by Kathy Johnston
In 1977, I was seven and in the second grade in Sunnyvale, California. A few houses away on Betlin Avenue was a girl named Sally. She was 17, and my 13-year-old brother had a crush on her. She was pretty, with long, wavy blonde hair. She wore the coolest bell bottom jeans on the block, and was very tall — about five feet, three inches. (Remember, I was only about four feet tall at the time!)
Because I was young, I didn’t notice many things that didn’t affect me directly. I don’t remember anything at all about her family or why she spent so much time with me. But I remember that Sally’s house was always neat, and that we usually played together in the garage. I wanted to hang around if Sally was there, she was just so neat.
At first, I only knew her as one of my brother’s friends. Then one day she invited me over to play “school”, using some second-grade textbooks. Later, near the end of that school year, my school was selling old textbooks they no longer needed. Sally and I walked to my school, and she bought a large box of third-grade textbooks with her own money. She told me to come over every weekday that summer, and taught me from those books.
I had a blast that summer; Sally was so nice to me. One day she even taught me how to make strawberry tarts in my toy oven. At least that’s how I remember it. We put powdered sugar on top, and they were the best tarts I have ever eaten. I have tried to recreate them occasionally through the years, but the flavor is never quite right. Sally had a special touch.
When I started third grade, we stopped playing school in her garage. Our family moved away that year, in December. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to play school that summer to prepare for fourth grade. I never saw Sally again, but I never forgot her.
I’m 33 now, and I’ve made many young friends since — always trying to emulate the things Sally taught me. A 14-year-old girl who lives on my street is like a younger sister to me; my neighbor’s daughter visits and is the proud “adopted auntie” of my new baby girl. If not for Sally, I might have missed these wonderful relationships.
I am now studying to earn a degree in liberal studies and become an elementary school teacher. I believe that’s the career Sally was planning for. I wish I could let her know, even just a little, how much that summer meant to me; I think that not being able to thank Sally personally will always hurt a little. So I try to thank her in the ways I can: spending time with my neighbors’ children, and trying to inspire them as I was inspired — by Sally.