Cartouche's Blog

Writing My Way Out of Something


Someplace, somewhere else, USA
February 09
Mind My Own Business
Artist, former newspaper columnist and restaurant critic. Award-winning author of "In Pursuit of Excellence". In my spare minute I can be found blogging here, on Huffington Post and other places that don't pay and (more often) writing for some places that do. Occasionally I tweet random thoughts and observations as @nonconfromist. I keep the really good ones to myself.


SEPTEMBER 27, 2010 9:43AM

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Comes

Rate: 58 Flag

When you live and examine (and sometimes write about) your life with the intensity I do, it’s easy to see moments of it neatly framed and frozen inside fading black and white photographs of yourself.  Especially as you look at them backwards, from across the room or at a distance.  You don’t see the second before or the minutes and hours after the snapshots were taken. 

In every photo, we are all taken out of context.  Literally.

                                Passport 1969

                                                    First Passport Photo 1969 

Stuck inside the images that are created from memory (even if our minds occasionally play tricks on us and try to tell us otherwise), with repeated viewing, we start to actually believe what we see in those peeling, grainy pictures. 

It’s there, isn’t it? 

                                 Amsterdam 71

                                                              Amsterdam, 1971 

We rarely view ourselves in retrospect with an objective eye.  We can share photos and memories with those whose lives ours were centered around, but it’s not often we can turn to someone we trust who was otherwise a viewer instead of a participant in our lives to reveal what they saw. 

To be told how you were viewed (through someone else’s lens) as you were being snapped, can transform a single frame into a motion picture.

My 4th grade teacher Miss Davis stands out as one of three most important people who shaped or altered me in some way.  She witnessed my childhood being stolen out from under my feet and the metamorphosis of a too-soon adult displacing a child’s body in a matter of a few short weeks and months between 1969 and 1970.  Unfortunately, I did not realize then what I know now, because I was in the middle of it all as it was happening.  I don’t have Miss Davis to ask the questions for which there are few answers. 

Recently, I went from black and white to color.  

Late one night about six weeks ago, I received an email from my sister shortly after she had returned home from attending some dinner function with my father. 

It began with, “I made it home without driving off the embankment.  Although once I was home, I wanted to run screaming from the house.”

So you see, it’s not only me.

She went on to say that about midway through the dinner, one of the women who was seated at the same table started to play what is known as “Jewish Geography” to see if they shared/knew any people in common.  It turns out they did and that person was me.

My sister’s email continued.  “The best part was that she was telling dad what a great person you were and how she remembers your wonderful sense of humor.  Dad coughed up a ‘Thank you’.”

The last time I saw or spoke to Mary was sometime in the early 80’s while I was still in college.  When she realized that my father would rather talk about anything other than me, she slipped a note to my sister with the message:  “I still think of you fondly.  Be in touch.”  She added her email address.

My beloved 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Chaitoff had been found.

We were on the phone the next day.

She and I have had two long conversations.  When we caught up the second time, selfishly, I asked her to talk about the year she was my teacher.  I not only wanted but also needed to know what I was like as a 14-15 year old girl. Not as a student, but as a human being.  I have been stuck inside a chapter of my life that I have seen from my self-centered viewpoint for far too long, incapable of seeing it from any other angle or with different lighting.

The floodgates opened.

I have Mary to thank for not only being one of the most important teachers in my life, but for proving that I didn’t imagine mine as it was happening.  I just never imagined that I started to become who I am as early as back then. 

For the longest time, I believed that came much later.

You can duplicate and enlarge photos as often as you like, but rarely does anything new develop.  It’s the same damn roll of film.  Those negatives remain. 

His story repeats itself.

Over the weekend, I was finally able to write my way out of a chapter that has been gnawing at me for so long, knowing that what I remembered is true.  Seeing it from her perspective made the words flow effortlessly.

Thank you, Mary for being the best teacher still, 35 years later and giving my life some much needed color.   I love you.

                              Hair Sept 1



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Think for a moment of all the people there are who were never touched in this way by a teacher, and how fortunate you are. Mary's gift to you was also a gift to us. Next time you speak with her tell I said "Thank you."
I hope she sees this or you send it to her.
I think I have on teacher I remember.. Just one.
This was a lovely tribute.. and the picture of you in Amsterdam?? could have been in Seventeen magazine.
Rated with hugs
I recently had my passport renewed after thirty years, and a smartass at the Philly passport office cracked -- "Are you sure this is your old passport?" Yes, time changes our outward appearance remarkably, but that is nothing compared to how different we are where no one can see -- unless, of course, you are one of those who thinks and believes exactly as you did at five.
I'm w Linda I hope you've sent this to her. r.
You appear so sweet and innocent in the images of little girl you. In the image of the woman you, the sweetness remains.

rated, for expressing your gratitude to a teacher ;-)
I'm so glad you reestablished this connection. And thanks for showing us O'Really in her 1971 context!
I'm somewhat envious that you have photographs of your childhood to help revisit the times of your life. I have few and, in fact, to this day avoid cameras the way a vampire does garlic. Hopefully, the people who love me will have good memories -- my kids especially. How nice that you were able to reconnect with such a positive influence as Mary. I know you didn't hold back from giving her a big hug -- your words are filled with the warmth that your arms would express if you had an opportunity.
Think I know the connections you were making, Car. I hope everything's OK. Meantime, how fortunate for you to have been reunited with Mary. I'm with OEsheepdog: Tell her thanks from all of us.
"You can duplicate and enlarge photos as often as you like, but rarely does anything new develop. It’s the same damn roll of film. Those negatives remain."

