For some reason, at some point in the past few days, a college instructor (I don't think she was a professor) popped into my head. I hadn't thought about her in a long time, but I have thought about her a LOT over the years. Her name was (is?) Carolyn Herron, and she taught English at a small community college in Farmers Branch, Texas.
I was only 17 years old, but I had already put in two quarters (before the semester system) at the University of Georgia. Not very successful quarters. As in, headed for trouble quarters. My eldest sister, a single mom, had moved to the Dallas area with her two kids, so I decided to move out there with her, go to college, and help her with the kids. Having come from a "huge" institution such as UGA, I was all prepared to go to UT-Dallas, until I found out I had to be a junior to go there.
It being all last-minute and all, I decided to go to a community college a short distance from our apartment. Brookhaven Community College had only opened the semester before, so it was brand new. And I could get in on short notice. Win-win.
Carolyn Herron was my English teacher, and I have forever wished I had kept up with her. I would at least like for her to know that I became an English teacher myself, although I'm pretty sure I never reached her level. She was just so darn nice. NICE! Genuinely nice, not all fakey nice.
She had blond hair that may or may not have been a wig, and she always wore skirts, pantyhose, and heels. She also had a sing-songy voice that may have annoyed some people, but it accompanied her personality perfectly. (I used to refer to it as a "Romper Room" voice, until I realized I was likely the only living person left on earth who knew what Romper Room WAS, and besides I'm still pretty pissed that the woman on that show never saw ME in her magic mirror.)
On the second day of the semester, Ms. Herron was in the middle of calling roll when the door opened and a young man started in. This was back in the day when you should at least be apologetic, if not downright terrified, about coming into class even a couple of minutes late. Ms. Herron, though, stopped in her roll-calling, smiled (genuinely) at the young man, and said (all sing-songy, remember), "Good morning! And you are..."
The young man looked a little panic-stricken, not at his tardiness but at the voice he had encountered in a college classroom, and he blurted out, "In the wrong class!!" We all just laughed as he hightailed it out of there, Ms. Herron included.
We were reading a dramatic selection out of our anthology (I just like using the word "anthology") in class one day, and there were two parts. Ms. Herron asked for readers, but no one was volunteering. I finally put my hand up, not only to hasten the process but to bail out the teacher whose feelings I didn't want anyone else to hurt, and only then realized that of the two parts, only one actually had anything to say. The other one tried to interject but got interrupted by the talker every time. (Guess which role I got? Hmmm?) I wish I could remember the name of that story/play/whatever.
After class, Ms. Herron made a point to compliment me and suggested I might think about majoring in drama. I didn't have the heart to tell her I had seen some of the drama majors at UGA up close, and I didn't want to BE one of those people. (UGA has an awesome drama department, and I should know better than to be such a snob. Or something.)
Another day we had a big test, and I wasn't prepared. To be honest, there weren't many tests in college for which I WAS prepared. I had skated through high school without studying, and I had assumed college would be the same. (See: entry at "academic probation.) As she was handing out tests, Ms. Herron must have noticed my grim expression, because she stopped and asked if anything were wrong. I sort of shrugged and said, "I'm not prepared to take this test," and she asked me to step out in the hall.
She was genuinely concerned for me, and I told her my sister had been sick that weekend. (It was true. To this day I don't know what was wrong with Nurse Jane that weekend, but it scared me to death. At 17 everything is major anyway. I was afraid she was going to die, and all the responsibility would fall on me. I never said I was a MATURE 17-year-old.) Ms. Herron insisted that I go home, and she and I would make arrangements for a make-up test. I just stood there and stared at her, dumbfounded.
What a decent, sympathetic, understanding, HUMAN thing to do. A college instructor. Wow.
I wish I could say that singular experience turned my college career around and I was a stellar student thereafter, but that would be a lie. I moved back to my hometown, picked up my party life at UGA right where I had left off, and almost got kicked out of college because of my low GPA.
But I have never forgotten the kindness Carolyn Herron showed me in that English course. I hope somewhere, sometime along the way during my career, I have demonstrated a similar kindness.
As I was about to hit the "Publish" button for this blog entry, I remembered the beauty of the Internet and thought I would see if I could find out anything about my former teacher. Now I wish I hadn't. She died this past May after a long battle with cancer. In addition to her obituary, though, I found a blog post written by another of her former students entitled, "One Person Who Made a Difference for Me." I had already written the title for mine. That gives me goosebumps.
I'm not surprised that it wasn't just me. She was that kind of person.
Rest easy, Carolyn.