Mrs. Rinear. I've written about her before, but she was so important to me that I'm going to make everyone hear about her again. She was the one. The teacher who made me sit up straight and stand tall -- but not in the literal sense. From the first day of sixth grade, she didn't say it out loud, but she beamed it right into my mind: I see you.
I had stop-sign-shaped glasses and braces with headgear. Does anyone still have to wear headgear? The good kind had two thick wires that attached to a strap around the back of the neck and were inserted into your braces in front. But I had the other kind. Mine sat very visibly on the top of my head like the inside straps of a bike helmet. I didn't have to wear it all twenty-four hours of the day, but I may as well have, because it left lovely imprints in my not-so-thick hair in back.
But I loved Mrs. Rinear and I loved school. I loved learning about the solar system and fractions. I loved art and music and of course, reading -- couldn't Judy Blume put out her books any faster? I had perfect attendance and I couldn't wait to see what Mrs. Rinear was going to bring out next. Most of all, I loved creative writing. When I would sneak out the latest story I was working on, she'd quietly come by my desk. "It looks like you're done with your math," she'd say. "Why don't you take that story over there to the table in the back where it's nice and quiet?"
She was always giving me extra time to write. As the year went on, she'd ask about the stories I'd written at home. She'd ask to see them and she'd take them home and read them to her family. I can still see her handwriting on my blue notebook paper: Very nice.
Sadly, she moved away after my sixth grade year and I never got to see her again.
After my first book, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER came out, I went back to my home town to do a writing workshop for teens at my old library--the magical place where I got my first library card. As can happen to both new and seasoned authors, it was ten minutes before the workshop was to begin and only one teen showed up. But then they all started filing in . . . my first grade teacher, my brother's kindergarten teacher, my junior high English teacher, the principal of my old elementary school, my second grade teacher . . .
"We tried to get hold of Mrs. Rinear," the principal said. "But we couldn't."
But they were all there, and I was overwhelmed. I went to the front of the room and got ready to read from my book, but it was difficult to turn the pages, because my hands were shaking. I realized that I was about to read the story I'd written to the people who taught me how to read and write. I went on and did it anyway, because their proud smiles and their steady eyes were saying, I see you.
Two days later I went to the University Bookstore in Seattle to do a reading. One of my friends couldn't come so she sent her mother, Bev, in her place. I walked up to Bev to thank her for coming, and she said, "I'm not Bev." Mrs. Rinear had driven over two hours to be there. I told her that I couldn't believe she had traveled so far.
"Oh, I would have driven four," she said.