“I had the greatest thing happen today,” Terri said during supper.
“You got a big raise?” I asked.
My mind went to another great thing, but if that happened at work I doubt she’d come home telling me about it.
“Something more like a God thing,” she said.
Oh. Well, OK. In my defense, it was my day off.
“I got a call at my office from a woman who asked if my name used to be Terri McAlister and had taught a bilingual third-grade class in Austin in the early 1980s at Govalle Elementary.
“It turned out to be a girl from that class who called to say that she remembers me as her favorite teacher.”
Terri gave up her career as a bilingual education teacher many years ago when Bobby was born.
So much has happened since then that I sometimes forget about her years in the classroom. But when I recall it, I imagine what a fun, dynamic teacher she must have been.
“She told me she so much wanted to be in my classroom for third grade that when the school assigned her to another class, she just quit going to school until her parents went to the principal and appealed to get her into my class,” said Terri.
“She assumed I wouldn’t remember her. I do remember her and her dear family very well. Her grandfather was a Baptist minister in the East End named Ciro Garcia.”
“Ciro Garcia?!” I exclaimed. “I know Ciro Garcia – dignified pastor with a pencil-thin mustache? My church had a partnership with his church, Betania Baptist, years ago. You know Rev. Garcia and his family?”
How is it possible after 24 years with a woman to still uncover new connections and stories?
Terri went on: “She reminded me of things we did during that school year, and how she never missed a day of school for the rest of the year so that she could attend a slumber party at my house. Apparently, I promised the kids a party for any of them who maintained perfect attendance for the year. I hadn’t thought of that slumber party in a long time and forgot why we did it.”
My mind pictured a young Terri McAlister and her little home, speaking rapid-fire Spanish, encouraging kids to show up for school from that minority community that sometimes had attendance challenges, and how her motivational ploy obviously impacted those kids.
I also felt a twinge of sadness, speculating that with all the needed cautions in place today a teacher today might not be able to do an overnight activity like that in her home.
“She said that she and her sister have talked about me through the years and wanted to reconnect with me to let me know what I meant to their family. She’s a teacher herself now, so during her summer break she decided to look me up.”
“How in the world did she find you?” I wondered aloud.
“She googled Terri McAlister and it came up with Bobby’s obituary from the Austin newspaper, which had the words ‘Terri’ and ‘McAlister’ in it. From there she found the church’s website, saw on your bio that I worked for Air Pollution Control, and made a call,” she explained with a look that reflected amazement at the wonders of Google, the tenacity of the little girl from Govalle Elementary who is now a woman, and the remembrance of seeds lovingly planted so long ago they are almost forgotten today.
And yet those seeds grew. And bore fruit. And likely they are planting seeds of their own now that someday, in a way they might never know or anticipate, will bear their own fruit.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a seed …”
A minister in Louisville, Kentucky, for 21 years as pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Phelps is now Justice Coordinator for Earth and Spirit Center. He leads, along with Kevin Cosby, EmpowerWest, a black-white clergy coalition calling for recognition, repentance, and repair of injustices to black Louisvillians.