SOULFOOD: Veronica’s Babies (From A second chicken soup for the women’s soul)

I write because I feel about something.

Writing is a great way to figure out feelings and thoughts, even ideas sometimes.

Blogging is a platform I have used for years to express myself and to share thoughts and ideas.

And easier method, a form of diary writing then.

 

My favourite subject since I was a primary school student, was English.

I was a quiet kid with a book constantly if i can, reading.

Enid Blyton and Judy Blume were my first favourite authors.

My English teachers in Primary and Secondary school inspired/encouraged me to write, and essay writing was my utmost favourite way to create and express. I was so proud of this, to be recognized at being good at something.

I entered a Spelling Bee contest on stage in front of the whole Secondary school (My first experiment with courage in public and show of love for words) and was chosen for a special writing club for students in Primary school. Everything adds up to building me to who I am now.

See a link?

As a child, reading was a habit incurred from my mother.

She was the one who lead me to start reading with the many cherished trips to the public library, which in turn started my journey with words and expression (And Art too).

Through life’s many many lessons, English and Books were things I can relate to like a snuggle in bed under with a comforter.

A story can tell you so much about a person and even yourself.

Today, I like to share a story from the Book – ‘A second chicken soup for the women’s soul‘.

A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul: More Stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Spirits of Women (Chicken Soup for the Soul

 

A book, that I might never have thought to pick up, but on a whimsy at a Boder’s Book Sale.

And I thank that incident and my luck to pick a book that at that point made me hope that could inspire me as a woman. And in turn, relate to the many stories written by the women I would never have been able to meet, but through the words they wrote.

The reason why the story stood out, was a link to English, Plants (my maternal grandfather was a farmer during the Kampong Days,my mother loves gardening if she can still have one now) and People whom when you are young could have changed your lives for better or worse. Teachers.

Today, i made a decision to draw up some guts to see my English Teacher on the next Teacher’s Day. And maybe to make peace with my inability to pursue a degree in English. Somehow, to really thank him for the belief, a statement he had made many years ago when we had the chance to meet again after I had graduated.

***************************************

If someone listens, or stretches out a hand, or whispers a kind word of encouragement, or attempts to understand a lonely person, extraordinary things begin to happen. – Loretta Girzatlis

  When I was in third grade, Mrs Margaret McNeil was my teacher. She was young, vibrant and very pretty. She taught me and all the impressionable boys and girls in her class the basics. Even those kids who were perceptually impaired or has serious disabilities miraculously learned too. Everyone mastered third-grade reading and writing thanks  to Mrs McNeil – and Veronica.

  Veronica was a huge, variegated spider plant suspended in the window of our classroom in a glistening-white, hanging basket. Every year it produced babies – little plantlets on slender stems that cascaded over the rim of the pot. When you learned to read and write to Mrs McNeil’s “satisfaction”, you were awarded one of Veronica’s babies. None of the students could wait to get one.

  On the big day, first you watered Veronica, and then Mrs McNeil handed you the special scissors. You get to snip off a baby and name it. With Mrs McNeil guiding you, you next planted it in moist soil in a styrofoam cup and wrote its new name on the outside with a green marker,

  I’ll never forget that March day when I learned to read and write well enough. i went through Mrs McNeil’s ritual and carried home a small plant. I named it Rose, after my mother. I was so proud because I was one of the first boys to get one.

  Over the summer, we all had to promise to write Mrs McNeil a letter and let her know how Veronica’s baby was doing. She advised us to use a dictionary to help with difficult spellings.

  I remember writing that my mom and dad helped me transplant the baby into a white hanging basket, and that its roots had grown really long.

  By the time June rolled around, every boy and girl in the class had received one of Veronica’s babies. Even Billy Acker, who was mildly retarded and strggled the hardest of all of us, did well enough to get one.

  During the summer, I kept my baby outside on our patio, and when fall arrived, I took it indoors to hang in front of my sliding glass door, where it got plenty of good light.

  Years passed and Veronica’s baby thrived. It produced babies, just as Veronica had done – many babies. I snipped them off and potted them up in hanging baskets, five to a basket. My dad would take them to work and sell them to his coworkers. With the extra money, I’d buy more hanging baskets and soil, and eventually I started a snall business.

  Thanks to Veronica’s baby, I became interested in houseplants. Of course, my dad, who nurtured my interest in all kinds of plants, gets some of the credit, too. And  while MrsMcNeil first taught me to read and write well, it was dad again, wo cultivated these skills in me.

  When he called one weekend recently to tell me Mrs McNeil had passed away, i knew I had to attend the wake. I journeyed home and sat with my wife, Carole, in a crowded funeral parlour. Mrs McNeil lay there as if peacefully asleep. Her hair was silver, and there were many wrinkles on her powdered face, but other than that, she looked just as I remembered her. Hanging to her left by the window was Veronica, with many babies cascading over the rim of her basket. Veronica, unlike Mrs McNeil hadn’t changed one bit.

  Many people chatted about their remembrance of Mrs McNeil of third grade, of learning how to read and write better in order to get one of Veronica’s babies, of her dedication.

  When a vaguely familiar face rose to speak, the place suddenly grew silent.

 “Hello, my name is Billy Acker,” the man stammered. “Everyone told my mom and dad I will never be able to read and write because I was retarded. Ha! Mrs McNeil taught me good how to read and write. She taught me real good.”

  He paused and a large tear rolled down his cheek and stained the lapel of his grey suit. “You know, I still have one of Veronica’s babies.”

  He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and continues. “Every time I write or read an order in the shop, I can’t help but think of Mrs McNeil and how hard she worked with me after school. She taught me real good.”

  Many others spoke of Mrs McNeil after Billy, but none matched him in his sincerity and simplicity.

  Before we left, carole and I talked to Mrs McNeil’s daughters and admired all the beautiful flower arrangement that lined the room. A good half of them were from Acker’s Florist. A huge heart shaped spray of white carnations with a bold red banner caught our attention at the back of the room. Written in big black letters, i said: If you can read this, thank a teacher. Underneath it, in shaky, almost illegible penmanship, were the words: Thank you Mrs McNeil. Love your student, Billy Acker.

Contributed by George M. Flynn

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