My longtime love affair with words began when my great-grandmother, the part-time librarian in my small town, was my caregiver after school. The ornate ceilings were high, the lighting was dim and the space was very limited, but it was a library nonetheless and the children’s books were on a lower shelf where I could sit on the floor, hidden, and read to my heart’s content. Lost on me now is the title of my favorite book, something about oversized animals in a bright green jungle, but I recall the book size and the pages…and the words. At the time, they belonged only to me.
I advanced to Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and anything I could find in the county bookmobile that came within walking distance to my house every summer. I was in heaven because I was also allowed to buy some of those yellow, hard-plastic bound Nancy Drew books; I figure after the number of times I re-read them, based on my cost, that I invested well!! There was a least one or two newspapers around that I found time to read.
Fast forward from the seventh grade days of our mimeographed (purple) in-class “newspaper” to the 8th grade where my love of words sorta paid off.
We had all been warned about Mrs. Thaine, and surely everybody reading this had one of “those” teachers. Her fingers were arthritic like crinkle-cut fries, but they never kept her from holding the chalk and pounding on that green board. I can’t describe her eyes; like mine, her glasses were so thick, her eyes were well-concealed. Her hair was in a messy bun each day. None of that mattered. That woman knew English and grammar like a college professor. And it was her fiendish pleasure to transport that knowledge to us innocent 8th graders.
She took her daily newspaper, found short complicated sentences or long demanding sentences, put them on the board, sat at her desk with an evil-type smile and waited for us to pick apart mainly nouns, verbs, adjectives and pronouns, make lines and boxes to separate them and turn in our papers. Sometimes she timed us. Sometimes, based on our knowledge, she moved desks around to show who was competent and not competent at the diagramming drill. She was also known for giving us vocabulary words to define and spell that would “choke a horse.” None of us knew at that time just how much of a debt of gratitude we owed her. By golly, we learned…and we LEARNED.
I’m still very critical that the art of diagramming sentences, as taught by Mrs. Thaine, is lost in education today. And , bless her funny heart, I am now the office proof reader. I’m not saying I catch everything or know everything, but I try. That love for words and reading, coupled with having the perfect 8th grade English teacher, is now my “thing.” My little great-grandmother Sallie would be so proud.