My Mom said, “You will need to write the principal a good letter.” From my position flat-bellied on the linoleum floor, with a nice fat yellow pencil firmly gripped in my sweaty palm, I began. I don’t have a single memory of what I wrote; I just remember the importance of the letter. Would the principal of Yew Lane Elementary School allow me, a five year old, to attend first grade? I’ve come to realize this: writing that letter was an act which would frame my future.
For the past fifty-six years, come September, I go shopping. I buy a new book bag, a box of #2 Ticonderoga pencils, a new outfit. Then I let the freshly polished floors, clean desks and eager faces of whatever school I happen to be attending or teaching in, welcome me back.
As the years passed, degrees, were earned, workshops attended, awards accepted, boards served on and thousands of students taught well. Now I find myself here at CATE at the College of Education at the University of Oregon, managing OWP’s Summer Institute. I feel like the caretaker of a precious gift–more precious than the letter that started me on this journey fifty-six years ago.
My Mom was an author, and her mother, a teacher and writer. I like to envision them both proudly looking over my shoulder, smiling at each other, exchanging a knowing nod–a nod that affirms what many of us have learned through our participation in the Oregon Writing Project. The Oregon Writing Project is huge, but we are like family; connected by some obscure genetic code: a chain of writers past, present and future. We are intimately connected to each other through our stories. And what we know is that summer is a time to play, to be children again, to find ourselves in our writing, to recognize ourselves in other’s writings, to keep the chain strong by passing this understanding on to our students.