This is an awesome part of your piece. I am glad you are finding peace with your past. You are blessed to have someone who was able to reflect back that time in your life.
As always, well done!
That your teacher remembers you after so many years speaks volumes about yourself. What a wonderful lady.
It's great re-connecting with old teachers, especially the ones we loved. When I returned to my Toronto high school and saw my beloved art teacher, Ana, who speaks with a heavy Yugoslav accent, she introduced me to a colleague's wife: "This is Caitlin. She was alvays big pain in ass!" (But said teasingly, with affection. True, though.)
It is amazing what an external perspective can do for our perception . . . especially when it is an objective POV. How wonderful that you received this re-connection at such a vital crux.
It's clear you have always been a beauty...both inside and out!
sometimes Providence smiles - thanks for this, Cartouche.
A lot of my teachers have passed away, many under mysterious circumstances.
I like reading about teachers. I was saved by several teachers, for whom I am still grateful and in touch. Kind words, well deserved.
I'm not sure what to say, except this brought up some feelings in me that I had thought were buried for good. Thanks for your honesty as always! R
Teachers can have profound impacts, particularly in those early adolescent years when all hell is breaking loose internally and, at times, externally within the family dynamic. They don't get paid much for that function, so likely tributes such as these are priceless within the context of the reward they glean from the profession itself.
Great post Patricia. I identify with much about teachers and students connecting after years. There are some of each whose memories time cannot erase. I'm sure your are one of them. Sweet pictures both as a girl and a woman. (Coincidentally, I posted something about a teaching experience today, before reading your post). ~R
I love the way you see. It's simple as that.
I really really love this. Your black and white pictures remind me of mine back then. This is a gift that needs to be sent to Mary.
p.s. I like discovering that you are gorgeous !
"I just never imagined that I started to become who I am as early as back then."
From the look of that pic from Amsterdam, there was no "becoming'-- you already were. Wise and a bit wary, it looks to me. And so lovely! Then and now. And an old soul, for sure.
I love this. we all struggle with different parts don't we. You sound good to me.:D
Finally! I have been dying to see what you look like straight on. Now I know: great face, great hair and lovely smile. Great accessories for that magnificent brain of yours.

This reminded me of my high school French teacher, who was certainly the most influential teacher I ever had. Thanks to her, I ended up majoring in French and later living in Paris. She truly changed my life, and I even wrote my college entrance essay on her. I feel like I should go look her up now. Rated.
This is the second blog I've read today about the power a good teacher has in the lives of their students and I loved this one as much as the other one. All good teachers should get the chance to know what kind of impact they have had on former would be like iceing on their cakes.
My heart smiles for you right now and for your teacher as well.
Isnt it odd how we are led back to people who played an important part of our early lives?
Thank you for sharing the story and recent pic.

"You don’t see the second before or the minutes and hours after the snapshots were taken."

This seems like an important theme. All best, HB
My best teachers were former nuns, believe it or not. Important thing is they knew when it was time to hang up their habits and report to school as the great teachers they were, without the promise they couldn't keep. I often look back at the hardest English and Writing classes I ever took and the teacher that made me better. Wish I could find her for a refresher course. Could really use it.
Thank you. It has been years since I thought about my teachers. I tended to bond with them...I was a kid thirsty for knowledge and the good ones saw that and did their best to slake that thirst. I owe them so much.
Very clever use of the photo/movie metaphor: you make it work. And what a fabulous face. You make that work, too.
Your black & white past is intriguing, the Kodachrome present is so appealing. I wish I could find such a keyholder in my own life, but they seem to all be gone now. And when I have been able to access other views, they've been oppositional to my memories, so perhaps I shouldn't ask. But given the chance, I probably will.

The lingering mystery in your piece makes me wonder if perhaps I wasn't paying attention earlier. Should I know what you are talking about? An intrigue in black & white.
I wish all of the Teachers would realize the great impact they have on us, both good and bad. A notable educator died the other day and all I can remember is the way he wielded his leather strap in class. Yet I vividly recall the love and caring of Sister Mary Nora in the first grade and how Brother Hennesey made History come alive in Sophmore year. Unfortunately, there are broad gaps between these two. You have again captured some History from an unusual location and delivered it to us in your beautiful hand.
I love, love the title of this piece. When we look at life as a whole, it is so Zen. You have grown and for the best. We, here at OS, are so lucky to be a witness to your growth as we try to grow right along with you. Thank you and a special thank you to your teacher!
"You can duplicate and enlarge photos as often as you like, but rarely does anything new develop. It’s the same damn roll of film. Those negatives remain."
Wonderfully said. Great tribute. has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like O'Really? ?
You are so lucky to have had her for a teacher, and to have caught up after all these years. I've had a few teachers like that, and they are irreplaceable. (And...aren't you a looker!??)
Nice reconnection and you must have been a pretty special student for her to remember you after all these years.
Beautiful post. What a powerful thought: that all pictures are taken out of context. I'm going to think about that for a while.
I hope you'll be sharing the writing you are doing sometime in the future. I recently agreed with another writer here that my idea of a 'heaven' would be to arrive somewhere and find I'm able to watch the movie of my life, rewinding and fast forwarding at will. It is an awakening experience to talk with someone who knew you when.
I'm so glad you found her! What a great thing to be able to reconnect with someone who can add insight into your past.
I remember some wonderful teachers who could have chosen to be anywhere but at my school. We won!
Great post! What a gift, to reconnect with a teacher! She and you sound like remarkable people.
Teachers are so important. The good ones, as you you attest to, can leave life long positive impressions on people. Thanks for sharing this.
Sweet tribute... I love it... and yes you should send this to her... what a great teacher... I don´t remember having one like that...

Rated for love