Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On the Move

Her legs were matchstick thin, and I often had to remind myself not to stare at their skeletal quality. Her hair was still done as I remembered from the early 1980's when she was my political science professor, in a lacquered bob that reached upwards and outwards on her small head. Her glasses were also the same frames I recalled from then, rounded and owlish, perched on a delicate nose.

Now, on the second floor of the university gym, I realized this was the first time I'd seen her outside of the classroom without her trademark long winter coat, buttoned to the neck, even in the sizzling South Texas heat. The bulk of the coat, long slacks, long sleeved blouse and the scarf around her neck that were de rigueur for her couldn't cloak her diminutive body, though, and I'd see her from time to time in the grocery store dressed for a blizzard in the middle of July. She always pushed a scantily loaded basket, and I wondered if she ate much of anything.

Belying her eccentric appearance, her brilliant mind still cracked forth with whip- like precision and she eloquently and elegantly shredded anyone who dared to argue against one of her political theories.

My heart  ached for her several months before when I'd heard that her only child, a son in his fifties, had taken his own life. She had no grandchildren, her husband had died young, and I recalled her telling us in class she had no brothers or sisters. Her large, Jewish, extended family in Europe had not survived World War II.  Thinking of the grief and devastation in her life made me wonder how anyone could dig deep enough to find the stuff of continuing on.

Now, though, in the gym, she was clad in new blue walking shoes and sleek black workout capris that outlined her bony structure. She passed us in the middle of our kickboxing routine, walking at a good clip in the wrong  direction around the track.

"Ok, let's get some water, Shelly, " my trainer said as he dropped his gloves. "I need to let her know to turn around and head the other direction before it gets confused there on the track." He smiled and waved as he called out to her. "Mrs. Mary, Mrs. Mary... "

By the time I returned from the water fountain, the two were engaged in conversation. My trainer turned to me and said, "Mrs. Mary is learning about fitness and has just joined the gym."

I smiled and nodded appreciatively. " Good for you, Dr.! I know you probably don't remember me, but I had you for political science a few decades ago. It's good to see you again."

She scrutinized my sweaty, disheveled condition from behind the saucer like glasses. "Yes, I remember you, " she replied, calling me Miss and attaching my maiden name to it. "I do hope you've learned to substantiate your assertions with sound research!" She chuckled.

I cringed and yet marveled at her memory as I recalled a research paper I had turned in for her class that was done at the last minute and based mostly upon my imagination. The D she gave me was a result of her good heart and largesse, she had assured me then, in front of the class.

Our conversation turned towards fitness. "It's good to see you out here, Dr. We have to show these younger ones how it's done," I praised her.

"Yes," she replied and then thought for a moment. "We can fold up and die, or we can keep moving. I choose to keep moving," she said as she stepped off this time in the opposite direction around the track.


88 comments:

  1. I can't imagine you ever getting a D grade, dear Shelly. This I know. You get straight A's from me for storytelling, blogging and friendship. Your old poli sci prof reminds me of centenarian Margaret Schneider, a woman who suffered many hardships and tragic losses throughout her long life but survived because she refused to dwell on them, choosing instead to keep plowing forward and making the best of what she's got. It's obvious to me, Shelly, that you make an indelible impression on people and therefore it does not surprise me that Mary remembered you, remembered your maiden name and even remembered a paper she knew was sub par for a gifted student like you.

    Happy Wednesday, dear friend Shelly!

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    1. Shady: I was very surprised she remembered me, but I think she probably remembers most everyone she taught. She's got an incredible mind.

      Dwelling on the good is a great life philosophy. I hope you all are having a good week there, my friend~

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  2. Oh, what a perfect little slice, Shelly.

