Mama Stockton
by Betsy Gallup

     “Boys in pink are juicy.”  That was Mama Stockton—always quick with the oddball comment.  The day following the comment, every boy in the class showed up in a sherbet pink polo.  Mama Stockton was elated.

     I don’t remember how Juanita Stockton earned the title “Mama”.  It could have been her long-time standing as a senior advisor just as easily as it could have been a reflection on her personality.  When I was in her class, she must have been in her fifties.  Her physical appearance was reminiscent of many women her age—polyester pants; Clairol brown hair; oversized, wire-rimmed glasses; wide hips above short legs; age spots; and a face softened with age.  But her smile, her offbeat comments, and natural enthusiasm always reminded me of a hot mama college student eager to get on with life.

     She taught English and Creative Writing to the juniors and seniors at Broken Bow High School in southeastern Oklahoma during the 70’s and 80’s.  Her English teaching skills were unremarkable, but she exuded love for Creative Writing.  Her enthusiasm was contagious, especially to me.  It was in her class, as a shy, non-descript sixteen year old who tended to hide in the back of the class, that I was first told I had talent as a writer.  I didn’t have talent at anything.  I couldn’t sing a note; I was a mediocre athlete, a so-so artist.  To be given hope that I might be able to write something others would actually want to read was a godsend.  She said I had an excellent grasp of imagery.  She followed up her praise with actions—my papers became the examples she read aloud to the class.  I wanted to hide.  I wanted to brag.  Most of all, I wanted to write more!  For the first time in my life, I wanted to do something to actually draw attention to myself.  Mama Stockton did this for me.

     Her praise was even more significant because she was a published writer.  At some point in her life, she had written a book, a single book, and that one shining moment was her pride and joy.  She never bored us with the details, not that we would have listened—I can’t even tell you if it was fiction or non-fiction—yet it was clear in the offhanded way she mentioned it in passing that it was her greatest accomplishment, and it served as fuel forever giving her the confidence to be herself.  I wanted that.

     Mrs. Stockton retired a few years ago.  When I heard, I found myself grieving.  She was an unexceptional teacher, nor was she especially popular with the students.  Yet, knowing she wasn’t there, knowing she would never again inspire another shy, young mind to pick up a pen and write, knowing her quirky sense of humor would never again set of a group of students into a bout of raucous laughter was as great a loss as if I had heard she had passed away.

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