Sunday, June 28, 2009

~THE PRICELESS TEACHING OF MRS. MARTHA FERGUSON and 5th Grade Life Lessons~


Mrs. Martha Ferguson
Miss Rebecca Elliott

In December of 1968 I turned the magical age of ten and found myself firmly planted in the 5th grade. On a daily basis I was under the watchful eye of an attractive black woman who earlier that summer had been chosen to be my teacher. She was tall, sported dark wavy hair and even on the sunniest of days could be seen in a lightweight wool coat and patent leather shoes. She was an awesome story teller, loved savoring butterscotch candy, and before the passing of another year of innocence she would successfully point my feet in the right direction.

Mrs. Martha Ferguson was a stern lady. Even so, I could tell she liked me. She did not, however, take kindly to the simple fact that I was a talker and on more than one occasion would disrupt her class with my mindless prattle. Plainly stated, I would rather wile away my classroom hours day-dreaming about this and that (or whisper pleasantries with my closest friend, Laura) than complete the assignments placed before me. Mrs. Ferguson rarely smiled, but…nor did she frown. She was just…well, agreeable. And even though I was scolded on a daily basis for SOMETHING that always started with the opening of my mouth, she was never TOO terribly hard on me. That is, except for the time she very firmly demanded I immediately stop doing two things…

DOYLE GRIFFITH
The Cutest Boy In 5th Grade

1. Flirting with Doyle Griffith, the cute boy who sat next to me (and the one, if not for my chattering voice, would never have even known I was alive)…

and...

2. Twirling my hair ribbon around my fingers (instead of leaving it tied up in my hair)...

Life during fifth grade brought with it lots of discoveries. It was the year I first recall being taught that teasing other children was a dreadful thing to do and the year I promised myself I would never do it. But, that was only after hearing someone call one of the McMurray twins “Dead Fish” and then watching silently as their words resulted in a visit to the Principle’s Office for a bumm whoopin'. I’d been bullied enough over my own imperfections and wanted no part of the cruelty and could certainly live without the sure-to-be-had paddlin'...

MY BIXBY YEARBOOK 1968-1969

I fully understood during fifth grade that I wasn’t one of the “it girls”. It was also the year I realized that money was powerful and that some of my classmates had a lot of it and some… well, like me, did not. During the months of fifth grade I came to believe my gaped teeth made me ugly (notice the closed-mouth smile) and my mousy brown hair would certainly have looked a little more desirable had it been blond.

It was during that fifth year at Bixby I was to learn that no matter how hard I tried I was never going to beat Sally Jewel at Tether-Ball (she was a bruiser of a girl so I figured it was OK) and the year I discovered I was truly terrible at mathematics. It was the year I learned I “kinda” loved English, was dreadful at Geography, fairly good in Spelling and the year my heart embraced anything and everything that had to do ART. Be it drawing, painting, gluing, glittering, papier-mâché or pottery, I was in for the long haul.

And thanks to the film about…um…well…you know…I learned (frighteningly so) I wouldn’t always be a LITTLE girl….

It was also the year I learned that teachers can cry.

I cannot say just why I stayed inside during my recess on that early spring afternoon, my memory isn’t that good. What I do remember is witnessing the teacher I had grown to love and admire as she sat quietly behind her desk dabbing away the tears that rolled down her cheeks. I couldn’t resist the urge to focus my eyes upon her as truthfully I’d never seen a teacher really cry. She was deeply troubled by what I clearly understood as being something “grown-up” and I knew better than to disturb her. The seconds ticked by as I tried to complete my assignments…I didn’t dare look up again for I feared she would find me staring at her and that would be uncomfortable for both of us. Several minutes passed before I felt her presence standing next to my tiny chair.

“Becky” she said, quietly kneeling down beside me.
“Listen to me!”

She gently pushed my hair from my face and then began...

“I need to tell you something that is just for you! You are a very smart girl! Don’t let anyone else ever tell you your not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough or talented enough! Work hard! That’s the key! If you do, you WILL make it! Remember, it matters not if you are Red, Yellow, BLACK or White…”

With that, she stood up and walked back to her desk.

MY 5TH GRADE TEACHER
Mrs. Martha Ferguson

We were never to speak about her tears or her instruction, and I never again saw Mrs. Ferguson cry. My final memory is of her standing tall in her dark colored jacket as I snapped her picture for my photo album. It would be the last day I was to ever sit inside a classroom at Bixby Elementary School. It would be the very last time I would ever see the face of the woman who would forever remain my favorite teacher and the one who helped change the course of so much of my life.

Years would fly by before I would recall again the pocket-sized memory I had so neatly tucked away. I was never to know the reason for Mrs. Ferguson’s sadness or the source of her tears. I suspect it had something to do with some sort of racial discord, but I can’t be sure. What I understood then and know to be true even today is that through her own sadness and sufferings she didn’t hesitate to offer up the needed encouragement and acceptance to a small girl wandering aimlessly in a garden that rarely bloomed.

