There were four of them. Four dark brown, worn-to-the-touch, wooden elementary school desks. The types with desk and seat attached, the ones we now consider “1950s vintage.”

My mother had purchased them from our local school district in East Millinocket for 50 cents apiece (the district was upgrading its school furniture). And she bought them for me. She somehow got them home and placed them in a corner of our basement, lined them up in two short rows and added a small table and chair in front for the “teacher’s desk.”

Thus began my teaching career. I was 10 years old.

I spent hours in that quiet basement. I prepared lessons in my pretend classroom and instructed my imaginary students. I designed colorful worksheets. I assigned homework. I created multiple-choice tests. The welcome additions of a large black chalkboard with erasers completed my pedagogical needs. I could now teach cursive handwriting and math computation and spelling, all subjects that I, at that time, loved to learn, and by teaching my “students,” I gradually honed my own skills.

I loved every minute of my private world, a respite from the daily cacophony of five younger siblings. My mother fostered this play of mine, this daily drama that I contrived, never permitting the other children to disturb me, somehow understanding that this quiet solitude was something I relished.

But maybe it was more than that. Could it have been maternal instinct that led her to realize that her oldest child may have a calling to teach? I like to think so. I remember many times in my childhood answering the universal question from older relatives, “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” with unbridled confidence: “I’m going to go to Gorham State Teachers College and I’m going to be a teacher!” How lucky I was to know decisively at such a young age what my career would be.

I recently tried to uncover the memory of the desks from my mother, Mary, who is now 91. She doesn’t remember them. Raising six children, enduring the slings and arrows of life and coping with her and my dad’s advancing age, how could she? I gently reminded her of those four tiny school desks and, more importantly, what they foretold about my life. And I thanked her.

Now, after over 40 years of teaching, I am in the waning years of my career. I have often returned in my mind’s eye to that long-ago refuge in my childhood home, my very first classroom, where I discovered what would define so much of my life, all beginning with a mother’s gift.

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