack to see what the last thing he saw on his PC was. It was Facebook and he had several pages open, including a page with a search bar. For the first and only time in my life, I searched for a person on Facebook, typing Peggy Usher into the search box. Then I sent her a message along the lines of "You probably don't remember me but you have had a big impact on my life. This isn't my Facebook page so don't reply. My name is .... and my phone number is ..... Call or text me if you can."

Eighteen months later, I get a long, late-night text followed by a short "I forgot to identify myself but I am Mrs. Usher" from her and we begin communicating again, thirty-five years after I last saw her. She caught me up on her life and the intense work she was putting in learning to stand and walk again after an unidentified illness. She shared pictures of her "pride and joy" (her granddaughter) and more often than not warned me to be patient with her as she had lots to say and would eventually get around to it. She almost always texted late at night and then would apologize for falling asleep. Her faith was always apparent and she still loved science-fiction. I count hundreds of texts still on my iPad, including one before Thanksgiving 2017, where she prayed that she would regain some mobility and wished my family "a bright holiday." I sent a text after Christmas "How Are You?" and then "Happy New Year!" after that. Life happened and I forgot about her, and her name sank to the bottom of my text conversations. Then a couple of weeks back, I Googled her name and got the bad news: she "went to get her crown" on Sunday, February 11, 2018. You can read this remembrance by friends, co-workers and former students.

The reappearance of Mrs. Usher in my life helped to offset the reappearance of another person I hadn't seen in thirty-two years, who caused more harm than good. And now I am overjoyed by the news I am gonna be a first-time grandpa, to twins no less, in late August.

*Robbie was killed in a still-unsolved murder just off his Army base in 1999. Chris contacted me some 10-15 years ago, saying he paid extra money to some website (classmates.com?) just to get my email address. After we caught each other up on our lives since 1981, we discovered we had absolutely nothing else in common and just stopped emailing one another.