Perhaps it's because I grew up with a mother who loved to tell stories of her youth: How she hid under the kitchen stove when the school-teacher stayed at their house because she was scared of her; how, on cold and snowy Sunday mornings, her parents heated bricks on the stove and wrapped them, and put them at the children's feet to keep them warm as the family rode in a sleigh to Church. How she and my Uncle Carl would beg their dad to let them go fishing, and he'd tell them they could, just as soon as each of them pulled the weeds in one row of the garden.
She'd show me the scar on her finger, telling in great detail about a mouse caught in a barrel that bit her when she tried to corner it and catch it.
I heard about the Great Depression, and about how many groceries one could buy with a dollar, back then. If one had a dollar. Mother said the depression didn't really affect them that much, because they were already used to being poor.
She was great with specifics, and I soaked those stories in and waited for more, although in later life I found that her siblings didn't remember some details exactly the same as Mother did.
If you got her together with her sister, my Aunt Ruby, they'd stroll down memory lane hand in hand, prodding one another's memories; what one didn't recall, the other did, filling in the blanks. There would be a "reminiscing marathon" going on!
My grandma, on the other hand, didn't talk as much as I'd have liked about her childhood, about how things were "back then", even when I quizzed her. I think she just wasn't a story-teller.
As I sat at the keyboard yesterday morning and typed out my entry about Miss Dedman, I wondered to myself what it was that made that particular schoolteacher so special to me. I'm sure it wasn't her teaching skill.
I decided it must have been her ability to launch into a story at any opportunity.
The whole high school had a group of vocabulary words to learn, throughout the school year. I believe we did five of them each week. By Friday, we had to be able to spell each one properly, use it in a sentence, and give the definition of the word. We were also to watch the newspapers for any use of those words and bring in a clipping. Since North Kansas City High School's mascot was a hornet, our words were called "Henry Hornet words". To this day, if I come across any of those words when I'm reading, I think to myself, "Henry Hornet word", and try to think what the definition is.
On Mondays, Miss Dedman would go over our five words for the week, and any one of them could become a launching point for a tale from her past. A word like "supercilious" or "pedagogue" would end up taking us all down her personal memory lane; I'm not sure all the students enjoyed this (I think some of them made fun of her for it), but it was right down my alley.
She talked about how cold it was in Minneapolis, where she had attended college, in the winter.
She told us how glad she was to have been born in a time when she wasn't put in that box labeled "old maid", dependent on somebody's kindness for a place to live.
She said all of us should keep a book of best-loved poems beside our beds, so on nights when we couldn't sleep, we could reach for that book.
As graduation approached, she told us, "Even if you don't go on to college, your learning doesn't have to stop. As long as you keep reading books, any books, you are learning."
I probably remember more of what she said than any other instructer I had. I don't even recall most of the faces of my high school teachers, let alone their names.
But I'll always remember Miss Mary Ellen Dedman. She was a story-teller.