Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week, Baseball, and Emily Post
Ross loves baseball. Correction. Ross loves Houston Astros baseball and has since he was a kid. This should tell you a few things about Ross. One, he is loyal. Two, he can persevere through hard times; at least seven years’ worth of losing seasons (most recently, until last year). And third, if you ever need to get him a gift, anything Houston Astros is a safe bet. I knew this going into our marriage and, in fact, stated in our wedding vows that I would support the Astros. So, when we had the opportunity to go to New York to watch the Astros play the Yankees on Opening Day, we jumped on it.
I remembered that one of my favorite teachers (ever), Ms. Merlo, lived in New York and rented her apartment on Airbnb. We reconnected years ago on Facebook and I enjoyed watching her updates about attending foreign film festivals and seeing beautiful photos of her in colored scarves with wind-blown hair. As my high school English teacher, I remembered her well. She was bright-eyed, bubbly, and I looked forward to seeing her every day. She taught me how to memorize Shakespeare, find emotion in song lyrics, and the importance of keeping a journal.
Imagine my excitement when Ms. Merlo offered for us to stay with her. Reunited after, what we would later realize, was twenty years, it was like no time had passed. She greeted us warmly and welcomed us into her home. She lives in the Bronx surrounded by Italian restaurants and bargain clothing shops. From the moment we walked into her home, there was ease. I could never tell if it was her presence or the feel of the apartment.
In my go to, Etiquette, by the great Emily Post, she says:
In houses where visitors like to go again and again there is always a happy combination of some attention on the part of the host and hostess, and the perfect freedom of the guests to occupy their time as they choose. In other words, while we of the modern day like to have some attention paid to us at least now and then, the majority of us- at least those on the far side of our teens- would rather go to stay with one who lets us quite alone than ever again go stay with one who is over-energetic.
The apartment fit her. It was eclectic, adorned with handmade crafts and family heirlooms, lots of books arranged by color (which made my OCD heart sing), and it was low maintenance (in the best of ways). I continually asked her where she kept “all her stuff.” She would laugh and ask me if I was a hoarder. It was eye-opening to me how much we keep in our home. We have room and a garage and a shed and a car to transport it all around. In a small New York apartment, you only have room for what you can use. And you have to schlep new purchases all over town and across trains and subways to get it home. There is no such thing as a Target or Costco run.
I was amazed, though, at how living so minimally could still result in having everything that you need. She didn’t have the perfect set of twelve dinner plates. She had five mismatched plates that would be washed and reused. We drank out of Christmas mugs. She had fresh fruit and cheese in the fridge; food that you buy and eat. Not food that sits around and gets thrown out weeks later. And she had everything; it was just smaller or less in number than I have known to be ‘necessary.’ It really changed my perspective on the necessity of having ‘stuff.’
Ms. Merlo is much more about experiences, travel, and relationships. That is her ‘stuff’ and she keeps it in her grateful heart and remarkable memory. It flows through her veins and sparkles in her eyes and smile.
The best thing about staying with Ms. Merlo (whom I could not call by her first name for the life of me) was our conversations. We would sit at her dining room table and tell stories about the last twenty years, learning more about one another, reliving old memories, and constantly laughing so hard, we’d cry.
It was a powerful experience to know someone as a teenager and then reconnect with them years later as an adult. Would we get along? Would we have anything in common? I wondered how much she’s changed. Or maybe how much I changed. But it was like no time had passed and we reconnected like the old friends we were, except on a deeper, more soulful level.
Ms. Merlo was the perfect balance of what Emily Post suggested. Ross and I were independent and came and went as we pleased. We also stayed in and spent time with Ms. Merlo; not because of any obligation but because we both enjoyed her company and the engaging conversations that resulted. She selflessly told us to help ourselves to anything of hers. She had coffee (even though she doesn’t drink it) and didn’t mind the bacon I put in the fridge (she’s a vegetarian). We felt right at home due to her hospitality and warmth. By the time we left, I realized that she continues to impact my life in a positive way and that she’s more like family than just being a teacher I once had long ago.
So, how do you honor someone who helped to develop you into the person you are today? How do you ever give enough thanks to an amazing host? How do you tell your favorite English teacher that she’s someone you love and that you’re praying every day for her happiness and success because she is truly, truly deserving of it? For me, the answer is the one way, which she directly influenced… in truth, in words, and in a (very public) journal.