“Bless you, Mrs. Ferguson, beautiful Teacher! I wish I could find you…”

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Proverbs 18:21

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the heavens. Ephesians 4:29

Blessings to you as you encourage those around you and teach those who are willing to listen…Rebecca

26 comments:

VINTAGE BLISS COTTAGE said...

YOU ARE THE NEATEST PERSON I KNOW REBECCA, I KNOW I HAVE TOLD YOU THAT BEFORE, BUT YOU ARE. I CAN RELATE TO YOU IN SO MANY WAYS. I GUESS BEING POOR, HAVING A GAP TOOTHED SMILE... STILL DO AS AN ADULT... IT WAS IN 5TH GRADE THAT I TOO REALIZED I WASN'T IN THE "IN" CROWD, AND NOTICED I MAY HAVE BEEN THE ONLY GIRL IN MY CLASS WHO WORE THE SAME PAIR OF SOCKS ALL YEAR LONG. I TRIED TO HIDE IT BY FOLDING THEM DIFFERENT, OR WEARING NO SOCKS WHEN I WORE A SKIRT OR DRESS, YES WITH TENNIS SHOES. I HAD ONE PAIR FOR THE WHOLE SCHOOL YEAR, WE WORE THEM UNTIL OUR TOES POKED OUT. FOR THIS I THINK I OVER COMPENSATE FOR MY KIDS, DRESSING THEM TO THE NINES FOR SCHOOL. I HOPE THEY NOTICE WHEN THEY GET OLDER THAT I TRIED TO PROVIDE THOSE THINGS, AS MY MOM DID NOT. TAKE CARE- HEATHER

Holly said...

Oh my! Thank you, Rebecca! Lord, please bless all the wonderful teachers out there! ♥

Eclectic Pink Rose said...

Love your stories, they always touch me deeply, laughing, getting all misty, remembering and laughing again. That's what my visits bring from you. You are a true ray of sunshine!!! I think we all have had a Mrs. Martha Ferguson in our life. A teacher that somehow touched our lives. Have a beautiful Sunday girlie!
♥ Teresa

Joyce said...

I hope all children have a Mrs. Ferguson at some point of their young lives to set them in the right direction with a few kind words. I just love this story and it made me think of my favorite teacher. Thanks for sharing.
Joyce

Forever Vintage said...

Beautiful post Rebecca, you've made me go back down memory lane. Thinking of all the wonderful teachers that I was so lucky to have. I work in a school and there are still those teachers that truly have that calling to make a difference in one childs life. My daughter had one of those teachers this year. Who truly made each and every child feel special.

Not the Good Scissors! said...

Thank you and bless you for a powerful story and a powerful lesson. You were certainly wiser beyond your years. Rebecca, I always learn a little more about myself after reading your thought provoking posts. You will always be in my heart.
xxoo, Susan

Barb~Bella Vista said...

Dearest Rebecca, how deep you run; I am just beginning to see this.

Love you my sweet, sweet friend!

Barb

Miss Linda said...

What a lovely reflection. How glorious it will be when you are reunited with this dear lady in Heaven!

blushing rose said...

This is another heart warming story, Rebecca. You truly can make one melt with your writings.

I wish I were able to give a nice accounting about our teachers ... but our dad & siblings left us 5 kids to walk in 'their shoes' that were not so kind ... we even had a teacher tell us kids one time to forget college & get a job, & my brother to go to technical school to learn a trade, as we'd not make it in college ... needless to say we all have (but one) done very well in the world ... I think her evil words continued to ring in our ears making us more determined than ever to 'show her' we were worth something.

How wonderful you have such wonderful memories & learned such valuable lessons from this great woman. God bless her.
TTFN ~ Marydon

Déjà View Designs said...

What a lovely post and tear jerker! It makes me remember my Mr. Broome in the 9th grade. God bless the great teachers of the world.

Country Wings in Phoenix said...

Good Morning Rebecca! For me it was Mrs. Umble. Growing up I did not know we were poor. There was always food on the table. We had 5 dresses when school started and that lasted the year. I did not know why Daddy worked 2 jobs, going to one when he got off from the other, or why Mother wore shoes that her toes hung out of. When we grow up we realize the truths and we know the struggles as we face them ourselves each day. I was never in the "in" crowd and was always the child looking in the candy store window wanting things I couldn't have. To this day, I only have 1 girlfriend that I can share any and everything with and we have shared since the day I was 2 and she was 4, my sister. Growing up though we always wanted to be on the other side of the fence. Thanks for sharing Rebecca. You too, have touched my heart today and reminded me of the special teacher, Mrs. Umble who taught me to love myself, and that my pretty little blonde ponytails and blue eyes were just fine, I didn't need brown curls and brown eyes like the other girls had. God gave me that little dark haired girl with big brown eyes, the day he blessed me with my one and only daughter. Have a wonderful blessed day Rebecca and thank you so much for sharing, "Country Hugs", Sherry

Lee Laurie said...

