Myra McEntire: “Thank You, Mrs. Hillman!”

We’re delighted to host Houglass author Myra McEntire today, with an exclusive guest blog. Thanks to Myra for taking time out of her busy schedule to share a bit with us here at Novel Novice!

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If you look in the acknowledgement section of HOURGLASS, you’ll read mention of GeeGee Hillman. Mrs. Hillman was my third grade teacher, and she changed my life.

Second grade was rough. I was painfully shy, way too skinny, and I got in trouble all the time. My teacher was convinced I had a learning disability. When I was tested, we discovered that the opposite was true.

After the results came back, my teacher called the kids in her class who were eligible for the gifted program to the front of the room. She then proceeded to give all the other kids in the classroom a sucker. I don’t remember her exact words, but I remember her intent, and the way it felt. We were being punished for being different.

That’s when I started hiding in books.

I approached third grade with dread. I wasn’t too high on teachers at that point! But all that changed when I met Mrs. Hillman. She had black hair down to her waist, gorgeous tan skin, and a wide, infectious smile. All the girls in class used to beg to play with her hair, and at recess she would let us. She was also free with praise, hugs, and encouragement.

But the very best thing about Mrs. Hillman? She let me hide my books inside my desk so I could read whenever I wanted.

Students who were eligible were only allowed to go to the gifted program when all their work was done. Mine was never done – multiplication tables were the bane of my existence – so Mrs. Hillman started calling me her little turtle because I was slow.

She started giving me turtles that summer, and continued the whole time I was in school. I probably have thirty turtles, made of glass, shells, stone, or wood – anything that could be formed or carved. The same way she was instrumental in forming and carving the creative person I would become.

Here’s how. At a parent-teacher conference, Mrs. Hillman addressed my tendency to daydream. She told my mom, “I don’t know where she goes, but she has a really good time when she’s there.” But she never told me to stop going.

You know where I went, Mrs. Hillman? To the stories inside my head that never went away. They grew and changed and slowly, very slowly, made it out onto the page. For your part in that, I am ever so grateful. Eternally grateful.

The last turtle Mrs. Hillman gave me was this one – at my wedding reception.

Last week her granddaughter wrote on my Facebook page. She had ordered HOURGLASS.

So had Mrs. Hillman.

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