…of Permanent Marker: A Memoir, by yours truly, I thought I’d post the excerpts I read aloud, which was so much fun!!! Especially with my dad present!
Eight years after I started teaching English at Loudonville High School, also my alma mater, my Building One classroom moved from Room 114 down the hall, around the corner, and into Room 110.
It was an administrative, geographical alignment of subject areas, evidently, and one that excited me to no end.
Once upon a time, Room 110 had been the classroom of my favorite math teacher, Mr. Matthews, who had taught me all four years of high school—long enough for me to develop a huge teenage crush. And he knew it, too. I blushed when he called on me, I blushed when he walked into the cafeteria and my friends yelled, “Hey, Aimee,” and he blushed all the time, victim of a ruddy complexion that I found so—sigh—attractive.
A few years after I’d inhabited the room as an English teacher, Mr. Matthews stopped in my doorway on a random visit to the high school one afternoon. He wanted to say hi, check out his old room, and I, instantly sixteen again, wanted to faint. I stood frozen beside my desk, a safe twenty feet away, grinning in surprise.
“Mr. Matthews!” I shouted. “This is your room! And I teach in it now!”
How obvious. How embarrassing.
He smiled politely, said it was good to see me, and left.
I wondered what he thought of his room’s newest décor.
Just like way-back-when, two large windows still framed the acres of farmland behind the building, but the oversized drafting desks and clumsy equation “cheat sheet” poster boards of Mr. Matthews’ were gone. The two, built-in graphing chalkboards were now covered with a map of Great Britain and a poster of me with Mickey Mouse, and between them, a map of the world was pinned to the room’s only bulletin board. The far corner of the room housed a map of Nazi-Occupied Europe and various photos from my visits to Holocaust sites in Poland.
Technicolor movie stills from the Wizard of Oz covered the doors of my book cabinet, and a brilliant collection of Hallmark cards my sister authored sat among the framed photos on top of my filing cabinet. Books and vocabulary words that “every high school graduate should know” bordered the eclectic assortment, but the piece de resistance was my Ricky Martin photo collection.
And it all added up to one thing: my space.
One weekend, I asked Mom to help me get a few things from my classroom so I could work from home. I had been teaching at LHS for almost twenty years, but this would be Mom’s first visit to Room 110.
Even though I hadn’t yet returned, the room was still mine, according to its old paper placard that read, “Mrs. Aimee Young.” I turned the key in lock, grasped the metal knob with both hands, and yanked as hard as I could. The door swelled in any kind of humidity, no matter the season, but I was used to it, especially after all these years, ten of them in this particular room.
I entered and breathed its familiar scent: a musty mix of heated floor wax, slate, and Pine Sol. The smell of an old, comforting friend I’d known since high school. It reminded me of marching band, cheerleading, first loves, and high school dances. I graduated fourth in my class in this small, rural district: the same district that hired my father for his first year of teaching and then saw him retire thirty years of service later.
This was not just a school—or classroom—to me, it was home. And I missed being here.
I also missed being around teenagers.
Mom circled the room, taking everything in as I shuffled papers at my desk. She was quiet—almost too quiet—as if walking through a museum exhibit.
“You know what, Aim? I think this classroom was actually your father’s when the high school first opened.”
I froze, shocked.
“By the way, I love the Ricky collection—nice,” she said, still walking around the room.
Wait—what? How would Mom know this was once Dad’s room? And what if it had been? Holy smokes! This could mean I’ve been teaching in the same room my father had christened so many years ago!
This room might have been his? And Mr. Matthews’? And now mine?
“Did you go to the new high school, Mom?”
“Oh yeah, I was a junior when it opened,” she said. “And I’m sure of it now. This was definitely your dad’s room. I had math with him in here. But you should ask him just to make sure.”
Wait—what? I always thought Mom had Dad as a teacher when she was in junior high, not a junior in high school!
“Mom! I didn’t know you had him when you were a junior! You were, what? Seventeen? I thought you always said that you were in junior high!”
“No, Aimee, you had him in junior high,” she said and laughed.
“So then, if you started dating right after you graduated, wasn’t it a scandal?”
LHS opened in 1963, a much different time. Plus, I knew that teasing her would get her fired up.
“No, not at all! Geez, Aimee!” she exclaimed. “He was my math teacher, that’s it!”
But still—my parents had met one another here! This room might have been the beginning of me!
“Okay, okay, okay,” I said, but kept giggling. It didn’t matter to me that she had Dad for a teacher, or how old either of them were when they started dating. They were twelve years apart in age, but they’d been married for more than forty years. Their relationship worked, whatever its beginnings.
What mattered to me was the fact that my father, someone I had looked up to since I was small, someone I wanted to be just like because he was a teacher, may have been the first teacher in this room, six years before I was born. Not only that—this room could hold my own possible origins. No wonder it had felt like home to me for more than a decade.
How cool would it be if this really were Dad’s room? What a legacy! I thought.
But it would be a few years before I would finally remember to ask him.
(I have a terrible memory. I blame it on the accident.)
Years later: “Hey, Dad, did you teach at LHS when the building first opened?”
Mom, who was standing nearby at the time, smiled when she heard my question.
“Well, let’s see,” he said, putting an index finger to his chin and looking skyward, as if for the answer.
“That would have been about 1963, ‘64. Yes, yes I did teach there.”
“So do you remember which classroom was yours?”
He laughed in that way he does, partially sighing while shaking his head, then said, “Oh man, Aimee. That was so long ago.”
Dad was in his late seventies.
“Please—can you try to remember?”
“Okay, let me draw a picture to help,” he said, grabbing a nearby pencil and used envelope from the kitchen counter. The drafting teacher in him always liked to see what he needed to figure out in writing. Huh. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
“Well,” he continued, looking at the paper. “There are three buildings on the campus, right?”
“No, actually there are four—”
“But one is the gym, correct?”
“Okay, so I was back in this building right here, Building One,” he said. “And when you walked in, there was something to the left—the library, I think?”
“Yes, the library is just on the left inside the door. Go on—where was your room?”
He looked up at the ceiling again, as if trying to place himself in the building, and then said, “If you walked all the way down that hall and turned left, the first door on the right was mine.”
What? I almost screamed. That’s my room!
“Dad! You mean 110? Was that your room number?”
“I don’t remember,” he said. “I just know it was the first door on your right.”
“Ohmygosh, Dad! That’s my room!”
Mom, who’d been listening quietly this whole time, grinned slyly at me.
“Told ya,” she muttered.
I looked at Dad, waiting for his reaction. Would he cry, overwhelmed with emotion and memory and pride? Or would he laugh, hug me, and excitedly ask to come visit? Maybe he’d even want to talk to my classes!
“Wow. That’s pretty cool, Aim,” he said.
And that’s all he said. Clearly, I was far more impressed with this information than he.
“It was only my room for one year,” he said shrugging, like it didn’t matter.
“Who cares, Dad? This is a big deal to me!”
He laughed again, in that same self-deprecating way, but I knew he was happy about my excitement. How many teachers could say they taught in the very same classroom their father did more than fifty years ago? The very same classroom where their parents may have met each other? The very same classroom that had meant so much for so long?
This room had cared for me, helped transform me, and provided strength. It had seen me at my best and my worst, in both my professional and personal lives, and it had always supported me. Almost like a parent.
This room had become my escape, and over time, a safe place away from the chaos of the world. One of permanence. No matter how much I or my life had changed over the years, my room did not. Just like a home.
Blessed by my very own father.