You Have Made A Difference by
200
(288 Stories)

Prompted By Favorite Teacher

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

First grade class photo, 1957-58

When I recall the teachers I had in nineteen years of schooling — elementary school, high school, college, and law school — there is only one person who leaps out in my memory. Miss Carolyn Garcelon, my fabulous first grade teacher.

Miss Garcelon decided, for whatever reason, that she was going to teach a bunch of six-year-olds about the human body.

She was tall (at least she seemed so to a six-year-old), and thin, with bright red hair, which was about shoulder length, although she generally wore it pulled back in a ponytail. She was young and enthusiastic. I’m pretty sure she had just graduated from teacher’s college and we were her first class, so she must have been about twenty-two. Most of the other teachers at my elementary school were ancient and rotund and had purple-tinged hair because they used bluing in their white hair. So she really stood out.

I don’t remember too much about what I learned that year (I could already read and write, having been taught by my sisters), but I vividly remember our science lessons. Miss Garcelon decided, for whatever reason, that she was going to teach a bunch of six-year-olds about the human body. So she borrowed a model from the local high school, since they apparently weren’t using it, a human torso that opened up and you could see all of the organs inside. Our first surprise was that a human heart wasn’t shaped like a valentine heart. Also, the heart wasn’t way over on the left, like where you put your hand when you are saying the Pledge of Allegiance — even though that is called putting your hand on your heart — it was actually right in the middle. Further discoveries amazed us. And she taught us a song, to the tune of Witch Doctor, that went “Esophagus and heart, windpipe, stomach and lungs.” Try it, instead of “Ooh eee, ooh ah ah ting tang, Walla walla, bing bang.”  It works!

The featured image is our first grade class picture. Miss Garcelon is at the far left, and I am at the far right. You can see on the bulletin board there are two cutouts of the human body, one showing the veins and arteries, and the other one showing the organs. In between them, on the shelf, is the plastic model from the high school, which I think we kept all year.

I realize it is hard for you to read what the posters on the bulletin board say. Here is what the one underneath the numbers 3 and 4 says:

Body Pictures
We made these pictures.
They show what we think
is in us and how it looks.
Now we will study to see if we are right.
[spoiler alert: we weren’t!]

Here is what the one underneath the numbers 6 and 7 says:

close-up of right side of class pic

Mr. R. Blood
This is Mr. R. Blood. We
cannot live without him.
His home is in our heart.
He came to show us how
our blood goes round.

Here is (mostly) what the one underneath the number 9 says:

Mrs. Organs
This is Mrs. Organs. She
can show us the organs
in our body. We can [obscured]
where they are [obscured]
how they help [obscured].

Part of this poster is covered by the head of that little blond boy, whose name is Harold Roach. I know the names of everyone in the picture, because my mother wrote them on the back of the matting. (And yes, I’m the one standing on the far right, facing Harold.)

Notice that all the children are wearing medical headwear – either a nurse’s cap, white with a red cross, or a black band with a silver circle on the front which is supposed to be a head mirror, something doctors used to wear. All the nurse’s caps are on girls, although some of the girls (including me) are wearing the head mirrors. I wonder if we were given a choice. Even at age six, I certainly would have wanted to be a doctor rather than a nurse if I could choose!

Two years later, in June of 1960, Miss Garcelon got married. She invited all of her former students to the wedding. I was so excited to go! It was my first time at a traditional white wedding. (My aunt Daisy had gotten married a few years before, but it was a second marriage, somewhat low-key, and she wore a regular dress, not a bridal gown.) This wedding was in a big Catholic church, and I had never been in a church before either. Beautiful long white gown and veil, lots of bridesmaids, and lots of pomp. I only realized years later that there must have been a reception somewhere else, which all the former first-graders were NOT invited to. At the time, I thought this was the whole thing, and it was enough. When we came back to school in the fall, she announced that she had a new name, and we must now call her Mrs. Fuscaldo. I remember thinking Garcelon was a much nicer sounding name than Fuscaldo, and I wished she hadn’t changed it. But in 1960 it would have been unthinkable not to.

For the past few weeks, since we scheduled this prompt, I have been trying to track her down, wondering if she was even still alive. With most of my elementary school teachers, in their fifties or sixties – or even forties – back then, it would be unlikely to find them still alive, but if Miss Garcelon was twenty-two in 1957, she would only be eighty-seven now. I spent a lot of time online looking for her. I finally found the funeral notice for her husband, Thomas Fuscaldo, who died in 2018. The notice mentioned he was survived by his wife Carolyn. I left a message on the condolence page asking her to contact me and waited a while. Then it occurred to me that more than four years after his death, she might not still be looking at that page. So I sent an email to the funeral home, saying you conducted this man’s funeral in March 2018, could you possibly put me in touch with his widow? This past Tuesday (which was actually my birthday), they wrote back and said she had given them permission to give me her address. A street address, not an email address. So I wrote a letter to her, telling her how much she meant to me, and that I was writing a story about her for a prompt called “Favorite Teacher.” I enclosed a copy of the class picture. I hope she writes back.