    I, too, choose to keep moving,

    Pearl

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    1. Pearl: Like salmon moving upstream, onward we go~

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  3. Once again, you tugged at my heart!!! Your Political Science Professor/Teacher is definitely one that strives to LIVE. I would love to meet her. As would my son who now teaches as a professor of Political Science. She taught you well, knowing that a :D: would suffice but showing you that taking the short cuts and easy way at any given time is not worthy of your personal output!!! It's amazing that she remembered you ------------being that you're so old now and retired. [kidding] By the way, I can just picture to round glassed that were 'owlish'.

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    1. picture THE round GLASSES that were owlish. Geeesh, you wonder what she would have to say of my typing skills and spelling?

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    2. HOOTIN ANNI: She is a fascinating lady, for sure. It takes her a while to warm up, but it's worth it when she does. And yes, I wish there were more teachers like her, who don't lower their standards. I am kind of amazed she's remembered me, but we've been in the same town all this time, so maybe she's been seeing me when I've been seeing her. How neat that your son is a poli sci prof!

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    3. HOOTIN ANNI: And I didn't even spot the typo!

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  4. You've painted a wonderful sketch of humanity in this unguarded moment. I've had several teachers like this and I owe them a great deal.

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    1. Stephen: I fear teachers like her are a dying breed.

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  5. How many teachers remember their students from long ago? She sounds like a gem! I'm sure you're going to bump into her now that she is joining in on the fitness routine. (Hopefully, not literally bumping into her though.) I'm sure it did her heart good to see you.

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    1. Simone: She is as sharp as they come. Ha! Yes, I hope I don't bumble into her on the track. It was good to see her, and especially to know she is determined to move on.

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  6. That's great that she remembered you! I'd love to see some of my old teachers.

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  7. Sharp as a tack she is!! What a memory. This story made me choke up. Survival, hope, love, I bet she's quite the woman. I'll pray for her, for continued strength and good friends. (like maybe you?)

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    1. Jamie: I truly admire her for how she handles the tragedies life has given her. Wow. I don't know what I'd do in her place. And who knows what may become of this gym thing?

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  8. I love your portrait of a very special woman -- a survivor and a memorable teacher. "Just keep moving..." is probably the best life advice we could all use. Bless her -- and bless you for writing such a moving tribute to Dr./Mrs. Mary!

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    1. Dr. Kathy: That she has managed to craft that philosophy and live by it through all the tragedies is remarkable to me. A survivor indeed~

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  9. What a memory--and what an amazing woman! Such an inspiration.

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    1. Maria: The strength of people continually amazes and blesses me~

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  10. I don't know her, but I know she is an amazing woman with a fantastic outlook. I also know that those who do know her are privileged. This is a lovely tribute.

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    1. Carol: That she is, and I don't think I ever realized it when she was my teacher. I'm glad to know that part of her now~

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  11. What a great job you did describing your teacher. She's someone I would like to meet!

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    1. Sherry: She is a fascinating woman, for sure!

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  12. What a difficult life - and yet, she's been very resilient. Good for her! I hope you get to see more of this interesting lady.

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    1. jenny_o: I'm sure I'll be running into her if she keeps going to the gym. I do hope, though, that her memory of my bad paper fades quickly...

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  13. Wow you really made us feel as though we know her here by reading this...what a beautifully written piece Shelly. I hope you have a happy Thursday :)

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    1. Optimistic Existentialist: Thank you! And I hope Thursdays in your neck of the woods are terrific, too!

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  14. There is such a distinct difference between teachers who are tough because they have high expectations and because they care, and teachers who are mean because they are tired and they no longer care. With everything life handed her, she could have fallen into the second category, and it is a true testament to the grit of her spirit that she did not.

    I love when you introduce us to new people. You are truly skilled at building a character!

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    1. Amy: Yes, that is so true about the fine line between toughness to build and bitterness to destroy. She's a marvel at how she's navigated through the horrendous and come through with strength. And thank you, my friend~

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  15. Some times it is for the best interest of the student to give them a lover grade and not worry about looking like a bad teacher. I guess teachers have to be honest and fair even if they look like they have no heart. An explanation is always helpful and makes a lower grade feel less of a blow. I am simply translating my mother's words from Hindi who used to teach High School level Hindi.

