Visiting Miss George

Sepia Saturday 442: First in a new series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

When I was in the fourth grade in 1959-60, I was amazed at how many tall, mature-looking teenagers would stop by our classroom at the end of the day to visit our bespectacled teacher Miss Helen George.

Young women in full-skirted dresses with books in their arms, muscled young men in bulky, athletic letter jackets, and tall, studious types who engaged Miss George in conversation — they all returned to visit a teacher they clearly remembered with fondness.

Helen George plaque, Vestal Hills Memorial Park, Vestal, N.Y. (2018). Miss Helen George was a beloved fourth grade teacher at nearby Hooper School, where many of her former students returned to visit throughout their high school years. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Often, Miss George would proudly introduce her former students to us and say how one day we, too, would be high school students just like them — an amazing thought for a fourth grader!

That memory stuck with me — and years later, walking home from the high school one afternoon I became one of those “big students” who stopped by to say hello to Miss George and be introduced to her class.

A quintessential teacher

Miss George was a quintessential teacher of her era and reminded me in some ways of my maternal grandmother. Her short reddish hair had a hint of grey (she would have been in her early forties at the time) — and I remember her in calf-length, button-front, small-print shirt dresses and sensible black lace-up pumps with square, career-height heels.

Rimless eyeglasses completed her look as a no-nonsense instructor bent on fulfilling her duty to impart knowledge to us youngsters. A stern taskmaster, Miss George nevertheless found creative ways to spark learning by sharing her community involvement in town history with our class — and she rewarded us when we did well.

One more visit

So is it any wonder that this month, as I prepared to return to my home town for my 50th high school reunion, Miss George was the teacher who sprang to mind?

My high school classmates planned a mixer, a tour of the school and a dinner — all fun stuff as we got reacquainted and reminisced about our teenage time together.

And before the festivities began , I decided that one more visit to Miss George was also in order — this time to her final resting place in Vestal Hills Memorial Park in Vestal, N.Y. — to pay my respects to a teacher who had made a great impact on me during my formative years.

Plaques of Helen George, her parents and brother, Vestal Hills Memorial Park, Vestal, N.Y. (2018). The park maintainers graciously cleaned the plaques of the George family in advance of my visit. Miss George’s plaque is third from left. Photo: Molly Charboneau

“Nobody has been to see her for a long time,” said the park secretary, who arranged to have her plaque — along with those of her parents and brother — cleaned up for my visit.

Telling Miss George’s story

Miss George was single and childless — and I’m not sure who might be around to chronicle a bit of her personal history.

But there’s more than enough room for her in Molly’s Canopy!

So as her former student, I plan to write a few blog posts about how her life intersected with mine and what I have been able to learn about her through research.

Please stop back as this new series unfolds. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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14 thoughts on “Visiting Miss George”

  1. A beautifully written tribute to Miss George. I have strong memories of many of my teachers who must have made an impact on me. At the time, they seemed quite old, which I am sure was not the case. But many were what we defined as “spinsters” .

    1. Wonderful observations about your teachers. I am grateful that the word “spinster” is not in common use these days — thanks to the many single, career women like Miss George who led rich, full lives, and to the women’s movement that arrived in my youth and helped recast how society viewed single women of a certain age.

  2. What a wonderful tribute! Miss George would be very proud. Teachers who have the skill and talent to bring out the best in their students are special people. With your thoroughness for research I know we are in for a great story.

    1. Thanks, Mike. I’m hoping she would have liked this series. She loved history and social science, prompting me to focus my studies there, so this blog would be right up her alley.

  3. Wonderful idea! It is always good to celebrate those teachers who had an impact on us – especially those like Miss George, who had no descendants. I look forward to your future posts. (Kathy at abbieandeveline.com)

  4. I look forward to your writings. In the last few years I reconnected with my high school Spanish teacher on fb. He is 97 years old and clear as a bell. I wish I was close enough to go visit him while he is around to talk with.

  5. I look forward to reading about your Miss George reminiscences. Like you, I had some favorite teachers along the way whom I remember with great fondness. The biggest surprise, however, occurred when I was in high school & needed to go back, one afternoon after school, to the Jr. high I’d attended to pick up something from another teacher. I was walking down the hall when out of a classroom came a teacher I had never liked and whom I was convinced had never liked me either. She smiled and gave me what seemed like a genuinely heartfelt “Hello” & wanted to know how I was doing and congratulated me on a recent award I’d received. I was stunned! Naturally it made me feel a lot better about her, but then I felt just a little guilty about the awful poem I’d written about her back then – that had accidentally been passed around the class – because I was furious about something she’d done. Oh well. To her it was water under the bridge, I guess. Who knew? 🙂

  6. Thanks for these wonderful memories. I have fond memories of my freshman high school English teacher. Another “spinster” who many of her students remembered fondly. I think it also had to do with our being pushed to think for ourselves, as part of our coming of age (at 14 no less!)

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