23 December 2012

See You Around, Mrs. Stewart


Reconnecting with one of your elementary school teachers may not have ever crossed your mind. Maybe it did but you didn't know where to start. Or perhaps you began the process but weren't successful. Three years ago, one former teacher kept coming to mind and I delayed seeking her out until the need to do so became rather urgent.

An early morning in February 2009, I acted upon seeking out my 6th grade reading teacher. Sadly, I deleted my initial emails of outreach to Lovett Elementary School in Clinton, Mississippi.

My first email was addressed to the current principal, and I explained my interest in connecting with Mrs. Stewart. Later that day, someone in the office offered a helpful and friendly reply indicating that she had retired several years ago but was teaching part-time at Mississippi College. They said they'd pass along my email to her.

Early the following morning, I received both an email from the Lovett principal and a friend of Mrs. Stewart who worked in the office. Both notes informed me that Mrs. Stewart's husband had passed away and that my note was received by her as very special considering the timing.

Unfortunately, I don't have those initial emails saved. I distinctly recall the urgency to reach out that night. Unknown to me at the time, her husband had passed away the evening I was reaching out to Lovett Elementary. Was the Holy Spirit nudging me to be of some comfort that night? Perhaps.

We connected on Facebook in August. I don't believe Facebook was something she was that into. I noticed that I had written her a Facebook Email but never received a reply. I reviewed our friendship on Facebook (which you can easily do for any of your connections) and saw we had only one Like in common with the Clinton Courier newspaper. I had wished her a happy birthday in entertaining ways in '10, '11, and '12. But we had no other correspondence recorded in this review.

I was shocked. No comments? Likes? No other emails?

What's more disappointing is that I didn't review these details nor was ever curious until I suddenly learned of her death on Facebook. In three years, I managed to not speak to her on the phone, visit her in my trips to Mississippi,  and not correspond beyond my first note and the reply to the note (posted below). I was disappointed in myself and my lack of intentionality. I had made a connection but didn't try to grow it.

Mrs. Stewart's large and zestful personality left an impression on me and so many other students. It was impossible not to enjoy her classes! She was the sort of teacher that if she was down, distracted, or just tired her students cared about her and wanted to help. But it was so rare for Mrs. Stewart to not be herself. So, rare for going to her class not to be an experience or an adventure.

My memories of that class are little more than shadows. I often wish my memory was sharper or less selective. She was a truly beautiful person through and through.

While the note from her below is the only correspondence received, I'm pleased to have reached out, made contact, and perhaps helped in a small way at her husband's passing. My regret is to have not tried harder at staying in touch with her.

Thanks, Mrs. Stewart, for being a part of my childhood and helping make me into who I am today.

Ricky,  

I do remember you from sixth grade, in fact I still use some of your artwork to show good examples of Figures of Speech illustrations. You drew a stagecoach with a man riding a gun and your caption was I am riding shotgun on our trip today. You were bright and creative. I hope this finds you doing well. My heart was very touched to see that you wished to find me and catch up. Thank you, it made my day.

I also wish to thank you for the generous plant you sent to the funeral of my husband, Tommy. He fought lung cancer for 11 months but died on Feb. 4th. I am still trying to pick up the pieces of my life and trudge onward. I am working for Mississippi College part time for now, but have retired from Lovett and I really miss those 6th graders and the fun I had teaching there. Thanks for reminding me how special those times were and how wonderful you students were to teach.

With love,
Mrs. Patrese Stewart

Visit a dedication website celebrating her life.