M & M & M I owe my allegiance to three women, born in the 20th century, who challenged me to fight for the right to my profession. One woman introduced me to another, and in doing so, impressed upon me the value of communication. The first, Margaret Mitchell, introduced me to Scarlett O’Hara, her seventeen-inch waist, the impulsive way she pursued her desires and the manner in which she achieved them. What a wonderfully bitchy woman, that Scarlett. She never knew an issue she could not master, or a man she could not have. She loved with indiscretion and passion and made hunger her persuasion. Margaret Mitchell drew on her knowledge of everyone she knew and those she thought she knew. She also pegged herself as the relentless heroine while she wrote “Gone with the Wind.” The second woman to whom I pay homage is Maizie Weill—my eleventh and twelfth grade English teacher who placed classics in my hands to absorb and to help to uncomplicate my own life. Maizie knew she had a natural writer in me to mold. She gave me all the implements a young girl needed to expand vocabulary; to understand of the way others lived and the desire to produce work that would detail my own desire to communicate with the world. My mother had no trouble with my connection to Margaret Mitchell, but she hated Maizie. Mom even casually overlooked the fact that I read Grace Metalious’ “Peyton Place,” a sordid little tale (for that time period) of sexual transgression in a small town. My best friend, Abby’s mother had a fit when she heard I had read it. Maizie Weill didn’t care which books I read either, as long as I gained understanding of others outside my small rural town in Pennsylvania. The truth was that there weren’t enough books in our local library to keep up with my voracious appetite for good storytelling, so I began to write my own. My English teacher became so impressed with the continual flow of narrative that came from me, that she called my mother in to discuss my college major—and my future. At that one and only meeting, she told my mother, “Linda should choose English Lit as a major,” and Creative Writing as a minor.” Her plan sounded fantastic to me as I sat between the two women. It’s all ever wanted to do, ignoring chemistry and calculus to have another hour to read or complete a short story. My mom, however, had another take on my teacher’s interest and her hopes for me. “Linda is going to be a teacher,” my mother said with muted arrogance. Anyone who knew my mom could read the anger behind her eyes. My mother’s choice was all that was offered to me and made plain to my teacher. “But Linda is a talented writer,” Maizie told her plaintively, “and her education should stimulate her given talent.” Mom stood to leave, but sat down again to say, “You don’t seem to understand something important, Miss Weill,” she said grandly. Keep in mind, grand was not the height measurement of my mother, who barely topped five feet by less than an inch. “We have expected Linda to enter education since she was little,” my mother continued, voice deepening. “We watched her play with dolls and put them in desks so that she could teach them their lessons.” My mother was, undoubtedly, a strong woman. “What did she teach them?” Maizie Weill asked quizzically. My mom looked at me with confusion and then decided that it was indeed time to leave. “I really hope you reconsider,” said my saddened teacher as Mom and I walked out the door, hand in hand. “You are making a mistake that she will remember when she chooses to change careers.” “And why would you know that much about her desires, Miss Weill?” my mother demanded. Miss Weill raised her voice as my mother and I moved further away and she practically yelled, “I spend day after day teaching her how to negotiate the journalism business and I also imbue the formulas for writing fiction…something she’s ready to do, even at an early age.” We had already reached the outside door down the hallway when my mother turned back to reply to my teacher who stood in the doorway of her homeroom, “Since you’ve already taught her all these things, we now prefer that you keep your distance.” My mom squeezed hand tightly and we walked even faster to leave Maizie Weill far behind. My last glimpse of my teacher on that particular afternoon was of her head held lower than before with tears streaming from her eyes. I think I understood her feeling of defeat, but I didn’t at that moment understand the depth. The next day, my mom tried to have me removed from Miss Weill’s class, but she was unsuccessful. So Maizie continued to teach me well and neither of us told my parents anything of what I was learning and writing. But by the end of high school, I was enrolled in the Education program at a large university in the nearest big city. It wasn’t until a year later that I learned why my parents resented my teacher’s mentorship and her proffered letter of recommendation to enter a Liberal Arts Program where I could read the literary masters for fun and learn to write for profit. After I was in college for a year, to learn how to teach, I finally had the nerve to ask my mother why she was so harsh on Maizie Weill and would not accept her generous contribution to my education. At that point, there was no reason for my mother to hold back. “She’s a homosexual, Linda. And we didn’t want her influence to spread to you. I think I managed to get a grip on that in time.” I believe my mouth must have dropped open because all of Miss Weill’s students knew that she was a lesbian and her long time companion was our drama teacher, Frieda Reid. I believe everybody else in school knew it, as well, and didn’t give their lifestyle any thought. In my mind, and I suspect in the minds of most of their students, we didn’t think about their lifestyle because we never connected sex with their companionship. We were young, very young; they were middle-aged, gray-haired women. Did they really have sex? What kind of sex? And did they even want to have sex at their age? All of her students were lucky to be taught by Maizie Weill. Now, as an adult, who understands the nature of companionship, love and sex at any age, I know how difficult their lives must have been when parents or even other teachers would confront them with evidence of their “forbidden” relationship. Although I was sad to leave Miss Weill at the end of High School, I feel worse for not knowing enough to tell her that how she chose to live and with whomever she chose, never mattered to me and anyone else I knew. But I think she already knew that. It was the problem of the elders—another generation—that had less understanding of the mind of a great educator. They couldn’t make the distinction between her lifestyle and teaching style. What my mother taught me about prejudice was equally important as the value of the written word that Maizie offered up. Maizie gave me Margaret Mitchell and I gave her clever essays and fanciful fiction. None of the women—my mom, Margaret Mitchell or Maizie are alive today for me to thank. Margaret and Maizie fostered my chosen field, something I began in earnest while in graduate school. Early on, I became a journalist as Miss Weill had predicted, and from there, a corporate communicator in a multinational pharmaceutical house. Later, I wrote books for doctors whom I met along the way and learned much about medicine as well as the development of non-fiction books. And when there was time, I took courses to learn the formulas for fiction narrative, plot twists and character development.
It’s almost time for my first novel to be published and I wish Maizie was around to see it happen. But somehow, I believe that she already knows what she did for me and I hope my new book excites her the way my youthful stories seemed to do.
I mean, could a sixteen-year-old girl’s ramblings really be as good as she said? Not nearly that good, I surmise. What I now believe is that Maizie Weill knew the best was yet to come.