Last June I went back to Claremont for my 50th high school reunion. It was a wonderful experience. Everyone who was there wanted to be there, and we still spoke a common language. Some ties really bind.
On Friday night we gathered at the Moose Hall for dinner and memories. Someone had set up a display of photographs, including class pictures going back to kindergarten. My fifth grade class was included. We didn’t just graduate in the same year; we grew up together.
I went to the Way School for the first six grades. I remember all my teachers, but every now and then you meet someone special. My fifth grade teacher, Miss Manley, was such a person. She wore rimless glasses and prim suits, and her dark hair was wrapped in a bun, the essence of neatness. Her look was severe, as was her voice, but she knew how to teach.
She often quoted her Aunt Minnie in order to make a point. It took a while for most of us to catch on, but that was the year of “Harvey,” Jimmy Stewart’s tall rabbit friend in the movie of the same name, and we finally got it. There was no such person. Yet, even now, more than half a century later, I can hear the words, “As my Aunt Minnie used to say,” followed by some interesting observation about history or math or civics or whatever was the subject of the moment.
Miss Manley and I liked each other. I have no idea what she saw in me, but I remember feeling good about it. It was she, I think, who taught me to love reading. And in the following years, as I made my way through grades six to twelve, I saw her pretty often at the Sweet Shop downtown, or at the Way School when I would drop in for a visit.
I went off to college, left the town, and the years passed. I never forgot Miss Manley, but I did not see her or keep in touch. Then, about ten years ago, I happened to be in Claremont on Valentines Day. I said to my wife, “I wonder whatever became of Miss Manley.” “Who?” she asked. I told her, “My fifth grade teacher. she made a real difference to me.” “Is she still alive?” came the obvious question, and I confessed I had no idea. But, just on a whim, I drove to the Square and parked in front of where she had lived in the 1950’s. I entered the old building, and there it was on the mailbox – “Josephine Manley.”
I walked up one flight and down the hallway to her apartment. I rang the bell, and in a minute, a woman opened the door. I didn’t say a word; I just looked at her. She looked back and her first words were, “Oh, Joe, you’re my valentine.”