Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Teacher Who Influenced My Life

I was privileged to have many wonderful school teachers. Several were born-again Christians who shared my faith. My fifth grade teacher, Miss Dinsmore, inspired me to be a teacher. Miss Mayberry, who I thought was very strict, cultivated my writing. We published a book of poems and short stories that year. But my seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Yates, went beyond the call of duty to pour herself into my life over a period of years.

Although she was a school teacher, I first met Mrs. Yates in church. She was the director of the junior choir, of which I was a member. My family was very musical. Both parents had trained singing voices, and my mother played the piano, mostly by ear. My brother, sister, and I used to sing together when we were preschoolers. Mother wrote many songs, including one for us to sing at Christmas. I sang my first solo, "The Way of the Cross Leads Home," when I was 9 years old. Even my parents were amazed at the big, mature voice coming from their young daughter. Mrs. Yates often assigned solos parts to me after that, and she and I sometimes sang duets together.

I had a strong desire to learn to play the piano, but a growing family of four children left no money for music lessons. My father planned to go into full-time pastoring. While he was working for the airlines, he had brought home an adult piano course that someone had left in the waiting room and had never claimed. With that, I was able to teach myself some basics with Mother calling out, "That's not right!" whenever I hit a wrong note. She could hear what sounded good and could read notes but didn't have time and wasn't proficient enough to really teach me.

Mrs. Yates was a gifted pianist. Somehow, she discovered that I wanted to take piano lessons and offered to give me lessons free. For a whole year, she gave me free lessons. From her, I learned how to play for church. In addition to music from the John Thompson Grade Two piano book, she assigned hymns, one in each key. She showed me how to determine what chords to play along with the melody.

My birthday is December 2. In Alaska, the cutoff date for starting school was November 1, so I was nearly 7 when I started school. That made me one of the oldest in my class. Always mature for my age, I was also the tallest. I'd always been a good student, but when I entered sixth grade, I understood the work before it was taught. In fact, in those days before calculators and computers, I spent math period working out grade percentages for the office while the class did the lesson. On my twelfth birthday, I was allowed to skip into seventh grade with Mrs. Yates as my math and English teacher. She'd promised to give me special help if I needed it. Two months later, my parents assumed the pastorate of the church in Pelican, when my grandparents retired. Not wanting me to have to adjust to another change that year, Mrs. Yates invited me to live with her and her husband for the rest of the school year. We also continued my piano lessons.

The Yates eventually moved to Olympia, Washington. When I attended Seattle Pacific College to study music, their place became my home away from home, where I spent holiday weekends since it cost too much to fly home to Alaska whenever I wanted.  When my husband and I started a church in Gloversville, New York, the Yates drove up to visit us. By then, I was playing for church full time. I was excited to turn the bench over to her and hear her play once again.

Through the years, we have kept in touch at Christmas. They retired in Colorado. It's been years since we've seen each other. As this blog airs, though, my husband and I will have visited her again. She's in her eighties now. Her husband went to be with the Lord in March at the age of 93. We're retired now too, but I still play and sing for church occasionally. Over the years, I've directed church choirs, played the piano for services, and sung solos for the Lord, just as my teacher did years ago. She taught me more than math and English. She demonstrated a life of service to the Lord.

Did you have a teacher or other adult who has influenced your life in a special way?

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