Looking Back
August 30, 2018

Friends from different generations

Conversations with friends always bring up interesting topics. A recent one led us to the subject of people in our lives, who, though much older than we were “back in the day”, later became our friends or coworkers as adults. Such relationships may seem a little awkward at first but can very satisfying at the same time.

In my case a high school teacher, who was a nun, was helping me to find the college best suited to my interests. I knew I wanted a small school and one that offered Latin as a major. However, the wisdom of my choosing Latin could be a column in itself! Just about every school dropped it from its curriculum within a few years of my acquiring my degree. Those who were teaching that subject stayed in their positions. Not good for a new graduate!

As it turned out, my high school teacher had a sister who was a lay member of the faculty of Trinity College in Burlington. Both women had graduated from there and thought highly of the school. It was suggested that I visit the campus and see what I thought about it. My parents and I did just that, and it was perfect for me. I applied and was accepted.

My teacher’s sister took me under her wing and made sure that I was happy there and, since she was a math professor, I got a little extra help even though I wasn’t her student. Latin was easy for me. Math was not!

During the summer months when I was home I visited my former high school teacher and thanked her for helping me with the school selection process. I invited her to lunch as my guest and that was the start of a lifelong friendship with both sisters. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with one another and as we aged our relationship changed from student-and-teacher to friends.

I lost touch over the years with the Trinity professor, but before that happened both sisters were guests at my wedding. Because my nun friend remained in Rutland we made sure to get together at least once a year. She loved taking a ride and every summer I made sure to take her to lunch either at the lake or up in Killington where we sat by the pond at The Gristmill.

I had the opportunity to be on the other end of a teacher–student friendship just a few years ago when one of my own students and I connected through the Caring Bridge website for a mutual friend who was ill. I had a very short teaching career from 1966 to 1969 and after leaving I had no association with any of my former students. It turns out that both my student and I have a love of writing. We met for lunch several years ago and found some common ground with writing projects that we both had going on. Now we stay in touch by email and get together at least once a year to catch up when she is in Vermont. The two of us even hiked together and my friend asked if another of my students could join us. It was a fun time but I told them that with a seven-year age difference we had better hike again fairly soon before something “goes south” on my aging body!

After my short stint as a teacher I had the opportunity for a job in the business world. I was recommended for a position with New England Telephone by a relative who had been a part of my life since I was a baby. Now that I look back she was probably more nervous than I was, since she was the one who would look bad if I turned out to be a non-productive worker who was prone to errors. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, so I didn’t let her down. We worked together for over 10 years and I learned how hard working and conscientious she was. I spent those years with a good role model, for sure.

I think it’s safe to say that when someone is your teacher, he or she will always be thought of as your teacher. I remember one winter day I was cross country skiing at Mountain Top. As I was heading to the trails, someone approached me and said, “Is that you, Miss Whalen?” I recognized my student right away and we spent a few minutes catching up. Of course, I was Mrs. Shaw by then but not to her!

As a writer I sometimes need information from the Rutland Historical Society. Jim Davidson plays a major role in that organization and he was my high school history teacher. He will always be “Mr. Davidson” to me and will hold “teacher” status to my “student” status. Only now I am the one asking questions and he is the one giving answers!

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