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Published October 29 2011

Swift: Facebook resurrects 4th-grade Tammy

So my fourth-grade teacher just friended me on Facebook.

After I accepted her friend request, she surprised me with a note on my wall.

“Hi Tammy, It has been awhile,” she wrote. “Out of all the students that I had over the years, you are the one that I knew would become a writer or something to do with creativity. That is where your head was.

“By the way, what does your desk look like at work???”

I quickly wrote back, responding that, yes, my desk was messy, but I worked in a newsroom where that was practically expected.

Even so, this voice from the past triggered a few things. I began to wax nostalgic about what it felt like to be 9 years old again; especially in the ’70s, when schools were set on turning students into obedient conformists.

Back then, my efforts to be a good soldier usually failed. I was a people-pleaser and yet, even from an early age, I was stubbornly independent. I daydreamed, wriggled in my chair and preferred art class and creative writing over math lessons.

I liked my fourth-grade teacher a lot.

“Miss Wahl” was young, petite and athletic. She also seemed way cooler than the other teachers in our Catholic school. (Admittedly, it wasn’t hard to be cooler than a 90-year-old nun who moved as if she had a hovercraft beneath her long robes.)

Miss Wahl had grown up in my hometown and sat in the same classrooms years before I did. I remember her once telling us how strict things had been before our time. Once, she said, she and another girl accidentally broke a large, beautiful vase positioned in front of a Virgin Mary statue in the school hallway.

As punishment, she said, they were required to kneel on gravel for an extended period of time.

Miss Wahl would have never done that to her students. Even so, I’m sure I tried her patience. All efforts to the contrary, I struggled to keep my desk clean. I tended to lose homework. Creative, hyperactive and super-sensitive, I already felt like an outsider.

I hated physical education. When our family doctor detected that I had a slight heart murmur, he gave me a note excusing me from gym class for a month.

Naturally, I milked my doctor-prescribed gym fast for all it was worth. For the next few years, I used my “serious heart problems” as an excuse to avoid dodge ball.

Miss Wahl indulged me, although she probably wondered why such a sickly child had so much energy to squirm in her chair.

She once sent home a report card that summarized what it was like to have me in class: “Tammy is antsy and likes to visit with her neighbors.” (Still true.) And: “Tammy does not seem enthused about physical education.” (Also still true.)

Still, somehow I got by. I grew up and, after much soul-searching, stopped beating myself up for not being the organized left-brainer so many of my teachers thought I should be. Yes, I still lose my keys and have a messy purse, but I also make my living as a writer.

So there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go visit with my neighbor.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525

or tswift@forumcomm.com