Thursday, July 20, 2023

Dot Kitchings and the Keys to the Kingdom

I'm not yet ready to bury my past.  You'd be surprised how rarely people ask if I'm ready for anything.  Me being ready or not, has no impact on the progression of life.  

My sister called this morning to ask if I was going to the funeral for Dot Kitchings.  It's the same day as the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame induction for Jim Page, famed Millsaps Baseball coach.  I told her the logistics might be challenging, but I was going to do my best to do both but that I would be at the funeral for sure.

I don't much care for funerals.  In the years I was in the crystal cave, I attended none of them, missing even important ones.  A ritual celebrating the end of a remarkable life sometimes feels like just "the end" to me.  

When I look at St. Andrews now, it's grown so much from the school I knew.  They have all these really cool opportunities to build confidence and broaden horizons.  We didn't have that in the seventies.  One thing I learned as an adult was there were times when it was a struggle to keep the doors open and make the payroll.  We didn't have a lot of the impressive things the campus now boasts, but we did have people like Bea Donnelly and Dot Kitchings.

I entered Mrs. Kitchings' class, having been behind every year in language, history, and math.  Anything that required reading or writing, or calculation was a cold mountain for me, so I spent a lot of time in summer classes trying to catch up.

My mother suggested a trick using an index card to block out most of the text on the page of a book, so I could focus on just the one line I was trying to read.   That made a surprising difference.  Although I was behind, I went to the first day of Mrs. Kitchings's class, having read "The Hobbit," The Narnia Books, "The Martian Chronicles," and "I, Robot."  A girl I liked read "Slaughterhouse-Five" while I struggled with "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe."  I don't think she was showing off.  She was just lucky in an area where I was not.

I think Mrs. Kitchings understood that I loved reading; I just couldn't do it very well.  She taught us "The Foghorn." I explained the connection between "The Foghorn" and the movie "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" and how Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen were childhood friends, and I had written Harryhausen a letter.  

My problem came in two parts.  The reading part I'd made some progress on, but the writing part was still really a problem.  Some of my old teachers read these essays sometimes.  They have my great sympathy for ever having to read my handwriting on tests or papers.  I'm aware of how bad it is.  An awful lot of effort was put into improving it, but it proved fruitless.

One day, Mrs. Kitchings was talking to my mother and told her that the Education Center, right next door to St. Andrews, offered classes in typing.  Maybe I could attend class there one or two days a week.  If I learned to type, maybe my papers would be at least readable.  

Without realizing it, she handed me the keys to what would become my life-long passion.  Touch typing broke the link between my eyes and my fingers where dyslexia was confusing them.  Typing made me free.  Free in ways I never dreamed possible.  I had so much I wanted to express, even if nobody ever read it, that had been completely impossible before, and now I could not only do it, I could do it well.  I had never had the experience of doing anything well other than lifting weights in my life.  This changed everything.

Now in my sixties, I write between one and two thousand words a day, every day, even Sunday.  Dot Kitchings' idea made an entirely new person out of me.  It would still take a few years for what I could do to really manifest, but once I was through that door, I could do anything, and I got through that door because of her.  

I always sit in the back at funerals.  My face may not express that much emotion, but my tears do.  I'm not very good at saying goodbye, but I'm very good at remembering why I should.  

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