O Mr. Elliott, My Mr. Elliott

Commentator Heather King has the story of a teacher who takes pride in his students for decades after they have left his classroom. King, who lives in Los Angeles, is the author of Parched: A Memoir.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Here's the story about one teacher who's taken pride in his students for decades after they've left his classroom. His story told by commentator Heather King.

HEATHER KING reporting:

Several weeks ago I received a manila package in the mail. It was from someone I hadn't heard from in 40 years, my seventh grade English teacher back in Northampton, New Hampshire, Wayne I. Elliott. I drew out a sheath of papers. The first was a letter. Mr. Elliott had always been generous and kind and he obviously still was. He still lived on Woodland Road, was still active with the Boy Scouts, was still married to Betty.

As it turns out, my mother had run into him at the supermarket and told him about my memoir. PARCHED is about my 20-year run as a falling down blackout drunk, which is why it seemed extra courtly of Mr. Elliott to say, "I just wanted you to know how very proud I am of you for writing the book. It must have taken a great deal of courage to share your experiences with all of us."

But the envelope contained more.

There was an autobiography I'd written in eighth grade. There was a copy of the graduation program from the Northampton Elementary School class of '66. There was a copy of my valedictorian speech. I couldn't believe he had saved all this stuff for 40 years.

Last, there was a single-spaced typewritten letter from Mr. Elliott to me dated August 16, 1966. "You have brought a great deal of honor to your family and school," it said. "You never once let me down. You're a wonderful girl." Six months later, I would have my first drink and for a long, long time, I would let everyone down. I would not bring honor to anything. I would squander everything I'd achieved.

I hadn't remembered the letter, but all those years the small town values I had been brought up with had stuck in my conscience. The values of people who stay in one place and greet each other at the supermarket. The values of a man who saves graduation programs and writes letters and remembers the good things we've done.

BLOCK: Heather King lives in Los Angeles.

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