Her name was Zelda Ottinger. Isn't that a fabulous name? She was tall and slender with dark hair and big glasses. And I thought she was old even though she was probably in her 50's. But I adored her.
For years she had taught 5th grade. I didn't have her for 5th grade. I had Mrs. Newman who was very nice, but not Mrs. Ottinger.
But the year I went into 6th grade so did Mrs. Ottinger and I got her as my teacher. She could do no wrong in my eyes. She was kind and smart and funny and she treated us like people, not like kids (even though she knew we were kids trying to become people). So she taught us about taking notes and organizing our binders. She had us give oral presentations and she let us have fun at free play.
My favorite thing about Mrs. Ottinger though was how she read aloud to us everyday after lunch. She read in such a pleasant way adding emphasis in all the right places, but without making it about her. That was important to me, because it let me get lost in the stories. She read us Blue Willow, The Bronze Bow, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. She read us A Day No Pigs Would Die, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and a host of other books that year. Some of the stories I still remember. Others all I recall is how much I enjoyed listening to her read them.
She nurtured my love of books and reading while introducing me to the joy of sharing a good book with others. We weren't tested over these books. We didn't have to write book reports on them. We just got to listen while we digested our hastily eaten lunches.
There was something so soothing about Mrs. Ottinger. I have no memories of her getting annoyed with anyone. I don't remember anyone in the class she didn't like. I don't remember her having favorites. What I do remember is the reading, and that I felt safe, accepted, and loved in her classroom.
When I graduated from high school she and her husband gave me a Bible that she had inscribed in her great sweeping penmanship. And later when my husband and I married, they gave us another Bible, again with that glorious signature with elegantly drawn Z and O.
I don't know if Zelda is still walking this earth or not. I know I was blessed by her that year, and blessed by the residual impact of knowing her. I'd like to think I would have been her friend if I'd been of her generation. I hope I've made her proud to have known me.
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