Ina Norton, ...Who is she?
Only the single most influential teacher in the ten schools I attended during my young educational life. Yes, of all the wonderful men and women who I have had the privilege of learning from, she stands alone at the very top.
As a nine year old, just entering the fourth grade, there was no way for me to know what was in store for me. All I knew about Mrs. Norton, was her much talked about reading of, "Where The Red Fern Grows". I knew of her, in the tiny town of Milford Utah it was easy to be acquainted with almost everybody. I saw her at church each Sunday, and occasionally in Larene Lund's dad's drug store down on Main street, and of course every summer at the Fourth of July celebration in the city park. What I was about to find out, was that she somehow knew of me.
Soon after beginning that fateful year, "Marble Season" arrived. Nobody really knows the day, or reason for the random phenominon, but every year without fail it came and like a plague, "Marble Fever" swept through the community, infecting every grade school kid, and even some who had moved on and within a matter of two days, everybody it seemed, had a bag full of marbles. Everybody that is, but me. Oh how I wanted to play, but being a time when my parents had no money to spare, marbles were a luxury we just couldn't afford.
"Quinn," I heard Mrs. Norton's voice call from the school door where she stood watching the other children play, "...come here for a minute." She opened the door and led the way back to her office, where she produced a small denim bag full of marbles and tied with a white draw string at the top.
"Go have some fun," she said, "...just don't tell anyone where you got them."
A month later, when "Jack Season" arrived from out of the blue, again I found myself watching and wishing I had some jacks and a ball so I could join in the fun, but they too were a luxury our family of nine couldn't afford.
"Quinn," Mrs. Norton called softly from behind me, "...would you come with me for a moment?" Again she reached into her office closet producing this time a brand new set of jacks still in the package and handed them to me.
"These are for you, now go and enjoy yourself, ...but be sure not to tell, ...remember?" she placed her finger to her lips, and I understood.
"Coming into Spring, just following Mrs. Norton's annual reading of "Where The Red Fern Grows", a several page colored leaflet was handed to each student with an attached order form where we had the awesome privilege of choosing books to buy for ourselves. With our minds bursting with colorful images left over from her recent reading, the thought of choosing my very own book seemed for a brief moment like the greatest thing in the world, however, disappointing reality arrived as soon as I reached the final page and saw the price list. I wouldn't be ordering a book for myself.
Not wanting anyone to know of my inner pain, I pretended to be choosing, and even filled out the order form placing a check mark in the box by a book my older sister had talked about. Then, as the bell sounded, and the other kids handed in their orders, I subtly stuffed mine into a text book and quietly edged my way past and out into the hall.
For weeks, building anxiety turned inside my stomach, as each day I wondered if that would be the day when the books arrived, for none would be handed to me, and the potential embarrassment of that dreaded moment was more than I could bear.
"Guess what students," Mrs. Norton announced one afternoon as the clock neared 3:30, "...your books have arrived!" A loud cheer of squealing voices filled the room, getting louder as one by one she handed books to each of the children. I could hear her coming up my isle from the back of the room, and dreading my impending doom, I laid my head down, burying it in my arms pretending to be asleep. She was talking to David Barnes, who sat right behind me, and then I heard her feet shuffling forward, but not fast enough.
"Oh no!" I silently gasped, "...please just keep walking?" But she didn't, and sensing her eyes on the back of my bowed head, I hunkered even deeper into my arms, pressing my face against the cold surface of the hard desk.
"Here's your book Quinn," she said softly, leaning down to my ear so only I could hear her, "...it's a good one, I hope you like it." I raised my head and found a shiny new copy of "Island Of The Blue Dolphins" laying near my elbow. I looked up at her with surprise.
"But I didn't....." I started to object, but she stopped me with her finger raised to her lips and a wink which I immediately understood.
She was my Guardian Angel, a Goddess among teachers. Now as I reflect back, I feel such a debt of gratitude to her as likely can never be fully repaid, ...and wonder, was I the only one? ...no, I really doubt I was.
Thank you Ina Norton, ...you are and always will be my greatest inspiration.