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    1. Munir: Your mom is so right. She was a very wise woman!

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  16. I felt myself in the story while reading this. Beautifully written.

    Nas

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  17. Well? Do you substantiate your assertions with sound research?? :)

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    1. Felt Family: Ha! For her, absolutely~

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  18. I enjoyed this story, Shelly.

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  19. Oh, what an inspiring lady. Thanks for sharing, Shelly.

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    1. Maria: I'm so glad I ran into her again so I could better appreciate her story. Thank you~

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  20. It must have been a strange feeling to see both yourself and your teacher on the same level as adults after all these years. In the past you had to listen to her, look up to her and do what she asked but now, you're both on an equal playing field, so to speak. And, it's just amazing how you got a D back in the day but from what I can see, you're more than an A right now with the blogging mate. I must admit though, I do like a teacher who was firm, no messing and had a form of good discipline. It kept you on your toes.

    It's always best to keep that body moving, otherwise things will just seize up and stop working :)

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    1. Rum-Punch Drunk: It is a little surreal to see someone who was an authority figure now more on a peer level in the gym. She definitely kept us all on our toes!

      And the body, like the mind, does it's best work when it's in motion~

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  21. One must, indeed, choose to keep moving. Once one locks up, it is all over. The good Dr. was not only kind to a careless young girl, she has a memory like the proverbial steel trap!

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    1. vanilla: I still cannot believe she remembered me, much less that "research" paper after all these years!

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  22. Dearest Shelly,
    First of all, I smiled her words "I do hope you've learned to substantiate your assertions ...". Oh, she must be a strong lady!!! I admire the words she said; I wish I had her strength and keep going, my friend.
    I've once met my teacher at the reception (about sister-city relation with a city of Australia). I was SO glad and felt honored to see him there and I could help him talk with the Australian guests.
    Seeing the teacher whom you respect after a long while sure is a lovely reunion♡♡♡

    Sending you lots of love and hugs from very hot Japan, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. Orchid: What a wonderful thing, my dear friend, for you to not only be able to meet with your teacher again, but to help him out with translation! I know it must have been a wonderful experience for him.

      And, oh, I hear you from your hot Japan, we are so very hot here in Texas, too!
      xo

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  23. What a cool thing to still be living in a town where you would run into your teacher after all these years and her not only remember you, but remember a paper you had written. That is truly amazing!
    Thanks for sharing this. She is so right that we make a choice and we must keep on moving. I remember one of my teachers who constantly mentioned intestinal fortitude. Sounds like this teacher certainly has it.

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    1. Nonnie: It was a little mortifying she remembered that particular paper! And yes, she definitely has that fortitude that I feel is sadly going into extinction in the younger generations.

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  24. She has that exactly right : '...I chose to keep moving'> And those words give a great insight into the character of your amazing professor.

    What a lady and what a memory!

    Isn't it great, the people that touch our live that we don't realise until years later?

    Wonderful post :-)

    xx Jazzy

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    1. jazzygal: She is an amazing woman! I find it so incredible that she remembers so much!

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  25. A very heart-touching narration.. :)
    My Mom says that if God gives you a tough life, he gives you courage too, so that you get through it and keep moving forward.. :)

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    1. Manju Modiyani: Your mom is a very wise woman!

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  26. She keeps moving. Wow. What a gem.
    I probably would have been found lying faced down on the track feeling sorry for myself. wrong direction also!

    sounds like she is a smarty-pants too!

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    1. Christine: I don't know that I could show half the strength she has, either. And yes, she definitely has a sassy spirit!

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  27. Gosh you are lucky - to have a teacher remember you - that is a special thing. sandie

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    1. Chatty Crone: I only wish she could remember me for something good instead of something stupid!

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  28. Love it! What an inspiration! Hope my students remember me in such a way!

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    1. Bossy Betty: I'm sure you leave wonderful imprints in their lives!

