Friday, January 7, 2011
I Found You, Mrs. Hopfinger!
Several years ago I spoke with a teacher who changed a little girl's life---mine. It took me more than 20 years to track her down. I was never going to give up because I needed to thank her.
"Is this the Mrs. Hopfinger that taught at Fullbright Elementary School," I asked. When she said "Yes it is," I burst into tears. "I found you, Mrs. Hopfinger! I found you," I blubbered. She probably thought I was a telemarketer with some strange new technique to keep someone on the line. She didn't hang up. When I told her I was one of her former students she said with delight, "Oh, darling---is it really?"
Mrs. Barbara Hopfinger was my early elementary grade teacher during a time when something life-shattering turned my world upside down. To me, Mrs. Hopfinger was bigger than life. She was the Statue of Liberty. The President of the United States. The Seven Wonders of the World. She was more fascinating, delightful, and full of life than Ms. Frizzle in the Magic School Bus could ever be! Barbara Hopfinger was a vibrant and committed educator. She absolutely loved teaching---but more than that, she loved the children she taught. I was one of those fortunate children.
I will never write about the dreadful circumstances of my past, but it is vital that I write about how God brought this wonderful, loving teacher who became a life-preserver, to a little girl drowning in a sea of emotional pain. I do this simply to honor her.
There were times when I stayed in class during recess. She knew what I was going through and tried her best to help me through it. I can still picture her big smile and that red lipstick I liked so well, as she held out her arms for me to come to her. I sat on her lap and she hugged me, much as a mother would. I felt safe. I felt loved. Mrs. Hopfinger spoke soothingly and with conviction as she talked to me. I'm sure this beautiful teacher had no idea she was giving me a gift I would cherish for the rest of my life. She convinced me that I mattered.
When she told me I was smart, although I felt stupid---I believed her. When she told me I was special in so many ways, although I felt broken and worthless---I believed her. She even called me pretty. Now, that was a stretch! I had a space between my big front teeth, a home-perm gone bad (every time!), and freckles the size of Mars on my nose. Mrs. Hopfinger obviously saw past any imperfections in her children. Instead, she saw what they were capable of doing and becoming. She saw our potential and made us believe it, too. Mrs. Hopfinger allowed me to believe that I was more than a broken little life, and she simply wouldn't allow me to stay there.
Do you find it strange that a teacher could have such a positive influence on someone so young, and in such a short time? I don't. I've experienced it. I carried the affirmations she gave me in my heart as I grew. They were like seeds that took root. At times when there was no one to talk to, I remembered my beautiful teacher and friend. In my mind I pictured a fragile little girl in the arms of a wise teacher---and I would say "If Mrs. Hopfinger believed it, then it's true."
A teacher can make a MONUMENTAL change in a child's life. I wonder how many others remember her the way I do. I surely can't be alone.
Today I'm a wife, mother, grandmother, a volunteer Red Cross nurse, and a published writer. I do believe it was the grace of God that brought Mrs. Hopfinger into my young life so many years ago, and I finally had the chance to tell her that.
Before we hung up I said now that I'd found her, my next book would be dedicated to her. There WILL be a next book in honor of beautiful Mrs. Barbara Hopfinger, from the the little girl who still loves her.
c 2009 Sheryl Ann Crawford