Today I met Ruth Freeman. She’s 99. We talked about her 40 years as a teacher, and I knew before I met her what a very special teacher she was.
58 years ago, in 1955, when my mother was an 8th grade student at Dobson School in Surry County, NC, Mrs. Freeman was an English teacher next door at the high school. This was during what spelling bee aficionados referred to as the E.L. Reece era. During the 1950s Mr. Reece coached one student per year aiming toward the national finals in Washington DC. His chosen students had made it to the national bee in 1953 and 1954, and this year was to be my mom’s turn.
My mom had already won for her school and then for her county, but as she was preparing for the regional Journal-Sentinel bee in Winston-Salem, her family was about to move out of the school district. Enter into the story the school superintendent to ask Mrs. Freeman if she would consider allowing my mom to live with her for the next few months to complete the school year. Spellers were taken seriously in Surry County! “Well, yes!” she said. “I always wanted a daughter!”
So my mom lived with Mrs. Freeman and her husband and two sons during the week and went home to her family on the weekends throughout the remainder of the academic year, during which time she won the regional bee and became another in the string of Mr. Reece’s national spellers; and Mrs. Freeman, along with Bill East of the Journal-Sentinel, accompanied her on her trip to nationals.
Today I listened intently to Mrs. Freeman’s memories of those days, and to the proud stories of her sons and their families, “meeting” them through the many photographs decorating the room she now calls home at Brookridge Baptist Retirement Community in Winston-Salem. One son was a Superior Court Judge, then mediator/arbitrator, now restaurant owner; the other is still practicing law. I heard about her grandchildren and her new great-granddaughter Halsey, named for Mrs. Freeman's maiden name. I was amazed at the sharpness of her mind and wit and the gleam in her eyes as she smiled at 99 years of memories.
My mom has kept in touch with this special teacher for 58 years, and I have seen that depth of joy in her eyes too every time she thinks of those 8th grade days. What an honor and joy to finally meet Mrs. Freeman!
Before boarding the train to Washington: my mom sitting in front of her parents and Mrs. Freeman (1955)
My mom sitting in Senator Sam Ervin's chair in Washington, with Mrs. Freeman and Senator Ervin (1955)
My mom and Mrs. Freeman sharing memories (2013)
Mrs. Freeman and my mom (2013)