I couldn't reminisce about Charleston Elementary School without mentioning Edna E. Reiber, my first grade teacher there. (That's a photo of her at left, from her obituary.)
Although my family moved in 1965 during the middle of my first grade year, and I didn't have Miss Reiber as my teacher very long, she taught me something – after I was no longer her student – that has stuck with me for years.
Let me explain.
Miss Reiber had been my older sister's teacher as well, so by the time I was in her class, I was able to enjoy some of the goodwill left over from her earlier encounter with our family.
But when it came time for us to move in December of 1965, it would be reasonable to think that my relationship with Miss Reiber would come to an end.
But it didn't. She sent Christmas cards to my sister and me for years.
In the early years, it seemed to be a nice parting gesture from a former teacher. But she kept it up, and every year around Christmas, my sister and I would watch the mailbox. It became a contest. Often one card would arrive before the other, and my sister and I would always ask each other: "Did you get a card from Miss Reiber yet?"
Years later, when I was in high school, my Mom took my sister and me out to visit her at her place out in the country near Vermilion. She was very warm and friendly, like a grandmother.
Even after college, even after I got married, I still traded Christmas cards with Miss Reiber. Hers always had a few lines on it telling me what was going on in her life, and I would fill her in on mine. As the years went on, she would mention that she still had some of my old drawings that she saved, and that she would dig them out sometime and mail them to me.
As the years went on, her notes got shorter, and her penmanship shakier. Finally, the lines were almost illegible and I feared for the worst.
When no card arrived in 2004, I knew that she had either passed away or was in such bad shape that sending out cards was out of the question.
She died at age 90 on Saturday, August 13, 2005.
Miss Reiber taught me that friendship and tradition were important. It would have been very easy for her to throw in the hat after that first year and save herself a few stamps and cards. After all, she had a whole new crop of kids every year. Why worry about a couple of former students?
But she was a dedicated teacher – devoted to all her students, past and present – so she obviously thought it was important to maintain that connection.
Miss Reiber certainly left an impression on my sister (who is also a teacher) and me. We think of her every Christmas.