I found my 3rd grade and favorite teacher, Miss Shore, this morning on Facebook. I sent her a friends request and the following letter. I'm posting here the edited version because I felt it important to share but edited the original for my own personal reasons. Anyway, here it is:
My Dearest Miss Shore,
My name is Brad Smith. I was a student in your 3rd grade class in 1979 at James B. Key Elementary. I was a precocious but rather introverted child. At one point there was a discussion between my parents and the school principal, Mr. Clinkscales, about the possibility of me skipping the 3rd grade and going directly from 2nd to 4th – and I am so grateful that it never happened. Had I not experienced that year in your class, I would doubtlessly be quite a radically different man than the one writing this letter now. I would be lacking the values of self worth and importance that were just two of your gifts to all of your students. You are precious to me beyond all measure, and my self esteem demanded that I write this letter. In part as gratitude, in part as testimonial for everything I felt (and still feel) that you represent, and completely with love, respect, and admiration.
As a child I was subject to things that no child should ever endure, things that inspire horror and nightmares in the loving parents of all children. As a result, I became quiet, timid, and depressed. I was afraid of speaking aloud to people. I was completely uncomfortable as the center of attention. I was worthless and insignificant. I was starving for affection to clean out all of the dirt I carried inside.
One of the first times I recall discovering that you were the extraordinary, magical being I would grow to love was when the class had its first art project. My father worked for the Mead Coated Board company and brought to the school one morning a huge roll of poster board. You thanked him for it and hugged me on the spot. You told us all how gifted and creative we were. If we messed up something, you cut more poster board off of the roll and helped us to start over. We were all artists, we were all geniuses and the things we drew and painted were the most beautiful things you had ever seen – or so you made us believe. You encouraged my love of art and my ability to paint and to draw, which I still do to this day.
When you taught us our multiplication tables we had to stand beside our desks and recite them to you aloud. When it was my turn I got frustrated and scared and began to cry. I couldn’t get them out and I had no voice to speak with from stage fright. You took me out into the hallway and calmed me by holding me for a moment. I told you that I didn’t know any of the answers and you told me that was nonsense, that I just forgot them for a moment and would remember them if I just tried again, that it wasn’t a big deal unless I didn’t try. We went back into class and I got them all right on my first try. You winked at me that “See? I told you so!” wink and I was relieved and proud. You are the reason why I was able to talk to hundreds of thousands of people every day on the radio with no fear when I was a radio producer. You are why I can calm the crying and the fear away from the children in my life that I love and adore so much.
I read my nieces and nephews my favorite books from childhood, the books that began my love affair with reading and the book that I still read now and then because of the love you gave me in reading it to my class. I read at least a novel a week because of that first book you made me fall rapturously in love with. It was Charlotte’s Web and I still have the same copy that my mother bought for me back in my 3rd grade school year. I only just got a brand new copy of Where The Wild Things Are to replace the ones I've worn out over the years! You made me love stories and writing and I am now a published author currently working on my first writing projects in many years.
One of your students was chosen each week to spend that week in the highly decorated and much coveted bath tub that sat in the classroom, stuffed with pillows and painted gold. We each got a turn and it was such a special thing for the one who left his or her desk vacant for the bath tub. I remember that you had broken your leg in a skiing accident when it was my turn, and as luck would have it I came down with the chicken pox that very week. I was so upset at the prospect of missing my turn that I was devastated. This did nothing for my feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy! When I came back to school you let me have that week as my turn. Oh, I was so elated! I got to have my week in the tub just like everyone else! It marked the first time I can recall anyone ever making me feel that special, that authentic, that important. I might as well have worn a crown as Max does in Sendak's masterpiece.
I am a grown man now, turning 39 years old in December as a matter of fact. I have a busy life filled with lots of love and responsibilities, with family and friends and children, and with a better sense of self than most people I know. I do my best to help anyone who I feel is in need if I can. I try to encourage the best in others. I try to give my love freely and honestly as much as possible. Every success I have, YOU are a part of. Every good thing I share with others, I share because YOU taught me how. I felt compelled to write this because I couldn’t live another day without telling you what you have done for me, and why I will always love you for it. You gave me so very much that you never even knew, and I am giving it back to you and the world each day. Soon I move across country with the love of my life to begin our next chapter together, and I will be saying goodbye to the only home I have ever known. I couldn't do that without doing this first. In the desert, I will continue my writing and my photography and my artwork, and your heartprints will be on all of that as well. You deserve to know that and it gives me unparalleled joy to tell you.
I just adore you, Miss Shore. I always have. I tell everyone I know about Wild Things and talking spiders and bejeweled bathtubs that make a simple day of learning a voyage of purest discovery. I thank you from the center of my soul for helping to raise that small, fragile boy into a strong, loving man. I cannot thank you enough for everything, but it would mean more than you will ever know to be able to see you and hug you in person before I leave my beloved Georgia. I hope to hear from you very soon, and I hope this finds you well and in good health and high spirits.
With all my love, hugs, energy, and light, Brad Smith