Posted By janice on April 28, 2010
Virgina Dare Besett Anderson, my beloved fourth-grade English teacher, passed away this past weekend. I am happy that she knew how important she was to me, how influential she was in my young life, how much I adored her.
I had a different teacher for homeroom, but I loved changing to Mrs. Besett’s class for English, one of my favorite subjects. I loved reading, writing and history over that math stuff. She was grandmotherly, soft and loving with gray curly hair and glasses. I had never met someone named Virginia before. To me, it was a name of a state located far from the plains of Oklahoma. I even named a doll Virginia after Mrs. Besett.
Back then, I was in my “tall blonde phase.” I was gawky, geeky, and stick-like with large glasses and long blonde hair perpetually pulled into two ponytails or braids. My mom sewed all of our clothes.
My friends had two sets of grandparents, and my siblings and I only had one set since Mom’s parents both passed away when she was young. Grandpa was generally a silent sort, and Grandma was bony with hard edges, both physically and emotionally. Grandmas were supposed to look more like my great-aunts and Mrs. Besett.
Mrs. Besett loved the fact that my sister and I were adopted like her two granddaughters. I happily admit that I was a teacher’s pet. She asked me to fill her tall plastic glass with water from the water fountain and run errands for her. Mrs. Besett was a nurturing soul at a time in my life when I needed it. I just didn’t know I needed it at the time.
At recess, I sometimes would hang back and talk to her as she supervised us on the playground. She nudged me to go and play with my friends, but I liked hanging out with her.
I beamed with pride when she commented how much she loved my book report on John F. Kennedy, who turned out to be one of her favorite presidents. We had a year together before I moved onto fifth grade. She retired a year or two later. Through the grapevine winding through small towns, I found out that her husband passed away. When I entered my teen years, I ran into her and her new husband at the TG&Y a couple of times.
I don’t remember exactly how or when the letter writing began. After college, I moved to Galveston to work at the newspaper there. I liked writing letters before the age of the quickie e-mail. Back then, I wrote letters to Mrs. Besett, my journalism professor from college, and several of my friends. In letters, I addressed her as Mrs. Besett or Besett Anderson, and she wrote back at some point when I was in my 30s to say I could call her “Virginia.” I tried it once but it felt funny and almost disrespectful.
About a year before moving into a nursing home, Mrs. Besett surprised me by stopping at my house a few days before Christmas. She saw cars in the driveway and decided to stop by to see if I was there. We had a lovely visit, and my sister and I went down the road to see her a couple of days later.
I recognized the signs from my own grandmother. Mrs. Besett repeated herself and asked the same questions several times, and I answered them every time. She laughed about how she was only allowed to drive from her home to Elgin, and her daughter and son-in-law lived nearby and brought her meals she could warm up.
When meeting her daughter for the first time, she said, “Oh, Janice, yes, I’ve heard a lot about you.” I flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and pride. No matter how old you are, you still want to make your favorite teachers happy. Maybe we’re all perpetual fourth-graders deep down.
At age 93, Virginia Dare Besett Anderson left us behind. The world feels emptier without her. I imagine her looking down at all of us, all of her fourth-graders. When I close my eyes, I can almost hear her laugh on the playground.