Substitute teacher’s words redirect, convert writer

Substitute teacher's words redirect, convert writer
There are words that kept me on course and others that sent me in another direction, like the time in sixth grade.

Our substitute, Mrs. Anderson, was teaching for an extended stay. Mrs. Anderson was angular from head to toe. Everything about her tall, lean frame formed arrows outward and inward. Even the way she walked and talked had a sharp tone.

I was 12, in the throes of puberty, and had not warmed up to the reality of the facts of life. Then one day, when everything seemed to going as well as could be expected …

"Paula Bosco?" came Mrs. Anderson's reprimanding voice. Like a giant wave, the sound of my name gained momentum as Mrs. Anderson marched toward my desk.

As her words continued to spew, they quickly rose up and over me, washing away any bit of confidence I may have possessed on that particular day.

"Look at this!" her pointy face fumed, while slapping down the book report I had painstakingly completed, yet carelessly scribbled.

"Miss Bosco, you will never, ever graduate from high school if you do not write neater so that people can read your writing." She huffed so hard she was now out of breath.

"Mark my words," Mrs. Anderson preached, pointing her index finger and shaking it as though this would make her words stick ��and they did.

When her brief sermon was over, the shameful thought of not graduating from high school caused me to shiver down deep inside. The humiliation of not passing through the pearly gates of commencement with my classmates was too much.

Even though writing sloppily across ruled paper gave me a feeling of power and, in a way, liberated me, I was overcome. With the fear and faith of the newly baptized, I quickly converted and began writing with a ruler to guide my pen and my rebellious streak.

Believing in the "word" according to Mrs. Anderson, I graduated from high school with my class in 1970. A decade later, when I was 28, I finally broke the habit and stopped using a ruler to guide my pen. I was free.

What words changed your life – the ones that kept you on course or sent you in different direction?

A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her columns have won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. Most recently, Damon's writing took second place statewide in the South Dakota Press Women 2007 Competition. For more information, e-mail

� 2007 Paula Damon

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