 

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Susan Bennet says:

    Suzy, this is an absolutely charming story on this Back-to-School weekend. No wonder you remember Miss G. so vividly. As you say, most elementary school teachers at that time were middle-aged or older, and I expect they dusted off the same lesson plans each fall for years. In this context your Miss G.’s creativity and interactivity were light years ahead of the “rote” teaching and learning methods of the time. The unorthodox, “loose” composition of your class photo says it all.

    Can’t imagine how excited you’ll be when her letter comes. I’m pretty sure you’ll have been the only student ever to have written to her. It will mean so much to you both.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a lovely story, Suzy. Miss Garcelon seems so full of life and promise and interesting assignments for your class. And certainly different from the blue-haired ladies whom you normally encountered in your elementary years. And how very exciting that she invited all her students to her wedding! I can understand how thrilling that was for you.

    I am not surprised that she is not on the Internet, but I do hope that she responds to your letter. I’m sure she will be thrilled to know that you are still thinking of her and declared that she was your favorite teacher. Let us know if she replies!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. I guess I assumed she would be on the internet because my mother was, even in her nineties, although she wasn’t all that adept with it. I typed my letter, and I wonder whether her reply, if there is one, will be handwritten in elegant cursive.

    • I look forward to hearing more about Mrs Fuscaldo (née Miss Garcelon). I think she will get a nice boost from reading your warm memories of her.
      As I assume others have told you, many First Grade teachers were not as great as yours. You were lucky. That wedding must have been something.
      Whatever happened to Harold Roach?

  3. What a sweet memory Suzy, I hope Carolyn Garcelon writes back to you and you share it with us.
    One day I’ll write about a conversation I had with a funeral parlor trying to locate the son of the deceased!

  4. Marian says:

    This is a fascinating ongoing story, Suzy, and we can’t wait to learn more about “Miss Garcelon’s” life if she writes you back. Love her approach to teaching science, and you all look like you are having a lot of fun. I remember elementary school teachers who quit once they married, so I wonder if that was true for her.

    • Suzy says:

      Good point about teachers quitting when they married. She was still there at least that first year after she married. I know from her husband’s obituary that they had four children, and I’m sure once she got pregnant she had to leave. Don’t know when that was though, my sleuthing isn’t THAT good.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I hope she writes back, Suzy. I’m sure she will love this beautiful tribute to her as your favorite teacher. These are the stories that make a teacher proud of her chosen profession. You likely made her day!

  6. Wonderful story. I know how rewarding and exciting it is to contact an old teacher after a very long absence. I admire your efforts to reach out — contacting the funeral home no less! Hope you hear from her. Carolyn Fuscaldo will be thrilled to hear your memories.

  7. John Shutkin says:

    What a wonderful story about a wonderful teacher, Suzy. The most amazing part to me was that you had this picture — from way back in first grade! — and that it so perfectly illustrates the medical curriculum that Miss G was teaching you about and which you so nicely explained. Just an amazing time capsule. And, incidentally, I am sure you insisted on wearing the doctor’s head mirror.

    The second most amazing part of the story (for me, that is) is that writing it prompted you to try to track Miss G/Mrs. F down as a result of your story, being somewhat optimistic that, having been such a young teacher, she might still be alive. If you read my story (feel free to, but I’d still prefer no comments this week), you will see I did the exact same thing with regard to then-young Senor G. And, eerily, you had the same result as I did: our respective teachers appear to be alive, but their spouses both died in 2018. Unlike you, I’ve not followed through yet on Senor G, but I do hope your search is a success. And if I do reach Senor G, I’m going to ask him why we students weren’t invited to HIS wedding — especially since his bride, Senorita C, had been our student teacher, so we all knew her, too.

    Finally, a perfect song title title. A completely new song for me. but then, when I looked it up, I found out that not only did the song title fit your story, but, in fact, the whole point of the song is an appreciation of teachers.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you John, I’m amazed that I have this picture as well. And that my mother wrote everyone’s name in the right spot on the back. Also thanks for checking out the song I used. You are the only one who pays attention to my song title titles.

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    Wonderful pictures indeed. I know that torso model well, though not from first grade! I wonder if it inspired any kids into the medical field. At least it made learning fun. I hope you hear back from this teacher who brought such joy. I have to believe you brought her joy too.

    • Suzy says:

      Khati, your comment that you know that torso model well made me laugh! I wondered too, looking at the class picture, whether anyone became a doctor or a nurse. Probably no way to find out.

  9. tfuscaldo says:

    My sister shared your story about my mother with me yesterday. I am truly appreciative of your writing and the responses written thus far. Having spoken with mom today, I can say she is very happy you reached out. I trust her response will answer some of the questions found here. I will add that her memories of her early days of teaching are wonderfully distinct and very interesting. Once again, thank you.
    Tom Fuscaldo

Leave a Reply