I don’t suppose there are many who, at age 76, receive a telephone call from their eighth-grade teacher.
Mrs. Cook was checking up on me! “Valerie, I haven’t heard from you in a while and I wanted to make sure everything was all right.” After a half-hour conversation, I promised to keep in touch. I reminded her about the April meeting for The Bellmore Historical Association and said I would call her with the exact date and time.
Sitting at my kitchen table, I hung the telephone receiver on the wall cradle and let my mind wander back to when I was a 12-year-old eighth-grader. It was May 1952, and I was getting ready to leave Martin Avenue School in Bellmore, where I knew all my classmates and loved my teacher.
Our class had been together for eight years and we were now being prepared for entry into high school. Youngsters from several neighboring towns would be melded together to make up Mepham High’s incoming freshman class in September.
One afternoon, Mrs. Cook chose three of us to assist her in putting together a “class prophecy.” I overcame my nervousness and willingly took on this assignment because of my admiration for this teacher. She was always encouraging, always prompting me to do my best. I thrived on her attention. I was one of five kids stuck between three older siblings and a younger sister, so Mrs. Cook’s thoughtfulness warmed my heart.
Peter, Barbara and I stayed after school for the next few weeks and wrote, rewrote and perfected what we thought were the hopes and dreams of the 32 students who made up our eighth grade. We gave bright futures to them all. When Mrs. Cook requested that I read the “Prophecy” at our graduation ceremony, my nervousness returned. With my teacher standing by, I practiced each afternoon, reading the predicted future of the Martin Avenue School, graduating class of 1952. On graduation night, with Mrs. Cook standing in the wings, the “Prophecy” was a success!
Sixty years later, in 2012, my hometown library was chosen to take part in a StoryCorps project. I signed up to be an interviewer and an interviewee. The stories about life in our small village of Bellmore during the 1940s and ’50s would be recorded on a CD for future generations.
While being interviewed, I mentioned Mrs. Cook as my favorite teacher. A month later, as I was interviewing Dennis Hoffman, another old-time Bellmorite, he also mentioned Mrs. Cook as his favorite teacher. Our library’s StoryCorp leader, Martha DiVittorio, was intrigued and the next thing I knew, a reunion was in the making. Dennis and I were able to interview our beloved teacher and a CD with her memories as a new teacher in our local school is now on record.
Since then she has insisted I call her Addie. It took some time before I was able to do so with ease. We are now in touch with phone calls, notes and cards. Each correspondence allows me to recall this wonderful woman’s kindness not only to me, but to all those students she taught and touched.
On Aug. 29, she’ll be turning 90 years old.