Yesterday my fourth grade teacher contacted me on Facebook.
I was thrilled to hear from her. Mrs. Chechile (pronounced cake-ly). She reminds me of Lainie Kazan: big hair, big earrings, big voice, big personality, big bosom and big love. As I remember her she was an aromatic kind of lady who always had that ring of fuchsia lipstick on her coffee cup and left streaks of red and pink from her nailpolish on the piano keys as she played. She loved Michael Jackson (except for his song "Dirty Diana") and by that time used to lament the road he had taken and the "things" he was accused of. She shared a door with Mr. Boisvert (yes pronounced the French way) who may have been the only (openly?) gay teacher in our school system. Between the two of them it was a pure comedy show.
But I do remember that year as being pivotal in my life, as a time when my relationship not only to school but also to learning really changed. And there's no doubt that Mrs. Chechile was the inspiration behind it.
I am not sure if something happened that year to make me a serious kid. I don't remember anything in particular, but I do remember that she made note of the fact that I didn't smile much. One day I remember turning around from sharpening my pencil or getting a drink at the water fountain and she was standing behind me and I smiled at her. She yelled "SHE SMILED! Oh my God I thought it would never happen, but it did and it's so beautiful!!" I was surprised and suddenly became a little bit more self-aware.
I remember that I had my first "boyfriend" in her class. His name was Jim Savacool and he was the new kid from California. He was all blonde with spiky hair and made a cool papier mache model of a tiger fish for one of his projects. This thing was amazing, very realistic. He and I held hands while watching a documentary on whales one afternoon, when our class combined with Mr. Boisvert's class. It was very exciting. In fact, I think this may be him:And the scary thing is that I'm not even joking. Be careful putting your likeness on the internet, kids.
So Jim and I were in love until I dumped him on the playground one day. He was pissed. And then later, my best friend Renee DeMello and I were looking through some of the books on the shelf in Mrs. Chechile's room and I found a book that had a cross-section of human copulation. Something that is not really sexy at all, barely even human for that matter considering the cross-section had no heads, no breasts, no legs. It was literally just two torsos missionary style and sliced in half. Well. I found this photo and I shared it in what I thought was a clandestine way with anyone who cared to see. Turns out fourth graders don't really know how to be clandestine. I got found out, my parents had a conference with Mrs. Chechile, and I then had to sit through the facts of life talk from my parents (well, my dad handed it over to my mom pretty much after "Amelia, there's something we need to talk to you about... and I'll let your mother take it from here."). Greaaaaat. Yuuuuuuuccccck.
I remember doing a project on Amelia Earhart for Mrs. Chechile's class. I made a crappy airplane out of an empty tonic water bottle and some cardboard, painted it black. I typed out a page or so on the typewriter with a few facts. I think I got a C or a C-. No one was happy with it. I was crushed, but then again I didn't try very hard. The next two projects got my full effort: the one that she remembers me for (and mentioned in her Facebook message to me) is my rendering of a US president's daughter (Woodrow Wilson? I forget.) for our class's Presidential Wax Museum. Whichever president it was had died from the flu, so I incorporated a sneeze into my little speech which I then recited over and over and over again as different people passed through our room. I guess I'm a good fake sneezer because the woman has remembered my speech for two decades now.
The second project was on a book about vampires. I constructed this elaborate cardboard thing with a vampire inside that would reach out and grab you when you stuck your face in to look at it. That description makes no sense. I can't do much better. Anyway, I won a little prize for it. And I was proud.
I was a "funky mime" for Halloween. Think silver hat, gloves, black outfit with more sparkles, no talking. I guess I must have mimed "Trick or Treat." What the...?
It was the year that the Challenger exploded, too. We watched it happen on a small television along with several other classrooms. I remember the teachers' faces as they murmured to each other and our confusion when they turned it off.
I remember passing a note that read "Do you LIKE John? Check yes or no" to my friend and getting caught. Mrs. Chechile called me up to the front of the room, note in hand. She read it to herself and looked at me and said, "Do you want me to read this to the whole class?" I said, "No." Consumed with shame and humiliation.
That's as far as my memory reaches... these have been floating around in my head for some time so it was nice to bring them out. And I still have the crocheted Christmas ornament that Mrs. Chechile gave to our entire class that year, along with its original (original!) real all-white candy cane reindeer. I wrote back to her and told her all of the things that I remember and how grateful I am for her attention and real consummate effort as a teacher. She loved her students and showed us as much at every turn. She said, "Thank you for your nice thoughts on 4th grade...I tried hard, but not everyone gets out of it what is meant to be." I guess after you teach for a gazillion years (she only retired 4 years ago and had already been teaching for a decade or more by the time I had her as a teacher) that's a net positive.