In a recent discussion about heroes I shared these memories.


She did what heroes do ….

When Betty came to school on Monday, her pigtails framed her plain face, and her brown dress was freshly ironed. She took her seat near me in the first grade at Magnolia Street School in Valdosta, Georgia. The year was 1939. I was five years old, and Miss Fanny, our teacher, decided that I was prepared to start school at that early age.

When Betty came to school on Tuesday, she wore a clean, freshly ironed blue dress. When Miss Fanny was ready to review the alphabet, she took a long pointer and touched each letter that was carefully printed atop the blackboard. I knew the alphabet, and could recite the letters forward and backward, but I had not yet learned to combine the letters into words and build a vocabulary.

When Betty came to school on Wednesday, she sat quietly among the other 20 students, and she was wearing the same freshly ironed brown dress that she wore on Monday. As Miss Fanny began to teach us to read, she frequently had to repeat some words in the first grade reader, but Betty already knew the words. She just seemed smarter than the rest of us.

Betty and I lived in the same community during the days when our homes did not have electricity, so at night we used kerosene lamps and candles to light our way. Those also were the days before television. Even though Betty and I walked the same pathway to and from school, she always walked too fast for me. She had a purpose that I did not know. So when Betty came to school on Thursday, wearing the blue dress that she wore on Tuesday, I kept her pace and walked with her and asked how she became smarter than the rest of us. She told me. Betty only had two dresses, one blue and one brown, and after school each day she rushed home and washed the dress she wore that day, and she ironed the other one and made it ready for tomorrow. Then she studied her lessons. And if she had not finished by nightfall, she put the kerosene lamp nearer the pages and kept on preparing for what Miss Fanny wanted us to know.

Even at the age of six, Betty had a strong sense of who she was, regardless of what she was wearing. I started to admire her and I adopted her study habits. Three month after we began the first grade together, Betty and I were promoted to the second grade. I continued to follow her pattern of study and preparation and at the end of the school year; five months later, Betty and I were again promoted — to the third grade.

Betty became one of my early heroes. She taught me how to improve my academic skills. She did what heroes always do — they inspire you to make yourself better.

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