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Talking poetry to my former teachers and classmates

Talking poetry to my former teachers and classmates

When my former P.E. teacher from Florida High School, Connie Lane Lewis, asked me last summer if I’d be interested in returning to Tallahassee to speak to a group of retired FHS faculty members about poetry this fall, I was thrilled, and of course, said yes immediately. But even that feeling paled to what it was like to actually see, speak to and spend time with, so many friends and families I’ve had a bond with my whole life.

Most of these people, I have not seen since that sunny afternoon in 1975 when many of us received our diplomas. To be in the same place, at the same time, again 45 years later, was almost a surreal experience. It was magical, and deeply moving.

On October 15, my husband and I drove to town, and had dinner with my mother that evening. The next afternoon, we drove out to Westminster Oaks, a retirement community where many former Florida State University faculty members, including FHS teachers — known as the Developmental Research School, Florida High was a sort of lab school for FSU educators — now reside. Connie, “Coach Lewis,” had asked me for the names of former classmates I might want to invite, and I did ask a handful. However, others apparently heard I was coming and surprised me by showing up. Even some dear family friends, Bob Spivey and Walter and Marion Moore, who live at Westminster Oaks now, were there. I was so honored, and deeply touched.

This retired faculty group meets quarterly and often invites back former students to talk about their lives and careers. Connie knew through Facebook about my most recent book having been published, and I was happy to talk about Accommodations, and how it came about. At the same time, I didn’t just want to talk about myself; I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the power of poetry in my life, but in doing so, maybe spark some interest in writing or reading poetry among members of the group.

I’m not sure I did that, but I did give a presentation titled “The Power of Poetry: Why I Write, and Maybe You Should, Too” — and I really hope some of my personal experience will end up making a difference to someone else. But before I gave “that” talk, I opened by paraphrasing something that Albert Schweitzer said in his book, Memories of Childhood and Youth.  Essentially, Schweitzer says something about how people enter our lives at key moments, and some of them will influence us in ways they’ll never know. I told the group that I felt the people and teachers I knew during my years as a student at Florida High had influenced me by caring about who I was as a person at a difficult time in my life, as well as during better times. Some of my old teachers — Miss Charlotte Hunt, who died too soon, and many others — encouraged me in my writing and helped to foster a sense of belonging at a critical time in my life.

I attended Florida High, also known as the Developmental Research School, from kindergarten through 12th grade, with the exception of 1st and 2nd grades, which I attended in Durham, North Carolina, when my dad was in graduate school at Duke. So many of my former classmates are people I knew just that long ago…almost 60 years! I’d turned 62 a few weeks  We will always have a very special bond that is hard to explain to people who have not experienced this sort of connection. My Florida High teachers and former classmates were and are in many ways like a second family to me.

Some of my classmates who attended from the FHS Class of 1975 were: Pam Tomberlin Ashe, Karyn King Hebert, Beverley Reddick Crum, Hester Proctor Gehrm, Carolyn Albertson Barnes and her sister, Nancy (Class of ’73), Floy Mikell Busby, and from the Class of ’74, Tom Fernald and his wife, Sarah.

Here are some photos from this unforgettable occasion. So many memories!