Because Elsie Sanders opened up the big, wide world to me.
She took me on "Adventures in the Everglades," and we delved into "The Mystery at Cloud Rock." I laughed and cried and struggled alongside "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch," and I longed to beat up the meanies who were so awful to "The Little Witch."
Mrs. Sanders opened my eyes and mind and heart to the magical world of books. And, looking back, her methods bordered on genius.
But...first of all, you need to get a "picture" of Elsie Sanders. And that's so easy. Just remember Robin Williams as "Mrs. Doubtfire." Mrs. Doubtfire was Elsie Sanders. Looked like her. Built like her. Hair like her. Talked like her. Even had expressions and body language like her. (I just know Robin Williams somehow saw a movie of Elsie Sanders when he was creating that character.)
All of us thought of Mrs. Sanders more as a fluffy, loving grandmother than as a teacher, and she was not above using that knowledge to her (and, ultimately, to our) advantage.
Here was her daily schedule. In the morning, we would focus on the "hard-core" subjects like science and history and math. Besides books, her passion was to make absolutely sure that every student who walked out the doors of Kimberly Elementary School had MEMORIZED the multiplication tables through 12. To this day, I can rattle off the "11s," which I still think are the hardest. (I STINK at math.)
After we finished those subjects, it was time to walk downstairs to Sister's Lee's yeast rolls. From there, Mrs. Sanders would march us down the hall for a short potty break. Then, it was outside for recess, just long enough to get hot and sweaty and for the sugar crash from those yeast rolls to kick in. Then, at just the right Elsie-designated moment, she would clap her hands and, in her best Mrs. Doubtfire voice, she would say, "Children, it's time to go in now."
...AND WE DID. Just like that we would line up and march into the backdoor of her room. It was as though we were under some sort of spell.
And, I guess in a way we were....
In Mrs. Sanders' classroom were old-timey desks with extra-wide, bench-style seats and tops that raised up to store books. These seats were roomy enough for two. So, Mrs. Doubtfire (oh...sorry...Mrs. Sanders) would let us buddy up. We would lay our hot, sweaty little faces on those cool wooden desks, and she would tell us... "Close your little eyes and rest your little heads."
Then she would enchant us into the pages of those books by changing her voice for each character and by becoming happy or sad or angry or afraid, whatever the character and the moment called for. We felt the excitement of riding inside that mechanical "elephant" through those hot, humid Everglades. We tasted the salty waves that surrounded Cloud Rock. We longed for Mrs. Wiggs to have an easier life. And our hearts ached (and eventually cheered) for the Little Witch.
Not too many years ago, my friend, Jeff, went to the trouble of tracking down a copy of "The Little Witch" to give me for my birthday. It's still one of my most treasured possessions. (I keep it behind locked doors.)
I wish I could give you the gift of having Mrs. Sanders read it to you, but I can't. So, imagine the next best thing--imagine "Mrs. Doubtfire" reading you this passage from "The Little Witch":
"The ugliest, most rickety house in town belonged to the old witch,
but Madam Snickasnee was too busy working her black magic
and riding around on her broomstick to do anything about it.
However, she had a daughter who hated this house.
Her name was Minikin--Minx for short; she was nine years old,
and she wished with all her heart
that she was not a witch's child."...
I won't spoil it by telling you what happens to Minikin and Madam Snickasnee...but, let's just say that on the day we found out, Joy and I lifted our heads from that desk and clapped and cheered. We were so happy for our little friend, Minikin.
At the end of that year, Mrs. Elsie Sanders retired. Joy and Pam and I came up with this grand, crazy idea of giving her a school-wide retirement party--which I gave my poor mama exactly one day's notice to pull together. But...as mamas do...she came through--engraved plaque and all.
I still have this fantasy that, one day, when I'm digging around McKay's Used Books (here in Knoxville), my eyes are going to spot a tattered spine that reads "Mystery at Cloud Rock"...and I'm going to open it up and find these words: "This book belongs to Elsie Sanders".
"I always thank my God as I remember you...for your love has given me great joy and encouragement,...(and) your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people." (Philemon 1:4,7 NIV & NLT)