This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Miss Marjorie Adele Hendee always wanted to be an actress, rather than a teacher. Teaching has no glamour and is only for old maids, she would say. But her stage turned out to be a desk in a classroom where she gave five performances a day for her teenage audience. Miss Hendee taught Senior English at Moline High School for thirty-five years, from 1920 until she retired in 1955.
In the classroom, Miss Hendee was always cheerful and considerate in a prim and proper kind of way. She was difficult for students to figure out, like an iceberg with very little showing. Was she modern, or old fashioned? She always wore the most recent styles, but she never learned to type or drive a car. She taught the great classics of literature but read every detective story she could. All attempts to pry into her private life—there were the usual student rumors of a great lost love—were quickly steered into safer topics. She seemed lonely, keeping to herself in a great white house on 25th Street and Tenth Avenue.
Not until after graduation did her favorite former students dare to presume to walk up the steps of that white house for a visit. There they discovered the scrapbooks—rooms of them, full of clippings of her students’ achievements, even in sports though she never attended a game of any kind. All of them were students she had encouraged to do their best, to achieve more than they dreamed. On the walls were pictures students had sent back to her—hundreds of photos of them in their new jobs, engagement and marriage announcements, snapshots of the first child, a promotion. On tables and shelves lay books and other mementos given to her by students long since graduated.
So much for a great lost love. If there had been one, it had been replaced sevenfold.
Marjorie Adele Hendee—have you noticed that all great teachers have three names?—died in 1985. In the end she was confined to a nursing home, almost deaf, wracked by arthritis, and sometimes a bit forgetful of where she was. But never who she was. Strangers passing by the open door, and noticing the prim straight silhouette framed by the curtains in the window were not aware of the rich drama unfolding in her mind.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.