Mrs. Cato was my fourth grade teacher. It was my second year at Millbrook Elementary, and I would make it through two more after that before crossing Pine Log Road to Kennedy Junior High.
As I recall, Mrs. Cato had high expectations of her students. Her class was tough – or maybe that was just fourth grade and it didn’t matter who the teacher was. Mrs. Cato was fair, and I remember liking her, but I don’t know what happened to her after that year. She may have remained at Millbrook, and since her room was on the far side of the school from fifth and sixth grade classrooms I just may not have come across her after that year.
I was recently looking over the little picture book from fourth grade. When we got our school pictures, we swapped photos with friends and inserted their images into a fold-out booklet. Checking out the pictures of fourth grade friends, I realized that most of them are like Mrs. Cato – gone to parts unknown.
As I looked through the small booklet there were Buddy, Davie, Nancy, Cherry, Marilyn and Tommy. We followed similar paths all the way through high school, and I have at least kept up with where they are or within the past few years re-discovered their whereabouts.
Then I looked at the photos of Noel, Rod, Alan, Larry, Margie, Carol and Sandra who are in the Mrs. Cato category of LTO – lost track of.
Life is like that. There are people who we have important relationships with, and then they are gone. My best friend in first and second grade was Bobby. He lived one street over, and we were inseparable until his dad built a house across town, and we went to different schools. We still saw each other occasionally, and then they moved out of town. Where is he now?
My first infatuation with a girl was Roxanne – we called her Roxie.
She, too, was in first and second grade with me, and she lived next door to Bobby. Then her folks moved (to Alaska we were told) and Roxie was gone. Where is she now?
A good friend, Tommy, was in school and church with me through sixth grade. A transfer for his dad, and Tommy was gone. I had a crush on Joan in seventh grade. Before long she moved to another state. And where is she now?
We cross paths with hundreds, maybe thousands, of people during our lives. Some of them we barely know while others remain important parts of our lives. There are many of those who have gone off in their own directions who may have played an important part as to who we are today. Like Ms. Hand, who helped me get my first job. Without that job at that particular time in my life, I would not be the man I am today. But where is she?
And where is Phil who was so instrumental in the beginning of my journalism career? Like so many others, I have lost track of him as we went our separate ways.
I guess my point is that while there are many people who have affected my life and who I have lost track of, don’t we fall into that same category? Have we not been an important part of someone’s life – even if just for a moment – and then we are gone?
We never know what kind of impact we will have on people. We never know if our relationship will be short or long.
We never know if an act of kindness will be the catalyst that someone uses to make a significant change in his or her life. And on the flip side, we don’t know if some insensitive remark from us will set someone back.
Of the scores of interactions we have with people each day, how do we come across? Are we supportive, kind, nurturing and generous? Or are we flippant, uncaring, selfish and stingy?
I don’t know what became of Mrs. Cato, but I can easily imagine that she touched many more lives after she was my teacher.
As to the others in my picture book with whom I have lost touch, they probably went on to productive lives, raised children, had important jobs and were essential parts of their communities. Perhaps in some small way, I touched their lives just as they touched mine.
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.