Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Letter

I opened up the letter in my mailbox that read, “Tammy Reid wants to see you in her office this afternoon.”

It was my freshman year at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington and I had just finished my first of many essays for English Lit 101. The essays returned with more red marks than black, but there was a paragraph at the end of each essay that made me believe that I would pass the class and maybe even get an “A.”

In 1973, I was all about grades—the higher the better—after all, I was an overachiever, and a “B” was never good enough; in fact, it seemed like a failing grade to me. So when Tammy wanted to see me in her office, I couldn’t imagine what it was about.

I slipped the letter back in the envelope and headed to the Arts and Letters building where I spoke to the department head secretary. She smiled warmly and said, “Oh, yes, Connie! Tammy is expecting you.” My knees started to buckle and my heart raced. What could she possibly want from me?

Tammy greeted me with a mug of coffee in her hand and invited me to sit down on the sofa next to her desk. There were books everywhere, on shelves, on her desk, on the floor, and papers—lots of papers—with red marks, just like the ones I was used to seeing. Tammy settled back in her chair and handed me the essay, “Motorcycle Papa.” I had written it the week before.

I sat perched on the edge of the sofa and waited for her to speak first, “Connie, I don’t know what to say…this essay is… (and she stopped). Tears formed in her eyes and she grabbed a Kleenex from her desk. The lump in my throat prevented me from swallowing. It stayed there until Tammy finished her sentence. “You know, I’ve read a lot of essays, but this; well…”

I stared at her, then my paper, and watched as her tear-filled eyes started to sparkle again. I heaved a sigh of relief. It was good news she had to share—not something terrible as I had expected.

“I’m recommending that you change your major from health information management to English or journalism; you don’t belong in the sciences…you belong in the arts,” Tammy said emphatically.

I guess at age 18 I was too young to understand the significance of her words, but I simply said, “Thank you, but I don’t want to change majors.” At that moment, I saw the joy dissolve from Tammy's face. She put down my paper, crossed her hands, and said, “I certainly hope you will reconsider your decision.“

I walked out of her office relieved, bewildered, and confused. I never considered writing as a career, but something I did for “fun.” I wrote in diaries, journals, and entered competitions in high school, but that was something I thought of as a “hobby,” and certainly nothing I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Yesterday, I received “Whitworth Today” the publication that comes out four times a year from Whitworth College and in it were all the professors I had as a freshman: Tammy Reid, Leonard Oakland (Core 150 – Western Civ),and Clarence Simpson (who passed away on April 14; he was 93). The last of the greats have passed on or are retiring. Each had a special place in my life, but none more than Tammy Reid.

I wrote her a note today that started out, “I don’t think you will remember me, but…”

If I know Tammy, she will remember me. Certainly, after almost 36 years, I am beginning to understand what she meant about writing…it’s not a profession, it’s who you are. I think she will be happy to know that I found out who I am—finally!

Thanks, Tammy, for knowing me before I knew myself, and for instilling in me the passion for writing. Blessings on your retirement!

Living Life Passionately,

P.S. Is there someone from your past that you need to thank for the way they changed your life. It’s too late to thank Clarence Simpson (he passed away earlier this year), but I’m thankful I took the time today to write Tammy today. Don’t regret not taking the time!


Susan Skitt said...

Great post! God has indeed gifted you, I read your Love is a Verb story in Borders yesterday...

Connie Pombo said...

LOL! You are the second person today to tell me that you read my story in a bookstore. I haven't read it yet in the actual book. Maybe I need to head to Borders myself! Usually when a book finally comes out, I'm in a different place in my life, working on more deadlines. So maybe I need to stop and smell the "roses." Eh?