The box was filled with those tiny school portraits—you know, the thumbnail-sized kind parents pass out each year to everyone in sight—but not one of them was of a person I knew.
Unlike those photographs we often find in our now-gone relatives' collections—the type bearing absolutely no identification of the portrait's subject—almost every one of these pictures included a name.
Just one name, that is: a first name. Usually found beneath the words, "your friend." And a thumbnail-sized thank you letter to someone who was obviously their favorite teacher.
That would be my aunt.
Over the years, my aunt had evidently preserved these mementos of students who now, likely, were adults, themselves—some, possibly, even teachers. It makes me wonder whether, on a cold November day—maybe when she was feeling discouraged, herself—she pulled out this Stash of Students Past to reminisce. And soak in the positive feelings sent her by those who had not yet outgrown that endearing childish habit of thankfulness.
Sara Jacqueline Davis was a homegrown graduate of Columbus' Ohio State University, that gargantuan institution of
A social person, my aunt made many friends over the years—not just students, but fellow teachers, people she met on her frequent travels, members of her church, fellow volunteers, neighbors. A special focus of her verve for life was cheering on her beloved "Buckeyes," either in the stands or with a circle of friends at the parties she hosted at her home.
Though her career path eventually morphed from full-time teacher to librarian to part time substitute teacher, she refused to let herself become idle. Up until the injury that eventually took her life at the age of eighty seven, she kept a part time position in a local gift shop, just for "pocket change"—and company.
It was interesting, receiving the guests who stopped by, in the rainy November weather, for visitation before her funeral. They came from all walks of life. Hardly surprising, considering her cheery affect and spunky approach to life. Each came with a story to tell our family—how they came to know her, what they did together. But most importantly, what she meant to their life.
It's funny, thinking over all the things that I remember of this aunt from my own life. The ones that stand out the most aren't the achievements she accomplished, or any flashy, stellar claims. They hover mostly around childhood memories—like the time that home ec teacher promised to help me learn how to sew, took me through the whole process from picking out the fabric to completing the project, my very own stuffed animal (a cat, of course), or just the generic fun that seemed to radiate from her. She was a fun and favorite relative.
Mostly, though, in adult-eyed retrospect, it turns out that the most remarkable thing about this woman was her slow and steady consistency. Over the years, bit by bit, she built a life of constancy. Though she was petite, I guess some found a rock-like stability in her that became the antidote to the turmoil and angst in many pre-teen students' lives.
Every now and then, I run across a well-written piece, explaining how the author decided to—against all odds—go back to find and thank a teacher who made a big difference in his or her life. While I'm glad for all those who heed that nudge to reconnect with the people who poured so much of themselves into that writer's life, I'm sure glad that wasn't the case for my aunt. For there, in a box in her desk drawer, was the testimony of many years' worth of students who didn't wait, but said their heartfelt thanks, right when they could.
Photograph, top left: portrait of Sara Jacqueline Davis, circa 1950; below: in front of the Columbus school where she taught for many years in Ohio; originals from the private collection of the author.