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  29. Beautiful. Reminded me of my 4th grade teacher who has a very special place in my heart.

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    1. Elliot: I'm so glad you have a teacher you remember like that. That's a great reward for a teacher to hear words like that-

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  30. What a fascinating woman. And she remembered you, too. I love the way you draw pictures with words, Shelly. :)

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    1. Rita: She still scares me a little, especially knowing that she remembers the terrible paper I did. But I'd really like to talk with her again, get to know more about her experiences. And thank you!

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  31. I love her quote at the end.

    You captured the woman and the role she played in your life with poignancy.

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    1. Theresa: She's got a great philosophy of life. I'm glad I ran into her again.

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  32. Wow. This makes my little problems seem like trivialites indeed. Thanks for that wise word, written so succinctly.

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    1. Jeanette: She really is a very interesting and strong person. Amazing how she's coped!

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  33. Oh I love her attitude. Also yours:) B

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    1. Buttons: It's great to see you back, my friend! And thank you~

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    1. Michelle: Stories like hers move me, too. Thank you~

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  35. I envy that memory--I fear mine is swiss cheese. And I second her attitude. *sigh* At times, during those storms that can change the color of the sky, keeping moving is indeed the only weapon we cannot relinquish. The thread that maintains breath.

    I will think of her this week....thank you, my friend.

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    1. Chantel: Moving, that which keeps us tethered to life. You say things in such a beautifully profound way that it makes me wish I was as eloquent. You always have a masterpiece of words, even in a comment~

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  36. Another fantastic piece of writing Shelly! How nice that this lady, who had every reason to give up on life, didn't choose to do so. In fact, she appears to have improved herself. You are so very good at presenting bitter/sweet circumstances in a way that is very easily felt. Loved it!

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    1. Pat: I love her bravery just in facing everyday life. And, as you said, not to just meet it, but to strive for better. A lesson for all of us. And thank you!

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  37. Bloody marvellous and how awesome is it when someone remembers us when we are sure after so many years they will not.............I also like the saying "fold up and die or keep on moving"

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    1. Jo-Anne: I was shocked she remembered so much about me. I do hope she forgets about that paper soon, though!

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  38. Yes! Let's just choose to keep moving. :) And I'll bet you were a more memorable student than you are letting on to us.

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    1. Marsha: I only wish I was memorable for better reasons!

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  39. great post! following you now! I hope to see you in my blog sometimes. thanks!
    Kisses from VV!!
    www.voguelyvan.com

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    1. Vanessa: Thank you! Headed over to your place now~

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  40. This story reminds me of line that Kelsy Grammer quotes from H.W. Auden: "Stagger on, rejoicing". This is life, and I often forget that we are not promised all of the things we dream. The loss of her son is more devastating than anything I can imagine.

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    1. Jenny: I cannot imagine continuing on with life after her tragedies, but she's not only navigating through, she's doing it with a keen outlook to the future. "Stagger on, rejoicing," indeed!

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  41. Such wise advise cause once you stop moving its hard to get going again - I'm always telling my 97 year old Grannie that! Good for the Dr I love your stories

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  42. Saimi: What a terrific thing to still have your 97 year old Grannie! I love that! And yes, to stop in life is to open the door to the end, I think.

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  43. Oh Shelly, you really have a lot of heartwarming stories! I see it as a testominy to the person you are; someone who attracts positive energy.

    This one makes me want to look up a few of my teachers. :)

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    1. Anita: Oh, she's really an amazing person- an eccentric one, but amazing. I hope you do look up a few of your teachers- I know they'd love it!

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  44. Dear Shelly, as "Anita" says in her comment, your postings are always "heartwarming." You are a born storyteller and you know how to craft a story so that it builds to a denouement. Whenever you want any suggestions with regard to self-publishing or to getting an agent and seeking a publishing house, I'm be so happy to help you. Peace.

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    1. Dee: Ah, Dee, you always bless me. Thank you!

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