I recently watched lots of television during the wee hours; as a tennis fan, I wanted to see the Australian Open live in Melbourne – sixteen hours ahead of us here. Unexpectedly, I came away from the tournament contemplating words by Roger Federer, whose victory gave him a recording-breaking 20th Grand Slam title.
Federer declined to predict the outcome of the women’s final between Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki. But when the interviewer pointed out that whichever lady won, it would be her first Grand Slam victory, Federer admitted to envy of their situation and wistfully wished he could win his first tournament – Wimbledon in 2003 – all over again. I am still thinking about his words.
I, too, wish I could return to some of the firsts of my life. One such moment would be my first visit to the county library. After years of arriving home every Saturday with picture and story books culled from the library shelves, my mother grew brave enough to take one of her four preschool daughters at a time with her into the cottage-like building on West Market Street.
My initial impression was big windows, quiet atmosphere – and books, books, books everywhere, more than I had ever seen. Gradually the library, that utopia of reading pleasure, also became a site for homework help and a source of part-time income. I still wish, however, I could enter the quaint brick house again as the little girl whose reading dreams came true that day.
It will come as no surprise that I would also wish to return to the farm on River Road where my family lived for fifteen years. Oh, to be a kid again, the days stretching before me with acres of forest and farmland where I could spend those days.
Although my parents complained about too many hours underfoot or in front of the TV, I explored enough to have favorite spots everywhere: the corner of the pasture perfect for sledding and the crossing of Muddy Creek usually low enough to wade across. I often walked the back lane past fields of crops my father rotated each year and grazing space for his small herd of Holsteins, on to the rickety bridge I was always afraid to cross.
The fact that distinguishable landmarks no longer exist as testament to our life there, just once more I would like to find myself in that place, where I felt safe and comfortable for more than a dozen of my formative years.
I rushed home from my first day of high school simply bursting to read for Mother from my new Latin textbook: Italia est peninsulam – the first sentence of the first foreign language I would study in my lifetime.
Seven years later, almost to the day, my college roommates poked fun as I gazed through the window of our German hotel room at “real” German people hustling to work. What my friends could not comprehend that morning was what my first day in Europe actually represented. In fits and starts, I had progressed through two foreign languages and almost a whole college education to earn my seat at that window.
Yes, I would love to relive both those experiences for the sense of accomplishment they represented. Latin had led me to German which led me to Germany and an entire lifetime of adventure and opportunity, important to be sure. But revisiting those two moments would also allow me to re-experience so many early dreams, long before my path through Germany and its language revealed itself.
If limited to one single return to an earlier time, I would without hesitation choose to revisit my first year of teaching. I cannot adequately express the myriad of emotions I experienced that year as I stood before my very first students, practically overwhelmed by the realization that my first-grade dream of being a teacher had come true.
Oh, I was scared silly by the reality of it all: lesson plans, discipline challenges, and real live kids watching my every step and misstep. I was green and idealistic, with no inkling of what really lay ahead, what twists and turns my classroom life would take. I just held onto the fact that I was a teacher – with five classes of freshmen expecting me to teach them English.
In a heartbeat I would go back to when I was just starting out, barely older than the kids in my classes, unproven to myself or my colleagues, oblivious to the forty years I was about to spend in that classroom with several generations of kids. But why?
The answer began to emerge when I left the GHS parking lot for the last time, tears streaming down my cheeks: I visualized the 22-year-old girl on her first day so many years before who could not know, as she stood on the brink of her future, the laughter and sadnesses she was poised to experience as well as the discouragements and successes her career would produce. She could not begin to comprehend then how much joy her students and teaching would bring her.
But I now understand that Roger Federer wants to return to his first major win just as I wish to return to my first year of teaching – for the pure pleasure of beginning all over again the wonderful lives our early experiences led us to live.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.