If you would have asked me many years ago who one of the most influential people in my life was, I would probably not have mentioned my Grandma–Grandma France, we called her. For whatever reason, unbeknownst to me, I grew up without feeling very close to her. Perhaps it was the geographical distance (the city to the suburbs seemed like hundreds of miles as a kid) between us, or perhaps it was fate; regardless, I can’t say we had the strongest relationship.
As I grew older, I started learn the importance of family, and I tried to strengthen my relationship with her, especially when I went away to college. I knew she was proud that her second grandson would be attending college (in addition to my first brother–also a successful teacher), and I knew she’d want to hear about the triumphs and setbacks of a late teen beginning his independence. So we’d talk every now and then, bantering over various current events, both personal and public, conversations filled with bounties of “anyways” and “sos.”
Naturally, we’d also e-mail, writing back and forth; I’d tell her more about college and my life, and she’d reply with how proud she was of me. I wish I still had the e-mails, but they’re gone with my college account.
In one e-mail, specifically, she replied, rather concisely, with her usual response, telling me nothing was new and that she was happy things were going well. Though the e-mail was a tad mundane and routine, the few words that closed her e-mail packed a powerful punch that I still feel to this day. “You are quite a writer. When did you learn to write so well?”
It may sound so silly, but it truly was a defining moment for me. It was so odd to me that, in this seemingly insignificant e-mail about my week or month or whatever it was I was writing about, she managed to see something in my writing–enough to say something about it.
It was that day that I started to feel like a writer. I think I replied with something silly, questioning further to see if she was being sarcastic or something. It seemed that our next couple correspondences entailed her talking about my writing and how I should pursue it.
In retrospect, I’m sure those e-mails were nothing to write home about (pun fully intended), but it wasn’t the writing itself that made me feel like a writer. It was the fact that someone told me I was a writer. Someone went out of their way to encourage me. I’m not sure if this experience is specific to me, but I think our kids need to be told that more often. They need to be told that they, too, are authors, and that they are writers, regardless of their talent.
Grandma passed away a couple of years ago suddenly, but I can’t help but think of her every time I write something I’m proud of. In fact, I think about her many times while I’m writing.
She made me feel like a writer; she made me feel successful. I hope I can do that for my students, as well.