The English Teacher

As I filled out applications for college during my senior year, my father told me to skip Stanford. “You’re grades aren’t good enough,” he said, but I knew the real reason.  My boyfriend Clayton went there and my dad wouldn’t allow us to go to the same school. “Try Smith or Wellesley,” he advised.

I was a good athletic and that influenced my dad’s decision. He’d heard that Texas State College For Women offered a degree in gym and that the department head was a woman with a PhD in Physical Education. Texas was a lot closer to California than Massachusetts so I said yes.

That September, my parents drove me to the station in Kansas City and put me on a train. The next morning, I arrived in Denton.

Wobbling slightly on my high heels and clutching my hat, I hailed a taxi. “Do you know where TSCW is? I asked

“Yessum,” he drawled.

“Can you take me there?”

“No m’am.“I’m not allowed to carry white folks.”

My mouth fell open. I don’t remember how I got to school that day.

I loved TSCW but Clayton and I continued our romance and decided if we were to stay together, we at least had to be in the same state. He loved Stanford so I had to move.

I applied to Mills College only forty miles from Palo Alto. I got my letters of recommendations, breezed through the SATs and managed to talk my dad into letting me go. Only one thing stood in my way; a B in English. I needed an A. I had to find a way to bring up that grade. We’d already taken the final.

Frantically, I searched for my English teacher.

At first, I’d thought her dull. Then, something magical happened. She captivated my imagination. She made reading come alive. She red penciled my essays and made them better. I adored her.

Finally, I checked out her home. “She’s at the beauty parlor,” I was told

Back then, Denton only had one beauty parlor.

I found her under the dryer, her hair bobby pinned into tight little curls. She lifted the dryer, her eyes wide with surprise. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

I explained my predicament, how I needed to somehow raise my grade from a B to an A in order to get into Mills.

She pulled the dryer back down over her head. What was she thinking? She already knew about Clayton. .I’d written reams about him. I stood stock still.

Finally, she lifted the dryer. “All right,” she said. “If you can answer this question correctly, I’ll raise your grade.”

I nodded.

Over the hum of the dryer she asked, “Who wrote, “To be or not to be. That is the question.”

I laughed. “Shakespeare,” I cried triumphantly.

“Correct. You get an A. Now go away and let me dry my hair.”

I bent and kissed her on the cheek, knowing that she’d changed my life forever.

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