Rebecca,this post brought back so many memories for me. Now I'm deep in thought about them. You have made me remember some things that I had long forgotten.

Hugs,
Lee Laurie

Mary Ann Miller said...

Rebecca,

Could one of these names be "your" Mrs Ferguson?

MARTHA W FERGUSON born Sep 1931 3500 MANCHESTER BLVD, INGLEWOOD, CA 90305


MARTHA E FERGUSON born Jun 1926 3800 BRADFORD ST, LA VERNE, CA 91750

Lovely post!!

Rebecca said...

To Mary Ann~

Oh my gosh...I don't know if either of these women are "My Mrs. Ferguson" but I'm certainly going to find out. In 1968 my father was 38 (born in 1930) and I would suspect Mrs. Ferguson was about his age at that time. My guess is that IF one of these ladies is her then it is the one with the address in Inglewood. That isn't far from where Hacienda Heights is...only about 15 miles or so...I'm not sure about La Verne.

I'm in shock. I've gone through school records and district records but to no avail. I'm so excited I can hardly breathe.

I PROMISE to let you now what I find out!

Thank you, sweet Mary Ann...

xoRebecca

Marilyn said...

Rebecca.... You are my Treasure.
I Love You My Dear Friend!
Hugs,
Marilyn
xxooxxoo

blushing rose said...

Please remember these other avenues of finding people, Rebecca ... as I mentioned to you earlier ... ancestry.com has several search avenues AND whitepages.com is another avenue. TTFN ~ Marydon

Shelia said...

Oh, Dearest Rebecca! I have tears in my eyes as I read this post! What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful teacher who really made an impression on your tiny little soul! Don't you wish there were teachers like her today who really cared enough to say just the right thing at the right time to a child!? I do hope you can find out about her!

I've received my sachet pillow, Rebecca, and it's so beautiful! Thank you so much for drawing my name. I will cherish this knowing you made it with your own hands! It smells wonderful too! Come on over to my blog. I've posted about it in the second part of my post!
You are a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

June said...

Oh Rebecca, you make me smile and be glad that I count you among my friends. When I read these posts it takes me back into my own past to remember the ones that I hold dear in my heart. The ones that would probably stay there were it not for being jarred out while reading your amazing memories. Thank you for being you.
Love and hugs,
June

Sares said...

She sounds like a wonderful lady. Wouldn't it be something if you could connect with her again and tell her how much she meant to you. My favorite grade school teacher was my 4th grade teacher and then I had some favorites in high school, but none that affected me in such a profound way as your 5th grade Angel!

IsabellasCloset said...

Rebecca,
Such a very delightful post....
I'm updating my "blogs & birthdays" sideboard. If you don't mind could I please have your birthday?
Thanks so much!
Have a lovely day ~Mary~ :-}

BECKY said...

Hi Rebecca! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and following it!! I'm so glad I came by today to read this lovely story. It's such a poignant tribute to your favorite teacher.

I am going to pray that you will find her!!

I know she would be so blessed to know the impact she had on your life!

Thank you for sharing this story. As I wipe the tears from my eyes, I think of the woman who impacted me the most with her encouraging words, my loving Mom, who stepped into the Lord's presence on June 21st in 2004. Precious women...may we be just like them to those around us.

HUGS,
Becky

jenX said...

becky - i hope you got my comment. it rejected it the first time nad then i had to navigate back and it was GONE

A Stitch In Thyme said...

You took me back a spell today. I ran track all through school. I had one coach in high school, Coach Cleeves, who always shared barbs or moments of clarity with me all through school. He undoubtedly left his impression on me and to this day I follow much of his advise when I find myself in times of quandry. He was so calm natured and told stories that always seemed to apply to what "I was going through". I just sat and listenend. Took it with me and when it hit me, & it always did, I would just smile and think fondly on him. I miss him. I miss his instruction, patience & advise that seemed to come from no where.

Apple Tree Cottage said...

Ah my friend, how I hope a student remembers me in such a lovely way some day.... you wrote a lovely tribute.

Love, Martha

hpabate said...

Good Morning Rebecca!
I am so glad you loved the bowls as much as I did. The "Ross" store is just down the street from my work, and sometimes I pop in at lunch. I don't usually go to the back for glassware, but I had been looking at the 4th of July stuff, and turned a corner and there they were. Just (1) of each left. I grabbed them up in a heart beat, and quickly left with my purchases. I don't go out after dark living here in the big city. I find it really isn't safe. That is why the backyard has became our oasis. Have a wonderful blessed day my friend. "Country Hugs", herry

Ele at abitofpinkheaven said...

Just shows how one person can be a huge influence on someone's life. Beautifully written, and beautiful people involved in the story.

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