11/18/21

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

If you remember, almost two months ago, this blog post was about finding my fifth grade English teacher, Mrs. Fatticci. I’d been trying to find her for years, because she was the very first person who told me I was a writer. You can read this blog post again if you look on 9/30/21.

And my Moment this week? I didn’t just find her. I talked to her.

You would think, these days, that it’s easy to pretty much find anyone. But when the person you’re trying to find is someone you met in the fifth grade, and it was 1971, and she was a teacher, you only know her first name as “Mrs.” You really need first and last names to find someone, and “Mrs.” just wasn’t going to work. After my first book came out in 2011, and as more books came out and my success grew, I found myself just wanting to say thank you to her. But that lack of a first name confounded me. I even contacted the school, explained who I was, explained who she was, and was told, “We’re sorry, but we don’t have any record of her.”

How could they not have any record of the woman who essentially set me firmly on my path and said, “Hello, you wonderful girl! This is you. This is where you go. This is where you belong.”

Whenever Mrs. Fatticci talked to me, she called me, “you wonderful girl.”

I am 61 years old now. I was 11 years old then. But I can still hear her voice from the back of the classroom as she said, “Oh my god, Kathie. You’re a writer!” I don’t know how a voice can feel like a warm, perfect-fitting coat, but hers did. I was only eleven, but I suddenly felt my life, my self, make sense.

And I wanted to say thank you. Because she saw me. And she thought I was wonderful.

I don’t remember exactly why, on September 22, 2021, I decided to try again. I decided to search on Facebook just using her last name and see what came up, if there was anyone with that name anywhere near Esko, Minnesota. Someone did; a man who lived in Hibbing, about an hour north. I decided to send him a private message. I explained who I was, and who I was looking for, and why. Within an hour, he answered me.

“That’s my mom!”

He contacted her for me, then he called me and said, “She remembers you!” He said she would be giving me a call.

And then I didn’t hear anything. It became November, and I wondered what happened. I wondered if she didn’t really want to talk to me, a student from so long ago, one out of how many bajillion other kids, a quiet girl who spent time mostly by herself, and someone who moved away at the end of that year. Eventually, I shrugged it off, happy that at least I was able to express my gratitude through her son.

Then came November 9th. Out of nowhere, I received a friend request on Facebook from another Fatticci. I accepted, and then sent a message, asking if she was related to “Mrs.” Fatticci – I still didn’t know her first name. And this young woman answered, “Yes! She’s my mom! And I’m talking to her right now!” It turned out Mrs. Fatticci had to get a new phone and – we all know this story – was having trouble figuring out how to use it. She finally did and found my phone number and asked her daughter to check with me and make sure it was correct. It was. She was going to call me, hopefully that weekend. Mrs. Fatticci was going to call me!

But that weekend, Michael went into the hospital and our world turned upside down. That’s what my blog was about last week. All thoughts of Mrs. Fatticci, my fifth grade year, a phone call, and for that matter, all thoughts of who I was and who I am, disappeared as everything focused down on Michael.

He came home from the hospital on Friday. And on Saturday, my phone suddenly rang. I didn’t recognize the number.

“Hello?”

“Hello! Is this Kathie?”

“Yes…”

“Hello, you wonderful girl! This is Jan Fatticci!”

And just like that, I was eleven again. Though simultaneously, my teacher had a first name. Jan.

She called me in the middle of chaos. She called me at a time when I was doubting myself and my ability to handle what was happening all around me. And she called me wonderful.

And so we talked. We both have experienced breast cancer. She still teaches, though in a daycare center now with two-year olds, and even though she’s 75, she says she will always teach. So will I.

When I mentioned her greeting, “Hello, you wonderful girl,” she said that she felt at the time that I needed uplifting. That I needed to know that there were people who believed in me, and that I should believe in myself.

I was silent for just a minute. “You came at just the right time then,” I said. “And you came at just the right time now.”

She’s ordering my books. And I am learning to think of her as Jan. My gosh, she’s only fourteen years older than I am! That takes a twist of the head to process.

But I can hear her voice. Then. And now.

Hello, you wonderful girl!

Oh my god, Kathie. You’re a writer!

She came at just the right time.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

My official 5th grade photo. My mother’s attempt at curling my hair and cutting my bangs.

 

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