Yesterday I went to my old stomping grounds in Charlotte, Charlotte Country Day School, and had a psychedelic experience as time stood still and then leaped forward and backwards again. It is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the school and part of the celebration was a luncheon for retired faculty. My old friend Julia Britt encouraged me to come down for the event and I decided to go for it. I was a little nervous about finding the location of the lunch as the school has grown tremendously since I was last there sixteen years ago. My fears were abated when I stepped out of the car and was greeted by a sweet woman on a golf cart who whisked me away to the brand new Bruton Smith Gymnasium.
Walking into the lobby of this sparkling building, I came face to face with myself sixteen years ago. There were my old friends with whom I taught for twenty years, and none of them looked one day older! It was remarkable to be with these wonderful people who are like family to me, but in a good way. Mary Todd, Mary Karen Vellines, Meredith Greene, Julia Britt, Anne Rex, Karen Oldham, and too many more to name surrounded me with love, but then I felt a chill. It took me back many years before when I had my very first teaching job in 1970 in my old high school on Long Island.
On the first day of the new school year, there is usually a full faculty meeting to set the tone for the new year. I sat in the gym my former high school full of enthusiasm for the upcoming year until I heard behind me a very familiar click-click-click of heels on the floor. I was covered with chill-bumps as the sound registered in my head. It was my terrifying history teacher, Miss Nickerson. She would arrive a few minutes late to class every day for four years, just as she was doing at this big meeting, and we would shake with apprehension. It probably would have helped if I had done my homework the night before, but I liked living on the wild side. Miss Nickerson was tough and mean and made Judy Gromin cry when she couldn’t stop coughing one day. I lived in fear that she would call on me and expose my slackitude. If it ever happened, I do not recall, but it helped me develop my skill for making stuff up on my feet, which helped later when I was a college debater.
So there I was at CCDS yesterday, smiling and hugging friends when I felt a drop in the temperature. I turned around and came face to face with Margaret Gragg, the former Head Mistress. While I admire Margaret immensely in a professional way, we were never friends. Our style couldn’t be more different, even yesterday. I was wearing my coolest harem pants with an antique Victorian vest covered with antique buttons with images of Socialist heroes. Margaret looked the image of Queen Elizabeth I with a white ruff around her neck and long white silk robes. We regarded each other with suspicion.
The last time I had seen Margaret was at the farewell luncheon in 2001 where faculty who were leaving were feted and bid adieu. Margaret is very articulate and good at making people feel good with her words. She spoke about each of the faculty and staff members who were leaving and made each person sound like the Second Coming. She even praised the idiot in the AV department whom she had fired for good reason. Then it was my turn.
“Stephanie Wilder has been here for twenty years. And now she is leaving. Farewell Stephanie.”
She didn’t say “And never come back…”, but she might as well have said so.
I must admit that her dislike of me is not unfounded. I tried her patience on a daily basis and refused to follow most rules of behavior and pedagogy. She had her henchman, Roger, the head of Upper School, call me in to discuss my hair. He said, “You know, when people come to visit the school to consider it for their kids, they see you and your hair and go to Charlotte Latin instead. I thought he was kidding and made a comment about his green polyester sport coat, but he was serious…and annoyed.
Now, so many years later Margaret and I look at each other uneasily. She is perfect, articulate, and so buttoned down. And I…am not.
So there I was warm, cold, and lost in time. I stopped at Costco on my way home hoping to get grounded, but was again swept back in time when I ran into my old friend Deb Arnold looking not a day older. Was happy to get back to Black Mt. where I can find my way home.