Big dreams fueled by little words

One phone call.

That’s all it took.

And my destiny was sealed forever.

Mrs. Echeverria was my 6th grade teacher in elementary school. It was a small public school in a rural New England town in the late 1970s — pre-microwave, pre-computer, pre (gasp) DVD player. Up until that point, I was a good student. And I could devour a Nancy Drew book in one sitting. But my schoolwork mode was strictly autopilot.

Then I landed in Mrs. Echeverria’s class. She sported long, hippie hair and eschewed polyester suits in favor of flowing sundresses and leather, thong-style sandals. Her husband was a professor at Brown University. They traveled extensively and gardened organically before it was popular. She was the first feminist I ever met.

I think it’s safe to say that she rocked my world. Phooey on the textbooks, she used to say — instead allowing us to paint huge sea animal murals on the back wall, write and act out plays and go outside and wriggle around in the grass while she read stories.

She brought us photos and descriptions of her Greek travels, baklava to taste, exotic jewelry to try on (I still have a turquoise ring in my treasure box) and pressed worn, yellowing paperbacks into our hands. “I thought you’d like this book.. it’s one of my favorites,” she would say. Snoozing in the back of class? She’d bing you with one of her lethal bean bags.

Once a week as part of a creative writing exercise, she would pull out an index card from a small green box. She would read an opening sentence and we students had to write the rest of the story.

I lived for those assignments.

One day our project was to create a new story based on “Mary Poppins.” I dug in for two days. And the night before it was due, I pulled out our home typewriter and stayed up until midnight, typing away — painstakingly lining up the old powdery paper whiteout and plunking the backspace key to erase my errors. I was delirious with creative energy.

The next night, my parents got a phone call from Mrs. Echeverria, who complimented both my story and my effort . In class the next day, she read my Mary Poppins adventure out loud. And for the rest of the year, she would drop little phrases of encouragement and urge me to practice the craft.

When people ask: “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?”

I say: “In sixth grade.”

And it’s true.

The power of that sincere encouragement has buoyed me for 30 years.

Thank you, Mrs. Echeverria.

* Photo by D Sharon Pruitt – Creative Commons license Pink Sherbert Photography

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~ by Donna J. Tuttle on June 18, 2009.

6 Responses to “Big dreams fueled by little words”

  1. And it truly is a gift! How fantastic that you found someone to inspirte you at such a young age!

  2. Thanks for the great story about your teacher. There are teachers we certainly owe a lot to. I had an eighth grade English teacher who inspired me to write poetry, and my assistant band directors in Junior High and High School inspired me to become a music teacher. I chose elementary music instead of band.

  3. I bet your teacher is looking down on you, smiling at thought of the impact she had on your life. I loved this piece, thank you for pulling back the curtain and letting us in, it was amazing.

  4. It’s amazing how much one person can inspire us to be who we grow up to be. Sometimes it’ll be a teacher, a parent, a sibling, a friend or a complete stranger. But most of the time I do think it happens at school, which is why I love it there so much 🙂 We do so much growing up there and teachers are probably the most passionate people we encounter first in our lives. I bet she is so proud of you! And I am thankful for her!

  5. How nice, Barbara is a good friend, I am so glad you shared that with her! Good for you!

  6. Excellent site, keep up the good work

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