Moving along in the world of things that make me me, we now progress to actual people. As I think back through the years I am certain I could probably pick dozens of people who made great impacts on my life. I am sure everyone can if they think about it hard enough. I had friends, family, neighbors, and teachers aplenty to help shape me, but there are a few who stand out above all the others.
The first one that comes to my mind, outside of family members, is Helen Fessler. Ms. Fessler was my reading tutor and piano teacher. Really though she was so much more than the woman who taught me to read and pound out a few choppy notes on a piano.
I remember her house was green. It wasn't a bright vibrant green or a dark foreboding green but instead a rich and earthy moss green. The house was two stories and set far back in a slightly older neighborhood close to where my church was. It sat back slightly surrounded by lumbering shade trees which encompassed the house in shadows at all times. Not creepy shadows that bring about visions of monsters, but instead the welcoming shade that beckons you to curl up under a tree and lazily watch the world pass by.
There was always this certain smell to her house. To this day I can't tell you what that smell was but it wasn't unpleasant. It was subtle and probably nothing purposeful, but it was there. It was a welcoming comforting smell. I imagine some people might associate it with the smell of a beloved older relatives house.
The house was always dark. Rarely did we progress beyond the front room, which had the piano in it. Sometimes when my brother was taking his lesson and I was done, I would be allowed to sit quietly in the living room while I waited. I would often sit on the deep pile carpet on the stairs and wonder who this woman was.
All the doors in the house were closed and none of the lights ever seemed to be on. If the curtains weren't drawn there was very little light coming in from the windows because of the trees that surrounded the house. I don't remember ever seeing any family pictures and I don't ever remember there being anyone else in the house. I was so young it didn't occur to me to look or to ask if there was a Mr. Fessler. Looking back now it makes me a little sad I don't know that.
I am not sure how my mother found her, but when I was struggling so hard with reading, she was the solution. I remember going to her house and sitting in the room where the large piano sat in the front window seeming to pull to it the only sunlight that could make it through the trees. We would sit with flash cards and bingo boards and eggs of silly putty for what seemed like forever.
I don't recall much else of what we did in those months, but I remember it was never a chore. Trying to read in school was embarrassing and difficult. It was a burden. With Ms. Fessler it was almost a game. I wasn't trying to read books or sentences I was just reading words. It was very fundamental. It was almost fun.
Then one day I just looked up at a billboard while we were driving along and I could read. I was so excited that I read every billboard or sign we passed. I was amazed and all I wanted to do was to go tell Ms. Fessler.
I think my brother started piano lessons with her before I did, but it wasn't long until I was there as well. I am not a musically inclined creature. I can appreciate it all I like, but I lack any natural sense of rhythm which makes playing music difficult. I couldn't find the beat if my life depended on it. Still, just like with reading, Ms. Fessler was there guiding me along the way.
She found ways to work around my obvious shortcomings with music. I was able to passably play. I was really no good at it at all, but I really enjoyed it. She made me enjoy it. Again it wasn't a chore. It was something I liked doing.
I didn't stick with piano lessons, though to my recollection they lasted several years. My brother probably took them longer than I did. Sometimes I wish I had stuck with it, but I know I was never going to be any good and I needed to focus my energy on things I was good at.
Even though it has been probably two decades since I last sat in Ms. Fessler's parlor in front of the old baby grand piano, I still think of her often. Anytime I pass a piano, whenever I finish a new book, every time I stand in a book store coveting the tomes before me, I think of her.
I think of how proud she would be to see that I developed such a thirst and love of reading. I think of how proud she would be that I have embraced and fostered my penchant for using words. I think of how she might like reading my blog and knowing that she is the reason for it all at the very base of things.
Without her I would have eventually learned to read but I have a feeling it would have been something that I resented and always felt bitter about. I think that I would have never embraced it as a pleasurable past time and only seen it as a burden. I fear that I would have never found the wonder that books and words provide.
She may not have taught me to be a great musician, with notes flying from my fingertips, filling the air with songs that drive people to great emotions, but I give her credit for turning me into a writer. She taught me the fundamentals of words and because of her that is my music. My words are my notes and my stories are my songs.
Thank you Ms. Fessler. Thank you for teaching me to read. Thank you for teaching me to play. Thank you most of all for giving me the tools to make my own music.