You'll Be How Old?

Cleaning out long unopened drawers in the old sewing machine turned up a memory with a story. In the mid-seventies, my good friend Marty and I could carry on a phone conversation while keeping an eye on our ankle-biters. We had three apiece about the same age.

One of these conversations had me urging her to go back to school for a degree in elementary education. Gifted with a love for and ability to relate to young children, her talents needed a wider berth than her current service as a teacher’s aide and children’s Sunday school teacher. I felt free to tell her so.

Her response was, “That would take four years. I’m thirty-five years old! Do you know how old I’ll be in four years if I go back to school?”

I replied, “And how old will you be in four years if you do not go back to school?” Our conversation ended for that day, but I like to believe a seed was sown.

Marty had graduated from high school knowing everything as many teenagers do. She enlisted and served a stretch in the military, married a good guy, and had three sons to be followed by a daughter during our friendship. She had a good life, but I wanted her to have more – for herself and for the children whose lives she would touch.

The Army moved us to Germany, and Marty’s Christmas letters sometimes came and sometimes didn’t, depending on the time she could spare from the four children. And then one memorable Christmas, I got the one where she laughed at herself for having become a college freshman along with her oldest son.

The treasure I found in the sewing machine drawer was a different correspondence – her graduation picture and announcement – “cum laude” to boot. The back of the picture reads,
    “To Virginia
     Love, Marty
     Dec. 95.”

She entered her classroom as the teacher that fall. Though both her life and her teaching were cut much too short a few years later by a blood clot, the find brought a smile. I think of the children she taught and loved, many of them facing the challenges of poverty and English language learning. For them and for her, I’m grateful that Marty figured out that age is just a number.