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We all had one like her: she wore a little too much perfume, strong perfume; her cheeks were a little too rosy; the jewels on her chubby little fingers were a little too large. Our mothers knew they were costume jewels but they looked sparkly to us. Still, none of that mattered after first meeting because our hearts could see beyond her appearance. In fact, those overdone qualities became points of endearment as we fell in love with Mrs. Mohrs.

She was one of those teachers all of us encountered, if we were lucky. She had no children but us, so she was devotedly attached. Our daily ups and downs, our defeats and victories, became hers. Her whole life belonged to us. On any given calendar day of the school year, she knew what page of which unit of science we were working on. Mondays, we wrote down the questions. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we read our chapter to answer the questions. Thursdays, she reviewed us for the test. Fridays, we took the test. You know the drill. She never heard of creative, hands-on activities or cooperative small group learning. Hers was the old fashioned technique best described as “slogging through the textbook.”

Up to that point, eighth grade, I had not been a particularly stellar student. Sometimes up, sometimes down; mostly just okay. But that very first week of “Earth Science” class, I accidentally (and I’m sure it was accidental because studying was not too high on my list) made a perfect score on our first exam. The following Monday, she paraded my test before the class, finally asking me to call out all the right answers so others could correct their papers.

Something new broke through the surface of the earth that day…something long dormant? Or perhaps a new seed germinated in record time? A new “me” saw the light of day: a smarter-me, a leader-me, a teacher’s-favorite-me. From time to time, Mrs. Mohrs would pull me aside after class to note my remarkable work. To be sure, there was, inside my head, a doubting-me who asked secretly, “Is she talking about me? Boy, do I have her fooled!” There was also that new growing-me, flourishing, becoming healthier by the minute in the sunshine of her attention. One day, toward the end of the year, she pulled me aside again. “You dear, you are just the sort of girl we look for in the National Honor Society.” She would have known for she was the sponsor. I was elated at my induction ceremony and my new self-concept was conclusively birthed.

The rest of my academic life was blessed with good grades, scholarships, graduate degrees. All beginning from that most significant step, that first one, the one in eighth grade Earth Science, the one I would not have made without Mrs. Mohrs.

Fifteen or more years passed and that fall, I had an eighth grader heading off to middle high and an Earth Science class. As I watched him leave, so full of unrealized ability, so hobbled by low self-esteem, I prayed that he’d meet a teacher like Mrs. Mohrs. In that moment, watching him head up the hill to school, I was overwhelmed by the gift she’d given me: believing in me. But more…I was dazzled by the power of a dedicated teacher, how she had shaped an entire life.

That very morning, I wrote her a letter of appreciation. Over the years, I’d kept track of her through my mother’s little-old-blue-hair network: the ladies who got their hair done at the same Crystal Beauty Salon. My mother’s friend, Mary, sat in the chair next to Mrs. Mohrs on their regular Friday appointments at the salon. I’d heard how Mrs. Mohrs had a series of strokes and how her husband drove her to the beauty shop. Word of my life and hers traveled easily along the grapevine though I’d moved to another city. Anyway, I wrote a letter to her expressing my gratitude and telling how her influence had been a real turning point in my life. Further, I told her how I wished for someone like her in my son’s life.

I never received a reply from her. Mother’s friend, Mary, reported that Mrs. Mohrs  brought the letter, folded carefully in her purse, to read aloud at the beauty shop. The next I heard was from her minister. Mrs. Mohrs had died and the minister called to ask if it was all right to read my letter as her eulogy at her funeral. I was honored to know that with Divine Timing, my appreciation and love had come to full flower in time for her to know.

Since then, I have wondered who else I might need to write. To whom else would my gratitude be important?

How about marking this Thanksgiving by writing a Gratitude Letter? Right now? Better yet, challenge your kids and ALL write one!