Mrs. Hendrickson and the flower poem

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In about a year, my book—SHE/HE/THEY/ME—will be out in the world. It seems like a long time to wait, but I know it’ll go fast.

I recently sat down to start writing the acknowledgements and realized it was the sort of thing that could go on for pages and pages. I’ll be forty-five when my book comes out and there are a lot of people and places and groups and events that stand in between the little girl who knew she wanted to a writer and the person who will finally have something tangible to show for that dream.

But, hey, I have a blog, I thought. I can’t tell my whole writing life story in my acknowledgements, but I can on my blog. I tossed the idea around for a while. Did it seem to narcissistic? Too self-indulgent? This is a question I face almost every time I sit down to write a blog post or an essay. Does anyone really care?

Maybe it is narcissistic, but it’s also about gratitude. I owe a lot of people, in ways big and small. Writing is such a stupid and torturous thing to do with your life. It is sometimes lonely and sad and horrible. You can’t keep going on your own. You need people. These are the people and places and events that were there when I needed them. This is that story.

I grew up lucky enough to always have words in my life. My mom bought books and books and books to read to me and my siblings when we were little. She still has attics full of books. There was a preponderance of Dr. Suess, so it’s probably not surprising that the first thing I can remember writing was a poem. And it rhymed. It was about flowers and Mrs. Hendrickson, my third-grade teacher. I think there might have specifically been a mention of tulips.

Mrs. Hendrickson was a tiny little woman and I can’t help but think this is why we all loved her so much. She seemed to be frozen in perpetual childhood. Everything about her was small. Small face, small hands. I can only remember her smiling. She had long black hair which she wore in a braid, though sometimes I think she would let the girls in our class brush it or braid it. Is that even possible? It’s hard to imagine that sort of intimacy in classrooms today.

I remember that Mrs. Hendrickson always seemed exotic to me. Her hair was so black and straight. I picture her wearing skirts all the time, though I have no idea if that’s right or not. With time, you layer things onto your memories to make them fit into some particular narrative.

Whoever she was and wherever she was from, Mrs. Hendrickson was the kind of teacher who inspired poetry. The poem I wrote for her is lost to time, so I can’t tell you how good or bad it was. I suspect it was fairly bad given that I was nine years old. But Mrs. Hendrickson liked it. Or like the amazing teacher she was, she pretended to like it. What I can remember is her enthusiasm and perhaps a note to my parents or a mention at an open house. “Robyn wrote a beautiful poem,” she might have said.

I remember memorizing the poem. Perhaps showing it to my grandparents. I see myself sitting on my grandmother’s couch and someone saying, “You should be a writer.” Or, “You will be a writer.”

I remember a sort of internal glow. Yes, I was good at this. That is what I would do. This was something I understood. A writer was the person who made all the books I loved. It was as simple as that to me. I would make books. I would be a writer.

P.S. I’ll be reading with the amazing Leesa Cross-Smith and Sarah Jarboe at Carmichael’s Books next Thursday, March 8 at 7:00. Check it out, here.

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